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If You Don't Expect Too Much From Me (You Might Not Be Let Down)

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Chapter One

 

When she stops to think about it, she thinks she must have been doomed from the start. (Well, maybe not the very start, but shortly thereafter for sure.)

Doomed to a path she didn't want to follow. Compelled to play a part she wasn't really fit for. But still, she could never really bring herself to regret the choices she made. The steps her feet had taken for her.

No, she didn't have regrets. Not exactly. She'd just given her first performance as a signed artist, and she was soaring. Her heart was full.

That's probably why it feels so much like a rapidly deflating balloon when Chloe walks right by her afterwards. Pays her no mind before latching onto Chicago. She watches him dip her before continuing their kiss. She can see the "romantic cliché" checkbox floating in her mind's eye, and then the big red check suddenly fill it up as he holds her there for what feels like entirely too long. The whole thing makes her confidence over “no regrets” stutter and stumble.

And not for the first time, or even the tenth, or hundredth, she wonders what those lips would feel like on hers.

So it was without surprise that she found herself grateful for the distraction. Happy to listen to Theo talking, even if it takes her an extra second to rip her eyes away from Chloe. Once she does that, it is easy to walk away. Easy to leave her love behind.

She has no reason to think Chloe could see her pain. She never has, after all. But as Beca walks away with Theo towards her future, she can’t help but think of the pieces of her heartbreak scattered as a trail behind her. Can’t help but hope that Chloe will see the breadcrumbs, and follow in her wake.

The rest of the night takes too long. There are too many people and too many of those people are strangers. Her head is starting to hurt from all the congratulatory cocktails, and she really, really wouldn't mind getting out of her heels.

She keeps chastising herself for all the inward complaining. She is happy. And she is grateful for this amazing opportunity. She can't imagine all the possibilities of where this new life might take her, but she's pretty sure they're good ones.

Still. She's tired. The adrenaline from the show is leaking out of her veins at an alarming rate. Throw in the effort of trying not to think of Chloe and her current whereabouts, and Beca is every kind of drained.

It’s after 2am when she finally arrives back in the quiet safety of her hotel room. She really wants to just crash in her bed and pass out until someone forces her awake again, but she knows she’ll regret not showering if she wakes up still weighed down with hair spray and her skin smelling like French cigarettes.

She gets out a pair of clean clothes to sleep in, a makeup remover wipe from her toiletries bag, and starts her pre-shower routine. The mindlessness of the act frees up her brain. Lets her think back to the beginning of this entire journey. She doesn’t think she’d ever have become a singer if it weren’t for joining an a capella group in college first.

If someone were to ask any of the other Bellas how Beca had been introduced to the idea of collegiate a capella, they’d probably tell you it was at an activities fair. They’d give you a funny anecdote about how Beca sort of insulted the entire idea, and how Aubrey sort of called her a bitch for it.

If that same person asked Chloe, well, the story would probably be different. It would probably involve a little David Guetta, a little shower stall, and a whole lot of nudity. Beca tries to shake away the thought and moves into the bathroom.

She turns the water on and doesn’t get in until the steam starts pouring out. As she washes the night off of her, she hears songs in her head. She doesn’t sing them. Beca Mitchell hasn’t wanted to sing in the shower in a long, long time.

///

Fall 2011

She’s pretty unimpressed with college so far. Her classes are boring. Her roommate sucks. She doesn’t have any friends. Okay, maybe that last one is a little on her seeing as she hasn’t exactly tried to make any. The closest thing she’s got is Jesse, who doesn’t seem to understand her rebuffs at all. She wants to be annoyed with him when they’re together at the radio station, but something about his careless optimism is (dare she say it?) charming.

She’s been thinking a lot about what her father said the day he caught her ditching. This is college! Enjoy it! She can’t help but secretly want to take his advice. Yes, she wants to move to L.A. to get a foot in the door of the musical world. But she knows it will be there waiting for her no matter when she actually leaves in pursuit of it. College, and all the perks of being in it (no bills and three meals a day that she doesn’t even have to cook for herself), perhaps doesn’t have to be so bad. Maybe she’s wishing away something pretty good. Something that won’t always be there waiting for her.

Perhaps the idea of joining a campus club could use some more introspection. She wishes she’d paid more attention to the options at the activities fair. She’s thinking through the clubs she remembers as she enters the communal bathroom to take a shower. She’s humming to herself a little but doesn’t hear any other showers running, so her hum quickly turns into actual singing. After all, who doesn’t love singing in the shower?

She’s been in there for all of sixty seconds before she realizes she is no longer alone. Her first thought in response to the intrusion is Holy shit, I’m naked! This thought is very swiftly followed by Holy shit, SHE’S naked! Beca feels completely overwhelmed and stumbles through the motions of trying to cover herself. Her eyes keep landing on the girl in front of her, try as she might to avert them.

She doesn’t think there’s any way of getting out of this situation not permanently scarred, so when the girl from the activities fair (she recognizes her now) asks her to sing her lady jam, Beca really doesn’t have any other thought besides Might as well…

And then they’re singing together. And Beca sort of forgets about covering herself up. And they’ve got some pretty intense eye contact going on, but Beca thinks the girl’s eyes are probably the safest place to look. They finish perfectly in sync, and Beca can’t help the smile tugging at her lips. She also can’t help that her eyes finally fall. She internally berates herself for being so obvious about it.

The redhead doesn’t seem to mind. She’s apparently pretty confident about all this. Beca’s lips don’t stop her response. And it is momentarily not awkward at all. Sharing this very small space with this very naked girl. It isn’t lost on Beca that she isn’t nearly as appalled by the situation as she was two minutes ago.

It’s weird how quickly people can bond over a little nude singing.

The non-awkwardness evaporates quickly once a third person enters the mix, but fortunately they both quickly leave her be after that.

And by the time Beca is walking back to her dorm room, she is sporting a small smile she doesn’t quite have an explanation for.

///

It’s a few days later and she's waiting in the shadows backstage. She keeps telling herself she's only here to get her dad off her back. She’d watched the last few people audition, singing that catchy Kelly Clarkson song. She has to admit to herself that it was interesting, how each person approached singing the song differently.

She feels a little out of her element. Okay, a lot out of her element. She doesn't like the idea of going out there purely for the purpose of letting the audience judge her skill. She doesn't like the idea of singing that song, even though she knows the words, because she hasn't practiced. She doesn't like the idea that simply by being here she's asking for acceptance.

She watches the various people dotted among the seats in the auditorium. The judges of the a capella hopefuls. There's a group of boys in the back that Beca can only describe as nerdy dude bros. She's pretty sure she recognizes some of them from being pointed out at the activities fair. They all mostly appear bored during the auditions. They don't look up at the singers. Rather, they talk amongst themselves, as if giving their attention elsewhere isn't a high priority.

She recognizes members of the other a capella groups also. Identifiable by their brightly colored polos with popped collars, and their vacant expressions respectively. Beca suppresses a smirk at the fact that they're perpetuating their own stereotypes so well.

In the very front row though, sits Aubrey and Chloe. Beca finally discovered the redhead's name when she introduced herself to one of the girls auditioning. She finds it weird that she knew the girl's body before she knew her name, but by this point she's just accepted that they're doing things out of order.

It's while she's having that thought that the end of auditions is announced. And Beca is regretful because she hasn't had enough time to decide if she really wants to do this or not. In a moment of near panic, she steps into Chloe's line of sight. She still isn't sure if she wants to be seen or not but then Chloe's eyes land on her and she's walking forward onto the stage.

She hears herself say something about the song choice and feels relief when Chloe lets her out of singing it. Gives her the freedom to sing what she likes.

And Beca's not sure what's going through her head except she feels like she wants to impress this girl. She wants her to like what she hears.

She goes for simple. She sits, takes the cup, and patently ignores the doubtful look Aubrey is giving her. Her eyes instead lock onto Chloe's and then she's singing and they're doing the eye contact thing again. 

She claps the cup back down for the last time and Chloe gives her the same radiant smile she gave her in the shower. And why can't Beca seem to stop thinking about this girl in the shower?

She forces herself to stop that train of thought, and then she's standing and letting her feet carry her away once more. She's wondering when the next time she'll see Chloe will be and she’s thinking maybe it won’t be the end of the world to have two friends instead of one.

///

It’s weird, how similar joining an a capella group is to joining a sorority. It’s been two days since she auditioned, and she hasn’t heard a peep about anyone being asked to join any team. Jesse says during their time at the radio station that if a group wants you, they kidnap you first. No better way to indoctrinate you to their “culty ways.” She thinks he’s kidding though. Even if he did say it with a completely straight face.

She’s already taken several steps into her dorm room after the last class of the day before she sees them. Two small envelopes are on the floor right in front of the entry, which she realizes after a few seconds is probably because they were pushed under the door while she was away.

She picks them up and stares at the one on top. Her name is written across the middle in slanted writing, just legible enough not to be called sloppy. She opens it to find an off white card inside with more of the same handwriting scribbled across it. She reads it quickly with a mildly shocked expression.

Beca Mitchell,

Thank you for coming to the a capella auditions. This is an invitation for you to join Barden University’s High Notes team. If interested, please meet us at 9pm on Friday night behind the music building on campus. If not, then please at least be kind to the earth and recycle this invitation.

May peace follow you wherever you go,
The High Notes

Beca blinks at it a few times. She didn’t even realize the other teams were still listening as she was singing that day. She shakes her head as she places the bid on her desk, more than certain she has no interest in joining the team literally named after their affinity for smoking the green. She turns back to the other, slightly thicker envelope yet to be opened.

The name Beca is written much more elegantly than she could ever manage herself. Upon opening it she sees a fancy looking emblem in the middle, dominating most of the space. It almost looks like a family crest, and the letters BB are written in loopy script in the middle. At the top she reads the following:

Dear Beca,

It is with great pleasure that we invite you to join the Barden Bellas. For decades, our strong sisterhood has been a part of Barden’s extracurricular life. In an effort to respect the sisters who came before us, we expect loyalty and dedication from all those who join our number. If you think the Bellas are a good fit for you, please join us for an initiation and hood night this Friday night.

Beneath the Bellas symbol was the information for where to go and what time to be there for initiation night. And beneath that:

Hoping to see you soon,
Aubrey and Chloe

Beca smiles at their handwritten signatures. She is happier than she thought she’d be over receiving a bid from them. Not that she’d ever admit to it.

///

It wasn’t a kidnapping. She got herself into this entirely of her own volition. Still, she wonders what exactly she agreed to join when the first thing Aubrey and Chloe do upon her arrival is put a dark hood over her head. She doesn’t freak out over any of the overly dramatic, ritualistic pledging process all night (though she came close with the whole “drinking the blood of your sisters” thing). By the time she’s gotten her scarf and officially proclaimed a Bella, she finds she’s actually enjoying herself. These girls seem crazy but she supposes it’s the good kind of crazy. The kind that inspires a lot of laughter and makes for good memories.

To celebrate the new initiates, all the campus groups meet in the outdoor amphitheater to sing and party together. Beca thinks it might be the nerdiest gathering of her life, but it isn’t all together unenjoyable.

She’s standing alone and just people watching when suddenly Chloe is completely invading her personal space. What’s with this girl and boundaries? She has Beca’s wrists in a death grip and pulls them so hard Beca can’t do anything but lurch forward. Her face is inches from Chloe’s and God, she smells good, and isn’t that a weird thought to have? Somehow she manages to get through their interaction without stumbling over her words, though she chastises herself when she unnecessarily brings up their naked shower encounter just because Chloe says they’re going to be fast friends. She lets Chloe go shortly after, not wanting to embarrass herself any further.

Before she can decide what to do next, Jesse finds her. He’s awkwardly climbing over the stone benches instead of just using the steps like a regular person and she can’t help but smile at him. She begrudgingly admits to herself that his company is starting to grow on her. She sees Aubrey narrow her eyes at them from across the space but she shakes it off. She knows this won’t be the first time she pisses off Aubrey Posen.

So yeah, maybe she did take an oath not to bang any Trebles. She honestly didn’t see much likelihood in that possibility anyway, so what did it hurt? The oath didn’t say anything about not being friends with them. Where could the harm be in that? After all, Jesse did seem pretty harmless. She takes in his careless smile, thinking a tentative friendship with him might not be the end of the world. After all, he’s the only one seeking out her company right now.

She looks around at the rest of the new Bellas while she stands with him. Fat Amy is chatting with Aubrey, and Beca can only think the words “hard pass” before letting her gaze move on. The rest were grouped in twos and threes, laughing and dancing and drinking. Oh, and her fast friend? She’s busy making out with her shower buddy. Not that that bothers Beca at all.

///

Present Day

Beca is yanked back into the present once the water of her shower starts to run cold. She's almost grateful for the goose bumps spreading across her skin. Spending too much time thinking of her memories with Chloe typically leads to even more brooding than usual. 

She dries off, slips into her mismatched pajamas, and gets into bed. She double checks the alarm on her phone before finally, finally giving in to her exhaustion. She hopes she sleeps well because she's got a long day of sightseeing with the girls tomorrow now that the tour is over.

The next morning comes far too quickly. It's 8am in Nice and despite her vehement protest that it was too early to do anything, the rest of the group has decided they need to leave soon to start exploring. Beca's blood doesn't have nearly enough caffeine in it yet and her eyes don't seem to be able to open all the way. She's wearing over-sized sunglasses indoors and she doesn't care one bit that it makes her look like a giant douche. Most of the other Bellas don't look much better, but they’re at least excited about the free time the day offers. The one exception to the bunch, of fucking course, is Chloe, who always looks like she eats sunshine for breakfast. And Beca can't believe that's a thought she actually just had, so she takes another sip of her coffee, hoping this time it won't scald her tongue.

They’re all corralled in the hotel lobby, waiting for the cars that will escort them about the city. Despite the “Don’t talk to me yet” vibe she’s projecting in spades, Chloe still sits down next to her at the little spindly table she’s sipping her coffee at. The redhead has always somehow been immune to Beca’s more surly moods.

"So, you're like a big shot music star now," she says, her eyes twinkling.

"I don't think one song makes me a star yet, Chloe." She can't help the small smile that pulls at her lips though as she says it. It’s like Chloe makes her forget she has a no smiling before coffee rule.

"You will be. What's next now with Khaled?"

"We have a few conference calls already set up in the next few weeks. I think their plan is to have me collaborate with a few other artists before giving me anything on my own. I'm not sure though," she ends thoughtfully, wondering for the hundredth time where her life will take her now.

"Good. I don't think I could handle it if you up and decided to move out as soon as we get home."

She doesn't respond. Doesn't tell Chloe that that's exactly what she's been thinking about since the night before. Doesn't tell her the thought of going home and going back to sleeping next to her every night kills her just a little bit. But if Chloe senses anything weird in her lack of response, she doesn't comment on it.

She changes the subject. And the words come out of her mouth before her brain can stop her.

"So, you and Chicago?"

She cringes. And she hates herself for asking because she's told herself about a thousand times she doesn't want to know. Except maybe she's a masochist because she kind of does want to know. If for no other reason than to continue wallowing in her unreturned feelings.

Chloe smiles. And it isn't her sunshine smile. It's her mischievous smile. The one she uses when she's done something decidedly not innocent.

"Yeah," she says casually. "I just figured why not you know? He seems really nice and we'd been sort of flirting the whole tour. And I dunno, after the show I was just feeling so good. We didn't die on that yacht and that stupid Evermoist band didn't win the competition. And you, God, you were so good on that stage. I was just so happy."

Beca hates herself for contributing to Chloe's overt boldness the previous night.

"Yeah, I... I saw you kiss him."

She doesn't look at Chloe when she says it. Can't.

"Man was he good at that, too. And that's not all he's good at if you catch my drift."

She sends a wink across the space between them and Beca is praying to anyone listening that her facial expression is appropriate for that revelation.

"I'm... glad you had a good last night."

Except she's not glad at all. And by this point she's lost count of how many lies she's told Chloe Beale.

When Aubrey comes over to announce the arrival of the driver for the day, Beca can’t walk away fast enough.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

 

The Bellas are divided amongst two large SUVs as they prepare to leave for their day of sightseeing in Nice. They have plans to spend most of the day roaming, and she’s certain Aubrey has a whole list of points of interest for their day out. As Beca settles into a seat in the first car, she can’t help but be a little grateful they came in the springtime. She can’t deny that the beaches are beautiful, but her pale skin burns with even a whisper of summer sun, so she’s glad that won’t be a part of their itinerary.

Cynthia Rose is next in the car and takes a seat right next to her with an easy smile. Beca feels her shoulders relax. She’s still upset over knowing (or at least assuming) what Chloe did last night. Mostly she’s just angry with herself though because she knows she’s the one who asked in the first place. And she’s also angry with herself over not having the courage to just come out and say what she needs to say. What she should say.

Part of her had been hoping Chloe would read between the lines of the song she sang the previous night. Would hear her confession amid the melody. Would feel her heart beating for Chloe as they held each other tight afterwards.

I love you. I’m in love with you. Choose me, please.

She knows now that was a pipe dream though. Chloe has always been oblivious when it came to Beca’s feelings.

The rest of the car has filled up during Beca’s musing. Lilly is next to Cynthia Rose, and Jessica, Ashley, and Fat Amy have filed into the third row. Beca relaxes even more. She doesn’t want to be anywhere near a conversation between Chloe and Stacie right now. Stacie has a sixth sense for detecting when someone is “post hook-up” and honestly no one deserves to hear the kinds of details bound to come out once they’re in the same car together.

The driver takes them towards the city’s center, making sure to take the scenic route to make the ride more enjoyable. They travel along the English Walk, taking in the views of the beachfront before turning away from the coast and traveling further inland. They pass tourist trap shops Beca knows better than to stop at, and open cafes that make her think wistfully of the half-finished coffee she’d thrown away before departing.

The girls have quiet conversations about their plans for the day, their plans for going back home (Fat Amy Winehouse coming to a performance space near you!), and a little about what’s next for Beca. She’s hit with that same sinking feeling of nostalgia all over again as they near their destination. They were once again on the verge of saying goodbye, the roadways of their lives leading in all different directions. She resolves right then and there to enjoy the rest of her time with them right as they’re pulling up to Place Masséna.

All this brooding is for the birds.

They spend the day sightseeing and taking photos. Buying souvenirs and laughing too much. They walk through too many shops, some Beca recognizes, others too French for her understanding. They visit botanical gardens and literally stop to smell the flowers. Chloe buys Beca more coffee without any prompting (she offers a quiet “You’re welcome” before placing a quick kiss to Beca’s cheek). There’s a lot of impromptu singing.

The morning sun changes from softly golden to buttery yellow with the arrival of the afternoon. And by the time the girls make it back to their pick up point, it is starting to slip back down towards the earth, turning the tiles of Place Masséna from white to copper. Nice really is beautiful.

“Take a selfie with me, Becs,” Chloe says as she sidles up next to her while they wait for the cars to pick them up.

She drapes an arm over Beca’s shoulder and the other holds the phone out in front of them. She snaps a few and Beca smiles for the camera, but she can tell she looks a little stiff. It’s hard not to let herself sink into the redhead when she’s this close. And the sunset is really making her more beautiful than Beca thinks is fair. She’s wondering how many more Chloe will take when Fat Amy’s voice reaches their ears.

“A live goat running through your kitchen is definitely the least expected thing that can happen when you’re having sex! I don’t care what you say, Stacie!”

Beca immediately falls into a fit of laughter and wonders what sparked that announcement. After a few moments, her laughter fades and she shakes her head at their friends, a small smile still sitting on her lips.

“I’m going to miss them when we all leave again,” Chloe says quietly, wearing a matching smile and looking at the group.

“Nope!” Beca replies quickly, turning her attention to red hair and blue eyes. “No one is allowed to say sad things until tomorrow at the airport. Not a word, Beale.”

Chloe laughs but agrees (“You better be prepared then, because I’m bottling it all up, Mitchell.”).

Their drivers roll up to the curb right about then, and as the other girls start to file in, Chloe holds her phone out for Beca to see, a photo waiting to be looked at.

“I think this one is my favorite,” Chloe says with a smile.

On the screen, Beca has her head thrown back in laughter and her eyes closed. Chloe is smiling too, her arm still resting casually on Beca’s shoulder, and her eyes are filled with amusement as she watches Beca laugh.

The picture is warm with the hue of sunset on their skin and Beca thinks it’s her favorite too.

///

After returning to their hotel, the Bellas shower and meet up once more in the hotel lobby to go out for one last dinner together. They decided to dress up for the occasion, and even though Beca can practically feel the tears they’re all threatening to spill at their impending goodbyes, she’s grateful no one is shedding them yet.

It’s a short walk to the restaurant that was recommended to them by their concierge, so they only have to listen to Fat Amy grumble about being starving for a little while (“Bread and cheese is NOT a suitable lunch!”).

The restaurant they chose is nice but not overly expensive, and they opt to eat in the outdoor seating section. Beca can hear the waves from her chair, providing the perfect dinner music. It’s a lovely last evening together.

Until it isn’t anymore.

“What are you two tarts giggling about?” Fat Amy asks, her gaze resting on Chloe and Stacie who had just been whispering together like teenagers, their foreheads almost touching.

Beca knows without a shadow of doubt she doesn’t want to know.

She leans forward in her chair anyway.

“Oh, just more of the dirty from last night between Chloe and her slice,” Stacie comments airily.

At that, everyone else abandons their current conversation to join in the gossip. It reminds Beca of dogs and how their ears perk up at the sound of words like “treat” and “food.”

“How dirty are we talking here?” Fat Amy continues.

Beca wills her face to remain impassive.

“I don’t think this is appropriate dinner conversation for our last night together,” Aubrey comments stiffly. And Beca, for the third or fourth time in her life, vehemently agrees with her.

The suggestion is blatantly ignored by everyone else though and Chloe’s face shifts into a devious smirk.

“Dirty enough to make even you proud, Amy,” she says cheerfully. Her innocent tone and her less than innocent implication are horribly at odds. “Dirty enough for three rounds.”

There’s a smattering of giggles around the table that Beca doesn’t have a prayer for mimicking. Her stomach is in knots and the waves are not loud enough.

“Do you think you’ll see him again though? After we go back home, I mean?” Emily asks. Sweet, innocent Legacy is trying to steer the conversation towards waters she’s more comfortable wading, and usually Beca would be grateful but somehow this question is even worse. It had never occurred to her that whatever Chloe had with Chicago might continue after their time here.

“I don’t know. I guess we’ll just see what happens.” Chloe says, like she’s happy with the possibility of something with him. And that’s what does it, what makes Beca suddenly stand without the first inkling of what to say.

Everybody turns to her, faces expectant. She flounders for a few seconds before the waves come back to her.

“Who wants to go for a walk on the beach?”

There’s a general hum of agreement, and after they’ve paid their bills they make the short trek to the ocean. High heels are stripped off and carried as they walk along, the lights from the beachfront hotels and the moon illuminating their way. Beca, against her better judgment, lets her mind drift.

 

Fall 2011

“Yeah, no, don’t put me down for cardio,” Fat Amy says in response to Aubrey recommending a strict cardio regimen to train for the Bellas. Beca feels pretty strongly in agreement. She has no idea why that would be necessary.

Their first official Barden Bellas rehearsal is… not going well. Aubrey had already removed two from their number before the thing even started and she’s also dead serious about sticking with this older than dirt itself routine. What happened to the Mariah Carey chart toppers (not that she particularly wanted to sing that either)?

Chloe has barely even opened her mouth and Beca is really starting to question how much of “Co-Captain” is just a title instead of an actual responsibility for the redhead.

After Aubrey has gone through every point in her “To the Top” algorithm in excruciatingly perfect detail, she deems them ready to begin vocal exercises. They learn a slew of a capella sounds and try to repeat them as Aubrey and Chloe teach them. That didn’t go horribly wrong (if one doesn’t count Stacie constantly going off book and touching herself), but actually learning the steps to the routine was bad even according to Beca’s standards. It seemed that although all of them were decent singers, none of them were naturally gifted when it came to performing choreographed dancing.

Chloe had more patience out of their two teachers, repeatedly doing the moves for them and not getting upset over having to once. She did change her approach at some point, opting to get a little closer and move their limbs herself instead of just demonstrating.

Beca doesn’t really have an explanation for why the girl’s proximity doesn’t bother her at all, but she doesn’t have much time to think it over before Aubrey is calling an end to practice. They have a minor spat about her “ear monstrosities” and what might or might not be in her pants before Beca is leaving. Aubrey might turn out to be an even bigger problem than she anticipated.

She hasn’t made it ten paces out of the rehearsal space before she hears her name.

“Beca, wait up!”

She turns around to see Chloe walking in her direction, smile and every strand of hair perfectly in place.

“What are you doing now?” she asks as soon as she catches up, and they begin walking again at a much slower pace. It’s early evening and Beca hadn’t had much planned besides going back to her dorm, praying for it to be empty, and maybe playing around with a new mix.

Chloe fires off a second question before Beca can even answer the first.

“I’m starving. You wanna grab some dinner with me?”

The question puts a smile on Beca’s lips and she doesn’t even think about refusing before saying yes.

“So… that was an interesting first practice,” Beca hedges, wondering what Chloe thought of it.

She laughs, a completely graceless thing escaping her lips on the tails of Beca’s words.

“Don’t let Aubrey get to you. Her first practice was awful too.”

Beca finds that hard to believe but she supposes the redhead was actually there so she takes her word for it.

“She just wants everything to be perfect because it’s senior year. I also think she feels pretty guilty about the whole ‘PukeGate’ travesty of last year and she wants a chance to redeem herself in her own eyes.”

Beca nods, reluctantly acknowledging the blonde’s rationale (even if her methods are batshit).

“I’ll… just try to stay out of her way then,” Beca says eventually. They are almost at the entrance to the cafeteria and Beca’s stomach gives an audible rumble once she smells the food coming out. Chloe gives her middle a pointed look and smirks at her before continuing.

“I think you’ll be good for her. For us. We need someone like you. Someone with different ideas and someone who will challenge the status quo,” and then quieter, “…someone who will stand up for their opinions.”

Beca frowns as they take their places in the queue.

“You didn’t have much to say back at practice…” she hedges again, hoping Chloe will fill in the gaps without Beca having to point them out.

Bright blue eyes look down before Beca gets a response.

“Don’t get me wrong, Beca, I want the Bellas to win as much as anyone. And maybe I don’t always agree with Aubrey’s choices, but I think her heart is usually in the right place.”

Beca doesn’t have anything to say to that so they find an empty table after getting their food and sit down.

“All I’m saying, I guess, is… don’t let her discourage you. We need your voice,” she says, her eyes finally finding Beca again, their playful gleam returned. “Which by the way, wow. I think I can officially call you a liar for saying you didn’t sing when we met.”

Beca can’t help the silly smile that spreads across her face and she’s not sure why the redhead can pull that reaction out of her so easily. She’s starting to just accept that Chloe is the apparent exception to her many rules of social engagement.

They spend the rest of their time talking about lighter topics. Beca is quick to realize Chloe can talk about anything. She doesn’t even have to supply much to the conversation to keep it going, which is honestly fine with her.

By the time they’re standing up to leave, their food has been long gone and Chloe hasn’t stopped smiling. And Beca hasn’t minded that one bit.

///

They’re marching away from their first “performance” with their proverbial tails between their legs and really Beca doesn’t even think it can be called a performance. She hates herself for agreeing with arguably one of the douchiest guys she’s ever seen in her life but he had a point when he called their set a barnyard explosion.

Still, their walk of shame feels pretty miserable and she really could do without Aubrey rubbing it in. She also finds herself bristling at her comments on Chloe’s voice. That certainly was the smallest problem with what just happened.

Before she can even open her mouth to tell Aubrey to shut hers, Chloe is facing the group and her eyes are shining and something really unpleasant settles in Beca’s chest.

She’s been spending more and more time with the redhead outside of practice lately. But in not one of those encounters had Chloe ever cried.

(There was a close call when they were watching Youtube videos in her dorm once ((involving an ad about dog food)) but they don’t talk about it because after Beca made so much fun of her Chloe vetoed the topic from ever being brought up again.)

Chloe is now explaining why her voice has been off lately and she’s actually choking back the tears this time and Beca wants so desperately to go to her that the impulse almost takes her breath away. She sees Aubrey (for once) actually offering comfort though as she holds Chloe’s hands in both of her own, so Beca keeps her feet rooted to the spot she’s standing on.

And that was the first time Beca Mitchell wondered if what she felt for Chloe was just friendship.

///

Present Day

“You okay, Becs?”

She shakes her head to bring herself firmly back into the present and looks to her left to see Chloe beside her, casually taking her hand like it doesn’t mean the world to Beca.

Chloe smells like her shampoo and salty air and Beca stifles the urge to take a deep breath.

“Yeah, I’m good,” she says, but then because she’s curious she adds, “Why do you ask?”

“You’ve just… I don’t know exactly. Been quieter today, maybe?”

Beca’s thinking of something to say to that but Chloe continues first.

“No, that’s not right. It hasn’t just been today. It’s been this whole tour. I just… wanted to make sure you’re okay. We haven’t had much time just the two of us on this trip.”

“You mean you haven’t been loving not having to share a bed this whole time?”

Beca smiles playfully. She’s stalling and she knows it.

“As much as I have kind of enjoyed having my own bed again, it doesn’t mean I don’t miss you.”

Chloe smiles back and nudges Beca’s shoulder with her own.

“For real though,” she says, refusing to let her question go, “you’re good?”

Beca knows this is just as good an opportunity as any. To tell Chloe that no, she isn’t okay. That she doesn’t want to move on from this chapter of her life without saying it. That she doesn’t want Chloe moving on to vet school without knowing it.

I’m not okay because I’m in love with you and you’re not in love with me.

“For real, Chlo, I’m A-okay.”

She laces their fingers together as they keep walking, glad for the cover of nightfall and the ever present waves crashing along the shore. They cover up her burning cheeks and her loud heart, the dead giveaways to the fact that she’s lying.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

 

It's 8am and again Beca is awake for it (and why can’t she get some God forsaken sleep in this country?). Their flight back to New York isn't for another three and a half hours.

They’re all grouped in the hotel lobby once more, and despite Beca’s protests that they could make it to the airport on their own, Chicago has insisted that he and two of his comrades can escort them there. They all have relatively early flights, though Beca, Chloe, and Fat Amy are the only ones departing for New York. The rest are flying back to their respective homes all over the country. At least they can all go to the airport together and not say goodbye until the very last minute.

The ride is uncomfortable. Somehow Beca gets herself stuck in the car with both Chloe and Chicago, and despite the tears swimming in Chloe’s eyes, the two still manage to share a few secret smiles. At least, Chicago probably thinks they’re secret. He has no idea the rest of the car know what happened between them in Technicolor detail.

Beca tries desperately to think of and to look anywhere else besides the two of them, and though she doesn’t want to leave the girls, she’s never been happier for a car ride to be over when they finally arrive.

Once inside, the tears finally make their grand escapes as they exchange goodbyes. Of course, Beca doesn’t let herself join in the sobfest (she doesn't do crying in public, and she will shout down anyone who says they saw a tear or two after her Freedom performance). She says goodbye to the girls like a grown up, sans crying, and they all scatter for their various departure gates as the New York trio linger so Chloe can say one last farewell.

She looks away when Chicago puts his too big hands on Chloe’s waist and kisses her. She turns towards their own gate, having no desire to hear their departing words for each other, and begins to walk.

She hasn’t made it very far when she feels an arm loop through hers, and she doesn't have to look over to know it's Chloe.

She could pick Chloe out of a line up with her eyes closed just by the smell of her perfume. And okay, that’s not something she wants to think about right now so she looks over. Chloe's still got unshed tears pooling at her eyelids, but thank God they’ve stopped falling because Beca always hates to see Chloe cry.

"I can't believe the tour is already over," Chloe says quietly. "I feel like we were just agreeing to go on this thing and now we're all leaving again."

Her voice shakes just enough to let Beca know she's fighting those tears hard. Beca takes her arm out of the loop with Chloe's, but before Chloe can protest, she takes her hand instead. She knows she'll hate letting it go later, but for now, it'll make Chloe feel better. So of course she takes it.

"The Bellas will always find ways to see each other, Chlo," Beca says gently.

They reach the waiting area by their departure gate, and Chloe smiles over at her before they find seats to pass the time in. Her blue eyes are a little glassy still, but they aren't drowning anymore. Chloe lets go of Beca's hand and begins talking to Amy. And Beca releases without any protest, but her hand feels so, so empty.

She has no idea why she's supposed to arrive so early for international flights because she's been waiting for almost two hours when the lady at the desk finally starts boarding the first class passengers of their flight.

Amy stands and gives a wave with a big flourish. "See you pitches at home," she says with a shit eating grin. She begins to turn before Beca stops her.

"Wait, Amy, you're boarding first class? I thought you were sitting next to me?"

"No can do, short round. I just found out I have 180 million dollars. You can't expect me to fly coach on an eight hour flight now that I'm just as rich as I am sexy."

Beca sighs, conceding to Amy's logic. Chloe turns to her then with a huge smile.

"Now I don't have to sit alone, Bec! I can just take Amy's seat."

Beca nods and smiles, but she knows the smile doesn't quite reach her eyes. She can't say she doesn't want to sit next to Chloe, but she also feels a little apprehensive about eight hours alone with her in close proximity.

Amy took the opportunity to slip away during their exchange and she's already walking onto the jet way by the time Beca finds her again. They wait a few more minutes for their boarding group to be called and by the time they're walking past Amy in first class, she already has a glass of champagne ("It's five o'clock somewhere, pitches.") and her legs are stretched out into all the space in front of her.

Beca settles herself into her seat by the window, and Chloe is right behind her falling into the middle seat. Beca notices right away that the arm rest is up. And neither of them moves to pull it down between the seats.

After the plane finally takes off, Beca's thinking of pulling out her headphones and finding a good playlist on her phone to fall back asleep to. But Chloe interrupts her thoughts by bumping their shoulders playfully.

“Wanna watch a movie with me?”

And when, in the history of their friendship, has Beca ever been able to say no to her?

They settle on one of the movies offered by the airline, plugging in their headphones into the back of each headrest in front of them. They watch together but separately and Beca is just thinking this is a pretty safe way to pass the time when Chloe pauses both screens and takes her earbuds out.

“This is no way to watch a movie,” she says matter-of-factly, like they were crazy to even start out this way to begin with. Beca doesn’t respond but watches Chloe as she shifts closer, throwing her blanket over both of them and tries to settle into Beca’s side.

“Why so stiff, Becs? It’s just me.”

Beca laughs it off, willing herself to act more like this is no big deal and less like this is what she daydreams about. She awkwardly maneuvers her arm out of the space between them and allows Chloe to shift in further. She rests her arm behind the redhead, letting her hand fall limp at Chloe’s waist.

She tries and spectacularly fails at not thinking about how right this feels as Chloe puts her earbuds back in and presses play on both screens again, but now watching Beca’s instead.

The movie doesn’t hold her attention. They never have. She’s too warm with Chloe pressed in tight and the blanket is too soft. She’s had way too little sleep the last few days. Really, falling asleep was inevitable. The last thing she consciously takes note of is Chloe nuzzling in just a little closer.

Then her dreams take over.

///

Winter 2011

The thing about winter in Georgia is that it only feels like winter at night. When the sun is still shining, even its stale rays are strong enough to keep the air comfortable. Beca sort of loves it. Which is why Jesse had found her outside; soaking up the last of the day’s dying light. She was in such a good mood she couldn’t even be perturbed by his insistence that she watch a plethora of old movies with him. Their conversation was pleasant and easy. She thinks even Aubrey couldn’t possibly hold it against Jesse for being a Treble. He was just too nice.

“Are you guys getting ready for the riff off?” Jesse asks with a little smirk. Only he’s not really asking, it’s more like he’s just assuming in question form.

Except Beca doesn’t know what in the world he’s talking about.

“What the hell is a riff off?”

Jesse laughs and takes a sip from his own, very cool, juice pouch.

“You’re like the worst Bella ever, you know,” he says with the straw between his teeth.

“Um, rude.”

She waits, knowing he’ll continue if she just gives him long enough. Jesse isn’t the type to sit in silence for very long.

“It’s like a rap battle, but with singing, and like… categories and stuff,” he says enthusiastically. Like it sounds fun to him.

“I have participated in more nerd activity in the last few months than I was at all prepared for when I agreed to come to college.”

This prompts a whole conversation about her situation and the deal she has with her dad. The twinkle that seems pretty much ever-present in his eyes seems to dim a little when she mentions it’s still her plan to escape to LA after the year is over. She brushes past it though and they quickly go back to arguing over whether or not movies are actually worth watching.

And it’s nice, she thinks, sitting here with Jesse. He’s easy to be around and he makes her smile (even if it’s just as much as he makes her roll her eyes). And if it’s starting to be a little noticeable that he has a crush on her, well, she doesn’t totally mind it.

///

He did say it was like a rap battle.

It’s honestly what gives her the idea as she watches him sing. Confidence over her song choice flows through her veins as she waits for her moment. And when it arrives, she jumps in, letting the words she knows by heart fly free.

She sees jaws dropping left and right as she raps the opening lines to No Diggity, but she keeps going unchallenged. When she reaches the end of the verse no one has tried to stop her and she’s a little unsure what her next move should be because everyone else had been interrupted by this point. And it’s Jesse of all people encouraging her, his competition, to go on.

And then she’s singing. She hears her voice reverberate in this empty pool they’re all standing in, and she smiles because she sounds good. And the rest of the Bellas start to join in once they can finally sing along. Beca thinks they’ve never sounded more together than they do right now.

Maybe there really is something to be said for organized nerd singing when they’re actually all listening to each other. The whole crowd (minus the Trebles) is singing the song by the end of it and Beca spares a fleeting moment to commit the whole scene to memory. Every harmony and every one of the Bellas’ smiles tattooing themselves into her mind.

And okay, the end of the riff off doesn’t exactly go the way she wants it to, and Aubrey uses it as an excuse to point out their mistakes, but she knows they stumbled onto something good tonight. Something that might actually get them somewhere if she can just find a way to make Aubrey see it too. She catches Chloe’s eye before they all part ways and she knows the redhead knows it too.

As she’s walking back to her dorm room that night, she realizes that she already cares more about this than she ever intended to.

She’s surprisingly okay with that.

///

She feels a little self-conscious as she watches Jesse listen to one of her mixes. Sure, she’d given Luke plenty of them to hopefully be played on the campus radio station, but never has she sat and watched someone listening to something she’s made. It makes her feel vulnerable. Exposed.

“This is really good,” he practically shouts with the headphones still on. He’s lightening the moment. She knows it and she’s grateful. She’s really starting to like her time spent with Jesse. It’s just easy. He doesn’t make her feel awkward like she feels around most other people. He feels safe.

So she doesn’t think much of it when he invites her to join him on her own bed to watch the end of some 80’s movie she’s never seen. But he swears the ending is the king of all endings and so she goes to him. Settles herself in and they watch it.

She admits to herself that the ending would probably seem better to her if she’d seen the rest of what came before it (though she’ll never tell Jesse this). But she finds his idolized ranting kind of amusing and so she just goes with it. And she thinks maybe she let herself look at him too long because suddenly he’s looking at her and not looking away. And she knows exactly what will happen if she just stays still but some part of her just isn’t sure if that’s what she wants. And that’s the part she’s listening to as she turns away to pause the movie. Using it as poor excuse to break the tense moment.

She has never been happier to see Kimmy Jin when she comes through the door with her posse. It’s an awkward goodbye for sure, but not as awkward as it would have been without her roommate interrupting… whatever that was.

As she’s waiting for sleep to claim her later that night, she tells herself she didn’t let Jesse kiss her because she took an oath (stupid or otherwise). She knows, though, that a tiny part of herself is quietly whispering that might not be the only reason she’s holding out.

///

This is not how she anticipated this night going. She fully expected to come out tonight, sing some boring songs, lose, and go home.

She didn’t expect Fat Amy to rip her shirt open on stage. She didn’t expect to get in an actual fist fight with a bunch of has been grandpas. She didn’t expect to get arrested.

(Leave it to her dad to only show up once his money was needed. Not that she cared about him missing the show. She didn’t even like their set and she was entirely used to him disappointing her.)

And to think, this whole night could have gone so much differently had she just agreed to do the solo Chloe could no longer sing.

She had been really touched when the redhead had suggested she take it. Beca knows Chloe wouldn’t have given it up easily and was happy knowing Chloe trusted her to do a good job.

Still she doesn’t regret turning it down. She knows they owe their win to Amy. She knows something good happens every time they bend Aubrey’s rules a little. So even if this whole night has been completely unpredictable, she wouldn’t change a thing.

(Okay, maybe she’d change the going to jail part. But the rest she’d definitely leave alone.)

Another thing she didn’t expect was to find all the Bellas (even Aubrey) waiting up for her once she returned to her dorm room. Her heart clenches fondly when Chloe reassures her that of course they’d wait for her. It makes her feel special.

Kimmy Jin leaves and they talk a little about their set. Aubrey thinks Amy almost cost them the win but it seems the others are starting to find their own voices in the group and Beca is finally being backed up. Of course it isn’t enough though, and by the time they’re all leaving nothing much has changed. Beca sighs heavily as she starts to close down her music editing programs.

“Can I stay a while? Maybe you can show me some of that stuff?”

Beca turns around and Chloe is still there, standing by the door as if she’d get it if Beca wanted her to leave with the rest of them. But she wants to stay and she wants to hear Beca’s mixes and Beca suddenly can’t wait to share them.

She waves the redhead over with a smile and Chloe closes the door before sitting on the end of the bed, just like Jesse had done before. She explains what each window in her program is showing, how the auditory parts of the songs are transformed into visual representations for Beca to alter and manipulate. Chloe watches patiently but when Beca finally hands over her precious headphones she takes them almost greedily, barely reining in her excitement to what she must deem an acceptable level.

Beca suppresses her own giddiness over watching Chloe listen, loving how her expressions change with the beats. After the song has reached its end, the redhead removes the headphones and shakes her head at Beca in what looks like happy disbelief.

“You’re really talented, Beca.”

She mumbles a quiet thank you, suddenly much more self-conscious now than she was when she was just explaining the process. She turns to close the program but she hears Chloe take a breath as if to stop her.

“Can you… can I hear more?”

The question feels oddly intimate but Beca smiles before starting one of her own playlists. She unplugs the headphones so they can both hear and then turns the volume down until it’s acceptable background noise.

She joins Chloe on the bed without thinking (it’s more comfortable than her desk chair) and they fall into easy conversation just like they always do. They’re just getting into the heart of a serious risk versus reward conversation about texting or calling (“Voice on voice action is so much better, Beca.”) when they’re interrupted.

A new mix starts playing and Chloe completely stops herself mid-sentence to listen, her head bobbing almost imperceptibly to the beat. Beca smiles and catches herself happily just watching Chloe listen. She doesn’t do it intentionally, nor does she even really want to make the comparison, but she’s suddenly reminded of how similar this situation is to the one she shared with Jesse. She also can’t help but note that she feels a little different about the possible outcomes.

When Chloe finally catches her eye again Beca swears she sees something flicker in her eyes. Something that, yet again, reminds her of Jesse and the way he looked at her that night.

Only this time is very different because Beca realizes she’s the one leaning in. She has just enough time to process the fact that Chloe isn’t leaning away when once again Kimmy Jin’s timing is impeccable. She flings open the door, and with nothing more than an eye roll in their direction she takes a seat in her desk chair. Beca throws a dirty look at their very own elephant in the room before looking back at Chloe. Whatever was there in her eyes is now gone, the moment lost.

“It is getting pretty late. I should let you get some sleep. I hear prison is really exhausting,” she says playfully. Beca lets out a breath of relief that this doesn’t feel awkward at all (even if she does feel a little regretful over her missed opportunity).

“You have no idea,” she shoots back, getting up and walking the few steps with Chloe to the door. In the threshold, she turns around to face Beca before stepping into her space and hugging her. Beca stiffens only for a moment before lifting her arms and returning it.

“I’m really glad we won tonight,” Chloe says softly, her chin on Beca’s shoulder.

“Me too,” she says gruffly before letting go.

Chloe leaves her with a “See you at rehearsals!” and a little smile that looks a little knowing.

Beca thinks that as first time jail stints go, this one wasn’t all that bad.

///

Present Day

She wakes up slowly, like her body is protesting the return to the real world. Her dreams come back to her quickly, and if her eyes were open she’d roll them at herself. Even her subconscious won’t give her a break from the memories. She thinks the least it could do would be to give them happier endings.

As her brain approaches complete wakefulness, she remembers where she is and who she’s with. She opens her eyes to see the movie is just ending, and she’s a little disappointed she hadn’t slept longer.

Chloe is still nuzzled into her side like she belongs there and only moves when she feels Beca stretching out her arm behind her.

“Hey, sleepyhead,” she says quietly. Her eyes look a little tired too and Beca wonders if she would have stayed snuggled up with her to sleep if Beca hadn’t woken up.

“Hey,” she responds, and then clears her throat to get rid of the hoarseness.

“Pleasant dreams?” Chloe asks, still seeing no need to move away.

Beca thinks for only a moment.

“Something like that.”

And then before she can let herself think too much about it, she shifts a little in her seat to make the strain on her neck a little less, she gives Chloe’s waist a tug to let her know she’s not done snuggling, and she closes her eyes once more, letting the redhead’s weight and warmth against her lull her back into dreams.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

 

Her legs take her slowly through the airport once they’ve landed back home. They have that feel good ache in them from finally stretching out after sitting cramped in a small space for so long and she’s in no rush to cram herself into a cab to get back to their tiny apartment.

