Author: khay

Category: Victorious

Rating: T

Disclaimer: Victorious and all related characters do not belong to me.

Summary: "I'm not going to defend my life choices to you, Beck, especially those that I made seven years ago. I only did what I thought was right." Warning: contains some Bori and heavy Joose. For the Final Round of Bade Prompts.

Prompts: 1) The mandatory prompt: S/he didn't tell you, did s/he?;

2) The second prompt I picked was: Life is full of surprises, but never when you need one (Calvin and Hobbes); and

3) (As if two prompts weren't enough) I wanted to do a story following Victoria Justice's version of what happened to the characters post the final episode, that is: "[Beck] keeps auditioning and gets cast in his own series of a high school student who's also a sociopath *wink*. His new show films in another city and he and Jade break up".

Continuity: Future fic.

Beta Reader: Thanks to XxLadyStrengthxX for the beta-read. She's awesome but I can't help but tinker with the fic even after her fantastic beta, hence, any lingering mistakes are solely mine. (Belated happy birthday, ME!)

Author's Notes: Thanks are also due to Lari (tsttoain) and Bria (boughtthedream) for the cheerleading and hand-holding.

Additionally, props to Cassandra (Badeprompts aka Cassandra's Destiny) for giving the most awesome set of prompts to pick from. [Cassandra, you are my hero for patiently and amazingly running Bade Prompts through all those rounds. I'm sad to see it end, but I'm so happy to be able to be part of it. Thanks for being the Yoda to my grasshopper :')]


The Second Time Around


Beck Oliver was exhausted.

He had been living in a suitcase for almost seven months, in the cold, cold clutches of New York.

Not that he has reason to complain. For seven years, New York had nurtured him and helped him grow. He knew he was lucky because not everyone who went to New York, gambling everything they had, won.

Yes, for those seven years, New York had been his temporary home, the place where he went to lose himself, where he escaped while pretending to be a sociopath in his top-rating television series. But it was now time to move on, after all, he can only pretend to be a teenager for so long. He made a note to give instructions to his manager not to renew his contract with the network so the writers ( and the fans) could prepare for a series finale. Better to end things on a high note. Besides, he wanted a shot at a movie career.

Meanwhile, it was time for a well-deserved rest.

It was time to go home.

But first, he had a pit stop to make.

Beck coaxed his car inside a big, sprawling mansion in Los Feliz. He parked haphazardly in front of the main door, knowing that someone would take care of his car later. He jogged up the steps and rang the doorbell.

Immediately, the doors were thrown open by an excited brunette. "Beck! I had been waiting for ages!" She laughed as she launched herself at him. "I missed you!"

Beck laughed with her as he caught her in his arms and spun her around. "It's great to be back, Tori."


Seven years ago

Per Jade West's latest message, she would be late.

Beck slowly let out the breath he didn't even realize he was holding.

Blessed reprieve.

He tossed his phone on the table and reached inside his pocket. He brought out a small, black velvet box. He opened it and stared at the ring inside. It was not the traditional diamond; but a black opal set in white gold. It would do for his purposes since the love of his life was anything but traditional.

He just hoped she would say yes.


Jade's voice from behind him spurred Beck into action. He shoved the box back inside his pocket and stood up even as the maitre d' helped Jade into her seat.

"Hey," Beck greeted her nervously with a quick kiss on the lips. "How was your day?"

Jade gave a wan smile and shrugged.

Beck could see that she was paler than usual, with dark circles under her eyes. She was also quiet and withdrawn lately, but Beck chalked it up to her being tired because of university life. Unlike him and the rest of the gang, Jade opted to stay in Los Angeles and took the college route, to perfect her craft.

"I'm fine." Jade said. "You?"

"My pilot just got picked up by the network." Beck told her excitedly.

Jade's grin became more genuine, wider. "That's great!"

He knew she was happy for him but he frowned when he realized that she quickly lost her smile.

She hesitated then, "So you'll be going back to New York?"

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about." Beck started hesitantly. Just as he was about to reach into his pocket to bring out the ring, Jade's grabbed his hand, stilling him.

