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For someone to ripple the waters

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It starts when everyone thinks Chandler is gay.

He pretends like it’s funny, but it’s not. It’s terrifying. It’s his friends, looking at him and saying, that thing you try your damn best to hide in order to feel safe? We see it. We see it even when you don’t want us to.

Maybe it would have been fine if it hadn’t been for his dad. Maybe it would have been all okay if not for the fact that he got traumatised, back there, that he thought he had a happy family and lost it. That his dad loved someone else and wasn’t, in fact, in love with his mum. Never had been, actually, and didn’t care enough to stay, either

He tells the gang about it at Thanksgiving. Joey already knows, of course, and Ross does, too, but the girls don’t. He wins the game of who had the worst Thanksgiving. It’s nothing but a small mercy when he lost everything else.

He’s fine, though, he tells himself. He’s dealing with it. He’s dating girls, and using the excuse that he’s bad at it when Joey asks him why he never brings anyone home anymore. He’s fine.

That is, until Joey kisses him at New Year’s, and everything changes.

*

“Hey,” Joey says, coming out of his bedroom. Messy hair, fuzzy robe, just awoken and all. Chandler is already sitting at the kitchen counter, eating his cereal and drinking his juice.

“Hey,” he says, and watches as Joey goes into the fridge to pull out some milk for himself as he prepares his own breakfast. “What are you doing today? Audition?”

“Yes,” Joey says. He sits down across from Chandler, already grinning. “Listen to this: Cabdriver.” He looks off into the distance as if he’s imagining something grand. “Number one.”

“Wow,” Chandler says. Smiling. “Number one. Things are happening for you, huh?”

Joey rolls his eyes.

“No, I mean it,” Chandler presses. “That’s great.” Joey shrugs. “Have you got any lines?”

“Three.”

“Nice.”

“Yeah. And I’m going to have to react to the main characters making out in my taxi, so there’s even a bit of emoting in there.”

“Well,” Chandler says. “I’ll be crossing my fingers for you all day, man.”

Joey smiles.

“Thanks,” he says, with the sweetest sincerity. Chandler knows he’s not good at saying things out loud, but if Joey is going to keep looking surprised whenever Chandler gives him a compliment like they’re all news to him, then dammit he’s going to learn to.

He’d do anything for Joey, is the thing. It’s not until lately that that’s been a problem.

He can’t have been more than fourteen, the first time he looked at a boy and thought, oh. Looked at a boy, then, and thought, oh, shit, but not in the good way. It was the 80s, after all. Someone called him the f word before he'd even had a chance to hold a boy's hand, his dad left with another man, and the people who were like him were dying on TV every night while the rest of the world said they deserved it. So he'd held his oh, shit tight, cradled it in his arms, and done nothing. Not even a drunken kiss at a party. Not even, goddammit, not even a drunken kiss at a New Year’s Eve party. Not until Joey.

Is it really a wonder, then, that Chandler is a little bit in love with him?

He’s trying to deal with it. Trying to deal with having to see him looking like this, now, all sleep-rumpled and soft, smiling like he means it. He’s trying to deal with seeing him fresh out of the shower, water dripping down his chest, and he’s trying to deal with spending evenings with him, and mornings with him, and even goddamn afternoons, without trying to reach over and take his hand.

It’s hard.

He wishes he could be in denial. Maybe he was, back in the beginning, and it was nice. It wasn’t this, anyway. It wasn’t excruciating like this is, because he wants Joey, but he can’t have him, and it’s not just because Joey doesn’t want him back.

“What are you doing today?” Joey asks. He always does. Cares, so much. The lighting is soft from the dawn outside, and Chandler remembers this, too, the first time he saw a boy look like that and got to feel what it’s like to have someone reach into your chest and steal your breath away.

“You know,” he says. “Moving numbers from one column to the next, and moving numbers from the next column and back. Exciting stuff.”

Joey chuckles.

“Well, have fun with that,” he says, grinning, and Chandler loves it when he looks like that.

“Oh, yeah. How could I not?”

Joey smiles some more. He’s still smiling when he waves Chandler, suit and all, out of the door. It’s a good morning. Chandler smiles throughout the whole day, even when his boss tries to make him do more work than he can possibly finish within a reasonable hour, smiles until he’s home again and, then, smiles even as one of them throws their keys to their table and it breaks.

There’s a bit of bickering about what they’re going to do about it, but then Chandler finds himself in a furniture store, Joey by his side, arguing like a couple over whether or not they should get garden furniture or the ornamented kind, and then they see it. The foosball table.

Joey’s face lights up for it, and Chandler feels his heart leaping out of his chest and after him. Feels everything ache a little bit, with longing, because he’s so pretty when he’s excited, and because Chandler doesn’t know how it’s possible to know Joey without loving him.

It’s a commitment. A commitment which makes Chandler feel a little guilty, because he thinks it means something else to him than it does to Joey, and because it feels a bit like leading him into something without telling him the whole truth.

But he can’t say it.

Men don’t tell other men they want to spend their life with them. And, even if they did, Chandler doesn’t.

*

Sometimes, though, men must tell other men that they’re good people. One of those times is now. Because Joey finds out that his dad is cheating.

They sleep together on the couch. Chandler has a hard time surviving the fact that Joey is threatening to take his clothes off. Not that he hasn’t seen Joey naked before. He tries not to think about it.

It doesn’t matter, anyway. Because Joey is scared that he won’t manage to be loyal, and Chandler wants to take his face between his hands and tell him that he’s the most loyal, most kind person Chandler has ever met. And Joey is. He’s sincere, he’s achingly sweet. He’s considerate. Chandler’s whole body hurts when he thinks about Joey ever doubting himself, or, worse, Joey ever thinking of himself as a bad person capable of hurting other people intentionally. Look at you, he wants to say. Don’t you see yourself? You’re the best person the world has ever seen, and it’s killing me.

He wants to tell him other things, too, like, I’d trust you with my heart, but he’d be lying. It’s not Joey’s fault. Chandler just isn’t that brave of a person, and he never has been.

He doesn’t quite say anything like that. But he tells Joey that he believes in his ability to do the right thing because fuck being brave, Joey needs to know this. And anything Joey needs to know, Chandler will tell him.

“It’s incredible,” Joey says, when they’re almost asleep. “Sometimes I think you see me better than anyone else.”

They’ve turned the lights off, so Chandler can’t see him, but he can feel his presence right here, right next to him on the bed. Both of them on their backs. Joey’s breath ghosting over his neck because he’s turned his head to the side on his pillow to try and watch him anyway.

Chandler knows he’ll have to wake up first tomorrow and extract himself from where he’ll be holding Joey, if he knows his body right. His body, the betrayer, always letting things out that he wants to stay inside.

“Well,” he says, into the night. “I do see you a lot.”

