A/N: This is my first attempt at fanfic, and I really don't know how well it's going to turn out, but once I got the idea I couldn't believe how quickly the storyline worked itself out in my mind. I'm typically a Joey/Rachel fan, but for some reason the pairing of Chandler and Rachel has been most interesting to me lately, and that's where this story got started. The only thing that I need to clarify here is that the story depends on the idea that Rachel accepted the invitation to Ross and Emily's wedding, and arrived in London along with everyone else. Everything else should make itself clear. My undying love and admiration to the person who can name the band who sings the song I used for this chapter's title. No cheating!!
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Well, that's not true; I own some stuff, but as far as Friends is concerned, I own nothing. If I were making money off of this, I probably wouldn't be posting it on a free website. But if someone would like to pay me to write anything else, I would certainly be happy to entertain any offers.
I Smoke a Lot
1998 – London, England
"…I don't care what anybody says, dude, that 'stuff' they serve is not 'food'!" Joey sauntered through the airport beside a grim-faced Chandler, sucking on a splintered toothpick. He plucked it from between his lips and tossed it carelessly into a trashcan as they walked toward the white-hot light glaring at them from the terminal exit. Squinting, Chandler switched his carry-on bag from his left shoulder to his right as he felt the early summer breeze lift his hair and cool the skin at the back of his neck. Behind him, he heard Monica's high-pitched chattering as she admonished Ross for supposedly stealing her pillow, while Rachel sighed in exasperation at the siblings' nonstop bickering, which had started almost immediately upon takeoff in New York eight hours before.
He stood silently on the curb, massaging his temples, while Joey found cabs for everyone, torturing himself with an extremely vivid daydream about the burning comfort of cigarette smoke as it filled his lungs. His sense of irritation had heightened the farther from New York City they traveled. He hadn't smoked in months, but the craving had invaded his mind within an hour of their departure and had only increased as their trip bore on. If he had to watch Monica quadruple-check her pre-wedding To-Do list one more time, he was going to scrawl the word "Check!!" onto her forehead with his thumbnail. He may have already done so, if it weren't for the fact that he had gnawed his thumbnail to the quick immediately following Joey's first lengthy stewardess encounter.
He watched, stifling his growing impatience, as Joey helped Monica unload her endless bags into the trunk of the first cab, counting his heartbeats by the throbbing in his forehead. After a couple of in-flight vodka drinks, Ross had begun to wax poetic about "fate" and "destiny", and how they had worked their magic in his life by leading him to the angelic Emily, who, judging by Ross' overly-verbose praise-fest, was scheduled for sainthood any day now. Chandler wasn't sure how he'd done it, but he'd managed to feign rapt interest for nearly twenty-five minutes before his mind began to wander. He'd caught himself eyeing a teenager one row up, the wires of his headphones trailing down to an MP3 player, partially hidden within the open knapsack in his lap. Resting peacefully, mockingly, beside the player was an unopened pack of Camels, the sight of which had caused Chandler's mouth to instantaneously fill with saliva. He'd swallowed hard and tried to focus his attention elsewhere, but the endless droning of Ross' voice had apparently hypnotized him into a dreamlike state, rendering him incapable of thinking about anything else.
Conscious thought eluding him, he'd watched as the pack of cigarettes taunted him from within the confines of the kid's ratty, patch-covered backpack, littered, no doubt, with Linkin Park ticket stubs and piles of receipts from Skateboards-R-Us. Groaning inwardly, Chandler had forced himself to tune back in to Ross' tedious and tiresome pontificating. Silently cursing Rachel for booking her flight later than the rest of them, thereby, albeit inadvertently, assuring herself a seat separate from everyone else, he'd nodded and "Mm-hmm"ed at Ross for as long as he could bear, then faked a large yawn and pretended to fall asleep, playing possum for over an hour. He'd waited until the area around him was quiet, and then dared a sidelong glance at Ross, who seemed to have dozed off himself. He'd used this as an opportunity to slip away to the bathroom, hoping against hope that there would be an empty seat next to Rachel in the rear of the plane. There wasn't. Seeing the shell-shocked look on his face, she'd offered him a sympathetic smile and a copy of Instyle magazine, which he'd managed to use as a diversion once Ross re-awakened only a half hour later.
"Chandler?" He turned towards his name and found Rachel staring at him quizzically from behind the open door of a second taxi. "You OK?"
"Yeah," he exhaled. "Just tired." He looked around, suddenly panicked, at the ground near his feet. "Where's my suitcase?!"
"The driver loaded it into the trunk." Her head tilted to one side, hair like molten honey falling in her cobalt eyes. "You ready to go, Bing?"