"I understand." She said softly. She enveloped one of Beck's hands with both of hers. "I love you. Always remember that."

Beck was confused, but he nodded. "I love you, too."

Beck became even more confused when Jade started blinking back tears, but everything became clearer with her next statement.

"I love you," she repeated. "But I think it's time to let each other go."


"I'm breaking up with you."

"No." Beck shook his head, refusing to believe what he had just heard.

"You'll be in New York with your new life. I'll be here, just holding you back. It's better this way."

"No. Don't do this. We can do a long-distance relationship thing." Beck felt as if he was sucker-punched in the stomach. "Or you can go to New York with me. We'll make it work, somehow."

"Trust me, this is for the best."

This was a nightmare. This could not be happening. He should wake up any minute now.

"I'm sorry." With a choked sob, Jade let go of Beck's hand and stood up. Her eyes never left his face, as if she was memorizing its every curve and contour.

"No." Beck repeated. "Please, don't leave."

"I have to." With that final statement and with one final look, Jade was gone.

Beck froze in his seat, unsure of what had just happened.

There was only one sure thing in his life and that was Jade's love for him. For her to abruptly end things was unthinkable.

He waited, firmly believing that any moment now, Jade would come back to announce that it was just one big, elaborate (made in bad taste) April Fools prank.

He waited until the restaurant closed, but Jade never came back with his expected (wished for) outcome.

Of course.

Life was full of surprises, but never when you need one.


Present Time

Beck Oliver crawled into his bed with a tired sigh.

He tried to convince himself that he was anything but relieved that he was spending his first night back in Hollywood alone.

He supposed other boyfriends would have kicked up a huge fuss about that, but being in show business himself, he understood the reality of the music industry and knew that Tori's career was waning. The young girls who composed the majority of her fans were growing up and wanting more substantial songs than her usual fare of bubblegum pop. Worse, more and more pop stars were coming out of the woodwork, pop stars who were prettier and younger and were able to hook the younger audiences. In a nutshell, Tori needed to reinvent herself in order to maintain her status as a star. Because of that, Tori was in the middle of an intense writing session with the singing/songwriting prodigy, Andre Harris.

Yep. That was it. He was a fully-evolved man, not a cave man. That was the reason that he was fine that his significant other was in the company of another man instead of with him.

No other reason for it.


Reaching into his pocket, he brought out the engagement ring he bought in another lifetime, when he was younger and in love. Sometimes, the memories felt as if they belonged to another man, a man who was poorer but happier, struggling but content.

Some nights (all nights, every night), he wondered where she was and what she was doing. She had disappeared after she broke his heart. (He tried searching for her when he became successful, that way she would not be able to argue that she would only hold him back, but one private investigator after another failed to locate where she was.) Despite that, he loved her enough (loved her still) to wish she was well. (With her talent, it was not outside the realm of possibility that she would become famous herself. When that happened, it was inevitable that their paths will cross; Hollywood was such a small, incestuous world.)

Beck sighed as he turned the ring over and over in his hand. He habitually carried that ring whenever he went. He knew it was unhealthy, how he could not let it go. (He made many attempts to let it go, but he failed each time. When he found himself digging through the large garbage bins in New York to recover the ring he threw away the night before, he decided to just keep it after finding it.)

His subconscious had somehow equated letting go of the ring with letting go of her, which he was not yet prepared to do. (At the back of his mind, he was still waiting for life to surprise him, still waiting for her to jump out and into his life again.)

He promised himself that when (if) he let go of the ring, it would be time to ask Tori to marry him (or at the very least, to move in his house). Unfortunately, at the rate Beck was going, that day may never come, and he worried how long Tori could wait for him.

(Tori was more than he deserved. She knew that his heart was not wholly hers, but she loved him all the same.)

After Beck returned the ring to its secret hiding place whenever he was back in Los Angeles, his cellphone rang.

"You won't believe that just landed in my lap." Without preamble, Beck's manager's loud voice boomed through the line.

"You got me an audition for a movie?" Beck hazarded. He had only recently informed his manager of his intention of breaking into the movies, but his manager was nothing if not a miracle worker.

