Monica gently closed the door, turned around, and almost collapsed against it. She was emotionally exhausted and wanted nothing more than to go home and sleep. But there was still so much to do, to work out. She looked around, saw four faces looking back at her, each etched with their own exhaustion. A lot of tears had been spilled in the past few hours before Phoebe had finally fallen asleep.

"All right, Chandler and I need to head back to the twins. Can someone stay with Phoebe tonight?"

Rachel and Ross looked at each other, and Monica could almost see the exchange of unspoken thoughts about Emma. Joey drew their attention with a short statement. "I can. I will."

Monica considered Joey thoughtfully. That attractive, innocent face, the sometimes childlike approach to the world he took. And the amazing things he was capable of, which after all these years still astounded her. "Joey, how did you ever think of Ursula?"

"Oh." He seemed almost embarrassed. "Well, y'know, Chandler said you all were there, and I got to thinking that there wasn't anything I could say to her that you guys couldn't say better. And then I thought that maybe there was one person who'd been where Phoebe was, and could maybe, y'know, reach her there."

Joey shrugged. "I once spent a whole evening talking to Ursula, back when we were dating. We stopped under a bridge and she just started... saying stuff. One of the things she said was that it was only people like me that kept her from killing herself. I couldn't understand it, I'd never kill myself, I just couldn't do it. I don't think any of you guys could either. But evidently Ursula thought about it. So she knew what Phoebe was thinking of, and would know... know how to get her to stop."

"God, I wanted to grab her arm and march her back down the stairs," Ross said bemusedly. "I thought she was trying to force Phoebe to jump."

"But you didn't try and stop Ursula," Rachel commented. "Why?"

"Because... oh, I don't know." Ross spread his hands helplessly. "Because Joey had brought her. Because Phoebe seemed... more intense, more real when she was angry at Ursula. Because... it felt... it felt right to just let them talk."

"I felt that way too," Chandler added. "Her eyes, when she was being all giggly, they weren't really focusing on us. When Ursula showed up, suddenly they were like lasers. I didn't know if that was a good thing, but it was at least a different reaction."

Monica nodded. "It was. And it was good. I know that sometimes... sometimes yelling and fighting can release tensions. It's not a bad thing all the time. Ross and I, we fought all the time, but it wasn't... bad fighting, not really."

Ross smiled tiredly. "Sometimes it got bad. But sometimes it did keep us from... from going crazy."

Chandler reached out, clapped Joey on the shoulder. "You did good, bud. You did very good. You saved her life."

Joey actually blushed. "I did not. That was Ursula, not me."

"We know who it was." Monica stepped over, hugged Joey. He didn't seem to know how to react, but eventually hugged her back with a hint of a sniffle.

"Joey." Rachel put her hand on his arm. "If you stay up all night, will you be able to work tomorrow?"

"I'm not going to work tomorrow."

"Joey!" Monica released him, took two steps back.

This time Joey seemed more certain. "I'm done with that. They don't want me, they can write me off super easy. Phoebe needs me now."

"But, Joe," Chandler said with concern, "you need the job. Do you have enough to get by?"

"For a while, yeah. And... and I got some other auditions already."

"Oh?" Rachel raised her eyebrows. "Like what?"

Joey looked uncomfortable. "I'll tell you later. Look, right now all that matters is Phoebe. Let me worry about my acting career later, after Phoebe's recovered. Okay?"

Monica frowned, not liking the answer but, at the same time, knowing that Joey wouldn't change his mind about this. Which, she was coming to realize, wasn't a bad thing, either. "All right. Chandler and I can take turns during the day staying with her."

"Rachel and I can take evenings," Ross said as he looked into Rachel's eyes. "One of us can watch Emma while the other stays here with Phoebe." Rachel nodded.

"I can stay here at night, then." Joey sounded relieved.

"Good." Monica felt more in control, felt for the first time like it might all work out. "Either Chandler or I will be here by nine. Call us if you need anything."

No one said anything more. Joey quietly opened the door and slipped inside the room. Monica took Chandler's hand as they walked down the door towards the elevators behind the arms-around-waists strolling of Ross and Rachel. For just this once, Monica was content to let someone else lead the way.

