I'm back everyone! First off, I really want to apologize for the long absence. RL problems have been giving me headaches. Actually, it's not even solved, but I've decided to get back on this story anyway.
Second, I have realized that due to my messed-up construction, I put some lines in Friends-like continuity (meaning not the best continuity). For example, some people liked the nose job line, others didn't. And I also got a lot of questions about the age change. So, as one big compromise, I'm keeping the nose job line, and I'm changing his age again. I promise I now have a solid outline, and there won't be any major changes anymore. Rookie mistake. First fic after all. Please don't get tired of me.
Third, I would like to thank all you dear readers for sticking to this story. I cherish and value each and every one of your reviews. Whether praise or criticism, all of them are helpful for my motivation. I hope you'll like this one! And if you won't, just tell me what was unlikeable/unrealistic/insert negative adjective here about this chapter.
"What?" Rachel found herself turning back to him.
"You had a nose job," Ross repeated casually, his face innocent and nonchalant beneath the red, white, and purple.
"Yeah, but how do you know that?" A strong feeling surged through Rachel's system, a glimmer of hope, a dash of opportunity, a lead. The tingling sensation is gluing her to the spot, eager for his reply.
"It's pretty evident," he said in the same casual tone, and her heart sank.
Ross looked at her face, which is slowly turning pale. There is something about it that's bothering him. A part of him wants to reach out and ask what is wrong, to try to know how he can help, to inquire on how he can make it up to her, if he did offend her. But as a wire-tangled hand slowly began to move, logic entered his brain, caution has halted him, and the hand ended up touching the railing. Even though the same feeling is still nagging him, his guard is back up, and the thoughts of branching out are slowly fluttering away.
"Well, for me it is. But to the unobservant eye, your doctors did well," he said, hoping to cheer her up.
Rachel doesn't know why, but this comes off her the wrong way. Maybe it's because she'll always be defensive about her surgery, or because she never imagined having this conversation. With Ross, of all people. She crossed her arms over her chest and frowned.
'He's not really Ross, you know?' the thought floated by her mind, and she was eerily comforted by it. He's not Ross. He's a shadow of Ross, but he's not Ross. But he's out there, somewhere, and she can't wait to see him again.
"Anything else?" Rachel tried to say it in the same nonchalant tone but she's having a hard time since this Ross is pissing her off.
"You don't have to be so snitty about it," Ross said defensively.
Ross doesn't know what made her react like that. Either he's really clueless about girls, or he really must know her. Well, not really him, but the apparent "real" one. Who should be living in this time. Who's supposed to know her and the other people. Who's probably trapped in his body, but can't get out. The realization slowly kicked in, and for Ross, it doesn't feel good. He feels nauseous, he feels anxious, he feels embarrassed. His gaze was fixed upon the unfamiliar show playing on TV, a faint voice repeating "California" over and over. But even if he's scared of looking at her, his mind is focused on her. He shouted at her. He was insensitive to her. He made her cry. And she must be really important to him, for she came back even if he did all those things. It seems really thick for him to ask, but before the thought sank in, the words blurted out from his mouth.
"Am I supposed to know any of you?"
Rachel, who was looking at her boots, looked at him. Ross, who realized what he must have said, turned his head back to her. And their eyes meet.
Blue meets brown. Brown meets blue. Something seemed to click, but both of them don't really know what it is. But there is definitely a spark. It's not a lead, or a bad feeling, but it's something. And it dawned on them, both of them, that no matter what, they're connected somehow. For a moment, there is no TV, no incessant beeping from the machines, no New York traffic from the windows. It is just them.
Along with them, time seemed to stop still.
For Rachel, it seemed like when she got off the plane again. But this time, it seems like they have exchanged roles. For she is the one whose mouth is half-open in shock, taken aback by a statement of the other. And this Ross, this Ross is sporting an apologizing, almost pleading look, a look that almost mirrored hers when she stood on that doorway. And it is haunting her. Another strange thing, is that this Ross asked that question, in almost the same tone Ross would use whenever someone's down or in dire need of cheering up. It was not casual, it was not nonchalant. The tone of his voice when he asked that question cared, or at least tried to. And she doesn't know how to answer.