She fits herself into a Beca-sized gap between people at baggage claim and waits for the conveyor belt to start moving. She starts thinking about moving out again and wonders how long it will take, now that she’s signed, to be able to afford a place on her own. She hopes not long.

It had been hard, of course it had been, to live with Chloe before going on the tour. Beca’s feelings always liked to get in the way. They forced her to avert her eyes every time Chloe would change clothes or emerge from the shower naked as a jay bird (modesty has never been her strong suit).

They made her feel a little guilty every time Chloe would hold her hand or snuggle up to her in her sleep. She hated knowing now that those things meant something to her and very little to her friend. She hated that her thoughts would run away with her during those moments when she was supposed to be a safe space for Chloe.

So yeah, it had been hard. But she’d gotten pretty good at stomping her feelings down. Sweeping them under the rug or looking the other way when they tapped quietly on her shoulder. She now doesn't have any reason to believe Chloe’s feelings were ever anything more than platonic. She can't risk their friendship just because she harbored something else.

She thinks of the tiny pull out couch they share back home and feels like crying. Because she realizes that until this tour and until Chicago, some part of Beca had hope. Hope that maybe someday Chloe would see Beca differently. Hope that maybe if Beca found the right combination of words, and then actually said them, Chloe might see her as someone she could fall in love with too. And that hope had been just enough to get her through. Just enough to shoulder the burden of her feelings and to bear Chloe’s affection with feigned nonchalance.

And seeing the look on Chloe’s face the moment Chicago welcomed them in Spain was just enough to begin stealing her hope away. It didn’t disappear all at once; no that would have been too kind. She had to watch it burn up slowly every time Chloe gave him a smile that had never belonged to her.

Her hope was barely hanging by a thread on the last night of the tour, and then it was charred away to nothing the moment they finally kissed. She’s been missing it ever since.

Without it, she doesn’t know how long she’ll last.

And then, as if she knows she’s testing Beca’s new limits, Chloe’s there. Slipping her fingers through Beca’s in a space much too small for the both of them. As if Chloe knows she doesn’t have many more chances, and is trying to shower Beca with as much love as she can before she’s gone.

Or maybe the universe knows the end is approaching and is just being cruel. Reminding Beca of what she’ll soon be starving for.

She hasn’t said a word to Chloe since getting off the plane and she thinks Chloe is starting to notice. The look in her eyes is curious, contemplative, every time Beca catches them looking at her. Fortunately she is spared the need to say anything because the conveyor belt starts moving. The crowd takes a collective step forward like that’ll get them their bags quicker and it isn’t long before all three girls have their luggage and are finally heading out into the New York springtime.

Their cab driver is the chatty kind, talking about everything from his family to the traffic to where the girls have been traveling from. Amy tells him about their adventures (“I blew up a yacht on the French Riviera after my father kidnapped a bunch of my friends.”) and Chloe is too nice to ignore them so she contributes here and there (“We also sort of set loose a bunch of bees from an apiary and set a hotel room on fire. But we were really just there to sing.”)

Beca smiles at how utterly ridiculous the whole thing sounds.

When they’ve made it back to their apartment, Amy is the first to announce she’s passing out for the day (“Jetlag is a real kick in the arse.”). Beca wishes she’d hang around a little longer. Her quietness is less noticeable with a buffer like Amy around. It’s no use wishing though, because only minutes after the curtain of clothes is drawn, they can hear Amy snoring.

Chloe deposits her suitcase on her side of their bed and bends over it to begin unpacking. Beca stands there, unsure what she wants to do or say.

“Penny for your thoughts?” Chloe whispers. She’s got her bathroom items in her arms and she pauses to wait for Beca to respond before putting them away. She’s looking at Beca in that same, expectant way. Like she knows Beca has something to say and is just waiting for her to come out with it.

Now is not the time though (it never will be) to reward Chloe’s patience.

“Amy’s right. Jetlag is a bitch. My brain feels slow,” Beca lies instead.

Chloe doesn’t respond right away. She quietly tiptoes to the corner of their apartment they call the bathroom to put her things away. Upon returning, she moves a small pile of clean clothes to a nearby drawer before turning around again to look over her suitcase and the rather larger pile of worn clothes still in it.

“God, I’ve got to do laundry tomorrow,” she says to herself before looking at Beca again and remembering what they were talking about. “Go to sleep, Becs. It’s already past midnight back in France right now and you couldn’t have slept well on the plane,” she says. She doesn’t bother taking the dirty clothes out, and instead just sits the entire suitcase next to her laundry basket.

Beca looks at the now cleared bed and when she thinks of getting into sheets that smell like Chloe she feels like that’s the last thing she wants. Suddenly she needs fresh air.

“I don’t wanna end up waking up in the middle of the night,” she says instead and starts putting her shoes back on. “I think I’ll go get some coffee so I can stay up a while longer.”

“Want me to come with you?”

“No.”

She says it way too quickly and she knows it. She winces at the stung look on Chloe’s face.

“I mean, finish unpacking. I won’t be out long.”

It’s a poor excuse. Mostly because Chloe is, for all intents and purposes, already finished unpacking and Beca has no intention of returning quickly.

Chloe pulls her bottom lip between her teeth before speaking. Like she isn’t sure she wants to say what she’s about to.

“Beca, I—if something’s bothering you, you know you can tell me. Right?”

And that’s what kills her. Chloe’s genuine desire to be good to Beca.

“I know,” she says quietly.

It’s a confession. A small one, one that gives nothing away, but a confession nonetheless.

Chloe doesn’t say anything. She looks like she’s waiting for Beca to continue.

“I’ll be back later okay?”

Beca grabs her wallet and keys, and then walks out the door without another word. She doesn’t miss the look of hurt in Chloe’s eyes.

Once in the street, she takes a deep breath. The sun is beginning to set and the air is already cooling off. She walks without a destination and returns her mind to happier memories.

///

Winter 2012

The smile hasn’t fallen from her lips since she left the station. She can still hear her song playing loud over campus radio as she walks towards the Bellas’ travel bus. She has no decent explanation for it, but somehow hearing her mix unexpectedly was like a shot of adrenaline. It was like she was hearing it the way other people (hopefully) must hear it. It was incredible.

She can see the bus now as she approaches the parking lot behind their rehearsal space. A few of the girls are milling around outside of it, and Beca thinks it’s totally normal how quickly she scans them for red hair.

(It might not be totally normal to be so disappointed that she doesn’t see any.)

Beca hasn’t been alone with Chloe since the night she was bailed out of jail. But she has to shake her head a little because that’s not quite right. They’ve been alone. But they’ve been alone in crowded places like the cafeteria or the quad. Nowhere that provided the kind of privacy necessary to perhaps broach the topic of what almost happened the last time they found themselves behind closed doors.

Beca isn’t worried. Chloe isn’t acting any differently. If anything, Beca’s been finding herself on the receiving end of Chloe’s smiles even more frequently since that night.

And Beca thinks Chloe’s ears must have been burning because suddenly she appears in the doorway of the bus wearing the same smile Beca was just thinking of.

She’s down the steps in a heartbeat and Beca is curious why Chloe is so excited to see her. Not that she minds. But she doesn’t have to wonder long.

“Was that your song on the radio just now?! It was, wasn’t it?! I knew I recognized it!”

That adrenaline feeling is back and Beca can’t believe Chloe recognized her song. She’d only heard it the one time in Beca’s dorm room. And that was weeks ago.

“That’s so cool that something you made just got played on the radio,” she continues, turning around and now walking with Beca back towards the bus.

“It’s just campus radio,” Beca says modestly, even though it was such a big deal to her.

“It’s just the beginning,” Chloe corrects her.

///

She’s only been on the bus for a little over an hour and she has to admit she could never have predicted this life when she first joined the Bellas. In the last sixty minutes alone she’s witnessed a drive by involving flying Mexican food, and she’s seen attempted mouth to mouth resuscitation for absolutely no reason whatsoever. She’s actively participated in singing a Miley Cyrus song. And she liked it.

She doesn’t know what these girls are doing to her, but she finds that just enjoying herself requires far less energy than trying to maintain her unaffected, badass persona. So what if they lose tonight? If she’s being honest with herself, they should have lost last time.

But she’s here now with the rest of the Bellas, who have all somehow become her friends. Amy ploughs her way into other people’s lives whether there’s room for her or not, and Beca really kind of likes her bluntness and confidence level. She likes Stacie’s easy going smile and how (even though she won’t admit it easily) she is always up for giving the perfect manicure. Even Beca can’t say no to the perfect shade of dark polish.

Cynthia Rose is usually good for a perfectly timed joke and Beca could honestly listen to her sing for hours. And okay, maybe she’s not totally sure which is which when it comes to Jessica and Ashley but she likes their presence anyway. And Lilly, well, she’s not Aubrey so she’s got that going for her.

And then there’s Chloe. And honestly, the word friend doesn’t quite fit on her like it fits on the rest of them. Because she feels more for Chloe than she feels for the rest of them.

And she thinks Chloe feels more for her too, if the last few months are anything to go by. She spends more one on one time with Chloe than anyone else.

They both adjust their schedules so they can have meals together. They spend hours listening to music. Sometimes they just talk. And Chloe tells Beca about her parents back home and how she came to choose Barden for college. And even Beca, the self-proclaimed recluse, finds herself telling Chloe things she didn’t consciously give her lips permission to say.

The more time they spend together, the less friendly their time becomes. Chloe’s touches, which had been frequent from the beginning, begin to linger. Her hands rest just a second longer on Beca’s shoulder, or knee, or whatever body part they happen to fall on. And it isn’t lost on Beca that she doesn’t mind one bit.

She’s starting to see what her dad was trying to say about college.

///

Her heart picks up its pace, as if it needs to squeeze in extra beats in preparation for what she’s about to do.

It was really quite unfortunate that they had to follow The Footnotes. She knew the Bellas didn’t have much of a chance of beating them anyway, but certainly not when they’re tired set was juxtaposed so closely to theirs.

Surely she wasn’t the only one who saw the judges’ faces fall as soon as they began singing. Surely the rest of the girls could see just how rapidly they lost their interest.

Beca takes a breath and doesn’t think. She just opens her mouth and sings, blending the two songs in an unexpected, but not totally unpleasant way. She gets a few confused looks, but not much more. Everyone keeps singing exactly on cue. It really could have been a lot worse than Amy turning the wrong direction for one spin.

She therefore thinks Aubrey’s reaction is even more over the top than usual, but that she was prepared for. What she wasn’t prepared for, was for no one else to have her back.

“Amy?”

She chooses Amy because she can’t ask Chloe. Can’t risk the redhead siding with Aubrey.

“It was cool,” Amy says quietly, almost as if she doesn’t want Aubrey to hear her. But then she adds, “But… it did take us a little bit by surprise.”

Amy’s answer, while not totally leaving Beca out to dry, also doesn’t dampen Aubrey’s fury and she just continues yelling as soon as Amy’s sentence starts to peter out.

“Yeah, a lot by surprise.” And then, while still looking at Beca, as if to add to the insult, she continues, “I told you she wasn’t a Bella.”

Chloe, who is clearly the person Aubrey intended that for, mumbles something almost unintelligible in response. But for once, Beca is the one cutting her off.

“No, that’s okay. You don’t have to pretend you’re allowed to have a say in the group, right?”

If she had time, in that moment, she probably would have regretted those words because Chloe looks like Beca’s the last person she ever thought would take a jab at her like that. But she doesn’t have time, because she’s too busy being the only person defending herself and Aubrey is back into her tirade.

And, of course, as soon as the blonde is really starting to lay into her (while no one else tries to stop her), Jesse shows up. And Beca can’t handle it. For as much as she wanted help two seconds ago, she doesn’t want him butting in. Doesn’t want him thinking she can’t fight her own battles. She throws a scathing remark in his direction to get him to stop before turning back to a still fuming Aubrey and the rest of the group.

“If this is what I get for trying…” she says coldly. She finally lets her eyes fall on Chloe, who is clearly avoiding her gaze. And that’s all it took for Beca to turn her back and walk away.

By the time she manages to make it back to campus by cab (thanks to her dad’s “emergency” credit card she keeps stashed in her wallet), her anger is subsiding quickly. As if someone poured ice water all over it. Hurt is rapidly replacing it and if there’s one thing her parents’ divorce did to damage her, it’s that her first experience with betrayal would always trigger pain whenever she encountered it again.

As she’s tucking herself in to sleep that night, it isn’t lost on her that the one person who tried to have her back after the show was Jesse.

///

Present Day

She’s pulled out of her daydreams when her cell phone begins to ring. She pulls it from her back pocket and smirks when she sees the name written across the screen.

Turtle

“Theo, miss me already?”

There’s a sigh on the other end before he answers.

“I’m happy to hear your sarcasm doesn’t suffer just because we aren’t face to face anymore. I trust you got back to New York okay?”

She smiles. Banter with Theo is almost as easy as it once was with Jesse.

“Safe and sound. I’ve not been here long though—I haven’t even unpacked yet.”

“Well don’t even bother putting your suitcase away. How would you like to meet Khaled and I next week in Miami to discuss a few potential projects?”

She pulls in a long breath. The idea of being a signed artist was wild enough, but arranging meetings to actually discuss projects for her was something else.

She must take a little too long to answer because Theo starts talking again before she can.

“I know you’re probably tired. I understand there was a little… drama? Outside of the tour, I mean, while we were in France. But your Freedom performance is making its rounds on the internet and we should get you some more exposure quickly. Strike while the iron’s hot, and all that.”

“Yeah, of course, I will absolutely meet you both there. I was just taking a second to commit the moment to memory,” she says, albeit a little sheepishly.

“Aww, are you getting all sentimental on me already?”

“Shut it, turtle man. I am not above going all diva on you.”

At this, Theo just laughs, calling her bluff pretty effectively.

“Should I get a plane ticket, or…?”

“Don’t worry about all that, the label will arrange your travel and accommodations and I’ll email you the details. Just be ready to leave early next week.”

They hang up shortly after that, but Beca doesn’t turn around to go home yet. She can’t believe how suddenly all this happened. She can’t believe she’s going somewhere to talk about finally making her own music (and for free, no less).

She thinks of telling her parents. How proud her dad will be and how her mom will tear up on the phone but try to pretend like she isn’t. She thinks about telling her friends. How Fat Amy will probably body slam her onto the bed and tell her she can’t believe her little girl is all grown up (and will then inevitably crack a short joke, thus ending the awkward, horizontal hugging). How Chloe will look at her with tears in her eyes, and the confidence that this moment was always bound to happen for Beca. How she’ll hug her quietly.

She thinks of telling them goodbye, temporarily, for now. But possibly more permanently in the not too distant future. Finally lets her mind form more concrete ideas of her moving out and moving over a thousand miles away. Packing what few possessions she owns and taking them with her from that tiny apartment she’s made a home out of with them.

And even as the tears spring to her eyes over the thought of saying goodbye to them, to Chloe and her smiles and hugs and warmth, she knows she has to. That in order to move on, she needs to literally move on. She knows she deserves happiness and she knows she deserves to be loved. It’s time she stopped waiting for someone who will never love her that way and it’s time to stop waiting on words she knows she’ll never speak out loud.

So altogether, the phone call was a good thing. Miami will be a good thing. Making her own music will be a great thing.

She just never expected it to be this bittersweet.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

 

She climbs the stairs of her apartment building and her legs feel heavy. She’s been up (intermittent dozing on the plane not withstanding) almost 24 hours now and her whole body knows it. Her phone hasn’t made a peep since ending her conversation with Theo and she wonders what that means. It isn’t like Chloe to give Beca space very often, physically or otherwise. But then again, Beca doesn’t have a long track record of asking for any from her either.

When she reaches their landing, she slides her key into the lock on the door and turns the knob as gently as possible, anticipating both of her roommates to be asleep by this point. Her “quick coffee run” had turn into a several hour long meander through Brooklyn. Sure enough, when Beca gets through the door she can see Chloe fast asleep on her side of the foldout by the light of the streetlamp outside their window.

Her back is curved inward, and with both of her fists tucked under her chin Beca thinks she looks like she fell asleep praying. She wonders what Chloe would ever ask for in her prayers.

As quietly as she can, she changes out of the clothes she’s been wearing since leaving Nice and puts some pajamas on. She finds herself wishing she’d come back earlier now, at least to get a shower before getting in bed.

Beca congratulates herself for not waking Chloe up as she climbs in the bed on her side. She’s just settling into a comfortable position when she hears the sheets begin to rustle again.

“I’m glad you’re home,” Chloe says quietly.  Beca wonders how long she stayed up waiting.

“Yeah I… I went for a walk,” she whispers back.

Chloe doesn’t say anything for a long time, and her eyes are closed. Beca thinks she might be falling back asleep before she speaks again.

“Becs?”

“Yeah?”

Beca’s eyes fight hard against her will to keep them open as she waits for Chloe.

“I know something is on your mind. And you don’t… you don’t have to tell me what it is. But I… I feel like whatever it is, it’s pulling you away and I dunno I—I like it better when you’re close.”

Beca thinks of about a hundred different things to say to that but none of them are right. So she just doesn’t say anything. Chloe sighs as if Beca’s silence makes her sad.

“Sweet dreams, Becs.” She says it so quietly Beca almost couldn’t make it out.

“Sweet dreams, Chlo.”

She turns over and closes her eyes. The narrow space between them in this tiny bed has never felt so wide.

///

Beca wakes up in the morning to the sound of Chloe’s alarm. She closes her eyes tighter; she can tell through her eyelids that the day is already too bright.

When she finally does open them, she sits up to see Chloe’s already made her way out of bed and is changing out of pajamas and into scrubs. She grabs her phone to check the time, and to give her eyes something else to look at.

“Back to work already?”

“We’re not all famous artists and millionaire heiresses in this apartment, Becs,” Chloe says around a grin, pulling her hair out of the back of her top. Beca finds herself wondering, not for the first time, how her hair always looks so good, even first thing in the morning. She is also pleased to note that Chloe seems closer to her usual self this morning.

“Millionaire heiress? That has a nice ring to it,” a disembodied voice says from the other side of the clothes curtain. A moment later Fat Amy appears, her hair a mess and a worn out t-shirt that says “Vote for Pedro” hanging off one shoulder.

“Yeah, I probably wouldn’t put that on your Tinder profile though, Ames. You get enough action as it is,” Beca says, smirking up at the blonde.

“Good point,” she replies seriously. “Maybe I could put this money to good use though. Help us get an apartment with actual walls.”

“Now you’re talking!” Chloe says eagerly. She’d started brushing her teeth during their conversation and her words are adorably muffled. Beca smiles at her but doesn’t say anything more. She doesn’t know how much longer she’ll even be able to call them roommates anyway.

“Did I miss anything after I passed out last night?” Amy asks, sitting down at the end of the foldout.

Beca catches Chloe’s eye for the briefest of seconds before opening her mouth.

“I actually got a call from Theo last night,” she says.

Amy turns on the bed to look at her better. Chloe starts putting on a little makeup, the last thing on her “getting ready for work” list.

“Aww, did they decide not to go with you, after all? Keep swinging, champ. You’ll get there one day.”

Beca shakes her head. Fat Amy is so weird.

“No, you ass. They want to fly me out to Miami next week. To talk about some projects for me.”

Despite how well Beca knows these two girls, neither of them react the way she’d predicted. Amy doesn’t body slam her into the bed and Chloe doesn’t immediately go to her to wrap her up in a hug. They both do, however, scream “Beca!” in unison and begin demanding more details.

“That’s literally all I know. Theo is supposed to be sending me more information soon.”

With that, Amy stands back up again, presumably to get ready to leave and do… whatever it is she does during the day.

“Don’t forget about us when you’re stupid famous,” she says before disappearing behind the divider again.

Chloe grabs a granola bar from one of the kitchen cabinets before slipping her tennis shoes on. She has that and her keys in one hand, phone in the other when she approaches Beca’s side of the bed.

“I’m really proud of you,” she says, and it’s laced with so much sincerity that Beca feels her throat tighten up just a little. Then Chloe leans down and kisses Beca’s temple. And maybe Beca hasn’t been awake long enough, or maybe she’s just letting herself give in just this once, but she leans into it.

“Thank you,” she says once Chloe’s standing straight again. She tries to put as much feeling into her words as Chloe had in hers. Chloe smiles at her and spins around, walking out the door and leaving Beca with nothing else but the smell of her lingering perfume.

Beca’s finally climbing out of bed a few minutes later in search of her own breakfast when Amy reappears, fully dressed.

“Don’t miss me too much!” she says on her way out. Beca just manages to finish shouting, “Make good choices!” before the front door slams shut and she finds herself alone.

There isn’t much to choose from in their tiny kitchen (they really should go to the grocery store more frequently) but she manages to get full enough from her scavenging.

She’s choosing between actually putting real clothes on and venturing out into the world, or staying in and binge watching Netflix (she’s going to choose Netflix, she just likes to think maybe one day she would choose the outside world) when her phone chimes with an email notification. Before she can even open it though, she gets a text from Theo.

Turtle: just sent travel details via email. let me know if you don’t receive.

She gets out her laptop because she knows it’ll be easier to sift through the information that way before responding that she got it.

Once her laptop is booted, she starts looking through the details. The email contains her flight and hotel information, as well as a link to print her boarding pass. It also has the address of the label’s production building, with a time and date to meet and in which office suite.

She feels the excitement wash over her all over again as she tries to imagine herself there. Making her own music and creating a sound that’s got her name on it.

The euphoria makes her feel reckless, and she wants to see what options she might have if she really moves there. She’d never considered Miami as a possible future for herself. She really had only ever thought of LA and all its sunshine and glamour. But she supposes music has really always been the dream, and if it’s in Miami then she doesn’t have a problem with that.

She opens a new tab in her browser and begins casually looking at apartments for rent. She has no intention of putting in any serious inquiries yet, but she kind of likes just looking through the options. All the ones she could potentially afford aren’t that promising and the ones in the city proper are definitely out of her price range.

In another new tab, she opens Craigslist and navigates to want ads for roommates in the Miami area. She has to sift through a disheartening amount of ads with comments like “open to roommates with benefits” but she does see some legitimate looking posts so she has hope it wouldn’t be impossible to find a roommate if she really did move there.

She doesn’t pause her perusing until she sees one ad that makes her crack a smile.

ISO:
Female roommate
Age/race not important
Must be non-smoker
Must put toilet paper on roll the correct way to avoid major conflict

About Apartment:
2BR, 1 bath
Already furnished
850 sq ft
Located 10 minutes from downtown Miami

About Me:
32 y/o female
Steady income
Looking to rent spare bedroom for extra cash
Interests include crime novels, karaoke bars, and 80’s teen movies (The Breakfast Club changed the world)

At the very bottom of the ad is information for how to contact the poster. Beca doesn’t bookmark it. She isn’t serious or even sure if she’ll need to move there yet. She does, however, find it amusing that she’s found another Breakfast Club enthusiast. She thinks back to the first time she watched the movie, alone in her freshman dorm. She gets it. It’s a really fucking great movie.

 

Spring 2012

She hasn’t spoken to any of the Bellas at length in a few weeks. Not since the night of the semifinals. Stacie had tried texting her (Can we just have lunch one day? I miss your broodiness.). Amy and Cynthia Rose had tried texting and speaking to her anytime they crossed paths on campus (“Don’t walk away so fast, short round!”). Chloe had tried both of those things as well as left her several voicemails after Beca never picked up the calls (“In the event you actually listen to this… I’m really sorry, Beca.”). And even though Beca knew she shouldn’t have changed the set without talking to the group first, she also knew it was the only chance they had of making their set stand out. The only chance they had of keeping the Bellas above water.

And honestly she’s just never been that good at forgiving people. Always found it easier to just hold her grudges in a death grip than to let them go. She struggles with the resentment this time though. It squirms around in her fingers, trying to wriggle free each time one of them reaches out to her.

So she spends a lot of time alone. Except now it’s not as easy as it used to be anymore.

She ends up staying on campus over spring break and taking the offer from Luke to do night shift at the station. She knows with most of the students gone there won’t be many people to hear what she plays, but sitting in the booth acting like a real DJ is not something she can turn down.

She’s perusing one of the many towers of CDs when one particular disc catches her eye. She pulls out the soundtrack to The Breakfast Club and flips it over, looking at the track list. She wonders if it is just as iconic as the movie Jesse claims it to be.

When she goes back to her dorm in the early hours of the morning, she doesn’t spare a second to think about sleeping. She watches the movie from start to finish, and only wipes the tears away when the credits start to roll.

She has to fix this.

///

She spends the next few days floundering. She thinks her bridges may be too burned to rebuild. She thinks of the look on Jesse’s face the last time she saw him and the way she shut Chloe down just as easily as Aubrey always does. She hates that Chloe has repeatedly tried to apologize for not backing her up that night when she’s the one who needs to be saying those words. But she feels stuck, because the longer that time goes on, the harder it seems to get to do what she knows she needs to do.

So instead, she finds herself watching movies. All of Jesse’s favorites (she’s a little surprised she remembers them so easily) are lying across her bed and she’s been steadily making her way through them. The ending credits of Say Anything are just beginning to roll when her phone lights up with a text notification. She sees Chloe’s name and she picks her phone up. Upon swiping the screen unlocked, she reads the following words:

Chloe: The Footnotes were disqualified!!! The Bellas were the first alternate for the finals! Aubrey has called for an emergency meeting Monday at five. Beca, I know she’s been unfair to you the whole year. And I know that I haven’t been a good co-captain because I haven’t stuck up for your ideas, which I always think are good. So even though it’s coming late, I want you to know I will stick up for you now. I want you at that meeting because we need you. And I think with you, we can win. But even if we don’t win, I still want you there. You’re important to me. Hope I see you there. Oh, and sorry this text was like, book-length.

Beca feels the corners of her mouth threaten to pull into a smile when she gets another text from the redhead.

Chloe: Miss you.

///

The first Monday back from spring break comes a lot faster than she was prepared for. She still isn’t sure what she’s supposed to say. Isn’t 100% certain what the right words are but she knows hiding in her dorm won’t help her find them.

Her first stop brings her to Jesse’s door. She needs to apologize for snapping at him the way she did.

Except Jesse doesn’t seem to need that apology. She hates that he won’t let her take the easy way out even though she knows he’s right.

“You push away anyone who could possibly care about you. Why is that?”

She knows why. But this isn’t the time for that conversation.

“I don’t know.”

And Jesse’s response isn’t what she expects. She realizes now she’s been taking his dependability for granted.

“Well you better figure it out because I’m done with… whatever this is.”

Before she can even finish saying his name the door is already closing. She doesn’t need to be able to read between the lines of his last sentence. He might as well have just said it outright.

Make a decision, Beca. With me, or without me?

All she knows in that moment is she doesn’t know at all if that’s what she wants. Or if that’s really what she’s even choosing between.

///

She hadn’t planned on stopping by her dad’s house. She’s already beyond late if she wanted to make it to the emergency Bella’s meeting but what Jesse said about her pushing people away struck a nerve.

She’s sitting at her dad’s kitchen island, opening up more now than she has in a long, long time.

“And you thought quitting was the answer?” her dad asks quietly after she explains how much she’d come to like being in the Bellas. And it gets under her skin. Sets off alarms that are always so ready to go off anyway.

“Seriously, you get to say that to me?”

And so he says the words she’s heard a hundred times before. But this time they somehow sound differently to Beca. They make more sense. If two people don’t work anymore, it isn’t so outrageous for them to choose different paths. To see if happiness can be found in a different place.

Can it even really be called quitting if it’s more like just starting over somewhere else?

She’s sifting through those thoughts when her dad’s words about her shutting him out call her back down.

“I shut everyone out. Don’t take it personally. It’s just… easier.”

It used to be. She’s not so sure anymore.

“It’s also really lonely,” her dad fires back.

She can’t deny that he’s right. And honestly? She’s tired of being lonely.

///

She can hear yelling, and something that sounds like a coach’s football whistle the moment she opens the door to the Bellas’ rehearsal space. In a hundred guesses though, she never would have picked that the yelling was coming from a three-way wrestling match between Aubrey, Chloe, and Fat Amy and she never would have picked that there would be a giant puddle of puke in the middle of the floor that Lilly was casually making snow (vomit?) angels in.

After she gets everyone calmed down she realizes the moment is upon her. She finally apologizes to the group, and even though it isn’t as eloquent or profound as she wishes it could be, she hopes it’s enough.

Aubrey only tortures her long enough for her to drag her chair halfway out and the surge of relief she feels over being part of the group again is a little astounding.

They have an impromptu bonding session and then Beca can’t quite believe her ears because Aubrey is handing her the reins.

It’s time to find out what they can do.

///

Night has fallen and Beca leads them into the empty swimming pool where they were last all listening to each other and finding real harmony.

She lets Aubrey choose the song and asks Chloe to sing it. And like she always does, Chloe’s eyes lock onto Beca when she sings. But it’s different from Titanium, and it’s different from No Diggity, and it’s different from any other song they’ve ever sung together. Because Chloe is looking into her eyes with a smile on her lips and she’s singing lyrics about a girl to Beca.

The perfect song to blend into Just the Way You Are plants itself in Beca’s mind as she looks at the redhead and when the right moment comes she jumps in. And if it hadn’t been for her overwhelming happiness over Aubrey finally getting it right, she doesn’t know that she ever would have stopped singing to Chloe Beale.

In that moment, the right choice seems pretty clear to her.

///

They’re walking back towards the dorms after what is probably the most successful Bellas meeting Beca has ever attended. Chloe is walking with Beca instead of going back to the Bella house and Beca is more than okay with that.

In a moment of sheer bravery, she reaches out and takes Chloe’s hand as they walk side by side. She’s extremely pleased to note that Chloe’s face lights up at the affection and she instantly threads her fingers through Beca’s.

“I’m so happy you came back, Becs.”

Beca smiles at the nickname. Chloe’s never used it before but it rolls off her tongue like she’s said it a million times.

“Me too, and I’m glad you told us about your surgery. Now we can make a set with all the right parts for you, instead of forcing you out of your comfort range.”

Chloe hums in agreement and they walk a bit farther in comfortable silence. Chloe’s hand is warm and soft in hers. She thinks back to the way Chloe looked at her while they were singing. She thinks of the way Chloe looked at her the night she first shared her music. It gives her confidence. It shows her the right words.

She opens her mouth to being saying them at the same time Chloe begins to say something else.

“Chloe, I—”

“So, what—”

They both stop and laugh.

“Go ahead,” Chloe says, letting her thumb move back and forth over Beca’s knuckles.

“No, you go,” she responds. She thinks she might be the most confident coward to ever exist.

Chloe smiles but doesn’t argue.

“I was going to ask, now that Aubrey is finally loosening up, what really is going on with you and Jesse.”

Beca stares at Chloe, completely taken off guard by the question. She doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth though because it kind of creates the perfect segue for her.

“There’s nothing between me and Jesse. I mean, maybe there could be. But I don’t think he’s the right choice for me.”

She’s about to go on, to tell Chloe she’s the right choice, but blue eyes find hers first and Chloe responds.

“I think you guys would be a very cute couple.”

Beca’s confidence plummets and breaks. Like a water balloon dropped over hot concrete.

“You… you do?”

“Yeah! You’re so…” she gestures vaguely with her hand up and down Beca’s body like that explains it. “And he’s so… unwaveringly happy and dependable. He’d be good to you.”

Beca nods silently.

“What were you going to say?”

Beca shakes her head at nothing in particular before answering. She can’t believe she’d misread everything so severely.

“It was nothing.”

///

Present Day

Beca pulls herself out of her daydream. She wonders why she can’t seem to stop thinking about the early days.

Maybe nostalgia is just a necessary evil when a person is on the cusp of a major change.

Or maybe she just likes to think things would be different if her past self had made different choices. Either way, she can’t change it.

She resolves not to let her mind wander anymore the rest of the day. It isn’t even lunch time and she’s already put herself through enough emotional torture. So she spends her time switching between Netflix and Hulu on her laptop. They do a decent job of keeping her mind blissfully away from dangerous thoughts. Only when she realizes Chloe will be getting off work soon does she put the laptop away. She slides it under her side of the bed and takes a quick shower while the place is still just hers.

After making herself presentable to the public, she slides on her shoes and walks to the nearby grocery store. She thinks she’d be a pretty shitty roommate if she didn’t at least pick up a few things for the apartment while the other two were gone all day.

She’s halfway home when she feels her phone buzz in her back pocket. Shifting some bags around, she’s finally able to pull it free to see a text from Chloe waiting on the screen.

Chloe: Bad day. Will you be home tonight? I just need you when I get there.

Beca’s heart clenches a little before she reassures Chloe that she’ll be waiting for her. She picks up her pace a little to make sure she beats the redhead home.

She’s just finishing putting the last of the groceries away when the front door opens and Chloe steps through it. There are tear tracks running away from her eyes and her nose is a little red.

“Chloe? What happened? Are you okay?”

Beca doesn’t waste any time going to her. She takes Chloe’s hand and pulls her down onto the end of their bed.

“I know I’m being ridiculous. We had a… a puppy brought into the clinic today and…”

She pauses, her tears starting over anew. Beca waits.

“…and she was hit by a car and—”

Beca puts her arm around Chloe’s shoulders and tries to soothe her.

“You don’t have to keep going, Chlo. I got you,” Beca says quietly. She knows how much this much hurt. How much Chloe loves the animals she cares for.

“She didn’t make it,” Chloe says, breaking the words over another sob.

Beca closes her eyes, trying not to picture what Chloe witnessed firsthand.

She rubs circles on her back and just lets Chloe curl into her. After a while, the sobs subside, and they are replaced by gently falling tears. Beca can feel her shirt getting wet in the space just below her collar bone.

Beca doesn’t know what to say to make it better. Doesn’t trust herself to say the right things. What she does know (like the back of her hand) is Chloe.

So she starts humming, knowing that Chloe truly believes music is therapeutic. She doesn’t even register what song she’s chosen until she comes to the second verse. That’s when the lyrics start to tumble out, just loud enough not to be a whisper.

She never lets me in, only tells me where she’s been
When she’s had too much to drink
I say that I don’t care, I just run my hands through her hair
Then I pray to God you gotta help me fly away”

The choice is all wrong. Beca knows it. But Chloe doesn’t seem to mind. She actually seems to sink into Beca a little more. She feels the added weight against her chest and it compels her to keep going.

And just let her cry if the tears fall down like rain
Let her sing if it eases all her pain
Let her go, let her walk right out on me
And if the sun comes up tomorrow, let her be

Beca sends up her own prayer that Chloe doesn’t listen too closely to the lyrics. After all, she’s always been a coward.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

It had been almost a week since the night Chloe came home crying. Beca had sung her tears away and didn’t protest when Chloe wanted to watch a funny movie afterward. She hadn’t resisted when, after the lights were out and their goodnights were whispered, Chloe had scooted over and pulled Beca into her. She’d even managed not to shiver when Chloe murmured a quiet thank you into her hair. She withstood her torment in silence, knowing her suffering was Chloe’s relief.

And maybe the whole ordeal did make her think twice about moving out. Made her wonder who would be there for the redhead the next time she came home after a bad day. For some reason she just didn’t see Amy offering the kind of comfort Chloe liked best. But if it made her have doubts, they were quickly dispelled the following morning.

Beca had only been half awake still, having been woken again by Chloe’s alarm tone. What got her the rest of the way there was Chloe excitedly answering a phone call as she was about to leave the apartment.

“Hey you,” she’d said quietly.

And that’s all it had taken to know it was Chicago she was talking to. She didn’t need to hear the rest of Chloe’s quiet words or her intermittent giggles (though they did their own damage anyway). She’d kept her eyes closed, not wanting to have to fake it already so early in the day.

It was as Chloe was walking out the door that Beca caught it. The words were quiet but not quiet enough. If Beca had doubts about moving out the night before, there wasn’t a shadow of them left behind after she heard Chloe whisper a smitten “I miss you, too.” right before the front door shut behind her.

It was a cold reality check. It showed Beca just how quickly she was willing to rethink leaving. How much she wanted to believe Chloe needed her. But as she lay there alone that morning, she knew she was just looking for excuses. And she knew, with the morning as evidence, that Chloe would be just fine without her.

She’d gotten up and left the apartment before Amy had woken up, not having the energy to fake it for someone even as unobservant as Fat Amy.

In the days since, she’s spoken to Theo once or twice. Her trip to Miami is in the morning and she found that she had more questions about what to expect as the day grew closer. Since being invited to Miami, she’s learned that the label also has a New York based studio. Theo had told her this news in a way that suggested he thought she’d be happy to learn she didn’t have to leave New York if she didn’t want to. She supposes it would be easier to move to a new neighborhood than to move to a new state. So she’s expanded her search of possible new apartments to ones in this city also. She is swiftly approaching an overwhelming number of open tabs in her laptop browser.

 

She’s also done a good job of making herself scarce around the apartment since the morning she woke up to Chloe’s phone call with Chicago. She’d take her laptop and go wherever she could find a quiet place to work. Sometimes it was a nearby park. Sometimes it was a quiet coffee house. She took her headphones and would make the music she couldn’t get out of her head. Or she’d type down her ideas in an ongoing list of possibilities when the music just wasn’t there yet. At least she’d have something to show for herself when she finally met up with Khaled again.

Tonight she finds herself on a cold park bench. There are fewer people here than usual. She supposes the place must lose a lot of its appeal once the sun goes down. She’s just thinking about packing up and going somewhere warmer when her phone chimes with a new text message. As usual, she feels both warmth and dread when she sees it’s from Chloe.

Chloe: No staying out late tonight! You’re leaving in the morning so movie night with your best friend is mandatory!

Beca sighs but knows she should have seen something like that coming. Chloe has been pretty good about giving Beca space in the last week, ever since she made it obvious she needed it. But she should have known she wouldn’t be able to slip down to Miami without any fanfare.

She texts back to let Chloe she’ll be home soon before she shuts her laptop lid and slides it back into her bag. She takes her time packing up, wrapping up the cord of her headphones methodically and slotting them into place exactly right in her bag. When she’s done with that, she begins her walk home at half her usual pace. She doesn’t really know why she’s prolonging the moment of her arrival. She knows Chloe will force her to watch a whole movie no matter what time she gets there.

When she opens their front door, she finds Chloe sitting cross-legged on their foldout. A smile pulls at her lips the moment her eyes land on Beca.

“Hey stranger,” she says quietly, but not without playfulness. It instantly reminds Beca of the way she’d greeted Chicago earlier in the week.

Beca slips her shoes off and walks around to her side, placing her bag at the foot of the bed.

“Hi yourself,” she says, making contact with bright blue as she sits down. “How was your day?”

Chloe uncrosses her legs and stretches them out. “Good. It was my day off so I went to the gym and caught up on a few errands before being lazy the rest of the day.”

Beca nods. She’d known it was Chloe’s day off, which is why she’d spent the better part of the day not at home.

“So,” Chloe starts, seeing that Beca wasn’t going to contribute anymore, “what movie do you want to watch?”

Beca sighs before responding. “You know I don’t really care.”

“I also know you don’t hate movies as much as you say you do,” Chloe says with a smile.

“I’ll never admit to that,” she says quickly, a real smile blooming on her lips.

“Fine then, spoilsport. I’ll pick. And you don’t get to complain since you passed up the chance to choose.”

Beca agrees to the terms before standing up. “First things first though, I have to pee.”

She spins on the spot and makes her way to the bathroom, sliding the divider in front of herself to give some semblance of privacy.

“Hey, Becs?” she hears Chloe ask, her voice barely louder than it had been when they were right in front of each other. This apartment really is hideously small.

“Yeah?”

“Can we use your laptop for the movie?”

Beca tries really hard to ignore the tinkling sound of her using the toilet while they have this conversation.

“What’s wrong with yours?” she asks.

“The bottom corner of the screen doesn’t light up anymore…” she responds back. Beca can already hear Chloe unzipping her laptop bag.

“You’re probably gonna need a fully functioning screen before you start school again you know,” she says as she pulls her pants back up. She hears Chloe mumble something about appealing to Amy’s charitable side. She laughs.

“Fine, we can use mine. But you’ll need to plug it in. I think the battery is almost gone.”

Chloe doesn’t respond but Beca assumes she heard her. It’s hard to miss things inside the tiny space. She washes her hands and dries them before returning to the other side of the divider. Chloe’s legs are crossed over each other again, and Beca’s computer is nestled in the middle of her lap.

It takes Beca another second to notice that Chloe’s usual, resting smile is gone. Her brows are furrowed and her eyes are narrowed at whatever she sees on Beca’s screen. She’s about to ask when Chloe looks up at her, and Beca’s feeling of unease deepens when Chloe’s expression doesn’t change.

“You’re looking at apartments in Miami?”

Beca just blinks a few times, wondering about the best way out of this conversation.

“And in New York, I see. But they’re all single bedroom,” she says as she looks back down.

And Beca knows it’s coming. Knows that this is how Chloe’s anger builds up. She waits.

“Beca?”

She takes a single step forward.

“I—”

“Is this why you’ve been pulling away lately? You knew you were leaving and just couldn’t wait to be away from us?”

“Chloe—”

“And you know, I can’t even be mad at you for wanting your own place. I know this… situation… leaves a lot to be desired.”

(She has no idea.)

“But you couldn’t even tell us, tell me, you wanted to leave? Even Amy said we could look at other places together now. But I’m guessing that’s not something you’re interested in since you’re looking at all these places?”

She takes a deep breath but doesn’t try to speak again, resigned to not being able to talk until Chloe is done.

“What if Khaled needs you to move to Miami? Were you just planning on skipping town? Would you even have said goodbye?”

At this Beca bristles. Saying goodbye to Chloe might be one of the hardest things she ever does, but she’ll be damned if she just lets her go like it’s nothing.

“You know I’d never do that,” she says quietly, playing with her fingers and looking at the floor.

Chloe seems to soften a little at the tone in Beca’s voice. She puts the laptop aside and stands too, though she doesn’t come any closer.

“What’s going on with you, Becs? Can’t you please just tell me?”

Beca looks at her and sees nothing but sincere concern. She debates with herself. She knows the only reason she’s never told Chloe how she feels is because she wasn’t willing to risk their friendship. She’s starting to wonder now though if it’s her lies that will put them in jeopardy.

Still though, old habits die hard.

“I just think it’s time, Chloe. Nobody wants a roommate forever. And with this new deal I can afford a place on my own and I just—”

“You just don’t need us anymore,” Chloe says quickly, cutting her off.

It kills Beca to let that statement dangle. She knows the longer she waits without contesting it, the truer it gets in Chloe’s mind.

She’s about to finally open her mouth when the front door bangs open and Amy walks through. She’s holding a double bottle of wine in one hand and a huge box of Crayola markers in the other and Beca has no idea how they could possibly be connected but she stopped trying to figure Amy out a long time ago.

“Okay pitches, the party has arrived,” she says without looking up. She’s looking down at the markers in confusion like she’s just realized what she’s holding. When she looks up, she finds both girls still standing up on opposite ends of the room. Chloe looks like she’s about to cry and Beca’s sure her expression isn’t much better.

“I… what did I miss?” Amy says, her eyes flicking back and forth between them.

“Beca’s moving out,” Chloe says tersely. Her eyes have dried up quickly.

“What? Like right now?” Amy asks. “What happened?”

“Ask her,” Chloe says, gesturing in Beca’s direction.

Amy looks at her and her expression is still confused but expectant. Like this can be cleared up easily. And suddenly Beca feels overwhelmed because she knows it can’t be.

“I can’t be here right now,” she says, throwing her hands up like she’s surrendering. She swipes her phone off the bed and her keys from the bowl by the door. She doesn’t look back after she gets her shoes on. Just lets herself out without another word.

She’s halfway down the stairs when she hears the door open again. And she’s about to turn around and tell Chloe to just let it go for now but the person in pursuit speaks first.

“Hold on, Shawshank. I’m coming with you,” Amy says, rezipping the jacket she never got to take off inside.

Beca doesn’t protest. It’s never a good idea to fight Amy on a decision she’s made. She just keeps going down the stairs, and then when she reaches the bottom, she waits for Amy to catch up.

They walk together for a while in silence. Beca doesn’t know what to say and Amy is displaying an unusual amount of patience over it. At this thought, she feels a little guilty. Sometimes it’s easier to assign Amy the role of character rather than actual human being.

They walk together until they’re right in front of Beca’s usual coffee shop, and Amy just walks right in like that was the plan all along. They order drinks at the counter and after they’ve settled down at a table with them, Amy finally looks like she’s ready to start asking questions.

“Wanna tell me what all that was about?”

“Chloe saw… I’ve been looking at apartments for just me and… Chloe found out,” she says quietly. She’s got both hands wrapped around her cup and the warmth feels really good against her palms.

“I see,” Amy says. To her credit, she doesn’t look nearly as offended as Chloe had, but her eyes do betray a little hurt.

“And when were you planning on telling us you were moving out?”

Beca sighs. She never wanted it to get this messy.

“I don’t know. After I found a place?”

Amy nods a few times.

“Why are you leaving, Beca?”

It’s harder, Beca thinks, to lie to Amy. She doesn’t trust it’s the truth right away like Chloe does. Beca tries nonetheless.

“I can afford to live alone now. Might as well, right?”

Amy’s eyes narrow a bit before she responds.

“So can I, short round. You don’t see me trying to escape.”

Beca wonders how Amy knew to use that word. She chooses not to comment on it.

“Wanna tell me the truth this time?”

And it’s like before, when Amy decided to follow her out the door. There’s no point in trying to argue. Beca takes a sip of her drink, surprising herself with how calm she feels about it.

“I’m in love with her.”

She looks at Amy, who hasn’t reacted yet. She’s just staring blankly ahead at her. She repeats herself to give it more meaning.

“I’m in love with Chloe.”