The separated at the hospital entrance, Ross and Rachel smiling and waving but with no energy and no words. They went to hail a cab while Monica allowed Chandler to guide her to the parking ramp.

Chandler sighed. "What a day."

"Yeah." Monica squeezed his hand lightly. "You did good today."

"Did I?"

"Yeah. You didn't panic. You kept in control and helped everyone stay focused on the right things."

"I did?"

"Yes." Monica smiled. "Now all you have to is keep it up for the next eighteen years or so."

Chandler made an incoherent sound. His mood lightened slightly, and Monica's did, too. The future looked good. They had survived this; they could survive anything.

They found the car and climbed in, and Monica let Chandler drive her home.


Ross opened the door to his apartment to see the babysitter sitting on his couch doing homework. She looked up, smiled briefly, then began to stuff her books into her backpack. Ross stepped inside and Rachel moved past him towards Emma's room.

Ross settled up with the babysitter, giving her a healthy bonus for being available on such short notice. He talked with her about availability for the rest of the week as Rachel walked back into the living room and sat on the couch. A minute later the babysitter left, and Ross closed the door and considered Rachel.

She was just sitting there, hands between her knees, looking out at nothing. Ross moved over to the couch and sat next to her. Rachel didn't immediately react to his presence. Ross put an arm over her shoulder and that seemed to prod her into action; she turned and hugged him, her ear pressed against his chest. Ross gently rubbed her back and said nothing.

They sat that way for some few minutes. Ross finally felt the need to say something, communicate somehow. "How you doing, sweetie?"

Rachel drew a breath. "Ross... you'll never leave me, will you? You'll always be here?"

Ross bit back words, wrong words that shouldn't be said. He shouldn't talk about unforeseeable accidents, unknown medical conditions, or any of a thousand other things that could keep them from being together forever. Because... because she knew that. Rachel was intelligent; she knew quite well that things like that could happen, and that there was nothing neither she nor Ross could do about it.

But right here, right now, she didn't need to hear that. Ross looked down at the top of Rachel's head and realized that she just needed to hear something irrational but meaningful, expressing hope for the future and trust in themselves. "I won't ever leave you, Rachel. I promise."

Rachel sighed and hugged him a little harder, as if trying to keep him anchored on the couch forever.

Ross swallowed, suddenly feeling extremely nervous. His free hand covered a small bulge in his pocket, where his grandmother's ring still rested. There would be one way to cement that promise, one way to show the depth of his commitment to her. But... tonight, under these circumstances, with all that had happened? He wasn't sure it was right.

But he also realized that he had a need, as irrational as Rachel's, to be reassured. He needed to know that she wanted him to be with her always, and that she would stay with him through everything that happened, good and bad. He needed her, pure and simple. And he wanted to show that to her, and have her accept it.

And yet... if he tried too hard, too fast, at the wrong time... could he destroy what they had? Always in the past he'd managed to do or say the wrong thing to keep a reconciliation from happening. He no longer trusted his own motives, which had prompted him to seek Monica for advice. But Monica wasn't here. He was, and he didn't know what was wrong or right and was deathly afraid of the consequences.

Ross realized he was trembling very slightly as his hand plucked at the ring box through the fabric of his pants. This was it, this was his life, and he was rendered unable to think or act by the profundity of the moment.

And then Rachel began to move. Ross felt a momentary feeling of pure panic - the moment had passed with him frozen in terror, would it ever come again? Rachel slid down his chest slightly so that her hands could reach his pants. One hand reached into his pocket, pulled out the box.

With her own hands beginning to shake, Rachel opened the box, took out the ring, put it on the ring finger of her left hand, dropped the box on the couch, and went back to hugging Ross fiercely.

Ross felt his throat close. He had no idea what had just happened. He couldn't wrap his mind around it, the feeling was too big, too strong, and he was too frightened that it might not be what he thought it was.

"I, I was putting your laundry away one day," Rachel said in a tremulous voice. "And I saw it there, in your bureau, and I knew what you originally intended to use it for. I didn't say anything to you, I didn't know what to think of it, but I found myself checking your drawer every day to see if it was still there.

"And then a couple of days ago it was gone, it wasn't in your drawer any more, and suddenly I got real scared. I'd been hoping I wouldn't find it and dreading the time when I'd see it there. Dreading, and anticipating, and waiting, and so confused that I didn't know what I was going to do."

