AN: I can't take credit for this.  I mean, I did write it, but the idea came from other stories, read somewhere else, written by someone with far superior writing skills than my own. 

This fic is AU—the circumstances of which should be explained as the story proceeds.  It will be, in all likelihood, a standalone.  The lyrics are by Dave Matthews.

~After All~


When you dig my grave

Could you make it shallow

So that I can feel the rain


There is something wonderfully soothing about the rain; the way the rhythmic thumping patters the windows, and dances on the rooftops.  Rain darkens the sky, not ominously, but comfortingly, like a large gray blanket, it's only job to protect you from harm.

I turn away from the window, and my eyes fall on him—his emaciated frame curled tightly into itself, his arms wrapped securely around a thin blanket.  I turn away again, haunted by the images that his still form conjures—images I was not directly witness to, but images that trouble me nonetheless.

I cannot help the feelings of guilt that rise up in me, each time I look at him—each time I happen upon a faded bruise or a whitened scar.  He sometimes catches my eye, and smiles warmly, in an effort to reassure me—to insist that this wasn't my doing.

I wasn't even here when it happened.

But I should have been.  I should have been here, I shouldn't have moved out when I did.  But how could I have known that this would happen?  And had I been here, could I have stopped it?

The rain blows through in sheets, and I unconsciously step away from the window, as though protecting myself from the onslaught outside these walls.

These walls that, once upon a time, protected us all.

I turn to Chandler again, as he moans softly, and turns his head, exposing the jagged scar that runs along the right side of his face.

Again, a pang of guilt courses through me, and I have to swallow down the lump that has formed in my throat.

It has been a month, since that horrible night, and three weeks since I moved back in here.

Yet it feels like it was only yesterday.

I'd only been out a few days.  The others had been to my place, had seen all my cool new things, had 'oohed' and 'ahhed' my toilet phone.

Chandler had yet to make the journey—I knew he was still stinging from the move, and I didn't want to push him.

I hadn't seen him in three days.

Then, late one night, Monica had called, her voice shaky, her words scattered.

Rachel was the one who had found him, beaten senseless, the apartment cleaned out.

Even that damn foosball table—the one that had caused us so much grief of late—was gone.

The others were riddled with guilt; none of them sure how they had not heard the noise, all of them certain they could have Done Something.

None more than me.

I should have been here.  I should never have left.  He would have been okay, if I'd been here to help fight them off…to protect him.

But no.  It's too late now.  He insists that he's okay—that he'll be just fine, but I can see it in his eyes—the fear that creeps in, when the sun lowers into the horizon; the way his eyes mist slightly, when a movement or word sparks a horrible memory.

And every time I witness this, I hurt too.

Chandler and I are brothers, in every sense of the word, and I would give all that I have to save him from any pain.

I know he feels the same—I know because he is constantly reassuring me that he is fine—not for his own sanity, his own peace of mind—but for mine.  He doesn't want me to feel the guilt, or heartache, so he covers his pain with a feeble joke, or a half-hearted smile.  His efforts are valiant, so I play along, and act as though everything is okay.

God, I wish it were.

Lightning flashes across the sky, and I know that thunder is sure to follow.  I look at Chandler, and hope that the roar will not rouse him—he needs to sleep.

We all need to sleep.

As beautiful as Monica and Rachel are, their sleep deprivation is slowly catching up to them.  The look worn, and ragged, from countless nights spent fretting over Chandler's condition, or wondering if the intruders would return.

I too, worry, and it keeps me awake at night.

Chandler will often feign sleep—in a futile attempt to quell all of our concerns—but I know that he too worries…wonders.

Will they come back?

Will they hurt him…or someone else…again?

The thought is unsettling, and I know that there are times when the fear drives him to tears.  He muffles his sobs, but the walls are thin, and so I cry too—silently.

He is strong for us, and in turn we are strong for him.  But the foundation of this rocky, slippery slope is crumbling, and soon something…someone, is going to crack.

The thunder rolls, and Chandler's eyes open slowly, widely.  He looks up at me, and I smile uneasily.

"Thunder," is all I can say.

He nods his understanding, and sits up slowly, before stifling a long yawn.

"You need to rest," I say, as he stands.

"I'm fine, Joe," he mumbles, and shuffles into the bathroom.  I watch the door close behind him, and a shudder courses through me.

"No, you're not," I whisper into the empty air, "none of us are."

And the thunder rolls.