Chandler stumbled out of the bathroom, pain hammering behind his eyes and the ground rolling under him. God, how much had he drunk last night?
He limped over to the kitchen, ready to collapse on the stool, only for the door to swing open and Monica to walk in. Chandler froze.
"Good morning," she said, looking oddly nervous. "How – how are you feeling?"
At the sight of her, a sudden pain in Chandler's chest almost drowned out the throbbing in his head. "Uh, shit." He croaked out truthfully.
Her face softened. "I'm not surprised; you were pretty out of it last night. Did you take the aspirin I left for you?"
Abruptly, Chandler felt like he could throw up again. "That was you?"
Blurry memories of Monica dragging him through the apartment the night before came rushing back and yep, now he wanted to drown himself in the toilet instead of vomiting in it. The last thing he needed was Monica taking care of his drunk ass while he was hiding from her.
"Figured you'd need it," she said, tucking her hair behind her ears. "And I've made pancakes, you want some?"
"Oh, I'm – I'm good." He said weakly, "I'll just grab some toast or something." No doubt she and whoever else was over the hall were set to interrogate him about last night.
Something pained flickered in her eyes. "But pancakes are your go-to hangover food."
He exhaled, not wanting to raise even more questions. "I guess I can give them a try."
After a hot shower and a stern self-pep talk Chandler managed to drag himself over to the girl's apartment.
He wasn't sure whether to be relieved or worried that no one else was there– Joey hadn't got back from his date last night, Ross was with Emily, and Phoebe and Rachel were at the coffee house.
Monica chatted to him while serving up breakfast, relaying another wedding drama and Phoebe's latest breakdown – nothing unusual but she seemed tightly wound up, voice getting higher and chatter coming faster.
Eventually she sat down next to him, rubbing Chandler's back in a comforting gesture like she had a hundred times before but now it made him flinch. Monica felt it and pulled her hand back.
"Hey," she said gently, looking at him. "I…don't know why you were upset last night – or for the last week to be honest. And I get that you might not want to talk about it. But – if you need anyone, I'm here, ok? No matter what it is."
Chandler swallowed, feeling as if his heart was being yanked through his throat at the irony of it all. For a wild, crazy moment though he wanted to tell her – let her comfort him and give him advice and feed him until the hurt went away like she always did. Instead he just ducked his head.
"Uh, thanks Mon."
Monica waited for a minute, clearly giving him an opening, but he just shovelled another mouthful of pancakes, chewing hard enough for his jaw to ache.
She sighed quietly. "Then, can I tell you something?"
"Um, sure Mon."
"I –" She buried her face in her hands, huffing out a breath. "Promise you won't judge me ok? Or laugh?"
"I promise." Chandler repeated, confused.
"And don't repeat this to anyone," She pressed, "I haven't told the others."
"Monica," He said, wondering if he should be concerned. "It's fine."
"Ok. I've – I've been…talking to someone."
"Online. Like internet dating."
Oh. What. His stomach spiralled into freefall, gutting his whole body – for a second Chandler thought he might actually keel over in panic and wouldn't that cause questions.
Thankfully Monica didn't seem to notice. "I'd been thinking about it for a while," she explained, "but I've only been you know properly talking to someone pretty recently."
"Right." Chandler forced out. "Yep. I've got you."
"Do you think it's sad?" She asked earnestly. "It feels embarrassing – like I'm desperate."
"No," he shook his head – or least he hoped he did, the room was still fuzzy. "No, heaps of people do it these days. It's not desperate."
"Good," she looked relieved. "I hoped you'd understand – I mean, you've tried it before with Janice and everything."
Yes, and god, if only that had been the last time.
"And this one guy – we've been talking for a while, and he seems great – we were even meant to meet up tonight. But he's just stopped talking to me – no emails, no messages, nothing. And I don't know why.
Maybe he just got sick of me…but what if it's something more serious? What if he's hurt or had an accident or…" She trailed off, looking so crushed that Chandler didn't know what to say.
"I know that's stupid," she shrugged, "he probably he changed his mind and got tired of me or met someone better. That would make sense." She was obviously trying to sound offhand, but Chandler could hear the hurt behind it. And didn't that make him feel like the biggest piece of shit in the room.
"I'm sure that's not it," he blurted out. "If he's interested enough to want to meet you, then he wouldn't just disappear. Maybe he's uh, been busy and hasn't had a chance to reply."
"Yeah," she sighed. "I just wish I knew."
