AfterRoss had left, she sat on the couch for a few minutes, wondering how she could've managed to mess up so bad. How she could've managed to hurt two men who hadn't deserved any of this. Two men she loved so much that she had been torn between them for almost a year.
But it seemed to be clear now what had hurt them the most.
Her immature and stupid indecisiveness. Her refusal to be honest to them – and to herself – about her feelings. Yeah, telling Ross she wanted to be with Joey would've hurt him. But in no way could it have hurt him as badly as having to suspect she was cheating on him, as having to learn she had intended to marry him out of fear, out of convenience.
And Joey… sweet heartbroken Joey… how cruel was it to come back to him with nothing more than questions, without a clear decision?
Maybe he was so happy about her engagement, because it meant knowing that it was finally over, because it meant getting closure.
With running back to him tonight she had taken that away from him again without giving him the feeling that this was going somewhere.
Both men had left the decision to her repeatedly and she had never really made one. She had left Joey but that was neither a decision against him nor was it one for Ross. She had moved out of his apartment thinking it was the right thing to do, but it had never been more than changing the place where she lived. When Ross had asked her to marry him, her answer hadn't been more than playing along.
Of course she had tried to rationalize this again and again. She was trying to help Joey to get over her, she was trying to do the right thing, she was trying to do what's best for her daughter.
She had been hiding behind her daughter, implying that Ross would be that much of a bad guy that he'd abandon his child because the child's mother had chosen to be with someone else. As if she hadn't known better.
Now the ball was in her court once again and she knew that if she didn't make a decision now, she would lose both of them – forever.
She stood up and undressed slowly while walking to the bedroom where she knew Ross would be still wide awake. She crawled under the covers and started to kiss him as soon as he touched her.
They didn't need to talk anymore. Everything had been said.
It was her apology and the closure she had denied him for far too long. It was their goodbye.
When the sun streamed through the windows of their bedroom and she woke up to the sound of Emma's voice coming over the baby monitor, she found Ross awake already, staring at the ceiling.
Before she got up, she looked at him and was surprised at the lack of sadness in his eyes. It made it so much easier.
"I never meant to hurt you," she whispered.
He managed a little smile and just answered, "I know."
Her mother came three hours later to pick up Emma. They had planned to accompany Ross to a conference in Barbados and her mother had volunteered to take Emma for three days.
Ross and the others had left already, she would take a later flight. They had decided to not tell anyone about their break-up until after the weekend, because they didn't want to spoil everyone's vacation.
With one exception, of course.
She dreaded having to tell the others. She could almost see the disappointment, the lack of understanding.
She could almost hear the arguments because she had had them with herself often enough.
'But you have a child. Your daughter needs her father.'
'She has a father, that won't change.'
'You always said you don't return his feelings.'
'Because I didn't want to think of the possibility. Because it meant it would be complicated, it meant having to hurt Ross. I never wanted to face that. With the pregnancy and everything, I had enough on my mind as it was.'
'You sure it's not just because you feel sorry for him?'
'I'm sure. If that was the reason, I could've made the decision a long time ago. It took me so long to realize that it was so much more than that.'
'You sure you can make a decision like that based on one night?'
'It wasn't just that night. I know I loved him even before that night. I don't think I would have even have asked him otherwise. I think I hadn't felt comfortable having him touch me or kiss me. But it felt so perfect, so right. If I had been honest to myself, I would've seen that even back then.'
'Don't you think you're trying to see something that wasn't there back then?'
'Maybe, but the important thing is what I feel now.'
'What do you feel now?'
'I love him. I want to be with him. I think I'll never be happy again without him.'
The flight had been uneventful, filled with her pondering what might happen the next two days.
Now that she had made her decision, she suddenly felt insanely nervous about telling Joey.
Scenarios about him not loving her anymore, about him still being mad at her for what happened the other night ran through her head and became scarier and more probable with every time she tried to picture it.
In the end, there were almost no positive possibilities left and she didn't even want to think about them to not set herself up for being disappointed.
Barbados greeted her with pouring rain.
'So much for spending the day at the beach,' she thought wryly to herself as she crashed onto the comfortable bed in her room.
Finally the sun came out a bit reluctantly and it still looked like it might rain again any minute. But she felt she needed to get out, it felt like her thoughts needed a bit of fresh air, like she needed to leave the hotel behind for a while.
Judging from the noises out of Monica and Chandler's room, they were busy. From what she had seen before, Phoebe and Mike probably did the same thing and Joey was nowhere to be found. But since she wanted to tell at least someone where she was, the tentatively knocked on Ross's door.
A shouted "It's open," gave her the permission to step in.
Ross was sitting at his laptop and his colleague Charlie sat on his bed, obviously still working on his speech. They both looked like they had laughed a lot and Ross was still smiling brightly when he turned to look at her.
It made her smile, too.
"Ross, I'm going for a walk on the beach for a while. Just in case anyone is gonna miss me or anything."
"Alright," he said and took a quick look in Charlie's direction. Then he looked back at her again. It seemed like there was a question in his eyes and a bit of hope.
Her smile got wider. Maybe she hadn't hurt him as bad as she had thought. Maybe he could be happy again sooner than she had expected. It was a bittersweet thought. Knowing that it was over forever. That he might find happiness with someone else. But it meant that he was gonna be happy again someday.
With an almost imperceptible nod she gave what Ross wouldn't have even needed to ask her for. She gave him her blessing. It was about time he moved on, she had held him back long enough.
"Have fun you guys," she said slowly, not quite able to keep her emotions out of her voice.