"Better. I have here with me the screenplay for Esthesis. The whole, entire script. Here. With me."

"WHAT? How? Did you sell your soul for that?" Beck's eyes widened in disbelief. Esthesis was the first graphic novel of the best-selling but intensely private author/artist, J. Shelly Craven. Soon after it hit the number one in the best-selling list, Craven was inundated with offers to turn the book into a movie. The lucky actor to bag the role was a shoo-in for a major award nomination, not only because of the novel's popularity, but also because of how complex and layered the character was. For his manager to have it in his hands was a major coup.

"That's the thing. I didn't do anything. I just got off the phone with Dan of Schneider Films. He told me that the lead role is yours if you want it." The manager said.

"If I want it?" Beck snorted in disbelief.

"Yeah, that's what I thought." His manager snickered. "They had the script hand-carried to my office just a few minutes ago." His manager paused for dramatic effect. "Just to make sure though, do you want it?"

"Are you kidding me?" Beck's wanted to jump and run and laugh in joy. "Lead role? Of course I want it. But are you sure you didn't misunderstand? Maybe it's an invitation to audition or something?"

"Nope. Believe me, I asked many times to make sure. And I have a full script, Beck. A full script!" Beck could just imagine his manager scratching his balding head in puzzlement. "I called a few reporter friends of mine. Apparently, you were handpicked by Craven to play the lead. Maybe she's a fan of yours."

"I can't believe it. Esthesis! Do you know how many actors would kill for that role?"

"I do, actually." The manager said. "But you deserve this, Beck. You can do this. This role's tailor-made for you. In fact, when I heard that Craven finally deigned to sell the movie right to Esthesis, I was prepared to move heaven and earth to get you an audition."

Beck started laughing. His ring-related problems aside, life was good. And it just got better.


Five Years Ago

Moose Wilson, full-pledged Canadian, hardcore carnivore, horror movies enthusiast, and die-hard hockey fan, gave a perfunctory knock before entering a hospital room. "Hey."

Jade West, current occupant of said hospital room, quickly wiped the tears that were falling. It did not matter that she was gravely ill and ridiculously weak, she still wanted to keep up the illusion that she was strong and invulnerable. She began her struggle to sit up.

Moose quickly made his way to her bedside, but furious hands slapped his helpful ones away.

"I don't need help." Jade hissed angrily.

Moose held up his hands in mock surrender as he watched his friend slowly, painfully, sit up.

It took her a while, and she was dizzy and breathless for her efforts, but Jade was able to sit up by herself. "What?" She demanded when she noticed Moose staring at her.

"I heard you were checking yourself out tomorrow."

Jade shrugged in confirmation, knowing that Moose would try to convince her otherwise.


"The treatment is not working." She said succinctly. "I don't want to spend the last few days of my life puking my guts out. I'd rather die with dignity."

Moose's stomach cramped at the casual way Jade talked about her death.

Two years ago, after she was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia, Jade began her search for a doctor who, in her own words, was not an idiot and who actually knows what he's doing. One day, she found herself in Canada, inside the office of the world-renown oncologist, Dr. Jacob Wilson, who was, incidentally, Moose's dad.

At that time, Moose was part-timing as his father's receptionist/secretary and toying with the idea of taking pre-med courses in the coming school year. When Jade walked into his father's clinic, he did not recognize her. Her hair was short and dull, her frame emancipated. Her formerly rounded face had shrunk, her normally expressive blue eyes dull. It was only when she wrote her name on the patient's information card that he was able to connect the sickly woman in front of him with the gorgeous, plucky girl he had met when vacationing in Los Angeles.

Despite his father's profession, it was the first time Moose personally knew someone with cancer. As such, Moose took an extra interest in Jade's case and made sure he was present whenever she had an appointment. (Later, he would say that it was Jade's courage and drive to get well that finally pushed Moose to follow his father's footsteps into medicine.)

Apparently, however, Jade's well of courage and determination to get better was near exhaustion. Moose's heart broke a little at the defeat he heard in her voice. "I heard dad wanted you to try a new, experimental procedure that—"

"I'm tired." Jade interrupted him. "I have been undergoing chemotherapy for two years. Nothing is working."

