Chandler holds his breath and braces himself for...something. Anything. A gasp. A gun jammed in his mouth. The car slamming to a stop or veering off the road.
But nothing that drastic or dramatic happens.
Instead, Mr. Tribbiani just says, “What?” He’s sort of laughing around the word, as if the idea of Chandler being a government agent is actually laughable. Chandler looks more like a teacher’s assistant than an FBI agent, so he really can’t blame Mr. Tribbiani for laughing.
“I’m a Federal Agent,” Chandler repeats, and it comes out shaky the second time. “Joey found my badge. That’s why we argued and that’s why he’s in trouble.”
Mr. Tribbiani risks a glance at him; Chandler winces away from it. “You were buildin’ a case against us?”
Chandler drags in a breath. “Sort of.” Mr. Tribbiani doesn’t say anything, just exhales in angry silence. “Okay, I was, but I didn’t want to.”
“The Feds made you?”
“C’mon, kid, you gonna pay me for pullin’ teeth? Gimme a straight answer here.”
Chandler scrubs a hand over his face and slinks down in his seat. He’s going to ignore Mr. Tribbiani’s poor word choice there. “If I tell you why, you’ll definitely shoot me.”
“Not ‘til you help me get Joey back,” Mr. Tribbiani answers dismissively.
“I don’t care.”
“It’s not just about me. I can’t sell secrets anymore.”
Mr. Tribbiani thinks for a moment, sighs heavily. “Look, if it’s about Joe... If it could save him...”
Chandler just knows this admission is going to go spectacularly wrong, but that doesn’t stop him from saying it: “I only took the case because I had a crush on Joey.”
He braces for impact, but, again, nothing happens. Mr. Tribbiani lets out a breathy laugh. “Aw, jeez, kid, don’t scare me like that.” Chandler looks over at him; Mr. Tribbiani actually seems relieved. “I thought you were gonna tell me somethin’ awful.”
The world has gone mad. “So, on a scale of one to me-being-a-Fed, this is what?”
“Maybe a two.” He chuckles again. “I always sorta figured you were gay. I mean, I got seven daughters, and you never tried to date any of ‘em.”
“You’re”—Chandler catches his mistake—“you were my boss. Plus, I thought you were a Mafia head. That would’ve earned me a nice pair of cement shoes.”
He smiles a little, doesn’t deny it; Chandler’s beyond feeling scared about that. “So, what, you thought if you infiltrated our family you could get closer to Joe?”
It sounds really fucking awful when he says it like that. Chandler winces at the truth in his words. “Well, sort of—I mean, I met Joey at the restaurant, and he seemed so nice and I just...” He stops, tries again. “The Bureau was going to relocate me, so after I met Joey and heard the rumors I made up a case so I could stay here. I was stupid, and I wish I’d done it all differently. I never wanted to collect evidence or anything against you or your family. But even when I had to, I made sure it was never anything a good lawyer couldn’t negotiate down.”
Mr. Tribbiani doesn’t say anything for a long minute, just stares straight ahead at the road; Chandler wonders what he’s thinking. Then he breathes out a deep sigh. “Alright, what’s your brilliant plan to save my son?”
It’s dark out when Mr. Tribbiani and Chandler arrive at the abandoned warehouse just outside of Queens where Joey’s being held. Mr. Tribbiani parks the car, looks over at Chandler. “I hope this works.”
They get out of the car and approach the warehouse at the back entrance. Mr. Tribbiani knocks on the door. Chandler rocks back on his heels, feels the weight of his gun tucked into the waist of his jeans; it gives him a jittery sort of confidence. The door opens, and Frankie smiles at them. “Good of ya to come.” He lets them inside.
The warehouse is dimly lit and smells like rusted-over metal. Frankie leads Chandler and Mr. Tribbiani to the middle of the floor, where Joey’s tied to a rickety chair. Joey’s eyes go wide when he sees Chandler, but he doesn’t say anything. He’s pretty bruised up—his bottom lip is split, there’s a nasty-looking gash on his cheek, and he’s got the beginnings of a black eye; Chandler feels the hot knife of guilt in his side.
Frankie and a dark-haired man with a scar on his chin Chandler doesn’t recognize—he must be Mac—stand on either side of Joey. “I got no ill will for you or your family, Joe,” Frankie says, speaking to Mr. Tribbiani. “This is strictly a business matter. I respect you, but you’re standin’ in the way of progress here.”