"Thanks Rachel," Ross said seriously, conveying through his eyes that he was grateful for more than just the kind words.
The wind tussled her hair while she walked along the deserted beach. Dark clouds on the horizon forecast the next bout of tropical rain, but she didn't quite feel like walking back to the hotel right now.
In the distance she saw a lonely figure sitting in the sand. She had seen a few footprints in the sand and had wondered who else might be crazy enough to walk around like this so shortly after the rain had stopped.
Her heart skipped a beat when she realized that it was him. It was Joey. So this was where he had been the whole time.
She walked over to him and sat down beside him in the wet sand, looking out on the ocean just like he did. He didn't even acknowledge her presence but his silence didn't seem unfriendly.
"It's gonna rain again soon," he said after a while, indicating the now towering dark clouds with a nod of his head.
"Yeah…" she said. She knew she should tell him she made a decision, that she now knew what she wanted, but he seemed so serene, so calm, it felt wrong somehow to start this discussion right now.
"You should probably head back before it starts to pour."
"What about you?" she asked quietly.
"I'm gonna stay here a while longer. See how this feels. I always liked being in the rain and this is tropical rain, maybe it's nice."
She imagined warm raindrops on her skin and breathed, "Yeah maybe."
The clouds covered almost the whole sky now and the sunny daylight had turned to an eerie half darkness. The color of the water had changed from azure to green and angrily rolled in foaming waves onto the white sand.
"Seriously Rach, you should go," he told her again, still in that calm and emotionless voice.
He was always sending her away. She knew he wanted to protect her, to do what's right, but she was done once and for all with waiting for someone else to make her decisions.
"I don't want to," she said decisively, almost a bit angry. Without even looking at him she felt him tensing up at her words. She'd never refused to go, although she knew she should have. "You said it might be nice," she added a bit more softly.
He took a shuddering breath beside her, his calm demeanor crumbling. "Maybe it won't be," he finally said and it almost sounded like a question.
"Well, then I'll know it for sure," she replied.
"What if you catch a cold and then you'll blame me because it was my idea?"
The first drops of rain hit the exposed parts of her body and she shivered slightly. Not so much from the rain, but from what was happening right now between them. From her apprehension about what he might say.
"It might be your idea, but it's my decision to stay," she said firmly, turning to face him, waiting for him to seek her gaze too.
He did that after a few seconds and the look in his eyes took away her breath for a while. He knew what they were talking about. He fought to keep his reactions in check, but the fire behind his eyes betrayed him. There was nothing in the world he wanted more than for her to stay. And this time she wouldn't disappoint him, this time, she wouldn't break his heart.
He put his hand lightly on her forearm and wiped one of the many raindrops away.
"You sure you don't want to go?"
"I'm sure, Joey. Never been so sure about anything in my life."
He swallowed hard and squeezed his eyes shut for a while. Rain was pouring down on them so heavily, they were both dripping wet already.
Reaching for her left hand, he tentatively brushed with his thumb over the place where her engagement ring used to be.
"Am I still gonna have a friend?"
"Yeah…" she whispered, "He's… he's gonna be okay. He… knows."
He let go of her hand and took a strand of hair out of her face that stuck against her wet skin.
"Look at you… that's what you're getting from staying out in the rain," he said with a light smile.
"I don't care, I love it," she said in a firm voice. And gentler but still unwavering she added, "I love you, Joey. I am so in love with you…"
Her sentence was interrupted by Joey's mouth pressed on hers in a passionate, almost bruising kiss. It felt like drowning, like falling. And she let herself fall.
She could taste the rain in his kisses and only once in her life had a kiss felt that right, that perfect. It had been raining back then, too.
It felt like an end and a beginning. The end of a long and painful journey of discovering what was truly between them. The beginning of discovering what it would be like to be together.
While he carefully lowered her onto the sand, his gaze held hers and she wasn't all that sure that the wetness on his face was only rain, but whether or not he was crying, the brightness of his smile lit up the whole world around her. The happiness he radiated mixed and mingled with her own delirious feelings and she hoped he could see that she was as happy as he was.
"I still do, I still love you," he answered the question she had asked him the other night. "I never even came close to figure out how to not be in love with you."
"I never should've left," she admitted ruefully.
He shook his head and even the memory of all the pain didn't put a damper on his mood.
"You came back."
She almost laughed when an old saying popped into her head. "…and now you can keep me."
"I will," he said, suddenly serious again, "and I will never let you go again."
His mouth descended on hers once again and she welcomed his kiss as openly as she had before.
They made love on the beach, rain pouring down on them, cooling their heated skin. It heightened every sensation, it turned every touch, every kiss into something magical, something both of them had never experienced before.
The slapping of the waves against the beach ebbed down in synch with their breathing and eventually they got up again and went into the water, washing the sand off themselves, reveling in the feeling of warm skin on warm skin in the slightly chilly water.
Little rays of sun were breaking through the dispersing clouds here and there, giving the scenery an even more unreal glow.
It was like a dream and they knew that. They also knew that they could keep dreaming for another day until their plane would bring them back into the real world.
Into a world without white beaches and palm trees, a world without warm rain and blue green water.
In that world, they would see if what seemed so strong and eternal now would hold up against every day life. Against all the things that the real world usually threw in the way of great romances and endless love.
Back there, they would have to prove that this was what they were both so sure of. That this was – and always had been – a lot more than a one time thing.
A/N: This time, it's really the end. I'm happy about every review I get, it keeps me in the mood to write. Thanks.