He feels the breath of Joey’s chuckle on his skin. It’s a small pleasure. One that he can allow himself. He closes his eyes.

“Sometimes, though,” Joey says then, and the chuckle is not in his voice. Instead, he sounds almost sad. “Sometimes I feel like you’re the only one who doesn’t see me at all.”

“What?” Chandler says. He almost chuckles, because it’s a weird thing to say, out of nowhere, but Joey seems oddly serious about it. “Did I say something wrong?”

“No,” Joey says. He still sounds sad. Chandler doesn’t know what to do about it. Not when he’s too much of a coward to even turn around and face Joey right now, looking him in the eyes. “Everything you said was nice.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

Joey sighs. Chandler hears it, loud in the quiet of the night.

“Nothing,” Joey says. “Forget about it.”

“But–“

“Just go to sleep, Chandler.” The duvet rustles, as Joey turns away. “Just go to sleep.”

When Chandler wakes up in the morning, it’s with his arms around Joey, and Joey cuddling into him, breath on his neck. He pulls away. Slowly, careful not to wake Joey. He has a shower. And when he gets back out, Joey is sitting at the kitchen counter, eating his cereal.

“Morning,” he says. It’s almost as cheery as normal. Chandler isn’t going to probe about last night. He’s going to take this small mercy and run with it.

“Morning,” he says. “Did you just wake up?”

Joey looks at him. Then he looks away.

“Yeah,” he says. “You were already gone when I did.”

Chandler nods. He can’t shake the feeling that it’s a lie.

*

They don’t talk about it. What is there to talk about, really? Hey, remember when you told me that I don’t see you? Hey, remember how you said that, and it made me worry, and it also made me sad, because you don’t understand how much I see because of how much I’m always looking. Because you don’t understand how you’re everything I want to know.

No.

Of course they can’t talk about that. So they don’t.

Instead, Joey keeps dating. It’s still women – of course, of course it is, why wouldn’t it be? – and it’s still sporadically, despite the conversation they had about his dad. Chandler doesn’t think a lot about it. That’s a lie, but he tells it to himself anyway. He doesn’t think a lot about it.

He’s lucky to have the excuse that he’s bad at dating, to get out of it. And he wants to get out of it. It’s exhausting, and he never likes any of the women, anyway. He didn’t before he met Joey, either. That’s another thing he tells himself he doesn’t think about.

So: Joey dates, and Chandler doesn’t, but then one day Joey wants him to go on a double date, and Chandler can’t imagine many things more torturous than watching Joey sweet-talk someone else, but he goes along anyway. Because he’s a masochist. And because it’ll make Joey happy.

His date turns out to be Janice.

She’s not much. She’s not what he really wants. But she’s safe, and she’s kind to him, and somehow Chandler thinks maybe she knows, because she never pushes him to say more than he wants to. She never pushes him beyond his limits, never makes him talk, and he appreciates that, even though he’s pretty sure it’s not a good recipe for a relationships meant to last.

It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t want this to last. But he wants to be less lonely for one night.

So he takes her home.

Joey grins at him the next day, slapping his back like a man does, and shakes him excitedly. He plays along, because it’s nice to see Joey like this, and it’s airborne, anyway. So there they are, grinning at each other, touching each other’s chests.

“Maybe finally you’ll cease being moody all the time,” Joey says, and Chandler kind of wants to laugh.

“Oh, no,” he says. “You’ve got it the wrong way. Moodiness is just my personality-type.”

“Yeah-yeah,” Joey says, rolling his eyes and letting go of his arms. He settles down at the kitchen counter. Janice is still in the next room, but Chandler wants to stay right here, with Joey, looking sleep-rumpled like this. “Are you back together now, or what?”

“Me and Janice?” Chandler says. “I really don’t know, man. She’s Janice.”

“Nice observation.”

Chandler rolls his eyes, and sits down across from Joey at the counter.

“What about you?” he says, changing the subject.

“Me and Janice?”

“No, idiot, you and the woman you wanted to meet so badly it started this whole thing.”

“We had sex,” Joey says.

“You don’t say,” Chandler says. He thinks about Joey having sex. He stops thinking about it. “I meant, are you going to keep seeing her?”

“Oh,” Joey says. “Yeah.” Chandler’s heart stops. “For the next two weeks.”

“Oh–“ Chandler says. He hates that he feels relieved. “What happened to the whole loyalty thing?”

“Don’t be rude,” Joey says. “She’s going on a job abroad and flying out then.”

He doesn’t look sad about it, but Chandler feels bad.

“Sorry,” he says.

“It’s okay,” Joey says. “If she wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t have stayed with her, anyway.”

“Okay,” Chandler says. “That’s not what I meant, though. I just meant sorry for assuming–”

“You worry too much,” Joey says. “It’s okay.”

“I’m not staying with Janice,” Chandler says. Because he can’t say any of the things he really wants to say, like, Ever since you kissed me I feel like I’m stepping wrong most of the time and I don’t know how to fix it, or like, if you felt the same and you took the first step, maybe I’d let you.

Joey looks at him. Then away.

“Okay,” he says.

It could mean anything, and therefore it means nothing.

“Okay.”

*

He doesn’t stay with her. In fact, he breaks back up with her quite soon after that. But Joey. Joey doesn’t break up with the girl he saw, not before the two weeks are up. In fact, he takes her back home instead, and then he has sex with her right on the other side of Chandler’s bedroom wall.

He goes to Monica’s, bringing his duvet, and settles down on her couch. Not long after, she comes out for a glass of water.

“Hi, honey,” she says, when she sees him. Chandler hums non-committedly in her direction, as she makes her way to the kitchen. “What are you doing here?”

“Got kicked out by the sex noises,” he says.

She chuckles a little. Then comes over to the end of the couch, where his feet are. He lifts them, and puts them into her lap. She looks at him, tilting her head like she sees something in his eyes, or his expression, and his being here. He hates her a little for it.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

“Why wouldn’t I be okay?”

She shrugs.

“I don’t know, Chandler. I really don’t. But you can tell me if you’re not.”

“Thanks,” he says. “But I think I’m better suited with Phoebe’s therapist ex if I want to have uncomfortable truths about myself dug out of the darkness of my repressed brain.”

“Not everything has to be funny,” she says. And Chandler is just about ready to go back into his own flat.

“Not everything has to be sad,” he counters.

She shrugs again. Then she smiles.

“Okay,” she says, shift in her tone like she’s changing the subject. “Can you sleep? Because if not, there’s some particularly riveting television on the infomercial channel right now.”

She’s too perceptive of him. Sometimes he hates it. Right now he doesn’t mind.

“How did you know that’s exactly what I wanted?” he says. He shifts into an upright position, and pulls her in, so they’re settled together. They’re sharing the blanket.

“Because,” she says, turning the telly on. “I know you.”