Mac finally speaks, his Italian accent thick. “If you make this deal, our Families become partners. I understand your scruples, but think about your family.” Chandler frowns at the phrasing. “Your business is doing poorly. With the advent of narcotics, you could stand to gain so much more in an alliance with the Machiavelli Family.”
Neither of them are clutching their weapons, so Chandler thinks he can get away with a few words. “Why am I here?”
Frankie looks at him, smirks. “You? You’re a special case. See, the Don’s weak spot is Joey. And Joey’s got a weak spot too. It’s...well, you.” Chandler controls his surprise at this. Joey must not have told Frankie about the whole argument they had this morning; Chandler’s going to keep that little nugget of information to himself for now. “See, I followed Joey last night when he left the club with you. You two seemed to be in quite a hurry, and neither of you looked drunk...” He lets that one sink in.
Chandler bristles with fear at the revelation; Mr. Tribbiani didn’t bat an eye at Chandler’s sexuality, but Chandler’s not his son—his only son—the heir to the family business...
Frankie looks at Mr. Tribbiani with a pointed stare. “Did you know about this?”
Mr. Tribbiani shrugs like he couldn’t care less. “You can’t control what your kids do. Or who they do.”
What a great actor, Chandler thinks. He risks a glance at Joey, sees the look of surprise there.
“Well, with everyone’s Achilles’ heels in the same room,” Frankie says, “I figure we can work somethin’ out that’s mutually beneficial.”
“Insurance against either of us doing something stupid, you mean,” Chandler says.
“Insurance ain’t a bad idea.”
Chandler licks his lips, startles a bit at the chill shooting down his spine.
“So,” Frankie starts, slapping a hand on the back of Joey’s chair, “here’s how it’s gonna work: you go in on our deal, everybody walks away alive.”
“And if I don’t?” Mr. Tribbiani asks.
Frankie spreads his hands. “Then you don’t walk away. Really, it’s simple, Joe. You’re making it more difficult than it needs to be. What’s more important to you? Your scruples or your family?”
Chandler’s head pounds with blood. Now’s his chance. He draws out a sigh. “Then I suppose we’re at an impasse.”
The next five seconds seem to pass in a time warp. Chandler’s right hand whips out the gun tucked into his waistband. Out of his peripheral vision, Chandler can see Mr. Tribbiani draw his gun and aim at Mac. Frankie and Mac scramble for their weapons, but Chandler’s got a head start on them and sharper reflexes. He aims the gun at Frankie’s head, pulls the trigger. The bullet catches him between the eyes, and Frankie drops to the floor like something out of a shooting gallery.
Mac takes the bait and fires at Mr. Tribbiani. Mr. Tribbiani clutches his chest and falls to the floor. Joey gasps a pained sound, struggles against his restraints. Chandler keeps his focus and turns the gun on Mac. He fires his next shot through the top of Mac’s skull. Mac goes down, his body slumped on the ground in a crimson puddle. Chandler drops his gun with a clatter. He kneels at Mr. Tribbiani’s side to examine the damage.
Mr. Tribbiani places a hand over his chest, feels for blood. “I don’t think so.” He opens the first few buttons of his shirt to examine the hole in the Kevlar vest underneath. Chandler can see the bullet lodged safely in the vest, away from Mr. Tribbiani’s heart; he breathes a sigh of relief. Mr. Tribbiani sits up and pats Chandler on the back. “You did good, kid.”
Chandler helps him to his feet, and they rush over to Joey to untie him. “What about you? You hurt?” Mr. Tribbiani asks.
Joey shakes his head, still in somewhat of a daze. “I’m—I’m fine. You sure you’re alright?”
“Aw, yeah, I’m fit as a fiddle. If it wasn’t for Bada-Bing and his bulletproof vest, I would’a been a goner.”
Joey’s eyes go wide when he looks over at Chandler. “You were wearin’ a vest?”
“Your dad was.”
His brow knits in confusion. “But you...”
Chandler shrugs as he gets Joey’s restraints off. “There’s an eighty-five, ninety percent chance of surviving a gunshot that’s not aimed at your head or your heart.” He steps back and lets Mr. Tribbiani take over the whole comforting thing; Chandler doesn’t think he’s earned that privilege back yet. “They didn’t rough you up too much, did they?”
