~A Very Good Year~

Conclusion: Far Away

December

The ambulance rumbled down the street, shaking its passengers back and forth violently.

Not that they noticed.

Monica clung to Chandler's limp hand tightly, unaware of the fact that her ring was digging into his skin. She sighed heavily. She knew it was a bad idea to release Chandler from the hospital, but he was so insistent. He hated it there, and even now, when she was faced with the fact that he would die without proper medical care, she was torn between doing what would save Chandler, and what he would want. If he was meant to die today, she knew he wouldn't want it to happen in the cold, sterile hospital. But her own selfishness had won the debate--Chandler was not going to die today.

The ambulance came to a screeching halt at the ER entrance. The paramedics rolled Chandler out of the back, and as Monica climbed out, she saw Phoebe's cab pull up, and her friends pile out. Monica silently took Sadie from Joey, and followed the gurney into the ER.

As soon as they passed through the swinging doors, the chaos surrounded them. None of them spoke; they simply walked blindly through the corridors, to the small room where Chandler had been wheeled. Monica hung back slightly, so that Sadie could not see into the room. Chandler was adamant about not allowing Sadie to see him this way.

Yet she had already seen so much.

***

It seemed to take hours, but in reality, Chandler was wheeled into the ICU only minutes after being brought into the ER. The group took the elevator up to meet Chandler and his doctors on the 5th floor. Monica felt as though she were walking in a tunnel, where she was blind to everything except what was right in front of her. Her vision was hazy, and she felt as though she had lost all of her senses at once. She sat in the ICU waiting area, and cuddled Sadie closely.

Another hour. Chandler's doctor finally appeared in the doorway, and motioned to Monica. She handed a now sleeping Sadie to Phoebe, and followed the doctor into the hallway.

She leaned up against the cold white wall, and pushed herself to look up at the doctor, to try and read his eyes before he told her what she already knew.

"He's fading fast, Monica. Theirs is really nothing more we can do, except make him as comfortable as possible. You need to say your goodbye's, if you haven't already."

Monica nodded numbly, then somehow found her way back into the waiting area. She looked at her friends, and wondered just how they would get through tomorrow.

They all looked at her, curiously, none of them wanting to hear what the doctor said, really, but feeling they had no other choice.

"It's time," Monica whispered, and four heads dropped simultaneously.

Rachel and Belle went in first. They weren't in the room long, as Belle began to fuss, and Rachel was certain she was going to pass out. She began sobbing as soon as she walked out of the room, and Ross immediately took Belle, and nodded toward Joey and Phoebe.

Phoebe stood up, and made her way into the room. She sat down next to Chandler, and looked at him for a long time. She wondered if he was at peace with his life. Somewhere, deep down, she knew he was, and that somehow brought her a comfort she did not feel when she lost her mother. She smiled warmly, and kissed Chandler on his forehead, before silently leaving the room. She looked back once, committed the moment to memory, and left the room.

Ross was next. He stood the entire time, and shifted from foot to foot nervously. Chandler's eyes fluttered open slightly, but Ross was unsure whether or not he was conscious.

"Chandler?" Ross whispered.

"Ross? Is that you?" Chandler had lost his sight completely two weeks ago, and had to rely on his friends much more than before. He never really recovered from the loss of independence.

"Yeah. I just, uh, wanted to tell you that, uh, that you are my best friend. And I never would have made it through college without you. And I am happy you married my sister. I really am." Ross tried to hide the fact that he was crying from Chandler, but failed.

Chandler coughed violently, then nodded, hoping that Ross would understand. Chandler took a labored breath, and coughed again.

"Uh, I gotta go..they only let us in one at a time, and Joey is waiting."

Chandler nodded again, still too weak to talk.

"Okay, I'll, uh, I'll see ya." Ross left quickly, and Chandler sighed.

"Bye." He finally croaked to a now-empty room.