"So if a coast-to-coast shot doesn't work, we can try a laser." Was Moose's rejoinder.

Jade snorted. "If you're trying to convince me to try the new procedure, confusing me with hockey talk isn't working."

Moose smiled. There was the Jade he knew and loved. "If the small, frequent dosages are not working," he tried again. "Then we should try one strong, intense blast. All or nothing."

"All or nothing?"

Moose nodded. "And if that still doesn't work, I'll check you out myself, bring you to my house, and wait on you hand and foot until your last breath."

That was no small promise. After all, Jade had a reputation as the patient-from-hell. Nurses, residents and fellows all flee in fear whenever Jade was in one of her more demanding moods.

"Fine," Jade nodded tiredly after a long moment of indecision. "One last try."

Moose wasn't surprised with Jade's reply; in fact, he was expecting it. Jade West was a mucker, that hockey player who was not afraid to fight dirty and to do everything possible just to get that little puck from enemy hands. It was the one thing that drew him to her in the first place.

"What?" Jade demanded when she once again found Moose staring at her. Self-consciously, she adjusted the scarf that hid the fact that her beautiful hair did not survive her bid to get well.

Moose was wondering, not for the first time, what would have happened had he not rejected Jade all those years ago; what if they had met again when she was well. Or even, what if their paths crossed when she was not still in love with his childhood friend. But he simply shook his head. He never vocalized such thoughts to Jade. They were both not in the business of what ifs. To distract her, Moose grabbed Jade's PearPad from the table and tossed it to her lap. "Here. I think you have way too much idle time. Rather than contemplating your doom, write. Sketch. Read. Do something! Stop feeling sorry for yourself."

Jade rolled her eyes but accepted the PearPad without question. She watched as Moose made his way out of her room (no doubt to cheer up other terminal cancer patients), then she booted the PearPad. A plot bunny had been hovering in her head for days, but her fear of dying before being able to finish it had kept her from starting.

If her days were numbered, then she would just have to work faster. She could always count on Moose to publish her masterpiece post-humously.


Present time

"Hey, Tori, guess what?"

"Beck?" Coming from Beck's cellphone, Tori's voice was muffled by the sound of a piano on the background. "I'm sorry it's a bad time. Andre and I are in the middle of songwriting."

"Give me just five minutes," Beck told her. "I just need to tell you something."

A few seconds after, the sounds of the piano faded. "I just stepped out for some privacy." Tori told him. "What's the news?"

"You know Esthesis?"

"Of course I know Esthesis. Who doesn't?"

"Guess who's playing Adam in its big screen adaptation?"

Instead of an answer, a long and happy screech emanated from the receiver of Beck's phone.

Beck laughed.

"Omigosh! Omigosh! This is huge!"

"I know. Let's celebrate! Dinner tomorrow night, my treat."

"Oh." Tori said apologetically. "I can't. I have a recording session. That's why Andre and I are rushing to finish this song. How about the night after?"

"I can't." Beck sighed in frustration. "I'm meeting with the producers of the movie and I have no idea how long it's gonna take. Saturday?"

"I can't. I have a meet and greet. Sunday?"

"Sinjin and I are going to a drag race Sunday night, but I can always cancel."

"No, don't. I know how much you enjoy your man-time with Sinjin." Tori sighed heavily.

Beck refused to feel guilty. Once a month, he and Sinjin Van Cleef meet, ostensibly to bond and to watch drag races. In reality, however, they meet to exchange intelligence about the whereabouts of a certain woman who fell off the radar seven years ago. Sinjin's position as the founder and CEO of NiTwits, the new online social networking site that's giving Facebook a run for its money, placed him on an ideal and unique position to search for people. Unfortunately, there was a lot of Jade Wests in the world, none of whom was the woman they both missed and longed for.

"Uh, Monday?" Tori suggested brightly.

"Great!" Finally, progress!

"Oh, wait," Tori sighed dejectedly. "I just remembered I have rehearsals for a benefit concert I'm doing."