“Nothin’ I can’t handle,” Joey says. He stands up, hugs his father in an embrace that lasts a good while. Mr. Tribbiani tightens his grip on him for a moment before they step away from each other. Joey meets Chandler’s gaze.
“I’m—I’m glad you’re not dead,” Chandler says with a half-smile, trying to lighten the mood.
Joey smiles back, but there’s not as much light to it as there used to be. “Yeah, you too.” He glances from Chandler to his father. “So, what now?”
“You boys disappear for a long vacation,” Mr. Tribbiani says. “Stay at our place in Naples for a bit. Visit Grandma.”
Joey stares at him in disbelief for a few seconds. “What?”
“Your father and I came to an agreement,” Chandler explains. “He’s going to go to the Feds as an informant; his cooperation can get your family’s charges dropped. He’ll lead them in the direction of Mac’s crime syndicate; with Mac gone, they’ll rat each other out to save themselves. The Bureau won’t be able to resist prosecuting them ‘cause of, y’know, the drugs.”
“So why do we have to leave?”
“Because I just shot two guys with an FBI-issued gun?” Chandler throws his arms out in a particularly dramatic fashion. “They’re gonna be searching for me unless we make it look like I might be dead.” His gaze darts from Mr. Tribbiani to Joey. “Somebody cut me.”
Joey gapes at him as if Chandler might be slightly crazy. “What?”
“If my blood’s on the ground, they’ll think I got injured during the shootout. C’mon. Anybody got a knife?”
Joey looks to Mr. Tribbiani as if asking for some sort of support. “This wasn’t part of the plan,” Mr. Tribbiani says to Chandler.
“I know. I just thought of it. I do that sometimes.” He gives Joey an intent stare. “Are you gonna do this or not?”
“I’m not cuttin’ you, Chandler!”
“Fine. Your dad’ll do it, right?”
“I don’t have a knife on me, kid.”
“How do you know blood would make them stop lookin’ for you?” Joey asks. “I mean, what if they think somebody kidnapped you?”
“That’s—” Chandler stops to think about this. “That’s actually a good point.”
Joey grins like he’s in class and just answered a question correctly.
“There’s no evidence I was here,” Mr. Tribbiani says, “so the focus is gonna be on you. But I can take some of the heat off by goin’ to the Feds and tellin’ ‘em about Mac’s crew. They might back off’a you a bit if they don’t think you’re dead.”
“Okay, yeah, you’re right.” Chandler pushes a hand through his hair. “My spur-of-the-moment ideas usually aren’t the best.”
“Why do I have to go?” Joey whines, looking to Mr. Tribbiani for reassurance. “Just send him! He’s the one they’re gonna be lookin’ for!”
Mr. Tribbiani rolls his eyes like he’s sick of Joey’s bullshit. “Chandler told me how he feels. Do you feel the same? Y’know, about him?”
Joey’s mouth drops open, and his head swivels to look at Chandler. “You told him? Is nothin’ sacred to you?”
Chandler flails in frustration. “I told him about me, you idiot!” Joey’s brow knits in confusion. “Blame Frankie; he’s the one who practically spelled it out.”
Joey scowls at no one in particular.
“Which is it, Joe?” Mr. Tribbiani asks. “D’you love him or not?”
Joey looks at Chandler for a moment that lasts almost too long, then he turns his gaze to his father. “I gotta think about it.”
There’s a flicker of disappointment on Mr. Tribbiani’s face before he says, “Alright, well, think about it in the car. You wanna say goodbye to your Ma and sisters, right?”
They head back to the Tribbianis’ house in Mr. Tribbiani’s car. Joey and Chandler sit in the back seat, awkwardly avoiding any sort of contact whatsoever, like the other might be a leper. Chandler feels like there’s something guilty about the way he’s sitting, which is ridiculous, because he just rescued Joey. There should be absolutely zero guilt. But there is. And he hates himself for it.
He’s still not totally convinced that Mr. Tribbiani isn’t planning on killing him now. His usefulness has run its course. Now that Joey’s safe, Mr. Tribbiani could very well put a bullet in Chandler’s brain and toss him in the river. Since Chandler’s killed two people, the Feds probably wouldn’t raise too much of a fuss about finding him dead.
Chandler decides to risk words against the silence. “You didn’t tell them,” he murmurs to Joey. “Why?”
“They would’ve killed you,” Joey says, like that explains everything. “I had to make sure they still thought you were just some dumb kid workin’ for my dad.”