*

Joey keeps having sex with the woman. Chandler keeps having to listen to it. It’s torturous, but survivable. Everything about it is. That is, until Rachel has a sex dream about them.

“That was funny, what Rachel said earlier,” Joey says, when they get back to their apartment that night.

Why, Chandler thinks, why, oh why, would you want to bring that up. Why can’t you just stay quiet for once and let me go through this in peace. Why do you have to talk about everything, why do you have to notice me, why do you have to be so tragically unobtainable, why do you have to prove to me again and again and again that you’d be nice if you figured it out, that you’d be supportive of it. Why do you have to seem like you already know, like you’re placating me, or giving me pity? Why do you have to be so kind all the time? Why can’t you just be an asshole?

“Oh, let’s not talk about it,” he says. “Ross will kill us.”

Joey looks at him, long and hard.

“Wouldn’t it be funny?” he says. “If that was something we did?”

Funny, Chandler thinks, there’d be nothing funny about it, but there’s a searching expression on Joey’s face, and he’s too close. Way too close to the truth. Chandler has never hated him more.

“No,” he says. He doesn’t even bother to make up a joke. Joey’s face shifts.

“I didn’t mean funny as in a laughing matter,” he says. “I didn’t mean funny as in wrong.”

Chandler walks out of the room before Joey can say anything else.

He kind of wants to cry. He never cries. But that night, sitting on his bed with his face in his hands, he tells himself he can be allowed a single tear. Just one.

He breaks his own promise. There’s more than one.

The next morning, when he wakes up, Joey is already gone. But there’s a message on the board by the door. “Funny,” it says. “Synonyms: Interesting. New. Weird. Confusing. Antonyms: Wrong.”

Chandler erases it with the hem of his sleeve.

Funny, he tells himself. Synonyms: Sexy. Terrifying.

Right.

*

Ben is born. For a while, everything is okay.

Chandler loves the child. Maybe that’s weird, since he’s not really that into kids, and this one isn’t even his, but he has that new baby smell and he’s just so sweet when he wraps his little fingers around Ross’s thumb.

They sit in Monica’s living room, and watch it with fond smiles on their faces. He squeezes Monica close, because he knows she loves Ben, too, and he knows how utterly overwhelming it is. When he looks up, he catches Joey’s eye. They smile at each other. And, right there, Chandler doesn’t feel pained about it at all.

Not long after, Joey comes out of his room, ready for work at the mall, dressed top to toe in cowboy gear. Chandler has a hard time not laughing.

“Morning, good-looking,” he says, trying not to snort his cereal milk out of his nose.

“It’s that other guy,” Joey says. “The Hombre Man. He’s so good they want to add people to his team.”

“So you decided to dress up and duel him to the death?”

Joey sends him a look, walking past him to grab a bowl for himself, before he sits down across from him at the counter.

“Ha–ha,” he says.

Chandler hands him the cereal. Joey is frustrated about it, Chandler can see it. He can see right through him, most of the time, so he sees this, too.

“Hey,” he says. “I’m certain that he’s got nothing on you.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Oh, yeah. Maybe you should duel him to the death.”

“Very funny,” Joey says. “Isn’t it you who always says I’m impressionable. Do you really want this on your conscience?”

“What? Your pride, preserved?”

Joey rolls his eyes but he’s smiling. Maybe there’s a bit of flirting to this, but it doesn’t hurt. It’s nice. Chandler smiles, too.

“Do you want me to come save you?” he goes on. “You’d make a nice damsel in distress.”

“Weren’t you just heading out the door?”

“Nope.”

“Well, maybe you should.”

Chandler grins. Joey grins, too. And God, he’s missed this. Maybe Joey can’t be his lover, but Joey is his best friend. Chandler wants to do more to make sure that doesn’t get lost along the way.

“Okay, big boy,” he says, getting up to put his bowl in the sink. “Be a good cowboy today. I’ll see you tonight.”

Joey grimaces at him, but he’s clearly amused.

“Bye-bye now,” he says. Chandler heads to the door, and opens it.

“Bye,” he calls, as it closes behind him.

When he comes back home, he draws Joey a cowboy on the board by the door, just because he knows it’ll make Joey smile. It’s a good day.

*

Then Mr. Heckles dies.

Chandler looks through his high school yearbook, and he sees all of the right words. Funny. Class clown. Broke up with girls over nothing, and spent his life alone. It might as well have said gay. It doesn’t. But Chandler knows what it means.

He’s good at repressing things. It’s what he does. But sometimes he thinks about how he’s in his mid-twenties, in the closet, digging himself deeper into it every day, like a grave, as if he’s trying to burry himself alive.

He talks to the girls about it, ice cream and sweatpants, but they don’t really understand. It’s not about commitment at all, it’s about bravery, and he doesn’t have that.

When he goes back to the apartment, Joey is still there, sitting on the couch with his feet up, watching the television on low volume.

“I thought you’d be sleeping,” Chandler says. Joey shifts and looks over his shoulder, meeting his eye. He smiles.

“Couldn’t,” he says. “What’s with you?”

“Oh, this?” Chandler gestures to his sweatpants and the tub of ice-cream, still in his hand. “It’s a new look I’m trying out.”

Joey rolls his eyes. Chandler joins him on the couch.

“What are you watching?”

“I don’t know, the program changed to a nature one while I wasn’t paying attention. It’s something Ross would like.”

“Sounds bad.”

“It is.”

They smile at each other. Like it’s something they do together. That thought makes Chandler’s breath get stuck in his throat.

Sometimes, on nights like these, it feels like it could all just be so easy. He could do this: sit on the couch with Joey, watching television late into the night, pressing into his side with his own. Comb a hand through that hair of his. Maybe even press a kiss to it. Sometimes it feels like it’s not so far away. Like it wouldn’t be so scary to come out. After all, the step isn’t that far.

“So? What’s with you?” Joey asks. Quieter, this time.

“Just had a bit of a panic about Mr. Heckles,” Chandler says. He’s been honest with the girls already. It’s not like Joey won’t find out.

“Oh?” Joey says. “You’re scared of becoming noise-hating, like him?”

“More like scared of being alone, like him.”

Joey’s face falls a little. But then he smiles.

“You’re not alone,” he says. “You won’t be.” He finds Chandler’s eyes, looking straight at him. “You have me.”

He means as a friend. But right then, that’s okay. Love, Chandler thinks sometimes, like a goddamn cliché. Love will tear us apart. It happened with Kip, in some unspoken never-really-was-but-could-have-been way, and it happened with this boy he knew in high school, too, and kept from everyone even though they never kissed or said it out loud. Joey isn’t either of them, though. Joey is his best friend. And in that moment, Chandler thinks maybe it won’t.

“Thanks, Joe,” he says. Again, they smile at each other. “I know.”