He suddenly realized that Joey, Ross and Monica's taxi had already departed. He extended his arm toward the open cab door, ushering Rachel in, then tossed his carry-on bag into the floorboard of the backseat and climbed in after her. After giving the cab driver the address of their hotel, she rested her head against the back of the grungy seat and turned to smirk at him. "Geller overload, huh?" Her voice was dead serious, but her bright blue eyes were twinkling with unsuppressed mirth.
He snorted, rubbing his thumb and index finger together in a nervous gesture. "How on Earth did you guess?!"
Giggling, she patted him on the knee. "Oh, I know the symptoms well, m'friend. Twitchy head movements, dazed expression – textbook signs of Phase One." She turned away from him, taking in the sight of London as it zipped past her dingy window. "Don't worry, though. You're only in the early stages. A shower and a nice stiff drink oughtta straighten you right out."
"Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of a cigarette and a nice stiff…cigarette," he replied grimly. His eyes darted toward the cityscape looming in front of them. "Look out, gift shop, here comes Chandler!"
Rachel chuckled. "Hey, whatever it takes, buddy."
Twenty minutes later, he was standing in the hotel room he was sharing with Joey, unlit cigarette perched between his lips, lighter poised for action, staring at the large "NO SMOKING" sign resting on the nightstand between the two queen beds. "Damn it. Damn damn damn damn damn damn damn it!"
"Dude, what's the probl – maaah! Chandler! What is that thing doing in your mouth?!" Joey stood in the bathroom door, hands on his hips, glaring.
"Well, I'm not positive, Joe, but I thought if I stood here long enough, and listened closely, it might just whisper tomorrow's winning lottery numbers to me!" Chandler crossed his arms across his chest and forced himself to count to ten.
Joey frowned, tapping his foot impatiently in Chandler's direction. "I'm serious, Chandler. Throw it out. I'm not going to spend the evening scouting for hot British chicks with a musty, stinky, smoky…smoker! No way, buddy. Get rid of it!"
Rolling his eyes, Chandler stuck the lighter in his pocket and grabbed his room keycard. "I'll see you later, man." He turned toward the door.
Joey followed closely on his heels. "Du-u-ude! Where you going?!"
"Listen, man. I have been awake since three-fucking-thirty this morning. I spent the first two hours of my day listening to Monica bark out commands like some kind of demented, sadistic, pre-transatlantic-flight drill sergeant while Ross called every two-point-three seconds to check and see if we were on our way yet. I haven't had anything to eat all day except for a bag of pretzels and a pudding cup, I now know the names of every one of Emily's forty-two gazillion cousins - thanks to Ross and his "I-heart-Emily-and-here-are-nine-million-reasons-why" airplane monologue, my neck hurts from pretending to sleep just to keep from violently killing both of the Gellers, my body thinks it's lunchtime when it's actually time for dinner, I've been dreaming about nothing but this cigarette practically since we left New York, and unlike like some people," - here he looked pointedly at his roommate - "I did not get off of the plane with two hundred new phone numbers in my pocket! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go downstairs, light this cigarette, and suck on it until my face implodes!!!" Chandler stormed out, slamming the door behind him.
Joey huffed indignantly. "It was only three numbers!! Ha!" Kicking off his shoes, he grabbed the remote control and flung himself down onto the flowery bedspread. "Jeez!"
Across the hall, Rachel rifled through her suitcase in search of shampoo and conditioner. Where is it…where is it?
Monica trudged in from the bathroom, wrapped in one of the hotel towels. "Your shower stuff is in the side pocket, Rach." She sighed heavily and slumped down in one of the wing-backed armchairs by the window.
"Oh…thanks, Mon." She pulled out a large Ziploc bag, filled with various assorted toiletries. "You see? That's why I let you pack for me. If I had done it, everything I own would probably be covered in coconut-scented body wash." Receiving no response, Rachel looked up from her suitcase, concern lining her eyes. "Mon? Is something wrong? You never miss an opportunity to revel in your organizational superiority."
Monica shrugged and continued to stare out across the London skyline. "I don't know. I was in the shower just now, and I suddenly realized that Ross is getting married for the second time, and…I don't know." She pushed a piece of her charcoal hair behind her ear and sniffed quietly. "I don't even have a boyfriend, you know? I'm just, I'm starting to feel…old, and…lonely. I always pictured myself married and at least getting ready to start a family at this point in my life." She shook her head, examining the back of her right hand with supreme interest. "It just hasn't worked out the way I've always envisioned it."