Rachel managed to lift herself up and look into Ross's eyes, tears streaming down her face. "And then I knew. When Phoebe... when I thought about what almost happened, it made me realize that... things, bad things could happen unexpectedly. That if I let too much time slip... I mean, I could go through my whole life and not hear the words I wanted to hear from you."

Ross smiled weakly. "Will you marry me?"

"Yes." Rachel leaned in, put her head on his shoulder, hugged him again. "Those were the words."

Ross felt his chest would explode. He couldn't believe it, it was happening, it was happening now, everything he wanted, everything he had ever strived towards. His best and longest-held dream coming true this very instant, and the feeling was too great to hold him. Ross closed his eyes, murmured, "I love you, Rachel."

"I know." She turned her head, nuzzled his neck. "Us... we... our relationship is working, for the first time this really feels like we're both... committed. To this relationship. To us. And I want to keep that going. Forever."

Ross was having trouble breathing. "Forever?"

Rachel nodded. "I know forever is impossible. But I promise to try forever, with you. Forever is you, Ross"

A smile was beginning to form on Ross's face. "That, that wasn't much of a proposal I made."

Rachel chuckled, still a touch shakily. "You've been proposing to me for twenty years. I just finally decided to accept."

Ross laughed, joy spilling out of him. He opened his eyes and looked down into Rachel's face. She lifted her head to return his gaze, and they simply looked at each other for a long time. Then he kissed her and she kissed him and they didn't speak again that night.


Chandler came home to the sight Monica pacing around the living room. She immediately looked over at him. "How is she?"

"Better, a lot better." Chandler dropped his keys onto the table next to the front door and walked into the living room, collapsing onto the couch. "She talked a lot about all sorts of stuff. I think it was her way of coping. But she was always lucid, always... well, there, with me, not in some other world. She'll be discharged tomorrow if nothing goes wrong."

"Good." Monica smiled in relief. She moved to one side, looking down the length of the couch at Chandler. "How's Mike?"

Chandler grinned. "They say he's going to have a full recovery. Phoebe and I went to go visit him a couple of times. He's awake now, although he's medicated a lot so he's usually kind of sleepy. They think he'll be there a week more."

"That's terrific." Monica wandered over to one of the chairs, adjusted it slightly. "You watch the twins tomorrow, I'll help Phoebe get settled back in her apartment."

"All right." Chandler watched Monica move around again, eyeing the furniture. She stared at an empty place between two chairs. Chandler looked at it as well. "What do you think, a coffee table?"

"A pedestal table," Monica replied instantly. "Or maybe just a side table. Something that doesn't draw too much attention while still being functional."

"Hmm." Chandler nodded knowingly despite not really having a clue. "Of course we'd have to get new chairs then. If they look nice enough no one will notice the pedestal table."

Monica looked over at him suspiciously. "Then we'd have to get a new couch."

"Oh, at the very least," Chandler agreed. "And maybe a new rug."

Monica folded her arms. "What are you doing? You just said we couldn't afford new furniture. Are you trying to buy my peace of mind?"

"Well..." Chandler hesitated, trying to find the best way to phrase things without making her mad. "I know the past couple of days have scared you. I know they scared the heck out of me."

"Yes, and?" Monica used one arm to indicate the furniture. "How does buying things we can't afford help with that?"

She was being unusually testy. Which meant she was still strongly feeling the aftereffects of Phoebe's near-suicide. Chandler hesitated, but knew that trying to back out now would be even worse. "We can find ways to afford it. That's not the point."

"Then what is?" Monica wasn't yelling but was on the verge of it.

"Look..." Chandler leaned forward, gesturing with his hands. "The next, oh, twenty years or so are going to be quite chaotic. All sorts of stuff is going to happen, and a lot of it will be beyond our control. And I know you hate being out of control."

Monica's brow furrowed. "Again, issues unrelated to the furniture."

"Not really." Chandler stood up and moved the couch three feet to the left. Monica's eyes widened but she evidently decided to allow the condemned a few words of self-defense before execution. Chandler turned back towards her. "The furniture won't move on its own, won't disobey us, won't do whatever it wants to no matter what we say. We push it, we shove it around, and it just takes it. We are in complete control of the furniture."