Beca hears herself say the words and thinks they sound so strange. As familiar as they are in her head, they sound alien on her tongue. Still, she feels relief at letting them out into the world. It’s like they’re no longer pushing against her ribs and her lungs and her heart. Her muscles even feel loose now. Like the feeling a person gets after finally putting down something heavy.

Amy stares at her for a few more seconds after that revelation, like she’s trying to determine if that excuse makes the cut as a truthful one.

She must decide it is the truth because she blinks and then says, “That… makes sense.”

Beca thinks she’s envisioned this confession about a thousand times and in none of those times did the conversation go anything like this.

“It… does?”

“Well for the normal person maybe not… but for a super intuitive person like myself? Sure. You’ve always been different for Chloe. It isn’t so surprising you’d go and fall in love with her,” Amy says with a shrug, like this wasn’t Beca’s deepest, darkest secret.

And then Amy’s eyes widen for the first time tonight and Beca thinks she’s finally going to get an appropriate reaction to this revelation.

“All this is because of Chicago, isn’t it? You were fine until she met that beefcake.”

Beca rolls her eyes. “Thank you for that reminder. And no, it isn’t because she likes him. Well it is… but it’s more because she doesn’t like me.”

Amy nods, and Beca is thankful she understands.

“I think… I think I thought I had a chance before him. Like in my head I was on the right track with her and then she met him and everything that meant something before suddenly meant nothing and… and I don’t even think I’m making any sense now.”

She puts her hands up to her face and lets her head hang, frustrated at her rambling.

“No, you aren’t making much sense. But it’s probably best to get it out anyway,” Amy says when she looks back up.

They stare at each other for a few more seconds, and Beca’s wondering what else there is to say.

“How long?” Amy asks quietly.

She sighs again, but doesn’t see the point in lying, even if the answer is a little embarrassing.

“Freshman year?”

Amy’s eyes go big again before something that looks a lot like pity settles in them.

“What? But… but you were with Jesse like… that whole time.”

She’s about to respond and explain herself but Amy keeps going first.

“In fact, I specifically remember you wanting to make part of our first ICCAs arrangement FOR him. That seems like a pretty counterproductive thing to do if you’re trying to win over someone else…”

Beca’s jaw drops a little. She’d never told anyone she had a specific reason for slipping an 80’s pop song in with the rest of their top forty mash up that first year. Maybe Amy was more observant than Beca ever gave her credit for, even if she was a little bit wrong.

“I… I wasn’t trying to win Chloe over. I’ve never tried to win her over.”

Amy takes a few more sips from her cup before she takes her phone out and makes a show of turning it off.

“You’re gonna need to do some explaining,” she says evenly. Then she crosses her arms over her chest and leans back, waiting. Beca sighs again, resigning herself to her interrogation.

“Where should I start?” she asks quietly.

Amy was ready for that question because she fires back immediately.

“Start with why you chose Jesse over Chloe if she’s the one you were in love with.”

Beca takes a long drink from her cup.

“You buying tonight? It’s gonna take more than one coffee,” she says as she places it back down. Amy just slaps her card on the table before making the universal gesture for “proceed.”

 

Spring 2012

It’s harder than she thought it would be. Putting together a set for the group to sing. Sure, a few songs stand out to her right away. And yeah, she fits them in against each other with way more enthusiasm than she ever had for the old routine.

But still, it’s difficult. She’s now a decision-maker instead of a decision-follower. She cringes at herself when she realizes how much work it must have been for Aubrey to find the right parts and sounds for every group member before.

It’s been a few days since their on-the-fly mash up, and they’ve been in high gear for every second. They have a relatively short amount of time to get this down before the championship. Beca is (gasp) working closely with Aubrey on the new arrangement. She’s been using her computer to put together songs for a brand new performance, and Aubrey has been helping her translate what she creates to a capella perfection. It’s strange how well they work together once they actually have a common goal (and agree on the path to get there).

Chloe has of course been helping as well. As the designated choreographer, she’s been coming up with ideas for their final performance. So far she’s kept it pretty simple, not wanting to overwhelm the group with too much “new” to learn in such a short time. But Beca can’t help but note that she seems way more excited about this than she ever did about the hand-me-down moves from the old set. It makes her smile to watch Chloe dancing by herself in their rehearsal space while she and Aubrey hover around her computer.

Oh, and that’s been hard too. It was only days ago she decided to embrace her feelings and now she’s already back to tamping them down. Only this time it’s harder because she’s now acutely aware of what she’s trying to ignore.

She doesn’t quite like the way her heart jumps at Chloe’s smile and she could do without her eyes always seeming to fall on the redhead when her thoughts are idle. Beca seems to also have made a mistake by taking Chloe’s hand the night of their mash up. Her one, single act of affection opened up some kind of floodgate because Chloe hasn’t stopped touching her since. She hugs Beca more, and takes her hand without much reason. She smiles at her more, and holds her gaze longer. And it gives Beca whiplash, because two totally different arguments could easily be made to explain Chloe’s feelings.

The touches, the looks, the secret smiles seemingly reserved only for Beca. The texts and all the one on one time Beca’s sure Chloe doesn’t spend on anyone else. They give Beca pause. Make her think Chloe has real feelings for her after all.

Then again, Chloe never crosses the line between affectionate and flirty. Never has anything suggestive to say or touches in a way that says she wants more. There are also the words that came directly out of the redhead’s mouth with regards to Jesse and how he would be good to Beca.

And it’s the negatives that tip the scales. That tell Beca to back off lest she get herself hurt. Chloe’s graduating anyway. At least if Beca keeps her mouth shut they can definitely part ways as friends.

“Beca? Are you even listening right now? I asked what you thought of the final product.”

She shakes her head a little bit to clear it, and realizes her eyes have been following Chloe across the rehearsal space again. She looks over at Aubrey, who is sitting with her in some fold out chairs. They’re sitting pretty close together, knees almost touching so they can both see Beca’s laptop screen.

Beca looks back down at the screen too, and sees the peaks and dips of the sound wave that represents their new arrangement for the championship. It’s pretty good if she’s being honest with herself, except—

“It’s missing something,” she says after a few seconds’ contemplation.

Aubrey nods, taking the critique seriously. After all, Beca was judging herself this time.

“More background singing? Or maybe we could change the parts up?” Aubrey asks, throwing out ideas.

Beca shakes her head. “No I like that the lead singer will be able to be heard clearly the whole time, so we don’t need any more in the background. And I definitely think we’ve given the right parts to the right people.”

They both go back to looking at the computer, like if they stare at it hard enough it’ll just tell them what to do.

“Add another song? We could cut back on how much we sing the other songs so you could slip in something else?”

Beca cocks her head to the side a little, thinking about it. When she looks up again, her eyes instantly seek red hair and she smiles a little when she sees Chloe twirling around and testing different moves. And in that moment, it’s easy to live with the decision not to pursue her. If Chloe is leaving soon, Beca wants nothing more than to at least be someone Chloe can recall with happiness. She can forever be a happy memory instead of someone Chloe would rather forget about. And that’s the thought that triggers the right part of her brain to add the perfect song to the mix.

She looks at Aubrey and smiles.

“I have an idea.”

//

The Bellas are on the stage and they are absolutely nailing their performance. She knows before they even get into the finale of their set that they’re going to win. It’s too good and the crowd is too into it for them to lose.

She sees Jesse in the crowd and waits for the moment when he recognizes the song. She hasn’t spoken to him since the day he shut his door in her face but she thinks this might be a good way to break the ice.

She’s been thinking a lot about what Chloe said about him. And Beca would be a fool if she said Jesse wasn’t all those nice things. And it’s that thought that makes her do it as she starts her solo of Don’t You. The fact that Jesse is good and safe and so clearly interested is what makes her return his smile. Makes her match his fist in the air. Makes her finally choose.

When their performance is over and as they’re filing into their reserved seats in the audience she stops herself in front of him.

“Told you,” he says before she’s even stopped walking. “Endings are the best part.”

She leans in and kisses him then before she loses her nerve. And it's good. Jesse certainly isn’t lacking when it came to kissing her back. And maybe he’s right. Maybe endings are the best part. She just can’t help thinking though, while her lips are still on his and her arms are around his neck, that she’s still somewhere in the middle.

 

Present Day

Beca places her second cup back down, empty. She’d given Amy all the highlights of the answer to the question she’d asked. Amy just stared and listened, only getting up once to retrieve more coffee.

“And the rest of the time you were with him? What about our remaining three years at Barden. You were with him the whole time,” she says it carefully, like she’s trying to let Beca know she isn’t judging.

“That’s a story for another day, Ames. I don’t think I have the energy for any more tonight.”

Amy nods and then polishes off her own refill.

“What are you going to tell Chloe? When we go home, I mean.”

Beca grabs both cups to throw them away on their way out.

“Haven’t you realized? I always lie to Chloe.”

Amy’s lips pull down a little at the corners, like she’s disappointed.

“Come on, I wanna get back before she goes to bed so I can do damage control. Also I really do still need to pack.”

This time it’s Amy who doesn’t protest. She just gets up and follows along. They make their way back in silence, like they made the forward journey.

Only this time the silence feels a little heavier.

And a little lighter.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

She lets Amy lead the way into the apartment, wondering what she’ll find when she makes it over the threshold. She doesn’t really have a solid plan for how to fix this, especially one that doesn’t involve telling Chloe just how stupid in love she is with her. She’s sort of just hoping for the best.

The first thing Beca notices after walking in is that not much has changed. Her laptop still sits open-faced in the middle of the bed, the lights are still on, and Chloe is still on her side. She doesn’t speak to her or Amy as they make their entrance, and Beca cringes internally at the lack of her usual enthusiastic greeting.

“Aca-awkward…” Amy supplies, in lieu of anyone else talking.

“Thanks, Amy,” Beca says quietly before pursing her lips at the blonde. “Uh, could you just… give us a minute?”

Amy gives her a weird, crooked salute before retreating to her side of the tiny apartment. She pulls the divider across, which Beca is grateful for despite the fact that she knows Amy will still be able to hear.

She makes it all the way around to her side of the bed and sits down with a small sigh. Chloe has yet to even acknowledge her and she isn’t feeling too confident but she tries anyway.

“Come on, Chlo. You can’t ignore me forever,” she says quietly, intentionally trying to make herself sound small.

Chloe side-eyes at her without speaking, but Beca can see she’s still angry. And it isn’t like Beca’s never seen the woman angry before. It’s just that very few of those times has she been the object of that fury. It’s unsettling.

“I’m sorry about before. I should never have kept it a secret from you, from both of you, that I was looking at other apartments.”

Chloe huffs before responding, “It was a real dick move.”

Beca suppresses the smirk she wants to let blossom. She’s always secretly enjoyed it when her expressions seep into Chloe’s vocabulary.

Instead, she just nods, agreeing with her.

“I know.”

Chloe looks at her properly then, and Beca can see that the anger looks a little more like disappointment now.

“You really don’t want to live with us anymore?”

Beca bites her tongue, because no, she really doesn’t.

“It isn’t like that, Chlo. I just feel like this is where my life is taking me. Maybe it’s Miami. Maybe it’s still New York but I don’t know what my life will be like soon and I don’t want to be an annoyance to you or Amy coming and going at random or even crazy hours all the time.”

Chloe turns her body more towards Beca as she responds. Like there’s hope here.

“You know Amy and I wouldn’t care about that,” Chloe says, a little of the usual sparkle returning to her eyes.

Beca should have known that tactic wouldn’t work. She tries a new one.

“You say that now, but who knows how you’d feel after the hundredth time I woke you up after getting home late. Not to mention that you’d be in the middle of grad school during all that. In any case, it’s something I feel like I should do for myself.”

She sees Chloe’s shoulders visibly slump, like she can’t stand in the way of something Beca wants for herself.

“I just… I’ll miss you so much,” she says quietly.

Beca sighs, because yeah, she will too.

“I’ll miss you too. You’ve been such a good roommate.”

For once, she’s telling the truth. She truly will miss Chloe’s thoughtfulness, and her cooking, and her constant smiles. It’s that pesky bit about being painfully in love with her that’s screwing up what is otherwise a very good thing.

It seems that Beca’s words break down the last of Chloe’s determination to stay mad, and to stay away because suddenly she’s throwing her arms around Beca’s neck and holding her in an awkward, sitting down hug.

“Please at least don’t move to Miami,” she says into Beca’s neck. And as much as she knows this is a somber moment, as much as she knows Chloe is vulnerable and is only seeking comfort, Beca still has to stifle a shiver because she can feel Chloe’s lips at her neck as she says the words. And she hates herself for liking it.

She brings her arms up awkwardly, but lets them come to hug Chloe back, in what she hopes is in a reassuring way to the redhead.

“I’ll try not to,” she says, hoping that’s enough to satisfy Chloe for now.

She’s finally being let go of after that, and she immediately stands up before Chloe decides she’s not done.

“You can come back out now, Ames,” she directs at the divider as she pulls out her suitcase and prepares to begin packing. Her mind is scattered from her evening though, and she already knows she’ll forget something. She just hopes it isn’t something embarrassing, like that one time she forgot underwear and got made fun of for having to buy a six pack of Hanes while going commando. Chloe didn’t let that story die for weeks.

Amy moves the divider again, but not all the way out of the way. Just enough to make herself seen. Beca thinks she sees something in Amy’s eyes that isn’t usually there but before she has time to consider the options Amy is talking.

“As tempting as it is to take part in a tender Bhloe moment, it’s getting late and I think I’m just going to crash. Have a good flight tomorrow though. And make sure to give us regular updates on how much ass you’re kicking down there.”

Beca gives her a small smile and nod before resuming her packing.

“Oh, and Beca?”

She looks up at Amy, who is playing with the rolling partition, moving it back and forth a few inches in each direction.

“Yeah?”

Amy stops what she’s doing and looks at her.

“Let us know when you find a place okay?”

Beca nods again, and swallows the lump that threatens to rise in her throat.

“I will. And uh, thanks for… earlier.”

She holds Amy’s gaze, trying to convey with her eyes what she’s trying to say. She thinks if it hadn’t been for Amy tonight, if it hadn’t been for someone else there for Beca to direct her feelings towards, she might have spilled it all. She’s extremely grateful.

Amy nods in acknowledgement of Beca’s words but doesn’t say anything else. Beca thinks it’s extremely obvious that she’s thanking her for more than just following her out earlier.

Amy slides the wall of clothes back across after their exchange and just like that, she’s “alone” with Chloe again.

She puts a few piles of clean clothes in her suitcase but doesn’t try to pick up any conversation. She doesn’t know what in the world they’d talk about anyway. Miami seems like a sore subject now that it carries potential for permanence.

“So,” Chloe says, trying for breezy and coming up a little short, “why does Amy get to know your secrets and I don’t?”

She knows Chloe is hoping for a real answer, despite her attempt at playfulness. She responds in the same tone, hoping they don’t fall into another argument.

“Because Amy doesn’t respect boundaries like you, Chlo,” she says, throwing the redhead a smirk for good measure.

They hear a light scoff from the other side of the apartment, and they smile at each other. For an instant, everything feels lighter. Easy.

It goes back to feeling a little forced when Beca reaches across the bed for her laptop to put it away in its carrier. Its open screen a reminder to both of them of what sparked the downward spiral of the evening, even if it did go to sleep hours ago. Chloe clears her throat like she’s instead trying to clear the air.

“We’ll be okay, right? You’re not going to just disappear on me?”

Beca hates the uncertainty in Chloe’s question.

“Have we ever been any good at saying goodbye to each other? You know I could never cut you out of my life. We’re gonna be just fine, dude.”

Chloe looks back at her with a watered-down smile, and a slightly more confident gaze. And for the first time, Beca doesn’t know if what she said was truthful or not. She thinks back to the first time she thought she was saying goodbye.

 

Summer 2012

She’s bent over the mixing equipment on her desk, wondering about the best way to transport it to her dad’s house for the summer. She’d decided to stay in Georgia instead of going back to her mom’s. It was just easier. She honestly didn’t feel like carting it all back across the country just to move it all right back two months later. Her mind springs to Jesse, and she wonders if she can rope him into helping her carry some of it out so she doesn’t have to make as many trips.

Since kissing him at the championships, she’s seen him almost every day. At first she felt a little guilty. It was clear he was all in. His goofy smile appeared every time he caught her eye. He sighed after every time he was brave enough to steal a kiss or two. He was genuinely happy when she told him she wasn’t catching the first plane to LA, and that she’d be returning in the fall. He was courteous and patient. He never pushed her boundaries. And her feelings for him are real.

It’s just… they aren’t alone. They share a space with the ones she has for Chloe. The ones she’s been trying to squash for weeks now. So yeah, she feels a little guilty.

But it’s been getting better. Some days she can almost convince herself there’s nothing there but what she feels for Jesse. Can enjoy her time with him without comparing it to her time spent in the company of a certain someone else. Can feel his arms around her without wondering how different it’d feel if it were Chloe.

She wonders less and less every day about that difference. Worries less and less every day about whether or not she chose correctly. She’s happy with him. Or at least, she thinks she can be. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Chloe will be graduating in two days. Beca hopes saying goodbye to her will provide a sort of closure, a lid to the box of her feelings.

She’s just thinking about texting Jesse to ask for help packing up her stuff when she hears a knock at her dorm door. She knows it’s probably for her, because Kimmy Jin left for the summer at the earliest possible opportunity.

She opens the door, honestly expecting to see Jesse because he’s the most likely to turn up unannounced. Instead, she’s greeted with fiery red hair and bright blue eyes.

“Hey, Becs,” Chloe says with a smile on her lips, and she strolls inside without waiting for an invitation. When Beca turns back around after closing the door, Chloe is already sitting on her bed, taking in the empty walls and the empty bed left by Kimmy Jin.

“Chloe? What’s up? Shouldn’t you be like… doing whatever seniors are doing right now? Playing dress up in your cap and gown?”

She throws a smirk in Chloe’s direction before she thinks of the other senior she knows, Aubrey. “Or like, submitting job applications or something?”

“You have weird ideas about what seniors do in their free time,” she says casually. When she doesn’t offer anything more, Beca prods again.

“Really though, what’s up?”

Chloe stands up after she notices the few empty boxes sitting in the corner, waiting to be filled with Beca’s things.

“Oh, did you want some help packing? I’m a master folder,” she chirps, looking towards Beca’s closet and then down at her bedspread, as if contemplating where to start.

“Chloe… is everything okay? You’re deflecting big time here,” Beca responds. She takes a step closer before she decides that’s not what she wants to do. She surreptitiously steps right back again.

“You’re coming back next year, right?”

It takes a few seconds for Beca to even respond. She’s confused by all the randomness Chloe’s throwing at her.

“Uh, yes? I’m coming back to Barden in the fall, if that’s what you mean.”

Chloe nods a few times, like that’s what she wanted to hear.

“Chloe, what’s—”

“I’m not graduating on Saturday.”

Beca just blinks at her, not understanding.

“What do you mean you’re not graduating? Like, you’re skipping the ceremony? Can’t say I blame you, it’s probably going to be god awful…”

“No, as in I’m not graduating at all,” Chloe cuts her off again. “I didn’t get enough credits to complete my degree.”

Beca feels her mouth open in shock but doesn’t know what to say. She doesn’t understand how that’s even possible. Chloe, despite not being the most studious person on campus, never gave any indication that her grades were in jeopardy. When she locks eyes with her again, Chloe’s the one stepping forward.

“I sort of… threw my last final,” she says quietly, holding Beca in place with her eyes alone.

“Why would you do that?”

“Because I—I just wasn’t ready to leave. I feel like this is still where I need to be.”

It shuts Beca up, because she doesn’t know how to argue with that.

“You’re sure about this?” she asks instead.

Chloe gives her a half smile. “It’s a little late if I wasn’t. Anyway, yes I’m sure. Another year with you? How can I complain about that?”

And that’s when Beca first realizes the full ramifications of Chloe’s choice. Beca feels relief at being able to keep Chloe a little longer, and hesitation over not saying goodbye. She’s full of contradictions, but she manages to smile at Chloe’s obvious enthusiasm over getting to spend the following school year together.

Chloe claps her hands together like that settles the whole thing.

“So really, do you need help packing? I’ve got the whole afternoon free.”

Beca’s smile becomes brighter and she accepts. She doesn’t know then that it’s the beginning of a trend. A trend of never being able to turn Chloe down that will last years from that moment.

Her intended text to Jesse is long forgotten as they begin boxing up Beca’s things. It takes a while because Chloe doesn’t seem to be in any hurry. She laughs as Chloe tries on her clothes and looks utterly ridiculous in them. They chat about ideas for the Bellas next year and Beca feels her excitement grow over not having to captain them alone (“Of course you should still be co-captain, Chloe.”).

It isn’t until they’re finishing up that Beca realizes this is going be a problem for her. Chloe seals the last box up with a little tape and when she looks at Beca, her smile is absolutely disarming.

Beca finds herself literally holding back a sigh at how attractive she finds Chloe in that moment. She knows then and there she’s going to have to work a lot harder to get rid of the feelings she doesn’t want anymore.

Knows she’s going to have to work a lot harder to be the kind of girlfriend Jesse deserves. Knows she’s going to have to work a lot harder to not hope Chloe could want her back.

The last thing she remembers thinking before they decide to go find some food for their rumbling stomachs?

Shit.

Present Day

She thinks she has all the essentials packed. All she needs to do is toss in her toothbrush and toothpaste in the morning before setting off for Miami and whatever the label has in store for her. Chloe is still up, despite the hour. They didn’t speak much while Beca packed, but the air doesn’t feel nearly as tense as it did when she got home with Amy. She just doesn’t know quite what to say and has learned that, when in doubt, silence usually produces the most favorable outcomes.

She places her suitcase by the door before crawling into their shared space, suddenly feeling a little awkward. She begins to lie down on her back but Chloe stops her.

“Becs?”

She just looks over and raises an eyebrow to let Chloe know she’s listening.

“I know you don’t really care for like sharing feelings and showing fondness.”

Beca just taps the end of her nose to let Chloe know she’s exactly right. She does it with a smirk on her face though. Chloe rolls her eyes before going on.

“And I know that I probably exceed my daily limit on affection like, every day. Annnnnnnd I know part of you moving out is probably due to wanting some space of your own,” she says, trailing off at the end.

“Where you goin’ with this, Chlo?”

Chloe fixes her with a pout and Beca gulps, fearing what’s coming next.

“Can you be a big spoon and I’ll be a little spoon because I’ve not exactly had a good day and snuggling always makes things better and I really just want to feel like we’re okay.”

She says it all very quickly like that’ll make her chances of success higher. Beca just raises her eyebrow even farther, wondering if she’s done.

“Uh, please?”

Beca just shakes her head before turning out her bedside lamp. It always goes against the grain to say no to Chloe. Hell, it took her this long to even decide to move out, and that was with the aid of a major catalyst in the form of Chicago. So she knows to something like this she could never resist.

“Turn over,” is how she acquiesces.

Chloe gives her a gleeful smile before she does as requested. Beca slides across the mattress, feeling sheepish about the way she fits herself against Chloe’s back. If Chloe feels apprehension in Beca’s movements, she doesn’t comment on it. She just pulls Beca’s arm across her ribs, and then lets out a deep breath once they’re settled.

If Beca wasn’t such a pessimist, it might have sounded like relief.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

Beca's week in Miami is spent in a blur of dark rooms, new music, and unbearable heat. The sun in southern Florida is the most unforgiving one she's ever seen. It makes the air sticky and her lungs feel like they're drowning in vapor. She decides pretty quickly after arriving that working in the New York branch of the label will do just fine.

When she isn't sweating off her makeup (and her deodorant), she's attending meetings with Khaled and other label exec's. They already have at least two songs she can attach her name to. She tries not to let herself get discouraged that it's the catchy choruses of rap songs they want her to sing.
She has to keep reminding herself that whatever they are, they've got to be better than Pimp Lo and Bend Over.

She gets texts here and there from her friends and even a surprise text from her dad asking about her trip. Amy asks about the food scene. Cynthia Rose asks about the music. Stacie wants to know if the men in Miami are as hot as the weather. Her dad makes sure she's being safe and isn't getting taken advantage of.

Chloe texts the most about a little bit of everything. She sends pictures of puppies and birds and other animals brought into the clinic. She wants to know what Beca's having for dinner and if she feels famous yet. She demands pictures in return of what Beca's doing. And it strikes Beca, how similar her friendship with Chloe feels to how her relationship felt with Jesse. She wonders if Chloe has ever noticed that it feels this way, or if maybe that's just how she feels about everyone.

On her last night, Theo says Khaled is going to some nightclub for an evening off, and that's she's been invited to "make an appearance."

At her response of nothing more than an impressive eyebrow raise, he further informs her that where Khaled goes, cameras usually follow and that it "wouldn't be the worst thing" if his newest recruit was seen out having a good time in a trendy dance club.

Beca agrees, and then proceeds to spend the rest of her free time stressing out over what to wear. 

When there's only an hour left before the car is due to arrive to take her to the club, she admits defeat. Her hair and makeup are done, and are acceptably club-ready in her opinion, but she's still in her underwear and something tells her that just won't do. She picks up her phone and hopes that Chloe will answer, and if she does, will just tell Beca what to wear.

"How's my favorite signed artist doing this evening? All packed to come home tomorrow?"

Beca smiles at Chloe's way of greeting before answering her.

"I am, in fact, not packed and I have a crisis on my hands. This is an SOS call."

Chloe doesn't miss a beat before saying seriously, "I'm listening."

"Okay, so I'm supposed to show up at this nightclub where Khaled is tonight, and the car is supposed to be here in less than an hour and I'm still in my underwear because I can't decide what to wear. Which is really dumb because I didn't pack that many club acceptable outfits anyway so I don't even have much to choose from."

She spits it all out in a rush, really hoping Chloe doesn't make her repeat anything.

"Okay, don't worry. I'm sure you brought something that will work. What are our options?"

Beca breathes a sigh of relief, knowing Chloe will calm her down and help her pick the right thing.

"I have that black dress with the spaghetti straps, the short red one-shoulder, and I have no idea why I packed this but that yellow dress you love so much."

She doesn't go into any further detail, knowing Chloe will know what she's talking about with minimal description.

"I do love that yellow dress. You hardly ever wear bright colors," Chloe responds, almost as if to herself. When she doesn't say anything else for a few seconds, Beca speaks up.

"Uh, Chlo?"

"Sorry, sorry. I was thinking."

Beca turns and looks at the three options laying across her bed as Chloe continues.

"No to the yellow. It's too sunshiny for a club. I also say no to the black one. You always look good in it but if you're there to make an appearance you want to catch people's eyes. So my vote is for the red. You have heels to go with it, right?"

Beca spies the black pumps at the foot of the bed. For whatever reason the combo looks better in her mind now than it did half an hour ago.

"Yeah. Yeah I do."

"Well that's my vote then. That dress looks so sexy on you."

Beca feels her mouth dry up a little at the comment. And it kills her how easily Chloe has always been able to give compliments like that.

"Uh, thanks."

Chloe giggles, picking up instantly on Beca's awkwardness.

"I better go ahead and change then," she says. "Thanks for helping."

"Anytime. Send me a selfie before you leave?"

Beca hates taking selfies alone but she knows she won't say no.

"Sure thing."

"Have fun tonight, Becs. Can't wait to see you tomorrow!"

It makes Beca smile again, how open Chloe always is with her feelings.

"Yeah, you too. Bye, Chlo."

She hears Chloe say goodbye just before she hangs up, and then proceeds to start putting on the red dress.

After a few minutes of fighting with the zipper, and then smoothing it out so that it hugs her body just right, she looks at herself in the mirror. The dress is short, barely reaching mid-thigh. Combined with the ultra-high heels, Beca's legs actually look really long, which is always a welcomed illusion to someone so short.

She's got her hair pulled over one shoulder, and falling in big waves that don't quite qualify as curls. Her other shoulder is bare, exposed by the fact that the dress only has one strap. She has to admit, she feels pretty confident with the overall look. She snaps the most cliché mirror selfie imaginable, and sends it to Chloe.

Beca: Thanks again for the advice.

She throws her phone on the bed and grabs the only thing missing from her outfit, a small silver clutch. She puts some money and her driver's license in it. As she's snapping it shut her phone chimes with an incoming text from Theo.

Turtle: waiting for you, Cinderella.

She rolls her eyes at his cheesiness but proceeds to make her way down to the valet pick up area of her hotel.

She sees Theo leaning against a sleek black sedan when she gets outside and she takes a moment to appreciate his look. He's got a white button down tucked into black suit pants. There's a loose skinny tie around his neck and shiny black shoes on his feet. His hair is purposefully untidy, and as much as Beca usually doesn't care for that look, she thinks Theo can pull it off.

She smiles as she approaches.

"I thought the label was sending a car for me tonight. I didn't know your services extended all the way to chauffeuring."

He rolls his eyes but she knows he's being playful.

"That hurts, you know, being reduced to your driver. Here I thought we were actually becoming friends."

Beca smirks but doesn't say anything, opting to just drop into the passenger seat of the car. She thinks it's kind of a shame, really, that she isn't attracted to Theo. He's good looking, and charming. They both share a love of music and he believes in her. He gave her the impression he might be interested in something with her back on the tour, but hasn't pushed it since she made it clear she wasn't. That makes for a decent man in her book.

She gives a fleeting thought towards Chloe and thinks that if maybe she weren't so caught up in her, she might feel differently. Who knows?

They make their way to the club, Theo expertly navigating the streets of downtown Miami like he knows them by heart. She supposes he must. They chat about her upcoming projects and he's genuinely curious about her thoughts and ideas for them. She enjoys his company more than she ever thought she would when they first met.

Her phone vibrates as they're pulling up to the valet of the club. She gets out as Theo heads around the car to pass over the keys. She checks her phone while she waits.

Chloe: Told ya. So sexy.

She swallows hard, hating how that text makes her feel. When she looks up, Theo is waiting for her, his usual smile in place.

"Ready to go?" he asks, charming as ever.

She walks in with him by her side, and as the pumping bass fills her ears she can't help thinking again that yeah, not wanting him that way is a real shame.

Before she knows it, she's already been inside the club for a few hours. The music is decent, the DJ is better, and the drinks are free. Not the worst way to spend her last night in Miami. She talked to Khaled in his VIP booth for all of five minutes before being encouraged to have a few drinks and dance a little. Let loose. She hasn't seen him since, but she has ignored a few camera flashes in her direction. Which is really, really weird.

She feels awkward dancing alone, and can't bring herself to accept any of the offers coming her way tonight. So she mostly floats between the bar and the not quite so VIP booth Theo managed to acquire.

He talks to all kinds of people over the course of the evening as they approach their booth. He introduces her to all of them, and she promptly forgets them afterward. She realizes at some point that this isn't really a night off for him, because he's making sure she's getting the exposure the label wants for her. She likes that he's doing it so subtly.

After about the tenth new person has walked away from their booth, she excuses herself to get another drink at the bar. She thinks she can probably get away with leaving soon, seeing as her flight is in the morning and she still has to repack her things.

She's sitting at the bar going through her mental pre-flight checklist when someone sits next to her and interrupts her thoughts.

"Could I close out my tab, please?"

The woman sitting next to her is addressing the bartender, but she looks at Beca and smiles when she notices Beca looking first.

The first thing Beca thinks is she's gorgeous.

The woman has dark hair that falls just below her chin and is straight as a board. It looks chic and makes her features look more angular. Sharp.

Her skin is a rich color, much darker than Beca's, and its slightly glistening, whether from glitter or sweat Beca can't tell.

She doesn't ascertain much else. Knowing she's verging on staring for too long, Beca looks down at the beer bottle she's slowly been peeling away the label of.

"Is that any good?"

Beca looks up to see the woman looking at her beer bottle with a quirked eyebrow.

It's a local brew she'd never tried before but light beer is light beer.

"Oh, um, yeah it's okay."

She nods her head like that's interesting to her and the bartender hands back her credit card. Beca takes the moment to note that the woman's dress is black, or maybe navy (she can't tell in the light of the club), and that it looks quite good on her.

"So how do you know Theo?"

Beca laughs sarcastically. "Doesn't everyone in this place know Theo?"

The woman laughs lightly and nods in acknowledgment, but doesn't say anything more. She's clearly waiting for a real answer.

"I, uh, was recently signed by the producer he works for. DJ Khaled?" And then, because her manners have completely left her, she adds on hastily, "I'm Beca. Mitchell."

The woman smiles and holds out her hand for Beca to shake. It's warm and dry.

"Nice to meet you, Beca. I'm Sofía."

Beca lets go of Sofía's hand after another second, and then realizes that she still has no idea who this person is.

"How did you know that I know Theo? How do you know Theo?"

"Say 'know' one more time," she responds with a smirk.

The corners of Beca's mouth twitch, like her lips want to smile.

"I saw you with him earlier, which is how I know you know him. And I know him because we're both in this club probably way more often than we should be."

Beca doesn't know what to make of that information so she doesn't respond. Some part of her is beginning to think Sofía may be coming on to her, which is uncharted territory. She isn't sure she wants to start that adventure with someone who picks up people on the regular from dance clubs.

"Do you like the DJ tonight?" Sofía asks, changing the subject. Beca feels a little relief. Mixing? That she can talk about. 

"He's very good. I was even thinking about Googling him earlier to see what would come up."

Sofía smiles, and it's warm and unassuming.

"I'll have to tell him you said so. He's his worst critic, of course."

"Oh, you know him too? You're quite popular, aren't you?"

Beca wills her cheeks not to flush and she can't believe she's halfway flirting with this woman.

"He's my brother. That's why I'm always here. I come to listen to him mix."

Beca smiles at this, suddenly feeling much better about whatever is happening here.

They make small talk for another few minutes, and Beca's beer bottle gets closer and closer to empty. When she takes the last sip, Sofía looks at her and for the first time since sitting down next to Beca, she looks nervous instead of confident.

"Beca, I don't normally do this but... would you like to dance with me?

Beca's mouth falls slightly open because she wasn't expecting that at all. She's a little shocked her intuition about their interaction was right. 

"Oh my God, I'm sorry. I don't know what I was thinking when I asked. I think I totally misread all this judging by your face right now," Sofía says in a rush. She puts her hand out like she's going to touch Beca's arm on the bar but then draws it back before actually doing it.

"No, you uh, weren't. Misreading it, I mean."

Sofía's eyebrows draw together like she doesn't want to assume what that means.

"I just... am incredibly awkward. But yes, I... would like to dance with you."

The smile she gets in response to her words is bright and it draws a smile of her own out effortlessly.

Sofía takes her hand and leads her amongst the dancing bodies. She doesn't stop until they're in the center and it's weird because it feels like nobody can see them. It's as if the space is so crowded, it's actually giving them privacy.

And then they dance.

It starts out innocently enough. Sofía doesn't immediately share space with Beca, doesn't really touch her unless it's to take her hand. It's like they're dancing around each other, literally and figuratively.

They've been dancing and laughing together for a few songs when it shifts. The song seamlessly changes into something slower. Something with a beat almost tangible. Something that requires the dancers to touch and feel.

And just as easily as the songs changed, what they're doing changes. Sofía is now behind Beca instead of in front of her. And her hands cautiously find homes against her hips. She pulls Beca into her front and Beca can feel her breath at her ear.

"Is this... okay?"

Beca turns her head halfway, allowing her to see Sofía in her periphery. She nods, and then to further cement her approval, she puts her hands on top of Sofía's at her waist.

And they resume. And Beca thinks about how different it is to dance like this with a woman. She smells perfume instead of cologne. The arms around her are thin and smooth. Those are definitely breasts she feels at her back.

Then again, it really isn't all that different at all. The moves are the same. The sweat is the same. The way her heart beats at sharing her space is the same.

The rush she feels at what might happen. That's the same. The headiness of it all makes her feel impulsive. Drunk, even though she hasn't had enough alcohol to actually feel that way.

She turns in Sofía's arms when she thinks she can't possibly withstand another moment of the woman's body pulled flush against hers.

Dark brown eyes look back at her, and Beca let's herself enjoy how warm they are. Inviting.

Her mind wanders only for a moment, a fraction of a second, to eyes very different. Very blue. Eyes that never looked at her like these brown ones are now.

Ones that slip to Beca's lips without pretense or shame.

It drives Beca forward, the confidence in knowing she's wanted. She slows down at the last second, just in case, but when she meets no resistance she leans in the last few centimeters.

Sofía's lips are soft. Her kiss is soft. And when Beca takes a breath through her nose all she can smell is her amazing perfume.

She kisses Beca with purpose. It doesn't take long for her fingers to find Beca's hair and tangle themselves in it.

She finds herself wanting to gasp at the pleasure of it. And she does gasp, a tiny, nearly inaudible intake, when Sofía's tongue slides against hers for the briefest of moments.

She plants her hands at Sofía's hips and pushes herself back. Her kisses are making Beca forget herself and her surroundings.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-I got so caught up in it."

The words are said right against Beca's ear, the music making any kind of distance impossible for conversation. Beca takes a warm hand in hers and leads them away back towards the bar.

"I'm sorry," Sofía says again when they stop.

"Please don't be. That was... yeah. Please don't be sorry."

"Could I... well could I see you again? Maybe not in a nightclub?"

Beca smiles, even knowing she has to say no.

"I'm afraid I'm flying back home tomorrow. New York. I was only here to get the ball rolling on a few things."

Sofía sighs.

"Well, that's a damn shame."

She smiles again, reminded of her own thoughts from earlier. And suddenly she doesn't like the thought of just walking away after a few kisses. Doesn't want to leave Sofía unexplored. She just wants to be impulsive a little while longer.

"Do you..." she trails off, willing herself to say the remaining words, "wanna get out of here?"

She closes her eyes at how ridiculous that sounds, because yeah, it sounded ridiculous. But Sofía is looking at her with something in her eyes that wasn't there before.

"We can just talk?" She adds on, not wanting to be presumptuous (even though that's exactly what she's being (she just wants Sofía to know the options)).

Sofía nods, and her smile is back to warm and innocent when Beca says she wants to tell Theo she's leaving.

By the time they're in Sofía's car, Beca's cheeks are bright red from the conversation she had with Theo about leaving the club and who she was leaving with. He seemed to take far too much pleasure in her embarrassment, but did send her off with a chuckle and a "have fun!"

Their conversation is perfectly pleasant as they drive towards Beca's hotel. So pleasant Beca almost can't believe she sort of propositioned the woman not even half an hour ago.

She almost panics at the thought. She certainly has no idea what she's doing and she has never done anything like this before. Her doubts must show on her face because Sofía fixes her with a look that looks genuinely concerned.

"Everything okay?"

And because she's been honest all night, she doesn't even think about lying.

"I'm nervous. I've never... done this before."

Sofía smiles but it looks understanding instead of mocking.

"You've never brought a stranger home before, or... you've never brought a woman home before?"

"Uh, both."

Her eyebrows lift and she glances at Beca just for a moment before returning her eyes to the road.

"Wow, you're really diving right in, huh?"

She thinks of how long she's had feelings for Chloe. How long she's known she's bisexual. The realization isn't exactly new. Then again, she's never once acted on them. She'd never so much as even kissed another woman until tonight. So...

"Something like that, I guess."

"We really can just hang out, you know. I would be happy just getting to know you better. Even if you're leaving tomorrow."

"Why? Doesn't that seem wasteful?"

They're pulling in to the parking area of her hotel but Sofía doesn't respond until her car is perfectly in one of the spaces.

"Time is never wasted on connecting with another person. Even if it's just for an hour or two."

Beca liked Sofía's voice as she said the words.

"Would you like to come up?"

She says that she would and so they go together. Across the parking lot, through the lobby, and into the elevator.

And what the fuck is it about elevators that just cranks up the tension? 

Beca feels the pull of it, of her, as soon as the doors meet, sealing them into the small space together. Alone.

By the time they're through Beca's door, they're kissing again. Pushing and pulling against each other and honestly she feels like her lungs are a little on fire with how hard they're working.

She feels the urge to panic squirm under the surface again, because now there's nothing here to stop them. No nightclub and no crowd of onlookers.

She ignores it instead, letting her hands skim the expanse of Sofía's back. And wow, this is all so much more sensual than anything she's ever experienced before. She wants to touch just to touch, not as a means to an end or as part of the night's script. She just really likes how smooth her skin is.

Her mind is starting to wander to the places her hands might wander later, when Sofía places another firm kiss against her lips and steps back.

"God, you're good at that."

Beca smiles at the compliment, pleased with herself.

"Could I use your bathroom? Honestly I could use a moment to catch my breath."

She points to the right door and then drops onto the bed as soon as Sofía is through it. She could probably use the breather too.

Not five seconds has passed since sitting down when she hears her clutch begin to vibrate. Or more accurately, the phone inside it.

Upon fishing it out, she looks at the screen to see who the incoming call is coming from, as it's already past midnight. Of course, it's the only person who could make her actually answer given her current circumstances.

"Chlo? Is everything okay?"

"Of course, silly. I was seeing how your night went at this glamorous nightclub where all the celebs hang out."

Beca shakes her head but physically can't stop her lips from smirking.

"I didn't see any celebs, unless you count Khaled."

"Of course I count him. And you, duh. How was it?"

She hears the bathroom sink turn on at that moment and realizes she doesn't really have time for a rundown.

"Uh, Chlo, can I call you in the morning before my flight? It's just... I'm sort of... not alone?"

There's a pause, and then—

"Beca Mitchell! Did you spend one night in a club and then take a man home? I can't say I blame you, gotta get your kicks in when you can..."

Beca is mentally sorting through Chloe's words, and exactly what to say in response to them when Sofía reenters the room, eyes still on the bathroom wall to flick the light switch.

"God, that bathroom is nicer than mine! I'm a little jealous."

And when she finally looks at Beca, she immediately puts a hand to her mouth and begins to whisper instead.

"Sorry! I didn't realize."

Beca hasn't said a word to either of them and she's totally floundering. She stares at Sofía but waits to see if Chloe heard anything.

"Beca? Are you... was that a woman?"

"Uh... yeah."

That's all she manages. Sofía is beginning to look more and more suspicious the longer Beca doesn't say anything. And suddenly she sees how this must look to her.

"Look I gotta go, but I'll call you in the morning, okay? And I'll see you when I get home."

She waits a second to see if Chloe will respond but she doesn't. And she doesn't have time to analyze what that might mean because Sofía is starting to slip her heels back on. She hangs up the phone and sets it down.

"Beca, are you cheating on someone with me? You have to know that's what it looks like right? Was that your boyfriend back home?"

On the word boyfriend, she snaps out of it.

"Sofía, that wasn't my boyfriend."

At the woman's still less than impressed look, she rephrases.

"I don't even have a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. Or an anyone. That was my roommate."

Another pause, because it's still pretty obvious something is missing from the explanation.

"My roommate who doesn't know I'm into girls. Or who didn't anyway."

She sits on the bed, suddenly exhausted.

"Oh shit, I'm sorry, Beca."

"You keep saying that to me but you haven't done anything all night to actually warrant an apology."

A minute or two passes before Sofía speaks again.

"Will it be weird now? At home? She's not like... homophobic is she?"

Beca shakes her head quickly.

"No, not at all. It won't make any difference that I'm not straight. What matters is that I didn't tell her."

"You don't owe your identity to anyone, Beca."

She feels a sudden surge of affection for this almost stranger. Defending her even though they barely know each other.

"I know. It's not like that though. She'll be hurt I didn't trust her enough to tell her. And trust me when I say that hurting her feelings feels a lot like kicking a puppy when it's down."

Sofía sits next to her on the end of the bed then. Beca almost wants to laugh because this is not how she thought she'd be sharing her bed tonight.

"Why haven’t you? Told her, I mean."

"Because I'm stupid in love with her. I thought if I gave her any pieces of the puzzle, she'd put it together instantly. And I can't have that."

The words fall from Beca's lips without any hesitation. She may be a liar to Chloe but to Sofía it seems she's a truth teller.

Sofía places an arm around Beca's shoulders, like she just innately knows Beca needs it.

"I'm sorry. You know, that tonight didn't... pan out."

She feels Sofía's warm hand slide up and down her arm a few times.

"Now who's apologizing unnecessarily?" Sofía jokes.

"Still think your time here tonight wasn't a waste?" she jokes back, trying to keep the mood light. 

"There is one less stranger to me in the world now because of my time with you. That could never be time wasted."

"You're something else, you know that?"

"Yes."

She stands then, and picks up her purse. 

"You don't have to go."

"I think we both know I do."

They walk to the door and before Sofía leaves she kisses Beca again.

"You are good at that. I'm happy to have met you just to get a kiss like that," she jokes, still keeping things light.

Beca rolls her eyes and opens the door.

"Oh, and Beca? Regrets make the heart suffer more. For whatever that's worth."

Beca nods, letting her know she understands. Then she watches a wise and beautiful woman walk away.

///

She's finally through security the next morning after not enough sleep, not enough coffee, and a rush job on her packing. She's got her wallet, headphones, and a sweatshirt in her carry-on and literally nothing else. All her belongings were haphazardly thrown together before leaving the hotel.

Her mind feels as jumbled as the contents of her suitcase as she makes her way down the terminal to her gate. When she reaches the seats, she sighs, resigning herself to about another hour of waiting.

(God, she hates airports.)

She pulls out her phone and almost tries to convince herself it's too early to call. But she knows Chloe's schedule like the back of her hand and knows she's awake. And knows she's waiting.

She hits the call button, and doesn't have to wait for even two rings before she hears Chloe's voice.

"Morning, Becs."

She tries to gauge the greeting, but honestly it doesn't sound much different than it normally would.

"Hey, Chlo," she says back, wondering if she should just jump right in or not. But she isn't given much of a chance to weigh the options.

