Chapter 1: Strangers in the Night
This is the worst date Chandler’s ever been on in his entire life.
He’s pretty sure this is the worst date anyone has ever been on in the history of the world; years from now, it will be studied to find the point where everything went so horribly wrong—and that’s probably the moment Chandler decided to break up with Janice over dinner, because, really, what the hell was he thinking? There’s no way this isn’t going to end in public humiliation for both of them; this is the second time he’s had to break up with this woman, and Janice is apparently incapable of controlling the volume of her voice.
Chandler’s grateful the place is nearly empty at this time of night. Iridium isn’t his favorite restaurant—it’s much too ritzy and high-dollar for his tastes—but Monica’s the head chef who indulges him in conversation when there’s a lull in the kitchen, which happens a lot. And sometimes she brings him free appetizers even though she’s technically not allowed to. So it’s a win-win.
Janice is slurping her Coke through the straw. “So, got any interesting cases, Special Agent Bing?”
Chandler groans internally. He doesn’t like to brag about his role as a Federal Agent, because there’s nothing to brag about. People hear the phrase “FBI” and think of well-dressed badasses kicking down doors and collaring perps, but Chandler represents the more mundane aspects of the Bureau: sitting at a desk from seven a.m. until about six p.m. slogging through old case files. “No, I’m still a rookie,” he says, forcing a smile. “They give the good stuff to the veterans. I’m basically the coffee-and-sandwich guy.” He chuckles, but it doesn’t feel right in his throat. It’s hard to swallow the reality that he’s got a boring job even when he works for the goddamn Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Don’t worry, sweetie,” Janice coos. “Your time’ll come.” He knows she’s trying to be supportive, but he feels like they’ve had this conversation too many times.
“Yeah, I know, but, uh...” Chandler grits his teeth and decides to just get this over with, like ripping off a band-aid in one quick swipe instead of prolonging the agony. “Look, Janice, there’s no way for me to tell you this. At least, there’s no new way for me to tell you this. I just don’t think things are gonna work out.” He might actually squeeze his eyes shut as if bracing for a blow.
After a moment of terse silence, he opens one eye to look at her. She’s not frowning or glaring murderously at him—or brandishing silverware in a particularly threatening way. “It is?”
Janice nods. “Because I know that this isn’t the end.”
A nervous little laugh bubbles out of his throat. “Oh no, you see, actually, it is.”
But Janice is shaking her head, a wry smile on her lips. “No, it isn’t, because you won’t let that happen. Don’t you know it yet? You love me, Chandler Bing.”
“Oh, no, I don’t!” His voice goes a little too high and panicky there.
“Well, then ask yourself this: why do you think we keep ending up together?” Because Chandler makes unbelievably poor life choices. “You seek me out. Something deep in your soul calls out to me like a foghorn: Janice, Janice! You want me. You need me. You can’t live without me, and you know it. You just don’t know you know it.”
Chandler’s following the twists and turns of that last part when Janice moves over to him and presses one last kiss over his mouth. “See ya,” she says sweetly, the clip-clop of her high-heels fading as she walks away.
Chandler wipes the remnants of her ruby-red lipstick off of his mouth. That went surprisingly well; there was no humiliation—just confusion on his part—and no bodily harm. So maybe this isn’t the worst date he’s ever had.
Monica’s face appears in the small, round window to the kitchen, and then she’s pushing the doors open and rushing over to his table. “So, how’d it go? I didn’t hear any screaming or crying or anything melodramatic.”
“It was surprisingly civil. Except for the part where she’s convinced I’m in love with her, and that—and I quote—‘something in my soul calls out to her.’” He makes a face. “It had all the conviction of that speech Jack Nicholson gives in A Few Good Men.”
“Okay, I was wrong about the melodrama.” Monica sits in the now-empty chair across from him, and Chandler pushes his fork around on his plate. She waits patiently for him to speak again, because he only gets this timid and awkward around her when he’s been building up to something.
“What if she’s right?” Chandler finally asks in a quiet voice.
“About me not being able to live without her. I mean, yeah, okay, the sound of her voice and her laugh makes my balls instinctively jump back up inside my body, but...” He shrugs and lets the end of that sentence peter off.
“You didn’t want to break up with her?”
“Oh, I did.” Chandler fidgets in his chair. “But there’s a good chance I’m gonna be assigned to a new squad soon, and it’ll be a bitch of a commute.”
Monica looks at him with hurt surprise. “You can’t put in a request to stay here?”
“I can, but it won’t change anything. So, maybe there’s a part of me that didn’t want to get in too deep if I’m just gonna end up pulling out.”
Monica makes a face. “You really need to work on your phrasing.”
He feels a smile tug at the corner of his mouth. “That was completely by accident.”
The bell above the front door pings, and a huge group of impeccably dressed men and women stroll in, each one wrapped up in boisterous conversation with another. Chandler counts about ten people, but seven of them look exactly alike. “How many of that girl are you seeing?” Chandler asks Monica.
She laughs a light, airy sound. “They’re sisters. That’s the Tribbiani family. They come here all the time, sometimes in a bigger group than this.”
The name sounds familiar, but Chandler can’t remember where he might have heard it before. None of the curious strangers are paying attention to Chandler or Monica, too absorbed in greeting the waiter like an old friend, so Chandler thinks he can get away with gawking for a bit. There’s an older man and woman, maybe fifty-ish—they must be the mother and father; their clothes are conservative but still finely tailored. The seven sisters have the same dark hair and light skin—they must get their hair styling tips from Janice, Chandler thinks—their wrists and necks adorned with ostentatious gold jewelry. The other girl is toned and tan, with blonde hair waving past her shoulders. Her only obvious piece of jewelry is a gold necklace.
The blonde must be dating the other guy sitting with them, who’s tall and lean and muscular with messy dark hair and full lips and, oh no, Chandler is fucked, because he literally cannot look away. He barely hears the clang of his fork dropping against the plate. His mouth might be open a little in awe. That might be a thing that happens.
“See something you like?” Monica teases, following his gaze across the room to the dimly-lit table in the back where they’re all seated. Just as she says that, the handsome stranger looks at her, then locks eyes with Chandler. Chandler nearly flails his way out of his chair trying to appear nonchalant. He ends up staring at his plate, like he’s trying to make the leftover French fries levitate with his mind. He just knows his face is about twenty different shades of red, none of them flattering. “His name’s Joey,” Monica says, because she is beyond pretending she doesn’t know the reason for the frantic thrum of Chandler’s pulse. “But I really don’t think he’s, uh, into guys. He shows up with a different girl almost every week.”
There is absolutely no reason for Chandler to feel disappointment over that, but lo and behold, here he is: Disappointment City.
“The sisters are Gina, Tina, Dina, Mary-Angela, Mary-Therese, Veronica, and Cookie,” Monica continues. “Don’t ask me which one’s which. They’ve been coming here forever and I still don’t know. The older guy is their father. There’s a rumor that the family’s tied up with the Mafia.” She says it like it’s a punchline instead of scandalous gossip.
Chandler turns his head to look at Monica with wide eyes. Now he remembers how he knows the name; one of the case files he looked over the other day mentioned a Tribbiani in connection with some old mobster still on the lam. This could be a ticket to something bigger than a desk job—if Chandler can find something concrete about the alleged mob connections, there’s a good chance he can stay in the New York division instead of being shuffled off to God-knows-where. “Do you believe that?”
Monica shrugs. “I don’t know, it seems so...theatrical.”
Chandler fixes her with intense fervor. “The Mafia is real, Mon. You know that, right? It’s not a theory some stoner came up with on a particularly thoughtful day.”
“I just can’t see it.” She turns her head to look at them again. “They look so...normal.”
“Well, it’s hard to build a crime syndicate when you look creepy and untrustworthy.”
“Speaking from experience?”
Chandler scrunches his mouth up in a mix between a frown and a pout; Monica just laughs at him. Then she stops laughing, because, holy shit, Joey is coming over to their table, and Chandler doesn’t know how not to panic.
“Monica! Hey!” Of fucking course his voice would be attractive too. Joey wraps her in a hug that Chandler wishes he were part of. Monica hugs him back and tucks a curl of hair behind her ear when they break apart. “Long time no see!”
“Joey, you come here, like, twice a week.”
“That’s a long time to me!”
Chandler isn’t having much success looking at things that aren’t Joey. He tries to appear casual and disinterested, but he’s pretty sure his face is the same color as a tomato right now.
“So, who’s your friend?”
Oh no. Chandler nearly jumps out of his skin. He feels his stomach twist and knot under the weight of Joey’s gaze.
Monica gives Chandler a surreptitious glance of approval, and Chandler takes a half-second to think about his approach here. He should definitely use an alias. The Mafia never kills Feds, but if Joey and his family are connected to the mob, they might lay low for a while if they trace Chandler back to the Bureau. Also, his real name is stupid, and he wants to make a good, suave impression here.
But what bubbles out instead is: “Oh, uh, I’m Chandler.” Goddammit. Chandler hates his life. He really does. But he’s already fucked this up, so he’s just going to roll with it. “Chandler Bing.”
Joey smiles, and, wow, if they weren’t in public Chandler would absolutely be disrobing now. “Bing?”
Chandler chuckles nervously. “You should meet my uncle Bada.”
It takes Joey a moment, but then he’s laughing. Chandler can feel his entire face getting hot. He wants to make Joey laugh all the time. “You’re funny!” Joey looks over at Monica. “Where’d you find this guy?”
“He lives across from me,” Monica says, giving Chandler a thumbs-up when Joey looks back at him.
“You got somethin’ special for me back there in the kitchen?” Joey asks her, wiggling his eyebrows.
Fuck it, now Chandler’s thinking about having sex in the kitchen with Joey. He contemplates stabbing himself in the hand with the fork to give himself something else to think about.
Monica flashes Joey a quick smile. “Comin’ right up.” Chandler groans internally, assuming that’s an innuendo, but Joey doesn’t follow her through the kitchen doors. Instead, he watches her walk away, almost appraising, and then sits in the vacant chair across from Chandler.
Chandler doesn’t know what to do with this. He figures he ought to say something, because sitting in silence is just creepy and unsocial. So he forces up what he hopes is a friendly smile, but he feels like an idiot.
“She sure is somethin’, huh?” Joey says, tipping his chin in the direction of the kitchen.
“Oh, yeah, Mon’s great.”
“She seein’ anybody?”
The smile falls away. Chandler frowns at his plate and struggles with his disappointment. He’s an idiot if he thought a guy like this would be interested in him. He’s got bad enough luck with the opposite sex—why does he have to like men too? It’s like he’s been biologically programmed to strike out twice as often.
Chandler pushes his tongue around the inside of his mouth before he says, “I think your friend over there might have something to say about that. Y’know, the blonde you came in with?”
Joey chuckles, leans back in his seat. Chandler can’t help but notice how far Joey’s got his legs spread. “You mean Angela? Nah, she’s just a friend.”
“You two seemed pretty, uh, friendly.” Chandler has absolutely no idea why he’s still talking right now—okay, he knows exactly why: because he talks a mile a minute and cracks stupid jokes when he’s nervous, and Joey is ridiculously attractive. “But that’s to be expected, because you’re, y’know, friends, and, oh man, do I need to stop talkin’!” Chandler shoves a ketchup-sodden fry into his mouth.
Joey’s shaking his head a little, a smile tugging on the corners of his lips. “You gonna give me a straight answer or not?”
“No, she’s not seeing anyone,” Chandler grinds out. “But, hey, here’s a radical idea: ask her yourself. You don’t seem like the type to have any trouble talking to women.”
Joey looks a little bewildered at that, his cheeks flushing pink, and, oh God, Chandler really hopes he didn’t just offend the guy by subtly hitting on him. Why is this one of the only tables in the restaurant without a candle centerpiece? He could use one to light himself on fire.
Monica emerges from the kitchen with a slice of cheesecake that she sets in front of Joey. Chandler feels the urge to sing her praises and fall at her feet, but Joey already seems to be questioning Chandler’s sanity, so he opts to just sit there quietly and think about climbing into Joey’s lap.
“You’re too good to me,” Joey says, grinning at her before digging in to his dessert.
Monica pats Joey’s shoulder and looks in Chandler’s direction. “So, Chandler, Ross called. He can’t make the game this weekend.”
Chandler pouts at this turn of events, but Joey does something adorable and makes him forget the letdown: “What game?” he asks around a mouthful of cheesecake.
“Oh, just—just a hockey game. Rangers-Penguins.” Joey’s eyes go impossibly wide. Chandler wets his lips and does the stupidest thing he’s ever done in his life: “I, uh, I guess I’ve got an extra ticket now. You wanna go?”
Joey blinks, and before Chandler can breathe he’s saying, “Really? Yeah! Thanks, man!”
Joey looks way too excited about this. Chandler rubs the back of his neck. “I’m going too. You—you know that, right?”
“Yeah?” Joey stares at him, bewildered.
Chandler just asked this stupidly-hot guy out on a date, and the guy actually said yes. He’s very aware of his breathing right now. He might be breathing too loudly. He should stop that. “Okay, I was just making sure you knew I’m involved in this, that I’m not giving you the tickets so you can take Monica or Angela or somebody who isn’t me, because as the, uh, guy with the tickets I feel I should be involved in some way”—wow, this went downhill quickly—“okay, thank you, goodnight!”
Chandler nearly stumbles over his own feet trying to escape from the table. Monica smothers a laugh with her hand and stops him before he can leave. “Breathe, Chandler,” she says softly.
Chandler pushes a hand through his hair, takes Monica’s advice and sucks in a deep breath. Joey’s staring up at him, wearing a cute little smile; Chandler really wishes he’d stop doing that because it makes it hard for him to think. “So, yeah, if you still want to go, just, uh, meet me at Central Perk this Saturday at six.”
“No, the players feel much more refreshed and energized in the morning.”
Joey just huffs a laugh and shakes his head. He’s probably second-guessing this whole thing. Chandler wouldn’t blame him at all. “Alright, see ya Saturday, Bada-Bing.” Joey stands up, pulls Monica into another one-armed hug. “Thanks again, Mon. You’re the best.”
Chandler glances down at the plate to see the cheesecake is gone. Christ, did the guy make it disappear with his mind?
Monica’s grinning at Chandler once Joey’s returned to his own table on the other side of the restaurant. “You’re welcome!”
Chandler lifts an eyebrow. “For what?”
“Uh, hello? I just set you up with Joey!” Chandler just stares blankly. “Ross didn’t actually call. I just said that to give you an easy way to ask Joey out.”
Chandler beams, flattered by the gesture. Then he gives it a moment of thought. “What about Ross?”
Monica gives him a dismissive hand-wave. “Whatever. Just don’t take him. He’ll get over it. He’s probably too busy with Carol and Susan anyway.” Chandler still feels weird about it. Monica’s watching his face. “But you’re really gonna have to work on your conversation skills. That was almost surreal.”
“Oh, c’mon, could he be more out of my league?”
“He said yes.”
“He was just being nice,” Chandler insists. “He’s not interested in me.” It shouldn’t hurt so much, but it does. “While you were gone, he was trying to find out if you were single or not.”
“He could play for both teams,” Monica says with a shrug. “Like you.”
Chandler frowns at that, though he’s not sure why. “Or maybe he’s just a huge Rangers fan.”
Monica smiles and places a hand on his arm. “Try not to worry so much, okay? You’re not as”—she searches for the word—“undateable as you think you are.”
“Really? Would you go out with me?” Chandler’s really insulted that Monica just laughs at him. “What? Why is that so funny?”
“You made a joke, right? So I laughed.”
Chandler’s self-esteem is taking a brutal beating tonight. He should just pack it in and stop trying. “A little too hard. What, am I not boyfriend material?”
“Why don’t you ask Joey on Saturday?”
“If he shows up at all,” Chandler mutters, stealing one last furtive glance at Joey before pushing away from the table.
Chapter 2: Some Enchanted Evening
“So, hey, Ross,” Chandler starts casually the next day over coffee at Central Perk, “you, uh, you busy this Saturday?”
Ross looks confused. “I thought we were going to the game.”
“Yeah, about that.” Chandler rubs the back of his neck, looks away. “I might have accidentally promised your ticket to someone else.” The glare of offense on Ross’s face makes Chandler start to verbally backpedal. “Look, it’s all Monica’s fault! She was trying to set me up on a date, okay? If you’re gonna get mad, get mad at her.”
“You’re ditching me for a date?”
“I’m not ditching you, I’m just...rescheduling our plans.” Ross gives him flat eyes. “Okay, I’m sort of ditching you. And, man, that sounds really bad when I say it out loud, but gimme a break, alright? There is no way I would’ve gotten this date otherwise.”
“Out of your league?”
“He makes the guys in those Calvin Klein ads look like short, fat, bald men.”
Ross makes a face. “It’s...it’s a guy?” Ross, like Monica, knows more than he ought to about Chandler’s sexual preferences, but he—unlike Monica—chooses to occasionally be a shit about it.
Chandler sighs. “I thought we were past this.”
“I know, I know, it’s just... The whole thing with Carol and Susan—”
“You’ve known about me before Carol even knew she was a lesbian. Try again.”
Ross shifts in his chair. “I know, I’m sorry.”
“So...yeah, you might need to make other plans for Saturday.”
Phoebe comes in and finds them sitting on the couch. “Hey guys!” She looks at Ross, who’s sitting in the armchair all frowny. “Why does Ross look so sad?”
“Chandler’s ditching me Saturday for a date,” Ross supplies.
Chandler glares at him.
Phoebe sits next to Chandler and gasps. “You have a date?”
“Could you sound more surprised about that, Pheebs?”
“What’s her name?” The look on Chandler’s face makes her alter the question: “What’s his name?”
Her mouth opens in surprise. “I know a Joey! Maybe it’s the same guy!”
Ross chuckles. “I really doubt that. It’s a common name.”
“Now if you knew another Chandler...”
“Well, what’s he look like? Is he cute?” Phoebe asks. “I bet he’s cute.”
Chandler feels his cheeks heat up. “Yeah, he’s...he’s pretty attractive. His whole family’s pretty attractive, actually. He’s got seven gorgeous sisters, but, no, I gotta have eyes for the male underwear model.” Chandler slumps into the couch.
“Seven sisters?” Phoebe lifts an eyebrow. “Is his last name Tribbiani?”
Chandler looks at her like she’s just performed some sort of black magic in front of him. “Y—yeah, how’d you—”
“That’s my Joey!” She grins at him. “He comes in at least once a week for a massage and always asks for me. Oh, he’s so sweet! You’ll love him!”
“What a small world,” Ross says with mild amusement.
Chandler’s just sort of gaping off into space.
“And, oh yeah, he could definitely be an underwear model,” Phoebe says with a grin, her cheeks slightly pinked.
Chandler files that one away for later. He’s insanely jealous of Phoebe for having the privilege of seeing Joey naked—or at least in a state of mild undress.
Ross just fidgets uncomfortably in his chair at this new line of conversation.
“So, you’re going on a date with Joey Tribbiani,” Phoebe teases, poking Chandler’s arm.
“It’s not actually a date,” Chandler insists. “The only reason I’m going with him instead of Ross is ‘cause Monica said Ross was busy and couldn’t go to the game this weekend. And Joey was, like, right there, so how could I not offer him the ticket, y’know?” He throws his hands up into the air. “I didn’t think he’d actually say yes!”
Phoebe sighs like he’s the absolute worst. “Chandler, why would he volunteer to go to a game with a complete stranger unless he likes that stranger?”
Chandler opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again, because he really wants to say something to counter that, but he doesn’t know what. “He’s crazy?”
Phoebe just shakes her head. “Because you asked him out, you goof.” She studies the look on his face. “Oh my God, you accidentally asked him out, didn’t you?”
“I was just trying to be nice!” Chandler wails. “I didn’t think I was asking him out until after it happened, and by then he’d already said yes!”
“So this is absolutely a date,” Phoebe decides.
Chandler sighs again. “Fine, it’s a date. I’m going on a date Saturday with a guy who’s almost insultingly out of my league. Neither one of you will say a word to him about my job, alright? Especially you, Pheebs.”
“Your job is cool!” Phoebe argues. “At least until you say what it is you actually do.” Chandler frowns. “But still!”
He lowers his voice. “Joey probably hasn’t told you this, but his family is rumored to have mob ties.”
Ross actually fucking laughs at that; what is it with the Gellers and laughing at serious things? “What?”
Chandler just ignores him. “If it’s true, this could be the case that makes me a Federal Agent who actually does stuff that isn’t fetching coffee!”
“And what if it’s not?”
“Then I’m dating a hot, rich guy!” he says like it’s obvious. “There’s really no way I lose here, unless one of you lets it out that I’m a Fed and scares him off, okay?”
Phoebe nods. “I want this to happen! You two would be so great together!”
Chandler looks over at Ross. “You promise not to say anything?”
Ross looks like he’s thinking it over. “You did ditch me to go the the game with him...”
Chandler narrows his eyes. “You breathe a word, and I will absolutely tell your parents—and Monica—about spring break, sophomore year.”
Ross gasps in horror. “You wouldn’t!” Whatever Chandler does with his face convinces Ross that silence is the best option. “I won’t say anything.”
“Monica, you have to help me,” Chandler whines through the door to her apartment. “I can barely dress for dates with women!”
He hears her sigh loudly on the other side of the door before she pulls it open and gets a good look at him. “What’d you wear with Kip?”
“Kip and I didn’t exactly date—at least, not in a way that involved clothing.”
Monica rolls her eyes like he’s being purposely obtuse. “What you have on is fine.” She tugs at his jacket. “Maybe too many layers if you’re thinking about going back to his place later—”
Chandler snorts a very unflattering laughing sound. Monica looks confused. “Oh, sorry, I thought you were making a joke. You were saying?”
“That hat is not doing you any favors, by the way.” Monica reaches up and snags the cap off of his head. “It makes you look twelve.”
“Okay, how about now?” Chandler takes a step back and spreads his arms. “Do I look too straight?”
Monica shakes her head. “No, I could believe that you’re into guys. You have a—a quality.”
“Oh, that’s helpful.”
“I’m not saying you look gay, I’m just saying if you told me you were I probably wouldn’t question it.” Chandler’s frowning at her, so Monica adds: “Probably.”
Monica accompanies Chandler to Central Perk while he waits for Joey—mostly on Chandler’s request, because there’s a very good chance that Joey won’t show, and Chandler doesn’t want to sit around waiting past six all alone. Monica’s going to suffer through this with him, because she’s the one who hooked them up in the first place. This is all her fault.
“Will you relax?” Monica says, because Chandler’s leg is jackhammering like it expects to strike gold. “He’ll show up.”
“Easy for you to say. You’re not the one who almost took out the table trying to escape from the conversation.”
“He might find that endearing.”
“Well, no, but everybody’s different!”
Chandler sighs, slumps impossibly further in his chair. Joey is probably lingering outside behind a mailbox or something, peering into the café windows and laughing to himself about how Chandler’s actually waiting for him like he thought he had a snowball’s chance in hell with the guy.
Maybe Chandler can spot Joey across the street somewhere and just cut his losses and go home. This wouldn’t be the first time he’s been stood up, although it would be the first time with a guy.
Maybe this isn’t so bad. It’s not like Chandler knows what to do here, and Joey probably isn’t aware this is a date. This evening could have been a disaster. He should be thrilled he’s getting out of it.
