Chapter 3

"Keepers"

"G'morning," Rachel yawned, rubbing her eyes, as she meandered through the purple door into her old apartment. "What's for breakfast?"

"We've got pancakes, bread, eggs, and various parts of slaughtered pigs," Phoebe answered, eying the bacon, ham, and sausages distastefully. "Want some?"

"Oh yeah, after that lovely and appetizing comment," Rachel replied dryly, thumping down on a chair. She pulled an empty plate forward, reaching for the pancakes with her other hand. "Where is everyone, anyway?" she added after noticing the unusually empty room. Normally, there were at least two people here at breakfast time.

Phoebe shrugged, taking a sip from her mug. "When I came in, Monica told me to help myself and then disappeared into her room and locked the door. So now they're just hogging Joey all to themselves." She glared at the closed bedroom door accusingly, mentally willing it to pop open and expose the atrocities that she knew had to be going on in there.

Rachel paused. That certainly wasn't a comment she heard everyday, and the oddity of it caused her mind to suddenly flash back to yesterday...

"Oh my god," she gasped, dropping her fork with a clatter. "Oh my god, that wasn't a dream!"

"No, it certainly wasn't!" Phoebe exclaimed joyously. "Oh, this is going to be so much fun!" she grinned, ecstatic and completely oblivious to Rachel's growing horror.

"No! No, it isn't going to be fun, Phoebe! Joey's turned back into a child, for crying out loud! Now who's going to be my roommate? How are we going to take care of him? How are we going to explain him? Who's going to eat all the leftovers? Who will play Drake Ramoray on 'Days of Our Lives'?"

"Yeah, because that's the biggest problem we'll have," Phoebe drawled wryly, rolling her eyes.

"Yes, that's a big problem! I mean – who the hell will save Camellia now? And, and who's going to help Stacy make up with Mitchell? And if Camellia dies, then how will William ever find his peace?" Rachel jumped up, pancakes completely forgotten. "And who will stop Crystal from killing her ex-husband's wife's sister who is actually her birth sister?"

Phoebe avoided her eyes, clearly unnerved. "I – I don't know, Rache, I'm sure they'll all be fine..."

The bedroom door chose that moment to open, letting a grateful Phoebe jump up and hurry away from her momentarily distracted and undoubtedly crazy friend. "What's all the yelling about?" Monica inquired as she stepped out, holding a notebook in one hand.

She jumped back the next moment as Rachel let out a hair-raising screech. "It's all wrong! Camellia's dead, Mitchell ends up marrying a whore, and Crystal killed her sister! Argh!" She slumped back down, swamped with depression.

"Camellia dies? Wha – how'd you know that?" Monica gasped, flinging her notebook aside and running over. "Rache? Rache, how does she die?"

"Oooo, she dies because Drake Ramoray doesn't save her, you idiot, because Drake turned back into a little kid!" Rachel snapped, looking ready to bite her.

"Oh, damn!" Monica joined her pity party. "Poor William!"

Phoebe only shook her head in a mixture of amusement and disbelief.

Chandler emerged from the bedroom a moment later, dressed ready for work, briefcase held securely in one hand. "Honey, are you sure about this?" he asked slowly, skepticism apparent in his voice, and it became obvious what he was talking about a second later as Joey trotted out after him, clinging happily to his fingers. The boy was also dressed to go out, and sported a bright orange, too-big backpack on his back that bounced with every step he took.

"Oh, Monica!" Phoebe squealed upon seeing the boy. "I hate to admit it, but you're amazing!" Monica had taken charge of him half an hour ago (despite Phoebe's jealous protests), and, armed with Ross' duffel bag of clothes, had proceeded to dress him up like a little doll. Surprisingly enough, Joey had actually seemed to like it. That was probably the same reason he had survived living with seven sisters.

"I know!" Monica exclaimed in reply to Phoebe's comment, snapping out of her gloom, pleased that her friend approved. She gazed at her handiwork with pride. "Rachel, what do you think?"