Beck groaned. Maybe his agent could call her agent so that a dinner between them could finally happen.

Beck was about to suggest another date when Tori interrupted with a soft and sad, "It's not working out, is it?"

"What?" Beck jacked up from his lounging position on his bed. "Of course, it's working. It's just bad timing on our parts."

"It's always bad timing between us. When you're working, I'm on break. When you're on break, I'm working."

"Tori," Beck began, wondering what brought this on.

"No. Hear me out." Tori said. "With us, our careers would always take precedence over our relationship."

"That's not necessarily a bad thing, Tori." Beck said.

"But it's not love, is it?" Tori's voice wavered, warning Beck that she was on the verge of tears. "Because that's what I want. A love that will forsake everything. Not this lukewarm thing that's going on between us."

"I don't understand."

Tori sniffled. She was obviously crying at this point. "You don't love me, do you? Not with the love you felt for her."

"Tori, don't do this now. You're obviously tired and emotional—"

"I was just convenient," Tori continued, not listening to Beck's side of the conversation. "I was there at the right place at the right time, and you thought, well, why the hell not?"

"That was not how it happened, Tori."

"It had always been me who was running after you. You didn't even want a relationship. I talked you into it!"

"That's not true."

"We've been together for three years and you haven't told me you love me yet! I don't even have a pet name!"

"What? That's ridiculous!"

"Then tell me that you love me and only me." Tori cajoled him softly.

Beck's silence was answer enough.

"It's still about her, isn't it?" She whispered.

"Tori, don't do this to yourself."

Tori sniffed, but bravely soldiered on. "Why her?"

Beck was silent for a moment. Then, to Tori's heartbreak, he said softly, "It's not because of a failing on your part," Beck tried to assure her. "You, you're perfect. It's all my fault."

"That doesn't make me feel better."

"I'm sorry."

"So where does this leave us?"

"I don't know. Tori, I—" Beck had no idea what he should say to make Tori stay, but he was mercifully interrupted by a commotion from the other line which sounded like Andre screaming, "I got it! I got it!"

"I've been away long enough," Tori said finally. "I should get back. Good bye, Beck. I wish you the best."

Beck muttered a bad word and threw the phone against the wall in his frustration.

It was over.


Three Years Ago




The elevator doors whooshed open to reveal a thinner, paler Jade West on a wheelchair. A line of people met her outside, all of whom were smiling brightly.

Jade answered with her own small, rare smile. She gripped the handlebars of her wheelchair and slowly stood up.

The person in front of her started clapping, quickly imitated by another, then another, until everyone on the ground floor was clapping for her.

Because she fought against great odds and won.

For the first time in four years, Jade West was cancer-free.

With tears in her eyes, she shook the hand of the first person who clapped—Nurse Joy, the Nazi who ran the cancer ward with an iron fist.

Jade made her way through the line of people, shaking hands, crying and laughing. Everyone there, in one way or another, had a hand in her road to recovery: from Dr. Jacob Wilson, M.D., to the candy stripper who almost wet his pants the first time he met Jade.

At the end of the line was Moose, incoming freshman med student.

Moose extended his hand to her, but instead of the expected handshake, Jade pulled him to her for a hug.

"I made it," she whispered to him joyfully.

"I know. Congratulations."

Their moment was suddenly interrupted by a pair of girlish shrieks emanating from the waiting room television where two women made up within an inch of their lives were freaking out.

"It's official, folks!" The smaller of the two woman burbled.

"You heard it here first!" The other one giggled.

"It has been officially confirmed that television heartthrob Beck Oliver and pop star Tori Vega are in a relationship!"

"Both their publicists confirmed that after almost ten years of BFF-ship, the two can't fight their feelings for each other anymore."

"It's like a fairytale."

"Oh my gosh! Imagine what cute babies they'll make!"

Moose had had enough of the television talk show. "Can someone please turn the goddamned television off?" He finally bellowed.

The staff, surprised at the sudden outburst from the normally laid-back son of the hospital's premier oncologist, froze a second before a mad scramble towards the television broke out.

Moose made a face at Jade.

