A/N: So here's the deal. After some nudging, self-searching, and ideas that won't leave me alone, I have decided to try my hand at writing a multi-chaptered story. This takes place immediately after TOW Everybody Finds Out, but will continue on a slightly different path.
Many thanks to all my reviewers – and especially Amy, because apart from being my self-proclaimed biggest fan, she's also a terrific friend and writer. You rock, bud.
As soon as he closed the door, she was in his arms, smiling against his lips as she worked furiously to unbutton his sweater-vest. "These things really aren't meant for sexual emergencies, are they?" Monica commented between kisses.
"Because?" Chandler asked, as one of the buttons tore off the vest and skidded across the linoleum floor.
"Two layers," she said impatiently. "One with buttons."
He twirled her in a half-circle so that they were facing away from the wayward button. "We can fix it later," he told her.
"Oh, thank God," she breathed, kissing him with newfound vigor. After a long moment, she pulled away to study his face; her eyes softened. "This is crazy, you know, you and me."
"Yeah, I pretty much figured," he said, touching her temple lovingly. "Ever since we considered doing the dirty with your brother in the same room, I knew there was no turning back."
"It really is."
Monica laughed. "I should have specified."
"Whoa, hey," Chandler protested. "I'm bearing my soul here!"
Her wrist fluttered up to meet her forehead as Monica pretended to swoon against his chest. "Oh, Chandler, you're so suave, I do so love it when you use clichés!"
"Very funny, Mon."
She looked up at him with all the sincerity she could muster. "I mean, you're so tall and strapping, you hot piece of masculinity."
He grinned. "So you think so too?"
She smiled, shook her head in amusement, and stood on tiptoe to kiss him. Chandler had moved his hands to her hair and she was flinging his vest to the side when there was a loud knocking at the door.
"What the hell?" Monica cried, jumping at the noise. Chandler glanced at his hands in wonder.
"Hey, they've never made that noise before."
Monica rolled her eyes at him, straightened the collar of her shirt, and strolled assertively to the door. She looked through the peephole.
"It's Joey and them!" she hissed at Chandler from across the room.
"At least they knocked," Chandler said lightly, as Monica flung open the door with a vengeance.
"Hey Mon!" Joey greeted. He made his way to the fridge and pulled out a bowl of tiramisu. Rachel and Phoebe followed in his wake.
"What are you doing here?" Monica snapped at Rachel.
Before Rachel could answer, or at least defend herself, Phoebe cried, "Wow, how stupid are you guys?"
"What?" Monica said fiercely, facing Phoebe, who was standing by the window.
"You couldn't even make it into the bedroom?" Phoebe said, examining the haphazard clothing on the floor and couch. Monica noticed her shoe had knocked over a lamp and hurried over to right it, the blood rushing to her face. Phoebe looked out the window. "Hey! And there's Ross!" She waved cheerfully.
Chandler and Monica exchanged looks of dread. Monica blanched.
Rachel meandered over to the window. "Don't die on us yet. I think it's all clear. Ross isn't carrying any weapons or anything." She waved. "I think he's coming over, though, he's gesturing something." She squinted. "Wait, yeah, either that, or he's flicking us off."
"Hey, let me see him!" Joey cried through a mouthful of tiramisu. He stumbled in front of the window and waved frantically. "Dude, Ross, hi!"
"Somehow, I don't think we're the stupid ones," Chandler said, crossing his arms. "JOE," he said loudly, "ROSS CAN'T HEAR YOU."
"WHY ARE YOU YELLING?" Joey yelled back.
"Stop it!" Monica said, waving her hands in mild hysteria. "Stop it, stop it, stop it!"
Chandler put his hands on her shoulders. "I think what she means to say is – why the hell are you guys here?"
"I needed my clothes for work tomorrow," said Rachel, "and I figured the longer we waited over there," she gestured across the hall to Apartment 19, "the longer you guys had in here, to, you know, do what you're doing. And I'm not waking up any earlier than I have to. We're actually doing you a huge favor by staying out of your hair the rest of the night. And, hey, at least we knocked!"
"That's what I said!" Chandler commented enthusiastically. Monica looked at him in amused exasperation.
"So you came over to get your clothes?" she repeated.
"And my quarters!" Phoebe exclaimed.
"My quarters," said Phoebe. "Rachel said you wouldn't have them, but I said, of course you would, were you dead? Do laundry, or do Chandler – hmmm, that's a toughie!"
"That may be the single most inappropriate thing I have ever heard," Chandler commented. "I'm standing right here, Phoebs."