Chandler lets that sink in, because, holy shit, Joey can be a genius sometimes. Joey put aside his own anger to make ensure Chandler’s safety. That’s love...or maybe loyalty.
He eases back in his seat a little. “I’m sorry I lied to you, Joe,” Chandler says softly. “But the only thing I lied about was my job. Everything else—who I am, all the time we spent together, how I feel about you—it’s all real. I know you don’t have any reason to trust me, but—”
“You saved my life, Chandler. They were gonna kill me and my dad if you hadn’t been there.”
“They’re not allowed to do that,” Chandler says in awe, because mob guys can’t just randomly whack the head of a Family without permission. “Are they?”
Joey shrugs. “Sometimes people break the rules when they want something.”
Chandler smiles despite himself. “Sometimes they do.”
Mr. Tribbiani takes Chandler aside to the basement while Joey’s saying his goodbyes to his sisters. “Alright, kid, I don’t wanna do this, but you’re a Fed. A shitty one, but still a Fed.”
“Oh God,” Chandler moans. This is definitely the preamble to some sort of horrible bodily injury; he can just feel it. “I’m sorry.”
“I know you are, but I gotta send a message. I can’t have any shmuck with a badge thinkin’ they can just waltz in here under false pretenses and take advantage of my family.”
Chandler’s knees go weak. “Look, I—I know you’re mad, and I’m not gonna say you’re wrong, but, uh, I am gonna plead for my life, because I’m weak and impossibly fragile.”
Mr. Tribbiani chuckles and draws his gun. “Forget about it. You said it yourself: you got a good chance of surviving if I don’t get ya in the head or the heart. I’m not the best shot, but I think I can make it at this distance.”
Chandler flails his arms and steps back. “That was before I wanted—” He stops talking when he sees that Mr. Tribbiani is actually aiming at him.
This is going to hurt. A lot.
“You’re not going to take me to the hospital, are you?”
“Don’t worry. I know a couple of good doctors who owe me favors.”
“Oh God...” Chandler really wants to do more pleading, but he knows he deserves this, so he squeezes his eyes shut and waits for it.
There’s a loud bang, and Joey’s voice sounds from the top of the basement stairs. “Hey, Dad, Cookie wants to know where you keep the—Why do you got a gun on Chandler?”
Chandler panics, thinking he’s been hit, but realizes the banging sound was the door swinging open. But Mr. Tribbiani still has the gun on him, which really doesn’t bring any sense of relief at all.
“Relax, Joe, I’m not gonna kill him.”
“But you’re gonna shoot him?”
“He’s got an eighty to ninety percent chance of surviving!” Mr. Tribbiani says, exasperated, like this is a statistic everyone should just know.
“I really don’t like those odds!” Joey says, rushing down the stairs. “Dad, you can’t shoot him!”
“He lied to us. We gotta send a message.”
“The only people who know he lied are me and you! I didn’t tell anybody,” Joey argues. Whatever he sees on Mr. Tribbiani’s face doesn’t bode well, because Joey says, “I’ve never shot anybody you love!”
“You love him?”
“Yes! Dad, c’mon, don’t do this.”
Chandler feels his heart swell in his chest, so much so that he thinks it might crack his ribs. Joey still loves him, even after Chandler took his trust and crushed it under his heel like a styrofoam cup.
Mr. Tribbiani grins and puts his gun away. “And it took this much to get you to say it?” He smacks the back of Joey’s head. “What kind of man are you?”
Chandler breathes out a sigh of relief. “So, no one’s shooting me?”
Mr. Tribbiani holds his hands up. “No bullets comin’ from me.”
“I might,” Joey says with a little smirk at the corner of his lips, and Chandler laughs, because, holy shit, Joey just made a dirty joke in front of his dad.
“I hope you do,” Chandler says, earning him a full-fledged smile from Joey.
After they bid farewell to Joey’s family, Mr. Tribbiani takes them to Chandler’s apartment so he can pack for his extended vacation. Joey tries to help but gets distracted looking through Chandler’s things, because this is only the second time he’s been here, and the first time he was sort of, uh, preoccupied. It’s kind of sad, now that Chandler thinks about it. This relationship is all sorts of weird.
“Your parents aren’t gonna wonder where you are?” Joey asks as Chandler’s stuffing clothes into a suitcase.