Monica narrowed her eyes. "And you think I need to be in complete control of something?"

"Absolutely." Chandler met her gaze straight on. "If you have a living room that will behave exactly the way you want it to, it'll help you deal with all the other things that won't."

Monica didn't change expression, just kept staring at him. Chandler fidgeted for a minute, then dragged the couch back into place.

Monica lifted one side of her mouth. "Don't worry about that. Come here."

She opened her arms. Chandler nearly tripped over his feet in his haste to accept her hug. Monica squeezed him with enough force to make his ribs creak. "Thank you, honey. You've gotten quite good at this relationship stuff."

Chandler grinned down at her. "I had a good teacher."

Monica smiled back and kissed him, quickly but forcefully. Then she dropped the hug. "Now help me move the couch back right."

"Yes, dear." Chandler felt very good as he helped his wife put everything back in place the way it was supposed to be.


Joey walked past the nurses' station, finishing off his sandwich and smiling at Nurse Roberts. She smiled back. At first she had objected to his presence in Phoebe's room after visiting hours, but an application of the old Tribbiani charm had persuaded her to let him stay. It helped that she seemed to like Phoebe, too.

Joey slipped into the room. Mrs. Neilan - who also been exposed to the Tribbiani charm and had similarly acquiesced to his presence - was asleep. Phoebe had her eyes closed but she wasn't breathing like someone who was sleeping. Nevertheless, Joey was quiet as he slipped into the chair next to her bed.

"Enjoy your meal?" Phoebe said softly but alertly, slightly startling Joey.

"Yeah. Well, it wasn't bad, the cafeteria was closing and they only had ham and cheese, which wouldn't be my first choice, and I didn't have time to add all the garnish I wanted to." Joey closed his mouth, wondering if he was going too far on the details. He enjoyed chatting with Phoebe - she always seem greatly interested in everything he said, and they could babble on for hours - but he wasn't certain if he should be just letting her fall asleep right now.

Phoebe stirred slightly. She threw back her covers and lifted up her hospital gown so that almost all of her left leg was exposed. "It hurts. Rub it for me."

"Rub... your leg?"

"Massage it, yeah. I can't sleep with all the throbbing."

Joey looked at the leg doubtfully. Even in the darkened room he could see the ugly discolorations. "I don't know. I think I might make things worse."

"I'm a professional, I'll guide you." Phoebe's eyes opened, and in the darkness Joey could just make them out as they settled on him. "Come on, it'll help me heal faster and all that."

Joey rubbed his chin once, then stood up. With one hand he reach over, touched her leg just above the knee, rubbed the skin in a tiny circle.

"Oh my, you're awful." Phoebe reached down, grabbed his wrist, moved his hand higher and slightly inward. "There. Feel the muscle?"

Joey gulped. "Uh, yeah."

"I want you to knead it, like bread."

"Uh, yeah." Joey wondered if this was the time to mention that he had never made bread. But he had seen his mother doing it, so he tried to make similar motions.

Phoebe winced and closed her eyes. "Yes, like that. Work your fingers around the edge of the muscle, really dig in. Yes, harder. Harder. Good. Move all around the edge, both sides. Use both hands."

Joey followed her instructions, finding that this was a lot more work than he had anticipated. Not to mention more than a little embarrassing; he wasn't sure anyone other than Mike should be touching Phoebe's upper leg. Joey stole a glance at Phoebe, saw that her face still contained a hint of strain. Joey frowned and tentatively asked, "You sure I'm doing this right? You don't look like you're enjoying it."

"I'm not supposed to enjoy it." Phoebe smiled briefly. "It's not that kind of massage. It's supposed to relieve pressure and help the blood circulate. It hurts, but in a good way. Just keep doing it for a while."

Joey sighed and kept at it. His hands were beginning to ache but he kept on. Another time he'd complain, but not while Phoebe was lying in a hospital bed.

Phoebe made a sound halfway between a sigh and a groan. "You're good at this. If you ever find yourself, you know, needing work in L.A., you could be a masseuse on the side."

Joey grunted. "I'm not going to L.A."

Phoebe opened her eyes. Joey didn't look at her, intent on making certain his hands didn't wander too far, but he could feel the weight of her stare. "Why not?"