Not long after, they’re taking care of Ben, and when that woman mistake them for a couple, and when Chandler gets to draw Joey in close in front of that guy, calling him his partner, it feels easy. And it feels good. But most of all it feels not so scary anymore.

Phoebe gets a boyfriend who won’t put out, and Joey suggests that maybe he’s gay, which means that being gay is on his radar. Ross and Rachel finally make up and kiss, and, again, Chandler gets to put an arm around Joey and draw him in, as both of them smile fondly at their friends, and things are looking up.

So, when Phoebe wants to go see her dad, Chandler suggests he and Joey come with her. And here they are, now, sitting in the back of her cab, alone in the dark together, side by side.

“You cold?” Joey asks, in the dark.

“As a person? Yes.”

Joey smiles. Chandler thinks it’s a pretty smile. Always has.

“No, I’m fine,” he says. “Are you cold?”

“No, I’m fine.”

Chandler grins.

“Glad we established that.”

“Hm.”

There’s something so soft about him today. Something not quite like it usually is. Maybe something vulnerable. Something honest. Navigating stuff like this is still difficult, for Chandler. When he was younger, he thought it might get better, and to a certain extend it has. But sometimes, everything is still just confusing.

“It’ll be nice for Phoebe to see her dad, won’t it?” Joey says.

He wants to talk tonight. Chandler thinks he just might be the loveliest person alive, sitting here, softly, trying to have a conversation and share himself. So Chandler indulges him.

“It will,” he says. Joey nods.

“Do you ever miss yours?” he asks.

Oh. Chandler is quiet for a moment. Joey doesn’t say anything.

“Well, it’s not like he’s dead,” Chandler says. “I could just see him if I wanted to.”

Joey sighs.

“Doesn’t mean you can’t miss him.”

“Is this just because Phoebe is seeing her dad? Do you want to talk about yours, too?”

“No.” Joey shrugs. “I don’t want to talk about anything you don’t want to talk about. I was just asking.”

Outside, cars drive by. Their headlights reflect in the rain-wet asphalt. Chandler isn’t cold at all, in fact. It’s warm in here. And he’s has always loved winter in New York, but there are times like these, looking at Joey’s face in the moonlight, where he wants just a little bit to move to the front seat and drive them off somewhere. To the countryside, maybe. To somewhere where it’s just the two of them.

“I do miss him,” he says. Joey looks at him. “He left us, though.”

Joey assesses him for a moment.

“Would you have felt this way if he’d left for another woman?” he asks.

It’s not the sympathy that Chandler expected. He could get mad at that, and on another day maybe he would, but Joey is looking so warm, and so gentle, all bundled up, so he doesn’t.

“I don’t know,” he says, instead. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

Joey watches him. Smiles a little.

“Anyway, it’s a cliché, isn’t it? Daddy left me so I’ve got issues. I just need to be an angrier boss, and fight a bit more, and I’ve got it in the bag.”

“You’ve never fought anyone.”

“Can’t even do that right, can I?”

Joey almost smiles. Not like it’s funny, but like he cares. Not in the bad way, the way Monica smiles at him sometimes. The way his mum does. The way Joey does, too, occasionally. The way that makes Chandler want to tell them to leave him alone or bite their heads off. But a nice one. One that makes Chandler smile back.

“How much do you hate that Phoebe’s therapist boyfriend was right?” Joey asks.

“So much,” Chandler says.

Joey laughs. They laugh together. This doesn’t feel so bad.

They sit in silence for a while after that. Joey looks out the window of the car, streetlamp light hitting his cheekbones just right, like he’s trying to find his light even when he isn’t acting. On the seat between them, their knuckles almost touch.

“Chandler?” Joey says, then. He’s gentle. He’s turned his head back, to catch Chandler’s eye.

“Yeah?” Chandler says.

“I think you should allow yourself to be happy.”

Chandler swallows, but that’s all the reaction he has. No shock. It’s like Joey has peeled back his skin and had a look inside, deep inside of his brain, but Chandler’s noticed him doing it. So he’s not surprised. And he snorts, but he’s gentle when he speaks:

“What kind of bullshit is that?” he says, almost fondly. Because the cloak of the night makes fondness okay. The cloak of the night allows their knuckles to almost touch, and allows Joey to look directly at Chandler’s heart, without Chandler running away. “You’re crazy, you know that? Who says I’m not happy? Maybe I am.”

“Maybe you are,” Joey agrees. “You don’t have to lie to me, though.”

Chandler looks at him.

“You’re crazy,” he says.

“You already said that.”

Chandler, despite himself, smiles.

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

They sit in silence. Joey is looking out of the window again, at the cars driving be. He seems almost deliberate about it, like he’s giving Chandler space on purpose. It’s that, and the fact that he saw something in Chandler, and didn’t run away, the fact that he said it out loud, and nothing was ruined – that’s what makes Chandler able to speak.

“Joe?” he says.

“Yes?” Joey says.

“How much do I hate that you’re right?”

Joey laughs. Chandler laughs a little, too.

“So much?” Joey asks.

“So much,” Chandler confirms.

They laugh some more.

“Joe?” Chandler says then. Joey is looking at him again. And Chandler trusts him, trusts him with his whole heart, so he’ll trust him with this, too.

“Yeah?”

“I think I might be gay.”

It feels like something breaks. He’s never said those words out loud before, not even to himself at night, or in the mirror when he’s alone. Not even in his own head, in his own bed. Not to anyone. But now he’s said it to the boy he’s in love with.

Joey watches him, and smiles.

“I’ll stop setting you up with women, then,” he says. And of course it’s this easy, of course it is. When has anything with him and honesty not been easy? When has he ever not been understanding?

“Thank you,” Chandler says, anyway.

“Don’t say thank you, I’m your friend.”

“Some friends are homophobic.”

“No,” Joey says. Looking straight into his eyes. Like this is important to him. “If they are, they’re not friends.”

Chandler looks at him. Then he nods.

“Okay,” he says.

Joey nods, too.

“Alright.”

They stop talking after that. But Chandler feels like he’s been wearing shackles for years, and like he just got to take them off. Maybe just for five minutes, he doesn’t know yet, but they’re gone. And he can breathe again. And he can feel how much it’s wrecked his body, and how tired he is.

The cars outside keep driving by. Chandler watches Joey watching them until his eyes drop closed, and he falls asleep.

When he wakes up his and Joey’s hands are intertwined on the seat between them. He doesn’t pull his hand away, and Joey doesn’t either, and he doesn’t know what that means, but when he goes to bed that night, he’s no longer carrying any weight other than that of his own body.

*

Joey introduces himself as an actor the first time the two of them meet, and Chandler doesn’t think much about it then, but that’s before he gets to know him. That’s before he sees the passion in Joey’s eyes when he talks about his craft, hidden slightly behind a veil of fake nonchalance, but burning in a way that’s both strong and persistent.