Rachel padded across the room, easing down onto the corner of the bed, opposite her friend. "I know, sweetie. It's tough. But you know, it's going to be OK. You're gonna find somebody, and he's going to be charming and wonderful, and – oh man! – everything is going to be perfect for you. You're only twenty-nine, Mon. You're not even close to being 'old'. You just have to give yourself time to find the right man."
"I know…you're right. It's just that, you know, sometimes I worry that, well – what if I made a mistake, with Richard? What if he is the 'right man' for me, and I ruined it?" She sniffled again, louder this time, swiping at her eyes with the back of her wrist.
"Aw, Mon, honey, you can't – you just can't think like that! You'll make yourself crazy! Sweetie, you and Richard were in different places – you wanted different things! Eventually, you would have been ready for things that he wasn't willing to give – one of you would have had to sacrifice your own desires for the other person, and either one or both of you would have ended up unhappy and resentful. That's no way to live!" She slid down onto her knees in front of Monica, taking her friend's hands into her own. "Please don't waste your time trying to second-guess yourself. You made those decisions for a reason, right? You had to do what was right for yourself. Everyone has to make tough choices, every day. All we can do is hope that we're making the right ones and try not to screw up things too badly for ourselves or anyone else. You did the right thing. Don't be so hard on yourself, OK?"
Monica smiled, a fat, translucent tear sliding down her ivory cheek. "Thanks, Rach." Her forehead suddenly wrinkled. "Listen to me, blubbering about my own silly hang-ups. I shouldn't be depressing you with my stuff…what with Ross getting married and everything – I'm sure you've got your own issues." She studied Rachel's face intently. "How are you, sweetie? Really?"
Rachel blinked, tilting her head ever so slightly to the right. "You know, Mon, honestly – and even I can't believe I'm about to say this - I feel absolutely fine…to tell the truth, I haven't even – gosh! I haven't even thought about the potential weirdness since I bought my plant ticket." She stood slowly, moving back into a sitting position on the bed. Staring at an indeterminate spot on the horizon, she searched herself for any shred of jealousy or bitterness towards Ross and Emily, but came up empty-handed. She shook herself in seeming disbelief. "Maybe I'm finally moving on with my life. And oh my God, it's about damn time!"
Monica smiled, sniffling. "I'm so glad, sweetie."
Rachel stood, collecting her toiletries. "Are you gonna be OK?"
The brunette smiled again, more faintly than before. "Yeah, I think so. Listen, I'm gonna get dressed and go see if anyone wants to go have a drink. See you downstairs later?"
Rachel nodded. "Maybe. But first, shower. Very important." She moved into the bathroom, closing the door softly behind her. After turning on the faucet, she regarded herself in the mirror. She noted the fine lines at the corner of her clear blue eyes, the hint of a wrinkle just above her brow line. She was aging, certainly, but she felt more youthful than she'd felt in ages. She exhaled slowly, enjoying the warmth of peace as it washed over her like a favorite quilt on a cool autumn night.
"Rach, ol' girl," she whispered. "I think you're going to be alright after all."
Downstairs, Chandler sat alone at the hotel bar, studying the burning tip of his cigarette with an expression of deep love and gratitude, the ashtray in front of him already half-full of hastily smoked butts. The bar was empty, save for the lone bartender, quietly polishing wine glasses in preparation for the evening rush. Chandler took a deep drag from the cigarette, closing his eyes in enjoyment and relaxation as the smoke filled his lungs, exhaling slowly, languidly, relishing the feeling of nicotine pulsing through his veins. He sat silently for a while, reveling in the solitude and relative calm surrounding him. He had gone through nearly half of his pack when he heard customers begin to trickle into the bar.
He looked over his shoulder at the sound of his name to discover Monica and Joey eyeing him contemptuously. "Hey, guys."
"Are you smoking?" Monica looked disgusted, while Joey stood back, arms crossed, a look of deep satisfaction on his face in anticipation of the lecture he knew Monica was sure to deliver.
"What, these?" Chandler motioned towards the well-used ashtray. "No, noooo…these were here when I sat down."
"And what about the one in your hand right now?" She set her purse down on the stool beside him. "Was that one there when you sat down?"
Chandler feigned shock at the sight of the cigarette between his fingers. "What the - ?! Where did that come from?!"
Monica rolled her eyes at him in obvious distaste. "Whatever. It's your funeral."
Chandler smacked the bar with glee. "Finally!"
The bartender wandered over. "May I get you all something to drink?"
Monica scowled at Chandler, sitting down where her bag had once rested. "Oh, I think so! I'll have a scotch on the rocks with a twist, please. You want anything, Joey?"