"Huh? Oh, who cares, Camellia's – Oh my god, Monica, you're brilliant!" she interrupted herself when she actually caught sight of the boy. "He looks so cute!"

"We're gonna have to get used to this, aren't we?" Chandler muttered wearily. "You're a regular little chick magnet." At this comment, little Joey looked up at him and laughed. Not because he actually understanding the man's words, only because he was, as Chandler had found out by now, a naturally happy child who saw everything through a pair of metaphorical comedy-coated glasses.

"You two are going to have so much fun!" Monica gushed, beaming.

"Or not, I don't think," Chandler grumbled in response, but had the sense to do it under his breath for fear for provoking his fiancé's wrath.

"Why, where are they going?" Phoebe asked, suddenly suspicious. "You're not gonna keep him from us, are you? He's not all yours!"

"No, no, Pheebs! But we've all got work today, so I thought Chandler could just take him along. I mean, a restaurant's not much of a place for a kid. Nor is a massage parlor," she added meaningfully, glaring at the blonde.

"Damn it."

"Phoebe!"

"Wait a minute, wait a minute, what about me?" Rachel asked indignantly, gesturing to herself. "I can take him! Nothing wrong with a Ralph Lauren office building!"

"Well, Chandler called shotgun, so tough luck!" Monica growled, jabbing a finger at her, looking every bit like a ruffled tabby cat ready to pounce.

"That's so not fair! Why should he get – "

"Ahh, ahh!" Monica yelled, tackling her and pinning her to the wall. "We got him first! Go, Chandler, go!"

"You know, I really don't like getting treated like your subordinate –"

"GO, you sissy!"

"Yes ma'am!" he squeaked, snatching Joey up into his arms and dashing out the door. "We're gone!"

"Bye-bye!" Joey called back happily as the two disappeared down the hall, leaving behind a triumphant Monica and her two very dismayed friends who wailed "Cheater!" in perfect unison.

Monica only smirked, releasing Rachel and standing up to brush herself off. "Yeah, well, that's why you get boyfriends!"

"Monica, I hope you know that just because he spent a night here that does NOT mean he belongs to you!" Phoebe huffed, eyes blazing angrily, clearly ready to fight for her share of the little boy's time.

"I know, I know!" Monica admitted, throwing up her hands in a gesture of defeat. "It's just..." she trailed off, voice growing soft. "It's just...I want Chandler to have some time with him, you know? I mean...okay, last night? Last night, Joey woke up crying form a bad dream, and Chandler completely freaked out about going out to settle him down, and – " she broke off, at a loss for words, and stood wringing her hand helplessly, peering up at her friends, hoping rather naïvely that they would somehow be able to read her mind.

"...and you're worried about him acting like that for you own kids," Rachel finished after a seconds' pause.

"Yeah," she muttered, slumping down into Rachel's vacated chair.

"Oh, honey," Rachel murmured, giving her friend a hug. "I know you're worried, but...you just have to believe that he loves you enough, and he's gonna be able to be a big boy and handle it when the time comes."

"Yeah, Chandler's wishy-washy and, y'know, a bit floopy," Phoebe added. "But he does love you a lot. He can do this!"

"Well, that's what I keep telling myself!" Monica groaned. "But you should've seen him last night! He completely freaked! Completely! And it's only Joey, not some – some tiny little infant who's actually his son!"

"It'll be okay, Mon," Rachel said comfortingly, patting her friend on the back. "It'll be fine! Look, maybe he was freaked out because…well, it's kinda freaky to have your best friend turn back into a kid. And besides, he loves Joey like a brother, and his son is gonna be…well, his son. That's…special. And you guys will have nine whole months of pregnancy to make him feel comfortable. Joey just kinda popped outta nowhere, y'know? It'll be fine. And you can borrow Joey for practice anytime you want."

"Well, not anytime," Phoebe interjected hurriedly. "Quit talking about him like he's some toy that people can just come in and take!"

"Yeah, Pheebs, because you don't do that or anything..."

