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For Old Times' Sake

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"Chloe?" Almost fifteen years apart and still, Beca could recognize her college friend at first glance.

With one hand resting on her cart, Chloe turned to see who was calling her name. At first, she didn't quite know who the woman was, face obscured by a dark hoodie, shoulders and long brown hair scattered with fresh snowflakes. It was her eyes, dark blue and deep as ever, that caught Chloe by surprise. "Beca?"

Beca smirked, something Chloe hadn't quite realized how much she missed seeing on a daily basis. Chloe responded with a broad smile of her own, teeth and dimples easily on display.

"Oh my god, Beca!" Immediately Chloe moved in for a hug. Beca welcomed the gesture, grasping Chloe's arms and briefly inhaling the sweet fragrance of her hair. They only held one another for a few seconds, but it lingered with meaning. Finally, they pulled back, Beca dropping her hands to subtly pull at the bottom of her hoodie. Chloe noticed the action with fondness; she remembered Beca's tendency to fidget when nervous or embarrassed.

"Hey, Chlo," Beca said, smooth as ever. Her lips curved up, and her eyes seemed to twinkle with joy. "It's good to see you."

Chloe was shocked at her sudden need to swallow, to clear her throat of emotion, happiness mixed with others. "You have no idea how great it is to see you, Beca." Chloe sighed, simply observing her old friend. "How are you here right now?" Chloe glanced behind Beca, trying to spot staff or security that might have been nearby but she couldn't see anyone. Then she understood Beca's somewhat hidden appearance, the hoodie pulled over her head, her identity left mostly unnoticed by the average person.

"I'm involved with a charity event tomorrow in the city. I just wanted to grab a few things before heading in for the night."

Chloe tilted her head in curiosity. "But it's Christmas Eve," her voice faded, a question on her mind but not entirely on her lips. Don't you have someone, a family, to be with?

"I don't mind being on my own. You know me," Beca said with a wink. "Holidays aren't really my thing."

But Chloe was having none of it. They may have spent time apart, but their history was still there, floating beneath the surface of their interaction. She touched Beca's covered elbow. "I seem to remember you enjoying Christmas with the Bellas quite a bit."

Beca's eyes flickered with something Chloe couldn't name. "Well," Beca chuckled. "Every day with the Bellas was an adventure, holiday or not." Before Chloe could respond, Beca nodded at the cart beside them, produce and food obviously picked out for the next day. "Do you have more to get? I can walk with you if you don't mind?"

Chloe playfully scoffed. She grasped Beca once more, gripping her shoulders with strong and determined fingers. "Are you kidding me? I have The Beca Mitchell standing right in front of me! On Christmas Eve! I'm done shopping. Let's go get a drink or something. Can you? Do you have time?"

Beca gestured to the ring on Chloe's hand, indicating a life, a family, possibly waiting for the redhead right this moment. "I have time. Do you?"

Chloe glanced at her hand and then back up. "I've always had time for you, Bec." Caught and held by striking blue eyes, Beca reached for one of Chloe's hands and gave it a quick squeeze, nodding succinctly. Yes, she silently expressed. Let's do this.

--

Ten minutes later, the women were walking into brisk air, flurries blowing around them. Chloe pointed toward her car, a dark SUV. They made their way past other last-minute shoppers to load her trunk with groceries. As the door shut, Chloe suddenly stopped and looked around, obviously pondering something.

"I can't think of a single bar that's open on Christmas Eve, can you?" Chloe asked, but Beca barely had the frame of mind to respond. She was admiring the white snow mixing with Chloe's red hair, the barely-there wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, the way her face had changed so subtly, and yet stayed exactly the same. How could fifteen years have made the woman even more beautiful? "Bec?"

"Oh, sorry," Beca quickly muttered. "Yeah, I don't know any either. But... I have an idea." Beca spotted what she needed nearby. "Hop in and turn on the heat. I'll be right back!"

Before Chloe could respond, Beca was jogging through the parking lot and entering a liquor store. She was back in less than five minutes, a green 6-pack under her arm. She got in the passenger side and lifted her purchase.

"Still like Heineken?"

Both women burst out laughing, remembering the time Amy returned to the Bella house with a truck full of Heineken kegs. No one asked where she got them, and no one wanted to know. The hangovers seemed to last for days, but not a single complaint was uttered. After all, to the best of their knowledge, the beer was free.