"But it's true!" Phoebe protested.
"Yeah . . . it is true," Monica relented. She left the room and returned with a sack of quarters and a heavy bag of dirty laundry. "We never did do your laundry."
Joey catcalled. Chandler stared at him unblinkingly.
"Never mind," he deadpanned, "that is the most inappropriate thing I have ever heard."
"But it's true," said Joey good-naturedly.
"What the –" Chandler sputtered in bewilderment. "Catcalling can't be true! It's just a thing you do. It can't be true or false!"
"Yeah, it can."
"No. It can't."
Monica yelled, "My God, you kids are driving me crazy!"
Rachel and Phoebe grinned as the boys mumbled apologies to Monica. Rachel cleared her throat. "Well, I might as well collect my stuff . . ." She passed Monica gingerly and said under her breath, "Good luck, Chandler."
"And I'll take these," Phoebe said, snatching the quarters from Monica. "I'm going to buy a spoon for the nice lady in the jailhouse."
"She doesn't have a spoon?" Chandler asked.
"Yeah, well, you know, the plastic ones aren't good for digging escape routes," Phoebe said casually. "She says, if she gets free, she won't murder me or my friends! Isn't that nice?" Monica, Chandler, and Joey stared at her as she nonchalantly counted the number of quarters in the rucksack. "You're totally welcome, by the way."
Chandler grimaced. "Uh-huh."
"Okay, okay, okay!" Rachel sang, as she emerged from her room with a bulging duffel bag. "We can go now! I have my things for the morning!" She looked suddenly very amused. "Hey, whoa, it's like a slumber party!"
"But I want to hang out!" Joey whined.
Chandler and Monica exchanged harassed looks. Phoebe and Rachel each grabbed Joey by an arm and proceeded to drag him out of the apartment.
"So, after careful examination of my behavior, Donald tells me that he believes I'm ready to be released from my psychiatric leave and rejoin my team at the museum . . . which means, as of tomorrow, I'll be back at work!"
Everyone chorused their congratulations.
"Oh good," said Phoebe, "you've been such a loser lately. It'll be good to see you back on your feet!"
Ross shot her a look, and then stared at Monica, who had her head buried into Chandler's shoulder, shaking with silent laughter. Chandler shrugged. "She's right, you know."
"I guess this means she's feeling better," Ross said, glaring at Monica's obscured face.
"Feeling – ?"
"Yes!" Phoebe cried. "Completely and utterly cured! Voila!"
Ross looked skeptical. "Strep throat takes days to heal, Phoebs."
"How did she do it?" Rachel said, smiling at him.
"That's what I'm asking you!" He looked at Monica, who had finished mouthing, 'Strep throat?' to Phoebe. She immediately straightened and tried not to look guilty.
"I have an abnormally fast immune system," Monica told him. Ross narrowed his eyes at her.
"Ross," said Phoebe, as though she was talking to a particularly stubborn toddler, "all that skepticism will get you nowhere in life."
"Okay, whatever," said Ross, standing up and brushing off his pants. "I'm going to the bathroom."
As soon as Ross rounded the corner, Monica cried, "Strep throat?"
"Hey, did you want your time with Chandler or not?" Phoebe replied.
"Yeah," Rachel pitched in, "as soon as he came up from his apartment yesterday, he wanted to go out and celebrate his 'big news' . . . of course, he refused to tell us what it was before you and Chandler were with us . . . so, naturally, he asked where you were . . ."
"And so Monica became sick with strep throat and Chandler was working overtime," Phoebe said.
"On a Saturday?" Chandler asked disbelievingly.
Rachel shrugged. "I honestly don't think he noticed."
Joey, who had been glowering at them this entire conversation, finally said, "I can't stand all these secrets, you guys! C'mon, just tell him!"
"No!" Monica and Chandler cried at the same time.
"Just tell him!" Joey cried pathetically. "You owe me!"
Rachel patted his arm. "Honey, look at it this way, aren't you having at least a little bit of fun with it?"
"No!" he said, crossing his arms. "I just want it to end! I'm sick of lying to everyone!" He pulled on his coat. "Listen, you guys, I'm gonna go, I don't want any more of this."
"Joey!" everyone cried, but he was already out the door.
"What's going on?" Ross asked, returning from the bathroom. "Where's Joey?"
Chandler looked at the door, and then at Ross. "Strep throat, man. Monica sneezed on him."
Ross looked disgusted. "Well, don't sneeze on me, I still don't think you're completely cured yet."
Monica pinched Chandler's shoulder angrily. He smiled sweetly at her.