Summary: Seeing Joey, in some way, always feels like going home. Despite her quirks, she had loved living with Monica, but there was something about Joey's imperfect mess of an apartment that had made her feel warm and welcomed and...home. That's what Joey always feels like to her.
Disclaimer: I do not own Friends. At all. I wish but alas...
Author's Note: This is the first fic I've written in six months and the, like, third fic I've written all year, so bear with me if I'm a little rusty. I guess you could consider this a follow up to The Heart Where I Have Roots but you don't need to read that to read this. But if you want to, I'm not gonna stop you. ;)
Rachel lets out a deep sigh as she leaves her interview with Gucci. She had done her very best to sell herself, her experience, but the Paris opportunity she passed on had come up (again) and that had deflated her enthusiasm a great deal. She wants this job – it's for a wonderful company, has great pay, and it's the first time since that opportunity that she feels like she could once again do work that matters to her rather than the same old same old she had done for years. She feels like she had finally been moving forward only to have her mistake placed right back in front of her.
Now she doesn't know where she stands. She thinks the interviewer had liked her (but the more prominent a company the harder their higher-ups are to read) but she doesn't know how the Paris situation will play out. It has been a factor in a few other jobs she has applied for. Will it make them think she had a commitment problem? Will they choose to pass on her because of it? And how could she have very well explained herself? "I gambled my career on an already strained relationship that was not what I remembered and ended up being more painful to end than it had been any time before and now we’re both so exhausted and heartbroken that we can barely look at each other when we exchange our daughter every week". She could barely even think about it without bursting into tears. And crying in a job interview never works. Speeding tickets, though. That's another story.
What she really wants is a cup of coffee. She hasn't actually sat down in a coffee shop in such a long time. Without thinking, her feet steer her toward Central Perk. She stands in front of the doors of the sight of so many of the important moments of her life. Her first job in the city. The place where she had met her friends. Where her new life had begun. She hasn't been here in almost a year. They haven't been here all together in longer. She pauses with her hand on the door. She almost doesn't want to walk through and see the empty couch.
But she breathes deeply and walks inside and sure enough the couch isn't empty at all. There are people she's never seen before in her life on it, chatting with their coffee and appearing not to have a care in the world. She sighs fondly and sadly. They look young. They look fresh. They look like they had no idea they were living some of the best moments of their lives right now.
She walks up to the counter and set down her purse. "Can I get a coffee to go, please?" she asks the man behind the counter who is not Gunther. She saw Gunther in Central Park a few months ago. He had the same hair, but a deeper tan and what appeared to be a girlfriend and a dog. He had looked happy. In all the time she'd seen him in the coffee house, and worked with him there, he'd never really looked happy. She had felt so glad for him. He's a good person. He deserves that.
She smiles, turns, and there he is. Same warm smile, same everything. Same Joey. Except, his hair had gone a bit grey. But it suits him. It gives him a bit more...something. She walks to meet him and he envelopes her in his arms. It's been a little while since they've seen each other. A few months, in fact. After she had moved out of his place he had helped her move in to her new apartment, babysat Emma a few times when she went on job interviews. But then he got a big part on General Hospital and had less free time. And she had found a job back at Bloomingdales and her time had become split between that and her daughter.
In fact, they are all finding it hard to get together. Things have frayed between her and Ross to the point where they barely speak. Maybe they will get better over time, but she fears that history is not on their side. They can never be friends as they were and they can never be together as they were. So what are they now? Parents, she supposes, and that’s it. Mom there, Dad there. Just like her. She hadn't wanted that for Emma, but there's no other way.
She pushes her feelings down inside of her and offers Joey a smile. It's so good to see him. Seeing Joey, in some way, always feels like going home. Despite her quirks, she had loved living with Monica, but there was something about Joey's imperfect mess of an apartment that had made her feel warm and welcomed and...home. That's what Joey always feels like to her.
"How've you been?" he asks, brightly.
"I've been alright," she answers, patting him on the chest. "How about you Dr. Cab Taylor, you big TV star!"
He smiles. "Oh come on, Rach, it's not as big a part as Dr. Drake."