Chandler takes one more furtive glance at the windows and, holy mother of fuck, Joey’s walking in looking way more attractive than anyone has the right to be. It’s actually unfair.
Chandler sits up like something sprung out of a toaster. “Joey?”
Joey grins at him in a way that’s totally authentic. “Bada-Bing! I didn’t think you’d actually show.” He moves closer, catches Monica’s eye on his way toward Chandler. “Mon, you waitin’ for somebody too?”
“No, I just thought I’d give Chandler some moral support.”
Chandler tosses her a “shut up right now” look, because Joey definitely doesn’t know this is a date. He stands up, covers Joey’s confused expression with, “Alright, well, we better get going! Thanks for your help, Mon!”
He’s practically dragging Joey out the door when Joey asks, “What’d you need moral support for?”
Chandler panics internally for a moment. “Oh, uh, well, y’know, if—if the Rangers lose, my whole week is ruined. I get really invested in these games.”
Joey smiles and says, “Hey, me too!”
They’re walking home later that night in the crisp, autumn air. The game was rather uneventful, save for the guy in front of Chandler getting a stray puck to the face—which Chandler was absolutely okay with because it meant extra leg-room. And, okay, maybe he found it a little difficult to concentrate when Joey was right next to him. Joey. The guy he inadvertently asked out on a date. The guy who actually said yes to the date. Chandler still can’t understand how this all happened. He might just be the luckiest man alive. There’s no way this is happening twice.
“So, hey,” Joey says, his hands casually stuffed into his pockets like he doesn’t know what to do with them, “you never told me what you do for a livin’.”
“You never asked,” Chandler answers, attempting to be playful.
“Well, I’m askin’.”
Chandler wracks his brain to come up with a decent lie that he’ll actually remember in case he’s called on it at a later date. “I, uh, I work in an office,” he starts. Brilliant. “For advertising. I write slogans.” His hands are starting to sweat. “Y’know, like, ‘cheese: it’s milk that you chew.’ Or ‘crackers: because your cheese needs a buddy.’”
Joey’s actually laughing—and not at him—so Chandler doesn’t think he’s fucked this up too badly.
“‘Grapes: because who can get a watermelon in their mouth?’”
“Why are you so funny?” Joey asks.
“Well, my mother writes erotica, and my father is basically a clown, so a sense of humor was pretty much in the cards for me.” Chandler huffs out a bitter laugh, but Joey doesn’t hear the edge to it. “What about you?”
“Oh, I’m not funny.”
Chandler’s smiling at that, so obviously Joey’s wrong. “No, I mean what do you do?”
“Oh.” Joey pushes a hand through his hair. “I’m in construction.”
Chandler feels the corner of his mouth tug into a smirk. Typical mob answer. “Is that a, uh, family trade?”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
Chandler shrugs, says, “Just a hunch.”
They’re a couple blocks away from Central Perk when Joey says, “Hey, you hungry?”
“Are you?” Joey just gives him a skeptical look; as if the fact that Joey’s consumed almost a third of his weight in food tonight isn’t evidence enough that he’s always hungry. Chandler’s still sort of full from greasy fries and hot dogs, but he figures this is an opportunity to pay Joey back for the food. So he says, “Yeah, I could eat.”
“Great! I know a good pizza place around here!”
It’s sort of endearing how enthusiastic Joey is about the prospect of eating. Okay, really endearing, because Chandler’s a fucking sap.
Chandler recognizes the pizza joint as the closest place that delivers to his apartment, but he’s going to let Joey think he’s introduced Chandler to some wondrous, hidden gem of Italian dining. All of the staff seem to know Joey, which is...a little disconcerting, if Chandler’s honest, but it probably has nothing to do with Mafia connections or anything like that. Maybe Joey just eats here a lot. It’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility, considering his appetite. So Chandler doesn’t worry too much about it.
At least until the check comes.
“Since you paid earlier, maybe I should—”
Joey gives Chandler a dismissive hand-wave. “Nah, forget about it.”
It’s not something most people would notice, but Chandler has an eye for the little details. Joey doesn’t carry a wallet—he keeps thick wads of cash in his pockets wrapped with different colored rubber bands—this one’s blue. Joey peels a hundred dollar bill off of the top and lays it down on the table, and why wouldn’t he? It’s not as if it’s his money.
Chandler swallows thickly. “Thanks.”
Joey smiles as if to say “no problem.”
As they’re walking to Central Perk, Joey says, “Hey, you got plans next weekend?”
“If you count ‘falling asleep on the couch in front of the TV’ as plans, then yes.”
Another laugh; God, does Chandler love how that sounds. “‘Cause I was thinkin’ Saturday we could hang out again, maybe catch the next Rangers game?”
Chandler sort of freezes mid-step, because if his ears are working right he just heard Joey ask him out. Because this isn’t the “we should do this again” part of the evening—they’re not even at the coffee shop yet. “R—really?”
Joey turns around when he realizes that Chandler’s not following him. “If you don’t want to, that’s fine, I just thought I’d—”
“No! No! It’s—yes, we can totally do that!”
Joey’s worried expression turns into a gorgeous smile and, okay, this is really unfair. Chandler doesn’t know how to handle people looking at him like that. “Great!”
“But, I, um, I don’t have tickets...”
“My folks have a box. Don’t worry about it.”
It takes Chandler a couple steps to realize that they could have sat there tonight the entire time, but Joey instead chose to go with Chandler instead of flaunting his wealth.
Chandler’s sprawled over his bed that night, still trying to figure this whole thing out. Apparently his company isn’t too awful, because Joey’s decided to subject himself to it again. Voluntarily. Joey, judging by the fact that he willingly suggested they hang out, likes him enough to spend more time with him. Likes him enough to have the same date over again.
There’s also the prod of worry that Joey and his family actually are part of the Mafia. Chandler might be able to fool Joey with dumb jokes and poorly-constructed lies, but odds are that Joey’s family is probably a little quicker on the uptake. There’s a good chance that Chandler can’t lie himself out of a situation if Joey’s family is involved. He doesn’t exactly fear for his life—what idiotic mafioso would actually whack a Federal Agent?—but he doesn’t want to spook them.
Of course, everything he saw tonight was coincidental—totally circumstantial. Maybe Joey and his family are just rich. Would a Mafia connection be the first thing Chandler thought about them if Monica hadn’t put it into his head? Even Phoebe thinks it’s out of the realm of possibility, and she seems to know Joey pretty well.
So what does Chandler know for certain? One, that Joey is ridiculously, inhumanly attractive. Two, that Joey and his family may or may not be connected to the Mafia, and three, that he has a tiny, microscopic crush on the guy.
It’s about time his life got exciting.
Chapter 3: As Time Goes By
Chandler swaggers into Monica’s kitchen the next morning, way too pleased with himself. He leans toward her while she’s sitting at the table and surveying the newspaper. “What’s this shirt made out of, Mon?” he asks slyly, plucking at his t-shirt.
Monica rolls her eyes, because she’s known Chandler long enough to know that he’s leading up to a stupid joke, but she plays along anyway. “I don’t know, cotton?”
Chandler jumps up and makes some sort of flaily, ecstatic motion with his limbs. “No! Boyfriend material! Joey wants to go out with me again!”
Monica’s jaw drops. “There is no God if you can get a second date with awful jokes like that!”
Chandler laughs and swings open the refrigerator to borrow some breakfast ingredients. “You were right; I’m not as undateable as I think I am. The downside is I’m about half-way convinced that the mob rumors are true.”
“And you weren’t before?”
“It was about thirty percent.”
“But you’re still not totally convinced?”
“This is my life we’re talking about. Of course he’s affiliated with the mob! What are the chances I meet a great, attractive guy and he turns out to be normal?” Chandler finds an almost empty box of frozen waffles near the back of the freezer.
“Well, if you can’t date him, at least you can get a promotion?” Monica’s trying to find the silver lining here, but it’s considerably difficult when Chandler’s grumpy.
He gives that moment of thought. “That is true.”
“So where’s date number two?”
“Same place. Apparently, his family has their own box at the rink.”
“How you landed a second date with a sweet, gorgeous, disgustingly-rich guy I’ll never know.”
“I do have a cute smile.” He flashes one for effect; Monica seems unconvinced by this dazzling display. “Well, he liked it.”
Joey’s dressed to impress the second time around, Chandler notices. Instead of the casual Rangers jersey he wore last time, he’s got a dark leather jacket thrown over a crisp dress shirt with actual buttons; Chandler feels way too casual in jeans and a sweater, but Joey doesn’t appear to be judging him. Joey’s much more interested in the food than Chandler’s fashion choices; he’s been eating almost as long as they’ve been in the luxury box facing the rink.
“You want a beer?” Joey asks around a mouthful of a hamburger, opening the mini-fridge of the left side of the box to grab a bottle for himself.
Chandler shrugs. “Sure, why not?” He twists the bottle open and takes a swig, trying not to glance at Joey doing the same out of his peripheral vision. It’s impossible not to imagine Joey’s lips around his dick, and Chandler squirms a little in his cushioned leather seat.
“This is great, huh?” Joey says, like he already knows the answer. He plops down in the chair beside Chandler. “Private seats, a mini-fridge, and if you’re pee-shy, hey—you got your own bathroom!”
Chandler adores Joey’s child-like enthusiasm. “Yeah, I’m impressed.” Joey grins. “Do you always go to games like this?”
“Most of the time, yeah. And we got set-ups like this all over, so if you ever wanna go to a Knicks game...” He gives Chandler a playful nudge in the ribs.
“How come you didn’t upgrade us last time?”
Joey shrugs, takes another bite of his burger. “I didn’t wanna be rude, y’know? It was your thing, not mine.” He makes a face, picks a half-eaten slice of tomato out of the burger and slaps it onto the wrapper.
Chandler’s eyes follow the gaudy gold timepiece around Joey’s wrist. Everything about this entire date—Joey’s attire, the luxury box, his answers to Chandler’s questions—is constructed to impress Chandler. Joey sees him as someone worth impressing; Chandler’s never going to get over that.
They sit in comfortable silence for the next hour or so, trading light conversation about the game and the food. Chandler takes a thoughtful swallow of beer before he asks, “So, uh, Joe, you into anything else besides hockey and food? Not that those aren’t great, y’know...”
“Oh yeah, I love sports: football, basketball, baseball, foosball—”
Chandler smiles. “Foosball? I got a table at my place.”
“Yeah, you—you should stop by sometime; we could play a game or two.” Chandler’s trying not to think about the fact that he just invited Joey to his apartment. His heart might be pounding wildly in his chest.
Joey smiles back, all excitement. “Sure! That’d be great!” His expression changes, like he’s just had a brilliant idea mid-conversation. “Oh! Quick: what’s your favorite movie?”
Chandler needs a moment to think about this.
Joey makes a buzzer sound. “Wrong! You’re supposed to say Die Hard!”
“I was gonna!” Chandler answers back, because he absolutely was. “Alright,” he says, pushing up the long sleeves of his sweater and turning in his chair so his body’s facing Joey, “favorite pair of TV breasts? Doesn’t matter—it’s Yasmine Bleeth!”
“Yeah!” Joey puts his hand up for a high-five that Chandler totally takes advantage of. He can’t remember the last time he high-fived someone. “Man, we are, like, the total opposite of opposites!”
Chandler laughs, about to correct him, when something beeps and Joey looks down at his crotch.
“Aw, man,” Joey sighs out, reaching into his pocket. He pulls out a beeper and reads the number. His shoulders slump in defeat. He lifts his gaze to Chandler, his eyes forlorn. “I’m sorry, I gotta make a call real quick.” He stands up and walks over to the phone on the other side of the box near the bar and mini-fridge. Chandler tries his hardest to eavesdrop while looking completely inconspicuous, but Joey’s a champion of keeping his voice low, so Chandler doesn’t hear anything of note.
Joey’s frowning, shuffling his feet as he makes his way back to Chandler. “I gotta go, Chandler. I’m really sorry.”
“It’s not—it’s not anything serious, is it?”
“Nah, my dad needs me on a job.” He’s all scowls and frowns, and Chandler wants to kiss his face until his distress goes away. Joey takes one last swig of beer before grabbing his coat off the back of his chair.
“Is it a construction emergency?”
Joey laughs, but there’s no joy there. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.” He shakes his head, gives Chandler a pained smile. “You can stay as long as you want, order more food. Don’t worry about it.”
Chandler doesn’t want Joey to leave without making some concrete plans for their next not-date. “W—wait, Joe, you wanna, y’know, do somethin’ next weekend? My treat.” He smiles and watches how Joey’s expression softens at the sight.
“Yeah, that’d be great. Thanks. I’m so sorry I gotta run out on you like this.”
“Hey, don’t worry. It happens.” Chandler flashes another smile, which makes Joey smile back as he leaves.
“See ya, Bada-Bing.”
Chandler watches the door close and mutters, “Construction emergency, my ass,” under his breath.
It’s Wednesday, and Chandler’s at work, sipping coffee and playing a mean game of Solitaire on the computer. There’s probably something more important he should be doing, but his third date with Joey is drawing closer, and how is he not supposed to think about that? He hasn’t decided where to take Joey this time, because their friendship can’t subsist only on hockey games. But Chandler thinks that inviting Joey over to his place might be construed as too date-like, and neither of them have discussed whether or not this relationship is actually a relationship.
Right before his lunch break, “Big Al” Kostelick calls Chandler into his office. Chandler starts to panic; he knew those prank memos were a terrible idea. But Kostelick doesn’t talk to him about that. Instead, he says, with absolutely no preamble, “Bing, you’re being assigned to another squad. You ever been to Tulsa?”
Chandler’s eyes go wide. “The one in Oklahoma?”
“That’s the only one I’ve ever heard of.”
Chandler shifts in his chair, tries not to let the frustration show on his face. “Can’t say I’ve been there.” The only way this could be worse is if his new squad was in Las Vegas—but at least then he’d know one person there. Who the fuck does he know in Tulsa?
“Well, they’ve got some great restaurants. Slim Pickings has the best barbeque in the city.”
“As, uh, appetizing as that sounds, I gotta say I’m not too crazy about this whole arrangement. I’m sort of...conducting an investigation here in Manhattan, and it’d be a real shame if I had to stop.”
To his credit, Kostelick tries not to laugh at that, but Chandler still hears the stifled chuckle leave his throat. “What kind of ‘investigation?’”
“Have you ever heard of the Tribbiani family?”
Kostelick raises a judgemental eyebrow. Chandler feels his face flush.
“Apparently not. Well, uh, I’ve been reading over the ‘old dog’ files that come across my desk—cute touch with the dog food label on the Stilinksi case, by the way—”
Kostelick smiles. “I thought you might appreciate that.”
Chandler sort of smiles back, though he’s kind of insulted that he’s deigned so expendable here that the only cases he gets involve fugitives who’ve been at large for so long the idea of catching them is an office-wide joke. “Well, in some of the cases with Mafia-related fugitives, I’ve noticed the surname Tribbiani pops up a couple times. And I’ve recently sort of made friends with the son in the family, Joey, so I’m thinking I might be able to do some, uh, reconnaissance, if you will.”
Kostelick looks way too amused by the idea of Chandler investigating anything that isn’t a stolen lunch from the workplace fridge. “You?” Chandler nods. “You managed to make friends with a member of the Mafia?”
“Rumored member,” Chandler stresses, “but yeah, I did.” He gives Kostelick a little smile at the end there, because Chandler fucking loves exceeding the expectations of people who underestimate him.
Kostelick sits back in his chair and ponders this for a moment. “Do you have a cover ID?”
“Not exactly. I sorta...gave him my real name before I realized who he was.”
Kostelick just stares at Chandler like he’s the world’s biggest idiot. “You, a Federal Agent, gave your real name to a rumored member of the Mafia?”
“In my—in my defense, sir, I didn’t know who he was until it was too late.” Chandler’s stretching the truth here, because there’s no way he’s going to admit that he really is that stupid. It’s not his fault, really—he’s just easily flustered by a nice smile and a body to die for.
Kostelick takes his glasses off, pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs like Chandler is giving him an ulcer. “And how do you plan to infiltrate this group using your real name?”
“See, that’s the genius of this whole thing. By being Joey’s friend and not a potential ‘business’ partner, I can slip in under the radar. They’re not gonna background-check some random guy Joey hangs out with or brings to the house, y’know?”
Kostelick gives this a long moment of thought; Chandler watches the clock tick behind his head. “Alright, Bing, I’ll make you a deal: two weeks. You got two weeks to bring me something on the Tribbianis. You do that, you can stay. But only as long as you keep bringing in information. Once the well runs dry, you’re packing your bags for Tulsa.”
“You’ve got yourself a deal.”
“What the hell am I gonna do?” Chandler whines to Phoebe and Monica at Central Perk that afternoon. “I can’t get close enough to Joey in two weeks to start asking random, intrusive questions about his family! What if he’s not even involved with the Mafia at all?” He buries his head in his hands. He doesn’t know why he lets himself get into these situations. Him and his big, stupid mouth.
Monica brings him a chilled iced tea. “What if you found a way to get close to his family?”
Chandler scoffs, takes a sip of tea. “What, invite his father along on one of our dates?”
“Well, you said his family’s in the mob, right? Well, aren’t mob guys always looking for people to join their little gang?”
“It doesn’t exactly work like that, Pheebs, and even if it did, what skills could I possibly offer the Mafia? Nervous laughter? Stupid jokes?”
“Maybe you could find out what they need,” she says, stirring her coffee. “And then you could be that thing!”
“I kinda screwed myself with that because I gave Joey my real name. If I wanna work with them, they’re gonna run a background check on me, and what’s the first thing they’re gonna see? Federal Agent!”
Phoebe thinks about this over a sip of coffee. “What if you weren’t part of the Mafia? Like what if there was some other job opening?”
“You sound like you have an idea.”
She nods, sets her cup down on the table. “Joey’s family is rich, right?”
“Disgustingly,” Monica supplies.
“And if they’re really Mafia people, they probably have stuff to hide,” Phoebe continues. “So if they have security cameras or something around their property, you could disable one of the cameras.”
Chandler picks up her train of thought. “And if they think they’re being watched, they’ll be in the market for someone to work security. Enter Chandler Bing: Security Consultant!”
“I was gonna say something else, but yeah, that’s a great idea!” Phoebe claps her hands together.
Monica chuckles. “Chandler, how are you going to pass yourself off as a security consultant?”
“Hey, I know stuff,” Chandler says sort of defensively. “Besides, Joey can vouch for me. We’re going on our third date Friday night.” He might be a little boastful about this particular detail.
“Oh, are you finally gonna try to get to first base?” Monica teases.
Chandler rolls his eyes. “I still have to pick a place for the date. I still have to breach the topic of it actually being a date!” He takes a swallow of the iced tea.
“But first things first,” Phoebe says, “you gotta do that camera thing! ‘Cause then on your date Joey can talk to you about it and you can say ‘hey, I’ll be your new security guy!’”
Chandler nods. “Sure, Pheebs, would you, uh, would you wanna help me out? You sound like you know what you’re talking about, and if we get caught you can use your feminine wiles to escape.”
“How are you gonna escape?”
“Oh, I won’t. You can just send someone to get me later.”
Chandler finds the Tribbianis’ home address during his lunch break the next day. The family lives in a cozy suburb just outside of Queens, and by nightfall Chandler and Phoebe are crouched behind the trees outside the sprawling manor. They’re dressed in black to blend into the night, and Phoebe’s carrying a satchel with supplies inside. Chandler takes out a lighter and a pack of cigarettes.
“Could you not do that right now?” Phoebe hisses, scooting away from him.
“It’s for effect,” Chandler grouses. And, okay, he is a little stressed about tampering with the security system for a rumored Mafia family. But first and foremost, the cigarettes are being used as tell-tale signs of surveillance. “I’m good with the little details.” He takes a couple puffs before stubbing the cigarette out and tossing the butt on the ground. He offers her one, but she flaps her hands at him like he’s handing her a dead animal.
Chandler takes a small laser out of her satchel. His plan here is to disable a couple of the security cameras using a laser beam to overload the light-sensitive chip inside. Scatter a few cigarette butts around on the grass, maybe leave a “forgotten” camera lens cap, and the Tribbianis will think someone’s watching them. Then Chandler can assume the role of security consultant and get closer to the family without needing to get his hands dirty.
He flips the laser on, aims the beam at the nearest camera. “I think we’re too far away,” he whispers. “We should move up.”
They stay low, scurrying through the trees and crouching behind a patch of shrubs closer to the house. Chandler tries the laser again. The tiny red light on the front of the camera dims and shuts off. He grins. “I feel like James Bond. Or Batman. So I guess that make you Robin...or Catwoman.”
“Remind me why you needed me to be here?” Phoebe groans, munching on some Twizzlers from her bag.
“You’re supposed to be playing look-out,” Chandler reminds her. “And you came up with the first half of the plan.” He lights another cigarette.
“Have you decided where you’re gonna take Joey tomorrow night?” Phoebe asks, offering him a Twizzler.
He shakes his head, puffs on the cigarette. “How do I impress him after he took me to a Rangers game in his family’s box?”
Phoebe smiles at him. “You don’t need to impress him, Chandler. He already likes you.”
“Really? Did he—did he say something to you?”
“No, but, c’mon: why would he agree to go out with you again if he didn’t like you?”
That’s the part Chandler can’t figure out. “I guess we could just see a movie or something, but that seems so underwhelming after what he did.”
“You know he’s trying to impress you, right? Showing off all his money and stuff? Maybe you could try impressing him.”
Chandler gives that a moment of thought before he finishes his cigarette and stubs it out into the grass. “Let’s knock out that camera on the left there.” He hands her the laser. “You can do the honors this time.”
Phoebe practically skips over to the next set of bushes.
Chapter 4: You Make Me Feel So Young
Joey’s all pouts and frowns at the start of their date Friday evening.
“What’s the matter, big guy?” Chandler asks. It feels like a “big guy” moment.
“Nothin’.” Joey shrugs his shoulders, stuffs his hands into the pocket of his coat. “Just some family stuff.”
“I’ll listen if you wanna talk about it.” Chandler has a feeling he knows what it is, but he’s going to let this one play out on its own.
Joey shakes his head. “I don’t wanna bum you out.”
“Well, I got somethin’ that’ll cheer you up,” Chandler says as they wait on the corner for a cab.
Joey seems enthused just by the mere suggestion. “Oh yeah? Where’re we goin’?”
Chandler learns that Joey has the patience of a child, asking “are we there yet?” nearly every block on the cab ride to their destination. It takes about fifteen minutes until they reach a quaint little boardwalk on the coast. There’s a ferris wheel twinkling in the distance, towering over the various concession stands and carnival booths. The smell of hot dogs and funnel cakes hits Chandler like a punch to the olfactory senses when he and Joey step out of the cab.
Joey’s grinning ridiculously wide. “A carnival? Really?”
This is probably way too date-like for Joey. Oh God, why did Chandler think this was a good idea? “I’m—I’m sorry, I just thought maybe you’d—I dunno...”
“No, man, it’s great! I’m just surprised, ‘cause I figured we’d just go to a movie or somethin’.”
Chandler shuffles his feet against the concrete. “We can go to a movie next time. I mean, if you still wanna hang out.”
Joey chuckles and gives Chandler a playful smack on his shoulder as they start walking. “Bing, you gotta quit worryin’. I think you’re cool.”
Chandler throws himself an internal celebration, because Joey thinks he’s cool.