He auditions for Day’s of Our Lives, and he’ll get it, for sure. But only if he sleeps with the casting director.

That’s where they’re at now. And Chandler finds it difficult to know what to do. Because the idea of someone else’s hands getting to touch Joey’s soft, paper-thin skin makes him want to claw his own skin off, but it’s Joey’s career. It’s Joey’s dreams.

It’s not like it’s up to him, anyway. It’s not like they are anything, other than friends who live together, other than people who share their mornings and their nights. So it shouldn’t be up to him. But that night, after he’s been thinking about it all day, Joey drinks enough beer to get a little tipsy, and sits on the couch, asking him what he thinks he should do.

“Maybe you should ask someone who’s had good sex in their life, so they’ll be able to make a better pro/con analysis,” Chandler says.

“You’ve never had good sex?” Joey says. He looks so startled it’s almost amusing. His hair, falling in his face, is a bit messy with the way he’s running his hands through it because he’s drunk, and because it’s late, and because he’s tired, probably.

“I’ve only had sex with women,” Chandler says.

He watches it, as the correlation dawns on Joey, and smiles. Joey smiles, too, a private little thing.

“Well,” he says. “There was that guy at your workplace, wasn’t there?”

Chandler tries not to let his smile get strained. None of them have talked about the hand-holding, and it hasn’t happened again either, but Chandler thinks it’s been living between them since it happened anyway, like something that has to be dug out but has gotten itself stuck instead.

“I don’t think two data processors would make a good relationship,” he says. “But back to you. If she’s pretty, I don’t see why you shouldn’t just have sex with her. You have sex with women just because you think they’re pretty all the time.”

“The problem isn’t her, it’s my integrity.”

“Your what?”

Joey grimaces at him.

“Ha–ha. Chandler, please. I’m trying to be serious, here.”

“Oh, serious. See, that’s why this isn’t working. You know that’s not my forte.”

This time, when Joey looks annoyed, he looks actually annoyed.

“You really are a dick sometimes,” he says. “Do you want me to sleep with her?”

Chandler gets a sour taste in his mouth. He’s bitter. Bitter, bitter, bitter, like he has no right to be, but he lets it slip through when he speaks, anyway:

“I don’t see how what I feel about it should have any bearing on your decision at all.”

Joey rolls his eyes.

“Yes, you do,” he says.

“No, I really don’t.”

“Are you blind?”

“I don’t know, why don’t I go get my eyes checked?”

“What really happened with Kip?”

Right then, Chandler hates him. It’s never more than right then, but it’s right then far more than it should be, between two roommates who aren’t really going to stay together forever. As if Joey can’t tell what happened. He’s slow, sometimes, but when it comes to emotions he understands far more than he lets on, so it’s not like he hasn’t been able to put two and two together and figure it out. Especially after Chandler came out to him.

“Did you ever consider that maybe he liked you back?” Joey goes on.

“Liked me back?” Chandler says. He’s trying not to let it show that his voice is shaking. “Who said anything about me liking him?”

“You did. You’re very transparent.”

Chandler laughs, humourlessly.

“So why don’t you tell me what else you see, huh? Maybe you can analyse my whole life, and then you can line up all the crappy things in it and pity me for them one by one. Or maybe, ha, maybe you can make me reveal more personal things to you, and then turn them back around and throw them in my face.”

“I think you should stop talking,” Joey says, and his voice have gone dangerous in a way Chandler has never heard it before.

You’re the one who wanted to talk about me, all of a sudden.”

“You’re hurting me.”

That shuts Chandler up.

They sit in silence, then, next to each other. Fuming one by one. Not looking into each other’s eyes. Chandler doesn’t know why it always ends up here. With his broken heart stuck in his own chest, and Joey looking at him like his is broken, too.

He doesn’t know what to do. Sometimes it feels like Joey already knows and is trying to make him say it, like he wants them to talk, like he wants them to solve the problem of Chandler’s feelings by coming up with a plan for how he can get over them. But he can’t say it. If he says it, it’s real, and everyone will find out, and his whole life will change. If he says it he can’t backtrack anymore. He’s out. He’ll have to be for the rest of his life.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

He’s so tired of fighting. He doesn’t know how to make it stop.

“It’s okay,” Joey says, but they both know that it’s not.

Before he goes to sleep, he writes Joey on the board: I’m sorry, it says. Joey never writes back.

*

It doesn’t stop.

Not long after, Joey buys them the chairs with his new pay-check, and then Joey buys him the gold bracelet. And it’s ugly, and it’s gay, and it’s engraved, and Chandler hates a little that they’ll always just be best friends, nothing more, but he loves that Joey gave him something like this. He loves Joey. He loves him, the way he smiles a little shyly when he hands it over, the way he’s trying to make all of this better for them even though things are rocky right now, the way he looks when he laughs.

He loves Joey, but he hurts him again. Not on purpose. It’s just that the guys tease him about it, and it suddenly feels like loving the bracelet is outing him, so he makes fun of it. Then he loses it. And even though it works out with Joey thinking he bought him one back, he still finds himself confessing what really happened to Joey over the kitchen counter that night.

“It’s okay, Chandler,” Joey says, when he understands what happened. “I just thought you’d like it. You don’t have to wear it if you don’t.”

“The fact that I don’t like the bracelet doesn’t mean I don’t like you,” Chandler tries.

Joey looks at him, and smiles a little. It’s almost fond.

“I know,” he says. “I love you, man.”

Chandler grins, thinking that maybe this is the part where everything starts looking up, but, a little later, Joey still wants to move out.

*

It breaks Chandler’s whole heart. They’re at brunch, for God’s sake, they’re out together and Joey is taking him to meet his colleagues, and things are going alright, but Joey still follows that goddamn guy into the kitchen to check it out.

They fight. They’ve already fought too much, but this one is bad. This one has Joey saying, “It’s not like we promised to live together forever,” and this one has Chandler crying a little bit in the shower after Joey has gone to bed and he’s alone. Because he realises that, deep down, he always thought they’d work it out in a way that meant that they would live together forever. That he’s been so terrified that telling Joey about himself would make him leave, that he hasn’t even considered that Joey could leave anytime, anyway.

He’s never been committed to anything before. Not a partner, not a job, not even really his family. But he’s committed to his friends. And he’s committed to Joey. He’ll always be committed to Joey.

So he tries. He buys him plastic spoons, hoping to show him how willing to make compromises he really is, and he’s planning to tell him right after he has promised not to go, because it’s all out of the bag anyway.

Joey doesn’t promise not to go.

Joey leaves instead.

*

That night, he goes to Monica’s again. When he walks into her flat, she’s already up, sitting on the couch. When she turns around to watch him over her shoulder, her face falls.

“Remember how you told me I could tell you if I’m not okay?” he says.