"Thanks, guys," Monica smiled gratefully. "I just have to keep believing in him, huh? It'll be fine. It's gotta be."

...right?

Xxxxx

"Good morning – Oh my god, Mr. Bing! You brought your son! He's so cute!"

"No! Nonono, I'm just babysitting!"

"Hey, Chandler! Whoa, you didn't tell me you knocked some girl up. She must'a been hot too. Kid didn't get those looks from you."

"He's not my son!"

"Mr. Bing, I didn't know you had children! He's adorable!"

"He's not my son!"

"Hey Chandler! Brought your kid to show off, huh?"

"He's not..."

"Wow, Chandler! I didn't know your were married. He's so sweet...hi! Hi there, sweetie!"

"He's not..."

"Good morning, Mr. Bing! Brought your boy to see Daddy work?"

"..."

"Wow, Chandler, he's an absolute angel!"

"Yes, yes..."

"Hey, Chandler! Who's that cutie pie? Hi!...oh, hi! Hi! Ooh, I could just eat you up! What're you guys doing for lunch? Want to join me? My treat!"

"…yes, okay, fine! He's my kid."

Xxxxx

That same night, inside the living room and around the coffee table of 495 Grove St. apt 20, New York, NY 10001, a top-secret, very serious conference was currently progressing. Its participators numbered six, including three women, two men, and a little boy. At present, the rather loud, dark-haired woman was in the process of making her point.

"…so I say we just split him between the six of us."

To this suggestion the shorter of the two men replied with, "okay, he's not a sandwich –". There had been more to that sentence, but here he was abruptly cut off by the same women who had last spoken: "Look, if we let anyone else know about this, he'd probably be taken in for genetic experiments. That or we'd all get locked up in some asylum while he's taken into protective custody. So let's just keep this to ourselves, alright?"

"So we'll just raise the kid and hope that this somehow wears off," Chandler deadpanned. "That's a wonderful plan, Mon, because we're all prepared for the responsibility parenthood, what with all the preparation we've done!"

"O-kay, funny man! Let's hear your plan!"

"I say we give him to his parents. They raised him once, they can do it again."

"Chandler, I cannot believe you would do that to those poor old people looking for a comfortable retirement!"

"Shut up! You just want to keep him! And I'm telling you we can't, because we'd screw it up for sure. He's not, like, a stuffed animal, Monica, he has feelings!"

"And, y'know, he can also hear you," Rachel muttered to herself, a bit put off by being left out.

"That's right, he can!" Phoebe broke in loudly, effectively ending the volley of arguments. "He's a living, breathing human being, and I say we ask his advice!"

Chandler turned to stare at her incredulously. "He's THREE!"

He was, not for the first time in his life, completely ignored. "Joey!" Phoebe rounded on the boy, who had been sitting on the couch, following the argument like a tennis match, head turning back and forth, following the sounds rather than the words. As such, he had absolutely no idea what was going on. At the sudden sound of his name, he jumped slightly, then stared at Phoebe in bewilderment, all the while clutching his stuffed penguin close. "Joey, you decide. Do you want to stay here with us or go to some strange place where they will no doubt be very bad to you?"

Chandler's eyes widened dramatically, and he began jabbing a finger wildly at his friend. "Phoebe! Objection, she's messing with his head! She's messing with his head!" Already sick of his antics, Phoebe snatched his finger into a death grip. "Shut up, Bing, before I kick your ass."

"Phoebe!" Ross hissed. "Will you please remember that there's a three-year-old in the room?"

"Huh?" the boy asked, looking around shyly, aware that he had, for some unknown reason, suddenly become the center of attention.

"Joey, honey, would you like to stay here with us or go back to your parents?" Rachel asked gently, stepping around her arguing friend and bending down so she was eye-level with him. "Do you know who your parents are?"

"Parents?" brown eyes blinked. "I dunno…"

"You…don't know," Rachel repeated hesitantly. "Uh…" she trailed off, looking to her friends desperately for help.