They stroll around the carnival grounds, taking in the sights and smells and trading light conversation. Joey, of course, eats way too much, ordering at least one item from every food stand they pass. He’s carrying a hot dog in one hand, a soda in the other, and Chandler’s stuck carrying the popcorn. Somehow, Chandler has a feeling their movie night is going to end up this way too.
They pass by the marksmanship booth, and Joey stops suddenly, making Chandler bump into him. “What? Another, uh, family emergency?”
“You think I could win that?” Joey asks, gesturing with his chin to one of the stuffed animals hanging from the prize rack.
“The penguin?” It’s quaint and cute, dressed in winter clothes, and Chandler wants nothing more than to win it for Joey.
“Yeah! How hard can it be?”
Chandler studies the game; it looks simple enough: shoot the star off of the target with less than a hundred BBs. “Well, the target’s pretty small. That gives you a better chance,” Chandler says casually. Joey looks over at him in awe like he’s said something smart. Chandler feels the need to explain. “Your best chance is when the star’s diameter is under an inch and a half.”
Joey lifts his eyebrows. “You’ve done this before?”
“I read a lot.”
Joey gives this a moment of contemplation, looks up at the penguin again before glancing back at Chandler. “You know how to shoot?”
Chandler can’t help but smile, because as a Federal Agent of fucking course he knows his way around a gun. But he just says, “Yeah, I’m not bad,” with a shrug.
“Alright. Let’s see what you got, Bing.”
Up until now, Joey’s been the one to be effortlessly cool and impressive, flashing his money around and showing off his family’s luxury box. The FBI requires a firearms proficiency test for all agents, so Chandler gets his turn to show off here.
It takes him a couple shots to gauge the aim of the gun, since years of wear and use have bent the rifle barrel. Once he adjusts the aim to compensate—down and to the left—shooting a circle around the star is a piece of cake.
Between shots, he can see Joey watching in childlike wonder out of his peripheral vision. Chandler’s pretty proud of himself.
“How’d you learn to shoot like that?” Joey asks, gleefully carrying his prized stuffed penguin under one arm as they’re walking along the boardwalk.
“Oh, just—I used to shoot BBs with the neighbor kids when I was growing up.” This relationship is making Chandler really damn good at lying, he finds.
Joey grabs a handful of popcorn from him. “Well, that was amazing! I didn’t know you could do anything cool like that!”
Chandler chuckles despite feeling reflexive offense. “I can do tons of cool stuff, Joe. Monica will grudgingly admit I make the best macaroni and cheese in Manhattan.”
“Whoa, I gotta have dinner at your place sometime!” Joey says around a gasp. Chandler struggles with the urge to flail happily about this. “How do you make it?”
“All sorts of different ways. I can make it baked, in a grilled cheese, like a lasagna, with ground beef or bacon—”
“Stop, man, you’re makin’ me hungry!”
“How can you be hungry? You’ve been eating literally all night!”
Joey just gives him a look; really, Chandler ought to be beyond questioning Joey’s gastrointestinal prowess by now. “Can you make anything else?”
“Aside from ramen noodles and poor decisions? Not really.”
“Aw, you should come over to my house! My mom makes the best Italian food you’ll ever have! I keep tellin’ her she ought’a open up her own restaurant.”
Chandler smiles to himself. Joey just invited him to his house; how is that not a date? “You think she’d be okay with cooking for some stranger you invited over?” he teases.
“Oh yeah, don’t worry. She loves meetin’ my friends.”
They find a bench on the boardwalk and sit down. “So, hey, remember that family stuff I was talkin’ about before?” Joey asks around a mouthful of popcorn. “Well, somebody messed with the security system around our place, so my dad thinks maybe we’re bein’ spied on.”
Chandler can’t believe his ridiculous plan actually worked. “Maybe a disgruntled employee?”
“Maybe.” Joey’s quiet for a moment, staring out at the twinkling lights surrounding them.
Chandler offers up a subtle “I wish I could help.”
“You know anybody in security?”
The corner of his mouth pulls up into a smile that he tries to hide with some popcorn. “I, uh, I used to work for a security firm back in the day.” He cringes inwardly; he is in no way cool enough to be using modern slang. “Before the advertising gig.” Gig? Really? Why is he saying these words?
Joey’s eyes go wide. “Really? You think you could help my folks out?”
Chandler has to remind himself not to open his mouth like a gaping fish. “Y—yeah, sure! Whatever you need.” He’s brilliant. Phoebe’s brilliant. He’s buying her dinner one of these nights.
“Great! Thanks, man!” Joey wraps an arm around Chandler’s shoulders, pulls him into a one-armed hug. Chandler fights the urge to lay his head on Joey’s shoulder or breathe in the scent of his hair.
“You sure your father won’t mind? I mean, he doesn’t exactly know me or anything.”
“Forget about it, he trusts me. And he’ll meet ya when you come over for dinner.”
Chandler feels a gush of panic. “Hey, Joe, maybe you shouldn’t be so upfront about the whole job thing. Why not just introduce me as a friend? Then later you can mention the security stuff.”
“You get nervous under pressure?”
“Oh, do I!” His laughter fades, and he looks at Joey. “I mean, if you present me as somebody who wants to work for him, he might be really critical of me. But if I’m just a friend of yours who happens to have experience with something you guys need, maybe he won’t care if I talk too much or have trouble controlling my arms.”
Joey chuckles. “Alright, how ‘bout tomorrow night? You busy or anything?”
“Nah, sounds good.”
Monica’s at Chandler’s apartment the next morning, meticulously scrubbing the dishes after a late breakfast; at this point, Chandler’s just learned to let her have her fun. “How do you keep getting dates with this guy?” she wonders aloud.
“Maybe I have an innate charm?”
“Well, that’s one theory.”
Chandler shoots her a glare.
“So you’re having dinner with his parents tonight, huh? Wow, that’s a pretty big step in your relationship,” Monica teases.
Chandler rolls his eyes, but she’s sort of right; Joey must really trust Chandler if he’s bringing him into his home and introducing him to his parents. “I wish I knew if we were actually dating or not. I mean, we’ve been doing some pretty date-like stuff.”
“I know!” Monica exclaims, emphatically motioning with the skillet she’s scrubbing; some suds land on Chandler’s cheek, and he wipes them away. “A carnival? At night? And you won a prize for him! Hello—you two are totally dating!”
Chandler collapses into a nearby chair. “I’d ask him tonight, but I don’t wanna jeopardize anything.”
“You could be sneaky about it. You could ask his parents if Joey always brings friends over, or maybe they’ll say something that could give you a clue.”
Chandler’s about to speak when the phone rings; Monica’s closer, but her hands are rubber-gloved and wet, so Chandler hops up to answer it. “Hello?”
Joey’s voice on the other end says, “Hey, Chandler?”
Chandler feels a smile spread on his lips. “Joe? Hey, what’s up?”
“Nothin’, actually, I was wonderin’ if you might wanna see a movie or somethin’?” Chandler can picture the way Joey’s scratching the back of his neck and shifting from one foot to the other.
“Yeah, I just thought I’d ask you ‘cause, well, you’re my friend, and you said you weren’t busy today, so...”
Chandler needs to stop grinning right now, but he doesn’t seem to be in control of his facial muscles. “Yeah, sure, we can do that!”
Monica looks at him and smiles, gives him a thumbs-up.
“Why don’t you, uh, just come meet me at my place? I’m on the corner of Bedford and Grove, apartment nineteen. It’s right by the coffee shop we always meet at.”
“Alright, great! Thanks!”
Monica’s looking all smug when Chandler hangs up. “Chandler has a boyfriend,” she sing-songs.
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
“Not yet.” Ms. Optimistic.
“We’re just going to see a movie,” Chandler explains.
“And then you’re gonna have dinner with his parents. If you were a woman, you guys would totally be dating now.”
It sounds ridiculous, but Chandler can’t exactly say she’s wrong. But he doesn’t have a real frame of reference here; the only other guy he’s been with is Kip, and Kip was unabashedly forward—and not the dating type.
Joey shows up while Chandler’s in his room changing into presentable clothes. “Mon, could you get that?” he asks, buttoning his shirt with one hand before shutting his bedroom door with the other. If Joey’s going to see Chandler without pants, Monica’s definitely not going to be present. He doesn’t want to look too casual, but he can’t look too dressy either, because this is a casual thing, not a business dinner. Chandler huffs out aggravation with himself and hurriedly pulls on a pair of dark slacks, stuffs his socked feet into his shoes and swings the door open.
Monica’s chatting animatedly with Joey, but Joey’s head immediately swivels in Chandler’s direction, and he breaks out into a grin. “Chandler, hey! You ready?”
“Yeah, just—” Chandler glances at Monica, who’s still cleaning the dishes. “Mon, you don’t have to clean up while I’m gone.”
“If I don’t, it’ll haunt me.”
Chandler shrugs. “If you say so.”
When they get to the theater, Joey lets Chandler pick the movie—Clerks, because Kevin Smith is a genius—and doesn’t even argue when Chandler insists that they see Star Trek Generations next month. Maybe Phoebe and Monica are right about Joey—maybe Joey actually does like Chandler.
Joey’s still munching on popcorn after the movie as they wander out into the sunlight. The weather is deceptively chilly for such a bright, cheerful day; Chandler’s glad he grabbed his coat before he left his apartment. “So, hey,” Joey says, his mouth full, “while you were in the men’s room, I got a car to pick us up and take us to my place.”
“Okay, I’ll pay for the cab. Don’t worry about it.”
Joey laughs at him. “No, man, it’s not a cab. My family’s got a driver.”
“Oh, that’s right. I forget that your family is ridiculously loaded.”
“How do you forget somethin’ like that?” Joey asks, looking at Chandler with a quizzical expression.
Chandler shrugs. “I just...do? I dunno, it’s not something I think about a lot.”
Joey seems satisfied with that answer, because he smiles softly and glances away, like he’s embarrassed for having an emotion.
On the drive to his place, Joey talks animatedly about how big his house is and how they have a pool out back and how much Chandler’s going to be impressed by everything. Chandler plays it cool, because he’s already visited Joey’s sprawling mansion, but he knows the importance of faking a first impression.
The sun’s beginning to set when they arrive out front of the house. Joey opens the car door for Chandler—ever the gentleman—and gestures widely to the enormous mansion. “Well? Whadd’ya think?”
Chandler nods, lifts his eyebrows. The house definitely looks nicer in the daylight. A mass of trees encroaches both sides of the house, giving it a protective shade from the sun. It’s painted a soft white, with grey roofing, and stands two stories tall; Chandler couldn’t discern the colors at night. “It’s big.”
“C’mon, I’ll show ya around.” Joey opens the door for Chandler, guides him inside. The inside is just as impressive as the exterior; tall windows let the sunlight illuminate the hardwood floors and the wooden banister leading up to the second floor. Framed artwork of Italian villas adorn the cream-colored walls. “Hey, Ma, Chandler’s here!” Joey calls into the kitchen.
Chandler doesn’t know what his emotions are doing; Joey obviously told his family that he’d be bringing a friend over. Joey talked about him while he wasn’t around. Chandler can’t get over that.
An older woman Chandler presumes is Joey’s mother greets them at the kitchen entrance. She’s wearing an apron stained with splotches of what Chandler really hopes is spaghetti sauce. “You must be Chandler!” She moves to hug him but stops, as if remembering her dirty apron, and opts for a handshake instead. “It’s so nice to meet you!”
“Yeah, you too! Joey’s always raving about your cooking.”
She laughs at that. “Oh, phooey and pshaw! Joey’s been bragging on me since the day he could talk!”
Joey’s cheeks flush a cute shade of pink. “Ma...”
Chandler smiles, because, wow, Joey’s adorable when he’s embarrassed.
“Joey, go find your sisters. Chandler, would you mind helping me set the table?”
Mrs. Tribbiani—or Gloria, as she prefers to be called—asks Chandler the basic mom questions as they’re getting dinner ready: where does he live, what kind of work does he do, how did he meet Joey. Chandler answers to the best of his ability, remembering his lies and reciting them perfectly. He’s not so nervous around this endearing Martha Stewart-esque homemaker, but with Joey’s father he’s not going to have the same ease.
Chandler’s formally introduced to Joey’s seven sisters—he still can’t tell them apart—while Joey makes seductive eyes at the food on the table. Joey reaches for a slice of garlic bread before Gloria thwacks his hand with a wooden spoon. “Wait for your father,” she scolds.
Chandler tries his hardest not to laugh.
Mr. Tribbiani shows up a few minutes later, sliding out of his coat and hanging it up on the coat rack. “Somethin’ smells good!”
Joey races to the foyer to greet him. “Yeah, Ma made a huge dinner ‘cause Chandler’s here, remember?”
Chandler feels his face flush. My God, Joey’s talked about Chandler to his family enough that they know him by name. His heart does a dizzy little flutter in his chest.
“Oh yeah! Bada-Bing! Nice to meet you, Chandler!” Mr. Tribbiani gives Chandler an acknowledging little wave as he sits at the head of the table. Joey looks way too excited to finally be allowed to eat.
“So, how’d you two meet, anyway?” Mr. Tribbiani asks once everyone’s settled in their seats and their plates are filled.
Show time. “Oh, uh, my neighbor Monica works as a chef at Iridium, and Joey came in one night.” Chandler knows he’s going to be shoveling food into his mouth for most of this questioning period, and he also knows that covering one’s mouth is a sign of deceit. If he uses this as a base-line, takes a bite or two when he’s being honest, then it won’t be a tell-tale sign of a lie when he does it during the harder questions. Plus, he’s really hungry—he forwent popcorn at the theater because he doesn’t share Joey’s bottomless pit of a stomach.
“Yeah, Mon always gives me some free dessert when I come in, and she was sittin’ with Chandler that night,” Joey adds.
“How long you two known each other?” Mr. Tribbiani asks.
Chandler chews that one over. “Four weeks, I think.”
“That long, huh?”
“We do something every weekend,” Chandler supplies, more nervous now that he let such a specific answer slip. “So that’s how I remember it.” He doesn’t offer more than that, because he doesn’t want his answers to sound rehearsed. Christ, this isn’t even the part of the interrogation where he has to lie!
“What kind of stuff you two do?”
“Rangers games, movies. Simple stuff.”
Joey nods. “Yeah, we started hangin’ out ‘cause Chandler had a spare Rangers ticket and asked me if I wanted to go. Then the next time we hung out we used the box.” Mr. Tribbiani raises an eyebrow at that. “Then the third time we went to a carnival, and we just got back from a movie today.”
Mr. Tribbiani seems pleased by Joey’s answer; Chandler realizes that he’s mining for clues to determine whether or not Chandler’s trying to leech off of their wealth.
Mr. Tribbiani dips half a slice of garlic bread into the sauce on his plate. “So, Chandler, what’d you say you do again?”
“I work in advertising,” Chandler supplies. He takes a sip of water, takes care to place his glass to the side of his plate rather than in front of it. “I write slogans. Y’know, like, ‘pants: like shorts, but longer.’”
Mr. Tribbiani lets out a small laugh, looks at Joey. “This guy!”
Chandler tries another joke. “‘The phone: bringing you closer to people...who have phones.’”
Thank God Chandler has his humor. He thinks he ought to look into this advertising thing; clearly, he has a knack for it.
“I like the cut of your jib,” Mr. Tribbiani says around a laugh.
“Oh no, is my jib showing?” Chandler looks at his arms. “It always does that when I wear short sleeves.”
Another hearty laugh. Mr. Tribbiani looks over at Joey again and jerks a thumb in Chandler’s direction. “I like this guy! Why can’t the girls you bring around be this funny?”
Joey squirms in his chair, crosses one leg over the other. “So, uh, hey, Chandler, did you, uh, always work in advertising?” His foot nudges Chandler’s leg from underneath the table. Accidental footsie, Chandler thinks with glee.
He picks up on Joey’s cue and turns back to Mr. Tribbiani. “Oh, no, uh, I used to work security. Mostly just watching the cameras and radioing the actual security guys, but it paid the bills.” He shrugs, pokes at a ravioli on his plate.
Mr. Tribbiani does that eyebrow thing again, and Chandler hopes that mentioning the security gig wasn’t too conspicuous.
Joey says something to his father that Chandler doesn’t catch, because the sister nearest to him is nudging his foot underneath the table and murmuring in his ear. “Excuse yourself and go to the bathroom.”
“Oh, no, I was just squinting. That doesn’t mean anything.”
She laughs and rolls her eyes. “Just do it,” she whispers.
So Chandler does, because he’s kind of an idiot who tends to do anything an attractive human suggests; it’s only when he gets out into the hallway that he wonders if he didn’t just hand-deliver himself to be whacked.
Someone grabs his ass, and a sound of panic chokes in his throat. He turns around to see one of Joey’s sisters—God, he hopes it’s the one who flirted with him earlier—shoving him against the door of the coat closet near the foyer. “Finally. I thought we’d never be alone.”
Chandler’s first instinct when someone hits on him is to panic, and that’s really sad now that he thinks about it. “Wh—what? I didn’t know you—” The rest of his sentence is smothered by the girl’s lips over his, and Chandler is surprisingly okay with this turn of events. “Okay, this is—this is not what I was expecting, but sure, why not?”
She smiles. “Joey was right; you are so funny!”
Chandler can’t help focusing on the fact that Joey talked about him with her. “He—he said that?”
She pulls back a little, like his sudden interest in Joey is a complete turn-off. “He talks about you a lot, actually. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he’s...” She trails off, makes a gesture with her hand that Chandler assumes is supposed to mean something.
“No, I don’t!”
Joey’s voice makes them both jump: “Hey, hey, what’re you doin’?”
Joey’s sister breaks away from Chandler, and Chandler’s body goes through some sort of flaily, panicky motion. “She—she came on to me!” Chandler accuses, because it’s true, and he does not want a reputation as some sleazebag that tries to seduce Joey’s sisters.
“Is that true?” Joey asks her, folding his arms over his chest in a way that makes him look like a child whose favorite toy’s been taken away.
His sister nods, moves closer to Chandler as if protecting him from the fury in Joey’s eyes. “Yeah, I did. So don’t punch him or anything. He looks really delicate.”
“I’m not gonna punch Chandler,” Joey says, like it’s the worst thing he could possibly do. He steps closer, and he and his sister have some sort of silent conversation via meaningful looks that Chandler absolutely cannot follow. The sister slinks off, giggling to herself, and Joey closes the distance between himself and Chandler.
Chandler swallows thickly and tries to break the tension with a joke. “So, uh, which sister was that again?”
“Mary-Therese.” Joey sighs, pushing a hand through his hair. “Man, I told everybody to be on their best behavior tonight.”
Chandler’s prepared apology falls apart in his throat. He opens his mouth, closes it, finds new words. “Joe, it’s fine. I’m not opposed to being hit on by attractive women; I actually welcome it, because it never happens.”
Joey chuckles, but it’s worn around the edges. “You wanna come back in? My dad’s got somethin’ he wants to ask you.”
Chandler nods and follows Joey back into the kitchen. When he sits down again, Mr. Tribbiani says, “Chandler, you seem like a stand-up guy. How d’you feel about workin’ here?”
Chandler freezes, his fork lifted half-way to his mouth. Tonight has been full of surprises. “Here, as in...your house?”
“Yeah. Joey probably already told you, but we got a bit of a security issue around here, and maybe you could help us out.”
“How do you”—he clears his throat—“how do you figure?”
“We got a couple camera feeds set up in the basement. You watch ‘em, and if something screwy shows up, page me or Joey to take care of it.”
Chandler takes a moment to think this over, chewing carefully. “Well, I can only work a couple hours because of my, y’know, other job.”
Mr. Tribbiani gives a dismissive hand-wave. “I can match whatever they’re payin’ you.”
Chandler’s not going to argue with that. His main concern here isn’t money anyway. “Are you, uh, suggesting I quit and work for you? Because, believe me, I’m totally okay with that, but I wanna make sure we’re on the same page here.”
“I think that would be best, but you can do whatever you want to.”
Chandler doesn’t want to ask too many questions here. The more he pretends to be a gullible idiot taking things at face-value, the more Mr. Tribbiani will underestimate him.
After dinner, Gloria shoos Chandler away from helping with the dishes, so he lingers in the foyer with Joey. “Man, can you believe you’re gonna be workin’ here?” Joey asks, gleefully patting Chandler on the back. “This is great! Now we don’t have to just hang out on weekends!”
“Yeah, I’m actually really surprised your dad went for it,” Chandler says. “I expected him to be so much more critical.”
Joey laughs. “No way! He thinks you’re great!”
“I’m sure it helps that you talk about me all the time, huh?” Joey looks over at him in confusion. Blood pools beneath his cheeks. “Mary-Therese told me,” Chandler adds.
Joey bites his lips together like he’s angry about that. “I don’t make a lot of friends that easy,” he explains. “I mean, I do, but they’re not real friends, y’know? They get blinded by the money and the whole”—he searches for the word—“lifestyle. The only real friends I have are you, Monica, and my masseuse, Phoebe.”
Chandler nods, understanding. “I’m really glad to be on your list.”
Chapter 5: Someone to Watch Over Me
Chandler strolls into Kostelick’s office the next morning looking far too pleased with himself. “I’m in,” he announces proudly.
Kostelick glares at him. “Yes, you are. What is it, Bing?”
“No, I mean I’m in! I infiltrated the Tribbiani family!” Chandler does an excited little jump.
Kostelick sets the file he’s reading down on his desk to fix Chandler with the appropriate amount of disbelief. He removes his glasses, wipes the lens. “The amount of dumb luck on your side is really astonishing.”
“I know, right?” Chandler plops into the chair facing Kostelick’s desk. “The head of the family wants me to work for him at his house! And all I have to do is watch cameras! I don’t have to kill anybody or engage in morally-objectionable behavior.”
Kostelick puts his glasses back on and steeples his fingers. Steepling looks good on him. On Chandler, it just makes him look like a dork. “How do you feel about wearing a wire?”
Chandler feels his stomach drop to the floor. “Not a big fan, actually,” he says, scratching the back of his neck. “I mean, ninety percent of what you’re gonna pick up is just me and Joey talking about food and Baywatch.” He chuckles nervously. “Seems like a waste of resources.”
“But that ten percent could be enough to make a case. Enough to keep you here.”
Chandler feels the briefest flicker of rebellion, that maybe he should walk out right now and work solely for the Tribbianis, alleged Mafia connections be damned. Joey already trusts Chandler and views him as a friend. If the family is entrenched in the mob world, Chandler will have to betray him.
But God damn it, Chandler has never done anything right in his life. Walking out would be admitting failure, accepting a life of mediocrity. And there’s a chance Joey’s family is just insanely rich with absolutely no Mafia involvement; the Feds would have no reason to build a case against them. Chandler could have his cake and eat it too.
Chandler swallows thickly and nods. “If I have to be wired, I don’t want surveillance. The only reason they asked me to do this is because they trust me. If you’ve got cars or vans sitting around as soon as I start working there, their suspicions will be, to put it mildly, aroused.”
Kostelick says nothing, just sits back in his chair as if silently scrutinizing Chandler’s intelligence.
“The most important thing here is building trust. If we start getting antsy, we’ll spook them.” Chandler notices Kostelick’s curious brow furrow. “I won’t be unarmed. And I really, really doubt they’ll kill me. They think I’m an idiot, and, well, they’re not wrong. But I’m certainly not a threat—at least, not now.”