"Please, it's a better part than Drake. I still watch every day." And she does. Not just because of her surviving love of soap operas, but it's the way that she can see Joey. Even if he's pretending to be a spinal surgeon, his voice comes out of the television screen and it's like he's there with her. Emma sometimes hears him and comes running. She doesn't really understand what's going on but she likes seeing Joey. And so does Rachel.
"So, I saw you ordered a coffee. You heading out?"
She turns around and looks at her coffee to-go sitting on the counter. She blinks at it a few times before picking it up and turning around. "I guess I can stay for a while,” she says. Joey smiles and they turn around to find that the group of twenty-somethings have vacated the couch. It looks so empty now. Sad but familiar. She looks at Joey and she knows he feels it too.
"For old times’ sake?" he suggests. She smiles, walking around and sitting in the same seat she has sat in a thousand times, feeling like a completely different person. Joey sits down next to her and lets out a sigh.
"Wow," he says, with a kind of wonder.
She looks over at him and notices he's holding something. "I think this is my watch," he muses. Rachel looks down at the coach cushions that Joey had been rooting through. All these years later and his watch is still in there. What are the odds.
She starts to laugh. Only Joey could take a moment this depressing and bring her right back. She needs this. She needs this badly. "I wonder if any more of my stuff is down here," he says and Rachel sets down her coffee and pulls back the cushions, going on a mini treasure hunt with him.
It's the most fun she's had in a long time.
She knocks rapidly on the door. Open, open, open she insists every time her knuckles connect with wood. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," she hears from the other side of the door. She can’t help but smile. "Rach?" Joey rubs his eyes and finishes tying his robe. "What’re you doing here so early?"
"Joey, it's eleven thirty,” she tells him. Some things never change; Joey has always been a late sleeper. She remembers many times hearing a loud curse come from his room before he had bolted out his door and then out of the apartment with his backpack in his hand hoping he could make it to the audition he was late for. More often than not he couldn't, but you had to give him that at least he had tried.
"What's going on?" he asks, ushering her inside, blearily tying his robe.
"I got it!"
"The job at Gucci! I got it!"
"Oh my God, Rach. That's amazing." His smile is so genuine, so happy, that it makes her even happier. She had felt that way when she found out he had got the part on General Hospital. She wishes she could have been able to share that moment with him, but she's so grateful that he's here to share this moment with her.
He pulls her into a close hug that feels so warm and familiar. It feels like a lifetime ago but memory after memory come flooding back to her. She remembers this apartment, the apartment next door. How the best times of her life had been spent between these walls.
"I know, I can't believe it!" And a part of her really can't. But more than anything she feels gratified that she's finally getting back to where she used to be. Step by step, little by little. All she really hopes for now is to, one day, feel like herself again.
"Well, I can," Joey replies. "Come on, Rach, this is what you were meant to do. You know that."
"No buts, okay? It's like...when I was doing all of those crappy plays, then I got Days of Our Lives. Then I opened my big mouth and got killed off Days of Our Lives and I had to go back to doing crappy plays. Then I left to go to LA and that didn't work and I came back and now I'm on General Hospital." Rachel smiles. She gets the point Joey's making, but sometimes he just likes to talk about the good things he got to do with his career. She doesn't blame him. He did have to do a lot of crap before he got his dream. "The point is, I didn't give up. So when I got what I wanted, I knew I deserved it. And so do you. You always have."
"Thank you, Joey," she says. He pulls her into another hug and she closes her eyes. She wants to freeze this moment, when everything feels right after being so wrong for such a long time. "Oh!" He exclaims right in her ear and she flinches. "I know what we can do to celebrate!"
Suddenly he's rushing across the room and searching through the pocket of his jacket. That actually sounds good. A nice dinner, or drinks, maybe a show. It's been so long since she's seen something on Broadway. "Okay, sure," she agrees, happily. "What?"
Joey pulls something out of his pocket and holds it up so that she can see. "Knicks tickets!" he says, fanning them out and shaking them. The smile on his face is so big, so excited, so happy that she can't help but be moved. To Joey, there is no more ultimate celebration than going to see the Knicks play.
"Sounds great," she says, surprising herself with her own genuine enthusiasm. She's not going to have any idea what's going on, but she doesn't care. Joey will be there, and that's what she wants to most right now.