"I..." Joey trailed off, shrugged. "I can't leave you guys. I need you all around me. What if, what if something bad happened to me? Who'd take care of me in L.A."

Phoebe cocked her head slightly. "Your sister would, wouldn't she? Plus I'm sure you'll meet new people out there."

"Well, they'll never be as good as you guys." Joey swallowed. "I shouldn't... I can't not be with you guys."

Phoebe considered this for a while. "What you really mean is, you're worried about us. About me. And that if you leave, you won't be here if more bad things happen."

Joey thinned his lips and still refused to look at Phoebe. The woman was too insightful sometimes.

For a couple of minutes Joey continued working on Phoebe's leg. He slowed down when he realized it was shaking slightly. Then he looked up to see that Phoebe was sobbing, as silently as she could. Panic began to fill him, and Joey stopped his massage to step closer to her. He couldn't exactly hug her while she was lying in bed so he gripped her shoulders. "Phoebe, what's wrong?"

"It's okay." Phoebe wiped her eyes temporarily clear with one hand and gripped one of Joey's hands with the other. "It's okay to cry sometimes. I think I'll be crying a lot for a week or two. Don't worry about me."

"It's okay, Phoebe." Joey tried a smile, and was a little surprised to find that it came easily. "I like worrying about you."

"I know. I didn't mean don't worry, I meant..." Phoebe sobbed once, bit her lip, then continued. "There's so much I regret about what I tried to do on the roof. I scared you guys, and I hate myself for that."

"Don't!" Joey found his volume and pitch were rising, and tried to bring both down to manageable levels. "Please don't hate yourself, Pheebs. You're a good person, and we all manage to scare each other once in a while. It's part of what being good buddies is about."

"You're so sweet." Phoebe squeezed his hand. "But don't you dare give up your dreams because of me. That would just make me feel bad. If you love me you'll go to Hollywood and do what you like doing best."

Joey felt suddenly scared. Because he knew she was right. Because it meant he was going to leave her, leave all of them. And no matter what she said, he'd still feel like he was abandoning her, and that was the last thing he wanted to do. He didn't know if he could handle the uncertainty, the fear of being thousands of miles away from people who might need him.

Phoebe smiled. A wide smile, her normal tooth-filled very-happy smile. "You'll be fine, darling. Trust me."

Joey smiled slightly. The strange thing was that he did trust her, that he did believe her. "Darling? You never called me darling before."

"Not to your face. I wanted to try it out just once." Phoebe closed her eyes, seemed to settle a bit into the bed. "Now do the same thing to my calf. Remember to be firm."

Joey looked at Phoebe for a few seconds, then moved down and began massaging her lower leg. He kept his gaze mostly on her face, uncertain what she was feeling and uncertain how he felt about it. This was a different Phoebe from the coffee house and a different Phoebe from the roof, and Joey wasn't certain if that was good or not. It felt right, it felt like a good Phoebe, but he didn't know for sure. He realized that he never would know for certain, but that was all right.

Feeling curiously mellow, Joey kept an eye on the half-smile on Phoebe's face until she fell asleep.


Monica carefully put Erica in the stroller, hoping very much not to wake her. She seemed to be successful; Erica didn't move as Monica carefully tucked the blanket around her. In the stroller next to Erica, Jack stirred slightly but didn't open his eyes and didn't make a sound, thankfully.

Monica leaned back and looked around. The coffee shop was no longer a convenient place to meet. It was too crowded and noisy for babies. Still, no other place would do. For today, at least.

"How do you do that?" Rachel asked from the chair where she sat with Emma. "I always had a terrible time putting Emma to sleep."

"We're just lucky, I think," Chandler said. "They're not always this cooperative. Sometimes I have to dance around for hours before they fall asleep."

Ross looked at Chandler quizzically. "Dance around?"

Monica chuckled. "Don't ask."

The door to the coffee house opened and Monica automatically looked up. Phoebe came in, looking unusually quiet and reserved. She saw everyone but didn't smile or wave, just looked back evenly. Worry began to grow in Monica, but she figured it out half a second before Ursula stepped aside and Phoebe and Mike entered hand in hand.