"So... did I cockblock you last night?" And then after a pause, "Well, I guess it wouldn't be called that, huh? Taco blocko?"

Beca snorts and isn't even embarrassed.

"You're not freaking out about this."

It isn't a question. Just an observation of fact.

"Did you think I would? You know I don't care about that stuff. I am curious though."

Beca nods though Chloe can't see her. Of course she is. And maybe, just this once, she can afford to tell a little truth.

"About?"

"Why didn't you tell me you were into women? I've never even seen you flirt with another woman before, and don't even bring up that German woman; I still don't know what that was. Have you been with many women? Why didn't you tell me?"

Beca smiles at Chloe's rambling, even if the end of it was a bit tinged with hurt. She still thinks of Kommissar fondly.

"You've never seen me flirt with another woman because I never have, Kommissar notwithstanding. But to be fair, I don't really flirt with men either. I'm just not good at it. And no, I haven't been with many women. In fact I, haven't been with any women."

Chloe doesn't respond right away. Beca wonders what she makes of that.

"You and the woman from last night... didn't?"

"No, we didn't."

More silence. It doesn't quite feel awkward but Beca doesn't really know what to say either. She is pleasantly surprised, however, at the relief she feels at telling Chloe some of her secrets.

"Does anyone else know? Any of the other Bellas?"

Beca laughs at the question.

"I haven't told anyone directly. But Amy knows for sure. I'm also willing to bet that CR assumes, she's like a bloodhound with her gaydar."

Chloe laughs, and then, "But, are you gay then?"

"No, I like men too. I didn't even realize I liked women until college."

She closes her eyes, seeing her mistake immediately.

"Oh, that sounds juicy."

"I'm changing the subject now."

"Wait, can I ask one more thing? It won't be about who's responsible for your sexual awakening."

Well, that's good.

"Okay," Beca responds hesitantly.

"Why didn't you tell me? Don't you trust me, Becs?"

Beca bites her tongue, forcing herself not to redirect the conversation with the old "that's more than one question" ploy.

She thinks about the truth. And she thinks about the lies. This time, she goes somewhere down the middle.

"I just didn't want anything to change between us. We share a bed for Christ's sake."

Chloe sighs, the sad one that always puts a few more fissures in Beca's heart.

"Beca, nothing is ever going to change between us, okay? We'll always be best friends."

And even though that's what Beca is always lying to protect, what she's always trying to preserve, she hates that the words are true.

"Yeah, I know."

///

She can't seem to get comfortable on this airplane. She wishes she had a warm body (preferably belonging to a certain warm redhead) to cuddle up with like the last time she was on a plane going home.

As usual, when her body is still and her thoughts are idle, her mind drifts to days gone by.

Fall 2012

"Welcome back!" is the greeting she receives the second she sets foot inside the Bella house.

It's weird, moving into what is essentially a sorority house instead of a dorm room. She doesn't get more than a second or two to look around, noting that the place looks about the same as it had last time she was here, when she's caught in a fierce hug.

"I missed you this summer," Chloe says, holding Beca tight and speaking over her shoulder.

Beca clears her throat in an effort to help her reciprocate the feeling.

"Uh, yeah. Me too."

When Chloe finally lets her go, Beca looks at her properly. Her skin is a shade or two darker from spending a summer in the sun, but her hair and her eyes are as bright as they always had been. She feels a pang of something in her stomach before deciding she better look away.

"You're the first one here, besides me. So you have your fair pick of the rooms. Everyone will have a roommate, so choose wisely."

She winks at her, and Beca knows immediately that rooming with Chloe is point blank a bad idea.

She ends up choosing the 3rd floor loft, citing late night mixing as her reason for being slightly separated from the rest of the house. Chloe doesn't protest the choice, and Beca is grateful.

It doesn't take long to unpack. Beca's never really been one to carry a lot of baggage. At least, not the physical kind. When she's done, some of the other girls have started to arrive. The house is loud, full of the sounds of the girls' reunions. Chloe's smile is wide. Beca can tell her heart is full at being with the Bellas again. And the warmth she feels merely by looking at her, the warmth that feels different than the warmth she gets from the others, sounds the warning bells in her mind.

She feels pretty confident she got over Chloe with the separation of summer. She feels pretty confident she's falling in love with Jesse, having talked and Skyped with him all summer long.

She feels pretty confident all that will shatter if she's not careful. If she doesn't tread very lightly.

She slips her phone into her back pocket, and grabs her keys from her room. She's almost to the front door when a voice stops her. Stacie's.

"Hey, shorty, where are you off to? We're having a reunion here!"

Beca rolls her eyes at the nickname.

"I wanna go see Jess. I haven't seen him all summer."

They all make noises of understanding, and Beca slips out the door. If she had been paying attention, she might've seen the look of disappointment in Chloe's bright blue eyes.

///

Winter 2013

Her first time with Jesse is her first time.

She's nervous, but not so nervous that she hesitates. She's been wanting to for a while, and when their kisses don't stop at their usual point she knows she wants to continue.

He holds her afterward, and tells her he loves her. She says it back.

And as much as she enjoyed herself in the moment, she can't help but feel a little guilty, and a little dirty, over the fact that she kept having to chase Chloe out of her thoughts during.

When she returns to the Bella house that night, Stacie immediately pounces on her, stating in front of all the others, "You did something naughty!"

Beca doesn't know how Stacie can tell. But at this point she's just accepted it's like a superpower and doesn't try to deny anything.

She completely misses the fact that Chloe is the only one who doesn't demand any details.

///

Spring 2013

They've won the championship for the second time in a row. Beca is so proud of them. So proud of how well these girls execute the ideas they've been pulling together for months. So proud of how well they dance the steps Chloe's put together. She's overjoyed another one of her mashups has earned them another national title.

When Chloe pulls her into a hug, she returns it with enthusiasm. Her arms pull Chloe completely against her, and when she feels Chloe's lips at her cheek, and when her heart stutters in response to it, she couldn't be happier that another summer is just around the corner.

///

Present Day

It's amazing how quickly one can fly from Miami to New York.

In no time at all, she's off the plane once more. And it's like traffic forgets to be a problem today. Her ride home in the cab is so clear. It's like the city is getting her back home faster than it ever has. Like it wants her there.

She gets one look around her tiny apartment before a certain redhead barrels into her arms.

"Welcome back," she whispers into Beca's hair.

Some things never change.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

 

She didn't expect to find an apartment so quickly. Or perhaps it only seemed quick because she'd been secretly hoping the search would last a while.

She's standing in what will probably be her new living room very soon. It's bigger, and brighter, than what she's been sharing with Chloe and Amy. It has walls which actually divide the place into several different rooms. She will soon have her own bedroom, with a real bed.

One she doesn't have to share with someone she both longs and hates to touch.

She should be happy. She should be excited that all this space will soon be hers. That she can afford it (comfortably no less) on her own.

Mostly she just feels lonely and nostalgic. Like the place can never quite feel like home because it's missing a few really important ingredients.

She tells the landlord she'll take it anyway.

By the time she's climbing the steps to the first apartment she'll have to say goodbye to, she's paid her deposit and has signed enough paperwork for someone to make a life story out of. It's made her tired and desperate for the company of those she's leaving.

Chloe isn't home when she walks through the door, and it disappoints her. For all the times she's dreaded Chloe's welcome home hug, this time she wanted it. Amy is home, but she's never been the hugging for no reason type.

"'Sup, short round," is her greeting.

She shrugs off her shoulder bag and kicks her shoes off before flopping on the bed.

"Hey, Ames."

There must have been something in her tone. Or perhaps the greeting was a little too breathless.

"Bad day?" Amy asks, settling down at their rickety kitchen table with a slice of leftover pizza from the night before.

No, she wasn't having a bad day. Just a weird day. A day of both getting what she wants and giving away what she wants.

"I found a place," she answers.

Amy chews for what Beca thinks is longer than necessary before she responds. 

"When's moving day?"

"First of the month," Beca answers. It was easiest. No overlapping rent payments.

Amy nods. "I see."

The first of the month was less than a week away.

And Beca expected a less than excited response to this news, but it does stab at her heart a little more than she thought it would that Amy is very clearly unhappy with hearing it.

"It's just something I have to do," she elaborates. She wants Amy to know it's an act of self-preservation.

"I get it, Beca."

She knows Amy is serious. She never whips out Beca's real name unless it's important.

"Are you still going to be friends with her? You know it'll kill her if you disappear," Amy says quietly, inspecting the crust of her pizza slice.

Beca sighs. She does know. But she also knows she needs the space to get over all this. To unlearn loving Chloe.

"I'll do my best, Ames."

Amy doesn't respond, and Beca knows it's because she doesn't like her answer. That it doesn't quite sound believable.

"Where is Chloe, anyway?" Beca asks, trying to clear the tension from the room.

"I dunno, do I? She's not at work because she left in normal clothes this morning."

Beca nods, wondering where Chloe could have gone.

Amy changes the subject, and they pretend everything is normal for a while. They talk about the songs Beca will begin recording soon. Whether or not Amy wants to expand Fat Amy Winehouse to other various famous Amy's. They discuss what to have for dinner.

("It's your turn, Shawshank. I made it last night." 

"You brought home pizza, Amy."

"Don't hate the player, Beca.")

All the while she doesn't think about (or tries not to) where Chloe is and why she hasn't texted. She knows it's so hypocritical of her to expect Chloe to check in because lately she's been spending hours away from home with no reasons given.

She's about to give in and just call Chloe herself when the woman in question comes through the front door. Her smile is as wide as ever and Beca berates herself over how immediately she looks Chloe over. She's wearing cutoff shorts and a loose v-neck tee and honestly Beca would look like a hobo if she tried it but Chloe makes it look hip and trendy.

"Hello, loves," she says, setting down her bag and taking off her shoes much the same way Beca had earlier.

"Hey, Red. Hungry? Beca was just getting ready to start dinner."

Beca mumbles some unintelligible complaints but nonetheless gets up and begins perusing the kitchen cabinets.

Amy just smiles at her victory and she hears Chloe say a quiet thank you.

It doesn't take her long, what little she knows how to cook is simple and requires minimal preparation. Within half an hour she's got enchiladas in the oven and the tiny apartment smells like chilies and melting cheese. She knows Chloe loves them.

She listens to Amy and Chloe talking after she sits down again, smiling at their antics and wondering if they'll be just as silly after she's gone. She hopes so.

Once dinner is ready, they all sit at the table and eat in relative silence. Amy says food tastes better that way and neither Chloe nor Beca have ever had the energy to dispute it. She catches Chloe's eyes a few times though, and feels her heart leap at their twinkle.

When they're all close to finishing, Amy pushes her plate towards the middle of the table and leans back against her chair.

"Well done, Beca. Your last bestowed meal to us was a good one."

Beca snaps her gaze on Amy, wishing she hadn't just said those words.

"What? Why is this the last one?" Chloe asks, though her tone indicates she already knows why.

"I... will wash the dishes, shall I? Never too late to learn how, I suppose..." Amy says, excusing herself faster than Stacie would answer a booty call.

Chloe stays put, looking at Beca expectantly.

"I found a place, Chlo. I'm moving in on the first."

A series of emotions flicker across Chloe's face. Beca thinks she sees anger and sadness come and go before Chloe lands on an attempt at happiness.

"Oh, well that's... that's great, Becs. I'm... really happy for you."

Beca knows she isn't. But she appreciates the effort of pretending nonetheless.

"Where is it?"

"SoHo."

She watches Chloe's face carefully for her reaction. It isn't like travelling from Brooklyn to lower Manhattan is all that hard or even takes all that long. But it symbolizes something. It creates a distance between them that's bigger than the physical mileage. It puts a literal bridge between their friendship.

Beca is just praying she doesn't burn it.

"Wow, SoHo. Trendy."

Chloe's voice is laden with forced happiness. It's so much worse than Amy's blatant disapproval.

"It's a lot closer to the recording studio. And I got pretty lucky to even find an opening that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg each month."

They sit silently for a moment, listening to Amy bang dishes around as she washes them.

"I'm really going to miss you."

Beca surprises herself with the words. She's usually so guarded with her feelings, and almost exclusively offers them up after someone else has gone first. 

Chloe smiles. It's the one she always has after Beca does something she finds particularly endearing.

"You act like you're disappearing forever. We'll still see each other all the time, Becs."

Beca nods but doesn't say anything. She prefers lies of omission to ones spoken outright.

"I'll miss you too, though. I don't think Amy will be as open to cuddling as you've been."

"Correct," Amy says from her spot at the sink.

Beca laughs.

"I think you're conveniently forgetting that I wasn't necessarily open to it either, Chlo. You sort of force-cuddled until I just gave up the fight."

Chloe smiles. The one Beca had always wanted to be just for her.

"I think you liked it more than you let on."

Amy snorts and Beca gives her a death glare scary enough to shut her up.

The tension is enough to break up the moment. Beca stands and takes her plate to the sink before Chloe can say anything else.

They spend the rest of the evening in near normalcy. Only during the brief and few moments of quiet does the atmosphere feel different. It's like they're all simultaneously reminded that these times together are numbered. Finite.

As Beca is laying down that night, waiting for sleep to find her, she hears Chloe turn on her side to face her. She does the same, careful to leave a considerable space between them.

"I suppose you won't miss having to share a bed, huh?"

Beca smiles at the question.

"I'll admit it hasn't been the easiest thing about living here."

Understatement of the year, but Chloe doesn't need to know that.

"It does kinda hinder the ability to bring someone home," Chloe says. Beca wonders if it was meant to sound so... inquisitive.

She just nods, not really knowing what to say to that.

"It's a shame... Chicago is overseas. I guess having the bed to yourself doesn't really change much?"

Beca hates that she paused over his name. She wonders what it sounded like to Chloe's ears.

"He'll get to visit soon. Though I'll still have to ask Amy to excuse herself for a night. Or two."

She adds that last bit with a wink and Beca wills herself not to let the images of the implication flood her thoughts.

She forces out a laugh, but it sounds hollow and so, so fake.

"Are you going to call that girl from Miami?"

Chloe blurts it out with no obvious connection to what they were just talking about. It takes Beca by surprise. They hadn't spoken much about Beca's almost one night stand since her return.

"Um, no. I... didn't get her number."

She kind of hates that she didn't now. She doesn't think talking to Sofía would ever not be interesting.

Maybe Theo knows a way of getting it...

"What did she look like?"

Chloe keeps surprising Beca with her questions, but she finds she doesn't mind talking about it. In fact, she sort of likes it.

She describes Sofía. The straight hair. Dark skin. Even her perfume. Somewhere after that detail she notices that Chloe has an unreadable expression adorning her face.

"So... so is that... is she like, your type then?"

Beca considers the question before answering. She's never really thought about it before. Her type has always just been Chloe.

"I don't know if I have a type? It's not like I have much experience to look back over to see if there's a pattern."

Chloe nods, absorbing the words.

"Why do you ask?"

The light from the streetlamp outside catches Chloe's eyes when she looks up. It makes them glitter in a way Beca thinks her own never would.

"I guess... just curious. It's like I keep being surprised over and over with it. Like every time I remember is like the first time hearing it."

Beca just nods because she can't quite grasp the tone of Chloe's words.

"It's been a while since I learned something new about you, Becs. It makes me wonder what other secrets you keep."

She taps Beca's nose playfully with her fingertip, bringing a little levity to the moment.

"You mean that one won't hold you over for a while?" she asks, inconspicuously shifting further away.

"We only have a few more nights like this, Becs. Don't you know secrets are best shared in the dark?"

She looks at Chloe then. The light in her eyes. Her straight teeth and the lips that part around them, a hint of mischief sitting on her smile. She looks at Chloe's left hand, lying in the middle of the bed, but closer to Beca than it is to its owner.

I'm in love with you, she thinks. That is the last secret.

She wonders what it would be like. To just say the words out loud. To just own them and to finally let them out of their cages.

She pictures Chloe's shocked expression and then the gentlest, sweetest rejection that would surely come next. It stops her thoughts in their tracks.

"I'm afraid I'm fresh out of secrets for tonight, Chlo."

Chloe doesn't say anything for a moment, and they just look at each other. Beca fights the urge to panic when she wonders if Chloe is sizing up her statement like Amy always does, trying to determine whether or not she believes it. She's about to speak when Chloe beats her to it.

"You should get some sleep. I'm sure you're tired from all the... apartment stuff today."

It's a dismissal. Or perhaps an admission of defeat. Beca can't be sure.

"Yeah... you're right. Night, Chlo."

She turns over and faces the wall, instantly beginning a replay of the entire conversation. She doesn't get halfway through it before she feels arms start to slip around her. 

Chloe settles again against Beca's back, tugging one good time to make sure Beca is snug against her. She lets herself sink into it. For as much a Chloe's cuddles sting her heart, they always lull her into the best night’s sleep.

Her last conscious thought before drifting off is about her new apartment. She wonders if she'll slip into dreams as easily there as she does in Chloe's arms.

///

Summer 2014

Her junior year passed in much the same way her sophomore year had. She went to classes that, if she tried, she was beginning to see some future usefulness in. She thinks a major in music and a minor in business administration could potentially look good on internship applications. Look at me! I’m musically inclined AND I can manage shit. She’ll probably have to find a nicer way of saying that on her resume soon. She still worked at the radio station, though she’s already got her sights set on bigger fish for next year.

The Bellas won the ICCAs for a third time in a row, this time competing against other teams that had tried to replicate their mash-up style. Beca felt a little pride watching the few teams that attempted to follow the trend she set in motion. She felt even more when her girls walked onto the stage and perfectly executed another of her multi-layered mixes.

She was still with Jesse. Her safe and steady rock. The one she never had to worry about feeling too much for or staring too long at. Towards the end of their third year at Barden he started to talk about plans. Where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do. How they wanted to live together. She always took up an active role in the conversation, and she always felt guilty afterward at the anxiety those talks gave her. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be with him, it was just a bit overwhelming to think of taking on the unknown with him. Of potentially leaving something behind she isn’t ready to part with. She always, whether she truly believes herself or not, chalks it up to the normal trepidation one has over major life changes.

Chloe still hasn’t graduated, which has been a major point of contention for Beca. Without question, she wants her around. She likes walking into the Bellas kitchen in the mornings before class and seeing Chloe there, a mug of tea in her hands and a smile on her lips as soon as Beca enters. She likes when Chloe studies with her, bringing books into her third floor loft and spreading them out across Beca’s bed while Beca works at her desk. She likes the way Chloe reads snippets from the novels she’s reading for class, because she likes to think about why Chloe chose this sentence or that paragraph to read to her. She likes when they go to aca-parties with the rest of the girls, somehow always silently agreeing to take on the “group mom” role together. Making sure Stacie leaves with someone they already know and making sure Amy doesn’t go anywhere near the punch bowl. Being positive that when it’s time to go, they have everyone accounted for and, when they get home, everyone has water before bed.

However, she also feels guilty every time Chloe chooses to stay another year. Why isn’t she pushing her harder to start her life? Why isn’t she telling Chloe she’s going to be great in the real world? Why is she so complacent with Chloe wasting her time year after year?

Why does she think moving forward with Jesse would sound so much more appealing if Chloe weren’t around?

She’s sitting at her desk, fiddling around with a mix she’s tweaked over and over without ever managing to actually change the way it sounds, as these thoughts run through her head.

She’s a little worried about this summer, if she’s being honest with herself. Apparently winning an a capella championship three years in a row makes them a big deal and they’ve been invited to do several shows over the break, the last one being to sing for the actual freaking president on his birthday. The University has agreed to let them all stay on campus at the Bella house over the summer to make practicing easier. And honestly, as honored as Beca is about being able to even be in the same room as the Obama family, she’s worried.

What if their arrangements fall flat? What if she can’t find the right songs? It’s a lot of pressure.

A tiny voice in the back of her mind is also reminding her, as it does every few minutes these days, that this is also the first summer she won’t have “off” from Chloe. The first summer she won’t have two months to reset before being bombarded again with Chloe’s constant affection and magnetic gaze.

The voice also likes to constantly bring to her attention all the down time they’ll have on their hands. They can’t constantly be practicing and there are no classes to distract them. So yeah, she worries a little bit.

She hits save on the mix, still not getting anywhere with it, and shuts her laptop just as Chloe herself appears at the top of the stairs.

“We’re all going for froyo to celebrate CR’s last exam being over. You coming?”

She smiles at Beca in that perfectly innocent way of hers as Beca gets up and makes her way towards the stairs.

She slips her arm through Beca’s as they walk down and squeezes a little before she says, “I’m really glad we get to spend the summer together, Becs.”

Beca nods and offers a quiet “me, too” before letting go to put her shoes on at the door. As usual, when large amounts of time with Chloe are on the table, Beca just swallows her anxiety and hopes for the best.

///

Fall 2014

Okay, the summer did not go as planned.

She didn’t plan on making more and more complicated sets as she went. She didn’t plan on turning the Bellas into more of an act than an a capella group. She didn’t plan on showing Amy’s vagina to President Obama and his family (though she admits the term “Muffgate” is hilarious).

She didn’t plan on having the Bellas disbanded and barred from competing.

She didn’t plan on falling in love with Chloe Beale all over again.

She doesn’t know what else to do. She doesn’t want to be in love with her, but she can’t seem to help it. Despite all her efforts to hold Chloe at arm's length over the summer, she still wound up in this place again. She hates herself for feeling this way about someone who isn’t Jesse, and now she doesn’t even know if starting a life with him after graduation is even smart because of how easily she fell for someone else.

She feels sorry for herself and she can’t lean on anyone because the two people she cares the most about are either the one she’s hurting or the one who’s hurting her.

She’s standing in front of the dean while Chloe makes her case for their opportunity to defend their title at Worlds when she makes her decision.

She has to distance herself from Chloe even more if she wants a chance to save her heart.

///

Winter 2015

She really needs to get her shit together. Their latest gig went down in flames (literally) because they’ve forgotten how to work together. She tries not to wonder too much if it’s really because she isn’t jiving with Chloe like she always has in the past. She's been asking her for even less help than she did over the summer and she shuts herself up in her room more often than she doesn’t. Their partnership in leading the Bellas isn’t cohesive anymore and the group is suffering.

And as much as she cares about the Bellas and their fate at Worlds, she lets it take a backseat. She has to at least try to protect herself. Right?

Also? What is with that German lead singer for DSM? Beca finds her responses to Kommissar extremely interesting, if not wildly ill-timed. She always just assumed it was something about Chloe that pulled Beca in.

She thinks maybe it’s time to re-examine some things about herself.

///

Spring 2015

Chloe’s been threatening this retreat ever since the disaster of their last performance. Beca honestly didn’t pay it much mind, being too busy with classes and her still-secret internship. She’s put in the minimum with the Bellas this year. She knows it but can’t bring herself to feel too guilty. She keeps telling herself it’s for her own good.

Maybe that’s why Chloe feels so potent to her out here. Beca’s only allowed herself diluted doses of the redhead since the ending of summer. Never letting them be alone and not quite being so readily available to receive Chloe’s affection.

But now, here in the quiet of Aubrey’s remote getaway, everything Chloe is almost overpowering her.

Her beautiful voice in Beca’s ears as Aubrey makes them do exercise after exercise. Song after song. Her laughter at the other girls as they spend actual quality time together, with no distractions from cell phones or TV’s or schoolwork.

Her proximity is killing Beca.

When they pitched the tent the first night and Beca asked Aubrey where the second one was she had a moment of true panic when Aubrey answered that there wasn’t one.

Because she knew. She knew, without question, no matter what precautions she took to avoid it, one way or another she’d end up right next to Chloe.

Sure enough, when they all settle down that first night, after cold showers that Aubrey swears “re-invigorate the mind,” she finds herself sandwiched in such a way that leaves only inches between herself and Chloe. She isn’t sure if she should be grateful or not for the arrangement, because while Chloe’s body not being pressed up against hers is definitely a good thing, this upside down conversation leaves her repeatedly looking at Chloe’s lips in what she thinks is a dead giveaway for what she wants.

She’s annoyed at having to be here. Having to expose herself to her kryptonite all weekend long after months of keeping her at bay.

She shirks out of Chloe’s touch as they’re talking, having gotten pretty good at anticipating when Chloe’s feeling particularly friendly.

What she doesn’t anticipate is Chloe saying she regrets not experimenting more in college, with the innuendo that maybe she should being crystal clear. Her brain leaps at the words, but her heart shuts it down fast. She doesn’t want to be anybody’s experiment, but especially not Chloe’s. She flips over before she can do something really, really stupid.

The next day, the dam finally breaks. Beca’s finally had enough and they really fight. Beca hates that she’s the reason Chloe is upset. And she hates the barely concealed hurt Chloe’s masking with her anger. The hurt Beca’s caused over pulling away.

She walks away, making a snap decision that she can’t do this anymore. If she were to stay another minute the real reason she’s been pulling away would surely tumble from her lips.

She doesn’t get more than ten paces before life intervenes and literally sweeps her up, effectively stopping her plan in its tracks.

It also stops the argument, and sometime later after they all settle down, the Bellas find their sound again. Their harmony.

It isn’t lost on Beca that it started with her and Chloe finding theirs first.

///

Summer 2015

They’re on stage at Worlds, and honestly, she doesn’t even care if they don’t win. Her heart is so full at seeing so many women on stage, there for and in support of each other. The energy from the crowd after their performance is electric, and she thinks, even if the rest of her current life is a mess, this moment is perfect.

The announcement of the winner pitches them all into a frenzy. The announcer hasn’t even finished the words “—from the United States,” before Chloe has thrown herself into Beca’s arms.

And maybe she should be protecting her heart from Chloe, but in that moment, all she wants is to never let go. She knows then and there that if she isn’t willing to let go of Chloe, the right thing to do is obvious. She has to let go of Jesse.

///

A few days later, after returning home and after officially passing on the Bella torch to Legacy, she has the conversation she knows is going to wreck her. She loves Jesse, but not in the way he deserves. Her words are cheap and generic and don’t at all cover the way she really feels about him, the way she truly does love him, but it’s the best she can do.

He cries. She cries. She thinks she’s made a mistake as soon as the words are out then two seconds later realizes she hasn’t. She’s just scared of being without him after so long.

She hugs him for a long time before leaving, taking a huge breath of him before letting go. Memorizing his heartbeat while they stand there together one last time. When she walks away, she knows she’s leaving behind a piece of her own heart in Jesse’s hands. She thinks that if love makes you give parts of yourself to other people, she doesn’t mind that Jesse will always have a small part of her.

///

She moved back into her dad’s house for the summer, not really having a plan or even any job offers yet. She doesn’t know why she hasn’t immediately hopped on a plane to LA, wanting to finally start the journey she set out to four years ago. She tells herself it has nothing to do with waiting to say goodbye to Chloe, who would be here any minute before also returning home to her parents. She may have decided to finally graduate but it seems she hadn’t made a concrete plan yet either.

When her phone rings and she sees it’s her old boss from Residual Heat calling, she picks it up immediately, hoping he’ll offer her something that’ll actually pay her.

“I stuck my neck out for you, Reggie. Don’t make me regret it.”

“Oh, um, I won’t?”

She doesn’t know if a thank you is in order yet so she just waits.

“How do you feel about New York?”

“I… what? Like, as in…?”

“As in how do you feel about living there? I got you a shitty starting position at a studio there. One of the leads owes me a favor.”

“I… are you serious?”

There isn’t even a fraction of time wasted before he answers.

“Reggie, do I joke?”

“No, you don’t. I don’t know how to thank you,” she says seriously, tears starting to form on her lids. Wow. New York. And she didn’t even have to look.

“You are really underestimating how little they’re going to pay you. You’ve got something special though, kid. Don’t waste it. You’ll move up fast enough.”

She nods as if he can see her, and they exchange a few more details before hanging up.

She doesn’t even get her laptop up and running to start looking for flights out before there’s a knock at the front door.

“Hi,” Chloe says when Beca opens the door. She notices right away her usual smile doesn’t seem nearly as bright today.

“All packed up to head home?” Beca asks, stepping aside so Chloe can come in. She’s been dreading this goodbye, not quite sure how to navigate it and not quite sure she’s ready for it either.

“I feel like I’m leaving home behind,” Chloe says sadly, tears already brimming. They sit down together on her father’s couch.

And Beca gets it. Looking at Chloe and thinking of leaving her, she feels that way too.

“I have some news,” Beca says instead, trying to change the subject away from such dangerous places.

Chloe perks up, turning her body so that it’s facing Beca more fully. She quirks a brow to tell her to go on.

“I got a job. I just found out right before you got here.”

Chloe puts her hand on Beca’s arm and squeezes lightly.

“Beca! That’s great! Is it producing? Where is it?”

Beca smiles and soaks Chloe in. She wonders how badly it will hurt to watch her walk away soon.

“It’s entry-level producing. I won’t get to get my hands too dirty right away. It’ll be small stuff. But it’s in New York!”

Chloe’s other hand comes around to join the first on Beca’s arm, and she holds Beca’s wrist between her palms as she visibly gets more excited.

“Beca that is so amazing! You are going to stun everyone there with how great you are.”

Beca laughs. In the four years she’s known Chloe, she never has gotten used to how much faith she’s always had in her.

“Flatterer,” she says, smirking at her.

Chloe just continues to smile at her, at some point letting her thumb start to swipe back and forth over Beca’s forearm. It’s immediately distracting.

She coughs to clear her throat. “So, uh, what about you? Have you figured anything out yet once you get back home?”

Chloe instantly looks dejected again, looking down as more tears spring forth.

“I’m trying not to think about it. My family and I… aren’t exactly close.”

Beca knows this. It’s why Chloe holds the Bellas so dear to her heart. They’re her real family.

And she tells herself it’s Chloe’s tears that make her say it. She tells herself she’s being a good friend who can’t take the sight of her best friend struggling. She tells herself it isn’t selfish at all.

“Come with me.”

The words are quiet. Beca feels so vulnerable. It’s the first thing she’s asked of Chloe in a very long time. And it leaves her exposed and open to rejection.

“What did you say?” Chloe asks, just as quietly as Beca.

Beca meets Chloe’s eyes, and she’s reminded again of just how badly she doesn’t want to let go yet.

“Come with me. To New York. I’ll need a roommate anyway because my salary is apparently shit,” she says with a laugh, hoping to make the request seem less monumental than it is for her.

“You’re serious.”

Chloe’s face is entirely unreadable. Beca can’t tell if she’s considering it or if she thinks Beca is crazy.

“I mean, if you want. If you’d rather not go back to your family.”

Chloe just smiles at her, the usual one that is Beca’s absolute favorite. She feels hope blossom in her chest.

“I knew I couldn’t say goodbye to you yet.”

She throws her arms around Beca’s neck and pulls her in and Beca’s heart stumbles over itself in response to Chloe’s words.

She couldn’t say goodbye yet, either.

“So, when do we leave?”

They spend the rest of the afternoon looking for places to live and flights to get them there. And Beca thinks if her next great adventure is conquering New York City with Chloe, she’s doing okay. Maybe it’s worth a little heartbreak if it means she doesn’t have to let go just yet.

///

Present Day

It’s her first day in her new apartment. There are boxes everywhere and unassembled IKEA furniture in every room. But she’s happy because she knows she made this possible for herself. And she knows that even if she has to sleep on the floor tonight because her bed isn’t put together yet, at least she’ll have the floor to herself. At least she suffered her last night of aching next to Chloe and made it out alive.

She looks at the redhead, who is just finishing putting together a bookshelf for all Beca’s music (because, priorities). When she gets the thing upright and in a decent place against the wall, she wipes her forehead with the back of her arm, getting the flyaway hair out of her eyes.

And while Beca has been grateful for the help, she really just wants Chloe to leave so she can get her breakdown out of the way. Amy left hours ago, after carrying her obligatory one box into the place. She says she had a “prior engagement” but Beca suspected she was pretty sad about the whole thing and just wanted to go.

But Chloe has been here ever since. Helping her unpack and putting together what furniture she can. Beca almost suspects the opposite of the redhead. She doesn’t want to leave because she knows if she does, it’ll be done. Beca will be moved out and she won’t be there when Chloe goes home.

The thought alone makes it hard for Beca to suggest she leaves.

They order a pizza and eat it in the floor right out of the box once it arrives. Beca wonders how late Chloe will manage to drag this out.

“So we’re obviously not going to finish all this tonight,” she says after a few minutes of silence. “But I can come back tomorrow and help put the rest of the stuff together.”

The idea is completely undesirable to Beca. She knows when Chloe leaves it’s going to hurt but she needs the space.

“That’s okay, Chlo. I can finish it up on my own. Thank you, though.”

“Really, it’s no trouble. And if we get done early we can pick up some groceries so you won’t have to keep ordering take out.”

Beca starts to worry. She knows after she says goodbye tonight she’s going to need time to recover from the breakdown.

“Chloe, I really appreciate it, but I got it. Enjoy your day off.”

She prays Chloe just drops it.

“Are you so ready to say goodbye to me?”

Beca looks up just as Chloe looks down. She sees a tear fall from her lashes and it breaks her in two.

“Chloe, it isn’t like that. God, I just—”

“You just what, Beca? Because it looks like you really just don’t want me around anymore. You’ve been so distant ever since we got back from the tour. And I know it’s me because you’re not treating Amy any differently. So what is it? What did I do? I tried giving you space. God, I even spend my days off away from the apartment so you don’t have to make some excuse about having to be somewhere. Not that you probably noticed, because you wouldn’t stay home any more than you had to recently.”

Beca just sits there, dumbfounded. She feels the words climbing to the surface, clawing through layers and layers of her will to keep them in. And as much as she thought she’d be panicking over what she’s about to do, she finds that she just doesn’t have the energy to muster it up.

“Beca? Can’t you please tell me what I did?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” she says quietly. She waits for Chloe to look up because there’s no way in hell she’ll say the words without Chloe’s eyes locked on hers.

“I’m so, so in love with you, Chloe.”

Her heart is racing. Towards what, she can’t be sure, but she feels it galloping away. Chloe looks at her like Beca just spoke another language with perfect fluency.

She doesn’t know what’s taken over her body when she does it. All she knows is she’s fantasized about it at least a thousand times and she physically can’t stop herself in the moment from carrying it out.

She reaches out with her left hand and just places it against Chloe’s cheek. Her thumb traces the jut of Chloe’s cheekbone and her pinky finger barely reaches the back of a very sharp jaw line. That’s all she does, lets the ghosts of her words hang in the air while she feels Chloe’s skin against her palm.

It takes a second or two longer than Beca expected it to, but soon enough, the hardness of rejection overpowers Chloe’s shock. It tumbles out of her eyes in spades and she doesn’t have to say anything because Beca knows. She’s always known Chloe could never love her back. That look alone is all it takes to rip Beca’s heart into more pieces than she can count. If loving someone means giving them pieces of you, Chloe’s about to take them all with her.

“Beca, I—”

Beca lets her hand drop, committing the feel of Chloe’s face in her hand to memory before it’s tainted.

“Please don’t,” she says.

Chloe stops, but looks like she’s trying to figure out something else to say.

“I always knew you’d say no. So please just don’t. That way I won’t actually have the words in my memory.”

Chloe’s eyes are swimming with fresh tears. Beca thinks wildly there’s no way she can actually see anything.

“Can you go now? I really need to break down and I sort of have to do it alone.”

Chloe reaches forward, taking Beca’s hand and pulling it into her lap. She feels tears fall onto her fingers in seconds.

“Beca, please. I…” she trails off, not finishing the sentence. But it’s enough for Beca because she knows if Chloe loved her at all this would be going much differently.

“Chloe, I need you to go. Please. Now.”

Chloe sits for a few seconds, and Beca wonders if she’s weighing her options. Finally, she gives Beca’s hand a light squeeze before letting go. She gets up and Beca looks down, not physically capable of watching her go.

And if Beca had known it, she probably would have searched for the strength to look. She would’ve endured the pain of watching her leave if she’d known then that it would be the last time she’d see Chloe Beale in a long, long time.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

 

That first night is... hard.

The minute Beca hears her front door shut with a quiet click she lets go. The tears pour out in droves and she loses her breath to sobs shortly after.

She sits there in the floor, with their delivered pizza still half eaten, and she cries until her head throbs.

When it aches so much that she can't take another moment without relief, she moves to the shower and turns the faucet to hot.

The water slides down her back, loosening her muscles and unwinding the coil of pain in her head. But the tears fall still, unrelenting in their escape. She doesn't know how long she stands there, watching the water circle the drain through blurry vision.

When she gets out, she feels heavy. Like her limbs require more energy to move now. Like her spine doesn't want to hold it all up anymore. She looks around her bedroom, sighing at the pieces of her bed that have yet to come together.

She throws on a pair of shorts and one of Jesse's old t-shirts before sitting down to begin building. She may not get any sleep tonight, but at least she won't be in the floor.

She lays all the pieces and corresponding screws out, organizing them in such a way that she makes it through building the bed methodically. 

She tries not to let her mind wander. She just focuses on the poorly written assembly directions, occassionally wiping tears from her eyes that don't seem to want to stop.

She doesn't check her phone, desperate for the chance to have her breakdown alone, but also dreading the possibility that there's nothing to see when she does eventually unlock it.

She's not even sure what she'd want to see. There's nothing Chloe could say short of I love you, too, that would make her feel any better. And she knows that's a message that will never come.

So she doesn't look. She just builds. When the bed is done she unwraps the brand new mattress from its heavy plastic and slots it into place. She puts the sheets and duvet on. By the time it's ready to sleep in her muscles are back to aching and she's solidly into the middle of the night.

The bed looks warm, inviting, and so big. As much as her body is asking for rest, she can't bring herself to get in it.

And honestly? What the fuck was she thinking buying a queen sized bed? It's too much; that much space is too foreign. She can't deal with it just yet, so she unpacks some more.

She empties boxes, and then flattens them out for easier recycling later. Her bedroom actually looks like a lived in space when her body finally gives up on her.

She crawls into bed, and the tears have finally, finally stopped. She doesn't think she has any more to offer. Before she closes her eyes, she does the thing she's been avoiding all night.

Upon unlocking her phone, her heart picks up its pace at seeing several texts, but then settles again at just higher than normal when she sees they're all from Amy. They're spaced out over several hours from when Chloe left last night.

Amy: she's home.

Amy: I know you probably want some space. I asked her not to text you tonight. But you should know she wants to.

Amy: beca, I'm so sorry. I'll be totally honest I didn't see it going this way if you ever decided to tell her. I... don't know what to say.

Amy: I know you're hurting. Take all the time and space you need. Just don't forget I'm here. If you need me.

Beca looks away from the screen, feeling an uneven breath trying to break free. When she's confident she's a little more composed, she looks at the last message.

Amy: take care of yourself in the meantime, short round. You know how to find us when you're ready.

Beca backs out of the messaging app, and locks her phone once more. She inserts the charger and places it on her nightstand. She isn't ready to deal with any of it right now.

When she's finally closing her eyes, praying for a dreamless sleep, the sun is coming up. She is so thankful she took the time to put up the curtains while the rest of the city slept.

/

She finishes unpacking the next day thanks to her relentlessness the night before. She gets groceries and has her Wifi set up.

She doesn't have the luxury of ignoring her phone today like she had the night before because she's arranging a few recording sessions for later in the week.

And after every unpacked box, after every finished errand, she checks her phone. And every time, something new waits for her.

Chloe: can we talk?

She ignores it and stacks the empty boxes in an unused corner.

Chloe: Beca, I really think we should talk about this. I'm just so confused.

She ignores it and goes to the grocery store.

Chloe: god, I should never have left last night. Please talk to me, Becs.

She ignores it and opens a beer, intent on dulling her heartache. 

Chloe: just tell me you're okay? 

She ignores it and finds something on Netflix with her newly acquired Wifi.

As she sits on her new couch, not at all distracted by whatever show is currently playing on her laptop, she thinks about the last time she moved into a new apartment. She thinks about the happiness she felt over being there with Chloe.

She thinks about the fact that she had hope.

It feels like a lifetime ago.

///

Summer 2015

"This is the last one," Chloe says, coming through the open front door to their new apartment and kicking it shut with her foot. She's holding a box that's almost too big for her and Beca can't help but let her eyes linger on the muscles standing out in her arms.

She can't believe they made it. They really came to New York together. She looks around the tiny apartment that is now their home and smiles.

It might be kind of shitty but it's theirs.

They sit down on the couch, the one that will fold out into Beca's bed later (she had all but forced Chloe to take the actual bed). Chloe takes a deep breath, clearly a little breathless from all the trips up and down the stairs.

She's wearing simple clothes, just some leggings and a tank top, and her face is flushed from exertion. The messy bun on the top of her head is one light breeze away from falling down.

But still, Beca's throat goes unusually dry when she looks at her. And for once, since the very beginning of all these feelings for Chloe, she thinks she might actually have a chance. 

After all, who actually moves over 12 hours away on a complete whim just to be with no more than a best friend?

She's got hope.

///

Summer 2016

"Get ready to party!"

Beca smiles wide at the greeting, letting Amy into the apartment before being scooped up and twirled around.

"Put me down! I am not a sack of flour!" she shouts, trying not to laugh lest she give away that she's not really upset.

"Of course you're not, sprout," Amy says once she releases her. "Sacks of flour aren't nearly as fun to manhandle."

Beca gives her a healthy side eye before giving her the tour of the apartment. All four corners of it.

"Chloe will be home in a few hours. She's so excited you're visiting. You know how she gets when she can officially call anything a Bella reunion," Beca says, casually throwing herself on the fold out. 

They haven't used it as a couch almost since they moved in a year ago, preferring instead to just pile up with blankets and each other every night before Chloe eventually goes to sleep in her own space.

Amy sits down at their kitchen table and they catch up. They discuss plans for Amy's visit and Beca really can't believe she's gone a whole year without Fat Amy's brand of ridiculous humor.

Before she knows it, Chloe is arriving home, bringing more squeals and hugs with her.

They go out that night, chasing their college selves with a little more alcohol and a little less maturity than has become normal. They dance and laugh and are reminded of how much freedom comes with a little recklessness. And Beca doesn't think there's a better way to have spent Amy's first night in town.

When they get back home, all happily buzzed but none outright drunk, Beca looks at the small space and it's like she's realizing for the first time there are only two beds to choose from.

She stares at them, willing her brain to work just a little faster, so that the solution to two beds and three people will present itself.

The next thing she knows, Chloe is offering her bed up to Amy, insisting she takes it for the duration of her visit.

"Go ahead, Ames. Beca and I don't mind sharing for a few days," she says nonchalantly before pulling her shirt over her head and beginning to change into pajamas.

Beca doesn't panic. She's been getting more and more confident lately that there's something brewing in Chloe's heart. Something in the way Chloe settles in to her side during movie nights in, or something in the way her eyes linger when Beca smiles.

Beca's pretty sure whatever it is has her name on it and she's not quite so ready to force her feelings to the side anymore. Not when there's potential.

Potential for something.

She climbs into her bed that night like she always does, but this night is different. The notion that she's never slept in the same bed with Chloe, not once in their five years of friendship, is a wild one. The gold medal for Aversion Tactics clearly goes to Beca Mitchell.

So it's different. Because Chloe is already settled in for the night and she's watching Beca as she gets in too.

By the time the lights are out and goodnights have been whispered, Beca's facing the wall and her buzz is pulling her into dreams fast.

She only wakes once before morning, and it's to find herself pulled flush against Chloe's front, with strong arms keeping her warm.

And that?

Well, it's something.

/

On the fifth day of Amy's visit, the day she's supposed to be returning home, they all wake up and agree to a lazy morning in.

Beca is officially worn out from all the running around they've been doing. And as much as she's enjoyed the shenanigans that always come with spending time with Amy, she's ready to get back into a routine.

"What time do you need to leave to get to the airport on time?" she asks, stifling a yawn in the process.

"Ummmmm," is all Amy responds with. But she does it in that high pitched way of hers that tells Beca right away she's about to be surprised with something.

"Well... I was actually wondering if I could stay a bit longer? I'm not quite ready to go home."

Beca doesn't respond right away. She sees the trap waiting and ready to spring. Chloe, however, walks right into it.

"Of course you can stay longer, Ames. When were you thinking of rescheduling your flight home?"

She asks the question with complete innocence and Beca smiles because she sees what's coming a mile away.

"Ummmmm," Amy says again in the exact same way as before.

"You're moving in, aren't you?" Beca says, grinning in spite of herself.

"Why, I'd love to, short stack!" Amy responds with an over the top wink.

Beca just shakes her head, a laugh threatening to spill out.

"Rent's due on the first," she says after catching Chloe's eye to make sure she's on board.

And that's how Fat Amy ended up living with them, too.

///

Present Day

She's spent her evening between daydreams and distractions and for whatever reason that is extremely exhausting for her. She goes to bed early the second night in her new place, and she prays the next day will be easier.

She gets one last text before falling asleep.

Chloe: I know you need space. So I won't bother you again after this. Amy told me what she knows, which left me with even more questions. But I'll wait for you to be okay enough to tell me the rest. Don't be mad at her, I pretty much begged all day long. Look, Beca, I can't imagine what all this has been like for you. I feel sick to my stomach when I think of everything I put you through. I'm just so sorry. And I want you to take all the time you need, but please know that you are my best friend and I will be missing you until I see you again. I love you. Always will. So do what you must and then come back. Please just... don't forget to come back.

She's in tears again by the end of the text and her heart begs her respond. It aches for the friend she's hurting. But logic wins out and she knows the fastest way to heal is with a clean break. She saves the message, safeguarding it from accidental deletion, and then goes back to her new routine.

She ignores it.
///

One Year Later

It's weird being a little bit famous. Hearing her own voice on the radio and occasionally being recognized by passersby.

It's weird.