"Come on, Rach, why do I need a new couch? What's wrong with my old couch?"
"You mean besides the fact that it smells like stale pizza and not one but two birds, is brown when it used to be yellow, and has one leg that is now a stack of books?"
"Yeah," he answers, defiantly. Apparently Joey is still bad with change. Especially when it comes to his furniture. The only reason that he's even here is because she had forced him. She can't stand sitting on that couch anymore. "And you wouldn't even know that couch was yellow if you hadn't lived there!"
She gives him a look before shaking her head and moving on. "How about this one," she suggests. Joey stands next to her and gives her a look right back.
"I already have a brown couch," he replies, petulantly.
She rolls her eyes. "Fine," she says, then thinks back to the chair she had bought that they ended up having to share. Leather, she thinks. He'll like that. So she goes in search of a leather couch. But she had to pick one that was right for Joey's place, not something that looked like it belonged in those New York lofts you see in movies where everything is black and chrome with floor to ceiling windows.
"Ooo, what about this one!" she calls to him, finding one that looked right a ways away from the brown coach. She sits down as he approaches her, holding her arms out and smiling at her find. Joey looks at her, then the couch, then her in that way that he does when he doesn't want to admit that she's right. "Oh, come on, sit." She says, reaching for his hand and pulling him down next to her.
She looks at him and waits. Joey is stubborn but eventually he comes around. "I guess it's alright," he replies. She smiles. He looks over at her and leans his head back. "Do I really have to get rid of the couch?"
"Joey, that couch is growing things," she answers.
"Yeah, I know, but..."
He stops, then looks a bit past her. She recognizes that look. She's given herself that look in the mirror. Somehow, it's even more upsetting seeing it on Joey's face. "But what, sweetie?" she asks, reaching out and touching his cheek. He looks back at her and then sighs.
"It's just...we had to take apart the foosball table when Monica and Chandler moved. Then my bed broke. Then Stevie died. It's just..." He shakes his head. "That couch is the last thing Chandler and I bought together. If I get rid of it, it's like admitting that part of my life is really over, you know?"
Rachel smiles sadly. "I know," she answers, because she does. "But, Joey, Chandler is always gonna be your best friend. He'll always be in your life. You don't need to keep his stuff when you have him."
"Joey, come on, of course you do. Just because he doesn't live in the next room? Or across the hall?" She shakes her head. "Things have changed, a lot, but not that much. Your couch is not Chandler. Neither was the foosball table or the TV. And certainly not your bed."
"But things are never gonna be like they were, are they?"
He sighs and lays back against the couch. After a few moments of thought she can't help but do the same. She stares off into the distance and tries to find the will to lie; to herself and to Joey. She wants to close her eyes and pretend that this is the couch in the coffee house, and that they're all together again, laughing and having a good time.
A sadness settles on both of them, the kind of sadness that comes from knowing that a part of your life has passed you by. Probably the best part.
"Let's get the couch," Joey says. Rachel closes her eyes and pretends.
Walking through the front door of Joey's apartment, Rachel finds that she still doesn't know what to say. She hadn't known exiting the church, she hadn't known the whole cab ride back here, and she doesn't know now. It does give her a bit of comfort, however, to note that Joey doesn't seem to know what to say either.
"Um," is all he manages after a few moments. Rachel sits down in the chair she bought all those years ago and looks at him. She opens her mouth but there's still nothing. He shakes his head a few times. "I'm sorry?"
"No, no, there's nothing to be sorry for Joey, come on," she says, shaking her head. She stands up and walks over to the counter where he is standing.
"I didn't tell them that or anything, you know that right?"
They had just come from the christening of yet another Tribbiani. Joey's third youngest sister'd had a new baby boy and he had invited Rachel to come along in an effort to give her some company, as Ross had Emma and she had been feeling lonely. It had been a beautiful service, but things turned awkward for the both of them when they had gone to a family gathering afterward and Joey's entire family had assumed that they were dating. And they had both found themselves unable to summon up the courage to correct them.
"Do we...do we have to talk about this?" Rachel asks.
Joey stammers a bit the replies, "Is there anything to talk about?"