This Phoebe smiled widely as everyone greeted her. Monica eyed them critically. She looked good, the bandage around her head was gone but she was wearing a scarf, and probably would until her hair grew back a bit more. Mike looked surprisingly well, with no external indication that he had ever been injured. Only by watching the stiff, careful way he moved could Monica determine that he hadn't completely recovered yet. That, and the fact that Mike and Phoebe were clutching each other's hand tightly.

They sat down. Ursula sat at a table near the window, looking on but not quite joining the group. Monica studied her for a moment, trying to figure out what she was doing here and what her current relationship with Phoebe was. Just the fact that she was here, with Phoebe, was an indication that the twins' feelings for each other had improved a hundredfold in the last month.

Rachel was saying something, and Monica put aside her internal musings in order to catch up. "What did your gynecologist say?"

"Nothing bad," Phoebe said with just a touch of strain in her eyes. "No damage, I should be able to get pregnant again right away."

Ross looked steadily at her. "Do you want to?"

Monica winced internally. Ross sometimes had a habit of asking painful direct questions, and after all these years she still didn't know if that was a bad thing or not. It's certainly a question Monica wouldn't have asked, not for a long time anyway.

But Phoebe didn't seem put out and took the question head on. "Yes. Yes, I do." She looked into Mike's eyes. "It's what we both want and need. I was silly for thinking that we weren't ready. We are."

Mike smiled at her and leaned in. They shared a quick kiss and Monica sighed happily. Good things were coming out of the tragedy. For that, at least, Monica was quite thankful.

The door opened, and there stood Joey. "Hey guys."

Monica joined everyone in greeting him back. She felt a sudden, deep pang in her chest. This would be one of the last times she would see Joey as an intimate everyday friend. He was moving to Los Angeles in three days, and although she would probably see him again over the years, she'd never be as close to him as she was now.

And that was a very sad thing.

If Joey was feeling something similar, he showed no signs of it. He stood in the midst of them and looked down at Rachel. He had a big, silly grin on his face. "Show me."

Rachel pursed her lips and smiled. Monica found herself smiling as well; this had become an almost daily ritual that Joey did not seem to grow tired of. Rachel lifted her left hand, showing Joey the ring she was wearing.

Impossibly, Joey's smile grew wider. "Yeah, baby!"

Chuckles passed through the group. Monica noted that Ross no longer seemed quite as embarrassed by the inordinate amount of joy Joey exhibited about their engagement. Which was good, Monica decided. Ross was growing comfortable with the idea of being engaged to Rachel. Euphoria was all well and good but it inevitably faded, and if what was left behind felt easy and good, then everything would work out. Monica found her hand reaching over to Chandler's and their fingers intertwined.

Joey finally sat on the couch next to Phoebe. She was, of course, grinning at him. "When do you begin shooting your new series?"

"Right away. I'm supposed to be on the set the day after I arrive." Joey hardened his face. "I want answers and I want them now, punk!"

Phoebe laughed and cheered. Everyone else followed suit. Monica met Chandler's eyes and saw reflected in them her concern about the long-term viability of a television series that used such dialogue. But now was not the time to express such doubts, and she saw that Chandler knew that, too.

They talked for a long time. About the babies, the new house. The wedding - not for a year or two at least, no date set yet. Rachel's new job. Joey's new job. Ross's experiences as a now-tenured professor. Monica and Chandler returning to their jobs in a couple of weeks, and what that meant.

It was fun, it was normal, it was life. And yet, it was ending, this phase. It just wasn't sustainable, just the six of them together forever. Monica looked over at her niece, who she loved dearly but had really been the harbinger of the end of the status quo. Erica and Jack had been the next sign. And now Joey. Moving out, moving away.

"Do you remember," Monica found herself saying, "the day you moved in and I invited you in for a drink?"

Joey winced. "I keep trying to forget that, actually."

"It was all right. I mean, you did the most embarrassing thing you could have done. I was fully ready never to speak to you again." Monica smiled. "But you seemed genuinely sorry. And then Chandler talked about what a great roommate you were, and how much he enjoyed living with you."

"Yeah, we got lucky I guess." Joey looked over at Chandler. "Having such a good buddy... it was kind of a new thing for me, but I liked it."

"I liked it, too," Chandler said with a grin.

"I loved having you guys live across from us. I miss that. I miss this." Monica waved around the coffee house. "It's going to be so hard... not being able to do this any more."