It's also a little lonely. She sometimes thinks it was a mistake to cut Chloe out the way she did. The weight of all the unreturned calls and texts added up, but Beca never buckled under it. She just shifted it around until it was comfortable enough to carry a little while longer.

She thinks she has finally shed the last of her feelings. Her heart is shiny and raw but it doesn't quite ache anymore. It doesn't pine for something that doesn't belong to her.

It doesn't quite feel happiness at the same level either, but she looks the other way whenever that thought enters her mind.

Her participation in the Bella group chat was always minimal, but after what happened with Chloe made its rounds through the group, she stopped responding in it all together. She eventually removed herself and just talks to the girls individually. Although it's usually only to say happy birthday or to respond when one of them hears a new song of hers on the radio.

Her friendship with Amy has suffered too, never quite sure where to land in the fallout of two best friends. She still talks to her, still sees her occasionally, but it doesn't feel the same. There's always an elephant sitting next to them when they get together.

Its name is Chloe and they don't talk about it.

So yeah, she's a little lonely.

She hasn't seen Chloe Beale in a year.

///

Two Years Later

She's legitimately famous now. Not like mega star famous, but just normal famous.

Famous enough for a considerably sized fanbase. Famous enough to go on tours. Famous enough to start demanding her own input is listened to for new projects.

She likes the lifestyle. The traveling and the money. God she doesn't miss living paycheck to paycheck.

She likes the music. Being constantly surrounded by it. Being rewarded with her fans' approval of it after each new release.

She's more confident now. She acts on what she wants instead of waiting. She hasn't found anyone she wants to be serious with, but she doesn't mind being a little frivolous with those whom she does keep occasional overnight company. 

She's still a little lonely, despite the many offers by people willing to occupy her time.

She channels her loneliness into lyrics.

The first song she writes completely by herself is called Forgetting the Way Home and it also coincidentally is her first single to reach number one.

She hasn't seen Chloe Beale in two years.

///

Three Years Later

She's sitting on a bench in Central Park listening to a demo from another recently signed artist. She's got big headphones and big sunglasses and so far she's enjoyed her afternoon in the park without anyone recognizing her.

These are the kinds of Saturdays she loves. Getting to take it easy and do whatever she wants. She's gotten back into producing now that she's writing her own songs. She helps produce her own music and she lends her talent out to others when they ask for it.

It isn't a bad life.

At the end of the demo, she gets up again, set on heading home. Dark clouds are rolling in and she doesn't want to get caught in a storm. 

Her car isn't parked far away, so she sets off at a normal pace. Wind swirls the leaves on the ground and her hair around her face, but it feels good. Like it's bringing the fall with it. She's almost out of the gate when the first crack of thunder darts out from the sky.

She would normally have sped up following a boom that loud, but the most pitiful whine stops her. She barely catches it at all, but it goes on after the thunder stops. Looking around she doesn't see anything, but it seems to come from the direction of the closest park bench, so she goes towards it.

At the second clap of thunder, she hears it again, and this time she's close enough to pinpoint the location. Looking under the bench, she sees a dog cowering. It's looking at her like it fears for its life, and one of its legs is bent at an angle Beca knows it shouldn't be able to bend.

She's not normally great with animals, but she can't leave it here when one of its legs is probably broken and it's scared to death.

"Hey, buddy," she says quietly, trying to make her voice as gentle as possible. She kneels to the ground, praying it will come to her. It doesn't move, but continues to quiver under the bench. Its fur is dirty, and she can't tell what color it's supposed to be. It looks like it hasn't eaten a proper meal in a while. Her heart breaks watching it watch her.

She decides this might take a little bit, but is determined to help this poor creature. She knows what it's like to feel helpless.

She sits all the way down, crossing her legs and continuing to just speak soothing words. It doesn't move towards her yet, but it keeps its eyes on her, like it’s considering whether or not she's trustworthy.

She leans back on her hands, hoping the more relaxed pose will look less threatening. Looking up, she can see that a quote has been painted onto the slats that make up the back rest of the bench.

"Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”

—Virginia Woolf

Beca thinks about that while she waits, just letting the dog continue to look her over.

Has she arranged her pieces well?

Yes springs to her mind right away, thinking of her success and the fact that she loves what she does.

Sitting just under all of that though, the word no wedges itself in.

It's just loud enough to demand her attention. Just big enough to make every other thought sit a little less comfortably. She thinks maybe some pieces she didn't arrange at all. She just threw them away, not wanting to look for a place they might fit.

She shakes her head to clear her thoughts when the first raindrops fall. She leans forward to keep them from landing in her face and resumes talking to the dog.

"Come on, buddy. We're both getting wet here. Come with me so we can get you better."

She cautiously extends her hand, and the dog sniffs it. She thinks that's a good sign. She leans forward a few more inches and gingerly pets the dog's head, scratching behind the ears and continuously murmuring words of encouragement for it to come to her.

The rain starts coming down harder, and Beca's back is soon soaked. Her hair sticks to her face. She continues to wait anyway.The third roll of thunder is the loudest yet, and it even frightens Beca a little if she's being honest with herself.

"Please come with me? I'm not going to hurt you."

The dog looks at her with eyes that seem more intelligent than they should.

"I promise," she says.

The dog whines again, but starts to move. It creeps out from under the bench, refusing to put weight on the front leg that's bent wrong. When it gets close enough, she scratches behind the ears again, and as gingerly as she can, picks it up.

She's careful to avoid the hurt leg, and it's a bit of a struggle. The dog isn't small by any means. Beca think it weighs at least forty or fifty pounds. But it doesn't fight her. Like it knows she's going to keep her promise and help.

When she makes it to her car, she opens the passenger door and carefully places it on the seat. It just looks at her dolefully. She gives it one more scratch and runs around to her side. Once seated, she searches for the closest emergency veterinary clinic and hits navigate on her phone.

She talks to the dog while they ride, even sings to it a little. She wants it to know it's safe with her.

When she arrives at the clinic, they usher her into a waiting room quickly. She had called on her way to let them know she was bringing a hurt dog.

They are professional, only giving away that they recognize her by the looks of mild surprise when she walks in.

A few hours, a few tests, and a few drugs later, Beca and the dog (it's a girl) are still together and waiting for the vet on duty to come in and give her assessment.

The dog is looking at her blearily, and Beca suppresses a small smile because she knows it's high as a kite from the pain killers. She keeps petting its head, and the longer they sit together, the longer the dog looks at her like she's the hero it always needed.

There's a light knock on the exam room door and the vet steps inside.

"Miss Mitchell, thank you for waiting."

Beca stands, though she doesn't really know why. She moves closer to the exam table.

"So, what's the verdict?"

She's going for light, hoping that'll encourage the results to follow suit.

The vet steps closer too, petting the dog from the other side.

"Her leg is broken, but it was a clean break. We can set it and put her in a cast for a few weeks and then it'll be good as new. I'm estimating she's about two years old, so she should heal pretty well."

Beca feels surprised by the amount of relief she feels for a dog she met only hours before.

"Well that's... good then," she says. She feels so lame.

"She also has a pretty bad case of intestinal worms, but we can clear that up with a few days worth of medicine. After that, and with a thorough bath, she'll feel like a brand new dog."

Beca smiles in response.

"You said you found her right? In the park? No collar or anything like that?"

"Right. No collar. And I mean look at her, she's been starving. I don't think she has owners."

The vet nods, sadness seeping into her features as she continues to pet the dog from the other side of the exam table.

"Well we have a rehabilitation program that will get her back on her feet, and once the leg has healed she can go up for adoption. I'm sure someone will want her. Look at that face."

The words are meant to sound reassuring but for whatever reason, Beca doesn't like them.

"I think... yeah. I think I'd like to keep her."

The vet stares at her for a moment before responding.

"Are you sure? Dogs are a big commitment. They require a lot of attention. And a lot of love," she says quietly, as if trying not to offend Beca by suggesting a famous singer wouldn't give enough.

"I'm sure. I found her. I... I want to keep her. She won't ever feel unloved again."

The vet nods, silently saying I believe you.

"Okay, it's settled then. I do want to keep her overnight to observe her and make sure she's comfortable in the cast once we get it on. But you can pick her up after 24 hours. Okay?"

Beca nods, and then looks down at her new dog.

"Rest up, okay? You can come home with me tomorrow."

The vet smiles at the exchange. And Beca begins to collect her things, ready to get home so she can change out of her still not dry clothes and get a hot shower.

"Miss Mitchell?"

She looks up, brushing hair out of her face.

"If you're going to keep her, you should do one thing before you go."

Beca lifts a brow, waiting.

"You should give her a name."

She cocks her head to the side, considering it. She thinks back to the park, sitting in the rain together at that old park bench.

Arrange whatever pieces come your way.

"Her name is Virginia."

The vet smiles at the choice.

"I like it."

As she's leaving the clinic that night, she lets herself think of someone she has all but forgotten. Someone that's probably close to being a veterinarian herself.

She wonders how she's doing. She wonders if her eyes really are as blue as Beca remembers.

She hasn't seen Chloe Beale in three years.

///

Four Years Later

She isn't even all the way inside her front door before she hears the distinct click-clack of paws on hard wood. Virginia comes barreling towards her from the direction of her bedroom. Beca loves that she's always greeted with this much enthusiasm. She loves that her mere arrival home generates so much excitement.

"Guess what, Ginny!" she says, sitting in the floor to let Virginia give her kisses.

"Your awesome mom got nominated for a Grammy today!"

Virginia wags her blonde tail even harder, like she knows how big that news is.

"We're having some friends over tonight for a party! Isn't that exciting?!"

She gets up after dropping a kiss to the top of the dog's head and begins picking up the place a little. It wasn't exactly messy, but it wasn't ready for a party either.

She gets it presentable soon enough though, and is just touching herself up when her friends from the label start to arrive. They come with balloons and cake. And alcohol. So much alcohol.

They celebrate Beca's nomination and Beca thinks this is the happiest she's really been in a long time. The least lonely.

They stay up too late and have too many drinks. But it's her first nomination and she's proud. 

By the time they've all left for the night, she's wiped out. Ginny had already climbed in bed hours ago, and she wags her tail lazily when Beca finally comes into the bedroom.

"Come on. Outside one more time."

They go out together, just long enough for Ginny to relieve herself.

When they get back inside, she puts some pajamas on and Ginny takes her place again at the foot of the bed. Beca gives her a scratch before getting in herself.

"Night, girl. Sweet dreams."

She falls asleep thinking about how crazy it is she might need to start thinking about an acceptance speech.

The next morning, instead of being woken by an alarm or even Ginny's soft whines that mean she needs to go outside, she's startled out of dreams by a loud crash somewhere in the apartment.

She sits upright, not really worried because she knows if the sound came from an intruder, Ginny would be barking her head off. She gets up, wondering what the hell her dog has gotten into now.

She doesn't normally misbehave, usually acting out only when storms roll in. She's never quite been able to shake the phobia. But the morning is bright and clear and Beca thinks something else must have tempted her.

She doesn't wonder long. Upon arriving in the kitchen, she can see last night's cake box in the floor, only a little bit of frosting still at the edges. She knows at least half of it was still there when she went to bed last night and Ginny is already adopting her "I'm guilty but so, so cute" look. 

Beca is about to shame her for eating all the cake when her heart sinks.

It had been a chocolate cake.

She doesn't know what the fuck to do and she tries not to panic. She thinks she remembers something about making them throw up if they eat chocolate but she doesn't know how to do that. She thinks if she can get her to the vet quickly enough they can do it.

She changes her clothes as quickly as she can and throws her hair up into a messy bun. She doesn't really care if anyone spots her less than totally made up today.

She gets Virginia in the car and halfway out of the parking lot before she realizes it's a Sunday and her normal vet isn't open. Once again, she finds herself navigating to the nearest emergency clinic.

When she gets there, the staff quickly takes over. They usher Ginny to the back and direct Beca to wait in an exam room.

After what feels like forever, a vet tech comes into the room with a very guilty looking Virginia.

"She's gonna be fine," he says right away to relieve Beca's worry. "We just need to let you speak with the vet before you leave. She needs to give you some signs to look out for. Just in case."

"Thank you so much," Beca says, petting Ginny's head.

"Of course. Dr. Beale will be with you in a moment."

Beca nods, only halfway paying attention to the words. When they sink in a second later, she feels the need to panic for the second time today and it isn't even noon yet.

"Did you say Beale?" she asks. She doesn't know if she hopes she misheard him or not.

"Yes, ma'am. She's very nice. Took care of your pup in no time."

He excuses himself and she sits there, honestly wondering if she should just bolt. There's no way the name is a coincidence.

Before she can decide, there's a light knock on the door.

She hasn't seen Chloe Beale in four years.

But her streak is about to end.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven

 

Beca feels her heart step into overdrive at the gentle knock on the door because she's fairly certain she knows who is on the other side and she isn't at all prepared for it if she's right.

Before she can so much as try to even take a deep breath, the door opens and Beca feels the air leave her lungs. It's like whatever is in there just evaporates away the moment she sees red curls cross the threshold.

Chloe is looking at her like she's a mirage and Beca swears her eyes are even bluer than she remembers. She takes a deep breath and Beca can't help but notice that it sounds a little jagged.

"Hi, Beca."

She says it so quietly Beca wonders if Chloe halfway didn't mean it to be heard. She doesn't say anything in response. She just looks, never taking her eyes away from the ones staring back at her.

"Please say something," Chloe says, imploring her with eyes that are starting to shine with tears.

Beca has no idea why she would cry. She never heard from her again after the last text. The last text she still has saved even though she's had at least two new phones since then.

"You don't seem surprised to see me," she says. She doesn't know why it bothers her that Chloe doesn't seem as shocked as she was less than two minutes ago.

"Yeah the uh, the staff were all talking about how Beca Mitchell was here."

Beca nods. Of course.

"Even if they hadn't though, I still would have known. I... I recognized Virginia right away. She has very distinctive coloring on her face. She's an Australian Shepherd mix, right?"

Beca nods out of pure reflex. She doesn't know how many times she's answered that question. Virginia is sitting between Beca's legs, letting Beca scratch her ears. But her tail hasn't stopped wagging since Chloe walked in the room.

She turns over Chloe's words again in the silence that follows and frowns.

"What do you mean you recognized her?"

Chloe looks down, as if embarrassed.

"I... well I follow you on Instagram and... she's in several of your pictures."

Beca lets that sink in. She knows it would be easy for Chloe to blend in unnoticed in the hundreds of thousands who follow her on social media. But for whatever reason just knowing Chloe does too is oddly... satisfying.

She doesn't remark on that though.

"You finished vet school."

It seems like a safer road to go down.

"Yeah I... I just graduated this past spring."

"Well, good for you then," Beca says, not intending for the sentiment to have such a bite to it but also not minding that it does.

"Uh, about my dog?" she prompts.

Chloe's eyes still look glassy, but she takes another breath and seems to pull it together enough to come off professionally.

"She had eaten quite a bit of that cake. But we induced vomiting and I'm positive it all came back out. Her vitals are good and she isn't acting in any way that concerns me. Not three minutes after vomiting she was acting fine, begging for scratches and trying to give kisses. She's... she's a very sweet dog."

Beca nods, grateful for the fact that Ginny was treated so quickly.

"She is. I'm lucky to have her," she says, more to Ginny than to Chloe. "Are we free to go?"

It sounds harsh, even to Beca. But until she actually saw Chloe again with her own two eyes she never realized how much it hurt her that Chloe just gave up their friendship.

And while she acknowledges that she played a very active role in ignoring her, it still stings that Chloe just let it go. Like Beca's friendship was transient. Like her broken heart was disposable.

"You can take her home, yeah. I doubt she will have any residual effects but just look for signs of lethargy and... and call the clinic if you notice anything off."

That's all Beca needed to know. She stands, ready to hook the leash to Ginny's collar.

"Beca, wait."

She pauses. She was halfway expecting to be stopped anyway. She lifts a brow in Chloe's direction.

"Please, don't go. Can we just, I mean... can't you just... can you please just sit down?"

Virginia sits on her haunches obediently and in any other scenario Beca would have found it adorably amusing.

Beca doesn't sit. But she doesn't leave either. Despite herself, she wants to know what Chloe has to say.

She wants to look at her just a little longer, too.

"I can't imagine you need more than four years' worth of space. Can we just talk? God, I've missed you so much."

Beca clenches her jaw but doesn't point out that Chloe's words are hard to believe.

"I know you've never been particularly chatty, but give me something, Beca. Please."

She stands in place, willing her eyes to stay dry in the face of Chloe's wet ones.

"What is there to say, Chloe? We're not friends anymore."

Chloe looks down, like the words wounded her.

Virginia lets out a quiet whine, and Beca's heart twinges. Ginny's always been able to pick up on people's emotions. She doesn't like sadness.

"We could be," Chloe says, lifting her eyes to Beca's.

She balks at that. Leave it to Chloe to think it could be that simple.

"Can we have dinner? I can't take the idea of never seeing you again after you walk out of here today."

And the words pull at Beca. They weaken her resolve and make her think about sitting down at a restaurant with Chloe. Looking at her across a table and just being near her again.

And with nothing more than the realization that she'd love to do that, she shuts it down.

"I don't think that's a good idea," she says evenly.

"Why not? Do you hate me for not feeling..." she trails off for a moment, like that's not what she wants to say. "Do you just hate me now?"

And Beca's never hated Chloe. Not then, and not now. Despite the hurt and the anger she's felt because of her. That's the problem.

"The truth?"

She levels Chloe with a stare before continuing. Chloe blinks and waits patiently.

"I've just always been shit at not falling in love with you."

She lets the words free like they're nothing. Like she could have been talking about the weather. She's proud of herself and feels so liberated by no longer having to lie.

"I've never done anything harder than getting over you, Chloe. And honestly I don't think I could do it twice. So it's probably just best if we continue as we are."

Blue eyes are swimming again. And Beca doesn't think she can take being near them much longer before she gives in.

"Okay. Then coffee? Or a walk? Surely you take Virginia on walks. Can I just see you one more time?"

Beca looks up at the lights in the ceiling. She won't cry in front of Chloe. She won't do it.

"Why is this so important to you now?" she asks.

"Because I know you can hear me."

Beca frowns. She has absolutely no idea what the hell Chloe even means by that.

"Because if... if you never want to be friends again then I at least need some closure. I want... I need to be able to say goodbye to you."

A single tear betrays Beca as it slips from her eye. She wipes it away with the back of her hand. Virginia licks at it when she drops it to her side.

"Please, Beca."

She sighs, but doesn't deny that she could probably use some closure too. Maybe even some answers if she's feeling brave.

"One walk."

Chloe smiles, but it's not the one Beca remembers. It's broken, a shadow of what Beca knows it could be.

"Thank you."

Beca feels a bit awkward now. Like she doesn't know the right words to say to get her out the door without Chloe stopping her again. Before she can stumble over herself, there's another knock on the door and the same vet tech Beca saw before pokes his head in.

"I'm sorry to interrupt. Dr. Beale? We just got a call from the road. Someone is bringing in their dog they suspect of just having a seizure. They'll be here in five."

He ducks back out again, clearly preparing for another incoming patient.

Chloe straightens up, too. And runs her fingers just under her eyes.

"I'm sorry, I have to go. Please don't bail on the walk though. Okay?"

Beca nods, knowing she needs it too.

"You still have my number? You could text me?" she asks tentatively.

Chloe looks at her like texting is a foreign concept.

"Would it even go through?" she asks quietly.

Again, what she's saying makes no sense and Beca knows they're in a rush.

"Nevermind. Are you free tomorrow? How's Central Park at noon? The entrance at East 96th."

"Okay."

It's said quickly and eagerly and for a moment reminds Beca of the Chloe she once knew.

"Until then," Chloe says, taking a step back.

She turns to go, but at the last second turns back. She doesn't say anything, but just watches Beca for one second more. Like she's saving the image of her in her memory.

When she's gone, Beca lets out a breath. It's even and unhurried and not at all reflective of her current thoughts.

She pushes them to the side for later inspection, and instead turns to Ginny.

"Ready to go home you cake thief?"

The dog yips, loud enough for Beca to shush her, but not loud enough to be considered a bark. Beca takes it as a yes.

"Lead the way."

And Ginny walks them out with her tail wagging away.

Beca doesn't look for red curls. She keeps her eyes on Virginia, leading her out and back to safety.

/

To put it mildly, Beca is a mess the following morning. She doesn't know what the hell she was thinking when she agreed to see Chloe again and her heart won't slow the fuck down long enough for her to catch her breath. 

For the briefest of moments, she considers just staying home. Just skipping the thing altogether, politeness be damned.

But all it takes to change her mind back is the image of Chloe, waiting patiently and alone. And she knows she won't stand her up. Besides, this is a farewell meeting. A goodbye.

After four years of heartbreak and then healing, she finally gets to say goodbye. And she thinks that will be good for her.

She still doesn't feel at all ready when it's time to leave, but she just lets her body go through the motions of getting ready to go for a walk. Just like she has a hundred other times with Ginny in the last year.

Her dog goes into a frenzy when she sees the leash come out, and Beca smiles. She's so glad she's got some kind of buffer to take with her. Even if it's a buffer that doesn't even talk.

"Come on, girl. Lets go to the park."

Ginny practically buzzes all the way to the car, occasionally turning full circles whenever Beca takes too long to catch up. Once they're finally on their way, Beca thinks of Chloe again. She thinks about the fact that taking walks in Central Park was a thing she shared with Chloe before she even had Virginia.

She tries to remember the last time they walked together in the park. What did they talk about? What day of the week had it been on? What was the weather like?

It takes her a bit longer than she expects it to, but she supposes after four years of suppressing those memories they aren't going to just come running back.

When she does remember, she has to fight the urge to smile.

God, she'd been so hopeful.

///

Spring 2018

It's just warm enough not to need a jacket during the daytime and the trees and flowers are starting to bloom. Central Park is green and so alive. Beca loves coming here with Chloe. They've been taking lazy strolls here since they moved to New York together almost three years ago.

And Beca feels like... like it's their thing. Amy has never joined them once and it's like they all just know it's reserved for the two of them.

It almost feels like something a couple would do. Chloe sometimes even takes her hand, especially if it's cold out.

They never have a destination in mind, they just walk aimlessly. Enjoying the street performers and each other's company.

And if it makes Beca daydream even more about what they could be, what they could have, then she's okay with it because she thinks Chloe could be somewhere along the same path as she is.

Like maybe if she just waits long enough, Chloe will catch up to her and realize they would be perfect together.

That's what she's thinking about as they walk along in the middle of a spring afternoon.

"So what do you think we'll sing next week?" Chloe asks, bumping Beca's shoulder and bringing her out of her reveries.

"Huh?"

She's so eloquent it's almost painful sometimes.

"At the aquarium? Emily's invitation?"

"Ohhhh! Sorry, I was—"

"Off in your own world again?" Chloe teases. And then, "Can I come too?"

Beca smiles. She always likes it when Chloe says things like that.

"It just took me a second, that's all. I have no idea what they'll want to sing. I'm just excited to see all those nerds."

She says the last sentence more quietly. Like if she says it too loud someone other than Chloe might find out she's a big sap.

"Me too."

She looks over to find the sunlight catching red waves just right and blue eyes catching hers.

They smell the flowers as they pass them and Chloe takes Beca's hand.

And Beca thinks about how fucking much she loves the springtime.

/

One Week Later

Well, they didn't sing. A point Chloe is most upset about. But they're together and that's enough for Beca.

It hadn't been an all together perfect reunion though. The new Bellas are... something. And Beca definitely tries to be objective. They sound good. They just... move fast. Like, a lot. She doesn't think any of Chloe's choreography was ever so... physically demanding. She also doesn't think any of them looked quite that young on stage. Or, God, is she getting old? 

She shoves that thought aside just in time to catch Chloe complain about how all of them must have boyfriends. She can't actually restrain the what-the-fuck look that follows.

Because the way she says it makes it sort of sound like she's unhappy that she doesn't. And that doesn't quite fit into the hope that Chloe is slowly but surely falling for her.

So yeah, the night isn't going as planned.

After their set is finished and after they reassure Emily for the tenth time that everything is fine (regardless of what Chloe's facial expression might suggest), they all congregate around the bar and catch up over a few drinks.

Except it isn't really catching up. It's more like a lamentation of their would-be performance, snatched from under their noses.

The only thing that saves the night is Aubrey giving them hope for a real reunion. With real singing and even, dare they dream, a real competition.

They all leave that night with Aubrey's promise of updating them soon on whether or not they can join the USO tour.

On the subway home, with Chloe sitting next to her, she thinks about traveling overseas with her again.

Their next great adventure could be right around the corner.

She thinks of roaming European streets together. Trying new food and visiting new places together. The thrill of daytime exploring.

The intimacy of moonlit strolls along beaches and rivers they've only ever seen in pictures.

And she thinks, if Chloe really could be falling for her, telling her about her own feelings with a backdrop of romance and adventure is probably a good way to do it.

She makes up her mind before they even cross the Brooklyn Bridge.

She's going to tell Chloe.

///

Present Day

She's approaching the predetermined meeting place and she may as well have sprinted all the way for the way her heart's beating.

Virginia walks a few feet ahead, tongue lolling to the side and her tail swishing every few paces.

They both spot Chloe at the same time. Beca's mouth goes dry at the exact same moment Ginny starts pulling a little harder on the leash. When they're close enough for Chloe to notice, she gives Beca a fleeting smile before kneeling down to pet the dog that clearly remembers her.

Virginia licks at Chloe's hands and her tail wags furiously at the attention.

"Hello, Virginia. It's nice to see you again."

Beca cocks her head to the side at the interaction. It's so weird to her that Chloe's a real vet now. But she's obviously very comfortable around animals and even after only one sentence Ginny's eyes are closed and she's letting Chloe stroke her ears.

Beca thinks Chloe's magic must work on animals, too.

"Hi," she says, after straightening back up again. Her greeting to Beca sounds much more forced and awkward.

"Hey," Beca responds. She's not sure how she's supposed to start this conversation.

"Do you wanna..." Chloe starts, her voice pitching up at the end and her thumb jerking over her shoulder towards the park.

Beca nods and they start walking. Chloe falls in line beside her as Virginia leads them. Beca takes in the passerby, the smells, and the colors.

They're solidly into the fall season and the leaves are painting collages all around the ground of the trees they fell from.

It isn't cold, but it will be by nightfall. It's a beautiful day.

"So I... I saw you got nominated for a Grammy. That's... wow that's... congratulations."

Beca doesn't think she can ever remember Chloe sounding this nervous. Like, ever.

"Uh, thanks," she says, but she doesn't want to talk about the Grammys. "That's not what we came here for though," she adds on quietly.

Chloe looks down, and then, "I know. I just know that as soon as that conversation is over I'll never see you again."

Beca swallows down the bitter taste that Chloe's words leave her with. She doesn't understand why Chloe's dreading it so much when she let her go so easily four years ago.

"Can I ask you a question?" Chloe asks, bringing her eyes back up but not returning them to Beca's. She looks straight out instead.

"Okay," Beca says, hesitant but also so, so curious.

"Amy told me, the day after the last time I saw you... she told me that you had... that you fell... that it had been going on since your first year at Barden."

She stumbles over the words and Beca is honestly reminded a little of herself as she waits for the question to finally spill out.

"Is that true? What about... what about Jesse?"

She thinks about her answer for a moment, wanting it to be as concise as possible but also not wanting to leave out anything.

"I did fall for you my freshman year. And I was going to tell you, too, but then you said something about how Jesse and I would be good together and I chickened out. And then I got together with Jesse at the end of the year because... because I did genuinely like him. But I guess it was also because I couldn't have you."

She says it all cleanly and crisply. The truth can't hurt her anymore because the long-gone rejection already has.

"And I know that's kind of dumb but I was nineteen. And nineteen year olds do stupid things."

Chloe offers a small laugh. But it sounds distracted. Unfocused.

"And... the remaining three years? Moving up here with me?"

Beca feels the ghost of all her old guilt try to come back to life at the words. But she shakes it off. She doesn't apologize for her feelings anymore.

"And the remaining three years I was with Jesse. And I loved him. But..." she trails off, wanting to make sure the words are the ones she wants to use.

"But I was always fighting with myself. Always telling myself I was over you. That if I tried hard enough I wouldn't feel anything I wasn't supposed to."

Chloe's quiet for a moment, soaking in the answers to four year old questions.

"And then?" she prompts.

"And then, that summer before my senior year I completely lost all control and fell right back into you. You were always just so... different from everyone else. Like you just skated past all the walls and defenses I ever put up. You made me different. I just... couldn't help it."

Chloe's brow furrows at the words and she opens her mouth to ask something else but Beca plows on, sure she knows what it was going to be.

"That's the year I started to pull away and the Bellas fell apart and it all went to shit. I felt so guilty all the damn time because I was still with Jesse even though I felt what I did for you. I was a mess, like, the whole time."

A few more steps in silence.

"And then we went to Copenhagen and I knew I couldn't do it with Jesse anymore. Even if I never had you I couldn't be with him. It wasn't right for either of us. That's why I broke up with him when we got back."

"You... you loved me that whole year?"

Beca laughs, but there's no humor in the sound.

"Everything makes a lot more sense now, doesn't it?"

Chloe looks dazed. Overwhelmed. She'd bet every last penny in her bank account that Chloe was going through every interaction she could remember between the two of them.

It takes longer this time, for Chloe to remind her to continue.

"And New York?"

"That was me... being incredibly selfish."

The confusion pouring off Chloe is nearly palpable.

"I didn't want to let you go. I was dreading saying goodbye to you the day you came by my dad's house. And you didn't seem too happy about going back to your parents either. So I just... asked you to come with me."

Chloe nods and then shakes her head. Like she doesn't know what the appropriate response is supposed to be.

"And... you... you loved me then?"

Beca almost wants to be amused at how disbelieving Chloe is over the whole thing.

"Yes. I did." And then she adds on before Chloe can inevitably ask, "And I stayed in love with you the whole time we lived together."

She hears how creepy that sounds out loud and she cringes.

"But I never tried to take advantage. I always looked the other way when you changed and stuff. And I never initiated any of the... like, cuddling and whatnot. But I also never really pushed you away because I didn't want you to inspect the reasons why too closely if I did protest. I'm sorry."

She says the last two words quietly, but she means them. And she feels good about finally saying them, even if they're a bit late.

"That sounds... stressful."

Beca laughs again, but this time it's closer to genuine.

"It was."

"I just... God I don't know what to say." And then she asks again, as if to make sure the answer hasn't changed, "You really loved me that whole time?"

Beca doesn't hesitate.

"I did."

Beca's pretty much kept her eyes on Ginny the whole time they've been walking. Watching her trot with her nose to the ground and her tail to the sky.

"And now you... don't."

Beca doesn't think about the answer long. She doesn't want to.

"I don't."

She looks at Chloe in her periphery and sees her nod at the words, but her expression gives away nothing.

They walk for their longest stretch of silence. And Beca mulls over whether or not she wants to get a few answers herself. Whether knowing them will do more harm than good.

She decides she doesn't need to know why Chloe let go of her so effortlessly. That it's unimportant now because there's nothing left to mend. Chloe, however, seems to want to talk about that night.

"And the day you finally told me?"

The words are gentle, hushed. Like they might actually hurt Beca by reminding her of a night that went terribly wrong.

Beca sighs but otherwise doesn't let on that that particular memory still haunts her sometimes.

"Not telling you, keeping that secret, was like trying to hold water in my hands. Eventually it was going to spill out. It just happened to be that night."

They walk along, watching Ginny chase the leaves as they scuttle along in the wind.

"And when did," Chloe stops and clears her throat, her voice suddenly sounding much thicker, "when did you decide you never wanted to see me again?"

Beca's eyes go wide for a moment, astounded by the boldness of the question. She's sort of confused though, because Chloe's expression doesn't look bold at all. It looks vulnerable.

"I never decided that, Chloe. It was decided for me."

The vulnerability hardens a little bit on Chloe's face. Slips into skepticism.

"How do you figure that? You were ignoring me, remember?" Her voice was a little louder. A little stronger.

"Yeah because I was in love with you and you didn't love me back! Not because I never wanted to see you again!"

She isn't yelling. But it's close. The idea of Chloe trying to pin this on her pushes her. It gets under her skin and leaves her bitter.

"You texted a handful of times that next day and then I never heard from you again. And yeah I was ignoring you but I was heartbroken, Chlo."

The old nickname slips out with absolutely no permission and she cringes. She moves on without addressing it.

"I was hurting and the one person I wanted to be there for me was the person who broke me to begin with. And I don't blame you for that. But I thought I meant more to you than that. I thought after you gave me a little while you'd sneak your way back in just like you always did. And maybe after I got over it we could have been friends."

She's winded now, and the words leave her breathlessly. Like she's expending huge amounts of energy to say them. But she can't stop now.

"Maybe if you hadn't given up, we could have been. But instead I had to do it all alone. I cried myself to sleep so many nights because you were just gone. And I didn't want to be the one to seek you out because by the time I was ready to talk to you, you hadn't tried to talk to me at all."

There are tears now; she feels them on her face, cooling instantly when the wind finds them.

"You broke my heart because you didn't love me, Chloe. But then you broke it all over again when you just let me go. Like it was the easiest thing in the world."

Chloe's looking at her with an expression that is pure confusion. Beca doesn't have time to analyze it though because she's got one more thing to say before she leaves.

"We came here to say goodbye. So..."

She leaves the sentence dangling, the implication clear. Chloe's eyes fill up with tears of her own and they just stare at each other. When Beca finally tugs a little on Virginia's leash to get her to turn around, Chloe remembers her voice.

"Wait!" she says, and it sounds desperate. "Beca, I never, never let you go."

They stare at each other for one long minute. Chloe's eyes begging for Beca to believe her and Beca's daring Chloe to prove that she's telling the truth.

"I gave you about two weeks after... after you told me. But then I couldn't stand it anymore and texted you even though I told you I wouldn't. I texted you for weeks and never heard anything back and finally Amy came home one night and I was miserable over not seeing you. She took pity on me and told me you'd blocked my number."

Beca just blinks. She doesn't know why Chloe is saying these things because Beca would obviously know that's a lie.

Except Chloe really doesn't look like she's lying. She's a terrible liar, always was. She's perpetually honest and expects other people to be too.

"Chloe, I never blocked your number. And I never received those texts you say you sent."

Chloe frowns, like that can't possibly be true.

"Amy told me you called her one night, only a few days after... after I left your apartment that day. And you said you didn't want to hear the rejection or whatever the next time you spoke to me. She said you told her you blocked my number so you'd never have to."

Beca shakes her head. She thinks she would remember doing something like that.

"She said you sounded... messed up. Like you drank too much. She said the only reason she didn't go to your new place that night to check on you was because you promised her you had switched to water."

Beca's mouth hangs open for a few seconds at that. And now she's not so sure of herself anymore because she definitely drank her pain away those first few nights. A solution she's glad was only temporary and never became something more habitual.

"I don't remember doing that," she says, racking her brain for any fragment of memory to suggest that what Chloe is saying is true.

"I mean I don't think Amy would lie. What reason would she have? And I definitely sent you texts. Even after I was told you blocked me, just to see if maybe one day you undid it. I texted you for months after that. Almost every day."

Her head is spinning. She doesn't know what to think because her entire premise for being mad at Chloe hinges on something that now might not even be true.

"You... you tried to keep me?"

Chloe takes a step forward. A step closer. Like she wants to reach for her. She stops herself at just one though.

"I could never let you go on purpose, Beca. I have regretted leaving your apartment that night so many times. Run through so many scenarios of what I could have done differently in order to have avoided losing you."

And Beca feels it after Chloe's words. Something she hasn't felt in years but is immediately recognizable anyway despite her estrangement with it.

She feels Chloe's pull like a magnet. Like it would be the easiest thing in the world to let her body drift closer.

She stands her ground though. She's always been stubborn like that. And the little cynical part of her brain, the part that always told her Chloe could never care as much as she does, kicks into gear.

"How can you expect me to believe that, Chloe? I don't remember doing it and you've got no proof."

Chloe stands there for a minute, looking defeated. But then blue eyes snap back to Beca with renewed fervor.

"You don't have to believe me about the texts if you don't want to. I don't have them anymore and you clearly never got them. But you should check your Instagram inbox. That's proof enough."

She doesn't know what to say. What to believe. She doesn't know what she wants to do. She feels overwhelmed and so tired. Like the exchange of such intense emotions has physically drained her.

"Look I know..." Chloe starts. She takes a huge breath before continuing. "I know we said this was for us to find some closure. But clearly we've both been operating the last four years under misapprehensions about... what actually happened between us."

Beca just blinks, her brain still trying to catch up.

"I know you came here never wanting to see me again. But please, just... just read the messages in your inbox. I know you've never seen them because I check like, all the time, but please just read them. And if after that you still never want to see me again then I'll respect that. But don't decide until after. Don't make me say goodbye when you haven't seen me trying to find a way back to you."

She thinks about it. And her heart is screaming at her because Chloe is fighting so hard for her. And it's all Beca ever wanted her to do.

"Okay."

She says it quietly, leaning down and scratching Virginia's ears. She silently commends her for being so patient and not tugging on the leash as they stand there. She knows this has got to be boring for her.

"Okay?"

There's so much hope infused into that one word, and Beca almost can't believe it's for her.

"I'll read them. When I get home. And then I'll... let you know. When I've read them."

Her words are choppy and unsure but Chloe doesn't seem to mind.

"You were my best friend. And even if we'll never have that again I'll deal with it if it means we can be something. Please don't walk away from this, Beca."

"You were mine, too," she says, just loud enough to be heard.

And then, after promising that Chloe will hear from her soon, she walks away. 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

 

She doesn't check her inbox right when she gets home. She and Ginny walk in, shedding shoes and shucking the leash, before she gets them both some water. She purposefully doesn't open the Instagram application on her phone, not prepared for another onslaught of emotion so close to the last one.

They go about the rest of the day in the normal fashion. Beca has lunch and Ginny pretends not to watch her eat with rapt attention (she's not allowed to beg).

She cleans up her place a little, not because it needs it but because she needs something to distract her, and Ginny flits between the rooms as she goes, sniffing every object that gets shifted no matter how minutely.

Beca, still in the glow of her latest album release, doesn't have any plans to record anything soon, but she makes some appointments for studio time later in the week for projects she wouldn't mind helping to produce. Ginny naps.

It would have qualified as a completely normal afternoon if Beca's mind didn't keep going back to flames of red hair and perfume she hasn't smelled in years. If she didn't keep replaying every single word Chloe said at the park. Didn't keep seeing that step Chloe took towards her, wanting to be closer.

All the while she doesn't check her messages. She's not entirely sure what to expect but she is sure she's ready for absolutely none of the things they could potentially say.

She gets as far as dinnertime before the itch to do something becomes too hard to ignore. Pulling out her phone, she doesn't open Instagram. Instead, she opens her contacts list and calls a number not often dialed but one that still belongs to someone she considers her friend.

"Hello, my famous little short stack," is the way Fat Amy greets her after only two rings. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

She feels a little guilt wriggle about at Amy's tone of surprise over something as simple as a phone call. She tries not to dwell on it, and answers the question.

"Hey Amy, I was just... just calling to see how you've been."

She flinches a bit at the pause in her response, knowing full well Amy will know that's not exactly true.

"Oh, you know, the life of an heiress is never a dull one," Amy says cryptically. Beca nods though she can't be seen; she's always been impressed that Amy never squandered her money over the years. She'd somehow learned to replenish the money she spends on her lavish lifestyle. It has Beca wondering for a moment where Amy even is. The last time they'd spoken she'd been on a sailboat off the coast of Greece.

"Well as long as it's still treating you well, I guess," she responds, feeling a bit awkward. She doesn't know how to broach the topic she actually called for in the first place without looking like that's all she wanted. She supposes this would be a lot less difficult if she'd never have let her college friendships fall by the wayside.

"Is everything okay, Beca?" Amy asks then, suddenly serious and picking up on the strained tone in her voice.

She sighs. And she knows Amy hears it.

"Did I really call you one night and tell you I'd blocked Chloe's number?"

Her heart speeds up a little in the silence that follows, both in anticipation of Amy's answer and in response to broaching such a taboo subject between them.

It takes several seconds for Amy to respond, either from trying to access that certain memory or just from sheer shock that Beca is bringing it up. When she finally does speak, her answer is an indirect one.

"You don't remember?"

Beca assures her that no, she does not remember ever doing such a thing, and waits again for Amy to fill in the blanks.

After another few seconds Amy confirms what Chloe had told her at the park. It's almost an exact iteration of the details she'd learned only hours before.

"Why are you asking about that now?" Amy says after a beat. "We haven't talked about Chloe in four years."

Beca doesn't know how to wade slowly into that conversation, so she jumps in head first, knowing the splash will be a big one. 

"I... met her at Central Park today. We... we went for a walk."

"WHAT?!" Amy shouts through the phone instantly. It's loud enough for Beca to pull the phone a few inches from her ear. "How did this happen?! And can I just say, about fuckin' time."

That last sentence makes Beca want to smile and cry at the same time because something inside her feels the same way.

She tells Amy the story and spares no detail. She tells her about the cake incident and the fact that Chloe was the vet on duty. She tells her about the desperation in Chloe's voice when she asked to see her again. She tells her that Chloe wanted a chance to say goodbye. And she tells her that she agreed to meet her so that she could have that chance also. She talks about how nervous she was the whole morning. She tells her about the fall breeze and about Ginny chasing the leaves as they walked.

She tells her about Chloe's questions and she tells her about their answers. She tells her about how angry she was over thinking Chloe just let her go. She tells her about Chloe's confession and the messages. She hears Amy's sharp intake in response to it.

"Why didn't you tell me her number was blocked? It killed me thinking Chloe just stopped caring."

"I thought you knew! You're the one who blocked her after all! And we never talked about Chloe. I just thought that's what you wanted and I didn't push you because I knew how heartbroken you were."

Her eyes feel prickly at Amy's words, and the little part of her that was angry at Amy for her part in all this loses its steam in the length of a heartbeat. Amy might be a bit wild, a bit reckless, but she's never done anything she thought would hurt Beca. When Beca realizes that she's been going out of her way to avoid this topic for that very reason, her heart swells with affection for her.

"So... she's been messaging you?" Amy asks, quietly bringing Beca out of her thoughts and back into the conversation. "What do they say?"

Beca sighs again. It seems to help her thoughts arrange themselves more cohesively.

"I don't know. I... haven't read them yet."

"What do you want them to say?"

This, Beca thinks, is the million dollar question. She isn't sure what she wants them to say. She has an idea, though, about the way she wants them to make her feel.

"She just seemed like... like she missed me so much when I was with her. I want to know that was real."

Amy doesn't hesitate before she responds.

"I never told you this because I always assumed you wouldn't want to know. But for what it's worth I'll tell you now."

Beca holds her breath a few seconds, having no clue what Amy is about to say.

"Losing you... wrecked her. You meant more to her than I think you ever gave her credit for. And I know it wasn't in the same way, but trust me when I say she was heartbroken, too. I know you want to read the messages, but I hope you believe me when I say that her missing you is one hundred percent real."

Beca soaks in the words, letting them find comfortable places to rest and then tuck themselves into her memory.

"Thank you, Amy."

Amy offers her a low hum to acknowledge the thanks, and then, "Will you see her again?"

She ponders the idea for a few moments, tosses it back and forth between her hands as she tries to find a way to answer it. She knows what she wants to say but she isn't ready to commit to those three letters yet.

"I don't know," is what she says instead. And then, because she's suddenly hit with how much she's missed Amy and her friendship, she continues.

"I'd like to see you though. Can we make that happen?"

She hears Amy's low chuckle before her response.

"I suppose I can put my adventures on hold long enough to see you. I'll actually be back in New York in a few weeks. I can be all yours."

Beca, wanting to lighten the mood, offers a whispered "Yessssss" in response.

"Yeah, yeah keep your pants on, Shawshank."

There's a pleasant moment of silence then, where Beca feels the lightest she's felt in the last two days. She wishes she could stay in that bubble of warmth longer.

"I'll text you when it gets closer, yeah? I gotta get going. There's a bearded dragon race about to start and I have a lot of money riding on Quasimodo."

Beca lets loose a burst of laughter at that but doesn't comment on it. Not questioning Amy's antics is like learning to ride a bike. One doesn't necessarily forget how to ride even without recent practice.

"Good luck," she says with one last chuckle before hanging up.

She spends the rest of her evening in a better mood. A lighter one. The weight of the unread messages not quite managing to feel like heavy chains anymore. More like kite strings that keep her nice and tethered.

Still, she doesn't open them. She knows if she does Chloe will know. And Chloe's expectation of a response is enough to keep her curiosity at bay.

She puts Netflix on the flatscreen and lets the first recommended movie play. She and Ginny cuddle up on the couch together while the opening credits roll.

She doesn't know when she stopped hating movies. She just knows that the predictability factor of them stopped being boring one day. Like she didn't mind seeing the happy endings anymore even if she saw them coming a mile away.

She has wondered on more than one occasion if her sudden tolerance had anything to do with the unhappy endings she's had with the only two people she ever loved. And maybe she just wants to see it work out for somebody.

All she knows is they don't irk her anymore. She isn't necessarily riveted by them, but she'll watch a romcom just to pass some time if there's nothing better to do.

She scratches Ginny's ears while they watch, and smiles every time Ginny tries to weasel more out of her when she stops.

Towards the end, when the guy gives his big declaration of love and the girl can't wrap her arms around him fast enough, she sighs. She thinks of the day she told Chloe. How quietly the words left her lips and how Chloe didn't burst into tears or throw herself into Beca's arms.

As revelations go, that one hadn't ended well for anyone.