"Don't you have a mommy, Joey?" Ross asked, sitting down next to him. "Or a daddy?"

"I…don't know…" the boy repeated uncertainly, tugging subconsciously at Hugsy's scarf for want of something to do with his hands.

None of them could come up with any sort of intelligent response, and so, as anybody who knew anything about this group could have predicted, they turned to look expectantly at each other.

Xxxxx

"I still don't understand how he has no memories of his family. I mean, it's not like he's forgotten his name or his age or anything. It doesn't make any sense." This comment was accompanied by an expression that on the face of any child under the age of twelve would have been called a pout.

"Oh yeah, because the whole situation up to that point had been perfectly sensible," Ross replied sarcastically. "I mean, people regressing thirty years, that happens every day! Oh, and look! I see winged pigs flying outside the window!"

"Shut up," Chandler scowled. "It's my job to make snide remarks."

At that particular moment, Joey had been carried of by three delighted girls to go clothes-shopping. Once they had confirmed that he indeed had no recollection whatsoever of his family or past life, the girls had taken this advantage and brutally crushed Chandler's weak protests. The argument was brought up that even given to Gloria and Joseph Tribbiani the boy would still be among strangers, and, therefore, no better off. Riding this point, even Chandler had given in at last. And now he was sprawled on the couch, left with seemingly all the time in the world to contemplate exactly how this new development would affect the fragile equilibrium that he had managed to build in his life and relationship – the delicate state of homeostasis that he depended so much upon in order to avoid becoming insane.

"Ross?" Chandler spoke up after a moment of heavy silence, glancing up to where his friend had situated himself, half-laid down on the cushioned sofa next to him and flipping idly through a magazine.

"Yeah?"

It took a couple tries to unstick the words he needed to say from his throat, and even then they came out rusty. "When you first became a father...was it...hard?"

Ross sent him a sidelong glance, his hands pausing with a page half-turned. "Huh. Well, it was a little bit at first, you know, because...when I held that little baby in my arms, I really saw how small he was. And I knew he'd be dependent on me, and that I was responsible for him, in everything. And that…that was huge, y'know? And that was a bit scary. But I also loved him, Chandler. I mean, I was afraid of messing up, sure, but he's my son, and I wouldn't let anything get in the way of my loving him, no matter how scared I was." He smiled, a far-off look coming into his eyes. "There was just this moment when I just suddenly realized, 'I'm a FATHER!' and the meaning of it all just hit me. And sure, the responsibility was overwhelming, but it also felt so right. I guess...I guess I just thought that with as much love as I had, there wasn't any mistake I couldn't fix."

"Oh," Chandler muttered, staring at his hands. He had been doing a lot of thinking since last night. Good, hard thoughts. Thoughts about himself. About Monica. And about their future together. What he got out of it all…was no small bit unsettling. "You think...you think I could ever be like that?"

"Well, sure!" Ross reached over to clasp his friend on the shoulder, before drawing him into an one-arm embrace. " Chandler, I'm telling you, when you hold your baby in your arms, you just know you love him enough to fix everything. And it's okay to be afraid. Only an idiot wouldn't be afraid. The trick is to control your fear, and use it to make yourself a better parent."

"Yeah," Chandler looked up, a tentative smile etched on his lips. "Yeah. I can do that! I can hold strong! I can commit. I love Monica so much. That love can fix everything."

...right?

Silence reigned in the room for five minutes more, before his reverie was abruptly interrupted by the violent opening of the front door. "We're back!" Phoebe's voice echoed throughout the room, and a moment later she appeared into Chandler's line of vision, with Monica and Rachel behind her. Joey bounced in between them, moving literally like he had springs attached to his feet.

"Oh, what the hell is all that?" Chandler gaped, staring at the countless, multi-colored bags the girls had brought in.

"Don't say it like that, they're all necessary!" Rachel said defensively. "Raising a child takes a lot, you know!"

"I'm going to miss you guys after they kick you out for not being able to pay rent," was Ross' only comment as he eyed the endless bags with disdain.