"Yeah, well." Ross looked around. "Y'know, it's not as hard as it used to be."

Rachel frowned slightly. "What do you mean?"

"I mean..." Ross sighed. "When Carol moved out, it was the worst feeling in the world, and I ran to you guys, I, I had to be with you guys, I couldn't imagine what might have happened if you guys hadn't been here. But now..."

Ross met all their eyes, one by one. "When, when I thought my world was over yet again, when I though Rachel was leaving, I, I knew I would be okay. Even if you guys weren't, weren't here in this coffee house or, or in the apartment, I'd... I'd feel you... here." Ross tapped his chest. "If I have any kind of problem, all I have to do is close my eyes and I can see Phoebe smiling as she sings, Monica urging me to be strong, Chandler finding a way to relieve my tension, Joey cheering me on, Rachel looking at me with sympathy and concern. And, and that's enough. No matter what happens in the next year or the next twenty years, you guys will always be with me. And knowing that, I know that my life will be good."

Silence descended. Monica looked at her brother with appreciation; that was quite the summation he had made. He'd always been good at analyses like that, except when he got too worked up. Right now he was holding Rachel's gaze, oblivious to the rest of the world, and that made Monica feel good, too. Ross deserved peace and happiness as much as any of them, and Monica felt ecstatic anew that he had found those things with Rachel.

"Yeah," Joey finally said after a couple of minutes. "That's what makes me think I'll be all right in California. I learned so much from you guys, enough to know that I can make it on my own now. But," and here he looked at Phoebe, "if you guys ever need anything, ever, I'll come running."

Phoebe smiled gently. "I know. And thank you. It goes both ways, too. Let us know if you need help."

Joey looked around, and there it was on his face, the realization that this was it. Monica felt her chest tighten again. In one corner of her mind she railed bitterly at this moment, that it was here when it should never have arrived. But another, stronger part of her knew that it was inevitable, and while it was painful it was also right and good. For Joey, for all of them.

Joey stood up and the hugs began. The each seemed to last an eternity, and when Monica got hers from Joey, she found herself clinging to him for dear life, and only with the greatest effort could she let him go.

Rachel began gathering her supplies while Ross bundled up a sleepy Emma. Rachel made her way to the front of the coffee house, where Ursula and, to Monica's surprise, Gunther were chatting. Rachel spoke softly to Ursula, who at first looked guarded and suspicious, but ended up accepting one of Rachel's new business cards. Monica wondered at the exchange, but decided not to interfere. Rachel had always been the one with the gift to connect with anyone, and Monica didn't want to get in the way of that.

Monica began packing her own things as Ross and Rachel left. Erica and Jack had, thankfully, remained asleep the entire time, but that was certain to change soon. Phoebe and Mike gathered up Ursula and they left. Gunther, Monica noticed, looked mildly happy as he said goodbye to Ursula.

Finally she had packed up the babies and the assorted paraphernalia. Chandler carried Erica while Monica carried Jack. Monica paused at the entrance, looking back at Joey. He was just standing there, looking around. Monica looked up at Chandler. They smiled at each other, and by mutual assent left. She knew Joey would be fine by himself.

They made their way back to the car, and to the life that awaited them in Westchester.


Joey Tribbiani stood in the middle of the mostly-empty coffee shop. In the near silence he could hear the echoes of ten years and more.

"Of course it was a line," he said softly to the couch. The couch responded with mute disapproval.

Joey smiled slightly. Then he took a deep breath, turned, and left Central Perk. Ahead lay California, Gina, and Hollywood.

But although Joey left New York behind him, he knew with unfailing certainty he carried with him the spirits of his friends.


(the end)

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Sorry this took so long. You won't believe the number of times I rewrote the Ross/Rachel scene. I wanted to get it right, but in the end I was not totally happy with the way it worked out. If you have any ideas on how to improve it, let me know. I am always, always open to suggestion.

I'd like to thank everyone for their kind words of encouragement during the writing of this story. It is, in its own way, my farewell to Friends, a series I have greatly enjoyed for many years. I wish I could express myself better; my own writing could never quite satisfy the way Kaufmann and Crane could.

As always, any thoughts or suggestions you have, I'd love to hear about.