Kostelick keeps his face placid. “Your dumb luck has been very impressive so far,” he says, leaning forward. “But there is something you’re forgetting.”
“These guys are Mafia, Bing—”
“Alleged Mafia,” Chandler corrects, like he’s personally offended by the accusation. “Their records are practically spotless.”
“‘Cause they’re not gonna get their hands dirty; they’re gonna get some other guy to do it. They’re smart, and if you go in alone, they’ll eat you alive.”
“I think I’ve done pretty well by myself, don’t you think?” Chandler shrugs. “I’m not joining the Mafia; there’s no reason for them to be paranoid about me. I’m a nobody.”
About ten seconds tick by in terrifying silence while Kostelick lets Chandler’s argument sink in. Chandler glances out the window at the bustle of the city below; he’s thinking about flinging himself out of it when Kostelick says, “Alright, Bing, we’ll try it your way. But if the risk outweighs the reward, we’ll start sending guys to flank you. You’ll wear a recording device—like a wire—that we can build to look like a beeper—”
Chandler holds his hands up. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, okay, gotta stop you there. I don’t wear a beeper. I wasn’t wearing one last night when I met with them. How suspicious am I going to look waltzing in with a beeper I don’t even need—y’know, since I was supposed to quit my ‘real’ job to work for them?”
Kostelick hesitates for a moment; Chandler cannot fucking believe this is the organization he’s trusting with his life here. “Then how do you propose we build a case on them?” Kostelick asks in a patronizing tone of voice.
“I’m not a member of the Mafia, so they won’t discuss business around me anyway. But I have access to the house; I can plant bugs there—maybe any other places they own too: strip joints, nightclubs, whatever. And if a situation comes up where I might need to be wired, I can contact you and arrange a set-up. But otherwise it seems like a waste of resources and, y’know, a danger to me being alive.”
Kostelick frowns in that way of his when he knows Chandler’s right. “Like I said, we’ll try it your way.”
Chandler’s first day working for the Tribbianis is nothing like he expected. He arrives in the evening, after dinner, and Mr. Tribbiani greets him like an old friend and pats him down—which Chandler suspects won’t become a habit after a couple of weeks. He also sort of wonders when Joey might be doing the pat-down, and, shit, that is not where his brain needs to be going now. Then Mr. Tribbiani leads him into the basement, which Chandler is absolutely prepared to see as some sort of pounding room.
Instead, it’s a neatly furnished den with a computer set-up in the back corner that Chandler assumes he’ll be working with. There’s a couch and a couple of recliners seated in front of a decent-sized TV against the north wall; the furniture is rich, mahogany leather, with elegant rugs decorating the cement floor. A bathroom sits underneath the staircase, right next to the computer desk. “So, what’d’ya think of the Man-Cave?” Mr. Tribbiani boasts, slapping a paw on Chandler’s shoulder.
“It’s, uh, it’s really nice.” He can’t imagine some guy getting whacked or even yelled at in here. “I like that there’s a bathroom.” Why did he say that?
Mr. Tribbiani laughs and guides him over to the computer. There’s two screens; one for inputting commands, and the other displaying a split-screen view of the four cameras. “You ought’a be pretty familiar with this, right?”
“Oh, am I!” Chandler laughs nervously, because even though he uses computers at work and at home—mostly for playing Doom—he’s really wary about fucking things up here. But he’s not going to worry too much; the only reason he got hired was because of a security breach he created.
On the edge of the desk is a phone that Mr. Tribbiani picks up. “You see anything screwy there, just call me or Joe or any of the guys here”—he points to a numbered list with unfamiliar names on it—“and they’ll take care of it.”
“How, um, how long do I stay?” Chandler really hates being that guy whose first question is “when do I leave?” but it can’t be helped.
“Just until either me or Joe wakes up in the mornin’. You probably don’t wanna wait for Joe, ‘cause his lazy butt doesn’t crawl outta bed until noon.”
Chandler smiles despite himself.
“You got any problems, just let me know, alright?”
Chandler nods. “Thanks.”
About an hour later, Chandler’s watching the car pull up in the driveway; Joey steps out and disappears inside the house. He hears footsteps, then the basement door at the top of the stairs opens: “Dad, you in here?”
“No, it’s just me.”
Chandler wheels himself away from the desk so he can see Joey and gives a little wave. “How’s it goin’?”
Joey grins and takes the stairs two at a time. “I thought you might be hungry,” he says, holding up a white paper bag in his hand that’s already stained with grease near the bottom. “And lonely.” Joey sort of mumbles the last part, but it’s quiet enough in the basement for Chandler to catch it.
“Yeah, it’s pretty isolating in here,” Chandler agrees, gleefully catching the red-and-white wrapped burger Joey tosses him. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” Joey collapses into one of the recliners, unwraps his burger with one hand and switches the television on with the other. “So, how’s this workin’ out for ya?”
“It’s nice! I mean, not much of a view, but the pay is good, and I like my co-workers.”
Joey smiles at that. “I’m gonna go get a beer. You want one?”
Chandler’s chewing a bite of his burger when Joey comes back and hands him a cold bottle of beer. He looks up, sees what looks like a cut on Joey’s lip. “What happened to your face?” he asks, his mouth still full.
Joey huffs out amusement. “What?”
Chandler twists open his beer, chugs a gulp, because there’s no way he’s swallowing that without help. When he can speak again, he says, “Your face?”
Joey’s hand instinctively reaches up to touch his battered lip. “Oh, this?” His eyes dart from side to side, a tell Chandler wouldn’t even notice if he wasn’t so attuned to Joey’s face on a regular basis. “Nothin’. Some guy at work wasn’t lookin’ where he was goin’.” He runs his tongue over the wound. “Doesn’t even hurt.”
Chandler wants nothing more than to kiss Joey’s mouth right now. “Looks pretty bad.”
Joey gives a dismissive hand wave before walking back to his chair. “Nah, don’t worry about it.”
Chandler stays silent but wonders what the real story is behind Joey’s busted lip. Joey’s the only son and a full-blooded Italian, so odds are he’s not a mere associate. That would make him either a soldier—a made member of the Family who runs rackets and commits crimes—or a caporegime—a leader of a crew of soldiers. Chandler can’t really see Joey in either position—and he’s thought about Joey in a lot of, uh, positions—but Joey has a habit of defying Chandler’s expectations.
Joey flips channels at a frustrating pace—“There’s nothin’ on ‘till football!” he’d whined—before sighing dramatically and switching the TV off. He spins his chair so he’s facing Chandler, and they eat in comfortable silence for a moment before Joey speaks up. “Hey, Chandler?”
Chandler makes a sound around a mouthful of his burger.
“Can I tell you somethin’ if you promise not to tell my dad?”
Chandler turns to look at him. “What is it, Joe? Did you change that D on your report card to a B?”
Joey tries to give him a look of contempt, but it’s too warm around the edges for that. “It’s about my job,” he says.
Chandler wipes his hands on the napkin in his lap and gives Joey his full attention. “You can tell me anything.”
Joey thinks it over for a moment before eventually caving. “I never really wanted to work for my dad,” he grates out, like he thinks he’ll be punished for saying so. “It was just...sorta expected ‘cause I’m his son, y’know, and I’m the only one. It’s not like I got a brother I can push it on. I mean, yeah, my dad’s got brothers and cousins and all that, but I’m the one that’s gotta keep the family business goin’.” He sighs, slumps in his chair. “You don’t have any siblings, do ya?”
“No, but I did have an imaginary friend who my parents preferred.”
Joey smiles, and Chandler’s grateful he can do that, that he can lighten the mood and make Joey happy.
“What would you rather do?” Chandler asks. “Y’know, if you could just walk outta here and start fresh.”
“I always wanted to be an actor,” Joey says with chagrin. “Ma thinks it’s a great idea, but we can’t bring it up to my dad.”
For a brief moment, Chandler wonders in horror if Joey’s busted lip is the result of familial tension boiling over. Maybe Joey made a comment about wanting to leave...
Chandler wets his lips, forces himself to speak and prays he’s not tripping any emotional landmines with his next question: “Why—why not?”
Joey speaks with all the weariness of a man bearing the world upon his shoulders: “It’d break his heart.” He doesn’t bring up his hopes and dreams out of fear—he stays silent out of respect, out of an overabundance of love.
“He’s your dad. He should love you and support you no matter what, but I know sometimes things don’t work out that way,” Chandler admits in a rare moment of candid emotion.
“I know he would, but I don’t wanna disappoint him or let him down, y’know?”
Chandler immediately wonders what awful, unspeakable things Joey might have done to earn his father’s love, because his brain is an asshole that’s going to replay this conversation for at least a week.
Chandler shakes his head. “With me it was kind of the opposite. My parents let me down, so I didn’t really care so much if they disapproved of my life choices.” He doesn’t hear the spite in his tone, but there’s enough bitterness there that Joey doesn’t poke at the thread.
“Sorry to bum you out,” Joey says after a moment of contemplative silence.
Chandler shakes his head. “That’s what I’m here for.”
“Me bummin’ you out?”
“Being a friend,” he says with a half-smile.
Chandler staggers home around eleven the next morning, his fingers fumbling for the key to his apartment. After a big breakfast with the Tribbianis, he really wants to get in bed and sleep it off for the next couple of days.
He gets the key in the lock just as Monica’s opening her apartment door to grab the newspaper. “Chandler?” She grins. “Late night?”
“You could say that.”
Monica gasps as if realizing something. “Did you and Joey—”
“I wish,” Chandler seethes, finally getting his door unlocked. “No, I’m working with the Tribbianis, remember?”
“You told me, but I didn’t know you’d be working so late.”
“Neither did I.”
Monica follows him inside. “So, how was it?”
Chandler hangs up his coat, kicks off his shoes. “It’s pretty great. My ass hurts, though.” He realizes how that must sound. “From sitting in that chair all night, I mean. Not...yeah.”
“Maybe someday,” Monica says, trying to be supportive.
“Thank you for your optimism.”
She shrugs. “Hey, I set you guys up; I’m seeing this through to the end.”
Chandler rubs his eyes, leans on the kitchen counter. “I gotta get some sleep. We can discuss my love life—or lack thereof—later, alright?”
Monica gives him an understanding smile as she shuts the door behind her.
“Sorry, Joe, but that movie was pretty terrible,” Chandler says as they’re walking back to Joey’s place in the crisp night air. Chandler’s been working with the Tribbianis for about a week now, and if he’s honest it’s the best job he’s ever had. Sure, the hours are weird and leave him with little time to himself, but it’s like he’s being paid to hang out with Joey. And some days, like today, they’ll catch a movie or a late lunch before Chandler has to work. It feels so much like a date that Chandler doesn’t want to poke at it and ruin the illusion.
“I know,” Joey sighs out, his mouth pinching into a cute little frown. “I’m sorry. I thought you’d like it ‘cause it’s based off a video game, and you’re kinda a dork...”
Chandler laughs at the dork part, and he’s not even going to say anything about how video game movies always suck, because Joey put actual thought into tonight’s cinematic adventure and tried to tailor his choice to Chandler’s interests instead of opting for something with explosions. “It’s okay, you can pick the next one.”
“No way, it’s your turn to choose.” Joey seems like he’s about to say something else when he sees a sports bar on the far end of the block with neon signs glowing in the tinted windows. “I gotta make a stop in here real quick.”
“You want me to wait outside, or...?”
“I think it’ll be better if you come in with me.”
“Really? Wow, Joe, I didn’t know we were that close.”
Joey’s brow furrows for a moment, then he’s laughing and slapping Chandler on the shoulder. “No, dude, this guy Eddie owes me some money. I heard he hangs out here. He’s been layin’ low for a while.”
Chandler wonders if Joey should be telling him any of this. He’s not a made man; he doesn’t have the appropriate clearance for hearing any sort of Mafia business.
But maybe Joey’s not a part of the Mafia either and is just collecting a bet he’s owed from some guy.
Joey opens the door and makes his way inside. He walks like he owns the room, like he could buy and sell everyone in here, and that’s probably true. Chandler doesn’t know who he’s looking for, so he just flanks Joey and follows his gaze. Joey breaks into a light jog when the guy at the end of the bar stands up and tries to escape out the back door. Chandler rushes after them; he really doesn’t want to use his gun here. He has to file a report each time the weapon’s discharged, and if Kostelick knows Chandler’s firing guns, he’s going to want to tail him and wire him and generally sabotage the entire mission.
“Eddie, c’mon,” Joey says, catching up to him near the back of the room. “I just wanna talk. We can step outside, figure things out.”
Eddie’s about the same height and build as Chandler, and his eyes are bugged and nervous. There’s something vaguely creepy about the guy, but Chandler can’t put his finger on it.
“Why aren’t you comin’ to see me like you’re supposed to?” Joey asks. His voice has a little more command to it than usual; Chandler likes the sound of it.
“I can’t! I can’t—I can’t be seen meetin’ anybody, okay?”
“Alright, well, c’mon, let’s go out back and nobody’ll see ya.” Joey pushes the back door open. Eddie’s entire body does some nervous twitchy thing before he steps outside. Chandler trails behind Joey with absolutely no idea where this is heading. “Now, how come you’re duckin’ me, man? All I want is the money that’s owed me.”
Man, this guy is twitchy, Chandler thinks. Eddie blinks rapidly, looks away, starts pacing. “I don’t have it! And I can’t be seen meetin’ anyone because I’m being watched!”
Joey lets out a little sigh of impatience. “Who’s watchin’ you? Cops? As long as you pay your dues, nobody can touch you.”
Chandler feels dread sink in his gut.
Eddie shakes his head a little too vigorously. “Not cops, no.” He rubs his nose.
Joey stays silent, letting Eddie sweat for a moment. Then: “Did you spend the money on drugs?”
Eddie’s eyes go even wider—a feat Chandler didn’t think was even possible—and he’s shaking his head and waving his arms. “No, man! C’mon, why—why would you think that?”
“You buyin’ from Mac?” Joey asks. Eddie doesn’t answer, but he doesn’t have to. “Are you workin’ for him now?”
Chandler only has a split-second to wonder what the hell’s going on, because Eddie chooses that moment to turn tail and run. Joey gives chase after him, leading Chandler through a dark street behind the bar. Chandler doesn’t know the area, so he keeps his focus flicking back and forth from Joey to Eddie, making sure neither one of them starts shooting. Everything else passes by in a blur.
Eddie veers to the right and into an alleyway. By the time Chandler and Joey reach the mouth of the alley, he’s vanished. The alley dead-ends into a group of dumpsters, and the fire escape ladders are much too high for him to have climbed.
“Damn it!” Joey growls, looking up at the high-rises towering above his head. “How’d we lose ‘im?”
Chandler doesn’t think they did. Eddie doesn’t seem like a stranger to this neighborhood; there’s a reason he chose this particular alleyway. Chandler reaches back, keeps a hand on the gun holstered in the waistband of his jeans, just in case. “Who’s Mac?” Chandler asks in a whisper.
Joey frowns at the name. “Mac ‘the Knife’ Machiavelli. He’s...somebody my dad works with.”
“Not a fan, huh?”
Joey just frowns harder.
Chandler figures this conversation is best saved for another time. He moves closer to Joey and whispers, “I think he’s still here.”
“No, the guy you’re after. He’s probably hiding in one of these dumpsters.”
Joey scrunches up his face. “I’m not jumpin’ in there!”
“I didn’t say anything about jumping in,” Chandler says with a sigh. “You’re armed, right?”
Joey’s hand immediately goes for his gun, then he lifts an eyebrow, like he’s surprised Chandler would make that assumption. “Yeah?”
“So, look inside each one with your gun drawn.”
“You wanna back me up?”
“No—no, I’m not shooting anybody!” Chandler insists. He doesn’t hear Joey’s answer, because he sees a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye. That’s when panic takes over. “Down!” Eddie pops out of the dumpster nearest to them, like something out of a Whack-a-Mole game. Chandler grabs Joey’s coat and yanks him out of the line of fire. The gunshot rings out loud. Joey and Chandler land on the concrete with a thud, but Chandler’s ready, reaching inside of Joey’s coat for the gun. He fires a shot at Eddie’s hands, and Eddie drops his revolver onto the ground, howling in pain.
Chandler freezes, watching Eddie clutch his mangled hand like a baby bird. He can see blood trickling from the wound. His mouth goes dry. He shot someone.
Joey’s yelling, “Nice shootin’, Serpico! Now get up, we gotta go!” and pulling Chandler to his feet as he runs out of the alley. Chandler looks over his shoulder, sees Eddie struggling to reach the revolver he’d dropped with his good hand. Joey calls, “You’re shelved, kid!” to Eddie, and then they’re gone.
Chandler needs some time alone to process this, so he locks himself inside the basement bathroom when they get back to Joey’s place. He sits down on the tile, pushing his shaking hands through his hair. His heart pounds in his chest in throbs of fear. Part of Chandler’s brain won’t even acknowledge the real reason his throat’s twisted up in knots, and the other part is mulling over all the other reasons he’s in a ridiculous state of panic.
Chandler could have died tonight.
Joey could have died tonight.
Chandler shot someone.
He pushes past the mental roadblocks and allows himself to think about the worst of it all: Joey and his family are members of the Mafia.
Immediately, his brain shuts that avenue down completely. No, it’s impossible, he reasons; everything he heard tonight was in the absence of context. But Chandler can’t find a rational explanation for what Joey’s family is if not a Mafia family. He thinks back on all the subtle cues he’s seen and heard so far: how Joey doesn’t carry a wallet, the way he keeps his money bound with thick bands, his ridiculously generous tips, how he’d needed to collect a payment from Eddie tonight, the mysterious cut on his lip a week ago, his family’s need for an elaborate security set-up.
And he way he talks sometimes... Joey had told Eddie to “pay his dues” and asked if cops were watching him; he’d said that Eddie was “shelved,” meaning Eddie would be stripped of all protection for his criminal enterprises. So if the Tribbianis were protecting him, they aren’t anymore. And who is Mac “the Knife”? Could he be a rival crime boss?
Chandler still isn’t totally convinced. But it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to turn a blind eye to his observations. So what will he do if it’s true?
And, is Joey’s head filled with the same answerless shock as Chandler’s?
He hears Joey’s voice calling to him faintly: “Chandler? You in there?”
He forces himself to stand on shaky legs and opens the door. “Yeah, I’m here. Does your dad need to talk to me or somethin’?”
Joey’s footsteps clunk as he takes the stairs into the basement. “Nah, I was just wonderin’ if you were okay.”
“I’m fine,” Chandler lies, emerging from the bathroom and putting on his best brave face. “How about you?”
Joey rubs his shoulder and looks away. “Can I get you to do somethin’ for me if you promise not to tell anybody?”
“Sure,” Chandler croaks out.
Joey strips off his sweater, wincing a little, and then he pulls his shirt over his head. Chandler stares at him in wordless awe. Holy crap, Joey’s body is every bit as perfect as Chandler hoped it would be. He opens his mouth, closes it, finds that he’s actually speechless. Joey turns so his right shoulder’s facing Chandler, and Chandler sees the gash in his skin. “Can you help me patch this up?” Joey asks.
Chandler nods, wordlessly, and goes back into the bathroom for supplies. His face feels impossibly hot; he seriously thought Joey was going to ask him for a blowjob or some sort of sexual activity. He’s actually sort of disappointed about that. How is Chandler supposed to handle being so close to a shirtless Joey without spontaneously combusting? His life really isn’t fair.
When Chandler comes back with the bandages and disinfectant, Joey’s sitting on the arm of the couch with a distant look on his face. He musters up a smile as Chandler moves closer. Chandler lays a hand perpendicular to the gash and examines it. God, that bullet came much too close to his heart. If Chandler had been just a half-second too slow...
He can’t allow himself to think about that, not now.
“Thanks for savin’ my ass,” Joey says with a more genuine smile.
“You saved mine; we’re even.” Chandler manages to make his hands stop shaking long enough to dab disinfectant at the wound. Joey jerks reflexively from the sting. “I know, I’m sorry,” Chandler murmurs.
Joey’s quiet for a moment before he asks, “Hey, Chandler, how come you didn’t use your gun?”
Chandler stops what he’s doing at the realization. “I never”—he swallows—“I never told you I had one.”
“When I asked you to back me up, you said you weren’t gonna shoot anybody. You didn’t say it was ‘cause you weren’t armed.”
Chandler feels a pang of fear. Joey’s smarter than he looks. Chandler presses the disinfectant-soaked cotton swab a little harder over Joey’s wound, making him focus more on the sting than Chandler’s response. “I only had blanks.”
Joey looks like he’s dissatisfied with that answer, but his face is all scrunchy, so he might just be wincing at the burn of the peroxide. Joey’s skin is hot under Chandler’s hands, and all Chandler can think about is how easy it would be to kiss him right here.
“How come you carry if you just have blanks?” Joey asks, startling Chandler out of his daze.
“I like the weight of it, I guess. It’s comforting.”
“You’ve never shot anybody before, have you?”
Chandler shakes his head. “You?”
“Nah,” Joey says, with an almost practiced air. He watches Chandler’s hands work over his skin, sighs out a soft breath into the quiet space between them. Chandler’s blood feels electric in his veins. He tapes a patch of gauze over Joey’s wound. He opens his mouth, but the words fall apart on his tongue. Joey tilts his chin and looks up at him, questioning. “What?”
Chandler just shakes his head. He’s not going to go down that route, not yet. Instead, he pats Joey’s shoulder and smiles. “Good as new.”
“Do I get a lollipop?”
Chandler wants to say something flirty like, “I’ve got something else you can suck,” but he doesn’t think they’re at the stage of friendship where they can joke like that. So he just smirks, says, “I think I’ve got a Lifesaver in here somewhere,” as he sticks a hand in his pocket. “Oh no, wait, I ate it during the movie ‘cause you were hogging the popcorn.”
Joey looks offended. “I was hungry!” He grabs his shirt from where it’s draped over the top of the couch and pulls it on. “Anyway, thanks for savin’ me and patchin’ me up,” he says sheepishly, like he’s embarrassed that Chandler’s seen him shirtless.
“Don’t worry, Joe. I’m sure a time will come when I will call upon you to do me a service in return.” Chandler gives him a cheeky smile, hoping that Joey catches the reference. But instead a flush creeps over Joey’s face, and he rubs the back of his neck, looking away.
“I, uh, I gotta meet with my dad real quick,” Joey says, edging backwards to the staircase. “Thanks, Chandler.”
When the door closes behind Joey, Chandler lets out an angry, tired sigh.
Chapter 6: Call Me Irresponsible
(the second half of this chapter gets a bit squicky and dub-con-y; nothing too bad, but worth a warning, at least)
Chandler shows up early to work that Friday evening, and Gloria greets him at the front door in a flour-covered apron. “Oh, Chandler, come on in! I was just thinking about you!”
Chandler can’t help but grin. “Oh?”
“I need an outside opinion on what to make for dessert this Thanksgiving,” Gloria explains, moving into the kitchen and taking some sort of cheesecake out of the fridge. “I love him to death, but I can’t trust Joey’s sweet tooth to give me an honest answer, and the girls would never want to risk hurting my feelings.” She slices out a small piece for him to sample. “So, what do you think?”
Chandler takes a bite. Then another. And another. Holy crap, it’s amazing. “I think if I stop eating this, I’ll regret it,” he says with his mouth full.