This somehow feels more awkward than being peppered with questions about how long they've been together and how serious they are from Joey's entire (huge) family. They had brushed it off as politely as possible at the time, but now...Rachel can't help but feel like there's something hanging in the air between them. She doesn't know what it is, but it's...something.
"I guess not," she says, unsurely. "It's just...we used to hang out every day and no one ever thought that about us before."
"Well, technically we did date for, like, a week," Joey points out, but she thinks it's more to avoid the topic at hand than anything. The truth is, they hardly ever talk about that. A lot had changed between them when Joey had fallen in love with her. After something like that, it could never truly be the way it was before. She lives with that every day. She doesn't want to hurt him any more by bringing it up.
"Joey." He sighs and walks past her into the living room. She stands by the counter looking at the door. She turns around to face him. "What are we doing?"
"We're friends, Rach," he answers. "Like we've always been."
Rachel nods a few times. That makes sense. Except... "Joey, what if we had tried harder?"
"What do you mean?"
She knows it's an unfair question, that maybe she's crossing a line that she can't go back over, but she suddenly has to ask. She suddenly has to know. "Do you ever think about what it would have been like...if you and I had actually...been something? If we could have...if we'd..." She sighs. "Do you think about it?"
The silence comes rushing back in as Joey tries to figure out what to say. "Rachel..."
She takes a few steps closer to him. "Please," she says. She doesn't know why, but she needs to know.
He sighs. "Of course I do, Rach," he answers.
As much as she had wanted the answer, when she hears it she feels all of the breath go out of her. She doesn't know quite why, but that something that's been hanging in the air, she thinks this might be it.
The question takes her by surprise. But not nearly as much as her answer. "Yes."
So, what does that mean? Rachel doesn't know. But she knows it isn't simple. It has never been simple with them. There have always been so many obstacles, so many other things to consider. Other people. But things have changed. They're older now. Wiser – in theory. So, what if it was different this time? What if they weren't wrong? What if they'd simply always had bad timing? What if?
"So, then...what are we doing?" Joey asks, after a long, long time.
Rachel shakes her head. "I don't know," she answers. And she really doesn't.
"Well...do you wanna keep doing it?"
She remembers Barbados. She remembers kissing him and how it had felt so good. Like coming alive again. Having feelings for someone – no matter who – was always such a rush. It was a high you never wanted to come down from and one that Rachel hadn't felt in a long time at that point in her life. And even at this point in her life. Was that what she was feeling? Would it be different to kiss Joey now? Or would it feel like it had felt then? Exhilarating and new but somehow still warm and familiar.
After all that they have been through before, after all that has changed since, and all that they've done together recently. After all the times he had been the rock of her life, helped raise her child and always, always been her friend, her best friend, could this work? Was she brave enough to try again? Was that even fair to Joey, who had always been many steps ahead of her?
But in the end, she has to look into her heart. And what she feels is that there stands before her a man who has been devoted to her in a way that she could never repay him for. A man who has always had her best interests in mind. A man who picked her back up, time and time again when she thought she would never stand again. When she looks at him now, she sees him for the man that he has become and she thinks to herself that, in this moment, she loves him so much. And she very much wants to kiss him.
"Yes," she answers, finally, sure.
"So...what do we do now?"
There are still so many things to consider, so many people who will have something to say, and they will have to deal with that one way or another. But not today. Today is for them; today is about them and what they want. And right now, she wants to kiss Joey. So she does. And it feels just like it did before. Something deep inside of her gut awakens and it radiates through her body. Joey had brought her back to life once, but she feels that he may be doing it again. Or maybe she's bringing herself back to life, doing what she wants to do, thinking about what she wants from her life and going for it.
She holds onto Joey and he holds her back and all question and doubt and thought about what they will have to deal with in the future fly from her mind. Because she had been right. This was the something. And all of the somethings it could go on to be. So what do they do now?
"We go forward," she answers. Because it's all that she can do. And she's beginning to see that she wants Joey there with her when she does. And she thinks that's what he wants too.
"Okay," he answers, leaning his forehead against hers.
She breathes in and then out. Forward...she thinks. She's moving forward. Finally.
So I would choose to be with you
As if the choice were mine to make
But you can make decisions too
And you can have this heart to break
And so it goes, and so it goes
And you're the only one who knows