Chandler gulped down some coffee, guilt settling in his stomach. He'd persuaded himself that losing Speaking Sarcasm wouldn't be a big deal for Monica, but of course it was. This was Monica – she always took relationships seriously and got almost as insecure as he did. How did he think he could just walk away without hurting her? She deserved an explanation.
But what could he tell her? The truth?
Monica interrupted again. "Thanks for not judging me."
"Well you know my history," Chandler quipped. "I'm hardly in a position to judge anyone's romantic decisions."
"You're too hard on yourself," she contended. "I couldn't talk to any of the others – Rachel doesn't know what it likes to struggle and would get so judgemental – or feel sorry for me; Phoebe would make it weird; Ross gets so over-protective, and Joey would just be creepy."
"But I can trust you," she said. "I've always been able to talk to you about these things." She fiddled with her hair for a second, looking nervous again.
"Can I tell you the most embarrassing thing?"
"Uh – yeah. Of course." This conversation can't get more uncomfortable.
"One of the things we talked about my…my ideal guy." Oh, wait it can. "I uh, already had a list of things."
"Of course you do," Chandler joked quickly – because that what he'd say, that's the type of comment he'd make if this conversation wasn't ripping him apart from the inside out.
"Yeah well," Monica shrugged. "You know me. But it was weird, the list…it was almost exactly like him. Not deliberately, but by the end I realised I was definitely describing him."
Chandler couldn't really remember what was on her list – he hadn't been able to bring himself to reread it with all the other emails. But if Monica's perfect man matched Speaking Sarcasm, then he'd definitely given the wrong impression of himself online.
"So, he's tall, dark and handsome then?" He said lightly. "European? Moustached? Mature?"
The words – the exact opposite of what he was – tasted black in his mouth and he could have sworn he saw Monica grimace for a moment – but she just shoved him.
"No! You think that's what I really want?"
"Yeah. That's what you've always wanted."
"No I haven't! That might be the fantasy but not what I want in real life!"
"Really?" Chandler asked, before he could stop himself.
"Yes!" Monica insisted. "You know what was actually on my list? Someone sweet and funny. Yes, he should be committed and dependable, but mostly relaxed and laidback enough to calm me down. God knows I need it. That's what I want.Not some uptight European guy."
Chandler swallowed, feeling strangely warm. "And this email guy…seemed like all of that?"
She nodded. "Totally. I mean definitely sweet and funny. And I think he's nervous but with reassurance he'd get there with the commitment part.
"Right." Chandler felt dizzy again, but better somehow. It was stupid he knew, none of this changed how Monica felt about the real person version of him, but even just hearing her say she liked his online-self made his chest ache less.
"But don't worry," Monica nudged him. "He still not as funny as you."
"Well I hope not."
"I think you'd like him though – you remind me of him a bit."
"Seriously?" He spluttered, wondering if he'd misheard her. Monica Geller had just admitted that he, Chandler was like this perfect guy she was half in love with?
"Yeah," she nodded. "You're pretty similar – your sense of humour; how you both try and comfort me when I'm feeling down; even that you both get insecure. You're both so much better than you think you are."
"Thanks?" Chandler said. He was terrified she was going to suddenly click on the truth, but at the same time something in him was soaring with joy.
"Probably that's why he's stopped talking to me," she admitted. "He got scared. But I just want to meet him. He wouldn't even have to reveal himself, it would just be wonderful to talk to him, have that ultimate romantic moment. Even if I never saw him again, I'd be sad, but at least there'd be closure. That's all I want."
Monica shrugged and finished there, patting him on the hand and getting up to clear away the dishes so Chandler could nurse his hangover in quiet. But his mind was churning and he got up quickly, muttering about more painkillers.
He needed to read that list.
Monica watched Chandler leave, her palms sweating.
She hopes she did the right thing and hoped it was enough. She'd felt horrible putting him through that conversation and a couple of times had to stop herself blurting out the truth.
But she hoped that talking about the emails from her perspective – how great Speaking Sarcasm was, how similar he was to Chandler (god, was that going too close?), how much he meant to her and that all she wanted to do was meet him – that maybe that would persuade Chandler. Maybe he'd risk turning up tonight.
She'd just have to see now.
A/N: I hope no one thought Monica was mean with that conversation. She wasn't trying to hurt Chandler, just encourage him to be more confident and have the courage to follow through with Cookie Addict. (Because she knows they both deserve their romantic ending). So she was just carefully saying everything to try and gently push him into giving them one more shot.