She giggles, pats his arm affectionately. “You and Joey are too much alike.” Chandler chews thoughtfully and wonders what gave her that impression. “I’ve got an apple pie in the oven, so don’t fill up yet.” She lets him finish the piece before she slides the cheesecake pan back into the fridge. “You might just be my official taste-tester this Thanksgiving.”
Chandler smiles despite his loathing of the holiday. It must be nice to have a family that cares about you.
“Speaking of Thanksgiving—” She stops herself. “Ooh, I’d better let Joey handle that one.” She chuckles knowingly. “I think he’s upstairs in his room.”
“Thanks,” Chandler says, heading for the staircase to the upper floor. “Is your husband home?”
“Not yet, dear.”
Chandler decides to take advantage of this opportunity. He sticks his hands in his coat pockets, feels the weight there. He takes the stairs slowly and quietly makes his way to the top floor. Gloria won’t see him because the kitchen is enclosed. Unless Joey or one of his sisters catches him, he should be safe.
Joey’s questions and behavior and, well, everything last night made Chandler suspicious, so he’d gathered some listening devices from the Bureau before work. If he can plant them here, he might find something that either absolves Joey or convicts him; Chandler doesn’t know why the latter grips him with despair.
The staircase encroaches on the square footage for the top floor, so the left side houses only one room, and Chandler takes a wild guess that it’s Joey’s, since the door is covered with a Knicks poster. Along the right wall are eight doors. Some of them are open, displaying vacant rooms that are much too feminine to belong to Joey’s father. Above the kitchen is a larger room that opens via a different type of knob. Chandler tries to open it. Locked.
He huffs a sigh and takes a credit card out of his wallet, sliding it in between the door frame, and finds the right angle to pop the lock open. Once he’s inside, he surveys the room: the furniture is elaborate woodwork in varying shades of brown. There’s a desk near the north wall and a fully-stuffed bookcase to its right. Three chairs face the desk, and a small drinking area is set up along the west wall. Plenty of places to hide things.
Chandler sticks a bug underneath the desk, tucked into a far corner. He doesn’t know if Mr. Tribbiani actively checks the phone for taps each time he uses it, so Chandler’s not going to plant one in the phone yet. Patience is a virtue here. He decides to bury a back-up bug in the potted plant, just in case.
Chandler lingers there for a moment. He isn’t sure what he wants out of this: incriminating evidence that will move him up the ranks, or nothing that implicates Joey and his family in criminal activity. He feels a pang of fear he can’t begin to comprehend.
Chandler shuts the door behind him with a click. He goes to Joey’s bedroom and knocks on the door.
Joey’s voice sounds from inside. “Yeah?”
“Hold on!” There’s some muffled thumping noises that grow closer and closer until Joey swings the door open with one hand, the other tugging at the hem of his shirt. “Hey, how you doin’?”
Chandler stares at him; he thinks Joey might have been naked in there before he knocked. “Uh, good—hey, listen, your mom said you had something to ask me? About Thanksgiving?”
“Yeah, yeah!” Joey nods, rubs his hands together, then shifts his weight from one foot to the other. “Um, I was helpin’ Ma in the kitchen the other night, and she asked me what you were doin’ on Thanksgiving ‘cause if—if you didn’t have plans or anything, you could...y’know, come here,” he says quietly, his gaze dropping to his feet.
Chandler’s knee-jerk reaction is to say that he hates all pilgrim-related holidays, but this is his chance to have a good one, so he’s not going to be a dick about it. He feels his mouth pull into a smile. “She said that?”
Joey looks ten different kinds of flustered and rubs the back of his neck. “Yeah, you know Ma. She’s crazy about you.”
Chandler wants to ask if her son is too, but he holds his tongue. “Alright, I guess I could stop by.”
“Really?” Joey grins in a way that makes Chandler a little stupefied. “This is great! You’re gonna love it!” Joey’s enthusiasm urges Chandler to glance off at the door to Mr. Tribbiani’s office. He thinks about going back in there and taking the listening devices out. These people are his friends; they care about him. To betray them this way, even if it results in nothing incriminating, is a line Chandler isn’t sure he wants to cross.
Too late. Mr. Tribbiani walks through the front door. The moment, if there had been one at all, is over.
“Hey, Joe, Bada-Bing,” Mr. Tribbiani greets them as he walks up the stairs.
“Chandler’s comin’ over for Thanksgiving!” Joey announces proudly.
“Great!” Mr. Tribbiani chuckles and pats Chandler on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of ya, kid.” He makes his way to his office door.
Chandler wants to stop him, wants to say something to keep Mr. Tribbiani downstairs so he can debug the office, but he can’t think of a convincing-enough reason to actually be in the room. So Chandler says nothing, lets him go inside, and prays there aren’t any incriminating conversations taking place tonight.
Joey stomps down the basement stairs a few hours later. “Hey, Chandler, you busy?”
“Not really, why?”
“You wanna go do somethin’?”
Chandler really wants to say yes, but there’s that whole job thing that prevents him from doing so. “I’d love to, but, uh...” He points to the computer set-up. “Your dad might be upset, to say the least, if I just skip out on work.”
Joey scoffs and grabs Chandler’s hand, dragging him along. “Forget about it. C’mon, let’s go have some fun.”
Chandler feels his face flush, because, wow, that sounds hot and full of promise—he can think of plenty of fun things to do with Joey.
They sneak out of the house and catch a cab a couple blocks away. Chandler’s brain hearkens back to his rebellious teenage years when he’d cut class to smoke, though he was usually always alone, and never in the company of someone as attractive as Joey.
The cab drops them off in front of a bar with neon signs inside the pitch-black windows. Chandler wonders if they’re painted black or if that’s just a really good tinting job. Joey leads him inside, and the interior is much more casual and classy than Chandler expected. Even the music flowing from the speakers—Madonna’s newest single “Secret”—is sort of chic and low-key.
Joey sits at the bar where he has a great view of the television displaying a hockey game. The bartender is a cute blonde who seems to know Joey; Chandler can’t decide if that’s because Joey comes here a lot or if he’s dated her...or maybe both. Joey orders them both a beer, and a plate of nachos for himself, though he goes so far as to let Chandler pilfer a few. Big of him.
“Isn’t this better than hangin’ around in the basement all night?” Joey asks, his mouth half full.
“I still think your dad will have a problem with this.”
Joey waves his free hand dismissively. “He ain’t gonna know about it.”
“If he goes into the basement, yeah, he will. It’s not like we set up some elaborate decoy or anything.”
“Man, you gotta relax. If he does find out, I’ll cover for ya.” Joey slaps Chandler on the back. “One night ain’t gonna kill ya.”
Chandler makes a face of agreement, because Joey’s not wrong. He sips at his beer, snagging a few nachos from Joey’s plate while they watch the game for a while. Joey orders another beer once he’s finished his first; Chandler notices that Joey’s drinking a little faster than usual. He’s also fidgeting a lot. His right leg is unusually bouncy.
“You got somethin’ on your mind, Joe?” Chandler asks. He briefly entertains the thought that Joey might be here to meet some Mafia guy and dragged Chandler along for protection. Not the most pleasant thought he’s had tonight.
Joey looks over at him. “Well, sorta.” He rubs the back of his neck, rotates his seat so he’s facing Chandler. “I had somethin’ I wanted to ask you...” He peels at the label on his beer bottle.
Oh God, oh fuck, Joey’s going to ask him if he’s a cop, Chandler panics. He’s figured it out. Joey might be a little slow, but he’s not that stupid. He has to know. He’s seen Chandler’s perfect aim at the carnival, and probably deeply questions Chandler’s half-assed excuse for not firing his own gun the other night. It’s all coming together for him. Chandler starts to sweat and chugs his beer to calm himself. “You can ask me anything,” he says, a little shakily.
Joey takes a breath, nods to no one in particular. “Okay, here goes. Um, for a while now, I’ve been wantin’ to maybe sometime ask you—”
Someone calls his name, but it’s not Joey. Chandler spins around in the direction of the voice and nearly flails his way off of the stool when he gets a good look at who’s coming his way.
“Chandler Bing,” Kip drawls out, hands stuffed into the pockets of his torn jeans as he moves closer. “Been a while, huh?” He grins, but the smile falls when he looks at Joey. “Who’s the new guy?”
This is bad. This is worse than bad. This is abysmal. Kip is absolutely going to blow Chandler’s cover the more he talks. Chandler needs to find a way to stop this right now. He wets his lips, recovers his ability to speak coherently. “Oh, um, this is my friend Joey. Joey, this is Kip, my old roommate.”
Joey’s mouth is curved into a pouty-looking frown. He gives Kip an acknowledging head nod, still sort of glaring at him.
“I don’t think he likes me very much,” Kip says to Chandler. Chandler bites back a sarcastic comment, because now is so not the time. “Hey, do you still work for the—”
Chandler does the only thing he can think of to shut him up: he gets his hands full of Kip’s worn flannel shirt and pulls him down to his mouth. Kip sort of laughs around the kiss, and Chandler squeezes his eyes shut and kisses him harder, hating that Joey has to see this without any sort of context. The familiar smell of pot and tobacco wafts into his nostrils. He slides off of the barstool and tugs Kip in the direction of the men’s room. Chandler loathes himself right now for giving Joey the absolute worst impression, but he hopes Joey’ll stick around so he can clear things up.
Kip’s laughing at him when they’re alone in the restroom. “I always knew you wanted me, Bing.”
Chandler holds on tightly to the urge to kick him in the balls, instead shoving Kip into an empty stall and locking the door. “Do you have any idea how close you came to getting me killed?” Okay, it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but Chandler doesn’t care. “I’m undercover right now! You almost blew my cover, you actual piece of crap!”
Kip smirks. “Yeah, it’s been a while since I blew you. Is Joey half as good as me?”
Chandler grits his teeth, sucks in a deep breath. Kip is a master at pressing Chandler’s buttons, and Chandler knows it’s best not to play into that. But, God, does he want to lay into this prick. “You need to leave. I can’t have you around threatening to blow my cover.”
“How ‘bout if I just blow you?” Kip hooks his fingers in the belt loops of Chandler’s jeans, tugging him closer.
Chandler frowns. “That’s the second time in, like, five seconds you’ve made that same joke. You weren’t great with the jokes anyway, but, man, that’s just sad—and really unattractive.”
Kip shrugs as if conceding. “So, what, is Joey a comedian?”
Chandler narrows his eyes. “Are you jealous? You’re the one who ran off and got married.” He shakes off the bitterness and asks, “What are you even doing here anyway?”
“I’m in town for a couple’a shows this weekend,” Kip says, pushing a hand through his long hair. Chandler always thought Kip’s shoulder-length, frizzed-out hair made him look like a heroin addict, but the advent of grunge seemed to make that the go-to look for wanna-be rockers like Kip. “Which reminds me, I haven’t seen you at any of my gigs since I moved out.”
“I’m not obligated to do anything for you after you ran out on me.”
Kip pulls a hurt, offended face.
“Besides, you know I only listen to music that doesn’t suck.”
Kip folds his arms over his chest. “You have the soundtracks to Annie and Miami Vice.”
“They were just giving those away at the store,” Chandler explains, rolling his eyes. “In exchange for money.”
Kip chuckles and moves closer until Chandler’s back bumps against the stall door. “I missed this.”
“You missed me,” Chandler clarifies for him, because he knows Kip didn’t actually miss their stupid banter or the way Chandler flails his arms when he’s startled; all Kip ever saw in Chandler was someone to fuck.
“Tomato, to-mah-to.” Kip tugs at Chandler’s belt loops again until Chandler’s dick is pressed against Kip’s thigh. Chandler swallows a breath in his throat. “Somethin’ tells me you miss me too.” Chandler scowls at the implications and the way his body’s betrayed him. “You gettin’ any since I’ve been gone?”
Chandler presses his lips together. “You know me: work, work, work.”
Kip’s hand brushes over the bulge in Chandler’s jeans, and Chandler’s fingers dig into Kip’s shirt. He doesn’t jerk away, because the hot, solid heat of Kip’s palm over his dick is more than he’s felt in quite a while. Chandler breathes out in a shuddery whisper, and Kip leans in, his mouth at Chandler’s ear. “C’mon, let’s get outta here. It’ll be just like old times.” Kip’s hand pushes between Chandler’s thighs, and Chandler hates himself for pushing back. “What’d’ya got to lose? Doesn’t seem like Joey’s keepin’ you satisified.”
Chandler feels the slide of Kip’s palm. He fists his hands in his shirt, teeth clenched together in fury at Kip and himself for how much he wants this. Chandler could use him, use Kip up the same way he’d done to Chandler, and Kip would let him, would encourage him, even. Somehow that makes it all wrong, but Chandler thinks if he closes his eyes and pictures Joey, it might feel just right enough that he wants it.
Joey... Fuck, Chandler can’t just bail on him, especially knowing what Joey had to witness here. But knowing Kip, Chandler’s cover will be blown in a millisecond. All that hard work shot to hell.
Chandler drags a hand over his face. “I’m on a case here, remember? I can’t just walk out.”
“You’re on a date,” Kip corrects him.
Chandler groans. “It’s not a date.” He feels like that’s becoming a mantra in his life lately. “He just sort of...dragged me here.” He can sense he’s getting distracted. Again. “Look, I can’t talk about it. You’re just gonna have to trust me and, well, get lost.”
Kip smirks, slides an arm around Chandler’s waist. “Sure, I’ll leave. But first I’ll tell Joey all about the time you brought me up to your office at the Bureau.” He squeezes Chandler’s hip; Chandler feels the simmer of rage in the back of his throat. “Remember? We locked the door, and you let me do things to you that—”
Chandler jerks out of his grip, furious that Kip insists on ratting him out. “God, I hate you.”
Chandler finds Joey at the bar, looking like he dropped a sandwich in a puddle, although his expression brightens considerably when he sees Chandler. Chandler slinks over to him and digs his wallet out from his pocket. “Joe, I’m really sorry, but somethin’ came up, and I gotta go. I’m so sorry.” He drops a twenty on the counter. “Buy yourself a pizza or something.” Joey pockets the cash, looking at Chandler with wide, pleading eyes; Chandler drops another twenty down. “Hell, buy two.”
“Thanks,” Joey says softly, his mouth pinched into an adorable little frown that cleaves through Chandler’s heart. “I’ll see ya tomorrow, right?”
“Yeah, of course. I’ll make this up to you, Joe, okay? I promise.” Joey nods, and Chandler turns to leave. “Oh, wait!” He spins on his heel to face Joey again. “What was it you were gonna ask me?”
Joey huffs out a mirthless laugh and shakes his head as he turns back to face the television. “Nothin’. Forget about it. See ya, Chandler.”
“I ought’a tell your wife you’re groping guys in public restrooms,” Chandler grumbles, climbing into the passenger seat of Kip’s van. There’s a guitar case in the back seat, plenty of magazines, and a metric fuck-load—that is so a legitimate unit of measurement, Chandler thinks—of CDs on the floor. Kip’s van has always reeked of marijuana and cigarettes—even Chandler has trouble breathing in it. He rolls the window down for a merciful gust of fresh air.
“And she’d laugh in your face, ‘cause I’ll bet you a hundred bucks she’s doin’ it too.” Kip hooks a finger under his chin, forcing Chandler to look at him. “Cyndi and I have an open marriage, Baby Bing.” Chandler makes a face, because, holy fucking Christ on a pogo stick, he hates his last name so much. It’s never earned him anything but stupid nicknames—Bing-a-ling, Baby Bing, Bada-Bing... It’s like the horror movie monster that won’t die.
“Stop calling me that,” Chandler says, disgust thick on his tongue.
Kip pinches Chandler’s cheek like a goddamn grandma and grins at him. “You’re adorable when you’re mad. Your whole face just lights up.”
Chandler feels his cheeks go red with chagrin and rage. “If you don’t want to get shot, you’re gonna have to stop pissing me off.”
“Some Fed you are,” Kip chuckles. “I better be on my best behavior, huh?”
Chandler’s hand twitches to reach behind him for the service pistol tucked into the back of his jeans, but instead he just switches on the radio, needing the blunt, loud noise to drown out the cacophany of shame and fury in his head. The song’s a little softer than he was hoping for, and while Billy Corgan sings about today being the greatest day, Chandler grits his teeth and stares out the window, because, no, today is not the greatest day he’s ever known. It’s kind of the shittiest day, but he figures that wouldn’t make for such a catchy song.
Chandler watches the city roll by and hates what he’s become. He wonders why he doesn’t just take the Tulsa job and try to make one thing work in his life, just push his way through it without any distractions like Joey or Kip or Monica. Maybe the familiarity is why he doesn’t take anything seriously; if he fucks up at work, he still has his friends. If he fucks up his friendships, he still has work. Take away the safety nets and see what happens.
Kip’s staying in a crappy—to put it charitably—motel a mile or so outside of the city. He swings the door open, and Chandler’s sort of surprised that things aren’t dirtier. “Where’s the rest of your motley crew?”
Kip laughs, tweaks the blinds open a little to let some moonlight in. “They’ll be here tomorrow, if you wanna stick around.”
“I’ll have to take a rain check on that,” Chandler says as he steps inside. “Is Cyndi coming?”
“Nah, she’s in Manhattan on business.”
“She’s too good for you,” Chandler says after a moment. He’s never met the woman, but he just knows the truth in his bones. Kip tends to attract people who don’t see their own value; he hopes like hell Cyndi does someday.
Kip laughs, but there’s no joy. “Yeah, I know.”
“Is that why you ran off? You wanted to make an effort at a real relationship?”
“Look at you, using that big ol’ brain of yours.” Kip digs into the bag at his feet and takes out a pack of cigarettes. He tosses one to Chandler. Chandler doesn’t bother mentioning that he quit; he’s not going to let Kip have another victory over him, not one that he knows about. He steals the lighter when Kip walks over to the radio and flips it on. Chandler huffs a sigh at the song, sighs harder when Kip digs in his bag for something a little more illegal than cigarettes. “You know the rules, Bing. If you’re in my room, you listen to my music.”
Chandler rolls his eyes. “This is such a stoner song. God, you’re a cliché.” He shakes his head, takes a drag off of his cigarette. Maybe Chandler doesn’t hate what he’s become; maybe he just hates who he’s been.
“What’s more cliché than a Fed shacking up with a pothead musician?” Kip says with a smirk, tossing a bag of weed at him. Chandler just scowls. “How many times did you have to turn a blind eye?”
“Too many.” Chandler picks the bag up with two fingers, like it might bite him, and slings it back at Kip.
“So, what’s the new guy’s vice? Coke? Counterfeiting?”
“What makes you think he’s dirty?”
“‘Cause I know you, Bing. I know what turns your crank.” Chandler makes a face at that turn of phrase. “The only reason we were ever a thing is ‘cause I made you feel like a rebel.”
“Look at you, usin’ that big ol’ brain of yours,” Chandler teases. He notices a syringe peeking out from Kip’s bag while Kip’s rolling a joint. “Something tells me you’re not a medical student,” Chandler says, gesturing to the syringe with his chin.
Chandler wonders why he doesn’t just bust the guy; maybe he knows the Bureau would laugh at him for nailing an ex-lover. “You know heroin isn’t actually alternative-scene talent juice, right?”
“You gonna turn narc on me now?” He grins, because he knows Chandler won’t.
Chandler doesn’t answer that, instead asks, “Where’d you score the stuff?”
“This guy got a name or were his parents really uncreative?”
Chandler freezes mid-puff. “Does he have dark hair, sex-offender facial hair, and eyes that seem to follow you when you leave the room?”
Kip laughs. “You collar the guy?”
“In a manner of speaking.” Chandler cringes at the memory. But this development sheds some light—albeit a sliver—on the altercation with Eddie; Joey had accused Eddie of working with Mac “now,” meaning Eddie worked for the Tribbianis prior. Joey seemed pretty upset at the prospect of Eddie delving into drugs, so it’s possible that Mac’s crime family deals in narcotics, and the Tribbianis don’t.
Chandler breathes out a wispy, smoky sigh of relief. Drugs are viewed as a much dirtier business than gambling or bid-rigging; if the Tribbianis are “clean,” the Feds might not come down as hard on them—or they might hold out for the bigger fish in the pond.
Kip sits back on the bed with his newly-rolled joint. “So, what’s Joey into? You?”
“We’re not having this conversation,” Chandler growls around another drag. Joey is not up for discussion here, not after Chandler fucked everything up royally tonight. He can’t think about that, not yet, and Kip can’t make him.
Kip takes a puff, fills the air with sickly sweet smoke. Chandler scrunches up his face at the smell and moves away. “He’s gonna be pissed you ran off with me. He looks like the jealous type.”
“What part of ‘we’re not having this conversation’ are you having trouble with?”
Kip smiles knowingly. “Aww, poor Baby Bing.” Chandler cringes at the name again; during another drag off his cigarette he realizes why—it makes him feel infantile, stupidly young and dumb. Kip is a living, breathing reminder of Chandler’s impetuous youth. “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places, huh?”
“The book, the movie adaptation, the Broadway stage show.” Chandler chuckles to himself, because Kip doesn’t realize the statement applies to him too, not just Joey.
Kip pats the empty space beside him on the bed, and Chandler joins him there while they finish smoking. The smell takes him back to years ago in his apartment when they’d been tangled together in Chandler’s bed, frantically kissing and fucking like they’re catching up to something. He doesn’t miss it, but it’s familiar enough that he wants it, familiar enough to be a comfort in the face of losing Joey.
Kip grabs Chandler’s pistol out from the back of his jeans and slides the clip out. It drops against the carpet with a dull thump. Chandler sighs and leans back on his hands. “I bet you’ve never had to use this,” Kip says, tracing the barrel over the line of Chandler’s exposed throat.
“Not on an actual person. Not yet. But I’m a perfect shot...at least on paper targets on the range.” Chandler hates that his pulse doesn’t trip under the cold steel of the gun, that even though they’ve been through this before his heart doesn’t skip a beat. He hates that Kip can pull him so goddamn low.
“We had some fun with this, didn’t we?”
Chandler nods, swallows back disgust at his former self, and takes the gun back. He drops it on the floor next to the discarded magazine and twists his hands in Kip’s shirt to bring their mouths together, desperate to get this over with before he hates himself any more. Kip bites at Chandler’s lower lip, crawling between his legs and easing him back against the pillows. Chandler squeezes his thighs together, tries to stop them from opening up for him, but his legs hook around Kip’s waist, and Chandler shuts his eyes in defeat. He gets his hands full of Kip’s hair, lets him grind lazily between his legs. He hates that his body immediately reacts to the friction, how it’s so much more satisfying than jerking himself off in his bed.
He feels Kip’s thumb circle around a nipple, and when Kip squeezes Chandler lets out a small broken sound of need. Kip licks into Chandler’s mouth, nibbling at his lips, and Chandler bites back, lets his fingers dig in to his shirt. Kip pulls at Chandler’s jeans, plucks them open, slides them over his hips. They paw at each other, kissing and fondling, until the floor is covered with denim and buttons.
When Kip’s hands encircle Chandler’s thighs, Chandler feels the wet slide of his dick, and he shuts his eyes, tries to pretend it’s Joey with him now. But the acrid smell of smoke reminds him that it isn’t. Kip shoves his way in, makes Chandler’s body open for him. Chandler shifts his legs to make it easier and digs his fingers in to Kip’s shoulders. He turns his head when Kip moves in to kiss him again, and Kip drags his teeth over the line of Chandler’s throat. Chandler shudders at the thought of evidence left on his skin, moans his way through rough pushes of hips.