Beca opened a bottle and handed it to Chloe in the driver's seat. They were parked, and Beca knew they would be responsible enough not to drink more than the law allowed, so she also leaned back with a bottle of her own.

"Hey," Chloe said, tilting her bottle at Beca. "Cheers." They clinked their drinks and took a moment to settle and collect their thoughts.

"Do you live far?" Beca asked.

"No, just down the road. Ten-minute drive."

Beca nodded, wondering how much she could, and should, ask. Chloe spoke up before she had to decide.

"Where are you staying?"

"Just a hotel. Nothing fancy."

"Oh, I doubt that," Chloe laughed. "Grammy Award-Winning Artist staying in an average hotel? Nope. I don't buy it."

Beca shrugged. "I don't always like the hotels they put me up in, but my agent says I have to use them for my image. I like to fly under the radar when I can."

"Is that why you're dressed like an undercover cop right now?" Chloe laughed again. "I didn't even recognize you at first!" She reached across the center console and pulled Beca's hoodie away from her face. "Ah, there you are."

Beca felt Chloe's hand linger at her neck, her hair protecting her from the sensation of Chloe's bare skin. "Here I am," Beca responded softly, eyes drifting down from the sudden intimacy between them.

Chloe moved back to her side of the car and drank from her bottle again, clearly letting Beca make the next move.

"You're married," Beca said. It was both a question and a statement.

"I am," Chloe nodded, a soft smile on her lips.

Beca let the words ricochet in her mind a handful of times before she finally spoke them. "Do you love him?"

Chloe's eyes met Beca's, the only sound between them being the soft whoosh of the car's heat escaping the vents. "He's a wonderful man."

They knew the answer for what it was, an accurate but telling statement because Chloe didn't like to lie.

"And you? I hear rumors, but they're always different. Are you seeing someone?" Chloe looked out the window, unsure if she wanted to hear the answer.

"No." Beca's answer was simple enough, but the single word held so much meaning for them. "I hear you have a daughter," Beca said, changing the subject.

Chloe's face lit up immediately. "Who's keeping you in the loop then? Amy? Stacie?"

"Aubrey," Beca said.

That slowed Chloe down, shock evident in her expression. "Aubrey?"

Beca hummed and nodded. "I thought you knew. We talk every few months."

Chloe laughed under her breath. "You've stayed in touch with Aubrey but not-" Chloe took a breath to halt her rumbling emotions. "I'm glad you and Aubrey have gotten close. I just wish we'd-"

"I know," Beca interrupted. "Me, too."

Chloe took another deep breath and then shook her head, thinking again of her daughter, the light of her life. "Her name is Kathleen, after my grandmother, but she prefers Kay. I like it. It suits her. She just started high school so she's entirely caught up in that."

Happiness radiated from Chloe, and it made Beca grin. "Does she look like you?"

"What, Aubrey hasn't sent photos? An itinerary of our lives, perhaps?" Chloe teased, pulling out her phone to show Beca recent pictures of her daughter.

"Oh, Chlo," Beca practically whispered. "She looks just like you."

Chloe looked at Beca, her face illuminated from the glow of her phone, but Beca just stared at the photos of Kay on the screen. Chloe heard the hitch in Beca's voice and wondered what she was thinking.

"Does she like music? Does she sing like you?"

"You have no idea," Chloe downright groaned. "She's even more obsessed with music than I was at her age! Sometimes I have to force her to take her headphones off just to have a conversation during dinner. She'd probably get along perfectly with you!" Chloe laughed. "Actually she listens to your music a lot. I'd have to say you're one of her favorite artists." Chloe paused. "She has good taste."

Beca peered up at Chloe, their eyes connecting with so much more than they could express in minutes or even hours of catching up. She returned Chloe's phone and grabbed another bottle of beer for each of them. They spent the next hour reminiscing, steering clear of sensitive topics but never losing the intimacy that always seemed to come with their friendship.

"Tell me about your career, Bec," Chloe said after a while, halfway through her third beer. Her face was warm, but she wasn't anywhere close to drunk. The comfort drifting through her body felt like it was coming from Beca more than the alcohol. "Your voice is as stunning as ever. I love hearing it on the radio. It sounds like you love it, when you're singing, I mean."

"I do," Beca agreed. "You know what it's like though, being in front of a crowd or even just getting lost in it by yourself. It's like being in your own world, or being on top of it, I don't know." She laughed, touching Chloe's knee with her knuckles. "Don't you remember the feeling?"