He shrugs. “If I call my mother on my birthday and Christmas, she’ll never know I’m gone.”
Joey’s mouth does a frowny thing, and his brow creases before he asks his next question, like he’s worried he’ll be poking at something he shouldn’t. “And your dad?”
“We don’t really talk.”
Joey nods, stares at Chandler’s badge on top of the bedroom night table. “Are you gonna miss it?”
Chandler glances up to see what he’s referring to. “Not really. I’m leaving behind a lot of bad memories. I like the idea of starting over.”
“It really doesn’t bother you? Y’know, what my family does?”
Chandler shakes his head. “Joe, my mother writes erotica, and my father is a drag queen. Nothing shocks me anymore.”
Joey’s mouth quirks into a half-smile, like he’s not sure if he’s supposed to laugh at that or not. A distant knock sounds on the front door, and Joey volunteers to answer it while Chandler’s packing.
Chandler hears the door open, then Monica’s voice shouts, “Oh my God, what happened to your face? Did Chandler beat you up?”
Chandler smiles to himself. He’s really going to miss her.
“It’s a long story,” Joey says with a laugh.
“Chandler, are you going somewhere?” Monica asks, letting herself inside and standing in the doorway to his bedroom.
“Yeah.” He grins. “Want me to send you a postcard?”
Monica looks from Joey to Chandler. “What’s going on? Did something happen?”
“You could say that,” Chandler says around a humorless laugh. “I can’t tell you much, but Joey and I are going on an extended vacation. Actually, I might not be able to send you that postcard.”
Monica makes a confused face. Joey leans in and whispers, “He’s tryin’ to protect you. Pretend to be charmed.”
Monica forces up a fake smile. “What have you done, Chandler?”
“That, in the law business, might be considered a confession, so I’m not going to answer that,” Chandler says, stuffing the last couple shirts into his bag and zipping it up. “But I am going to miss you. A lot.” He opens his arms for a hug, and Monica happily accepts the embrace, holding him tight. He thinks he might hear her sniffle a bit, but that’s probably just wishful thinking. “You’re the most beautiful woman I know in real life.”
She laughs, hugs him tighter. “Oh, Chandler....”
“Hey, c’mon, let me in on this,” Joey says, moving behind her so he can hug the both of them. They stay that way for a while, enjoying their last few moments with her. Chandler shuts his eyes, buries his nose in her hair. He wishes the circumstances were different, that he could stay here in New York with Monica and Ross and Phoebe and Joey, that he could at least call or write home to them, but he’s made his choice now. No turning back.
They break apart, and Chandler gives Monica one last kiss on the forehead. “Tell Pheebs I said goodbye,” Joey says.
“Me too. And Ross.”
Monica smiles and nods, hands Chandler his suitcase. “I will. You should go. I wish you both all the happiness in the world.”
“We’ll need it,” Chandler says with a chuckle. He takes the bag, and Monica walks him and Joey downstairs where Mr. Tribbiani’s waiting with the car.
It takes them about thirty minutes to get to the Italian freighter Mr. Tribbiani arranged for them. The freighter sets sail at ten o’clock after Joey and Chandler are comfortably nestled in their cabin. They’re sitting on the bed, watching the lights of New York grow smaller from the window. Chandler’s head lolls on Joey’s shoulder. Joey sneaks his arm around Chandler’s waist and holds him close.
Chandler wishes he could feel some sort of relief here, but he doesn’t. He’s turned his back on the FBI—that’s not something you just escape from. Someone will find him eventually. He’ll always be watching, waiting for that other shoe to drop. But he’ll have Joey; Chandler doesn’t know if that makes his sentence better or worse somehow.
Joey kisses Chandler’s temple as he looking over their fake credentials. “So, let’s see, I’m Ken Adams, and you’re Mark Johnson.” Joey smirks. “It’s kinda funny.”
“Your fake name bein’ so boring. I mean, Chandler Bing—that’s a name you never forget. But Mark Johnson...” He shrugs lamely.
“The perfect disguise,” Chandler says with a half-smile.
“I don’t think you’re tall enough to be a Mark, though,” Joey says. “You might make a good Barney.”
“What about Clint?”
Joey scoffs. “No way are you cool enough to pull off Clint.”
Chandler fixes him with an impish smile. “What name am I cool enough to pull off?”
“Chandler,” Joey says, with feeling, before moving in to kiss his mouth.