She nods.

“I’m not okay.”

She reaches out for him, so he joins her on the couch. Normally it’s the other way around, but tonight he lets her embrace him. Hand to his temple, holding him close and letting him lean his head on her shoulder.

“What’s wrong, honey?” she says, running a hand through his hair like his mother used to do it.

“Joey is moving out,” he says.

“Yeah?”

He watches their reflection in the television when the screen turns black. When it’s not black, he watches the program without really watching it at all.

“And,” he says, and he’s going to say it, because he might as well, now. He might as well. “And I think I’m in love with him.”

*

Joey leaves.

He packs up his bags and his things, and Chandler is left with almost nothing. These, the chairs that Joey bought just a few months ago, for the two of them, are now going into the moving van and moving to the flat that’s only Joey’s. It’s all happening so quickly. It’s like none of them planned for this.

Before he really goes, Joey comes back through the door to hug him. Chandler is glad they’re not facing each other, because if they did, he thinks he might not have hugged him back. He night have kissed him, instead.

He misses Joey, when he’s gone. He eats ice cream alone in his flat, and he eats ice cream with the girls, and he misses Joey. He finds a new roommate, because he did when everything with Kip went south, too, because he’s done this before, and he misses Joey. Eddie moves in, and goddammit, he misses Joey.

Speak of the devil and he may come, and Joey does, too, when Chandler and Eddie are eating eggs together, and it’s sick, but Chandler likes it a little that Eddie’s presence makes him look sad. But then again Chandler is sick. Lovesick. And if Joey is going to make him that way, he can damn well bear the brunt of it.

“He’s great, isn’t he?” Eddie says, because he thinks Chandler is funny, and Chandler likes it because he likes having his ego coddled.

“Yeah,” Joey says, and he’s looking at Chandler, looking fond. Looking fonder than he ever has while Chandler could see. “Yeah, he is.”

Chandler kind of wants to push him out of the door right there and then. It’s like they’ve broken up. This is what break-ups feel like. How dare you, he’s thinking. How dare you say stuff like that to me when you’re the one who left? How dare you, how dare you, how dare you?

They fight again.

This time, it’s about eggs, and then it’s about Joey taking his eggs and going somewhere else with them, and Chandler hates how much he’s confessing just by saying this. He should be used to people leaving by now, but he’s really not. He should be used to it, but somehow he let himself believe that Joey never would. He should have known better.

They don’t talk again for a long time. Chandler is tired of being left behind.

*

Eddie is fucked up. Of course he is. Chandler can’t ever have nice things.

The songs on the radio are all about heartbreak. New York I love you, one of them goes. But you’re bringing me down.

He hasn’t been alone with Joey for a long time. He sees him in the coffee-shop, he sees him at Monica’s. It’s not like he can avoid it. He sees him everywhere, even when he’s alone in his bed at night, and it hurts, but sometimes when he’s actually around he laughs, and Chandler knows he would do anything to hear that sound.

Chandler is stubborn. But Joey loses his job.

It’s raining outside the night that Joey comes back. His hair is wet when Chandler opens the door to him. Wet, and dripping onto the floor.

“I’m kind of down on my luck,” he says. “Ross thinks I’m being illogical and that I should stop chasing my dreams and think of the bills. I have to sell all my things.”

“So you came here–“

“I’m not done. Let me finish.”

Chandler looks at him. He’s looking stubborn. Chandler nods.

“Okay.”

“I’m down on my luck, but I don’t even care. I miss you. I can’t really think about anything else.”

Chandler considers him for a moment. Then he steps aside, to allow him to come inside. Joey closes the door behind him, and Chandler goes to grab him a towel, coming back into the kitchen to hand it over. When he does, Joey smiles.

They’re alone in the flat. Something about this makes it feel more intimate than it ever has.

“Thank you,” Joey says.

Chandler watches him shrug off his jacket and toe off his shoes, and then he watches him dry his hair.

“Sure,” he says.

They watch each other. Joey’s smile grows warmer than Chandler has ever seen it. As warm as it was before they fought about the eggs.

“I miss you,” Joey says, again.

“Then why did you leave?”

Joey tilts his head. Still, that smile. And this is intimate. It’s even more intimate when Joey steps closer, once, twice, until Chandler’s heart is stuck in his throat and Chandler’s forehead is pressed against Joey’s, and Joey’s fingertips are ghosting over the shells of his ears.

“This isn’t funny,” Chandler says. Eyes closed, and Joey’s nose bumping into his. Joey’s breath on his lips, a ghost but a ghost that could be real if they both let it. His own hands, grasping onto the front of Joey’s t-shirt, desperate but light. Skin close enough to be touched, skin, skin, skin.

“I’m not doing this to be funny,” Joey says. And then Joey kisses him.

Chandler’s knees almost buckle under. He’s been wanting this for so long, God, he’s been wanting this for so long, and here Joey is, pressing their lips together so, so softly, cupping Chandler’s cheeks. Kissing has never felt like this. He can feel the breath from Joey’s nose right above his upper lip, and Joey hums a little into it. Joey is Joey. Chandler is not just kissing a man, he’s kissing him.

“Joe,” he says, and then he walks Joey to the kitchen counter and presses him up against it, cupping his cheeks back, and kisses him, and kisses him, and kisses him. Kisses him, desperately, until both of them pull back, laughing.

“God,” he says. “God.” And Joey laughs again.

“This is my speciality,” he says.

Again, they laugh. Their foreheads, pressed together.

“What’s happening right now?” Chandler says. Desperate, low, still holding onto Joey’s cheeks like they’ll save him. “Tell me what’s happening.”

“I like you.”

“But you left.”

“Because you kept pushing me away.”

Oh. Oh. Chandler pulls away enough to watch him. Joey dips his head and runs a hand through his hair, but then looks back.

“It was hurting me. I wasn’t trying to hurt you, I was just trying to have a bit of self-preservation.”

Chandler can’t even fathom a world that works like this. A world where Joey is into him, too, where he has been for a long time. Where they both have.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he says.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Joey says. But as he does, he reaches out to card a hand through Chandler’s hair. God. Chandler’s eyelids flutter closed, for just a moment.

“Touché,” he says, when he can. Joey is looking at him, fondly. “But why now?”

“I missed you. You’re worth the leap of faith.”

If Chandler was a different person, that would make him cry. Phoebe’s therapist ex would have a field day with this one. You started evaluating your own worth when you were still a child, and it never amounted to much, so somewhere along the way you forgot you’re allowed to want things, too, and get them.

“I’ve never been worth anything before,” he says.

Joey presses their foreheads together again. Chandler’s breath hitches. The tips of their noses bump against each other, and they’re both grasping onto each other’s cheeks like they’re praying for something.

“You’re worth a lot to me,” Joey says.