Chloe felt a small pang in her stomach at the question. She adored singing, and always would. She was convinced that music was in her veins just as much as blood, but the way Beca connected with music was on a different level somehow. "I remember your passion for it more than anything."

Wanting to downplay her music career, Beca switched tactics. "I mean the audiences are amazing, you know? But the traveling, oh damn is that hell! I can't even count how many planes I've been on, how many cities I've traveled to, how little sleep I-" Suddenly Beca stopped, realizing that she'd made a mistake in mentioning the traveling aspect of being a musician. After all, it was the reason, years ago, why they took a step back from one another. It was the reason they didn't pursue something more than friendship, and once the feelings were out in the open, it simply hurt too much to stay friends without having more.

"It's okay," Chloe said, bravely interlocking the fingers of their free hands. "I get it."

Beca looked at Chloe with appreciation and affection, and without a word, Chloe felt it in spades.

"Let's make a toast." Chloe lifted her drink, and Beca followed suit.

"To what?"

"To innocence," Chloe responded, calmly but boldly. She admired Beca with a foot of space between them. Her eyes were the same. Her face had aged most elegantly. Her lips, an unspoken temptation for Chloe since the day they met, looked lush and inviting. But as Chloe inspected Beca's gorgeous features, she couldn't help but see her friend from years ago, the alt-girl with button-down plaid shirts and heavy, black boots. She saw the thick eyeliner, now somewhat thinner than before, and Chloe was happy to see an array of piercings still decorating Beca's ears under all that thick hair. The younger image and the current melded into one, and Chloe felt overwhelmed with love for the woman in front of her, her once best friend. "And a toast to now, to time."

"To innocence, to now, to time." Beca said. They toasted their drinks together and each woman finished their beer, setting down the empty bottle. Still, however, their hands remained connected.

"I should go home," Chloe said.

"Yeah, I'm sure they're wondering where you are," Beca answered, but she wasn't quite ready to let go of her friend's hand, or the closeness they had rekindled.

"They won't be worried. I sent a message when you went in the liquor store."

Beca nodded, unsure what to say next. Her cheeks were sore from the sudden increase in smiling, and her tongue was tired from talking about memories long past, and even from holding down her now resurfacing feelings.

"I'm glad I saw you tonight, Bec. I mean it."

Beca felt tears gathering in her eyes. Her throat began to constrict with intense pain. She swallowed, but the discomfort didn't go away.

"Hey," Chloe whispered. She turned the heating vents down to almost nothing, quieting the car. "Bec?"

Finally, Beca looked up at Chloe, letting the redhead clearly see the moisture in her eyes threatening to spill over.

"Oh, Beca." At seeing Beca's expression, Chloe's eyes suddenly filled as well. "Beca."

With tears trailing delicately down both their cheeks, Chloe placed her free hand on Beca's cheek and brought their faces together, resting their foreheads against one another. Her warm breath hit Beca's lips. They sat there for long seconds, relishing the closeness, the intimacy of everything they ever had together, unbroken, even with years apart. It was Beca who eventually closed the distance between them, and Chloe hummed at the decision. It was a purposeful kiss, both hard and soft. It was filled with a lifetime of laughter, hope, possibilities, questions, and love. It was a beginning for them, a door opening in a direction they'd never gone before. But it was also an end, an answer, to the what-ifs they'd wondered for far too long.

As they gingerly pulled apart, Chloe wiped both their cheeks and Beca gathered her wits. She picked up the empty bottles and forced open the car door, stepping outside. The snow was still fluttering down. The coldness was a shock to Beca's system, but she welcomed it. She knew she would need the briskness in the air to help her return to reality.

With a bittersweet smile, Beca watched Chloe buckle her seatbelt. She didn't think she could utter the word 'goodbye,' so instead, Beca simply closed the car door and placed her palm on the window. Chloe didn't do anything at first. Part of her wanted to get out of the car and rush to Beca's side, kiss her again and again and again. She wanted to tell Beca that this was their chance to start over, or rather, to start at all. But another part of Chloe reminded her about Kay and her caring husband waiting at home, not even very far away, Christmas gifts wrapped and carefully decorated under their family tree.

Chloe put the car in reverse, and Beca removed her hand from the window. She stepped back and watched as Chloe drove away.

As the red brake lights faded in the distance, Beca suddenly felt that old, familiar pain, like she was back at Barden, watching her exuberant friend with adoring eyes and wondering what it would be like to love Chloe with everything in her, and wondering what it would be like to spend a lifetime at her side.