There was another time though. In a different country when Beca was a different person, that she was going to make a grand statement of love.

There were different words in her head then. Ones that carried hope in each syllable and sentences that held a promise at each period.

She tries to remember them now. What she had planned to tell Chloe on the first night of the USO tour all those years ago.

Like many of her memories with Chloe, this one pulls itself out of slumber lazily, with its feet dragging and only one eye open. 

But when it finally arrives, it's just as vivid as it ever was.

///

Spring 2018

Aubrey had let them know the very next day after the disaster at the aquarium that her father had secured a spot for them on the tour, and by late Sunday night they'd all found themselves reunited once again, this time on a red-eye destined for Spain.

And Beca had already decided that their first evening in Cádiz is the time. Her time to finally tell Chloe everything. She just needs to make sure the words are right. The delivery perfect.

She's got a solid six or seven hours on this plane, and even with the distraction of Chloe's smile and her perfume, she thinks that's enough time to nail down what she wants to say.

In between quiet conversation and half-watched movies, she slowly pieces together the things she wants to say. 

Things like I want to be with you and I think you're perfect for me and Will you give us a chance?

She commits each sentence to memory because Chloe deserves to be told she's loved with something better than Beca's usual choppy awkwardness.

Chloe falls asleep before she does, claiming needing a few hours of beauty rest before landing in the sunlight of a Spanish morning. Beca shakes her head, knowing Chloe needs no such thing to be beautiful. But that doesn't stop her from letting the redhead curl into her anyway.

And when she finally drifts off herself, it's to hushed confessions in her head and Chloe's warmth in her arms.

/

Their arrival on base isn't going quite as smoothly as she would have liked.

Those aca-fools have followed them here with their cameras and their microphones, and can't Beca ever escape them?

And of course Amy can't keep it in her pants long enough to even get through the introductions of their military hosts. She's coming on to them before they can even welcome the Bellas inside.

And as much as she'd like to blame her less than great mood on those things, she knows what she's really upset about is the look on Chloe's face as one of the soldiers welcomes them.

Beca's lived with Chloe for years. She knows each of her expressions like the back of her hand. She can tell what emotion is at the forefront just by a profile view of Chloe's face.

And the look she's sporting right now? It's the one she wears when she sees something she wants.

And Beca's confidence in the Chloe department has always been capricious at best, but she feels it take a solid hit when she sees Chloe bite her lip in his direction.

It stunts her enthusiasm over finally arriving and sends her into a bit of a funk. It's almost sad, she thinks, what one look can do to her spirits. As they walk inside and find that the other bands have already decided their group sucks, she grows even moodier.

She takes a back seat for most of the riff off, supplementing the others but not really taking the lead. Her attitude is poor anyway.

It's only when she gets mad enough at the other bands for blatantly disregarding the no instruments rule (god, when did she get so much like Aubrey?) that she decides she's had enough.

She breaks out a song that both reflects her current mood and is capable of shutting everyone up for a minute.

"But I’m only human
And I bleed when I fall down
I’m only human
And I crash and I break down
Your words in my head, knives in my heart
You build me up and then I fall apart
'Cause I’m only human"

She's overpowered again in a moment, but it was long enough to relieve some of the weight in her chest. Enough to somewhat shake off the look Chloe's never really directed at her.

As she walks away after yet another riff off defeat, she can't help but hope she'll shake the rest off by evening.

They spend the afternoon running to and from each other's rooms, eating European candies and trying to come up with a game plan.

All the strategy in the world though couldn't have saved their first performance when the Taps bugle calls lights out on not only the night, but also the Bellas.

When they return to the hotel, they're all trying to shirk the feeling that they're just not in the same league as their competitors.

/

She looks out the window of her hotel room and the sun has been long gone. It's now replaced with glowing lamps and moonlight. She's been waiting for this hour all day and finally the time is upon her. Nightfall brings the promise of her confession. She's just going to walk to Chloe's room and ask if she'd like to go look at the stars with her. Simple. No big words for her to get hung up on. Romantic, but not so romantic that it'll clue Chloe in prematurely. She gives herself one final look in the mirror and shakes out her hands before slipping out.

She walks quietly down the hallway, not wanting to alert any of the other Bellas. She doesn't need anyone trying to tag along.

When she knocks on Chloe's door quietly, she waits only for a moment before Cynthia Rose answers. Confused, she checks the room number on the now opened door to make sure she knocked on the right one.

"Come on, girl, we've been waiting for you," she says in that raspy voice Beca still finds herself missing when she's feeling particularly nostalgic.

"I didn't know I was late..." Beca says as she enters, now noticing that all the other Bellas are present as well, except Legacy, and they're all in their pajamas.

"Impromptu pajama party, Becs. I was just about to come get you," Chloe says from her place on the bed. She's wearing matching pajamas as usual (something Beca has always secretly thought was cute because who actually wears matching pajamas?) and she's got her favorite slippers on.

"I'm not wearing pajamas, though," she says lamely, gesturing down to her clothes which she deemed good-looking but not so good-looking that it appears like she's trying.

"Then go change and come back. We're eating junk food and mending our bruised egos," Chloe says, waving around a spoonful of peanut butter before putting it in her mouth. Beca tries not to leer too much when it comes back out clean.

She can't help but turn herself around, walking back to her room with a slump in her shoulders. As she's changing into decidedly mismatched pajamas, she watches the stars on the horizon, and she thinks they look dimmer. She tries not to think that her chance feels dimmer, too.

/

Later in the evening (also known as Way Past Beca's Bedtime), the Bellas descend upon the hotel at which DJ Khaled is hosting his party. It hadn't taken much convincing on Emily's part to get them out of their night clothes and into their nightclub best.

Someone decides right away they should split up and of course, per usual, she and Chloe are paired off.

They meander through the fancy hotel, pretending to be richer than they are and less tired than they feel. Beca has no idea where this party is or how they're supposed to get themselves in it but without warning she finds she's being bodily pushed out of view by Chloe.

Chloe's literally backed her into a wall or a pillar or some other kind of unmoving thing and Beca's mind is already on the verge of shut down because of how close she's standing. But then she looks down and she can't really comprehend what she's seeing.

Because Chloe's hands are on her, holding her in place against whatever it is at her back and Beca doesn't understand it.

She says the only words she's capable of recalling at the moment to get Chloe's attention. And it seems Chloe doesn't comprehend what's happened either because the second she realizes what's in her hands she doesn't immediately drop them.

Her eyes appraise Beca's chest like she's just noticing Beca has boobs for the first time. Beca just watches her, incapable of speech. But in the second that follows, she fights every basic urge in her body because Chloe gives an experimental squeeze with each hand.

And what the hell is she supposed to do about that?

She's saved the need to figure it out when a curious Aubrey shows up, an even more curious Cynthia Rose in tow.

She brushes off the encounter like it was nothing, quickly following Khaled's assistant guy and realizing the party must be upstairs.

Her heart races all the way up the elevator.

/

When she falls into bed that night (morning?), she silently begs her mind to just shut off.

She'd been planning to tell Chloe the truth. To ask her in the twinkling light of the Spanish twilight if they could be together.

She didn't plan on getting side tracked, or going to a penthouse party. She didn't plan on getting inadvertently felt up by the woman of her dreams, and certainly not the curious facial expression in response to it. She didn't plan on fleeing a burning hotel room or fearing for her life as bees swarmed the hallways.

She didn't plan on hating how empty her bed felt.

She falls asleep with a prayer for better luck, and the last thing she feels before escaping into dreams are cold sheets beneath her hands.

///

Present Day

The movie credits are flashing on a black screen and Beca realizes with a slight jolt that she's missed the last twenty minutes or so of the movie, caught up in her own daydreams.

She shakes her head to try and get Chloe out of it but she won't go and Beca, despite what she tells herself, doesn't try very hard to keep her away.

She lets her mind wander while she takes Ginny out for her last bathroom break of the night. She lets herself wonder for the first time in probably years what Chloe's doing as she brushes her teeth. And she tells herself it all means nothing, that the redhead occupying her thoughts is okay, even expected, after seeing her again so unexpectedly.

When she crawls into her bed, petting Ginny in her place at the bottom one last time, she knows she can't avoid it anymore (or maybe her patience has worn out, she's not sure). The messages are waiting for her, so with a deep breath, she opens the app on her phone and navigates to her inbox.

She scrolls for several minutes, because god she's got a lot of followers who like to send her lots of messages, but doesn't see any username or profile picture that looks like it belongs to Chloe.

Giving up that method, she goes to Amy's page and pulls up the people she follows, thanking her from afar for having a short list. Towards the bottom Beca spots it, a username called dogsaremyfavorite and a profile picture featuring Beca's favorite shade of red.

She clicks on it, and briefly giving in to her curiosity, glances through the photos. She knows that's a rabbit hole she can't afford to get sucked into right now though, so she clicks the message icon at the top of the page. And suddenly they're there, the messages Chloe promised Beca would find.

The very last one was sent not even three weeks ago, and all it says is I really miss you today.

Beca wonders for a second what prompted Chloe to send the words before scrolling up. She scrolls and scrolls and they don't stop. She catches words here and there but they don't make sense without context so eventually she doesn't even try anymore. Just lets her thumbs work on autopilot to get her to the top.

After what feels like forever, the messages reach their beginning. Sure enough, the first one is dated for about six or seven months after the last time Beca saw her. She figures that must have been when Chloe gave up on the texts and changed gears. She tries to prepare herself as she begins the first message.

"I think I started this message to you about twenty different times, but none of them were right. Is there such a thing as lucky number 21? I just noticed today that you got an Instagram account, and since the texts aren't working I will try to reach you this way. Beca, please know that I miss you terribly. It doesn't feel right at all to not have you in my life. If you see this and still need more time, I'll be patient. But I'm still waiting for you to come back."

Beca already has tears in her eyes thinking about what this would have meant to her at the time. Message number two has a time stamp of only minutes after the first.

"I love you. Please don't forget that."

She wipes away the wetness on her cheeks with the back of her hand and scrolls down, greedy for more.

Most of the messages in the beginning are similar to the first. They come almost every day and always end with the sentiment of how much Chloe misses her. But as the days turn into months and then years, it starts to read more like a diary and the time stamps are further apart. Beca does note that they never get more than a few weeks in between though.

Chloe tells her about what she's learning in vet school. Stories with happy endings and sad ones. Things she found funny at the time.

"We were learning how to care for a broken wing today and the pet parakeet that was brought in for us pooped all over the professor. You should have seen the range on this bird..."

"I made a friend today. His name is Jack and he's a Longhorn bull. His mom died while having him so now he has to be bottle fed. I don't mind doing it though, I think he likes me."

"I graduated today. Sometimes I wondered if I'd ever make it out alive. But I'm ready. This was the right choice for me. I just wish you could be here to celebrate it too."

She can also see the progression of her own fame through Chloe's eyes as she reads.

"I heard you on the radio today! God I miss your voice. If you see this, it hasn't been too long. I just want to hear from you."

"You're on JIMMY FALLON. LIKE RIGHT NOW."

"Well, maybe not like this second BUT YOU'RE ON MY TV."

"I honestly lost my breath when you walked out. I can't believe I haven't seen you in two years. I wish so much I could see you now."

"You're on the red carpet for the actual freaking Grammys. Next year you'll be there for your own nomination I know it. I never doubted you for a minute. Not since the day I met you. If you ever read this Beca, I am so, so happy for you."

"Ps. You look absolutely beautiful."

It takes her a long time to get through them. She pauses a lot to stare at the messages, mostly on the ones that Chloe says she misses her. Of which there are many.

She gets a message after her first posted picture with Virginia.

"She's adorable. And so lucky to have you."

She gets a message when she gets her first number one single.

"That song always makes me cry. The lyrics would make me think of you even if you weren't the one who wrote them. I miss you so much when I hear it."

There are messages about so many things that Beca can't quite fathom that they've been here this whole time. That Chloe's been here this whole time, waiting patiently for her to notice.

It's well into the night when she finishes, and her eyes are hurting from so much time looking at words on a screen. She rubs at them and turns her bedside lamp off. Before closing her eyes and giving in to the bliss of darkness, she does one more thing.

With the thread still open, her thumbs hesitate only for a moment before the words come.

"Maybe never seeing you again isn't what I want, after all."

She hits send before she can think too much, and closes her aching eyelids. She knows the first thing she'll do when she wakes is check for a reply and then begin to re-read the messages all over again.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

Beca is woken the next morning by Virginia's high keening at her bedside. She rolls over and looks at her dog with only one eye open, but she doesn't need two to see that Virginia is very awake and very ready to go outside.

"You're a sleep killer, you know that?"

Ginny just dances on her paws at the words, like she's trotting in place. Her tail swishes furiously.

"Alright, I'm up," she says, putting her feet on the floor and stretching her arms. She feels like she could have slept for several more hours.

She slips on a pair of leggings and takes Ginny outside. It isn't until she's standing in the grass with her dog sniffing around for a good spot that she remembers what time she went to sleep the night before.

And what had kept her up that long.

She praises Ginny more than usual for finding a spot quickly and after she's relieved herself she takes them back inside at a power walk. She wants to see if there's a reply waiting for her.

She wants to make sure it’s all still real.

She leaves her shoes by the door and retreats back to her bedroom immediately. She swipes her phone off the nightstand and unplugs it. She ignores a few new email notifications and now with a little bit of trepidation opens her Instagram application.

She opens her inbox and Chloe's thread pops up right away now that she's actually responded to it. She can't help the smile that pulls at her lips when she realizes there's a reply waiting for her that's been there almost two hours now. For whatever reason, she likes knowing Chloe is still an early riser. It almost feels like learning something new about someone. She clicks the thread and begins to read.

"I've been writing to you for four years and with one sentence you've nearly made me forget how."

Beca smiles at this, and quickly reads over the message she sent last night.

Maybe never seeing you again isn't what I want, after all.

She jumps back down to Chloe's reply, eager to read the rest.

"I don't know what to make of your reply, exactly, but I'm choosing to believe it's something good. I know that this is a weird situation for you, but I hope we can at least try for some kind of friendship? I know it will probably never be the same as it was, and we can't just pick up where we left off (not that you'd even want to) so maybe we can just start over? Get to know each other again?"

Beca stops here. Does she want that? A flashing, neon green Yes materializes in her mind. She absolutely does want that. She maybe just doesn't want all the bells and whistles that came with being Chloe's friend last time.

Maybe not all the cuddling and the kisses to her cheek. Maybe fewer hugs that probably last a little too long.

She could probably do without falling in love with her again, too.

She has a wild thought about needing to have ground rules for this new foray into old territory when she shakes her head and continues reading.

"All I know is that I've missed you for the last four years and I'd really like to stop. So if that would be okay with you, can I see you again soon?"

Beneath that, she writes her phone number so they can stop using Instagram as a means of communication, if Beca wants that.

She adds the number to her contacts list right away, even if she is hesitant to use it. She double checks her blocked list on her phone, and when she doesn't see that number listed, she assumes she must have only blocked it on the device she had at the time.

She re-reads Chloe's message once more, twice more. She jumps around in the long list of Chloe's years long outreach, reading her favorites over and over.

"Sometimes I wonder if you ever miss me, too. Like sometimes something will happen and all I want to do is look over at you across our apartment and laugh about it. Or call you and tell you about it. Does that ever happen to you?"

Almost all the time in the beginning, she thinks.

"Sometimes I think I was doing friendship wrong until I met you. I really wish you were still here."

Beca wonders what she meant by that. Maybe someday she can ask her about it.

"Happy birthday, Beca. I hope wherever you are, you're happy."

This one hurts a little. Because it's just so Chloe. It's unselfish and genuine. It makes Beca ache for the friendship she lost.

And it is a weird situation, she thinks. To attempt becoming friends again with someone she once loved. Someone who never felt the same way. And if that was the only thing to consider, she'd turn away in a heartbeat. But it isn't the only thing. She truly does miss their friendship. 

Both risk and reward hang in the balance. She thinks about who she was then and who she is now. Old Beca would shy away from risk. She would push away what she wanted if it kept her feelings closer to her chest. New Beca isn't so timid. She reaches for the higher up fruits just for the chance of a sweeter taste, even if the fall could hurt a little. She just has to be choosy about which branches to step on.

Considering the options, she thinks anything with Chloe in it has got to be worth the risk. She just can't afford to fall.

She pulls up her text inbox and clicks the button for starting a new thread.

Beca: Maybe starting over isn't a bad idea.

She throws her phone onto the bed, refusing to wait for a reply (she's cooler than that, okay?) and starts her routine for the day.

She doesn't retrieve her phone until she's showered, dressed, and had her breakfast. She's ready to walk out and head to the studio for a few hours to work on a few side projects.

"Okay, Ginny. I'll be back before dinner. No wild parties, okay?"

Ginny licks her lips and wags her tail. Beca takes it as a promise not to destroy the place. She makes sure her food and water bowl are sufficiently full before slipping her shoes on.

With a final scratch to velvet soft ears, she lets herself out. On the way to her car, she reads the reply she knew she'd have waiting. She is surprised though to see not one text, but three.

Chloe: Tell me where and when.

Chloe: Also

Chloe: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

She doesn't try to prevent the laugh from escaping her lungs at the series of exclamation points. She just lets it out into the world, feeling lighter for not struggling to contain it.

She thinks it's probably best if she doesn't see Chloe again right away. Knows that something about her is addictive, and if she gives in to the craving early it will just get harder and harder to not feel like something is missing outside of her company.

With that in mind, she composes her reply.

Beca: I'm free on Sunday.

There. That gives her nearly a week in between Chloe sightings. She feels comfortable with that.

She throws her phone into the passenger seat of her car and makes her way to the studio. Traffic is terrible and it takes her way longer than it should to finally get there but when she's safely in a parking space she looks at the screen again.

Chloe: dinner?

And it's funny, how one word can set off alarm bells but that one does. Something about the combination of Chloe and evening light that tells Beca she shouldn't mix them.

Beca: brunch would be better for me.

She then sends a separate text with a suggestion of a low-key place with great breakfast food that she hopes Chloe will accept. Brunch just seems like the safer option. Brighter light, faster pace.

Before she even gets inside the building Chloe's already said yes. And honestly? Beca already can't wait.

/

Being inside the studio calms her down. Soothes the nerves that were slightly frayed by conversation with Chloe. Settles the butterflies that took flight en masse at their impending reunion.

Music has always been her safe space. The balm for her ailments or the vault for her feelings. She throws herself into the beats, hearing the individual components and the overall product and appreciating everything in between for all its worth.

Time slips by easily when she works. Whether she's producing or writing or recording lyrics, it never feels like a chore. The hardest part of her career has always been the public side of it. Projecting the kind of persona that was expected of her. Being charming and laid back during interviews or looking elegant and poised on red carpets.

That's why she groans a little when she receives an email from her manager as she's about to leave for home. An email that confirms her required presence for another late night talk show appearance in two weeks' time.

She backs out of the email, choosing to worry about it later.

And it's weird, how quickly her mind goes to Chloe after that. How she'd like to see how her day has gone or tell her about this stupid interview. The repair to their communication bridge is still only hours old, but the habit to check in seems to be just as in tact as it ever was all those years ago. It's a little disconcerting if she's being honest with herself, but she tries to brush it off. Tells herself that she wants to simply because she now can.

She dismisses the thought, figuring there will be time later if she really wants to. On her way out, her phone chimes again, this time with a new text.

Her smile spreads instantly when she sees it's from Fat Amy.

Butt Confidence: your latest single is currently being played on the radio in Japan. You made it all the way across the world again, sprout.

Butt Confidence: proud of you.

And Amy doesn't often come out with such overt praise, so when she does it's because she really means it. Beca spares a moment to wonder what Amy's doing in Japan but knows that whatever it is it's probably awesome and glamorous.

She reads over the texts again, imagining her music being played over Japanese radio. She really has come a long way since the offer first came to sign her as a solo artist.

She spares a moment to send her gratitude for sharing that news before cranking her car and starting her drive home.

Along her way, her mind goes back to the day Theo brought her to DJ Khaled. She thinks about her immediate refusal, and wonders what would have happened had she carried it through and left the opportunity behind. 

And yeah, she has a few regrets from this pretty awesome life she's been living, but taking up that offer isn't one of them.

///

Spring 2018

"I'm... I really am sorry," she says to Theo, turning her back and walking away. She feels both bold and sick, walking away from Khaled's offer. His piano playing becomes more and more faint with each step she takes away from them.

She pulls her phone out of her pocket, unsure of whether or not she wants to find the girls just yet. There are a few texts waiting for her from various Bellas.

CR: girl, where you at? the others are already day drinking and I need you around in case they get silly.

Legacy: We're all going out for lunch but you weren't in your room. Let me know when you get this so you can come find us :)

Chloe: Beca! We're all going out for le dejeuner (is that spelled right? whatever, it’s French for lunch and I'm trying it out) and you are not here. Come back to me so we can have cocktails and French food together.

Beca shakes her head at her friends, feeling a little better about her decision. Those girls are her family, and she can't leave them behind. Still, it's pretty monumental, turning down the chance to be a signed artist, and she isn't sure she's ready to share that decision with the others just yet.

So she doesn't respond, choosing to be left alone with her thoughts a while longer. She wanders around, getting food on her own and people watching. She finds a nice shaded spot within listening distance of the waves and enjoys the solitude. She doesn't know how long it's been since leaving Khaled and Theo, but by the time she's walking back into the hotel the sun has already set on the evening.

She goes to Amy's room first, deciding that she can't take the look on Chloe's face when she finds out Beca turned down something amazing for herself just because it didn't include the others.

She walks in without knocking and just starts talking, not realizing Amy is on the phone. Amy says she'll be done in a minute so Beca hangs back, occasionally catching words that don't really belong in pleasant conversation but she doesn't let herself linger on that.

When Amy hangs up, she immediately starts storming around the room, but Beca assumes she can multitask so she just jumps right in.

"Okay so, I have kinda bad news. And I know you're gonna be fine. Everybody's gonna be fine."

Amy is running around pulling things out of drawers and throwing them in an open duffel bag. A rope comes out at some point but that's not the weirdest thing she's ever seen mixed in with Amy's belongings, so she doesn't react to it any more than she would had it been a t-shirt.

"Oh? Um..." she trails off, realizing the rope was a little bit longer than she anticipated. One end of it is stuffed in the duffel while the other is still stuck in the drawer from which it had been stored.

She presses on, not wanting to be sidetracked by reasons why Amy has rope readily available.

"Well... we didn't get picked, man. And you know what, like screw them. And that's not like the whole story, there's..."

She cuts herself off here, because Amy's holding a bra up to her chest for reasons not obvious to Beca and what the hell is up with these girls suddenly taking so much notice of her boobs?

Amy holds it there only a moment, seeming satisfied with whatever she determined from the action. She goes back to her feverish packing immediately after.

And she seems distracted. By what Beca isn't sure but Amy looks like she's on a mission. But she hasn't told Beca to shut up yet so she just keeps going.

"I still feel like I want to tell you because I think that like, secrets are the worst, right?"

"Yeah," Amy says, panting and clearly out of breath. "The worst. Let's go."

And she's pulling Beca out of the room by her arm and all Beca can say is "Go where?" because there's really no point in resisting Fat Amy.

She doesn't get an answer, just an obscure "We'll change in the cab," as Amy slams the door behind them.

Well, at least that explains the bra.

/

Beca is having a weird night. She's changed her clothes, at Amy's insistence, in the back of a cab with much struggling and even more awkwardness. She's never really been the "I'm okay with being naked in front of other people" type. That's a much more Chloe kind of thing.

"You wanna tell me what the hell we're doing?" she asks, shrugging into the leather jacket Amy shoves at her. 

"Soooooo," Amy starts off, her voice high pitched and full of promise of something awful.

"My father's kidnapped our friends. And he's promised to drown them all in the Mediterranean if I'm not there in thirty minutes to trade places with them. Well, now twenty-four minutes."

Beca hears the words but they sound too absurd to be true. She waits for the inevitable moment it all turns out to be another one of Amy's jokes she never seems to get but the moment doesn't come. That's when she panics.

"WHAT?!"

At her shout they're cab driver swerves a little, throwing her a scathing look and mumbling what Beca is sure are French expletives.

"Amy?! What the hell happened? Why does he have them and what does he want with you? Why haven't we called the police or, or anybody?"

Amy doesn't seem nearly as close to physically imploding as Beca feels, and she explains with confidence her plan to rescue everyone.

They make it to the docks in only minutes and of fucking course the only boat available is the one with no motor and only one oar.

They shove off, and Beca makes her repeat the plan as she rows. Her anxiety is through the roof and if any of them get hurt she isn't sure what she'll do. She thinks of the last text Chloe sent her, the one asking Beca to come back to her, and her heart sinks over the fact that she ignored it.

If anything happens to Chloe...

She shakes her head to send that thought away. Then she rows a little harder.

Once they've climbed up and onto the back of the yacht, they split up. Amy goes below decks, and Beca silently creeps up to the back of the group, who were mercifully sitting close by. Everyone, she notes with extreme relief, looks unharmed.

She's not completely clear on what Amy plans on doing but she knows she's gotta give her father and his henchmen something big and something loud to distract them.

So she tells them to sing. And they all protest right away, not understanding why she's suggesting it or even where the hell she came from. But all it takes is a look to Chloe before blue eyes light up with understanding. And they're in their captain roles now, taking care of their girls one last time.

They move furniture out of the way and command the attention of the room as they sing. And okay, maybe Beca should have been a little more open to suggestion that time the group had wanted to do Britney because this really isn't that bad considering how few times they practiced it before Beca gave it the nix.

She's pretty sure the routine Chloe came up with though didn't involve Amy plunging through a glass roof and spraying her enemies with a fire extinguisher.

And the finale definitely never included the blowing up of an expensive yacht. But they all manage to escape in the chaos of the flames erupting on deck, and within minutes, all manner of boats and helicopters are descending upon the scene.

And Beca lets herself breathe again. Her family is safe.

/

Telling the group the next morning about Khaled's offer and her subsequent refusal goes... about the way she thought it would.

They're practically shoving her into the spotlight, utterly unwilling to let her pass this up. Chloe brings conversation to a close with the suggestion that Beca likes hugs and they should all give her one. And as much as she protests, Beca's never minded any hug that involved Chloe. So she lets them all converge on her, accepting the would-be dog pile without much fuss.

She spends the evening getting prepped by actual makeup artists and someone actually chooses her outfit for her and she has no idea how to navigate any of that but when Khaled asks if she knows what she wants to sing she just smiles and nods. She knows the perfect choice for her debut.

/

She's on in about fifteen minutes but there are two people she needs to see before she walks out there. She asks one of the many assistants running around backstage to go get them and in no time both Amy and Chloe are standing in front of her.

"What's up, Becs? Are you nervous? You're going to be great," Chloe says, her eyes never leaving Beca's and filling her with confidence.

"Thanks, Chlo. I just needed to... to tell you both something."

They both look at her expectantly, and she directs her attention first to Amy.

"When it feels like you should stand up, do me a favor and stand up, k?"

Amy looks at her like she thinks she must look at Amy all the time but agrees. And Beca knows when she goes down to retrieve the Bellas, Amy will be the perfect person to lead them on stage with her.

"I just need a second more with Chloe, but she's right behind you if you wanna go ahead back to your seat," she says, refusing to look at Chloe while she talks.

She still hasn't had a chance to tell Chloe the truth. This whole trip has been a whirlwind but she thinks maybe after her song will be a good time. She just wants to give Chloe a hint first.

She takes Chloe's hands in both of her own after Amy leaves, and Chloe's smile lights up because Beca is rarely the one who initiates any sort of physical affection.

"I need a favor from you too," she says.

Chloe's smile remains in place and she waits for Beca to continue.

"Just... listen to the lyrics for me, okay?"

Chloe's thumbs trace lines across the backs of Beca's hands, and she looks confused at the request.

"Is that all?"

Not exactly, Beca thinks. But the rest can come later.

"That's all."

They stand there looking at each other for a few seconds before a stagehand tells her she's about to go on. She hurries Chloe away and back to her seat, proud of herself for taking the first step.

Once she's finally on the stage, she puts everything she's got into the song. She sees and feels Chloe's eyes on her every second, and maybe this isn't an actual confession, but with their eyes locked on each other it feels like they're sharing a secret.

When the song ends, her girls are now behind her on stage instead of sitting front row in the audience. She spins on the spot and throws herself into the arms of the person she can't help loving.

The rest of the Bellas follow, making a huge group hug on stage. But even amongst their shouts and the applause of the audience she hears Chloe's words in her ear.

"What were you trying to say?"

She only offers one word for an answer, but it's strong and confident.

"Later," she promises before letting her go and waving to the crowd.

If only she'd known then that later would never come, because after they all walk backstage, the first thing Chloe does is run into the arms of Chicago.

And Beca's promise dies when their lips meet.

///

Present Day

Beca is pulling into a parking space in the garage underneath her building when she pulls herself out of a memory that should be happy but never quite made the cut.

Her ride home feels foggy, and she hates that feeling of not knowing whether or not she stopped at all the lights and stop signs. She's really got to get this daydreaming in check.

Once she gets upstairs, she comes right back down again to let Virginia out. And Beca's certainly not out of shape but she thinks apartment life is getting a little old, even in an apartment as nice as hers. She finds herself wondering, not the first time since getting Virginia, about how nice it would be to have a house with an actual back yard. She knows if she were ever really serious about finding one though, she'd probably have to leave Manhattan.

She pushes the thought aside, casting it into the "I'll think about this later" pile as she and Ginny make their way back up.

The rest of her evening is spent between making dinner for herself, lying in the floor with Ginny (which is a totally normal thing to do, she thinks) and talking to Theo on the phone. She's maintained her friendship with him over the years, despite not working directly with him anymore. So they catch up on the phone every now and then and hang out whenever they happen to be in the same city. She likes how uncomplicated it is to be his friend.

She manages to avoid contacting Chloe, though her mind often wanders to the possibility. And by the end of the night she congratulates herself for not giving in to the temptation of just seeing what she's doing.

But as much as she thinks she should resist texting Chloe, she can't deny that she's happy to see a message from her the following morning.

And Beca has no idea what Chloe's intention was when she sent a message with three camel emojis in a row and nothing else, but for whatever reason it makes her smile anyway.

Beca: I'm afraid our time apart has made me forget how to speak Chloe. Care to explain?

She doesn't wait long, just like she never did with Chloe.

Chloe: it's hump day. Duh!

Beca laughs, oddly comforted by the fact that Chloe's still a weirdo.

Beca: so it is.

Chloe doesn't respond, and Beca doesn't follow up with anything. But it's enough. Enough to quench the desire to reach out to her.

The rest of the week passes this way. Beca does something different every day, whether she's at the studio or in her manager's office working on next year's tour dates, or just hanging out with Ginny at home. But every morning there's a text waiting for her. 

It never says good morning or offers any other kind of greeting. It's just some random thing that would only make sense coming from Chloe. And the conversation is never long. Two texts, maybe three, before they silently agree it's over for the day.

By Saturday morning, Beca is starting to wonder if Chloe's just testing the connection. Making sure it's still open with every new sunrise.

She opens that morning's text after coming back up with Ginny and it's the first one Chloe's sent that serves an actual purpose.

Chloe: still good for tomorrow?

And Beca, despite still feeling jittery about the whole thing, responds instantly.

Beca: yep

They don't text again, and on Sunday morning Beca wakes to nothing. She wonders if it means Chloe's feeling as nervous as she is.

By the time she's approaching the diner at which they decided to meet, her jitteriness from the previous days has turned into outright anxiety.

She wonders if it will be awkward but then scoffs at herself because of course it will be. She wonders what they'll talk about. Not that there's any shortage of topics; they've got about four years' worth of material to choose from.

As she approaches the last corner before turning down the side street of her destination, she holds her breath. Maybe when she lets it out the anxiety will go with it.

The first thing she registers seeing after turning is red curls.

Chloe's leaning against the wall to the side of the diner's entrance, clearly waiting for her. She lifts her head when she hears Beca's footsteps and as soon as her eyes settle her lips pull into a smile.

And just like that, Beca lets herself breathe again.

"Hi," Chloe says, and Beca notes that it sounds a little breathless.

She slows in her approach, finally stopping a few feet away.

"Hi, yourself," she says back, already feeling like she doesn't know how to start. "Uh, shall we go inside?"

"Of course," Chloe responds. She begins to turn towards the door but stops herself before she even makes it halfway there. "Um..." she starts, but then trails off, eyes dropping to the pavement. She shakes her head before looking back up. "Never mind."

And honestly if Chloe had just dropped it and gone inside Beca would have followed. But the "never mind" factor leaves her curious, and she can't let it go without inspection.

"What were you going to say?"

Chloe tucks a curl behind one ear and it makes Beca think she's nervous about whatever she's thinking.

"It's just... well would it be totally weird if... can I hug you?"

Beca doesn't respond right away. In fact, she doesn't react at all as she sifts through Chloe's words.

"Right... it would be weird." She starts to turn away again but it's the dismissal of herself that has Beca stopping her. Like the "never mind" all over again.

"No, it's... that would be okay."

And she remembers telling herself that she should limit these things. That she's been addicted to Chloe's embrace in the past and that she doesn't want to relive what that feels like.

But she thinks she can survive just one.

Chloe doesn't need telling twice because the instant Beca's finished the sentence she's moving forward, and she throws herself into Beca's arms with a lot less self-control than she had sixty seconds ago.

And Beca knows she has to be careful. So she lets her arms come up but she remains stiff. Doesn't let herself sink into it like she always did in the past. Chloe, for her part, takes no such precaution and Beca feels her melt. Fits herself into every plane and curve Beca offers her.

"I missed you so much," she whispers.

And that's enough, Beca thinks, for one day. So she disentangles herself before clearing her throat a little. And then, "Yeah, I missed you, too."

She directs it at the ground but she's pretty sure Chloe knows it was for her.

"Brunch?"

Chloe smiles at her then, and it's closer to the one she remembers. Farther away from the one in her clinic.

"After you," Chloe responds.

But they walk in side by side.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

 

Beca leads the way to a booth away from the restaurant's windows; she doesn't want anyone seeing her through them and waiting for her to exit. Or worse, actually coming in and interrupting her meal.

She sits and watches as Chloe takes the seat opposite her. Chloe doesn't say anything right away, but just looks, her hands folded together on top of the table.

"What?" Beca asks, a hint of a smile and her old sarcasm coming through in the question.

"Nothing, it's just... it's sort of surreal, ya know? To be sitting here with you."

Beca does know. If Chloe hadn't hugged her outside she might still be wondering if all this is real. She doesn't have a chance to respond though because the waitress appears then.

Recognition dominates her features as soon as she looks at Beca, but she's gracious enough to take their orders first. Once she gets everything written down, she hesitates before leaving. Beca smiles at her to let her know it's okay.

"I just wanted to tell you... I'm a really big fan. Would it be totally uncool to ask for a picture before you left?"

And Beca's never minded taking pictures with her fans, the ones that ask nicely anyway. So her smile doesn't waver.

"It would be totally uncool, but remind me before I leave," she says, adding on a wink at the end to let the waitress know she's only joking.

She laughs before walking away, and Beca turns back to Chloe, wondering what to say to get over this initial awkwardness. But Chloe's just looking at her again, this time with a grin on her lips and a spark in her eyes.

"It's SO weird to me that you're famous now."

Beca laughs and rolls her eyes before taking a sip of water from the glass the waitress just poured.

"You said yourself you've been following my career. Shouldn't you be used to it by now?"

Chloe shifts in her seat and looks thoughtful, like she's trying to figure out how to say what she wants.

"Yes, but it's like there are two different... Becas in my head. The one who is this super famous singer and producer, and the one I remember."

She pauses, and looks at Beca like she's stepping onto thin ice.

"It's... hard to reconcile them. Like I'm looking at you and all I can see is this person I lost. I need to keep reminding myself this-" she cuts herself off to wave at the air, reminding them of the waitress, "-is who you are now."

Beca sits with the words for a few moments, repeating them in her head to see if they make sense.

"I'm still the same person, you know. Just more people know who that is now."

She says it quietly, but for some reason it's really important to her that Chloe knows fame hasn't really changed her. Not in a fundamental way, anyway.

"Good. Because that's exactly who I'm looking for," Chloe says, making eye contact and holding it. Beca forces herself to look away first, knowing Chloe's gaze can be a dangerous thing to get lost in.

She clears her throat, indicating she's ready to get off the subject now.

"So, now that we've established... that, what have you been doing these last four years? Tell me about school."

She thinks that's a much easier first topic for their tentative venture back into friendship.

Chloe responds to her with enthusiasm, telling her about things not answered by all the messages she sent to Beca's Instagram. Her voice carries passion, and Beca can tell Chloe loves it. There's a kind of conviction in her sentences that was usually only reserved for the Bellas and people she cared about.

Beca can't help but feel happy at the words, knowing Chloe struggled for years with knowing what she really wanted out of life.

Sometime in the middle of her talking, the waitress brings their food, setting it down with little more than a smile and a question if anything else is desired. Beca appreciates the space; she's definitely had servers in the past who just wouldn't leave her table alone.

When she's gone again, Chloe resumes like they weren't interrupted at all.

"Anyway, in my final year I had an emergency medicine rotation at the clinic I work in now and that's where I really fell in love. To help an animal when it needs me most, and to see the look of trust in its eyes when it realizes I'm there to help... there's nothing more gratifying for me. That goes without even mentioning the relief I see in the owner when I fix whatever was wrong."

Beca can only imagine how fulfilling that must be. She thinks about how worried she was over Ginny just eating something she shouldn't, and how grateful she felt to the team of people who made her better.

"So they liked you so much that they gave you a spot when you graduated?" Beca asks before taking another bite.

"I guess they didn't want to let me go," Chloe says with a smile. It's a completely innocent statement, but Beca can't bring herself to do anything other than nod at it.

She can relate to that feeling.

They fall into more sporadic conversation then, both choosing to eat instead of talk. And it's nice. It almost feels like it used to, when they could share a small space without talking. When they never felt the pressure to. But Beca knows this time there's a little bit of not knowing what to say adding to the silence.

Beca finishes first, probably due to Chloe doing almost all the talking at the beginning. And it seems Chloe's had enough silence, because as soon as she's done with her last bite, Chloe's speaking again.

"What about you? What have you been doing?"

Beca smirks at her before answering.

"I think all those messages you sent me prove that you know what I've been doing."

Beca blinks a few times to make sure she's really seeing the light tinge of pink on Chloe's cheeks at her words. A blushing Chloe is rare. It's like spotting an endangered species in the wild.

"I meant what you have been doing when there wasn't a camera on you," she says, recovering quickly from her apparent embarrassment.

Beca thinks for a moment, but comes up with nothing very interesting outside of the things her career brought her.

"You know, same as before I guess. When I'm not working I'm still working ya know? Writing new songs or making music at home." She pauses for a beat before smiling.

"Although, I must admit that having a nicer apartment and much better equipment makes working from home a lot more enjoyable."

And Chloe isn't exactly frowning at her, but she's not smiling either. Like she's not really happy with Beca's answer.

"What?" Beca asks again, wondering what sounds so wrong with what she said.

"Nothing... it's just... I guess I was wondering what you do outside of music related things. Like, have you traveled any? What do you and Ginny like to do together?"

And now Chloe's the one to pause, but she ploughs on after a few heartbeats.

"Are you seeing anyone?"

Beca wonders why the pause was necessary before asking that but doesn't dwell on it, choosing instead just to answer.

"I've traveled some, but after distancing myself from the Bellas it turned out that I didn't have a lot of friends. And I'm not so great at making them either, so I haven't traveled much outside of touring because, like, who wants to do that alone, ya know?"

Chloe's face fills with pity, and when she opens her mouth to speak, Beca knows there's an apology on her tongue. So she keeps talking before it can be said, because she knows Chloe really shouldn't be sorry for Beca's choices, regardless of whether or not she was the catalyst behind them.

"So it's mostly just Ginny and me. She goes with me almost everywhere, even to the studio sometimes. She's such a chill dog. Everyone always loves her. I'm still friends with Theo. We hang out whenever it's convenient. And I talk to Amy every now and then, though I'm hoping to mend that bridge a little too."

Chloe smiles at this, and Beca knows it makes her feel better to know all isn't lost.

"I'm... not currently seeing anyone, no. I think Jesse was this weird anomaly because it also turns out that I kinda suck at relationships."

Chloe's brow furrows, like the words don't make sense.

"That can't possibly be true. You're one of the kindest, most thoughtful, caring people I know. At least, you were," Chloe says.

It probably makes a difference when you're in love with the person, she thinks before speaking.

"I dunno, I guess I was just never invested enough. Everyone always ended up leaving."

Chloe still looks confused, which Beca finds odd because she doesn't think anything about her ever screamed "girlfriend material."

"What happened in your last relationship, then?"

Beca laughs, but there's no mirth in it.

"You mean the one before the several failed attempts that never even left the ground?" she asks, thinking of the few people she spent more than just a night with.

Chloe nods, not deterred by the rhetoric.

"Do you remember Sofía?"

It takes a few moments for recognition to settle in Chloe's eyes but then they grow big.

"Your almost one night stand from Miami?!"

Beca puts both hands in the air to wave Chloe down.

"Say it a bit louder, won't you? I don't think that guy outside heard you."

Chloe laughs at the words, and something stirs pleasantly in Beca's chest at the sound of it.

She leans forward then, and speaks in an exaggerated whisper.

"Your almost one night stand from Miami?!"

Beca rolls her eyes, and Chloe leans back again.

"Yes, her. She got a promotion with her job a few years ago that required her to be in New York four days a week. We had kept in touch after my trip, so it wasn't a big deal to hang out on the days she was here."

She pauses here, remembering, after she'd gotten the number from Theo, sending that first text that sparked their friendship.

"So you were friends first?"

Chloe's voice brings her out of her thoughts.

"Yeah, for the first few months she was up here. But it always felt... charged? Wow, that sounds cliché. Like, it was like we were both thinking about that night in Miami but it never got brought up."

Chloe's looking at her like she's hanging on to every word.

"And then?"

Beca shrugs, "And then one night we were just at my place watching a silly movie together, until suddenly we weren't anymore."

She lets the smirk blossom on her lips, knowing it's suggestive enough to fill in the parts left unspoken.

Chloe smiles back, and maybe Beca's just out of practice of reading Chloe's smiles, but it seems a little forced.

"So what went wrong?"

Beca sighs, knowing it isn't easy to explain.

"Honestly? It was always just too... easy? We were definitely compatible. We never argued. We saw each other when we both wanted to. There was no lack of attraction."

Chloe cuts her off here, her smile looking a little more genuine.

"You call that something going wrong?"

Beca smiles before continuing.

"Patience, Beale."

Chloe rolls her eyes, reminding Beca strangely of herself, but ushers her to continue.

"There was just never... what you expect to be there. Ugh, that's not really what I mean. Like, I don't think either of us ever minded the possibility of it ending. There was never a moment where I said to myself, 'I have to have her forever,' ya know? And I mean, if you're gonna be with someone, shouldn't you feel that? Like shouldn't you feel like you're never close enough to them? Or like you can't see a future without them in it?"

She pauses, wondering if this is awkward for Chloe. Because everything she's describing, everything she says was missing, she only knows she's capable of feeling because of Chloe.

But Chloe's not looking at her like she's uncomfortable. If anything, she looks like she's in complete agreement.

"That's... exactly how you should feel, I think."

Not wanting to risk Chloe catching on to her thoughts, Beca clears her throat before steering them forward.

"Anyway... after about 18 months she was able to arrange going back to Miami full time. Which I think she kind of always wanted anyway. And I was just... fine with it, I guess. Neither of us were particularly heartbroken over it, though I wasn't too thrilled over going back to so much alone time."

The waitress comes over then, asking if they need anything else, and Beca's glad for the interruption this time. Grateful for another place to look that isn't Chloe, even if only for a few seconds.

When she walks away, she hopes it will allow a change in topic.

"So that's what I mean by sucking at relationships. I did care, just not enough I guess."

Chloe's hands twitch on the tabletop, and Beca's almost positive she thought about reaching for her across the space. Thankfully, she doesn't. And Beca doesn't want to hear whatever Chloe could say to that, because when Chloe was the one Beca cared about, that wasn't enough either. So she speaks first again.

"What about you? Dating anyone?"

And it feels almost just like it did four years ago. When she both really did and really didn't want to know the answers to these things.

"Nah," Chloe says, dismissing the idea in one syllable. "I guess I suck at relationships, too."

Beca frowns, wondering what would ever possess a person to walk away from Chloe Beale. But then she shakes the thought away at the reminder that she did exactly that, just maybe in slightly different circumstances.

"What happened with Chicago?"

Now that she knows it didn't work out with him, she finds she really wants to know why with an unexplainable amount of curiosity.

"That," Chloe says with a shy smile, "is a story for another day."

"Aww, come on. I told you mine," Beca teases. She waits to see if Chloe changes her mind. But red curls just sway around her face when she shakes her head no with another smile.

"Fine," Beca concedes in a breath, but she thinks Chloe knows she's not really upset. "Another day?"

"I promise."

Beca's happy enough with that answer, so she just nods in acknowledgment of the deal.

"Speaking of other days," Chloe says, shifting slightly back into nervous, "can we do this again soon?"

And Beca's pretty sure if Chloe had her way, “soon” would mean in just a few days, or even tomorrow. And she feels the need to clarify her reluctance on the whole matter. Before she has a chance, Chloe's asking another question.

"You're still not sure about this, are you?"

Chloe maintains eye contact, holding Beca's gaze in place while she looks for any signs to indicate what the answer is.

"It's not that," Beca replies slowly, wondering just how honest she wants to be. But she really wants to keep the lies in the past now. So she goes for broke.