None of this is like the New Year’s kiss. Chandler is not a sentimental person, but this is poetry. This is Joey, smiling into the kiss, nudging him up against the kitchen counter and placing both of his palms flatly against his chest. This is Joey, letting Chandler touch him back.

“Joey,” he says.

“Chandler.”

Their faces are so close they can feel each other breathe. Chandler’s chest is alive again. His knees are weak, his heart is beating, and he thinks maybe this feeling is what it’s like to be free.

“Move back in?” he says.

“You’ll let me?”

“Please.” With his fingers in Joey’s shirt, he tugs Joey in close. Joey kisses him, his cheeks, his cheekbone, his temple. He’s losing track of time. “Please.”

“Okay,” Joey says.

“Just okay?”

“You want a speech?”

Chandler snorts. Joey snorts, too, pulling out to look at him, and then they laugh, together. Together. And there’s something reverent about it, but there’s also something easy to it. When they finish laughing, they catch each other’s eyes. And, as if it was planned all along, they shift, arms sneaking around each other, chests pressing close. And they hug. They hug and they hug and they hug, and they hold each other. No back-slapping this time. Just everything, a little bit better than it was before.

“I don’t want a speech,” Chandler says.

“No?”

“No.”

“What do you want then?” Joey says.

Again, Chandler smiles. Because he’s fishing. And Chandler has never been more in love. Slowly, so Joey will understand, he leans in. And then he kisses him again.

“Just this,” he says, when he pulls back.

“Just this?”

“Yes.”

Grinning, Joey leans in to kiss him back.

“Me, too,” he says.

They share a laugh. And then they hug again.

“Just this.”

*

The next morning, they get rid of Eddie for the last time. After he’s gone, they hug each other tight, and play foosball. And they’re laughing. It’s been a long time since Chandler has been this unburdened.

They take it slow.

That first night, after they’ve stopped kissing, they talk. Joey has always been good at it. Chandler is finding that, now that everything is out in the open, he can, too.

So they make a plan. Them, still in different rooms, for now. Them, not telling the guys just yet, because they want to find their footing in this before they do. Them, being a team, and working this out together. Them, them, them.

“Honey,” he calls into their flat, not long after, when he’s coming back after a long work-day. “I’m home.”

“Hey,” Joey says, with enthusiasm. “Come quick, Wheel of Fortune is almost over.”

“Oh,” Chandler says, and throws his bag down to come rushing. Instead of settling into his own chair, he settles on the armrest of Joey’s, and Joey’s fingers come up to wrap around his ankle.

They watch the rest of it together. Joey guesses wrong, says something that doesn’t even make sense, and Chandler loves him for it.

“You should really go on this show,” he says, like he’s said it before, and watches a smile spread across Joey’s face as he turns his attention from the telly to Chandler. “Hi, by the way.”

“Hi,” Joey says, and reaches up to wrap an arm around his neck.

They kiss each other. Joey barely angles his head, so Chandler doesn’t either. Their noses nearly squish together. Chandler cups Joey’s jaw with a palm, and Joey tugs him closer, tug tug tug, all gentle, until Chandler has slid from the armrest and into Joey’s lap.

“I was wrong,” Joey says.

Chandler pulls away enough to see that he is watching the television behind him.

“I know,” he says. “But you were so enthusiastic.”

“You like that, do you?”

“Hm.”

They kiss again. This time Joey tugs him in even closer, so he’s sitting astride Joey’s thighs in the chair, and then Joey licks into his mouth and fumbles around for the hem of his shirt, tugging it out of his suit-pants.

“They miss you at the office,” Chandler says. “They miss the wife and kid you made up.”

“That thing you did in the shower before you left this morning?” Joey says. “I’ve been thinking about it all day.”

Chandler laughs. They’re having two very different conversations.

“Do you want a wife and kids?” he goes on, anyway. Joey is kissing down his neck.

“I want you.”

Chandler grins. He’s not at all used to this. Someone who he likes, telling him he likes him back, as much as he wants it. Every time he asks.

“God, well,” he says. “Why aren’t you taking me to bed, then?”

Joey doesn’t need to hear it twice. Chandler chuckles as Joey kisses him and kisses him, expertly steering them towards Chandler’s room, as if he’s done this before. Which he hasn’t. They’ve not yet gone this far. But Chandler wants, so Chandler opens the bedroom door for them.

Once they’re inside, Joey leans away from him, panting, head resting against the door. His lips are swollen from the kisses. He’s so wonderfully dishevelled, so beautiful. Chandler wants to get him off for the rest of his life.

“What are you waiting for, you charmer?” he says.

Joey reaches out, pulling him in, foreheads together as always, and closes his eyes.

“I’ve never had sex with someone I was in love with before,” he whispers. And Chandler is crazy about him. Chandler is giddy, and in love, and Chandler can’t stop thinking about him, ever. So:

“Me, neither,” he says.

When Joey’s eyes go wide, he laughs. Then he takes his own shirt off.

Obviously, Joey is good at sex. It’s part of his character. Joey Tribbiani, Italian, great in bed. But Chandler knows that he’s the first man Joey has done stuff with, and Chandler wasn’t sure it would, but it does – it makes a difference that they’re in love.

They look into each other’s eyes. Joey is such a romantic, and so kind, and Chandler should feel vulnerable, sweaty and pink and control-less as he is, but he doesn’t. Because there’s so much trust between them, and Joey has seen everything he is already, anyway.

Halfway through, he loses himself to it. It feels so good everything else goes foggy, and he gives in to it, because he doesn’t need to be alert. He just needs to be in this, with Joey, making sex something they do together, and he is.

He closes his eyes when it feels good, grabbing onto the headboard behind him, and Joey says his name. Says it, desperately, or like Chandler is the deity he prays to, and Chandler has never felt this loved before. He never thought he could.

They find each other’s eyes again. Their foreheads find each other.

“You’re blushing,” Chandler says, fingertip trailing over Joey’s cheekbone. “Your cheeks are warm. I never imagined you’d blush.”

“I never imagined you’d like it this much. I never imagined you’d give in to it like this.”

“You didn’t think I’d like it? Have you forgotten who you are, Mr Tribbiani?” Chandler says.

Joey laughs. It’s strange, laughing with someone while you’re having sex with them. Chandler knows it’s not supposed to feel weird, it’s supposed to feel normal. Maybe, now that he’s with Joey, it will.

“I just always thought you’d be difficult to impress,” Joey says.

“I am.” Chandler kisses him. “You just tick all of my boxes.”

They keep going. They don’t finish from the same thing, and normally Chandler would feel a bit insecure about that, even though he knows that that, too, is meant to feel normal, but tonight he feels just fine. Sex doesn’t feel like a performance, not with Joey. Chandler relishes the fact that it never will again.

“That was good, right?” he still says, afterwards.