"It's fine," she whispered to him. "You can't win 'em all, huh?" Jade whispered as she released Moose from her death grip.

"You heard that?" Moose winced.

"I have cancer, not deafness."

"Correction, you had cancer. Past tense."

Jade nodded. "You're right. If I can beat cancer, I can do everything. Even win him back. Maybe."

"Why maybe? That doesn't sound like the Jade West I know who kicked cancer's ass."

"I let him go for him to be happy. He's happy now, isn't he?"

Before Moose could answer, a happy but tired voice called out, "Jade, it's time to go."

"I'll see you later." Moose said instead, sneaking a kiss on Jade's head.

Jade nodded as she slowly made her way back to her wheelchair, pushed by her mother. She was tired. She was always tired, but at least now, there was a chance that eventually, she won't be tired anymore.

It was, after all, the first day of the rest of her life.


Present time

In the end, it was ridiculously easy to find the whereabouts of one J. Shelly Craven.

His manager talked to another manager who was friends with the sister of the neighbor of the editor who was dating the agent of the mysterious author. After being sworn to secrecy (spit, blood and a secret handshake may have been involved), he had received a New Jersey address.

That was how Beck Oliver found himself on the front stoop of an apartment near Princeton University.

He was uncharacteristically nervous. After all, he was showing up unannounced at the home of a New York Times bestselling author who was also known for being insanely protective of her private life. (She had quickly gained a reputation as an eccentric as she refused to publish her photos or go on book tours, but that only made her fans love her more.)

He took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.

The door opened ominously.

"Well, well, well. Lookie what the cat dragged in."

Beck's eyes widened at the person who opened the door. "Moose?"

"Hey!" Moose laughed as he grabbed his childhood friend and started thumping him on the back delightedly. "Nice to know that you still think of the little people."

"What are you doing here?"

"What am I doing here?" Moose opened the door wider and dragged Beck inside, straight into the kitchen. "I live here! You're the one who dropped by and rang my doorbell! Sit, sit!" He indicated to the massive kitchen table.

Beck sat. "You look well and happy," he began. "What are you up to?"

"I'm one year shy of earning my medical degree," Moose announced proudly as he moved to the refrigerator to take out a jug of iced tea.

"Following your dad's footsteps, eh?"

"Yeah." Moose dimpled and seemed to be lost in thoughts before he shook himself and grabbed a couple of tall drinking glasses.

"I didn't even know you're here. I thought you were still in Canada!" Beck grinned widely at the unexpected surprise.

"Oh, yeah. I'm here for my medical degree. I wanted to touch base with you when I arrived but I somehow lost your number."

It was a weak excuse, as far as excuses go, but Beck let it pass, opting instead to drink the glass of iced tea Moose set in front of him.

"So," Moose began. "What brings you to my neck of the woods?"

"Funny story, really." Beck began. "Are you, for some reason, Moose Wilson, med student by day, and J. Shelley Craven, author/artist extraordinaire, by night?"

"J. Shelley Craven?" Moose started laughing. "Which part of being held back in feeferdoon for being lame in finger painting did you not understand?"

"Oh. It was a long-shot anyway." Beck shrugged philosophically. "I planned on thanking Craven for hand-picking me for the screen adaptation of Esthesis. I guess getting the address of the elusive Craven was too good to be true."

"I wouldn't necessarily say that." Moose grinned at him slyly.

"What do you mean?"

Before Moose could reply, a deep, sultry, but unmistakable feminine voice called out, "Moose? Who's at the door?"

Beck's eyebrows raised. "Girlfriend?"

"Ah, to my eternal regret, that would be a no." Moose replied.

And Beck's world once again tilted out of axis when Moose's housemate appeared in the kitchen. "Jade?"


One Year Ago

"I can't stand it! She's driving me crazy!"

Moose suppressed a groan as he sat up from his bed. Blearily, he looked at the clock on his bedside. Much too early for this.

"Moose, who is it?" A high-pitched voice whined from beside him.

"Do you have a friend in bed with you?" The voice from his phone asked incredulously before laughing gleefully.