"I do want to be friends. I hope you can believe that. It's just... like I said before, that's all I can afford to feel for you. I know it's probably awkward for you to hear, but in the spirit of just being honest, I don't ever want to have to get over you again. So you'll have to forgive me for being careful this time."

Chloe nods, looking like she wants to apologize again, but she surprises Beca with her response.

"Okay, whatever you need to do is fine with me if it lets us be friends again."

Beca wonders what exactly it is that could save her this time around. She thinks back to that crazy thought she had before about needing ground rules, only now it doesn't sound so crazy.

"Maybe we can just have some... better boundaries this time."

Chloe's lips pull into a small smile, but it doesn't nearly reach her eyes.

"Yeah... we never really had many of those, I guess. Any suggestions?"

Feeling like she probably can't have too many safeguards, she fires a few off.

"Maybe we should just limit how often we see each other, at least until this doesn't feel new anymore. And maybe if we don't hug or otherwise be overly affectionate that'd probably be good."

After a few more seconds' thought, she realizes a pretty big one she should lay down.

"Definitely no sleep overs, like, ever. Ya know what, let's just not even go to each other's places."

Chloe tries for a smile again, but it remains unconvincing.

"Put some thought into this, have you?"

Beca smirks, opting to take a leaf from Chloe's book.

"That's a question for another day."

She's glad when Chloe doesn't press her on it.

And it sounds like a solid idea, she thinks. But Chloe's looking at her like all these rules physically hurt her soul or something, and Beca remembers all too clearly what it feels like to disappoint Chloe Beale. So she tries to lighten the mood.

"Oh, and one more thing?"

Chloe lifts a brow telling her to go on.

"Don't go falling in love with me, okay? Because that would just screw everything all up."

Chloe laughs at this, for which Beca is grateful because it means she's more okay now than she was ten seconds ago.

"I'll try not to," she says.

She takes a look around the place and notices that most of the patrons that were here when they walked in have now left, and she thinks it's probably time for them to as well.

She flags the waitress down and pays the bill, and when she stands the woman does indeed remind her about the picture and asks if she's still okay with taking one. She agrees and Chloe even offers to take it so it isn't as awkward as a selfie would be.

By the time they're walking out the door, Chloe's remarking again about how weird it is that Beca's famous, and Beca is assuring her that she'll get used to it soon enough.

When they reach the end of the street and realize they're going in different directions, Beca offers the goodbye first.

"I'll text you soon, okay?"

She hopes that's enough.

"Until then. Bye, Beca," Chloe responds. She gives little more than a small smile before turning her back, and as Beca turns hers and begins her walk in the opposite direction, she can't help but be thankful Chloe's taking the rules seriously.

And, well, maybe that's a pretty good place to start.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen

 

"Ginny, please stop twirling," Beca says with exasperation, and a little hint of amusement. They're taking their usual walk through the park and Virginia seems to be feeling particularly curious today. Every time she puts her nose to the ground, Beca inevitably gets a few paces ahead, and then Ginny spins in a circle to catch back up to her human again. It doesn't take long for the leash to get all twisted up, forcing Beca to stop and unwind it every few minutes.

With fall in full swing, the park streets are littered with fallen leaves of every warm color imaginable. Beca enjoys the view, a perfect paint by number sprawling out ahead, leading them on their way.

"I dunno about you but I'm getting a little cold," she says, looking down. Virginia just cocks her head to the side, swishing her tail happily.

Beca just shakes her head and wonders, not for the first time, if other people talk to their pets like they understand perfectly just as much as she does.

"Fine, we'll take the long way back to the car."

They move along, making a wide arc around. Ginny smells everything in her path, as if the next leaf might not smell exactly like the last one. Beca pretends not to notice the people who notice her, and speaks to the ones who go out of their way to greet her. It's a nice way to spend a Wednesday afternoon.

And okay, she hasn't been necessarily avoiding talking to Chloe in the few days that passed since they had brunch together. She just wasn't quite sure what to say, which honestly was just the weirdest thing because that had never been an issue in the past.

But huge gaps of time in between their conversations had never been an issue either.

It throws a wrench in things.

She looks out at Virginia walking ahead of her now, tail curled into the air and ears flopping happily. It almost looks like a postcard, with all the colors of fall serving as the backdrop. She snaps a picture of her favorite pup and sends it to Chloe, thinking it's a good ice breaker.

Beca: Ginny says hi.

It's the first message she's sent since bidding Chloe goodbye with a promise to do just that. Chloe, it seems, has taken Beca's reticence pretty seriously, because she hasn't reached out at all. A little guilt squirms around at the thought of how difficult something like that probably is for someone like Chloe Beale. She doesn't let herself linger on the thought though.

They continue on their way and before they reach the car to head back home, Beca's phone vibrates from her back pocket. When she pulls the device out and unlocks the screen, she sees a message from Amy, and she chides herself for the (tiny) bit of disappointment that flits through her.

Butt Confidence: Shawshank, I'm coming to NYC on Friday. Roll out the welcome mat aka make up your guest bed bc I'm tired of hotels. Kthanks.

Beca laughs out loud, happy for the surprise of Amy's impending company and wondering what kind of mischief she'll lead Beca into this time. She sends a reply just as she pulls up to the passenger door of her car to let Ginny inside.

Beca: Thanks for the heads up this time. And please don't forget what we talked about the last time you stayed over. Sharing is NOT caring when it involves your sex toys. I stg if I find any on my bed again...

She gets in the driver's seat after taking off Ginny's leash. Her happy dog is already looking out the window, her tongue lolling, even before the car's been started. Her phone vibrates again before she can take off.

Butt Confidence: It was just a suggestion! You really should get laid more often you know. Maybe I wouldn't have to offer mine if you got your own...

Beca laughs again, but ignores the text. She doesn't have time to get into a debate about the benefits of sex toys with Fat Amy. As if knowing Beca isn't going to reply, her phone begins ringing and Beca has no doubts that it's Amy calling to continue their conversation. She picks it up without looking at the screen.

"Amy, I will buy a vibrator, okay? Will that make you happy, you weirdo?"

She says it forcefully, but knows Amy will hear the fondness under the sarcasm.

"Not how I expected to be greeted, Becs. Why exactly, may I ask, would Fat Amy be interested in your personal... extracurricular activities?"

And that's mortification, she's pretty sure, settling into the pit of her stomach at the sound of Chloe's voice. Internally flailing, she tries to come across as less embarrassed than she really is.

"And that's the last time I ever answer the phone without looking at the caller ID first."

Chloe laughs, and it sounds so wonderfully carefree that Beca can't help but love the sound of it.

"That doesn't answer my question, you know."

Beca, feeling more relaxed now that the initial horror has passed, rolls her eyes even though Chloe can't see the action.

"Yes, well, what's the fun in life without a little mystery?"

Chloe doesn't miss a beat in her reply. And even though they're not even together it's the most normal she's felt with Chloe since finding her again.

"Touché."

Beca laughs, switching the call to her car's hands free option as she begins to navigate home.

"I got that picture you sent me, but I'm driving home from work so I figured I'd call instead of, you know, accidentally killing myself by texting. You two look like you're having a good day."

Beca finds herself surprisingly pleased that Chloe didn't want to wait to arrive home before contacting her.

"Yeah, Ginny kept complaining that we don't walk enough so... How was work?"

They fall into easy conversation, and Beca finds that the pauses and tense silences that littered their brunch are nowhere to be found now. Beca is even a little surprised when she finds herself already pulling into the parking complex of her building after what feels like no time at all.

She switches the call back to her phone and starts making her way upstairs with Ginny. It feels like she's done it a hundred times before.

"Virginia, that is not yours!" she says sharply when her dog examines a neighbor's decorative potted plant a little too closely.

"Sorry," she says to Chloe, "what were you saying?"

Chloe laughs, clearly not upset at all at the interruption.

"Nothing really. I was just about to ask what your plans were for the rest of the week. Are you recording anything right now?"

Beca opens her front door and watches Ginny collapse on the couch before responding.

"Uh, nothing official. Just playing with a few ideas right now and basking in the limelight of the Grammy nom," she says, still overjoyed at the mere memory of that moment. "I do have a talk show taping tomorrow evening though."

She has no doubts about why her manager booked it, hoping a little more exposure of her nomination gets the right people looking in her direction.

"Oh, that's so exciting! Which one is it? You always look so comfortable and confident on those things."

And once again, Chloe reminds her ever so subtly that she's been there. Watching her grow famous and always rooting for her. It warms her heart in a way unique only to Chloe.

"It's all an illusion, trust me," she deadpans.

Chloe laughs. "Don't downplay it!"

"Okay, I do alright on them. I am always nervous though. 100% fact."

Chloe hums as if thinking that over.

"Well, I certainly have never been able to tell. So which one is it?"

"Seth Meyers."

"Oh! That's a good one. I'll have to stay up and watch."

Beca rolls her eyes again, but otherwise feels happy at Chloe's enthusiasm.

"You could just watch it the next day, you know."

Chloe tuts at her, as if the idea is preposterous.

"You know it's not the same that way."

Beca smiles. "I don't, but I'll take your word for it."

"Any weekend plans?" Chloe asks, changing the subject and reminding Beca of Amy and the guarantee of shenanigans coming her way.

"As a matter of fact, Amy is coming into town on Friday and staying with me. So yes to weekend plans, I just don't know what they are yet."

She pauses, genuinely wondering what kind of trouble Amy's going to get her into.

"Yes! She texted me earlier today saying she'd be here for a few days and wanted to get together. I didn't know she was staying with you though, that will be fun."

Beca thinks of the array of sex toys laying across her bed from Amy's last visit and thinks fun might be a bit strong.

"You should come over one night while she's here. Save me from letting Amy drag me all over Manhattan."

There's a pause, and Beca knows why as soon as she replays the words in her head.

"I think you'll find that me coming over is a direct violation of our new boundaries, Becs," Chloe says. And Beca knows the words were meant to be playful, but she thinks Chloe probably had to force it.

"And I think you will find that Amy is the perfect buffer. Besides, there's an exception to every rule," Beca says. And she knows she needs the boundaries if she wants a chance to be in Chloe's life again. If she wants Chloe in hers. But right now she can't help feeling they're a little stupid and this would all be a lot easier if Chloe would just be not so easy to fall for.

"Okay... only if you're sure?" Chloe asks, not at all sounding confident.

"I'm sure."

There's a few seconds of awkward shuffling while Beca looks for something better to say than that.

"Look I... I really appreciate you... doing this for me. I know the Chloe approach to friendship is sort of just... all in," Beca says slowly, making sure she says it right. Chloe laughs at her assessment. "So I know this is weird for you. For us. But I'm probably less breakable than you think I am. So don't be afraid to... to just be yourself. I don't want you thinking you have to wait for me to text you first or... or thinking you shouldn't come over if I invite you. I am over you. Okay?"

There. She's pretty happy with the words she put together. She is over Chloe. At least, if she doesn't inspect her feelings too closely, she feels confident she is. And Beca has no intention of looking too deeply into it. She hasn't in years.

"Okay," Chloe says, and Beca breathes out, happy that Chloe sounds a lot better about the whole thing now.

"So it's settled then. I'll figure it out with Amy and then let you know?"

She sits down on the couch with Virginia as Chloe confirms the plan.

"Great, then I'll see you soon," she says, wondering why her stomach flutters at the idea.

"See you soon, Becs."

Chloe hangs up without another word, and Beca wonders how long it will take for Chloe to stop holding back.

/

She's getting ready for her interview in her dressing room the next day when a text from Chloe lights up her screen.

Chloe: Are you there yet? Have fun! Tell Seth hi for me (I can't believe I can say hello to Seth Meyers via one of my own friends-so bizarre!). And send me a selfie!

Beca laughs, and wonders if she can convince her host to take a selfie with her because she knows Chloe will love it. She makes a mental note to ask him before she leaves.

On the stage, the interview starts out like all the others she's ever done. There's cheering and she's blushing a little and the questions are good. He asks about her latest album and there's more applause when they talk about her Grammy nomination. But then, he leads her in a direction she wasn't expecting.

"So this is your first nomination, correct? Have you thought about what you'll say if you win?"

And she has, but not with much serious contemplation. Which she really should, lest she actually get onto the stage at the Grammys and fumble around for her words. She tells him this and the audience laughs.

"Now, correct me if I'm wrong. You never really intended to be a singer, right? You just wanted to produce?"

"That was the dream, yeah, in the beginning. So I'm glad I can do a little of both now."

"But you got signed as a singer several years ago, right? DJ Khaled plucked you out of an a capella group."

Beca smiles warmly, her knee jerk reaction anytime she thinks of the Bellas.

"From college, yeah. We were on a USO tour when Khaled decided he wanted to sign me. In fact, one of the girls told me to tell you hello. So, hi."

He laughs and looks into a camera.

"Hi back, friend of Beca Mitchell's."

The audience seems to like the playfulness so she takes it a step further and asks for the selfie right on stage. She's delighted that he agrees and can't wait to send it to Chloe after she's done. When the laughter in the studio dies down again, her host looks down at the notes on his desk to get them back to the interview.

"Were any of them jealous you got picked instead of them?"

Beca rushes into her answer, making sure it was clear that without them pushing her into the spotlight, she'd never have gotten where she is now.

"Well it sounds like you know who to thank if you do end up winning that Grammy."

The audience laughs again and she laughs with them. But Seth Meyers got it right. She owes all of them her thanks, and honestly, better friendship than she's given the last four years.

When the interview is over, she waits for her cue to exit and then follows a stagehand back to her dressing room to change her clothes. Upon exiting the building, she gets in the back of the car her manager hired for getting her to and from today's taping.

She sends the picture to Chloe as soon as she's settled in her seat.

Beca: You wanted a selfie?

Her driver hasn't gotten two blocks under his belt before she gets a reply.

Chloe: OMG! I'm saving that! Did you just walk up to Seth Meyers and ask for that? You lead a pretty cool life, Beca Mitchell.

Chloe: And your dress is beautiful. You look beautiful.

And the first message was one she was prepared for. She knew it would make her smile and make her feel proud of how far she's come.

The second, though? That one throws her off. Makes her blush and catapults her into the Beca she was four years ago when statements like that gave her hope. She shakes her head and berates herself for having such a reaction to something so innocent.

Beca: Thank you. And yeah, it ain't a bad life, huh?

She thinks back to what Seth said during her interview, about thanking her Bellas for their involvement in her success, and the guilt wriggles around again at how she let them go when things got hard.

For the rest of her ride home she sends messages. Each Bella gets one. An apology and a request for forgiveness. And it's almost... cathartic. She feels better and better after each text she sends, like she's finally taking a little control back after four years of just throwing it to the wind. The replies certainly don't hurt her morale, either.

CR: No apologies necessary, B. Welcome back :)

Posen: Nobody makes rational decisions when they're hurting, Beca. We don't hold that against you.

Legacy: OMG you so don't have to apologize! I'm just happy you texted! Reunion soon?

Stacie: Don't let it happen again, short stuff ;) miss your face.

She responds to each of them, and by the time she's entering her apartment and greeting Ginny, she's already back in the group chat, which seems to be just as active as it always had been. She's glad no one is around to see her blush at all the "Bhloe is back" texts that come through.

Chloe, however, has been silent amid all the excitement and Beca wonders what that means. It isn't until the talk show is about to start that she finally hears from her. She gets an individual message first.

Chloe: I am so excited to watch you talk to Seth Meyers. Stay tuned for all the flailing I'm about to do.

She laughs, and for the first time ever, turns her TV on to watch herself. Something about knowing Chloe's watching makes her want to watch too. Makes her want to see it through Chloe's eyes.

Her eyes are torn away from the TV when she hears another text come through. This time to the group chat. Chloe warms her heart again with only two words.

Chloe: Welcome home.

And yeah, Beca thinks that's exactly what this feels like.

/

"Please tell me you're ready to do this reunion right," Fat Amy says in greeting as she crosses the threshold of Beca's front door. After pulling her luggage in behind her, she pulls Beca into a bone-crushing hug. Beca lets her; it's been a long time since she found herself in Amy's embrace.

"I don't know what you had in mind but if it keeps me up past midnight I'm out," Beca says over Amy's shoulder. Amy puts her hands on Beca's shoulders and steps back, holding her at arm's length.

"Oh god, you're old now. Fame has turned you into an old woman!"

Beca laughs.

"Call me what you must, but can we at least spend one night eating junk food and chilling on my couch?"

Amy smiles before letting her go.

"You had me at junk food."

She shows herself to the guest room like she's done it a hundred times before and before Beca knows it, she's being dragged all over the city like they're twenty-two again and the world is their oyster. And she doesn't admit it, but she misses the adventure of not knowing where she's going next. Misses going where the wind (Amy) blows her. Misses Amy.

They're sitting at a bar, well past Beca's designated bedtime, when the combination of alcohol and Amy's contagious spontaneity gets the better of her.

"Amy, don't tell me the whole story because Chloe doesn't want me to know for some reason. But I just wanted to ask... do you know what happened with her and Chicago?"

Amy throws back a shot and doesn't answer until the glass is smacked back down on their table.

"Yeah, I know what happened. It wasn't long after... after everything happened with you two. You said she doesn't want you to know?"

Beca shakes her head. "When I asked her she got all coy about it. But I could tell she didn't want me to know, no matter how much she smiled when she said it."

Amy nods, fingering her empty shot glass.

"Yeah, I can see why."

The sentence kills Beca, because it makes her think the reason has something to do with her. But she doesn't push it. She won't go behind her friend's back like that. Won't ruin the trust they're just beginning to rebuild.

"Ready to head home, short round?" Amy asks, knowing Beca's going to be preoccupied now.

They settle their tab and head back to Beca's apartment. Ginny greets them with a beating tail and as many licks to the face as they allow. Before Amy shuts herself inside the guest room, she gives Beca a look that seems far more sober than Beca knows her to be.

"She'll tell you when she's ready, B."

Beca desperately wants to know more, but before she can so much as respond Amy's already gone, and the sound of her snores comes soon after through the walls.

She goes to bed shortly after and, for the first time in years, dreams of Chloe.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen

 

"I thought we were having a chill night in?" Amy asks from her spot on Beca's couch. "You've been running round like a crazy person all afternoon."

Beca throws her a scowl but doesn't stop moving. She's been tidying the apartment ever since Chloe confirmed she could come over that evening for a girl's night in.

"I just... I'm almost done. I promise." She doesn't look at Amy as she says it, afraid of seeing the smirk she knows adorns Amy's lips.

"It was fine before you even started. Besides, you know Chloe doesn't care."

Beca shrugs, knowing Amy is probably right.

"It's polite to clean up for company."

Amy laughs before responding.

"Is that the excuse you're going with then? Because I highly doubt you did this much before I got here."

"Yes well, you have no way of proving that so..." Beca says, letting her sentence trail off.

"Which begs the question," Amy continues, as if Beca hadn't spoken at all, "if Chloe doesn't care, and if I don't care, why do you care so much?"

It pulls Beca up short because, if she's being honest with herself, she doesn't want to truthfully answer. Doesn't want to tell Amy that she wants Chloe to like where she lives. She knows if she does it'll only spur more questions she doesn't want to dig up the answers for.

"Is it so weird that I want the place to look decent for the first time she's here?"

Amy mumbles something that Beca doesn't catch all the words to, but she lets it go. After a few more minutes of inspecting the apartment to make sure everything looks the way she wants it to, she throws herself down next to Amy on the couch.

"What time is she supposed to be here?" Amy asks, taking a few tortilla chips from the bag on the coffee table and dipping one into the bowl of salsa next to it.

Beca does the same, hoping a little food will settle the nerves fluttering around in her stomach.

"At seven. She's bringing the pizza."

Amy nods, and they fall into less conversation in favor of watching whatever it is Amy put on Netflix while Beca cleaned. Beca has a hard time concentrating, and can't help checking her phone every few minutes to determine how much closer she is to the appointed time.

She doesn't quite know why she's so nervous. She had hoped after seeing Chloe twice now, three times if one counts the encounter at the clinic, that she wouldn't feel so... tense at the prospect of spending more time together.

She supposes after four years of silence, it'll take more than one walk in the park and one meal together for the rush of nerves to subside.

She wonders if Chloe feels the same way, but can't bring herself to ask. She only has Chloe's ever-present enthusiasm to go by, and that doesn't quite scream nervousness.

At exactly three minutes past seven, Beca hears a quiet knock at her front door. Amy, who has been excited for the night to begin for the last few hours, leaps up and throws the door open wide to let Chloe through. Virginia watches with her ears perked straight up from her spot in her favorite recliner.

"My favorite redhead holding one of my favorite foods. You, my dear ginger, are a vision," Amy says, wrapping a giggling Chloe in her arms. Chloe returns it with the arm not holding the pizza, and they dance a little on the spot. Beca can't help but laugh as she pulls herself up from the couch.

They disentangle themselves after a few more seconds, and Beca relieves Chloe of the pizza box.

"Come on in," she says. It's a bit awkward, and a bit obvious, that Chloe intentionally doesn't hug Beca after Amy.

Chloe steps further into the place, closing the door behind her and setting her bag down.

"Hello, Virginia," she says, bending down to pet Ginny's ears. Ginny leans back instantly in her chair, begging for belly scratches. Beca smiles when Chloe doesn't question it.

"Your apartment is beautiful, Beca," she says when she stands again, her eyes falling on the floor to ceiling windows that give way to the view.

Beca allows herself to look too, remembering the first time she set foot in this apartment and having her breath stolen away.

"Thank you," she says quietly, placing the pizza on the kitchen counter.

Amy strides over, opening the box and diving right in.

"I can't believe how long it's been since we've all had dinner together," she says, handing out paper plates.

Beca can't believe it either. It feels like a lifetime ago.

"The only thing missing is the booze," she says, throwing Beca a wink.

"You didn't actually think I'd have us eat pizza without beer, right?" she asks, pulling three bottles out of the refrigerator. She opens all three and hands one each to Amy and Chloe.

"To good friends," Amy says, holding up her bottle.

"To second chances," Beca says, lifting hers next to Amy's.

"To us," Chloe says. She throws a cursory look in Amy's direction to make sure her statement includes everyone, but her eyes hold Beca's as they all clink their bottles together.

And maybe it should surprise Beca, how easily they all fall back into their old selves. How easily they talk and tease and just are together. It feels like ripping away a curtain from a part of herself she'd partitioned off years ago. She can't remember the last time she laughed as much, but Amy has her in stitches at every opportunity, regaling them with her wild stories of traveling the world.

She catches Chloe looking at her often, and she wonders what her thoughts are. If she's soaking Beca in as much as Beca soaks her in. If she commits Beca to new memories, like Beca is now. Never wanting to forget what Chloe looks like in her apartment. What she looks like casually leaning against the leg of Beca's couch, hands stroking Virginia's head absently, like she's been here a hundred times before.

It's the most relaxed she's seen Chloe looking since their chance encounter at her clinic. And it makes her smile, that they're trying again. Giving another chance to real friendship. The best kind of friendship Beca's ever had.

The hours slip by them, unnoticed until Amy's first yawn.

"Thought you were used to late night parties, Ames?" Beca teases from her spot on the couch, back against the armrest.

"I am," Amy says, standing and stretching her arms. "Being around you two fuddy duds and your early bedtimes must be contagious."

Chloe laughs. "Early? It's almost one in the morning!" The tail end of her sentence is uttered in surprise, as if Chloe had no idea the hour.

"As I said, early," Amy repeats. "Either way, I've no intention of sleeping on this couch tonight, so I'm going to bed."

"I'm so glad I got to see you," Chloe says. She rises as well to pull Amy in for another hug.

"You too, ginger. Maybe now it'll be easier for me to come back home since I can see everyone at once."

Beca looks at Chloe after the words are spoken, feeling a little awkward, but mostly just hopeful. Chloe smiles at her over Amy's shoulder.

"You better."

Amy excuses herself from the room then, but Chloe remains standing.

"I should probably get going," she says, looking down. 

And Beca hates that some of the tension returned the instant Amy left. She wants to prove it doesn't have to be that way.

"Are you sure?" she asks. "You could stay a while longer? I mean, if you wanted. If you want to go home that's totally fine too."

She's rambling. And she hates it. She looks at Chloe again, who's looking at her with a small smile.

"I don't want you to rush off just because we're on our own now," she finishes quietly.

Chloe sits back down, but this time on the opposite side of the same couch Beca's currently occupying.

"You say you're the same, but... you are different."

Beca furrows her brows, wondering how.

"It's not a bad different. You're just... more open now. Less... guarded, I guess."

Chloe shakes her head at herself after the words. "Which is so weird, because I didn't know you were guarded before. But it's so obvious now."

Beca smiles to herself.

"I don't have any more secrets to keep, I guess. No sense in hiding what I'm feeling."

Chloe nods and straightens out her legs down the couch to mirror Beca's. She keeps to one side though, ensuring several inches of space between them.

"Are you happy, Beca?"

Beca just stares at her for a few seconds, wondering where that question came from, and how long Chloe's been waiting to ask it.

"Most days," she says, picking at the seam on her jeans. When Chloe doesn't respond, she takes the cue to elaborate.

"I think..." she starts, still not looking up, "that there's a difference between being happy and being... fulfilled."

She looks up then, and isn't surprised to find blue eyes trained on her.

"Like I have so much to be happy about. My music, success, a nice place to live. It would seem... ungrateful to say I'm not happy with the life I have."

The obvious next word hangs in the air, and after only a second Chloe says it for her.

"But?"

Beca thinks a moment longer.

"But those things aren't what are remembered at the end of a life."

"What is?" Chloe asks quietly.

Beca can't help but notice that Chloe sits a little straighter, a little closer.

"People," she says back simply. And then, after a sigh she continues. "Are you happy?"

Chloe smiles then, and the moment seems light again.

"Most days," she quips. "I think you may have a point about happiness versus fulfillment though."

Beca nods, wondering what exactly would make Chloe complete.

"Will you tell me about Chicago?" she asks. She makes sure to hold Chloe's gaze, looking for anything her eyes might tell her without words.

Chloe smirks, and leans back against the armrest again. 

"It's not that big a deal."

Beca knocks the side of Chloe's leg with her ankle.

"It's a big enough deal for you to keep it a secret."

"I just... I don't want you to feel weird about it. It really isn't something that even matters. Especially not anymore."

Beca's curiosity is burning with all these hints, and Chloe all but confirms her suspicions that it has something to do with her. She just raises an eyebrow, hoping Chloe will go on.

"After I found out about, you know, how you felt... I just felt so awful about it. Like it just killed me how much pain you felt because of me and I dunno... I was so scared I was going to lose you because of everything. I couldn't be with someone who contributed to it."

Beca's jaw drops at the words because they just make no sense to her.

"I know that's so stupid. Like obviously he didn't actually hurt you. But he helped me hurt you. And I just... couldn't stay with him."

They sit in silence for a few minutes while Beca digests that information.

"I can't believe you broke up with him because of how I felt," she eventually says, dumbfounded.

"You were my best friend, Beca. I loved you."

She's forced to take a deep breath at this, because Chloe's words yank something loose inside her. They tear away some of the preciously held control Beca's kept in a death grip since reuniting. And she feels, without it, something stir under the surface. Something she doesn't have time nor will to examine.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to... to kill the mood," Chloe says, misinterpreting Beca's response for discomfort.

"No, it's not that. You didn't. I just... didn't expect that. That's all."

"We seem to surprise each other a lot," Chloe says with a laugh.

Beca laughs too, grateful for the levity.

"You hiding any more secrets, Beale? Might as well air them out while we're on the subject."

"I think that was my last one," she says. But she continues before Beca can say anything else. "Hey, Becs?"

And it isn't the first time Chloe's used her old nickname since seeing each other again. But it's the first time the sound of it warms Beca's heart again.

"Yeah?"

"I'm really glad we're here."

Beca knows what she means but wants to hear her say it.

"Sitting on my couch in the middle of the night?"

Chloe laughs. "I am glad for that, actually. I went far too long without it."

This time it's Chloe knocking her leg against Beca's.

"What I meant though, is I'm glad we're together, wherever that may be."

Beca smiles, liking the way that sounds.

"Me too."

They talk about lighter subjects after that, and Beca forgets the time again. It isn't until a particularly loud snore reaches them from the depths of the apartment that Chloe checks the watch on her wrist and gives a yawn of her own.

"Oh my god, it's almost three," she says, standing. "I should get going. I've kept you up long enough."

Beca stands too, stretching her limbs and her stiff muscles.

"I'm glad you stayed a while. Text me to let me know you made it home, okay?"

Chloe nods, and looks around the room with furrowed brows.

"Ginny went to bed a long time ago," Beca says around a laugh. "I'll tell her you said goodnight."

"Thanks," Chloe says with a chuckle at Beca's words. She picks up her bag and slips her shoes on at the door. "Goodnight, Becs."

She gets the door open but Beca can't actually bring herself to just let her go. Not after having such a good night. Not after finding out the truth about Chicago.

"Chlo," she says, and Chloe stops in her tracks, turning to face her again.

Beca smiles first, a fleeting tweak of her lips before pulling on Chloe's elbow and bringing her in.

And Chloe's never resisted physical affection before, so Beca's glad she doesn't now. She goes into Beca's arms willingly, hooking her chin over Beca's shoulder like that's where she fits best.

"What about the rules?" she asks, making no move to back away.

Beca thinks about that for a moment, hooking her hands together behind Chloe's back and just enjoying the way she feels. Beca knows she made those rules because she thought she needed them. But she thinks they probably hinder more than they help. That she's never had any sort of friendship with Chloe that would work with those kinds of limits. 

And limits? That's just not something she's interested in.

"That's what I loved most about being your friend, ya know. We didn't subscribe to rules. I don't know why I thought we should start."

She lets her go then, and is rewarded with Chloe's smile. The one that was always her favorite.

"Goodnight, Chlo."

And she watches her walk away with a smile of her own.

 

/

The next day, after a very late morning in, Beca and Amy leave the apartment in search of lunch and one last adventure before Amy leaves again.

It's as they're sitting at a posh restaurant, ignoring the people who recognize Beca, when Amy brings it up.

"So, how long did Chloe stay over last night after I went to bed?"

And Beca feels a little angry at herself for stifling the urge to blush. Hanging out with one of her friends is nothing she should feel embarrassed about.

"Uh, a while," she says, hoping Amy will take the answer at that.

"What'd you guys talk about?"

"You know, normal stuff. Nothing special."

Except Amy's never asked her if she's happy before. And that part of their conversation was kind of special, in a way it could only be because it was with Chloe. There is one thing, though, Beca does want to talk about from the night before.

"She told me about why she broke up with Chicago."

"Did she?" Amy asks, taking a sip from one of the mimosas the waiter just placed in front of them.

"I can't believe she dumped him because... well because of me. It... surprised me."

Amy shakes her heads at the words and puts her glass down.

"Well it didn't surprise me. You've never given her enough credit, B. She's always cared about you more than you thought she did."

Beca takes a sip of her own mimosa, turning that idea over.

"Yeah I... I guess so."

They don't bring up Chloe again, but talk instead about where Amy's heading next and if she'll ever come back home more permanently.

("It's easier going where the wind blows me, short round."

Beca wonders if maybe Amy's searching the world for her fulfillment, too.)

After lunch, and after stopping to greet a few of Beca's fans on their way out, they head over to the recording studio. Beca promised Amy a first listen to some new ideas she's been playing around with and Amy always likes visiting the studio for the chance it offers her to meet more celebrities.

She's in the middle of playing a fresh track when her phone chimes with an incoming text. She opens it, not fighting the smile that tugs at her lips upon seeing the sender.

Chloe: So, since we're apparently abandoning the rules...

Chloe: ...are you free on Thursday?

She looks up at Amy to find she's still listening to the music, and mentally checks her schedule for the rest of the week before responding.

Beca: That depends...

Beca: ...on what you had in mind.

She locks the screen again and slips the phone into her back pocket just as the track is ending. She finds Amy looking at her with a peculiar expression. 

"What?" she asks, adopting a look of total innocence.

"That Chloe?" Amy asks, one eyebrow high enough to hide behind her bangs.

And again, Beca doesn't know why she feels reluctant to admit the truth. She tries to force it down so her voice sounds casual.

"Yeah, just seeing what I'm doing later this week."

She looks down at the computer screen on the desk in front of her, looking for something else to queue up for Amy.

"Beca."

"Amy?"

"You know I'm happy you're friends again, right?"

And here they are, heading into serious waters and Beca's not sure what else Amy wants to say. It makes her nervous. 

"Of course," she says, hitting play on something new. She hears her phone chime again but she ignores it.

"You're both better together. I don't think anyone, besides you two, knows that better than me."

Beca looks up again, feeling something warm settle in her chest at Amy's words. But the look on her face doesn't match them.

"Why do I feel like there's a big 'but' coming?"

"But I don't want you to get hurt again. Her either. Neither one of you deserve it. So just... just be careful, okay?"

Beca nods, taking the sentiment seriously.

"I am. I promise I am. I don't want to do that with her again either."

Amy stares at her a few seconds, in that way that Amy does, to let her know she's thinking about Beca's response and is choosing whether or not it's good enough. After only a moment, she nods.

"Okay."

She lets it drop after that, and they go back to the music. Beca loves hearing people's reactions to what she creates but it always means more when it comes from people she cares about. Hearing Amy critique and praise her work makes her wish she could stay a little longer. Makes her wish she'd come home a little more often. Makes her want to never let it fall by the wayside again. 

And when they're leaving the studio to head back to Beca's apartment, Beca wishes she had just a little bit more time with her. She thinks that even though she's not quite gone again yet, she misses Fat Amy already.

It isn't until she's back home and has said her goodbyes that she remembers the text she never checked. Sitting down with Virginia on her couch, the two of them alone once again, she opens the thread.

Chloe: Something new. Can you meet me around noon? You can bring Virginia if you like.

Beca wonders what Chloe has planned but doesn't push it. There's something about the surprise of it that she likes.

Beca: just name the place.

She doesn't wait long for the reply, and she wonders what Chloe's doing.

Chloe: my clinic.

And that's definitely not what Beca was expecting, but she's okay with it. Ginny will like getting out of the apartment with her for an afternoon either way.

She texts back right away, wondering if she's being as careful as she promised Amy she would be.

Beca: see you there, Beale.

She tosses her phone on an empty cushion and scratches Ginny's ears. A tiny part of her wishes Thursday wasn't so far away.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen

 

If anyone were to ask, Beca did not spend the week counting down the days. She went about her routine as if it were any other week. She did some work in the studio, had a meeting with a team of representatives for a popular clothing retailer that wanted her as their next spokesperson, and proceeded to have way too much fun trying on all the clothes they sent her home with so she'd be seen in public wearing them.

She definitely didn't speculate anymore about what Chloe had planned for them Thursday afternoon, and she definitely didn't smile stupidly at her phone when Chloe texted to reconfirm the night before.

Chloe: Still on for tomorrow?

Beca looks down at Virginia who was keeping Beca's feet warm at the bottom of the bed.

"Hey V, wanna see Chloe tomorrow afternoon?"

Her dog yips in that adorable way Beca's always assumed meant yes at the words. Her tail beats the top of the mattress as it swishes.

"Yeah, me too," she says quietly before sending a text back.

Beca: Looking forward to it.

And then, because she still has no idea what they're doing, she sends another.

Beca: Ginny wants to know what she should wear though.

She waits a bit longer than what's usual for Chloe's reply, but when it comes through Beca's glad Chloe's playing along.

Chloe: Nothing fancy. Any casual collar will do.

Beca almost, almost puts her phone back on the nightstand after that, but her last meeting with Chloe stops her. She thinks about how she abandoned the rules and how good that felt to throw all her fears to the wind. So she sends one more text.

Beca: See you at noon, then. Goodnight, Chlo.

This time, the response is almost instantaneous. 

Chloe: Night, Becs.

/

The next day, she's parking her car outside the clinic when Chloe comes walking up the sidewalk from the direction of the entrance. Beca wonders if she'd been watching for her from the windows.

"Hello," she says with a smile as she gets out of her car. She has to squint slightly in the bright sunlight. She shuts her door and walks around to the passenger side, Virginia watching her every step and wagging her tail impatiently to be let out.

Chloe doesn't say anything but watches Beca get Ginny out and attach the leash. When they step up onto the sidewalk she immediately bends down to begin petting Ginny's head and talking to her in hushed tones.

"You're more excited to see my dog than you are to see me," Beca teases when she straightens back out. "I'm starting to think you're only in this for the Ginny time."

Chloe laughs, and steps around Ginny with a smirk still on her lips.

"Hello to you too, Becs," she says. She pulls Beca into a one-arm hug. It's brief, and over before Beca could really even hug her back, but it's the first one Chloe's initiated without waiting for permission and something about that makes Beca smile back at her.

"So, do I get to know what we're doing now? And are my clothes okay?" she asks. She looks down at her plain v-neck t-shirt and jeans, hoping they aren't too casual.

Chloe shakes her head and begins walking toward the entrance, throwing a "You look great, Becs" over her shoulder. And Beca's not totally surprised, but her curiosity spikes because some part of her had wondered if the clinic was just a meeting place. But apparently it's also their actual destination.

They walk inside, and it's quiet. There doesn't seem to be any emergencies in progress.

"We have an on-site boarding program in addition to our medical services. I thought Virginia might like some play time with the other dogs while we... go in the back."

Beca can't stop the huge smile from erupting on her lips. Virginia loves other dogs. She doesn't know how many times she's had the thought of getting another dog if she ever moved out of an apartment and into an actual house.

"You just made her day, I promise you," Beca says.

"Come on, Ginny! Wanna come play?"

Ginny starts after her happily, and Beca's glad she remembers to move too so that the leash doesn't snap taut.

They go down a side hallway towards a different wing that Beca didn't even know existed. She wonders as they walk along what Chloe meant when she said they'd be going to the back after this.

At the end of the hallway, a doorway to the right leads them into a huge open room. There are ramps and tunnels and toys everywhere. One wall on the far side is missing its bottom half, and opens to a grassy outdoor area. The dogs can come in and go out as they please and Beca thinks it might be a canine's paradise.

As soon as the door clicks behind them, about fifteen dogs take notice and come running. Ginny goes down on her front legs, leaving her backside and tail waving in the air behind her.

"Go play, crazy girl," Beca says, laughing as she runs off with the others as if they've all known each other for years. She sees a staff member hanging out in the floor in a corner, petting dogs that come up to him and generally just keeping an eye on things. Beca thinks it's a pretty nice set up.

"Come on," Chloe says beside her, tugging on her shirt sleeve twice and backing out of the room. She leads them back out the way they came and then through a door leading into a staff only area.

"Are you sure I can be back here?" Beca asks, waving awkwardly to some of the staff they pass along the way.

"Of course," Chloe says with an easy smile. "You're with me."

Beca likes the way that sounds and doesn't question anything else. Chloe takes her past exam rooms and labs, and doesn't say anything until they're approaching an unlabeled locked door.

"I wanted you to meet a friend of mine," Chloe says, pulling keys out of her pocket and slipping one into the doorknob.

Upon walking inside, the first thing Beca sees is the friend she assumed Chloe meant. A girl, barely eighteen by the look of her, is sitting in the floor with an open book in her lap. Her bright purple hair is pulled back in a ponytail and she looks up the moment she hears someone entering the room.

At first she smiles when her eyes settle on Chloe, but then it's replaced with slack-jawed shock as soon as she sees Beca. She immediately stands.

"Hey Heather," Chloe says with a chuckle, noticing the look on the girl's face.

"That's Beca Mitchell!" the girl named Heather whispers. Beca tries to suppress the smile over still being able to hear it.

"She's a friend of mine," Chloe says before turning to Beca. "Becs, this is one of our volunteers, Heather."

"It's nice to meet you." Beca sticks her hand out and the girl shakes it instantly, still apparently star struck.

"Would you mind just giving us a few minutes? I wanted to introduce Beca to Rosie," Chloe says, turning back to Heather and giving her most winning smile.

Heather stumbles over her words as she collects her book from the floor and Beca is confused again, thinking this was the friend Chloe had wanted her to meet. When she leaves, closing the door behind her, Chloe jerks her head towards the back half of the room, indicating Beca should follow. The room itself is large, and split in half by a wall with one open doorway. Upon walking through it, Beca feels her jaw drop and the distinct urge to actually squeal.

Laying in the floor, upon a small pile of blankets, is a fawn. Beca has never seen one in person before, and is shocked at how small it is because of it. It looks up at them with big brown eyes and its hair looks as soft as velvet. Beca desperately wants to touch it.

"This is my friend Rosie," Chloe says to Beca before gracefully sitting on the floor next to the deer. "We just got her Sunday afternoon. She's a baby white-tail deer."

Chloe strokes Rosie's head between the ears, and Beca sees the same look of contentment that Ginny gets every time she gets a soft petting. She doesn't know if she's allowed to touch her so she remains standing, admiring the adorable white spots along Rosie's back.

"Where is her family?" Beca asks, though she thinks the answer probably isn't a pleasant one if Rosie's here.

Chloe looks up at her from her spot on the floor with sadness in her eyes.

"She's an orphan," she says. Beca doesn't ask her to elaborate. "She was brought here from the Bronx. Our clinic is more prepared to care for orphaned mammals still weaning off milk."

Rosie rests her head on Chloe's knee, clearly already comfortable with her after only a few days.

"Can... can I touch her?"

Chloe smiles at her, like she'd been waiting for Beca to ask.

"Of course. But you have to win her over first."

Beca frowns. She doesn't know how to win over most people, let alone a white-tail deer.

"Any helpful tips?" she asks, smiling back with all of her teeth.

Chloe laughs and stands up after gently lifting Rosie's head.

"Easiest trick in the book, Becs. Through her stomach," she says with a wink. "Sit down so you'll look less threatening. I'll be right back."

Beca sits cross-legged in the floor a few feet away and watches Chloe leave. When she looks back to Rosie, the deer has her eyes on the doorframe Chloe just walked through, as if she'd been watching her too.

"You like Chloe, don't you?" Beca asks in a quiet voice. The tiny deer brings its gaze back to Beca. "Well we're friends, see. And since you're friends with her, I figure we can be too. Is that okay with you?"

Rosie just blinks at her but Beca smiles anyway, itching to run her fingers over those adorable ears.

Chloe comes back in a few minutes holding a baby bottle in her hand, filled with an almost translucent looking milk inside it. The bottle is capped with a large nipple and Chloe hands it over and sits down next to her.

"You might have to tempt her a little the first time, but she'll come over soon enough," Chloe says, leaning into Beca's space and talking quietly.

Beca takes the bottle in her left hand and holds it out in the space between her and Rosie. It feels warm in her palm.

"Can I interest you in a beverage?" Beca asks, waving it slightly. Chloe laughs at her but nods her head to encourage it.

Rosie's ears move forward, and her eyes don't move from the bottle.

"Come here, Rosie," Beca says gently. She's reminded of the first time she met Ginny. How scared and reluctant she'd been to come at Beca's request. "I won't hurt you," Beca says, making the same promise to this deer that she made to her dog.

And she wonders what it is about the words that inspire trust, because after only another second or two Rosie gets up and walks towards Beca. She cranes her neck to get at the bottle but Beca retracts her arm a little, encouraging her to come closer. At last, with Rosie standing right beside her, she gives in. She angles the bottle so that it's not awkward for Rosie to latch onto it, and watches her as she drinks.

"Good job, Becs!" Chloe whispers from her other side, and Beca tries not to let herself get distracted at the knowledge that Chloe is right there with her. That they'd share the same space if Beca only turned around.

She brings her free hand up, and gently strokes the soft hair at Rosie's neck. She's glad the move doesn't startle the deer, or make her stop drinking from the bottle.

They stay that way, with Beca's hand petting everywhere it will reach, until the bottle is empty. Beca pulls it away and places it in the floor on her other side, careful to avoid brushing up against Chloe as she does it.

Rosie, however, seems to want to know where the bottle went and why it's now gone. And instead of walking around Beca, she walks over her, leaving her front two legs in the space of Beca's lap as she inspects the empty bottle. When she deems it empty enough for her to have no interest in it, Beca expects her to back up again.

Instead, she settles down right on the spot, curling up in Beca's lap and resting her head on Beca's thigh.

It's probably the most precious thing that's ever happened to her.

"Chloe!" she whispers, stamping down the urge to squeal a second time.

She looks up, finding blue eyes already trained on her and seeing something in them she doesn't quite know how to label. It makes her wonder what Chloe's thinking.

"You're adorable, you know that?" Chloe says, the hint of a smile around her lips. Beca looks down again, feeling odd at the compliment and hoping her neck and cheeks aren't as red as they feel.

Chloe pulls her phone out and snaps a picture of the moment. When she turns her phone around to show Beca, she can't help but smile. She's looking down at Rosie, the embarrassed smile from before still on her lips. Rosie's eyes are open, but she's relaxed in that way only a full belly can deliver. It's an adorable memory that Beca is glad to be able to keep forever because of Chloe.

"Can I post this? It's just so cute," Chloe says, turning the screen around to look at the photo again. 

"Sure," Beca says, petting Rosie's head and watching her eyelids slip closer and closer to closed. "Tag me in it? My followers will lose their minds."

She chuckles at the thought of her fans' reactions to her holding one of the cutest animals she's ever seen. Chloe taps a few things on her phone before locking the screen, and Beca instantly feels her own phone vibrate with a new notification from her back pocket.

"Thanks."

They sit quietly for a few minutes, Beca content to pet Rosie as long as she'll let her. Chloe reaches over occasionally to pet her too, and Beca pretends that her body doesn't react every time Chloe's hand brushes hers in the small space.

"What will happen to Rosie if she doesn't have a family anymore?" Beca asks quietly, not wanting to wake up the baby in her lap.