“That was good,” Joey confirms. “So good. I can’t wait to keep having sex with you.”

“What a weird thing to say.”

Joey laughs.

“Hm.”

Closing his eyes, he pulls the duvet up and burrows into the pillow. Chandler realises that Joey is expecting to sleep in here. He’s not surprised when that makes him feel giddy, too. Reaching over, he cards his fingers through Joey’s hair, like he’s wanted to since the very first day they met.

“I’m glad that you’re here,” he says.

Joey opens his eyes to smile at him.

“Me, too.”

The next morning, before he goes to work, he kisses Joey’s sleeping forehead goodbye, and then he draws a heart on the board by the door. When he comes back home, there’s another one, right next to it. He wears a stupidly big grin for the rest of the night.

*

Chandler’s dad always calls him, once every other week like clockwork. It’s been a long time since Chandler has picked up, but a few weeks into him and Joey, he does.

“Did you see your mum’s written a new book?” his dad asks.

Joey isn’t home yet. No one else is in here either. Chandler is alone, in this, but it’s kind of on purpose. He knew his dad would call. He expected to pick it up.

“I did,” he says. “I’m the proudest son in the world.”

His dad laughs. He laughs, too.

“So how are you? It’s been a long time since you’ve picked up the phone.”

“I know,” Chandler says. “I’m sorry.”

He understands it all better now. He understands how freeing it is, to be yourself, and how absolutely suffocating it is to not. It’s been a while since he really talked to his dad, but he loves him, still, and he wouldn’t have wanted him to be miserable his whole life. So maybe it really was for the better that he went off with another guy. Maybe it’s not so bad after all, that he chose to take a shot at happiness. Maybe he was allowed, just like Chandler is allowing himself to do the same, now.

It’s not like he stopped reaching out to Chandler, anyway. Chandler just stopped letting him.

“No, it’s okay,” his dad says, now. “You’re allowed to be upset with me.”

“I’m not upset with you.”

“Oh, no,” his dad says. “Of course not. It’s completely normal to get caller ID just to be able to dodge daddy’s calls.”

Chandler snorts.

“Alright,” he says. “So I was a little upset with you.”

“Was?”

“Well.” Chandler swallows. His dad will be the first person he tells. The first person to know, other than Joey, who knows because he’s in it. “I’m kind of seeing someone.”

“Oh, yeah? And what magical powers does this person have to get you to want to pick up my calls?”

Chandler’s always paid attention to stuff like pronouns when it comes to his own romantic life – a defence mechanism, to avoid slipping up – so he notices it when his dad is gender-neutral.

“You said person,” he says. And he could almost swear he hears his dad smile.

“I did,” he says.

“It’s a man.”

“I’m not surprised.”

Not too long ago, Chandler would have hated that. But in a way, it’s kind of nice to know. At least, it’s nice to know that his dad’s been on his side all along.

“You never said anything,” he says.

“No, well. It’s not nice to be outed against your own will, before you’re ready, you know? I don’t know if it was the right choice to keep silent, but I wanted you to have whatever time and space you needed, and I wanted you to have a choice.”

“I think it was the right choice,” Chandler says.

“He sure has made you affectionate, your boy, huh?”

“Well, it’s new. I’m trying to come off nice.”

“Nice plan.”

“Thanks.”

“Hm,” his dad says. “So, anyway, will I get to see you again soon? Maybe see your boy, too?”

Chandler hardly has to consider it.

“Yeah,” he says. Because he wants to, now. “I really am sorry, Dad. That it took this long.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. You needed time. It’s not like I didn’t leave.” Chandler nods, even though it’s not visible through the phone. “Either way,” his dad says, then. “I’m proud of you, baby.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes.”

“Well.” Chandler smiles. “I guess I’m proud of you, too.”

*

Joey sleeps in his bed that night. He has, for a long time, but it still makes Chandler feel a solid, slow-burning sort of happiness that he thinks could last something like forever. Tonight, they’re facing each other, heads on the pillows, legs almost tangling together. Joey’s eyes are dropping closed.

“You know what?” Chandler says. It’s quiet, in the night. He reaches out to touch Joey’s hair. “I kind of like being gay.”

Opening his eyes to watch him, Joey grins. His eyes shine in the moonlight.

“Oh, yeah?” he says. Chandler nods. “I’m glad.” He scoots in closer. “What else do you like?”

He’s fishing. Chandler grins.

“I don’t know,” he says. Still touching Joey’s hair. “Certainly not you.”

“Damn.” Joey is grinning. “Can I still stay the night? It’s just that it’s so far to my room.”

“Hm,” Chandler says, pretending to consider it. “Alright, then. I guess it won’t hurt.”

“Thanks.”

They smile at each other. They’ve been doing that, together, for the longest time. Leaning in, Chandler kisses Joey’s forehead. Joey closes his eyes.

“Night, Joe,” Chandler says.

“Hm,” Joey mumbles. He’s already halfway off to sleep.

Chandler loves him. It’s not scary anymore.

*

Not long after, they’re all sitting in the coffee shop, when Joey announces to the group that he has to kiss a man for one of his auditions.

Monica pulled Chandler aside not too long ago, saying, “You look happy. Have things worked out between you two?” and he told her. He didn’t know how not to. And, besides: He wanted her to know. No one else does, though, not yet.

He can tell, however, that it’s starting to get on Joey’s nerves a little bit. Maybe he’s worried. Chandler would be, too. Scenario: You date someone who’s been in the closet his whole life. Will you ever get to tell your friends that you kiss him sometimes, and like it?

Chandler has been in the closet for a long time. But they’ve found their footing now, him and Joey. And not a single part of him wants to make Joey feel like he’s anything even close to a shameful secret that needs to be kept.

“You know, when I found out about my dad cheating, and we talked about whether or not I’m capable of loyalty?” Joey asks him, one late night when they’ve crawled into the same bed and turned the lights off.

“Yes?” Chandler says.

“You’re the one I want to be loyal to. You were back then, and you are, now.”

Grinning, Chandler scoots over to kiss him, softly.

“I still think you can,” he says. Joey smiles. “Me, however–”

Shoving him in the chest, Joey rolls his eyes. Chandler laughs. He really thinks they’ve got a chance at this.

So, when Monica says, “Maybe you’re just not used to kissing men. Maybe that’s why you tensed up,” Chandler decides he’s done with keeping secrets.

“Oh, no,” he says, and everyone looks at him. “As it just so happens, Joey is very good at kissing men.”

Most of the guys look confused, but Joey’s eyes widen as he catches Chandler’s eye. Raising his eyebrows in question, watching him back, Chandler waits to go on. Waits until he sees a smile spread across Joey’s face like the sun, slow-dawning, and Joey nods.

“Or maybe,” he says, looking straight into Joey’s eyes and smiling at him, fondly. “Maybe he’s just good at kissing me.”