It took Joey a few minutes to muster up the strength, but he finally made his way into the room. He sat down next to Chandler, and took his hand.

"Hey, buddy," Joey said through choked-back sobs.

"Hey," Chandler croaked.

"You know, I would give up everything to bring back those five lost years," Joey sighed, fighting stubbornly to hold back his tears.

"Me too," Chandler's whispers were barely audible.

"You are my brother. And I will be the best uncle I can to your daughter, okay?"

Chandler nodded, and attempted a smile.

"Okay. Monica's waiting, I gotta go. I love you, man."

"Me too," Chandler mouthed.

Joey hugged Chandler fiercely, and was suddenly unable to control his emotions. He broke down completely, and was only vaguely aware of Chandler's hand on the back of his head.

"It's okay," Chandler whispered weakly.

Joey pulled away, and took a deep, shaky breath.

"I gotta go..Monica's waiting." Joey repeated, but stayed rooted to his spot.

"Okay..you take care of my girls," Chandler croaked softly.

Joey nodded, gave Chandler's hand a squeeze, and rushed out of the room.

Monica carried Sadie into the room, her heart breaking. This was the moment she'd been dreading for a year.

She felt like she was looking at a different person. Chandler seemed much smaller than he did only hours earlier, when he was awake and cranky-as- ever. She sighed, and approached, and Chandler smiled when he heard the two loves of his life enter the room.

"Hi daddy!" Sadie said, and Monica let her down onto the bed gingerly, all the while explaining that she had to be "extra specially careful".

"Hi," Chandler whispered, and struggled to embrace his daughter.

"Daddy, today is a bad day?"

"Yeah," Chandler said, then coughed. He mustered up all of the strength he had left, to hold his daughter and say, "I love you Pumpkin. And I will---- I will always be with you."

Sadie nodded, and hugged her father again. She looked at him, and saw that his eyes here heavy.

"Daddy, it's time to sleep," she said innocently.

"Yeah," Chandler sighed. He kissed Sadie's forehead as Rachel entered the room, and Monica picked up Sadie and handed her to Rachel. Sadie waved slowly, and Monica wondered just how much the little girl was aware of.

She took a seat next to him, and took his hand in hers. She kissed it softly, then leaned up and kissed his dry lips. He smiled, and whispered, "I love you, so much."

"I love you too."

"I'll wait for you," he smiled, and she laughed, recalling their conversation months ago regarding the afterlife. He had told her he would make sure her afterworld home was totally clean before she arrived. It was a weak attempt at humor, but then, it was typical Chandler.

"You are my angel," she whispered, and kissed him.

"I won't be far away," Chandler whispered weakly, his breath becoming increasingly shallow as he spoke.

Monica kissed him once more. She felt his warm breath on her lips, and knew that they were his last. She laid her head on his now-still chest, closed her eyes, and smiled.

He was finally at peace.

***~***

Fifteen Years Later

"We are so proud of you, honey," Monica smiled, as Sadie tucked her mortarboard cap under her arm, and unzipped her gown.

"A high school graduate!" Joey boomed, and smiled broadly.

"Well, it's about time, I say," Sadie sighed, "My God, could it BE any hotter today?"

The group laughed, as they reveled in the sense of humor that Sadie had picked up. She was so much like Chandler it was scary.

***

"Thanks for the party, Mom," Sadie yawned, as she and Monica walked into their apartment that night.

"Oh, it was no problem honey," Monica smiled, and kicked off her shoes.

"I can't believe I'm done!" Sadie grinned, and sank into the sofa next to her mother.

"Well, you still have four years of college ahead of you!"

"Yeah," Sadie sighed thoughtfully. After a moment, she turned toward Monica.

"Mom, are you gonna be okay? I mean, with me gone and all?" Sadie had been accepted into Harvard, something that everyone was proud of, particularly her Uncle Ross, who insisted that she take a few of his Paleontology lectures. The others all strongly advised that she not.