"It's nothing," he assured the woman beside him. "Just an annoying friend. Go back to sleep."

Satisfied with the explanation and the kiss Moose pressed on her forehead, the woman sighed and went back to sleep even as Moose stood up and searched for his boxers.

"Annoying friend?" Jade West, her amused voice tinged with mock offense.

"Do you have any idea what time it is?" Moose barked on his phone once he was out of his bedroom.

"Oh. The time zone thing. I forgot."

"You always forget." Moose shot back but Jade knew from his tone that she was forgiven.

"Sorry for interrupting."

Moose opted to change the topic. "So who's been driving you crazy?"

"My mother!" Sufficiently distracted from the topic of Moose's lady friend, Jade made a rude sound from the other end of the line. "I can't believe her! She's treating me like a kid instead of a full-grown woman."

"Cut her some slack, West. She did almost lose you."

"Then she should know that life is short, I have to enjoy as much of it as I can."

"She did allow you to go to Paris instead of re-enrolling in college."

"Yeah, with her and the little brother as chaperone. I can't even get on the back of the bike of a cute French boy."

"What did I tell you about climbing the backseat of strangers' vehicles?" Moose asked mock sternly. Then, his tone softened. "When are you guys getting back?"

"I don't know, we all love it here," she paused. "It's inspiring me to write more stuff."

"That's great."

A beat, then, "What time is it in New Jersey?"

"Four in the morning. And I have classes at eight."

"It's not my fault you stayed up all night with your lady friend."

"But it's your fault that I'm freezing my ass off right now because I'm not in bed with my warm lady friend."

"I'm beginning to see where your priorities lie, Moose."

"Yeah. With you."

Jade was silent, which Moose had taken to mean that Jade was fighting a pleased smile.

"Thanks, Moose."

"Anytime. Now remember what I said about cutting your mom some slack."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. But don't be surprised if you see me one day in your front stoop. There's only so much of family bonding I can take."

"I'll be looking forward to that."

"Of course, you would, you wuss. Well, I gotta go. Life is short and all that. Later, loser."

"Yeah, I love you, too."

"Good night, Wilson."

"Top of the morning, West."


Present time

Moose frowned as he took in the perplexed face of his old friend to the semi-apologetic face of his new (best) one. Then a thought dawned on him. He turned to Beck. "She didn't tell you, did she?"

"Tell me what?" Beck asked absentmindedly, his attention focused only on Jade.

"You two have a lot to talk about. I'll leave you be." Moose got up, grabbed his jacket and left the house.

Not that the duo left behind noticed: they only had eyes for each other.

Beck and Jade were quiet for a while, completely content with re-familiarizing themselves with the other's face; after all they had seven years of missing each other to make up for.

Finally, after a long while, Beck cleared his throat. "So, you and Moose?"

Jade smirked. It was so familiar and unfamiliar at the same time that Beck's stomach twisted in knots in remembrance.

She was the same Jade he last saw seven years ago, but at the same time, she was not.

She had always been beautiful, but now, years later, she had taken on an ethereal quality, making her beauty almost otherworldly. She had lost weight, weight she didn't need to lose in the first place. Her hair was shorter than ever before, but she opted to grow it in its natural chestnut brown.

He can't believe after looking for her for years, a twist of fate would lead him to be sitting across from her on a kitchen table in New Jersey.

"Moose and I are friends. Just friends." Jade told him. "So you're here to surprise Moose with a visit, only to be surprised yourself?"

"Seeing Moose was a surprise also. Truth be told, I haven't thought about him for years." Beck admitted. "I was expecting to meet the talented J. Shelley Craven to thank her for the opportunity to be the lead in Esthesis." He paused to shrug, "Moose, I can give or take. But seeing you, after all these years, that's the biggest and best surprise off all."

Jade gave him a mysterious smile. "Not that surprising," she said.

Beck's eyes widened. "J. Shelley Craven?"

Jade nodded, "In the flesh."

"Wow." Beck ran a nervous hand through his hair, a habit he thought he had long outgrown. Then, her remembered Moose's parting comment. "So, what did you not tell me?" That question seemed safer than the ones he actually wanted to ask: why did you dump me? Why did you disappear? Why are you with Moose?