Kip’s shoved in deep, hard and hot inside of him. Chandler hooks his legs over Kip’s shoulders to drive him deeper, and Kip presses his fingers into the hard muscle of Chandler’s thighs as he thrusts in, fucks him open. He’s not gentle this time, and Chandler wonders if he ever was, if his own brain’s romanticized the smoky, languid evenings they’d spent entangled with each other.
Chandler keeps his eyes squeezed shut, struggles to find a place where this won’t feel like defeat; if he shuts off his senses, only allows himself to feel, he can almost reach that place. Hands clamp around his thighs, hips stuttering and quickening against his own until it hurts. Chandler hears a growl of relief, feels the sick spill of semen inside of him, and it’s enough to unravel him, make him whine soft in his throat as he breaks apart.
He’s leaking shame and cum when his heartbeat evens out. He slides his feet lazily over the bed, still refusing to open his eyes. A gentle hand teases at the slick warmth between his legs, and Chandler’s too exhausted to pull away. He lies there and lets Kip do as he pleases, lets Kip pull another orgasm out of him that leaves him shaking and weary.
“This doesn’t mean anything,” Chandler grates out as Kip’s sucking kisses into his neck.
“But you’re a great liar, Baby Bing.”
Chandler shuts his eyes again.
Chapter 7: I've Got You Under My Skin
Chandler gets home around 1 a.m., and he’s lived here by himself long enough that the place doesn’t stir up unwanted memories anymore. He drags himself into the bathroom, peels his clothes off, disgusted, and steps into the shower. The water’s hot on his skin, rinsing away sweat and cum and shame. He breathes in the steam, thankful that the stench of pot is gone. He washes up on auto-pilot to keep himself in the numb for a little while longer. He could have gone back to Joey’s place, made up some half-assed excuse, but he knows it wouldn’t change anything, not when the both of them are at the peak of emotion now. He’ll think of something to say tomorrow, some way to apologize to Joey for being an asshole, and to Mr. Tribbiani for skipping out on work.
He doesn’t want to do anything thinking tonight though, so Chandler grabs a beer or two out of the fridge later and drinks himself to sleep.
“Monica, I need to borrow something, but you have to promise not to laugh or be judgemental,” Chandler says, sticking his head through a small opening in Monica’s door. He refuses to come inside until she answers. There’s no way he’s letting her see the glaringly obvious hickey on his neck without context.
Monica’s sitting at the kitchen table, picking apart a chocolate doughnut. “I won’t laugh or judge you, Chandler. Come on in.”
He keeps his neck obscured behind the door. “Um, I need...I need to borrow some makeup.”
Monica drops the doughnut onto the plate below, her eyes wide in surprise. “I have no idea what to say to that.” She pauses. “Are you going undercover as a drag queen?”
“I’m not ready to follow in dear old Dad’s footsteps yet,” Chandler grates out. “Will you just give me your makeup, please?”
“Alright, what do you need?”
“I need something to cover up...something.”
Monica freezes as she stands up, whirling around to face him. “Do you have a hickey?”
Chandler frowns at her volume. “Thanks, now even Mr. Heckles knows of my shame.”
Monica rolls her eyes and disappears into the bathroom. Chandler decides it’s safe to step inside the apartment. When Monica comes back with the concealer, she nearly drops it when she gets a good look at him. “Oh my God! Did you make out with a vampire?”
Chandler groans. “Look, if I was proud of this, do you think I’d be asking you to cover it up?”
“You didn’t get that from Joey?” Monica asks, trepidatious.
He shakes his head.
One of Chandler’s favorite things about Monica is that she knows right when to back off. She doesn’t say anything more, simply sits beside him and helps him conceal the shameful blemish on the side of his neck.
He shuffles in to work later, trailing chagrin like a tangible wave. Mr. Tribbiani seems pleased to see him. “Hey, Bada-Bing, how you feelin’? Joe told me about last night—said you got sick and he had to take ya home.”
Guilt sinks in Chandler’s stomach like a lead weight. Joey covered for him, despite Chandler’s shitty behavior. He might actually cry. Chandler swallows back the lump in his throat. “I’m—I’m fine, thanks.” Mr. Tribbiani pats a meaty paw on his shoulder as Chandler heads for the staircase. He’s really dreading seeing Joey tonight, because it’s not like Joey didn’t see him kiss and leave with some random guy out of nowhere last night. That’s going to be near impossible to explain away.
Chandler nearly trips down the stairs when he sees Joey loitering in the basement. “Joe! Hey! What’re you—what’re you doin’ down here?”
“It’s my house,” Joey says sort of defensively, tugging at the hem of his sweater.
Chandler crosses the floor, feels Joey’s eyes on him. “Listen, I’m so sorry for bailing on you last night. I shouldn’t have done that.”
Joey shrugs in a way that’s too controlled. “Whatever, man, y’know? You do what you gotta do.”
“It’s just that I—”
“Whoa, whoa, I don’t wanna know,” Joey says, holding his hands up as if warding off an attack. “That’s your business.”
Chandler might have just felt his heart break in his chest. He finds it hard to breathe. He settles for falling into the chair in front of the computer.
“But, y’know, I’m happy for ya, man. Really,” Joey continues, scratching the back of his neck and backing away. His mouth’s curled into a cute little pout. “Listen, I gotta go do...somethin’.” He sort of mumbles that last part before taking the stairs two at a time and leaving Chandler with a whole new whirlwind of emotions to deal with.
Joey doesn’t come down to the basement again for a while. Chandler tries to keep his mind off this whole fiasco by listening in to the radio receiver for the bugs he planted in Mr. Tribbiani’s office; for the purpose of being inconspicuous, it’s designed to look like a Walkman, because no one would begrudge him some music down here in this lonely basement.
Chandler hears the office phone ring, then the distant clicking sound as it’s picked up. He can only hear Mr. Tribbiani’s side of the conversation, but that’s going to have to suffice for now: “Yeah?... Oh, Frankie, what’s the problem?... We’ve already talked about this... Look, if these guys ain’t kickin’ up, don’t take it out on Joe, alright?”
Chandler wonders if Joey’s busted lip the other night has anything to do with this conversation.
“He’s doin’ the best he can,” Mr. Tribbiani continues. “Cut ‘im some slack.” There’s another pause that Chandler presumes is the other guy bitching about something. “That’s not what’s important to me. I won’t endanger my family out of greed.”
God, Chandler wishes he had the other side of this conversation.
“Are you sayin’ it’s Joe’s fault? He ain’t the only skipper we got,” Mr. Tribbiani growls. Chandler panics for a moment, wondering if whatever they’re discussing is his fault somehow. “Maybe, maybe not. That doesn’t mean nothin’.” Pause. “No, I’m not doin’ that. He means well, alright, and this business needs more guys like that. I can talk to ‘im about it, but I’m not gonna bust his balls over somethin’ he can’t control.”
Chandler’s brain is having a field day with this.
Mr. Tribbiani hangs up pretty abruptly after that, leaving Chandler with new ponderings to distract him from ruminating on Joey’s avoidant behavior. Who was Mr. Tribbiani talking to? And what could possibly be Joey’s fault? Is he being blamed for something that happened last night while they were gone?
Chandler doesn’t learn another piece of the puzzle until Thanksgiving when he shows up at the Tribbianis’ place. Joey lets him inside, flashing him an eager smile. “Hey, you showed up!”
“Of course I did. Why wouldn’t I?”
Joey sort of shrugs. “I dunno, I thought maybe you’d change your mind or somethin’...” He shakes off the mood before Chandler can identify it. “C’mon inside, we’ve been waitin’ for ya.”
Joey leads Chandler into the kitchen, and Chandler’s surprised to see quite a few unfamiliar faces milling about. There’s four guys Chandler’s never met before, and three of them look like stereotypical mob guys—dark, slicked-back hair, heavy builds, suspicious eyes, and wearing more gold jewelry than Chandler deems necessary, really. The fourth one is a bit older, hair greying at the temples. “Who’re these guys?” Chandler mutters.
“Oh, just some people my dad works with.” Joey addresses the room. “Hey, you guys met Chandler yet?”
The three younger strangers crowd around, and Chandler’s introduced to Vinny, Fat Paulie, and Tony, who all seem to know him even though they’ve never met before. Chandler finds this a little disconcerting, but figures that Joey must have talked him up.
The fourth stranger strolls up to Chandler after the others have dispersed, clearly adhering to no one’s rules but his own. Chandler guesses this guy outranks Joey. “Chandler Bing, eh?” His voice is more gravelly than Chandler was expecting. He has a thicker Italian accent than the others. “What is that, German?”
“I think it’s Gaelic for ‘the turkey’s done.’”
The stranger chuckles like he’s humoring Chandler’s piss-poor attempt at a joke. “Joey said you were funny. I don’t see it.”
Chandler realizes if anyone in this family’s going to kill him, it’ll be this guy. “Chandler, this is Frankie. He, uh, manages stuff for my dad,” Joey explains.
“What about you, Bing? What do you do?”
“Uh, I, uh, do security for Mr. Tribbiani,” Chandler stammers out, even though he’s pretty sure Frankie already knows this.
Frankie lifts his eyebrows. “Hand-picked by the boss, huh? Joey must’a put in a good word for you.” Chandler frowns at the wording.
Joey shrugs, tilts his head in chagrin. “Well, sorta. Hey, when do we eat? I’m starvin’!”
Chandler snags a seat next to Joey at the table, since he doesn’t really know anyone well enough to talk to them—except for Gloria, but she’s already seated between Mr. Tribbiani and Joey’s grandmother. Chandler’s pleased by the delicious-looking Italian food spread out across the dinner table instead of the typical Thanksgiving fare. “This is so much better than my usual Thanksgiving dinner.”
“What, turkey and stuffing?” Joey asks around a mouthful of lasagna.
“No, uh, tomato soup, grilled cheese, and a bag of Funyuns.”
Joey sort of laughs. “Man, what is it with you and this holiday?”
“Well, I’m nine years old, and we’ve just finished this magnificent Thanksgiving dinner. I have—and I remember this vividly—a mouthful of pumpkin pie, and this is the moment my parents choose to tell me they’re getting a divorce.”
Joey frowns around his food. “Aw, man...”
“It’s very difficult to appreciate a Thanksgiving dinner once you’ve seen it in reverse.” Joey sticks his fork into something that looks like an inside-out pizza. “What’s that?”
“Pie. It’s got salami, pepperoni, ham, cheese...” He takes a bite. “‘S good.”
Chandler thinks that sounds like the greatest thing ever, so he slices off a portion for himself; it tastes as fantastic as it sounds.
About halfway through the meal, Chandler excuses himself to the restroom near the coat closet; when he’s finished, he’s about to open the door when he hears voices on the other side. Angry voices. He opts to stay where he is and listen in through the crack in the door.
“What’d I tell you? I told you to stop fuckin’ around with this guy! You don’t know who he is, where he’s from.” Chandler recognizes the voice: Frankie.
Joey’s voice speaks next: “He’s a good guy, and he’s my friend.”
“He’s not even Italian! He can never be a friend of ours.”
Chandler realizes in stark horror that they’re talking about him.
“So? Ma ain’t involved. Neither are my sisters.”
“They’re family,” Frankie presses. “For all you know, this guy could be a rat.”
Joey scoffs. “We’re not big-time like the Machiavellis. Nobody would waste their time with us.”
“Oh yeah, well, whose fault is that? You’re fuckin’ around with broads and pissin’ our money away, then you got the balls to make sure the old man doesn’t get his hooks into a bigger business. You’re a piece of work.”
“My dad’s the one who hired him,” Joey says after a terse moment of silence. “Why don’t you take this up with him?”
Frankie doesn’t say anything. Chandler hears footsteps approaching, then two sharp knocks on the door make him jump. “Chandler, you in there? Fat Paulie’s usin’ the basement, and I don’t think I can make it to my room,” Joey asks.
Chandler takes a couple breaths to calm himself, makes sure he looks moderately composed before opening the door. “Yeah, make yourself at home.” Chandler groans internally—why the hell did he say that?—before exiting the bathroom and letting Joey inside. Frankie’s gone, so Chandler assumes he must have stormed off in anger or exasperation.
Chandler wonders what Frankie’s fucking deal is. So maybe Chandler wasn’t at the top of his game tonight with the jokes. Big deal. Come to think of it, Frankie doesn’t seem very fond of Joey either. Chandler hates that he overhears shit like this, because he can’t exactly ask about it over dinner. He’s just going to let it bounce around in his brain forever, it seems.
Much like Thanksgiving, Chandler’s Christmas is spent with the Tribbianis. He receives two gifts of note that day—the first gift comes from Joey, who pulls Chandler aside almost immediately after he arrives. “Hey, Chandler, come down to the basement. I wanna show you somethin’!”
Chandler is immediately wary, because this sounds like the last words he might hear before being whacked. If Frankie found out anything and told the Tribbianis... Chandler finds it sort of poetic that most of his life-changing events have fallen on holidays.
But Joey doesn’t do anything when they get to the basement except for grab a small, neatly-wrapped gift box off of the couch and hand it to Chandler. “Merry Christmas, man.”
Chandler doesn’t know what he was expecting to see when he opens the box, but it certainly wasn’t the ornate, gold bracelet nestled inside. “Wow, I—I don’t know what to say.” It’s gaudy and much too flashy, but Chandler can’t help but feel blessed that Joey appreciates him enough to give him something for Christmas; it might help him fit in better among the accessorized wiseguys.
Joey grins. “Check it out, it’s engraved too!” He tilts the bracelet so Chandler can read the engraving.
“‘To my best bud.’” Chandler smiles despite himself. “Aww, Joe.” He fastens the clasp around his wrist. “Thanks, best bud.”
Joey smiles even wider, a feat which Chandler didn’t think was possible. “I’m your best bud?”
“Of course,” Chandler says without thinking. But he doesn’t need to think; he feels the truth in his bones.
The second noteworthy gift is from Mr. Tribbiani. “Hey, kid. Merry Christmas,” he says, placing a medium-sized square box in Chandler’s hands while the rest of the family’s gathered in the kitchen.
Chandler tears open the wrapping and flips open the lid. “I—uh, wow.” Inside the box are at least twenty-four Cuban cigars. He feels a panicked squeeze in his gut. “Thanks.”
“That’s pure Criollo, Bada-Bing. Hecho en Cuba.”
Chandler forces a smile onto his face. He shouldn’t be touching these. He shouldn’t know Mr. Tribbiani has them. This is the first hard evidence of wrong-doing Chandler’s got on the family; he’s been giving the bug recordings to the Feds, but the tapes toe a fine line between incriminating and circumstantial, just enough to entice but not wholly condemn. These cigars would be slam-dunk evidence—at least for a measly unlawful possession charge.
He can’t flat-out refuse them either; refusing a gift from the Don is considered an insult. Technically, refusing a gift from anyone is considered rude, but Chandler thinks special exception should be given in this case. He doesn’t voice his dissent though, just thanks Mr. Tribbiani again and joins the rest of the family in the kitchen.
Chandler really wonders when his life became so complicated.
“What am I going to do?” Chandler groans to Monica the next morning in her apartment. She’s been listening to him whine for almost thirty minutes, and she’s taking it like a champ, considering all she really wanted to do was show off the Wonder Mop she got from Ross.
“Chandler, what are you doing here?” she asks around a sigh.
Chandler wilts visibly in his seat. “Talking to you?”
“No, I mean, what are you doing? If you know you need to turn the cigars in as evidence, what’s the problem?”
“Joey and his family are my friends,” Chandler answers, and he hates how lame and contrived it sounds in his own ears. “I don’t want to betray them or screw them over.”
“But that’s what you signed up to do, isn’t it?”
Chandler flounders for a reasonable answer but finds none. He knows he’s being a childish idiot here, expecting his predicament to be excessively fair to him. But he also knows that life doesn’t work that way; sometimes life is cruel and unfair, and there’s nothing left to do but accept it.
Monica sighs again, because Chandler makes exasperating pouty faces when he’s lost in thought. “Where are your loyalties, Chandler? The Bureau or your friends?”
“Because that isn’t a loaded question at all.”
“I’m not looking for a particular answer. I want you to think about what’s more important to you.”
Chandler wants to hate himself for the first thing that pops into his mind.
Kip knocks on the door to Chandler’s apartment, leaking smug superiority all over the place. “This place brings back some memories, huh?”
Chandler groans and rolls his eyes. “Just get in here.” He tugs Kip inside and shuts the door. “Look, I’m not proud of this, but you’re the only person I can trust here, and, God, that leaves a horrible taste in my mouth.”
Kip chuckles. “I got somethin’ else that’ll leave a—”
“I will shoot you if you finish that sentence.” Kip stays silent: a wise decision. “Okay, so I’ve acquired some, uh, tobacco products you might be interested in. Maybe you’d like to take them off my hands?”
“Depends on what you’re sellin’.”
Chandler lifts up one of the couch cushions and takes the box out from its hiding place. “You interested in Cuban cigars?”
Kip opens the lid and plucks a cigar out of the box, examining it like a jeweler inspecting a diamond. He lets out an airy laugh. “Where’d you get your hands on these, Baby Bing?”
Chandler cringes at the name, pushes a hand through his hair. “It’s—it’s not important. Look, are you gonna take ‘em or not?”
“Not so fast.” Kip reaches out and grabs Chandler’s wrist. “When’d you start wearin’ jewelry?”
Chandler glances down to see that Kip’s staring at the bracelet adorning his wrist. “Since it was a gift yesterday,” Chandler grumbles, snatching his hand away.
“From Joey?” Kip says with an uncalled-for amount of disdain.
“Maybe, maybe not. It’s none of your business anyway. You lost the right to be privy to my love life when you stopped being part of it and got married.” Chandler hears the hurt beneath the anger and wonders if Kip does too.
But Kip hears something entirely different: “You love him?”
Chandler feels his throat close up. His panic reflex kicks in as he tries to backpedal. “N—no, I’m just saying you—”
“You love Joey,” Kip teases, because he’s an asshole.
“Alright, fine! I love him!” Chandler cries. Kip looks stunned, like he hadn’t actually expected Chandler to actually admit it. Chandler feels a little stunned himself. “That’s right, I love him! I’m in love with Joey! And you have to take these, because I don’t want to get him in trouble!” He shoves the box of cigars across the counter at Kip, whose gaze flickers down to the box then back up to Chandler’s face.
Kip hesitates for a moment, then he shakes his head and laughs. “Man, you got it bad. You’re willing to go down for this guy?”
Chandler’s amazed Kip didn’t make a dirty joke there. He stares at the tile on the counter, because he can’t look at Kip when he says this: “I—I guess, I mean...I dunno, maybe.”
Kip doesn’t say anything for a while, and Chandler worries that he’s upset him somehow, but when he looks at him again, Kip’s wearing a sad half-smile. “You always were a sad excuse for a Fed.”
Chandler’s brow furrows impossibly further. He has no idea what to do here.
Kip sighs and lays his hands on the counter so he can lean in. “I think you should turn ‘em in.” Chandler gasps a small breath of panic. “The cigars, I mean.”
“Well, of course you would. You’re jealous.”
“I’m tryin’ to help you out, you idiot. If you turn in the cigars, the Feds can either take ‘em or sit on ‘em. If they take ‘em, they’ll bring Joey in on possession. But if he’s got information on somebody higher up on the food chain—a supplier, manufacturer, whatever—they’ll cut him a break.” Kip gives him a look. “You should know this, Bing.”
Chandler nods, drags a hand over his face. “I don’t wanna risk getting him in trouble. I can’t. He’ll know it was me.”
“So what happens if you just sit on ‘em? The Feds kick you off the case?”
“Which wouldn’t be so bad, except I’d have to quit working for him and go back to the Bureau. I can’t stay here and still hang out with him, since I ‘quit’ my old job to work for him. And if I go back to the Bureau, they’ll transfer me out of state; they want me in Tulsa, Kip.”
“Looks like you’re fucked,” Kip says with a shrug.
“Thanks, that’s so helpful.”
“You’re lookin’ for an answer that’s not gonna come. There’s nothing you can do that’s gonna satisfy the Feds and your conscience. So what can you live with?”
Monica had said something similar, and Chandler already knows the answer.
Chandler loathes himself. He really does. His legs shift in the sheets as he lies on top of Kip. There’s a tacky, wet slide between them, a messy reminder of what they’ve done. Kip’s hands spread out over Chandler’s spine, and he breathes a soft grunt-like noise into Chandler’s hair. “I guess Joey’s not puttin’ out, huh?”
Chandler scowls, keeping his head turned away. Telling Kip the truth—that Joey’s probably not even interested in Chandler that way—will only result in more humiliation; what Kip doesn’t know won’t hurt him. “It doesn’t matter. He’s just gonna run when he finds out what I am.”
“So why don’t you just quit? It’s not like you’re great at your job or anything, and if you cared about upholding the law I wouldn’t even be here.”
Chandler frowns, but there’s more truth to that than he’d care to admit.
“Hell, I don’t even know why you joined the Bureau in the first place.” It sounds more like a regret than an accusation or a prod for answers.
Chandler’s feeling particularly vulnerable this afternoon, and the post-sex lassitude usually makes him pretty agreeable. “I wanted to piss off my parents.”
“A tattoo would’ve been easier.”
Chandler huffs a laugh. “And they probably would have encouraged that. My parents are every liberal cliché wrapped in human suits. What better way to rebel against that than to work for the government?”
“Aw, man, they’d probably love me.” Chandler is not immune to the irony. “So, again, I gotta ask: why don’t you just quit? There’s a lot of things we could do if you weren’t a Fed anymore.”
Chandler sighs, feels the way Kip’s hands slide over his back. “I don’t think that’s an option right now.”
Kip shrugs. “Hey, it’s either that or turn your little boy-toy in. And with him out of the way, maybe we could pick up where we left off.”
Chandler grits his teeth and sits up in a fury. “Seriously? Now you come around wanting to start things up again when you just bolted on me before? I learned my lesson with you, okay? There is no ‘us.’”
Kip gives him a brief look that Chandler might classify as furious before his expression settles back into smug territory. “What’s Joey gonna think when he finds out the truth about you? I mean, you didn’t get me in bed under false pretenses... Even if he loves you back, don’t you think he’s always gonna wonder if it’s all for show?”
Chandler shoves away from Kip in disgust, grabbing his discarded clothes off of the floor and tossing them at him. “I think it’s time for you to leave.”
Kip laughs as he slides out of bed and pulls his jeans on. “You never were a big fan of the truth, huh?” Chandler just ignores him and gets himself dressed.
“Leave the cigars,” Chandler says when Kip moves for the bedroom door.
That makes him laugh again, though this time there’s a bitter edge to it. Kip walks back to Chandler and kisses his forehead in a way that makes Chandler feel small and stupid. “Why don’t you give me a call when you’ve thrown away your whole career for a guy who’s just gonna reject you?”
Chandler bites his lips together. “Oh, right, you want me to throw it away for you.”
Kip doesn’t look back, just swings the door open before saying, “Hey, I’m not the one you’ve been lyin’ to.”
Chapter 8: The Way You Look Tonight
Chandler brings the box of cigars to the office that afternoon. Kostelick’s practically salivating over hard evidence crossing his desk.
“You get these from the Tribbianis?”
Chandler nods, sits across from him.
“What do they got: a warehouse, basement full of ‘em?”