"Oh, sweetie, I'll be fine," Monica smiled, and placed her hand on Sadie's cheek.

"I won't be far away," Sadie said.

Monica's breath caught in her throat, and she tried hard not to let Sadie see her tears. She smiled, and pulled away abruptly.

"Mom? I really will come to visit a lot!"

"No, honey, it's not that..I just..I was thinking about your father. He...he said that to me once."

"Said what?"

"That he would never be far away," Monica sniffled, "I'm sorry, sweetie, I have just been thinking a lot about him today."

"Me too," Sadie whispered sadly.

Monica straightened, and stood up suddenly.

"I have another gift for you," Monica said, and headed for her bedroom.

"Mom, I have enough gifts!" Sadie laughed.

Once inside her room, Monica walked over to her hope chest, and opened it slowly. Inside, she saw four carefully wrapped, identical looking gifts. She picked up the gift labeled "HS Graduation" and carried it out into the living room.

"Here," Monica smiled, and handed over the gift.

"Mom, you've given me enough!"

"It's not from me, it's from your father," Monica said softly.

Sadie looked at the gift on her lap with a sudden reverence. She bit her lip, and ran her fingers over the fading gold paper. Then, ever so carefully, she pulled off the paper, to reveal a plain white box. She opened the lid, unfolded the cream coloured tissue paper, and looked at the gift, then up at her mother, confusion lining her bright blue eyes.

"What is it?" Sadie asked.

Monica peered into the box, then laughed slightly.

"It's called a video cassette. It's what us old people used before the DVD took over the world," Monica giggled.

"Oh," Sadie shrugged.

"Luckily, your old Mom still has her VCR here," Monica picked up the videotape, and took it to the television.

"What's on it?" Sadie asked.

"I don't know," Monica said softly, and set up the television. She hit play, and prayed that her old machine still worked.

The screen lit up, as Monica and Sadie sat side-by-side on the sofa, their hands clasped together.

Chandler appeared on the screen, sitting on the same sofa, a sad smile on his face.

"Hi, Pumpkin," Chandler said quietly. He looked thin, but not as sick as he did in those last few months. Monica figured he must have recorded these tapes in the summer before his death.

"So," Chandler sighed, "If you are watching this, it means you have graduated high school! Congratulations, sweetheart. I am very proud of you, and very happy that you have grown into the beautiful young woman you are." Sadie smiled, her eyes tearing up quickly.

"I wish, more than anything, that I could be there with you right now," Chandler sighed.

"Me too," Sadie whispered back.

"But, I know that Monica is there, and hopefully, so is Joey, and Phoebe, and Ross and Rachel. They are all very special people to me, Sadie, and I know that they all love you very much. I love you, and I miss you, and I know that you are going to do wonderful things in your lifetime. This is the first of four tapes I wanted to make for you, and I hope that you don't mind me butting into your major life events like this," Chandler laughed.

"Not at all," Sadie replied a little louder, and Monica squeezed her hand.

"I'll always be right here, if you need me, okay? I love you, and I am proud of you, and...take care of Monica for me, okay?" Chandler smiled sadly, and the screen went blank.

Sadie and Monica sat in silence for several minutes.

"Mom, what was it like? Living with him, knowing he was going to die?"

Monica sighed, and looked at Sadie intently.

"It was hard, especially toward the end. But I knew, even with the short amount of time we had together, that I would never love anyone like I loved- ---love, your father. He changed my life. He gave me the one thing I had wanted my entire life----he gave me a daughter. It was a very good year, his last year on Earth," Monica smiled.

"I wish I could remember more about him," Sadie placed her head on her mother's shoulder.

"Well, I do have a lot of stories," Monica smiled, and hugged Sadie.

"How did you meet him?"

"Well, your Uncle Ross was his roommate in college. And Ross brought your father over for Thanksgiving dinner one year.."

~****~

The End.