"Sorry!" was the last thing she heard as she softly closed the door.
The minute Joey entered Apartment 19, he knew something is wrong. Nearly empty fridge. Open TV (which is showing an ep of DOOL, something he never watches, ironically). The bathroom is unoccupied. Thinking that Rach decided to spend the night in the hospital, he settled leaned on the kitchen countertop, a hand holding a bottle of beer, the other hand feeling for his meatball sub, but accidentally pressed the messages button in the phone.
"Joe? This is Rachel. I've decided to stay with my Mom and Emma for a bit okay? Can you please tell the others that? It's just that…there's too much stress. Uh…I need a time off, I think. Please don't worry about me. I'm okay, really. Uh…just keep me updated on Ross will you? Thanks."
"How could we not worry about her?"
Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Mike were eating dinner that Monica brought to Phoebe's room, while the twins fell asleep. Then Joey came bursting through the door with the news that Rachel has moved out of his apartment. Dinner was ignored (except by Joey, who's finishing off everyone else's leftovers), and Monica is on full-contingency mode.
"Honestly honey, with that tone, we should be worrying about you," Chandler attempted a joke. While Phoebe and Mike laughed a bit, and Joey choked on his food, Monica gave him a look which made him retreat to his own plate.
"I want to know what happened with her and Ross in that room!"
"We all do Monica, but you said that Ross is asleep," Mike calmly said.
"Let's wake him up then!" Monica stood up from her seat and began to saunter off across the hallway.
"Monica E. Geller, get your ass back here now!"
Everyone turned their heads to Phoebe, who was the source of the remark. Monica stopped in her tracks immediately. The blond smiled happily to herself.
"Street Phoebe's still got it! Anyway, you can't force that out of either Ross or Rachel, because she would just be stressed out, and he doesn't even know how old he is! You got me?"
In the following days, everyone fell into routine. Ross is usually being given tests, made to go to the psychologist, talking to the doctor (more calmly than ever). Phoebe has finally fully recovered and was free to go, Monica and Chandler most of their boxes to Westchester, and Joey went to and failed three auditions. They all haven't heard from Rachel, but due to Phoebe's insistence, they all stopped communicating with her for a while, giving her time and space to breathe.
Whenever they're not working, they're visiting Ross, who is usually asleep from all of the medical activity. Knowing that he won't always be asleep, and that he would probably ask about his life, the four of them have also decided to split Ross' life in four categories – Monica answers questions about his job (since she was the only one willing to talk about paleontology), Chandler answers questions about his love life (minus Rachel), Joey answers questions about modern-day pop culture, and Phoebe answers questions about his family. They have decided not to include Rachel in their topics because it is one touchy subject. And also, as Phoebe said, "It is not our story. It is for her to tell him, because it is their story. It's a Lobster story."
When Ross woke up, he feels like he's been sleeping for a long time, like Captain America. He looked at his hands, which are now free of wires. He touched his face. It didn't hurt, or sear, or burn. It lacked of the roughness of bandages. He looked around. The machines are turned off. They must have cleaned him up last night. And his confused frown disappeared as well.
Ross quickly jumped off the bed, ecstatic that he is no longer confined to a gurney. He took a shower, found some clothes in the room's lone closet, and looked around once more.
It was only then noticed a dark-haired woman whose arms are resting on the railing of his bed. Knowing how that predicament must be uncomfortable, he poked a cautious finger on her head, which is resting on her arms.
Monica opened her eyes with the alertness of a drill sergeant. She looked up and saw Ross, her big brother, sporting the same concerned look he would always sport whenever she would come home crying when she was bullied in kindergarten.
Phoebe, Joey, and Chandler had come back from their quick breakfast at the cafeteria. Chandler handed a brown paper bag to Monica, looked at the siblings, and cautiously gave Monica a kiss on the cheek. All four looked at their recently hospitalized friend.
"Uh…do you know where to get a decent cup of coffee?" Ross asked.
Monica and the others exchanged knowing looks, and smiled at him.
"We know a place."