"Well you won't need to, because if we're going down then you're coming with us. You're springing for one-fifth of this, Geller, like we all are," Rachel replied, thumping her bags down on the coffee table.

"Keep on dreaming, Greene," Ross rolled his eyes.

"Pay up or get out, bro," Monica interjected, smacking him with a bag. "If you're in this, then you're in this, no if's, and's, or but's."

"How is this necessary?" Chandler asked exasperatedly as he pulled a bright red lacy pair of panties out of one of Phoebe's bags.

"That's…for educating him on…the importance and…variety of…underwear," Phoebe replied, making a heroic effort to fabricate a story out of thin air. "See, it's showing how many different types of underwear there are and how we can't discriminate between one type and another because of size, color, or…other stuff."

Both men glared at her, while Monica covered Joey's eyes and Rachel tried desperately not to laugh.

"Okay, fine! They were on sale! I was weak! But I'm not sorry; these babies will pay for themselves in no time." She snatched the garment back, and stuck it deliberately back into her bag. "And if you're good, Chandler, maybe I'll let Monica borrow them."

"Phoebe!" Ross groaned. "Joey!"

"Oh, it's not like he won't know about those two eventually, he lives right across the hall," she waved a hand dismissively and dug into another bag, before remerging with a child-sized pair of leather pants. "Now let's dress him up like a cowboy and take pictures!"

"And what'll that educated him on?"

"The habits of women," Phoebe answered, completely straight-faced. "And they'll make great blackmail items when he turns back to an adult."

"Oh, so you think he'll definitely turn back?" Chandler asked, both hope and surprise filling his voice.

"Well, yeah. I mean, kids will grow," the blonde said matter-of-factly. "Maybe he'll even turn back sooner, I don't know. I mean, the deal must have worked two ways. So once he's fulfilled ...or maybe not fulfilled... the terms of his agreement, he'd have to turn back, right?"

"Huh," Chandler muttered, looking thoughtful. "I never though about it like that...what do you suppose those terms were?"

"I don't know, but I'm really hoping they never come to pass. Anyway, Phoebe, I wanted to do a doctor first!" Rachel protested, looking through her own bags for the Halloween costume she had found on sale.

"Okay, we'll compromise. He can be a cowboy who ropes up bad guys and heals the good guys!"

"Done!" Rachel lifted Joey up and carried him into the bedroom. "We're gonna have fun wid you, yes we are!" she crooned, cuddling the child who had, by now, gotten quite used to that type of treatment, and put up with it with a sort of dignified resignation. Phoebe scooped up her purchases and followed her, and Monica fell in a step behind, adding "Oh, and after that, we can make him be a chef!"

"Poor Joey," Ross remarked as the door banged shut.

"Why? Getting fawned by three girls? Must be his dream come true," Chandler pointed out.

"They're not fawning over him, they're…using him as a human doll. And lemme tell you, three girls with a closet full of garments is a…scary thing. It's like a force of nature – unstoppable."

The two looked at each other.

"We'll rescue him after an hour," Chandler resolved. "Any sooner and we might end up loosing an arm or two."

"Sounds good. I'll distract them, you grab him and run."

"To where?"

"I don't know. Good luck with that."


I was really torn about whether or not to post this chapter...I spent a great deal of time on it, but it doesn't really add much to the plot, does it? It's more of an interlude than anything else. Anyway, we'll see how it goes, and all suggestions are welcome.

(Oh and - I don't have a clue about soap operas. Really, I don't. Up until about a year ago, I couldn't tell the difference between soap operas and sitcoms. It's the result of learning english as a second language, and they don't teach that stuff in ESL class. So all that soap opera talk in the beginning is pure B.S. Please forgive me if I totally missed the mark!)

By the way, does anyone know exactly how Monica and Ross' last name is spelled? Geller or Gellar? And is it Rachel Greene or Green? I'm sure it doesn't matter, but still...it's good to know.

Thank you for reading. Please leave a review!