Jade lost her smile and looked away. "The long and short of it is, I got sick."

Beck blanched.

She fingered her short locks. "I also lost weight. Lost my hair. Almost lost my will to live."

"What happened?"

"I got leukemia."

"Cancer?" Beck slowly, tentatively reached for Jade's hand across the table, knowing her distaste of a stranger's touch. When instead of the rejection he was expecting, she actually turned her palm up so that his hand can grasp hers, Beck enveloped her hand in his larger ones.

Jade nodded.

"But you're better now, right? You got well?"

Jade smiled brightly, a smile formerly reserved only for Beck. "Cancer-free for three years and counting."

Beck couldn't help but smile back. He didn't think that she could be any more beautiful than she was when she was eighteen, but the passing years gave her an air of confidence and contentment that her younger self never had.

Slowly, Beck lost his smile as a thought occurred to him. "Were you alone when you were getting well?"

"Of course not. I have mom, dad's medical insurance," Jade grinned weakly. "The little brother also stepped up, donating his life-saving bone marrow. He practically forced the doctors to open him up and take it." She smiled fondly in remembrance of her brave little warrior.

Beck made a mental note to get in touch with the little scamp who, come to think of it, was now a full-pledged teenager.

"And then, there's Moose," she said softly.

Beck bit back the bitter response that wanted to bubble out of him. How come Moose got to nurse Jade back to health but he can't? Instead, he told her sincerely,"I would have taken care of you, you know."

"I know." Jade met his intense gaze. "That's why I had to break up with you."

Beck looked at Jade as if she lost her mind.

"You just had your pilot picked up. You were off to New York to your future. I can't ask you to turn your back on that to take care of a sick girlfriend."

"But I—" Beck was silenced when Jade gave his hand a squeeze.

"I know you would have done that and more. I would hate that and, eventually, I would hate you for it. Then, you would start to resent it, but you would keep doing it because that's the way you're wired."

He took a moment to process Jade's statement. "You're right," Beck said. "Except on one count: I would have done it not because of any faulty wiring on my part."

Jade snorted a laugh.

"I would have done it because I love you."

Blue eyes met calm brown ones.

"I think," Beck said slowly. "I still love you."

"We haven't seen each other for seven years." Jade tried jerking her hand from Beck's grasp, but the he wouldn't let her go. Not this time.

"I never stopped loving you." He said.

Jade raised an eyebrow but she did not say anything.

"And I think you never stopped loving me, too."

"A bit presumptuous of you, don't you think?"

"Of course you still love me." Beck grinned wider. "You wrote Esthesis for me. You made sure that it got really big so you can set the terms when the movie outfits come sniffing after it. You sold the right to turn it to a movie but made sure you retained absolute control in scriptwriting and casting. After, you gave the lead to me. How am I doing so far?"

Jade scowled.

"Then," Beck continued. "You waited until the tabloids reported that Tori and I broke up because, let's face it, it was a relationship that was doomed from the start. When our publicists confirmed that Bori is over—"

"Bori?" Jade snorted.

"Yeah. It's mine and Tori's ship name. Get with the times, West."

"I don't even want to know why the two of you have a ship together if you can't agree on a name that's not stupid." Jade grumbled.

Beck grinned but declined to comment further, knowing that Jade was only trying to sidetrack him. "Anyway, when our publicists confirmed that we're over, you made sure that I could find a way to meet the infamous J. Shelley Craven. That's why you weren't surprised to see me in you kitchen with Moose. Admit it, babe. This is just one elaborate scheme to see me again because you never stopped loving me."

Beck took Jade's silence for a tacit agreement.

"Now that we've established that even after seven years, we still love each other," Beck continued. "The question is where do we go from here?"

Jade's expression lightened. "That's the best thing about being young and healthy," she said. "We can go wherever we want."

"You're right." Beck smiled at her tenderly. "But first, I have to give you something." He reached into his pocket to take out a well-worn black box that was already seven years late.




P.S. Now, it's your turn to tell me I'm pretty. :) - khay