“I don’t know; they were a gift. A gift because the family trusts me.” Chandler feels the churn of guilt in his stomach. “If you hold on to these, I can find better contraband.”
“Better? You know something I don’t, Bing?”
Chandler just shrugs. “They had to get these from somebody,” he says, tapping the box. “If we can follow that trail, maybe we can find a supplier, somebody bigger than these guys.”
Kostelick gives Chandler the look, sits back in his chair. “You seem awfully keen on, oh, for lack of a better word, protecting the Tribbianis. You wouldn’t happen to be getting too close to one of those pretty sisters, would you?”
Chandler’s heart thumps loudly in his chest. He really hopes his anti-perspirant is up to the task today. “I thought the point of this was to take down a crime syndicate.”
“That hasn’t changed.”
“So why would you want to jump the gun and bring them in on one lousy possession charge? You know they’ll lawyer up and end up on the streets again the same day. And then guess who they’re gonna come after?” Chandler makes a wide gesture with his arms as if to say “me.” Kostelick just raises one threatening eyebrow. “Why not try to find the supplier, or even dig around and see if they’re sitting on something bigger than just cigars?”
Kostelick doesn’t say anything for a moment, and Chandler wonders for a brief, horrifying moment if the Bureau isn’t just trying to get rid of him. It doesn’t make sense to go after a rumored crime family on such a small charge when the allure of a bunch of bigger charges that can’t be bargained down lie on the horizon. But if the family gets brought in about the cigars, they’ll know it was Chandler who ratted them out. And when—and it will be “when”—they get back out on the streets...
Kostelick sighs. “Alright, Bing, we’ll do it your way.” He reaches for the box of cigars and pulls them closer. “But consider these my leverage.”
Chandler nods and leaves the office.
Joey swings by the basement after Chandler’s arrived at the Tribbianis’ place for work. “Hey, Chandler, my birthday’s comin’ up!” He flops onto the couch and fixes Chandler with a hopeful look.
Chandler spins around in his chair to face him. “Oh?”
“Yeah! I’m thinkin’ about havin’ a party. Y’know, my family owns this nightclub... Maybe you’d be interested in comin’?”
Chandler’s mouth pulls into a wry smile at the double entendre. He figures he might as well put at least some of his cards on the table here. “Maybe some other time, Joe. I... You’ve never been to my place, have you?”
“Well, I was thinking I could throw you a party of my own. Granted, it would be just you and me and some crappy movies and my own cooking, but...” He shrugs, braces himself for Joey to laugh at him or scrunch his face up in disgust at the prospect of a sort-of date.
But Joey doesn’t do any of that. He just smiles even wider. “Really? You’d—you’d do that for me?”
“Of course.” Chandler smiles back. “I mean, I can’t exactly think of a gift to get you. What do you get the guy who can buy anything he wants, y’know?” He chuckles.
Joey just stares at him in confusion. “I can’t buy anything I want,” he mumbles, but it’s loud enough for Chandler to hear him.
Chandler doesn’t go down that road. “Um, I don’t wanna intrude on your family or anything, so if you wanna have a party at the nightclub, you can do that too. I just...wanna do something special, I guess.” He feels his face heat up and looks away; if Joey notices, he doesn’t show it.
“That’s great! We can go to the club, like, the day after, if you want.”
“It’s your party, Joe.”
Frankie shows up a few days into January, taking the basement stairs ridiculously slowly. Chandler stops what he’s doing and watches, feels the need to show respect. “Ah, Bing, nice to see you again.”
Chandler doesn’t know how to answer that, so he just says, “You too?”
Frankie steps off of the staircase and makes his way toward Chandler. He’s holding a cigar between his thick fingers; Chandler internally panics that Frankie might know about the whole cigar debacle. “Joey seems to like you a lot, doesn’t he?”
Chandler shrugs. “I guess so.” He figures that’s a rhetorical question.
“The old man’s in your corner too.” He taps the end of his cigar. “How’d he hire you, anyway?”
“I—I guess he appreciated my charming personality.” Chandler forces up a smile.
Frankie frowns. “Must be an acquired taste. See, as smart as the old man is, I think he’s gettin’ a little senile in his age. Did he ever ask himself ‘how come the people watching my family never sent any threats?’”
Frankie must be a big fan of rhetorical questions.
“Or maybe ‘how come as soon as I start havin’ surveillence problems, this nobody comes along and suddenly has a solution?’ Or even ‘how come this nobody starts workin’ here and I never hear about any other problems?’” Chandler can’t help but swallow out of fear. Frankie gives an “I’m not judging” shrug. “I’m just askin’ questions. Maybe you can shed some light on ‘em.”
Chandler struggles with his instinct to scoot away, keeps his feet planted on the floor and his thighs from shaking. “That—that sounds like something you should take up with the boss. I mean, I don’t know what’s going on in his head.”
Frankie doesn’t appear to like that answer, because his eyes go all squinty and narrowed. “How’d you meet Joey again?”
“Him and his family came into Iridium. He knows the chef there—Monica—and I just happened to be talking with her when he came over to us. She introduced me to him, and that’s that.” Chandler realizes that Frankie expected him to fumble with that.
Or maybe not. Frankie still looks especially apprehensive. Chandler really wishes he could just tell Frankie that ninety percent of his motivation for being here is because of his stupid crush on Joey, but the mob world isn’t exactly known for being a beacon of tolerance for, uh, alternative lifestyles.
Frankie gives him one last scrutinizing look before turning away and heading up the stairs. “We’ll be in touch.”
Chandler’s really glad there’s a bathroom down here.
Chandler spends the afternoon of Joey’s birthday scouring his own apartment for anything that might scream “I work for the government.” He tucks away plaques, badges, and suspicious reading material, hiding any trace of evidence that could clue Joey in to his true colors. This level of dishonesty makes him sick. Inviting Joey into his home—into the place where he sleeps—is a sign of trust, yet to be so duplicitous about it almost negates the entire gesture. He hates that Kip is probably right, that Joey would turn tail and run if he ever knew the truth about Chandler’s alliances. Kip should never be right about anything, damn it, especially not anything involving relationships he’s not even a part of.
But this is Joey’s birthday, not a day for Chandler to uselessly angst about his life, so he stows away his resentment and focuses on making tonight the perfect night for Joey. He whips up the fanciest, most gourmet macaroni and cheese dish he’s ever made, and makes sure to chill a six-pack of Joey’s favorite beer—because Chandler notices things like that—in the fridge; he even goes so far as to slap a bright red bow on the carton of beer. Why not be festive? Chandler may or may not have bought a cake that he’s hiding alongside the beer. If this is Joey’s birthday, he’s going to do it right—or at least as right as he can.
Joey shows up right on time at eight, looking unfairly attractive in jeans and a sweater. Chandler spends a second too long ogling him, because Joey says “hi,” and Chandler flinches.
“Happy birthday, Joe,” Chandler says, trying to save face.
Joey doesn’t seem to notice Chandler’s case of nerves. He pats Chandler’s shoulder and makes his way inside the apartment. “Thanks, man! Somethin’ smells good! What’d you make?”
“The only thing I can cook, remember? Mac and cheese.”
“All right! Great! When do we eat?”
Chandler laughs at his enthusiasm. “Hold on, let me give you your present first. Close your eyes.”
Joey huffs a little annoyed sigh, but he’s smiling as he shuts his eyes. Chandler turns to the fridge, grabs the beer and holds it out for Joey. “Open your eyes!”
Joey does. “Hey, beer! Thanks, Chandler!”
They spend the evening on the couch, drinking beer, eating macaroni—which Joey claimed to be “awesome”—and watching various movies out of Chandler’s collection of video tapes. They’re halfway into Ghostbusters II when Chandler brings the cake out. “What kind of birthday party would this be without a cake?” he asks with a chuckle, setting it down on the coffee table in front of them.
“Oh man, thanks!” Joey looks like he wants to say more but doesn’t. Instead, they dig into the cake. Joey sucks down about a third of his second beer before casually asking, “So, uh, hey, who was that guy at the bar that night? Y’know, the guy you left with?” Chandler winces at the memory and the thought that Joey is disgusted by it. “Is he your, uh, your boyfriend?”
Chandler shakes his head. “He used to be, a long time ago. We’re not, um, together anymore.” He scratches the back of his neck. “I hope it doesn’t bother you.”
Joey sort of smiles, but there’s some sadness to it. “You guys seemed pretty friendly.”
Chandler sighs, wonders how to explain this. “It’s not what you think. Really. I don’t love him...and he doesn’t love me.”
“So, what, you guys are just, like, friends with benefits?”
“If that. Trust me, I’m not seeing him anymore.”
Joey seems to accept that answer. He takes another bite of cake. “Does anybody else know you’re gay? I mean, I didn’t even know ‘til I saw you kiss him.”
“I’m not gay,” Chandler explains. “I like girls too. But, uh, yeah, my friends know.”
Joey’s expression crumbles into something sad. “I thought I was your friend,” he says weakly. “How come you never told me?”
Chandler doesn’t know how to say “because Mafia members aren’t exactly throwing gay pride parades,” because technically Chandler shouldn’t even know about the whole Mafia thing. “Well, it’s not like it came up in conversation. And, y’know, I didn’t wanna lose you as a friend if you weren’t comfortable with it.”
Joey pouts. “I wouldn’t stop bein’ your friend ‘cause of that...”
Chandler shrugs. “I didn’t know. I guess I should’ve trusted you...”
“I don’t blame you, though,” Joey says in a way that makes Chandler really want to pull at that thread. But he doesn’t. “This is really good cake, by the way.”
“Well, save me some; you’re hogging the whole thing.”
“‘Cause it’s my birthday!” Joey argues, rather childishly. But Chandler’s big, dumb crush allows him to find it endearing.
It’s a little past midnight when Joey rises up off of the couch and makes his way to the door. “Thanks for a great party, Chandler,” he says around a yawn. “I haven’t enjoyed myself like that in a long time.”
Chandler can’t help himself; he has to smile. “I’m glad you had fun, Joe.”
Joey does something surprising and hugs Chandler. “I—I’m really lucky to have a friend like you.”
Chandler cherishes the embrace, wishing it could go on forever. He thinks about kissing Joey here, or at least making some sort of forward gesture to make his feelings known. But Joey didn’t throw out any hints that he might be into dudes, and Chandler has never dealt with rejection very well. So he just stands there awkwardly, like he’s at the end of a first date.
“You’re comin’ to tomorrow night’s party, right?” Joey asks.
Chandler nods. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
“Great!” Joey gives him the address before opening the door. “See ya, Chandler.” For a moment, it looks like Joey might want to say something else, but he seems to second-guess himself and flash Chandler a quick smile before turning and walking away.
Chandler really loathes himself.
The first thing Chandler feels when he shows up at the nightclub on Saturday night is a mild mix of disappointment and surprise, because he really thought this was a strip club. But instead it’s a regular ol’ nightclub with low lights and loud music and absolutely no half-naked women (or men) gyrating against poles. Chandler wonders how anyone in the Mafia world takes the Tribbianis seriously if they’re not engaging in vice—they seem to eschew the sale or distribution of drugs, and if they’re not in the business of sex, how are they making any money?
Joey meets him at the bar with his patented goofy grin. “You made it!”
Chandler can’t help but smile back; it’s one of his learned reflexes around Joey. “Of course.” He feigns a glance around the club. “Nice place you got here.”
“Thanks. My dad used to own it, but Frankie took over a couple’a years ago.”
“Speaking of which, is Frankie, like, your uncle or something?”
“Nah, he’s just a really old friend of my dad’s. Old as in they’ve known each other forever, not, like, old.” Joey chuckles, glances off. “Hey, I gotta meet with my dad about somethin’ real quick. Have a drink, enjoy yourself while I’m gone, alright?”
Chandler nods, and Joey heads off in the direction of a door on the opposite side of the club. He disappears inside, and Chandler orders a drink, downs it over the duration of an entire song before sliding off of the barstool and following Joey’s trail. Surreptitiously, he reaches into his pocket and feels the weight of the listening device there. He grips it in his hand. This is the ballsiest thing Chandler Bing has ever done in his entire life; he might actually die.
He twists open the door and staggers inside. The Tribbiani Family—Mr. Tribbiani, Joey, Frankie, Vinny, Fat Paulie, and Tony—and a few men Chandler’s never seen before are seated at a long conference table. The walls must be relatively soundproof, because the music is reduced to a faint thumping bass beat inside the room. Everyone looks up in unison and stares at Chandler like he’s an offensive stain on the carpet. Joey’s expression softens when he recognizes Chandler, but Frankie scowls at him.
“Oh, man, this isn’t the bathroom,” Chandler says around a laugh, faking inebriation. The scent of alcohol lingers on his breath for the purpose of selling the illusion that he’s just a dumb drunk who wandered in the wrong room. “Sorry, guys!” He steps back and fumbles with the door, sticking the bug into the space in the doorframe where the lock slides in; it’s a pretty deep hole, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. “Sorry!” He shuts the door carefully, hoping the bug won’t get crushed when the bolt secures.
Chandler hurries outside through the back door of the club. He tugs his jacket tighter around him to protect himself from the winter chill. Inside his jacket pocket is the radio receiver for the bug he just planted, so he can listen in to the conversation taking place.
He holds the receiver in his palm for a minute or two. His mind runs through all the reasons that this is a terrible idea. He can’t start drawing lines in the sand about what information should stay secret. This is the kind of intelligence his job hinges on. This is what will keep him in the Manhattan squad instead of being shoved off to Tulsa. Having a Mafia member admit to his involvement or plan some sort of crime will catapult Chandler’s career into something he’ll actually brag about.
But...this is Joey, the goofy, sweet Italian heartthrob with a dazzling smile and a borderline embarrassing penchant for food. The guy who, against all odds, actually agreed to go out with Chandler. The guy who laughs at all of Chandler’s jokes, even the ones that aren’t funny. The guy who was so ridiculously impressed with Chandler’s marksmanship and still sleeps with the stuffed penguin Chandler’d won him.
But he doesn’t have to turn this in. If he hears something incriminating, he’s free to destroy the tape. No one has to know.
Except Chandler. He’ll know, and it’ll eat him from the inside out.
Chandler sighs a breath into the frosty air and switches the receiver on.
A voice that sounds like Mr. Tribbiani’s is speaking: “—but what you’re suggesting would ruin us. This operation could damage my other interests; my Family has already given their thoughts on the matter, Don Machiavelli, so I must say no to you.”
“Are you worried about security?” another voice asks that Chandler presumes belongs to Mr. Machiavelli himself. “My Family will guarantee your investment.”
“My no is final,” Mr. Tribbiani says. “I’m sorry I had to disappoint you again, but I wish you good fortune with your business.”
Chandler can’t make heads or tails of what he’s hearing. Why does the Don of the Machiavelli family want the Tribbianis on board? Do they anticipate a raid and want someone to share the burden of blame? Chandler really doubts the Machiavellis are extending this offer out of the kindness of their hearts. If the Tribbiani family, according to Frankie, are lacking funds, the Machiavellis might be trying to shift the bulk of their narcotics business onto the Tribbianis. Did Mr. Tribbiani refuse because he knows Mac’s intentions? Or is he simply trying to lay low and protect his family’s interests?
Chandler switches off the receiver and stuffs it into his pocket. He doesn’t have the energy to think about this anymore. He goes back inside and heads over to the bar, orders himself a drink to calm his nerves. He’s about halfway through with his rum and Coke when a gorgeous woman with tanned skin and dark, curly hair slinks over to him. He tries not to stare as she sits on the vacant barstool to his right. “I’ve never seen you around here before,” she says with a voice that’s as smooth as a caress.
Chandler swallows thickly. “Y—yeah, I’m not really a nightclub guy, but it’s my friend’s birthday, so I’m being supportive.”
“You friends with Joey?”
Chandler ought to be past being surprised about people knowing Joey, but it still shocks him. “Yeah, how’d you know?”
“Oh, everybody around here knows Joey.” She says it in a way that implies they’ve done more than just shake hands. Chandler feels an irrational pang of jealousy. “I’m Aurora,” she says, offering up a smile.
“I’m—I’m Chandler.” Smooth. Even when he’s not trying to get a date, he’s still awkward and clumsy.
She tests out the name, and Chandler likes how it sounds on her tongue. It’s nowhere near as nice as hearing Joey say it, but he’ll take what he can get. “How’d you get mixed up with Joey anyway?”
“Oh, I work for his father.”
She lifts an eyebrow. Clearly, this tidbit of information has piqued her interest. “Really? Wow, that’s quite an honor.”
“So I’m told.” Chandler spots Joey stalking toward him out of the corner of his eye. “Oh, look, here comes Joey now.” He spins around on his barstool to face him. “Hey, Joe, where’ve you been?” he asks, playing ignorant.
Joey’s mouth is a hard line, his dark eyes unreadable. Fear roils in Chandler’s gut. Did someone discover the bug he’d planted? His heart starts pounding ridiculously fast. “Chandler, you got a sec? I wanna show you somethin’,” Joey says.
Oh God, this is the end, Chandler thinks. He finishes the rest of his drink in one gulp and bids Aurora goodbye. Joey’s practically dragging him across the floor. Chandler wonders if he should ask where they’re going, but instead he shuts up and observes. They seem to be heading in the direction of the conference room that Chandler barged into earlier. Oh fuck.
“So, uh, Joe, what’s up?” Chandler asks, his voice trembling like a fault line.
Joey swings the door open and leads them inside. His face is a mask of aroused fury as he shoves Chandler against the wall and forces his knee between Chandler’s legs. “Why don’t you tell me?” He kisses Chandler in an almost violent press of mouth. Chandler’s body stiffens, and he’s acutely aware of his own erection against Joey’s thigh. He sucks in a breath through his nose while Joey bites at his lips, his tongue licking and swiping inside of Chandler’s mouth.
Chandler slides a hand around the back of Joey’s neck, lets his fingers tangle in his hair. Joey tilts his head, kisses him a little harder this time, and Chandler accidentally moans into his mouth. Joey nips at his lower lip, sucks a kiss over the corner of his mouth as Chandler’s fingers drag through Joey’s hair.
Chandler can barely move, let alone remember how to kiss properly. He lets Joey lead, and Joey has no problem with this, opening his mouth a little and knotting his fingers in Chandler’s shirt to pull him closer. “What are you doing?” Chandler asks around the kiss.
“Kissin’ you,” Joey says before nibbling at Chandler’s bottom lip again.
“I—I know, but why?”
“‘Cause I want you, Chandler,” Joey growls out, grinding his thigh into Chandler’s dick, “and I’m sick of watchin’ you run out on me.”
“You’re jealous?” Chandler actually pulls away to fix Joey with the proper amount of disbelief.
Joey glances away, his cheeks pink with a mix of arousal and chagrin. “Well, yeah... I mean, last time you left with that ex of yours, and now you looked like you were gonna leave with Aurora...”
“I wasn’t gonna do anything,” Chandler answers weakly. He can’t believe he’s having this conversation with Joey. Joey isn’t supposed to “want” him; Chandler’s a lanky nerd who can’t control his limbs. Why would Joey want him when he has literally anyone else to choose from?
Joey presses his lips together like he’s just been scolded. “Well, I—I didn’t know that...”
They stare at each other for a wordless moment that’s much too long. Chandler can feel the heat of Joey’s breath on his face. “So, what is this?” Chandler asks in a small voice, gesturing to the space between them in a way that’s supposed to signify something. “Do you just want to”—he doesn’t know of a polite way to say this—“own me, or do you have...feelings for me?”
Over the distant thump of the music, Chandler remembers that he’s bugged this room. He’s siphoned enough of Joey’s secrets here, however inconsequential. This one, however, sounds like it might be life-altering—for both of them. Even if it has nothing to do with the Mafia, Chandler still refuses to let this go on record. “Y’know what?” Chandler says before Joey can answer. “Why don’t we go to my place and talk? Just the two of us.”
Joey nods in agreement, and they get a ride from Tony, the Family’s driver, to Chandler’s apartment in the Village. Chandler does a mental run-through of his place on the drive over, remembering that all incriminating evidence is still hidden away from last night. He leads Joey inside and flips on the light.
“You’ve been awfully quiet since we left,” Chandler says.
Joey shrugs in a way that says nothing at all. “I guess...”
Chandler decides he’s just going to go for it: “Are you embarrassed about kissing me?”
Joey’s face tells Chandler that he absolutely is; his cheeks go red, and he rubs the back of his neck and looks away. “Well, yeah, I mean, I should’a asked you first... I’ve been thinkin’ about askin’ you for a while,” he says, twisting the hem of his sweater in his hands. “But I didn’t know how you’d react. I was pretty sure you’d freak out, y’know, so I didn’t say anything, but every once in a while you’d say something that made me think, ‘huh, maybe he’ll be okay with it,’ so I thought...” He trails off, tenses up a little when Chandler moves closer.
Chandler lays a hand on his shoulder, feels the warmth of Joey’s skin seep through the thick material of his sweater. “You can tell me anything, Joe. I won’t judge you.”
Joey gives him a half-hearted smile before looking away again. “Even if I told you I got a huge crush on you?”
Joey actually likes him back. Chandler’s still stuck in the staunch disbelief part of his emotional journey, because his expression hasn’t changed since the words left Joey’s mouth. “Oh my God,” he mumbles out, blinking way too many times.
Joey pushes a hand through his hair, looking despaired. “I knew I shouldn’t’ve said anything. I’m sorry—”
“No, no! Don’t be!” Chandler sort of yells. “Sorry, I mean. This is great! I’ve had a ridiculously inappropriate crush on you since we first met, so—”
Joey turns to face him. “Really?”
Chandler’s brain catches up with what he just said, and he wants to punch himself in the face because he’s a fucking idiot. He sighs tragically, keeps his gaze fixed on the floor. “Yeah...”
Chandler fully expects to be laughed at for this, but Joey’s smiling in a way that’s shy and overjoyed all at once. “Me too,” he says softly. Chandler can’t believe his luck; if this is just another one of his Joey dreams he’s going to be pissed. “I mean, at first it was just like, ‘whoa, who’s Monica’s cute friend?’ but then I started really liking spendin’ time with you.”
“You thought I was cute?” Because of course that’s the part Chandler focuses on.
Joey chuckles, his cheeks flushed with color. “I still do.” Whatever expression Chandler’s wearing must freak Joey out a little, because he looks away after a moment. “I’m sorry if this is weird for you. I’ve never said this kind of stuff to a guy before.”
“But you’ve...thought it?” Chandler would be flattered as hell if he’s Joey first male crush, but he’s not going to delude himself.
Joey nods. “Where I come from it’s not somethin’ you talk about...” he says, despair consuming his features.
Chandler swallows thickly; he knows. “It’s not weird, Joe. Trust me.”
“Would it—” Joey stops, wets his lips, tries again. “Would it be weird if I kissed you again? Like, for real?”
Chandler’s mouth goes impossibly dry. “N—no, that would be the exact opposite of weird. That would be fantastic. Please kiss me.”
Chandler’s fervor makes Joey laugh, and he’s leaning in a little closer, cupping Chandler’s jaw in his hand so he can bring him forward and press his mouth there. Chandler slots his thigh between Joey’s legs and grinds into him, making Joey growl needily in his throat. His nails graze over Chandler’s scalp as the kiss evolves into something hungrier. Chandler gets his hands full of Joey’s sweater and carefully steps around the couch and the furniture in the living room, leading them into the bedroom. He tugs Joey down on top of him when they reach the bed, and Joey shoves his hands under Chandler’s shirt. Chandler sighs, lets Joey’s hands skim over his ribs and tweak his nipples. He makes an undignified groaning sound that doesn’t seem to deter Joey’s exploration of his body. Joey shoves Chandler’s shirt up past his chest so he can kiss a line down his stomach. Chandler squirms, blindly reaching behind his head for the lube, because he might actually explode if he doesn’t make Joey come right now.