"Beer. Whatever you got on tap." Joey plopped himself onto the stool on the other side of Monica.
"And for you, sir?" the man appraised Chandler, raising his left eyebrow. "Another…daiquiri?"
Chandler flushed. "Um…no, thank you. Beer is fine." He cleared his throat and turned to the now slightly amused Monica. "That glass was also here when I sat down."
Chandler quickly changed the subject. "So, uh…where're Rachel and Ross?" He contemplated lighting another cigarette, but decided to wait until he had finished the one already in his hand.
"Rachel's upstairs, taking a shower, and Ross went over to meet Emily and her parents for dinner." She thanked the barkeep as he delivered their beverages. "Have you been down here all this time?"
"Pretty much. Of course, I would prefer to be up in the room, as that would be a more comfortable place to slowly kill myself, but unfortunately, it seems Ross booked us non-smoking rooms. Go figure. What are you guys up to?"
"We were thinking about having dinner at this place I heard about. Supposedly, they serve the best fish and chips in all of England." She took a hearty sip of her drink. "You hungry?"
"Yeah, a little. I really don't feel like going out, though. I think I'll just get something from the restaurant here and hang out in the room tonight. I'm beat."
"OK, well, I'm just gonna call up and see if Rachel wants to join us." Chandler and Joey watched as she threw her bag over her shoulder and walked to the telephone at the other end of the bar. Joey slipped into her seat and elbowed Chandler. "You OK, dude?"
Chandler combed his fingers through his sandy hair and nodded, exhaling heavily. "Yeah, man, I'm fine. I'm just tired. It's been a really long day." He took a final drink from his pint glass and pushed it away. Tossing a few pounds on the bar as he stood, he slapped Joey on the shoulder, pocketed his cigarettes and waved to Monica across the bar. "I'll see you later on, Joe."
So much smoking in such a short amount of time had left him feeling a little queasy. He took his time getting back to the room, waiting patiently for the elevator and trying to remember if he'd packed any pajamas. It had been such a whirlwind this morning; it wouldn't surprise him to discover that he'd forgotten them.
Arriving on the fourth floor, he exited the elevator and dug in his pocket for the keycard. As he pulled it out, the door to Monica and Rachel's room opened. Rachel stood on the other side, her hair in a ponytail and still damp from her shower, clad in a pair of pink flannel pants and a white T-shirt, clutching her wallet. "Oh, he - hey, Chandler! You decide to stay in tonight, too?"
"Yeah…I figure if I just hang out in the room tonight, I might be better company tomorrow. I'm just not really in a 'Fancy Night Out' place." He pushed the keycard into the slot on his door. "What are you doing?"
"Well, honestly, I was about to go in search of snacks. I, too, find myself oddly without the urge to wander aimlessly about London for God-knows-how-long looking for some place that Monica saw on Food Network." They smiled at one another in understanding. Of course, she's probably upset about Ross, thought Chandler.
Rachel closed her door behind her. "So…are you interested in any company, or you just want to be alone tonight?"
Chandler considered. Rachel was, at the moment, the only person on Earth with whom he was not annoyed, and he really didn't necessarily want to spend the whole night alone in the room, moping. "Yeah, sure, I could use some company. Why don't you go get enough snacks for both of us while I change into something a little less…filthy?"
Rachel chuckled. "No problem. I'll be right back, Smoky."
Chandler watched her pad off towards the elevator as he let himself into the room. After pulling off his shirt, he decided to jump in the shower to eradicate the funk emanating from his body. A short five minutes later, wet hair askew, he was digging through his suitcase in search of something comfortable to wear. Finally finding a pair of gray athletic shorts, he threw them on with a black Knicks T-shirt and carried his bag over to the dresser, setting it beside the television. He had just hit "power" on the remote when Rachel knocked on his door, arms loaded with an assortment of chips, popcorn, candy bars, a couple of bags of mixed nuts and several cans of soda. "I wasn't sure what you'd like, so I bought one of everything." He laughed, relieving her of the soda and placing two of the cans in the small refrigerator just inside the hotel room. She dumped everything else on the bed for his perusal.
"Ooooooh, Funyuns!!" Chandler jumped in exaggerated glee and landed, cross-legged, on Joey's bed. "This trip might not be a complete bust, after all!"
A/N: Mostly background info in this one. Hopefully things will get more exciting after this. Leave a review, pleeeeeease, if for no other reason than to let me know someone actually read this. Oh, but be kind. I'm sensitive. *Kisses on both cheeks* To those of you who made it this far - thanks for not falling asleep! :)