Chandler finds the bottle just as Joey’s mouth opens around a nipple. He moans, gets louder when Joey’s teeth graze over the tender skin, and his fingers fumble with the bottle cap. Joey stops what he’s doing and looks up at Chandler when he hears the snap of plastic. Chandler just sort of stares at him in confused horror.
“C—can I?” he asks, displaying the lube as if Joey has no idea what he’s talking about.
“You can do whatever you want,” Joey breathes out in a way that sounds like something out of Chandler’s wet dreams. “But, uh, I’ve never...y’know, so...”
Chandler understands, remembers when this was new to him too, and pulls Joey’s mouth up to his own with his free hand. Joey kisses Chandler like he’s ecstatic about it; Chandler doesn’t think he’s ever going to get over that. Joey breaks away for a moment to pull his sweater off and discard it on the floor, giving Chandler a pretty fantastic view. Chandler stares in open-mouthed awe, admiring the breadth of his chest, the curve of his shoulders, the way his stomach’s neither a flagrant display of abs or flab; he might do some of this admiring with his hands. Joey doesn’t mind, doesn’t stop Chandler when his hands slide down his stomach and push at the edges of his jeans. Chandler plucks the button out of its clasp and shoves the denim over his hips. Joey makes a breathy sound of approval that spurs Chandler on, and soon the jeans join Joey’s sweater on the floor beside the bed.
Chandler freezes for a moment, because Joey’s almost naked in his bed, and there’s only a thin layer of boxers separating Chandler from taking Joey’s cock into his mouth. But Joey appears to want Chandler in an equal state of undress; he rolls them over so they’re lying side by side and lets his fingers unbutton and unzip. Chandler’s preoccupied with getting his fingers slick with lube, and Joey’s got his jeans almost halfway off when Chandler slides his hand down the curve of Joey’s spine. He works his way underneath Joey’s boxers, and his fingers ghost over the spot that has Joey shoving his hips backwards to meet his hand. Chandler captures his mouth, smothering a gasp, and slips two fingers inside of Joey.
Joey moans hot and needy over his lips before Chandler kisses him again. As his fingers stroke and press inside, Chandler watches the way Joey’s brow creases and his teeth capture his bottom lip. Joey’s fingers clutch at Chandler’s shirt and hair, and Chandler ruts against the hard muscle of Joey’s thigh shoved between his legs. The friction is so fucking good, and Chandler can’t help but moan out loud. He strokes over Joey, fingers gently rubbing over his opening before sliding inside again. Joey moans like he’s in shambles, like Chandler’s fingers are slowly breaking him apart atom by atom. He rocks back to meet Chandler’s touch, whimpering and making pleading noises around quick, sloppy kisses.
“Is it good?” Chandler asks, his breath heating the space between them. Joey groans in response, and Chandler grinds into his thigh. “Tell me what you want.” He spreads his fingers a little, stretching him, and Joey sucks in a breath and clenches his hand in Chandler’s shirt. Chandler licks his lips and presses deeper; Joey makes a stilted, choked-off sound, and his nails drag over Chandler’s scalp as his hips jolt backwards.
“Right there,” Joey breathes out, and Chandler strokes and presses again in a way that makes Joey shudder and gasp. “Yes, yes, God, Chandler, please...” Chandler slides his free arm underneath Joey, pressing his palm against his back and pushing him a little closer. His hips are still shoving into Joey’s thigh, and as one hand strokes inside of Joey the other fists his shirt as he feels himself about to come. Joey reaches out and puts a hand on Chandler’s chest, sort of shoving him away. “Wait, wait,” he whispers, and Chandler freezes, wondering what he’s done wrong here. “I don’t...”
“Do you want me to stop?”
Joey shakes his head, his shoulders quivering due to Chandler’s fingers still inside of him. He slides his knee from between Chandler’s legs. “I don’t want you to come yet,” he says, his voice low and breathy. “I wanna make you do it.”
Holy shit, that’s the hottest thing Chandler’s ever heard in his life. He swallows thickly, nods, and keeps his hips impossibly still as his fingers work inside of Joey. Joey bites his lip, shivers as Chandler takes him apart slowly and unhurried. The ends of Chandler’s fingers graze over something that makes Joey’s head tip back, then he’s rolling his hips and calling Chandler’s name like a chanted prayer. Joey grips Chandler’s shirt tight in his fist, and he’s sobbing out fragmented words and praises as he comes hard, tight around Chandler’s fingers. Watching Joey come undone is, hands-down, the most amazing fucking thing Chandler has ever seen in his life, and he doesn’t know how to handle the fact that he made it happen. His mind goes blissfully blank, his hand gently stroking and easing his fingers out. Joey whimpers, still caught in the post-orgasm lassitude when he moves to cover Chandler’s body with his own.
Joey kisses him, urgent despite his orgasm, and his hands work to shove Chandler’s pants over his hips and take his dick out. Then he closes his lips over the head, and Chandler doesn’t remember how to make words anymore. Joey’s mouth is hot and wet, his tongue running over the curves and ridges of his cock, and, Jesus fucking Christ, this is the best blowjob he’s ever had. It’s sloppy and unpracticed as hell, but Joey sucks and licks at the head of his dick like it holds the secrets to life. Chandler throws a leg over Joey’s shoulder to push himself deeper, but it’s a wasted effort, because he’s already coming harder than he ever has in his life. Joey gags a little, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and licks his lips in a way that should be illegal.
“Sorry,” Chandler sighs out, defeated. Of fucking course he’d have a hair-trigger orgasm with Joey—why wouldn’t he? Chandler thinks he might not be allowed to have nice things ever.
Joey’s palms slide over Chandler’s thighs. “For what?”
“For...” Chandler gestures vaguely to his crotch area. “That. That doesn’t usually happen...”
It takes Joey a moment, but then he’s chuckling like he understands. “No, man, don’t be sorry. It’s kinda hot, y’know? I mean, you want me so much you can’t stay in control.”
Chandler feels his face turn about eighty different shades of red, and he sort of whimpers as he covers his face to hide from Joey. Even his fucking body can’t keep his attraction to Joey a secret.
Joey sits up, scoots closer so he’s sitting between Chandler’s legs. Chandler draws his knees back, inviting Joey in, but Joey just caresses the skin of Chandler’s thighs. “Hey, relax. I think you’re great.” He pauses as if realizing something. “Did that other guy you were with give you shit about it?”
Chandler opens his fingers a bit so he can peer out at Joey through them. His face feels like it’s on fire. “N—no, it—it didn’t really happen with him...”
“So it’s just me?”
“Why are you prolonging this?” Chandler whines.
Joey smiles warmly, brings Chandler’s calf to his lips. “I’m sorry, I’ll stop teasin’ ya.” His eyes go impossibly dark, and a smirk tugs at the corner of his mouth. “Y’know, I didn’t last very long either... Maybe we should try again, see what happens.”
Chandler can’t help but grin. “You—you want to?”
A stupid question with a fantastic answer.
Chapter 9: What'll I Do
For the first time in what feels like ages, Chandler wakes up in bed with someone else. Joey’s curled around him, holding Chandler to his chest in a sleepy embrace, his head tucked in the crook of Chandler’s neck and shoulder. Chandler breathes out in blissful contentment, brushing his fingers over Joey’s hand draped across his naked hip. Joey hums a happy sound into the fluff of Chandler’s hair and holds him tighter. He kisses the curve of his neck, and Chandler squirms in his arms. “Stay,” Joey murmurs, “just a couple more minutes.”
“I wasn’t going anywhere.” Chandler hears Joey sigh contentedly behind him.
“Good.” Joey’s hand skims along Chandler’s thigh, squeezes the muscle there. “Y’wanna know somethin’ funny? You’re exactly the same as I thought you’d be, y’know, in bed.”
“What?” Chandler asks around a laugh.
The heat of Joey’s breath ghosts over Chandler’s skin. “The first time I met you, you were all”—he searches for the word—“squirmy and stuff, so I wondered if you’d be the same way if I went down on you.”
Joey’s words go straight to Chandler’s dick, because, holy shit, Joey was thinking about sucking his cock from the first time they met.
“And, well, now I know you are.” He can hear Joey’s smile in his voice, and Chandler can’t help but grind his hips backwards a little to bump against Joey’s own.
“Did you ever think about”—Chandler shrugs—“what other things might be like with me?”
Joey drags the heat of his palms over Chandler’s skin. “Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff I wanna do with you.”
Chandler feels that one travel up his spine. “I’ve got all the time in the world,” he says, shifting so he’s facing Joey.
He can’t remember the last time he made love in the morning; it must have been some time long ago with Kip, when he was naïve enough to mistake it for love. But everything is different with Joey. Joey is gentle, his hands and mouth a calm heat over Chandler’s skin. He kisses slow and hot, like Chandler’s lips and throat and nipples and thighs are things to be worshipped rather than imprinted upon. Even when Joey’s buried deep inside of him, he makes certain Chandler’s experience is just as good as his own, responding in kind to each sound Chandler makes, and murmuring soft questions at his ear to guide his pace.
When Chandler comes, it’s a gut punch of an orgasm, like the world’s dropped out from beneath him. His muscles are loose and shivery-good, and Joey’s mouth crushes over his own, lips and hands piecing him back together. It feels a lot like love, or something close to it.
Chandler sighs happily while Joey’s mouth trails over the line of his jaw. He pushes his fingers through Joey’s hair, tilts his head so he can kiss him. Joey hums a contented sound into his mouth. “You’re getting better,” Joey murmurs with a smile on his lips.
“This is so different for me,” Chandler admits after a moment. “With Kip, it was exciting at first, but...then it stopped. But you...” He pauses, wonders how to say this without sounding like an idiot. “I’ve been crazy about you since we met, and now that I know you feel the same way...” He shrugs and looks away. “This has never happened to me before.”
Joey kisses Chandler’s mouth, his chin, the hollow of his throat. “Better late than never.”
Chandler smiles in agreement. He ought to ask if maybe Joey’s dad has some sort of rules against fraternization, but Chandler wants to just exist in this glorious moment where Joey’s mouth presses kisses over his skin, where he doesn’t have to think about anything. So he relaxes and basks in it, soaking up all of Joey’s affection.
Joey’s got his mouth around Chandler’s nipple when he asks, “Do you think you’d last longer if we switched?” Chandler gives him a blank look. “Like, y’know, you could get on top...” Joey looks away after a moment of silence, his face flushed red.
“You—you really want me to?”
Joey sits up, still looking off so he can’t meet Chandler’s eyes. “I think about it a lot. But you don’t have to if you don’t wanna...”
Joey wants Chandler to fuck him. Jesus Christ, that’s the hottest fucking thing Chandler’s ever heard in his life. “Oh, I do,” he answers a little too quickly, moving to sit up and slide out of bed. “I just, um, gimme a minute, okay?”
Joey nods and lets him out. Chandler grabs his underwear off of the floor, because he’s still shy even though Joey’s touched and tasted almost every inch of his body. He gets inside the bathroom to clean up the sticky mess on his belly. Is this really happening? It’s almost too good to be true. Maybe Joey would have sex with him once out of pity, but it would probably involve a lot of awkward jerking off, and maybe penetration if Joey didn’t have to look at Chandler. But there would definitely not be any blowjobs or eye-contact and kissing while fucking.
So this is real. This is happening.
Chandler takes a couple minutes to freak out appropriately in the privacy of his bathroom. Kip never asked Chandler to top, so Chandler has absolutely no idea if he’s going to be any good at this. Oh God, what if he’s awful and Joey never wants to see him again? Joey’s probably not that much of a dick, but it would be just Chandler’s luck. He washes his hands once—okay, twice—splashes some water on his face, tries to calm himself the fuck down, because Joey isn’t going to want to have a dick inside him if the owner of said dick is all panicky and nervous like he’s just committed a felony.
He takes a deep breath and manages to make his hands stop shaking before he opens the bathroom door. He’s startled to see Joey standing there in his living room, fully clothed with an almost furious expression on his face. “Was I in there long? I didn’t know—”
Joey interrupts Chandler by storming up to him and shoving something hard in the middle of his chest. Chandler feels his heart in his throat when he recognizes the object: his badge.
“You lied to me,” Joey says, and it’s all hurt underneath the anger. “This whole time, you were just, what, tryin’ to pin somethin’ on me?”
Chandler shuts his eyes in pain. “Joey, no, it’s not—it’s not like that.”
“Why else would you lie about everything? Why else would you want me and my family to trust you just so you can sell us up the river?” Chandler doesn’t have an answer for that. To say “because I love you” sounds trite and cliché as hell, and it’s way closer to the truth than he’d like to admit here where it might be used against him.
Chandler wilts under Joey’s righteous anger. “I didn’t mean to—I didn’t want to do it. They were gonna transfer me, and I thought if I had a case I could stay here a little bit longer.” Oh wow, that sounds even stupider said out loud than the whole “I love you” thing. Chandler hates himself.
Joey’s brow creases in disbelief.
“But I never tried that hard, Joe. I took so many shortcuts and cut you so many breaks because I like you. I fought against being wired because I didn’t want to sell your secrets.”
Joey looks impossibly more devastated. “So you knew about my family?”
Chandler feels that one like a blow to the solar plexus, because now he can’t ignore the truth or rationalize it away: Joey’s family is part of the Mafia. Chandler nods, slow and broken. “It never changed how I feel about you. It never made me like you any less.”
Joey seems to be thinking this over, his mouth a hard line. “How much of it was a lie?”
“Just my job. Everything else”—he feels his throat swell—“everything else is real.”
Joey huffs out an angry-sounding laugh. “Yeah, well, I trusted you once and look where it got me.” He turns to leave, but Chandler hurries to catch up with him and drag him back so they can talk this out, because this can’t be the end, right?
“Joey, Joey, please, just let me—I gave you my real name, okay? That should’ve been—” Chandler stops, swallows, the rest of that sentence choking off.
Joey tears himself out of Chandler’s grip. “Should’ve been what? Obvious that you were a Fed? We didn’t run a check on you because we trusted you! And you fucking knew it! You manipulated your way into our house, and you don’t even feel bad about it!”
“Yes, I do! I wanted to tell you the truth so many times, but I just couldn’t. I thought maybe by the time I couldn’t give them any more information, I’d know what was worth fighting for...”
Joey shakes his head, makes a harsh sound in his throat. “Well, let me make it easy for you.” He storms over to the door, opens it. Chandler doesn’t know why he’s not stopping Joey. “Maybe I’m not cut out to be an actor,” Joey says. “I could never lie to somebody about who I am like it was nothin’. I could never be such a good liar that I could make somebody fall in love with somebody that’s not even real.”
Joey’s words seem to steal the oxygen out of the air, because Chandler finds it hard to breathe. He lets Joey leave, unable to make his body respond and chase after him. The world feels unsteady beneath his feet, like the ground’s giving way.
Joey loves him.
Joey loved him. And Chandler fucked it up magnificently because he’s an idiot.
Chandler resurfaces from the dark cloud of his grief about two hours later. He still feels numb, as if he’s a stranger in his own body, and if he’s honest he doesn’t have a lot of motivation to do anything but wallow in misery. He thinks he should take a shower, but he’s hesitant to lose that much more of Joey so soon.
Chandler hears the phone ring in the kitchen. Once. Twice. He sighs and gets out of bed to answer it. The voice on the other end stuns him momentarily: “Hey, Bada-Bing, how’s it goin’?” It’s Mr. Tribbiani.
“Oh, um, fine, I guess,” he lies.
“I was just wonderin’... Have you seen Joe anywhere? He took off after the party. I figure maybe he told you where he was goin’.”
Chandler swallows thickly and buries himself in another lie. “He didn’t say anything to me. Maybe he spent the night with some girl.”
Mr. Tribbiani chuckles weakly. “Yeah, that sounds like Joe.” Chandler shuts his eyes in pain. “Listen, if you hear anything from ‘im, lemme know, alright? I’m gettin’ worried.”
Chandler nods, even though Mr. Tribbiani can’t see the gesture. “Yeah, of course.”
Somehow, it hurts more that Mr. Tribbiani still seems to trust him, oblivious to the truth. Chandler’s learned that there’s a good reason ties are said to bind; they seldom break cleanly. There’s always a couple of loose threads dangling in the wake of a separation. And those threads hurt like hell, painful reminders of what was lost. But Chandler doesn’t know if a quick, clean break would be any better.
He sits at the kitchen counter for a few silent moments after the phone call, struggling to find the emotional energy to go across the hall to Monica’s. It takes him ten minutes to finally get up and knock on the door.
Monica lifts an eyebrow when she sees him. “You know pants are still in fashion?”
He glances down, sort of horrified that he’s only clad in boxers and a t-shirt, but he’s having a bit of a life crisis right now, so being fully dressed isn’t on the top of his priorities list. “Oh, s—sorry.”
She smiles half-heartedly as she lets him inside. “Did something happen?”
He pushes a hand through his hair. “Exactly what I knew would happen. I’m an idiot,” he grinds out, falling into the nearest chair.
Monica comes over to him and takes his face in her hands. “No, you’re not, honey.”
“I’m in love with Joey.” It’s the first time he’s said it out loud, and it sounds destructive against the silence. He looks up at her. “I’m in too deep here, Mon. I knew it was gonna end up like this, but I just...”
Monica doesn’t say anything, just lays her hand on his shoulder as if it might siphon some of his pain.
“He found out. He—he knows”—Chandler feels his throat swell—“what I am.”
Monica sighs as if this revelation has devastated her too. “Oh, Chandler...”
Chandler sniffles. “You wanna know the worst part?”
“If you want to tell me.”
“The worst part is that he wasn’t just mad. He was crushed, like he might’ve...loved me. He was in love with me, and I blew it.”
Monica reaches for his hands, and he lets her take them. “How much do you have on his family?”
Chandler shrugs. “Nothing they couldn’t fight. I’ve been thinking about turning in the rest.” Monica gives him a horrified look. “What? He hates me already. I might as well make it worth my while.”
“Chandler, you can’t just give up! Look how hard you’ve worked for this.” Chandler tries to frown, but it falls apart on his face. “Give Joey a day or two to be upset, and then you can call him and try to work things out. But don’t just give up and betray him even more. Not when you haven’t tried your hardest to make this work.”
Chandler gives this a moment of thought.
Monica squeezes his hands. “If Joey loved you before he knew, he still does. He’s just confused and hurt right now. But he still loves you, Chandler. The worst thing you could do would be to hand over whatever evidence you have just because you feel like this is hopeless. He’ll never forgive you for that.”
Chandler nods numbly, bids her goodbye before heading back to his apartment. He hates just sitting idly by while Joey’s probably cursing him and telling his entire family that Chandler’s a traitor—no, worse: a Fed.
A little while later Chandler gets another call from Mr. Tribbiani. “Joey’s in trouble.” Chandler can hear the panic in his voice.
“Wh—what do you mean?”
Mr. Tribbiani sighs. “I got a call from Frankie; apparently, he’s been workin’ with a rival of ours. They got Joe. They want me and you to come ‘negotiate his release.’”
Chandler doesn’t know what part of that to focus on first. The fact that Joey’s been kidnapped seems first and foremost, but Chandler can’t help but notice his own involvement: “Me?”
“I don’t know why,” Mr. Tribbiani says, and Chandler can hear the way his voice wavers under his fear. “They’re gonna kill ‘im. You know that, right? I gotta do somethin’.”
“I’ll help you. I’ve got an idea. ”
Normally, he’d expect Mr. Tribbiani to laugh at that, because what could Chandler possibly do to help, but he doesn’t. “I’ll pick you up in ten.”
Chandler would have expected to be petrified at the prospect of assisting a mob boss in a murder, to be paralyzed with fear at the thought of Joey being in trouble. But he finds that he’s scarily calm instead, pulling on clean clothes with hands that aren’t shaking with fear. He grabs his gun out of the top drawer in his bedroom. Fully loaded. Chandler wonders if he’ll die during this mission. Maybe whoever’s got Joey will kill all of them. He’s terrified that the thought doesn’t scare him as much as it should.
He grabs a few more items and tosses them into a bag. Chandler meets Mr. Tribbiani downstairs and climbs into his car, tossing the bag into the backseat. The old man looks like hell, but then again Chandler doesn’t think anyone would look their best when their kid’s life is in danger. “How long ago did you get the call?” Chandler asks, all business as soon as he sits down.
“About thirty minutes ago. I was on my way here anyway. I wanted to drive around, see if I could find Joe around here, y’know?”
Chandler nods absently. “Who took him?”
“Frankie,” Mr. Tribbiani growls out. “Fuckin’ traitor.” Chandler shrinks a little in his seat. “He was workin’ with Mac the whole time.”
He really shouldn’t be throwing these names around so casually, considering that Chandler technically isn’t supposed to know who Mac is. “Mac Machiavelli?”
Mr. Tribbiani looks over at him. “Did Joe tell you?”
“In a matter of speaking,” Chandler says with a shrug. “What’s Mac want from you?”
“He wants me and my family to go in on a deal with him,” Mr. Tribbiani explains. Chandler can see the way he’s censoring himself in his head. “I said no, mostly ‘cause Joey objects to the whole thing.”
“And Frankie doesn’t like how you uphold Joey’s opinions, huh?” Chandler remembers the conversation he overheard on Thanksgiving between Joey and Frankie. Suddenly, that makes a lot more sense now.
Mr. Tribbiani gives a grim nod. “I guess he wants to try to take Joey out so he can start callin’ the shots.”
“So if he plans on killing him, why does he want us there?”
“Probably to knock us off too. Or maybe he’s crazy enough to try to make a deal. But it ain’t gonna last. There’s too much temptation to just whack us and take it all for himself.” His knuckles go white on the wheel. Chandler feels a knot of guilt in his stomach; Mr. Tribbiani’s already been betrayed by one person he trusted dearly. How’s he going to react when he hears another has abused that trust?
“So, what’s your plan, kid?” Mr. Tribbiani asks, in a way that’s much too fragile for Chandler’s liking. “You got somethin’ in that bag of yours that’s gonna save my son?”
“I’ll tell you in a minute. But”—he swallows back a lump in his throat—“I have to tell you something else first. And you have to promise that you’re not gonna kick me out of the car or shoot me until this is all over and Joey’s safe.”
“Shoot you?” Mr. Tribbiani laughs. “What, you gonna tell me this is all your fault?”
“Well, kind of,” Chandler admits guiltily. “I mean, it’s my fault Joey got kidnapped. We got into an argument, and he stormed out. If he had stayed....” He sighs, pushes a hand through his hair. There’s no point in stalling. If he’s going to get shot for this admission, he might as well just come out and say it. With the way his plan’s set up, that’s the most likely outcome anyway.
“Don’t beat yourself up,” Mr. Tribbiani says. “Joey’s a hot-head, just like his dad.” He laughs a humorless sound.
Chandler shakes his head, wets his lips. “He had a good reason. He—he learned that I lied to him.”
“About everything.” Chandler closes his eyes and says, “I’m a Federal Agent.”
Chapter 10: It Had to be You
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.