"She'll stay here until she's weaned. We've been giving her a steady mix of milk and foliage since she arrived, but once the special formula we use is no longer necessary she'll be transferred to a wildlife rehabilitation center."

Beca frowns, already not in love with the idea of Rosie leaving but knowing full well it's necessary.

"The goal is for them to prepare her for reentering the wild. She'll be fed by the caretakers but will have a contained open space to graze and learn how to fend for herself again. It may take a few months but once they're confident she'll survive on her own, she'll be released into the wild again. Hopefully not near New York City."

Beca stares at Chloe, smiling at her pensively. This Chloe is so much more grown up than the one she remembers. Her words come out with more poise, like she chose each one of them precisely before speaking. Beca's struck all over again with the realization that Chloe's a fully qualified veterinarian now.

"What?" she asks, slightly bemused at Beca just staring at her.

"Nothing, it's just... you're different too, you know."

Chloe cocks her head to one side, as if she doesn't believe her.

"How so?"

Beca takes a deep breath, letting her eyes rove over features so familiar to her.

"You're a real grown up now," Beca says playfully. Chloe bumps her shoulder into Beca's with mock offense.

"What did you think I was before?" she whispers, leaning even closer into Beca's space. Beca wills herself to hold still and look into blue eyes without blinking. She leans back a few centimeters when she can't take breathing in the smell of Chloe's shampoo another second.

"A child, obviously."

It comes out smooth and confident, and Beca's proud of herself for being able to tease so effectively given the current jumble of her thoughts.

Chloe leans back too at the words and gives her a healthy side eye.

"Rude," she says, but Beca knows it's still playful. "Come on, we should go before she wakes up," Chloe says. At Beca's ensuing pout she laughs. "Fawns imprint really easily. And so do you apparently, by the way."

Beca gives her best eye roll for a response.

"We don't want to hurt her chances of reentering the wild," Chloe finishes. And this, Beca can't argue with so she lets Chloe take Rosie from her lap and put her back in the pile of blankets she'd been occupying when they first came in the room.

"Let's go see how Ginny's getting on," she says, stopping in front of Beca. She puts a hand out for Beca to take even though they both know Beca doesn't need it to get up.

She takes it anyway though. And if she holds on just a split second longer than what's necessary for Chloe to pull her to her feet, she doesn't dwell on it.

Really, after losing Chloe for four years, who can blame her for wanting just one more second?

They spend about another hour playing with Ginny and the other dogs. Beca knows her pup is going to pass out as soon as they get home and she's glad Ginny's had such a great time.

They're interrupted from their play time when her phone starts to ring from her pocket. Seeing that it's her manager, she excuses herself and takes the call out in the hallway where there aren't over a dozen canines barking in the background.

"This is Beca," she says.

"Are we not good enough friends that you can't just answer with a 'Hey Amanda, what's up?'" her manager says immediately. Beca rolls her eyes but there's no real annoyance behind it. She's just in the habit of answering professional calls the same way every time.

"Real friends don't reprimand their friends for the way they answer their phone calls," she says. When she gets no response, she huffs. "Fine. Hey Amanda, what's up?" Her voice is heavily laced with sarcasm but her manager seems to approve anyway.

"Oh nothing much. Just, you know, got you a guest spot at a show Martin Garrix is doing next week."

Amanda lets the bait dangle, and Beca feels truly giddy as the words sink in. She can't remember the last time she mixed music for an audience.

"Are you serious?! When is it? Where is it? I don't even care, of course I'll go!"

She hasn't been the guest or opening act in a few years, but she has no issues about being a guest performer for such an incredible DJ.

She spends less than two minutes on the remainder of the phone call, telling Amanda to just send everything to her email and bounding back inside the play room.

"All good, I suppose?" Chloe asks, her eyes taking in Beca's obvious excitement.

"I'm sharing a stage with Martin Garrix next week!"

"Beca! That's amazing! Where is the show?"

"Miami! Which is kinda nice since I already know the city decently well," she says thoughtfully, remembering the trips she took both for the label and to see Sofía.

"I'm sure you'll be amazing, just like always," Chloe says genuinely.

"Thanks, Chlo."

They don't stay much longer. She knows Ginny is probably about to collapse from so much running around and she wants to get home to read her email about the show next week.

She stops on the sidewalk in front of her car before getting in though, and turns to Chloe.

"Thank you so much for letting me meet Rosie," she says.

Chloe smiles at her in that way she loves so much. "I'm glad you enjoyed it."

"Are you kidding?" Beca laughs, "It was awesome! Are you sure that's how you wanted to spend your afternoon off work?" she adds on playfully.

Chloe laughs this time, and doesn't meet Beca's eyes as she responds.

"I was with you. Can't complain about that."

And Beca thinks she's just not used to the kind of honesty that comes with being Chloe's friend. She's still getting reacquainted with her particular brand of candor. The words make her look down too.

"Thanks, Chlo."

She moves into Chloe's space then, throwing her arms over Chloe's shoulders and around her neck. She doesn't let herself stew on how good it feels when Chloe responds. Doesn't pay any attention to the hands at her lower back, pulling her in just a fraction closer.

When she finds herself in the safety of her car and out of Chloe's reach a few seconds later, she doesn't let herself think twice about the smile on Chloe's lips as she pulls away. Doesn't let herself take notice that maybe this particular smile is a brand new one.

It isn't until she gets home that she finally checks the Instagram notification that's been waiting on her for hours. She spends a solid minute looking at the photo. But what really warms her heart is the caption.

dogsaremyfavorite one of my favorite people and this adorable baby girl all in one photo? #cutenessoverload @realbmitch

Beca can't slam the like button fast enough.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen

 

“Please stop apologizing, Hollee! It's totally fine," Beca says into her phone as she and Ginny are entering Central Park for a walk.


"You know I love that dog, I just already agreed to go to this festival on Long Island and we're renting a house and it's a whole... production," comes the voice of one of her friends from the label.

Beca sighs. Hollee is her go-to person for keeping Ginny anytime she was going to be out of town for a few days and wouldn't be bringing her dog with her. If Hollee can't keep Virginia while she goes to Miami for the show she'll have to find someone else. And quickly at that because she's leaving in two days.

"I know you love her," she says, trying to reassure her friend that she understood. "Don't worry about it, I'll find someone else no problem."

Hollee doesn't say anything right away and Beca wonders if they're thinking the same thing. That she doesn't have the largest pool of friends to choose from.

"Have fun at the festival, okay? Have a hard cider for me."

"Thanks, Beca. Have an amazing trip!" Hollee says back, sounding happier. They hang up after exchanging goodbyes and Beca doesn't have to wonder long who to ask next. She composes a text as they walk along.

Beca: Have I mentioned lately how cool it is that you're a vet?

She and Ginny walk along the familiar path, and Ginny greets other dogs nose to nose as they pass them. She takes her phone back out when she feels it vibrate in her pocket.

Chloe: Spoken like someone who sounds like she wants something...

Beca smirks, and begins to reply but another text comes through first.

Chloe: What can I do for you, Ms. Mitchell?

Beca alters her reply only slightly and hits send.

Beca: Well, Dr. Beale, I was wondering how I might go about boarding Ginny at your clinic? My usual person can't keep her for my Miami trip and she seemed to really like playing with the other dogs so...

This time when her phone vibrates, it's to announce an incoming call instead of a new text. She isn't surprised to see it's Chloe, who Beca vividly remembers telling her once upon a time that "voice on voice is just better."

"Hey, Chlo," she says cheerily.

"So I'm trying really hard not to be offended that you'd rather Virginia stay at the clinic than with me," Chloe says without any other form of greeting.

Beca laughs, assuming the statement was meant to be a joke, but she starts to second guess herself when her laughter is met with silence.

"Don't be offended! I just... just didn't know if we'd progressed to that kind of... of favor-asking in our new friendship."

And finally, Chloe's laughing. Beca feels relieved.

"Favor-asking?"

Beca shakes her head. Of course that's what Chloe pulled out of that sentence.

"Yeah! You know you just don't ask certain things of people you're still... getting to know." She cringes, knowing the words aren't right. She knows Chloe like the back of her hand. But she presses on with her point anyway. "You know, you don't ask someone you just met to like, drive you to the airport. You have to earn being driven to the airport!"

And she laughs at herself when she hears Chloe continue to chuckle.

"You sound like a walking Seinfeld episode."

"Excuse me, but if I remember correctly, you love that show."

"So," Chloe says after a pause, "thus far in this conversation we've established that I like Seinfeld and that Ginny needs somewhere to stay while you're gone."

"Correct," Beca says, chuckling.

"What remains to be seen is whether or not we're 'watch after my dog' kind of friends again yet."

Beca rolls her eyes, and then, "Are you always this intentionally awkward when friends ask you questions?"

"Oh no, I reserve that just for you," Chloe responds without missing a beat.

"I see. In that case, perhaps I should just ask and save us both a lot of trouble," Beca says, knowing that's what Chloe wants her to do.

She's met with silence again and she huffs out a breath before continuing.

"Chloe, will you watch my dog while I'm out of town?"

"Hmmm... I really don't know if we're ready for that, Becs. It's a big step, ya know?"

"Chloe!"

Ginny whips her head around at Beca's exclamation.

"I'm kidding! I'd love for Ginny to stay with me!"

Beca laughs, relieved Ginny will be with someone she trusts.

"You're kind of a douche, you know that?" she asks, going around a bend in the trail.

"Don't act like you don't love me," Chloe says. And Beca knows it was just a quip. Knows it was just a silly retort. But she can't bring herself to refute it, and it surprises her.

And she thinks maybe that could use some further inspection. At a time that isn't right now.

Chloe, misinterpreting Beca's silence once again for discomfort, brings her back into the conversation.

"Sorry, I didn't intend to make things awkward. It was just a joke, but I totally should have thought about what I was saying."

Beca rushes into her answer, wanting to offer reassurance.

"It's okay, Chlo. Just got lost in my own head for a minute there. You didn't do anything wrong."

It's momentarily quiet again, and Beca desperately doesn't want to fall back into the awkwardness of their early reacquaintance. So she ploughs forward, hoping to just skip over it.

"So I'm leaving Tuesday morning, when do you want me to drop Ginny off?"

"Hmm, how's tomorrow evening then?"

Beca agrees and they arrange details for a few moments. Ginny inspects the edge of a gazebo like she hasn't seen the exact same structure a hundred times before.

"Then I'll see you tomorrow night," Chloe says after wrapping up the specifics.

"Yeah, see you then," Beca replies, a warm feeling settling in her stomach at the thought.

"Oh, and Becs?"

She presses the phone against her ear harder, wanting to catch every next syllable.

"Just for the record, I'd drive you to the airport too, you know."

Beca doesn't respond, but she feels the smile spread across her face.

"Bye, Beca," she says, more quietly now.

"Bye, Chlo."

She hangs up and her eyes fall on her dog. But her mind sees Chloe.

And maybe that's something she should think about, too.

/

She spends the next day getting herself packed for Miami and her dog packed for Chloe's. She includes way more toys than is strictly necessary in the rucksack of Ginny's things, but if there's anyone in the world who won't make fun of her for how spoiled her dog is it's Chloe.

"Are you excited to stay with Chloe for a few days?" she asks, holding Ginny's face in both her hands. Virginia wags her tail so hard at the words her whole back half sways with it. It was becoming her usual response anytime she heard the name.

After packing a few more treats, and just one more toy (because what if she needs it?) she deems them ready to go.

She enters Chloe's address in her phone's map application, and lets her mind wander as her hands drive her there on autopilot.

She hasn't given much thought to the way Chloe makes her feel since realizing that maybe she needs to. That maybe the flights of small butterflies in her stomach are indicative of something more than what she's allowed herself.

Truthfully, it makes her nervous.

But, in traditional Beca fashion, she feels the best plan of action is to bury it. Sweep it so far under the rug that nothing will be able to peek back out from the edges. Plus, the thrill of having Chloe and her company around again is too great to let go this easily.

So she forces the thoughts aside and instead focuses on her trip. She envisions the stage and the lights. The crowd.

The music.

And the distraction takes her all the way to Chloe's street, where she's forced to stop daydreaming and start looking for a place to park. At last, over a block away from the building which is her actual destination, she finds a space.

She and Ginny make the short walk to Chloe's building and wait at the door to be buzzed in. Upon arriving at Chloe's door several minutes later, Beca waits a second or two before knocking.

Tells the butterflies to settle.

"Hi!" Chloe says, beaming as she opens the door after Beca finally knocks.

She opens it wider and stands next to it as they go inside and Beca's eyes scan the space. It is small, but still larger than the box of an apartment they used to share. There are a few canvas paintings on the walls and what looks like a collage of framed pictures going down the hallway. It's warm and it smells like Chloe.

"So this is where you live," Beca says, bending down and unhooking Ginny's leash. She goes immediately to Chloe, who sits down with her and begins petting her head.

"It's not much," she says, moving on to scratch Virginia's belly and looking up at Beca from the floor. "Student loan repayments are a real bitch."

"I can imagine," Beca says, even though she kind of can't because she's never had school loans to repay. "But I like this place. It's so..." she says, glancing around. She sees a kettle on the stove and an arrangement of tea bags on the counter next to it. Over the back of the couch in the living room is a huge fluffy blanket Beca can see Chloe wrapped up in and enjoying her tea all too easily.

"It's so you," she finishes, letting her eyes' tour of the room finish on Chloe's face.

"Thank you," she says, standing up. "Is that whole thing for Ginny?"

Chloe's eyes land on the rucksack thrown over Beca's shoulder with puzzled amusement.

"I didn't want her to miss anything," Beca says, setting it on the floor and bending down to start pulling things out. "Don't judge me."

"Consider yourself not judged," Chloe teases, helping Beca pull toys out. She tosses one to Ginny who immediately picks it up and trots to lay down in front of the couch with it.

"Well, she already looks at home," Beca says after they take her food and water bowls out. She hands them over to Chloe who spends a minute or two setting them up in the kitchen.

And now that Ginny's things are officially unpacked and she's settled in, Beca feels a little awkward. She doesn't know if she should stay or leave. She doesn't know what Chloe wants her to do. She's about to just make an excuse to leave to save herself the trouble when Chloe interrupts her thoughts.

"Would you like to stay for dinner?"

Beca looks at her. A tiny voice in her head is reminding her that dinner alone is more intimate than lunch. And more intimate than a dinner including even only one more person. And that even though she tossed out the rules some time ago, she still needs to be careful with Chloe. Because falling in love with her has always just been all too easy.

She says yes anyway, as long as it's no trouble.

(Beca's always been selfish with Chloe like that.)

Chloe's answering smile is brighter than ever and she leads them further into the kitchen. She puts a bottle of beer in front of Beca before taking ingredients out of her refrigerator and pantry. Beca spots all the necessities for tacos and begins to help, just as she always had when they lived together.

She doesn't comment on how domestic it feels. She keeps it to herself how comfortable she feels in Chloe's kitchen, and doesn't hesitate to get another beer out for Chloe when she finishes her first.

Chloe doesn't comment either, but she looks more than pleased with how the evening is playing out. And not for the first time, Beca wonders what goes through Chloe's mind when she smiles at her like that.

And maybe it's the beer. Or maybe it's because Beca is leaving the next day and can literally run away from whatever Chloe might answer her with. Or maybe Beca is just a braver person now. Maybe it's a combination of all those things, but something gives her the courage to ask.

"What are you thinking about?"

Chloe turns the burner off of the stove and moves the pan over before answering.

"Right now?" she asks, appearing more distracted than Beca thinks she is.

"When you smiled at me just now," she clarifies.

Chloe pulls the tortillas out of the oven, satisfied they've hardened enough.

"I'm just really happy you're here," she says. And then, after what looks like a moment of deliberation, she covers Beca's hand with her own on the countertop. And Beca wills herself not to look down at them. "I think... I think even though I never gave up on trying to connect with you again, I never actually believed I'd ever get our friendship back."

Beca swallows. Hard. She didn't think she'd ever get it back either.

"Then why didn't you give up?" Beca asks. "If you never thought it'd actually get you anywhere, I mean."

Chloe sighs, but doesn't take her hand away. Beca can feel Chloe's thumb skimming back and forth a little at her wrist.

"You have to have hope, right?"

Beca looks into blue eyes, considering the words. Out of all the things that led to her eventual heartbreak, she thinks hope is probably the most to blame.

"Hope's never done me any favors," Beca says. She tries to come off light, but thinks she falls just shy of the mark. "But I'm glad it worked for you."

She doesn't think she can take the contact or her thudding heartbeat much longer, so she tries to slip her hand out from underneath Chloe's. But strong fingers hold fast. Chloe looks like more words are sitting on the tip of her tongue, but when she opens her mouth nothing comes out. After only a moment she closes it and releases Beca gently.

"You're here now, hope or no hope. So let's eat before this gets cold." She tacks a smile onto the end of her sentence but Beca's sure that's not what she was originally going to say. She lets it go. For now.

They sit at Chloe's kitchen table, and Ginny trots over as soon as they're settled and lays down across Chloe's feet.

"Traitor," Beca says to her dog, who looks back at her without an ounce of guilt. "I think you both like each other more than me," she adds on to Chloe, who is looking very pleased with Ginny.

"Don't be silly, Becs." But then she looks down at Ginny and whispers theatrically, "Good girl."

And just like that, the mood is lighter. The air doesn't feel so thick and Beca's heart stops its war against her ribs. They fall into easier topics, ones that don't spark dangerous responses in Beca's chest or stomach.

After they finish, Beca helps her clear the dishes and put the leftovers away. She thinks about her half-packed luggage at home and realizes she needs to get going soon if she wants to get to sleep on time.

"Thanks for dinner, Chlo," she says, picking up her jacket off the back of a chair.

"Of course," Chloe replies, stopping in front of her. "What day is the show?"

"Not until Friday," she answers, not thinking much about it.

Chloe cocks her head to the side. "But you're leaving tomorrow? Do you need three days to prepare?" she asks, confused.

"Nah," Beca says, shaking her head. "I'm only doing two songs. I do need a day to run through with Martin, he's going to mix them while I sing. But that's Thursday. I'm going down early because Theo is also in town so I was gonna catch up with him. I also usually see Sofía anytime I visit Miami," she finishes.

Chloe stares at her, an unreadable expression in her eyes.

"Your ex-girlfriend?"

Beca laughs, never quite thinking of Sofía in those terms.

"We're still friends," she says, and then, thinking of her last visit to Miami she adds, "We're uh, sometimes better than friends, depending on if we're both single when I visit."

Chloe's expression changes again, but Beca still can't quite tell what emotion it's supposed to represent. She thinks she gets it though when Chloe looks down and offers a quiet, "Oh."

"Sorry," Beca says quickly. "That was probably TMI, right? Anyway..." Her eyes dart around for something else to say before landing on Virginia. "I hope you and Ginny have a good few days together. Let me know how she's doing, okay?"

As Chloe assures her that she will absolutely keep her updated, she bends down and scratches Ginny's ears in the way she loves so much.

"You be good for Chloe, okay? I still wanna be friends with her when I come back."

Virginia yips, wagging her tail happily.

"I'll see you in a few days," she says, kissing the top of Ginny's head before standing herself back up again. "Thanks again for watching her for me," she says to Chloe. She pulls Chloe in for a hug too and then, before she can over-think it, she places a quick kiss against Chloe's cheek. She thinks Chloe might be a little in shock when she pulls back, because old Beca would never have done anything like that. Chloe's lips are parted and her eyes are wide with surprise.

Beca bites back the urge to laugh, and offers a quiet "Night, Chlo," before turning away and letting herself out. She chuckles to herself all the way down the stairs.

/

Her flight to Miami is uneventful. Or, as uneventful as it can be when people recognize her in both airports every few minutes.

She'd checked in with Chloe before departing, ensuring Ginny had a good first night with her. She'd laughed at Chloe's response. It had been a picture of Ginny sprawled across her bed, looking as content as she ever did at home. And Beca's reminded once again how quickly her dog had fallen in love with Chloe, too.

Upon reaching her hotel, she texts Theo and they eventually meet at a trendy restaurant downtown. This time earning VIP treatment because of Beca.

They eat and talk and have drinks sent to their table. They ignore the cameras and laugh at whatever dating rumors are sure to crop up because of their time together. It's easy, being around Theo. He asks about her music, seeing as no longer working directly with her doesn't offer him the near instantaneous updates of her progress. He asks about the show on Friday and says he may be able to stop by for her part.

She asks him about DJ Khaled's latest signing and whether or not they are as good as she is. He jokes and says they're not half the diva she ever was.

Time slips by them easily, and she's reminded of how it passes when she's with Chloe. How the time escapes her attention, unhurried and unnoticed.

But, she thinks, it's also different. Her heart doesn't jump in her throat unbidden whenever she's with Theo. She never feels nervous with him. Never feels a nagging urge to just be a little bit closer.

And that's a little disconcerting, if she's honest with herself. Now that she's away from Chloe and her smiles and her limitless happiness to be in Beca's company, she thinks she's been irresponsible with her heart. The thousand miles currently between them offers her a bit of clarity. Shows her there's a difference between tossing out the rules for the sake of their friendship and simply being careless with her feelings.

Because, if she's still being honest, she thinks maybe those old feelings for Chloe aren't quite as dead as she'd believed they were. That maybe every new smile thrown Beca's way or text just to say hi or even the few and far between touches Chloe allows herself to leave on Beca's skin tries to bring her feelings back to life.

And that thought, Beca thinks as she sits across from Theo with a smile still on her lips despite herself, is nothing short of terrifying.

She forces it down, the choking fear that she's slipping into old habits, during the remainder of her time with Theo. And if he notices any changes in her behavior, he doesn't acknowledge it, for which she's grateful.

When they're done with their last round of drinks, she bids him goodbye and, outside the restaurant, is let into the car by the driver she's hired for her time here. She tells him to take her back to her hotel after he's settled himself behind the steering wheel. Just as he starts the engine, her phone buzzes with an incoming text. She doesn't let herself react when she sees who it's from.

Chloe: Hoping you're having a good first day of your trip, Mom! Chloe is taking good care of me. She says we're leaving for the park in a few minutes! Don't worry though, I still miss you and can't wait for you to come home.

Attached to the text is a selfie of Chloe and Ginny. Beca can see the leash already attached to her collar, which explains why her tail is a blur of motion in the background. What really pulls at Beca's heart though, and in all the wrong ways, is what's going on front and center. Ginny's long tongue is out and is halfway through a swipe up Chloe's cheek. Chloe, who doesn't look grossed out at all by the action, has her eyes squinted and her nose scrunched up in amusement, and the biggest smile on her lips.

And the way her heart responds to the picture just isn't something she wants to deal with right now, so she composes a new text. And she doesn't send it to Chloe. 

Beca: Can I come over early?

She prays the answer won't take long, and sighs with relief when it comes through only moments later.

Sofía: Eager? I'm already home ;)

She doesn't respond to this either, but apologizes to her driver when she asks to change their destination. Upon arriving at the given address about twenty minutes later, she tells the man he doesn't have to wait, and lets herself out.

Sofía lets her inside seconds after she knocks on the front door. The moment it closes behind her, she leans back into it, grabbing fistfuls of Sofía's shirt and pulling her in.

Her proximity simultaneously pulls Beca apart at the seams and stitches her back together.

She closes her eyes when she feels familiar lips against hers.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen

 

Lips travel from her mouth to her cheek. From her cheek to her jaw and to her neck. Teeth graze the skin there and Beca draws in a sharp breath, shutting her already closed eyes even further.

"Hello again," Sofía says. Her hands pin Beca to the door and her voice seeps into her bones, molten and thick. And Beca needs this. Simple, uncomplicated lust. She needs this moment of being able to want a person who wants her back.

Of giving herself over to someone who has never hurt her heart. Someone who has never made her feel like anything less than completely desirable.

She pushes all other thoughts aside when Sofía's strong hands find the hem of her shirt and tug. And Beca doesn't have a long track record of denying this woman so she nods, suppressing the shiver that creeps up her spine with her ascending shirt.

She needs this, she tells herself again. And she doesn't let herself come back to why until later. Not until there's a trail of her clothes leading all the way to Sofía's bedroom. Not until she's on her back in Sofía's bed and her breath is stolen away. Not until Sofía's arm is thrown over her middle, and her dark eyes are closing with sleepy satisfaction that they've spent their time well.

Only then, Beca asks herself why.

/

Sofía drifts off, but Beca knows her doze will be brief. It always had been after. And Beca lays comfortably in the arms of the woman who never quite seemed to fit any of the labels Beca could have given her.

Who never seemed to mind not really having one. It's one of the things Beca's always appreciated about her.

She watches her breath even out and Beca's mind shifts to Chloe. The answer to why is pretty obvious, she admits to herself. The feelings she harbored for years, tried to drown for years, were coming out of their slumber. No longer held at bay by Chloe's absence.

And that's a problem. One she's never had a satisfactory solution to because it either involved hurting... or leaving. She doesn't much like the thought of doing either again.

After only a few minutes with her thoughts, gentle fingers find the skin of Beca's forearm and begin tracking trails up and down, letting Beca know their owner is awake. It effectively cuts off her thoughts of Chloe.

"You don't greet me like that every time," she says, a content smile beginning to spread.

Beca laughs, acknowledging that she did sort of attack her upon arrival.

"Guess the mood just struck," she says. "Are you complaining?"

Sofía's fingers rest, halting in their path up and down Beca's arm.

"Not even a little bit," she says, smirking. Beca rolls her eyes and gets out of bed, looking around the room for her undergarments.

Once the most important parts are sufficiently covered, she opens the bedroom door and stands in the open frame.

"Come on, I'm starving," she says. She puts her clothes back on as she encounters them, and by the time she's back in Sofía's living room she's fully dressed again.

Sofía plops down on the couch next to her and asks what she wants to do about dinner with all the casualness of any two friends who didn't just finish having sex with each other.

That's another thing Beca likes. Her ability to never make... whatever it is they do together awkward.

"There's a new fusion restaurant downtown if you want to try it? They had really good tacos when I went there. Kind of weird, but good," Sofía says with a shrug. Beca shakes her head, thinking of a little apartment and runaway heartbeats.

"I had tacos last night."

They talk about their options for a few more minutes before deciding just to have Chinese takeout delivered. Beca's had enough strangers approach her for one day.

Once it arrives, they don't bother even taking it to the kitchen. They opt, instead, to spread the containers out over Sofía's coffee table, helping themselves to a little bit of everything and putting on reruns of a TV show they both like.

They catch up like they always have, filling in the gaps of time since they last saw each other. Beca finds she doesn't want to talk about Chloe. Sofía's always had an uncanny talent to see right through Beca, and she's not sure she wants to hear whatever honesty might come her way if she tells Sofía Chloe's back in her life. So, despite the gravity of reconnecting with her old best friend, she leaves that particular subject in the dark.

She's in the middle of telling her which two songs she's going to sing on Friday night when her phone begins to ring. She looks around but doesn't see it, and it takes a few moments of them both looking before Sofía claims victory in the hallway, emerging from it with Beca's phone in her hand. The ringing phone had stopped some seconds before being found, and as Beca takes the device back, they're both laughing at how it probably fell out of her pants as they were unceremoniously removed on their way to the bedroom.

She unlocks the phone as Sofía sits back down on the couch, hitting pause on the TV show until Beca rejoins her. The missed call is from Chloe and, since having Ginny has turned Beca into the worrying type, she decides to call Chloe back to make sure nothing is wrong with her.

"It's my dog-sitter," she says, waving her phone to catch Sofía's attention. "I'm just going to call her back real quick."

Sofía shrugs, returning to the container in her hands and pushing things around in it with her chopsticks. Beca slips into the kitchen before hitting send on the call.

"Hey, Becs!" Chloe greets, sounding as chipper as ever. Beca dismisses the idea of anything wrong with those two words.

"Hey Chlo, how's my girl doing?"

There's the space of one beat, and then, "Uh, what?" she asks.

"Ginny?" Beca says, feeling just as confused as Chloe sounds. "I assumed you were calling to let me know how she's doing? I saw you guys were going to the park earlier."

"Oh! Oh, right. Of course!" Chloe replies quickly. Beca wonders where they got off track but Chloe's moving forward again before she can really analyze it. "She's fine! We had a good time at the park and she had a treat for being so well-behaved. I was thinking of taking her with me to work Thursday and Friday. She could hang out with the other dogs," she finishes, sounding a little breathless. A little rambling.

"I'm sure she'll love that. Thanks for taking such good care of her," Beca responds genuinely.

"She's a really good dog, I don't mind at all."

An almost awkward kind of silence follows, because Beca's not sure why all of that couldn't be achieved over text.

"I was just calling to... to make sure you landed okay and everything. I hadn't heard from you since before you left New York and then you didn't respond to the earlier text," she says. And then she adds, almost as if she's just realizing the possibility, "I hope I'm not bothering you."

"No, you definitely aren't!" Beca says, now understanding. But she doesn't want to enlighten Chloe in the reasons behind her avoidance so she goes with a half-truth. "I've been with Sofía at her house. I didn't even have my phone around to text back or anything."

And Chloe doesn't respond right away but Beca doesn't think there's anything incriminating in the words so she doesn't know why Chloe's quiet.

"Oh you're... you're with Sofía already. That's great!" she finally responds. But Chloe doesn't make it sound great and Beca's not sure why. "How is she?"

"Uh... she's fine," Beca replies, bemused. Chloe's never met nor does she really even know anything about Sofía so the question seems odd but she lets it go. "We're eating Chinese food and watching reruns of The Great British Baking Show."

And unless Beca's ears are just hearing things, she swears she hears Chloe sigh at the words.

"That sounds really nice."

She's about to reply that it is really nice because it lets her be lazy and eat as much food as she wants without the possibility of cameras catching it when Chloe speaks again.

"Is she single?"

Beca almost has to laugh at the question because she just can't seem to keep up with Chloe's line of thought. But she answers nonetheless.

"Uh, yeah, she is."

Silence again. Beca doesn't know what's provoking Chloe to say and ask these things tonight but she thinks she shouldn't make Sofía wait anymore than she already has.

"Anyway, I better get back or she'll eat the last dumpling and she knows I was saving it," Beca says, suddenly fearing for her precious dumpling. "So I'll... text you later? Give Ginny a kiss for me."

"Right, yeah I will." She clears her throat before continuing, "Have a good night, Beca."

She offers the same sentiment before hanging up and heading back into the living room. She eyes the container with the dumplings as soon as she's seated on the couch once more. Sofía laughs, nudging it across the table.

"You know I left it for you," she says. Beca smiles, a little embarrassed at how obvious she was. "How's my favorite pup? Is Hollee happy to have her for a few days again?"

Beca picks up her chopsticks and pulls the container the rest of the way in front of her before responding. "Ginny's being spoiled good and proper, so she's fine. And uh," she adds, feeling her chest and ears light up with heat, "Hollee couldn't watch her this time. I had to ask someone else." She doesn't look at Sofía as she says it, but takes a massive bite from the dumpling between her chopsticks. When she finally looks over, Sofía's eyes are narrowed and she's looking at what Beca's sure is the pink tinge across her cheeks.

"Who'd you ask?"

There's already amusement in her eyes as she waits for Beca.

This time, Beca's the one clearing her throat. "Uh, Chloe, actually."

A smile quickly blooms over Sofía's lips at the answer, and Beca thinks this is an odd response, because Sofía knows how her heart had been broken because of Chloe.

"Chloe? As in, Barden Bella Chloe? As in the girl you were in love with? The girl who gave you up when you told her as much?"

Beca finishes chewing, but is then quick to correct her. She tells her about the texts she never got, and the messages quietly waiting for her to take notice. How they'd agreed to try to be friends again. And how Beca really hopes they can be. How she told Chloe up front she'd need to be more careful this time around. Sofía listens patiently, not offering her opinion until Beca can't take another second of not having it, despite being afraid of it earlier.

"I'm glad you have your friend back, Beca. I just don't want you to get hurt again."

Beca laughs without humor. "Yeah, me neither," she says dimly.

Sofía looks at her a few moments without blinking before she speaks. "You've already fallen back in love with her, haven't you?"

And it's the confidence with which she says it that irritates Beca. Makes her want to refute it right away.

"No! I haven't," she says. But it's too forceful. Too... defensive. "Not yet," she adds sadly, her shoulders sagging with the weight of the confession.

"Oh, Beca..." Sofía says.

And she takes a deep breath, wondering how to avoid what she swore she'd never do again.

"I don't know how to stop it. It's like I just can't figure out how to not love her," she says quietly. "It's really inconvenient," she adds with a sardonic laugh.

"Want to know what I think?"

Beca looks up at her and raises an eyebrow.

"I dunno. Do I want to know?"

She laughs, and throws her napkin at Beca's face.

"I think it's impossible for her not to have feelings for you too," she says, leveling Beca with a serious expression.

"I think that's impossible," Beca says flatly.

"Is it?" Sofía retorts. "Beca, she messaged you for years. Literal years of not giving up. I know she loved you as a friend but it sounds like a reach to me to say that was her only motivation in not wanting to lose you."

Beca mulls that over, though no cell in her body has ever really believed Chloe could love her, despite thinking they could be perfect together at many points in her life.

"Maybe I'm just unlovable, Sof," she whispers, admitting a fear she's kept quiet for a long time. "She's never shown any inclination that she felt anything other than friendship. Hell, look at you and me, even. We were good together. Never fought, always liked being around each other. Great sex," she adds with a little smirk. But then she gets serious again. "But even you didn't fall in love with me."

She wills herself not to feel awkward. She and Sofía might be good at having casual sex but they still never really brought up the fact that they didn't work out as a couple.

"Beca, if I've ever done anything to make you feel 'unlovable' then I need to apologize to you. Because you don't deserve to feel that way."

She reaches across the space between them and puts both of her hands over Beca's, tugging a little until Beca meets her gaze.

"You are nothing less than incredible, Beca. I didn't fall in love with you because I was already in love with Miami. This is where I want to be, and I think I'm meant to love someone who wants to be here too. But, would I have fallen for you if you lived here? Or if I was okay with living there permanently?"

Beca looks down again but Sofía removes one of her hands to cup Beca's cheek and lifts her gaze again.

"In a heartbeat," she finishes. And Beca feels the tears spring to her eyelids at such genuine emotion from her friend.

"I think we fall in love and don't fall in love for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes we love the wrong people and sometimes we don't love the right ones. I don't know why Chloe can't see how she feels but I think it's there."

Beca clinches her jaw, wondering how dangerous it would be to let herself linger on that possibility.

"If they're there, they're buried deep," she says glumly. Surely knowing exactly how Beca's felt about her in the past would have provoked Chloe to inspect her own feelings?

"Well," Sofía says, "maybe you just need to ask her to look."

Beca just stares at her, amazed that something so complex could be made to seem so simple.

"I don't think it's that easy," Beca eventually says.

"Maybe it isn't," Sofía concedes, taking the remaining half of Beca's forgotten dumpling. "But what if it is?"

Beca watches her chew, and when she's finished she leans over to leave a chaste kiss on Beca's cheek. Then she hits play on The Great British Baking Show like she hadn't just cracked the entire foundation of everything Beca's ever told herself about the way Chloe feels.

What if it is?

/

The show is spectacular.

The lights illuminate the sky every color of the spectrum each time they flash. The crowd moves and dances like one body. Waves of movement ripple through them like a current in the ocean.

Beca feels the music in her soul. 

She loves every second of watching his set from backstage. His energy is contagious, and she feels it pulling at her from the very first song. By the time it's her turn to join him, she feels like she's radiating it too.

The crowd's cheers explode for their surprise guest as she starts to sing her first song for them. Martin mixes it behind his huge podium of equipment. He changes it enough to give the song his influence, but it can never be anything but Beca's. She put too much of her heart into writing it.

Her second song is slower. Sexier. He introduces heavy beats into the bass line that makes her think of thudding hearts and slow-rocking headboards.

It's seductive in the kind of way only music can be. Dancing back and forth over the line between entertainment and actual, physical pleasure.

When the song ends her chest is heaving and damp with sweat. It cools with the wind skipping across the stage. She bows to her audience to give her thanks for the night, and then once more to Martin for inviting her into his limelight. The roar of the crowd as they bid her goodbye stays in her ears for hours.

It doesn't take long to get back to her hotel, but in that span her phone has all but blown up with notifications.

She swipes on the notifications from her manager. They are, no doubt, tweets and Instagram posts from her performance tonight. Amanda always loves to send Beca her favorite reactions.

She moves on to the slew of texts.

Turtle: You prove that I was right about you every time you perform. Loved watching you again tonight.

Turtle: PS. I'll let you know next time I'm in NYC so we can catch up again.

Beca smiles, always happy to receive praise from someone with an ear like Theo's. She moves on to the next thread.

Sofía: Just saw a clip of your performance on Twitter. You'll have to excuse me if I don't answer any more texts, as I'll be taking a cold shower for the rest of time.

Beca laughs at this. She did feel sexy singing that last song.

And then, in the Bellas' group chat, she sees the following:

Butt Confidence: The Beca Mitchell tag is on fire in Insta right now! I think you killed your fans again, sprout.

Stacie: Everyone stand by. I'll be the judge of that.

Posen: Great performance, Beca. I loved the remix. Of course I'll always love the originals too though.

CR: DAMN, B! Just checked the tag. Warn a girl next time, would ya?

Stacie: Fire status confirmed. So Beca... have I mentioned I'm single?

Legacy: I'M SO JEALOUS OF YOUR LIFE.

Beca laughs again, getting out of the car and thanking her driver. She confirms her pickup time for the airport tomorrow morning before walking into her hotel lobby.

On the elevator ride up, she composes replies.

Beca: You're the best, Theo. See you soon.

Beca: Not jealous of that water bill, Sof.

Beca: I love you guys. And Stacie, go to bed.

/

She lands in New York the next morning fatigued and groggy. There's nothing like the high of performing for a crowd but for Beca it always comes with the price of coming down from it. Hard.

By the time she makes it home she thinks she's used up whatever energy her idle time on the plane allowed her to accumulate. She sends a short text to Chloe before crashing.

Beca: Just got home but I'm exhausted. Mind if I come get Ginny in a few hours?

She's thankful Chloe doesn't take long per usual.

Chloe: Rest up, Becs. I'll bring her home around dinner time so you don't have to come back out again.

Her eyes are already fighting against her as she creates the reply.

Beca: My hero. Thanks, Chlo.

And for now, she's too tired to worry over seeing Chloe again soon or what feelings might try to surface when she does. For now, she just sleeps.

It's just past six when she gets a text from Chloe saying she's on the way. She doesn't get up right away, knowing she has a little time to get herself together before Chloe's arrival.

Which is why, not fifteen minutes later, she's surprised to hear a knock at her door. She stands up and then looks down, not exactly having planned on greeting Chloe in low-slung sweatpants and an old camisole. But she's excited to see Ginny and she doesn't want to make them wait.

Besides, Chloe's seen her in less.

When she opens the door Ginny all but rockets through it, barreling into her legs.

"My girl!"

She drops to the floor and Ginny's tail goes into a frenzy. She climbs over and through Beca's lap like they haven't seen each other in years, not days. And dogs are just the best, she thinks, petting everywhere best she can amid Ginny's constant moving. After a few seconds she hops back up, letting Chloe inside.

"Hi!" she greets, and her happiness over having Ginny back forgets to tell her to be careful, because she pulls Chloe into a tight hug. She's swiftly reminded though when she feels fingertips graze the skin at her lower back. She suppresses a shiver as she lets Chloe go, and pulls on the hem of her cami, making sure the exposed skin is covered again.

"Hi, yourself," Chloe responds. Beca notes her voice sounds rougher than usual, lower. Like she needs to clear her throat.

"You're not getting sick are you?" she asks, closing the door behind both of them. "Your voice sounds-"

But she doesn't finish the sentence. Chloe cuts her off with a cough to the back of her arm, and when she speaks again, it sounds as normal as it ever does.

"I'm fine. All good," she says. And then she lifts an arm to show Beca what she's carrying. Over her shoulder is Ginny's rucksack, but in her hand is a paper bag sporting the name of an Italian restaurant Beca absolutely loves. They used to get takeout from there when they lived together and, of course, when they had the money. Beca looks back up to Chloe's face, whose smile, Beca's sure, matches her own.

"You really are my hero," she says, liberating Chloe of her burden. "Sometimes I forget how well you know me."

They make quick work of Ginny's things, and then unpack the food on the kitchen countertop. Chloe's gotten Beca's order exactly perfect, all the way down to removing the green onions and adding a little extra diced tomato. It makes her so happy that Chloe's remembered something so insignificant about her.

Unlike the other times they've eaten dinner together, they don't sit at the dining table. Beca directs her, instead, to her living room couch. She's fully intent on being as lazy as possible, and sitting up in a straight-backed chair just won't do.

And Chloe's being unusually quiet tonight. Aside from a playful scoff in Ginny's direction when she lies down at Beca's feet, she doesn't say anything as they sit on the couch with their food. Beca's not sure what to make of it, so she turns on the TV. She throws a smirk in Chloe's direction when she puts Seinfeld on.

Chloe's mood lightens considerably once her belly is full and they're well into their third episode. She laughs at all the appropriate moments, anyway.

"This is why you never have dinner at a busy restaurant with a low-talker," Beca says seriously. "You could wind up in a puffy shirt on TV."

Chloe giggles and looks at Beca. Her eyes seem like they're searching for something on Beca's face.

"What?" she asks, giving in to the possibility that there's food somewhere. She had eaten with unbridled enthusiasm.

"I'm just glad you're home," Chloe says, but Beca doesn't think that's all there is to the answer.

"I was only gone five days," she says, probing.

"I guess I thought... if you were thinking of getting back together with Sofía... maybe you'd also be thinking of moving down there. Because you can make your music anywhere."

Beca shakes her head and screws her face up in confusion. In a hundred guesses she'd never have picked those to be Chloe's next words.

"What gave you the idea we were getting back together? We're just friends, remember?" She says it gently, for reasons she can't explain.

"You hooked up when you were down there right? But it wasn't just a hook-up. You guys were like hanging out. Getting takeout and watching old reruns together. It seemed so... couple-y."

Beca laughs, seeing the irony right away.

"Chlo, that's literally exactly what you and I are doing right now. And we're not a couple."

Chloe looks down, and pulls at a loose thread on one of her sleeves. "It's different when there's sex involved."

Beca swallows at the words, and she wishes she hadn't compared her time with Sofía to her time with Chloe, because she has to force down the images that are now desperately trying to plant themselves in her mind.

"Maybe," Beca finally manages. "But we really are just friends. Even if we do still hook-up sometimes. She and I both know that's all it'll ever be. Until we find other people we can truly be with anyway."

And then still feeling confused, but mostly brave, she goes on. "Why does it bother you?"

"It doesn't bother me," Chloe says quickly, but she looks down again as she says it. "I was just worried that if you did get back together then maybe you would move down there. And," she pauses, finally looking back up again, "...and that would suck because I just got you back."

Beca clinches her jaw, hating what the words do to her heart, but having no way of stopping them. But she's resolved to figure it out this time. Refuses to let her feelings get the better of her or make her run from something she doesn't want to run from. So she shoves the feelings aside if only to get out her next sentence.

"I'm here, Chloe. And it's where I want to be."

And if there is more than one meaning to her words, she doesn't see the importance in explaining them.

Chloe seems happy with that response, so Beca drops the subject. She'll have time for overanalyzing everything later.

"Speaking of Miami, though," Beca goes on, watching Chloe turn to her again, "you never told me what you thought of the performance. Did you see any of it on social media?"

Chloe furrows her eyebrows as if she's trying to remember telling Beca what she thought. Finally, she gives a truly underwhelming response.

"You were really good, Becs."

"'Really good'?" Beca repeats, disappointed. "Your vocabulary is really letting me down here, Chlo."

Chloe smirks a little but then, Beca's pleased to note, her cheeks turn pink with a light blush.

"I didn't know if I was allowed to say it was sexy."

And now Beca has to swallow again, her throat suddenly feeling very dry. She compels herself to speak, willing sound to come from her vocal cords despite them being filled with sand.

"Did you think it was sexy?" she asks.

"Yeah, I did," Chloe replies, and before Beca can even try to come up with a response for that, red curls are turning back towards the TV to catch the next episode's opening monologue.

And Beca can't help but remember Sofía's words about Chloe's feelings as she sits there, watching but not hearing the television.

"Maybe you just need to ask her to look."

And she remembers the hope that tried to settle in her chest at the words. And that, according to herself, hope is a dangerous thing.

She remembers telling Sofía she didn't think it was that easy.

But what she really can't shake, what keeps haunting her, is Sofía's answer.

But what if it is?

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty

 

It had been almost a week since the night Beca had come back from Miami. Six days since Chloe sat on her couch watching Seinfeld reruns while Beca wondered.

Dare she believe that there's something in Chloe's heart for her?

Dare she ask?

She certainly hadn't been brave enough that night, and six days' worth of contemplation over that question hadn't provided her with the right amount of courage either.

And even though a not so tiny voice in her head keeps telling her that falling in love with Chloe Beale again is inevitable, there's a slightly bigger, infinitely more stubborn voice telling her that maybe she won't.

And it's the maybe of it all that really grinds her brakes. That tells her to hold her tongue while there's still wiggle room for her heart.

Which is how she finds herself on the sixth day deciding to invite Chloe to her apartment for Grammy "dress shopping."

Her manager had called that morning to confirm a personal shopper, a stylist, and a makeup artist coming to her apartment the next day. Beca needs to choose a dress for the Grammys and she needs to make sure whatever hair and makeup she goes with won't clash.

And it's not like Beca hates fashion. Or being pampered. She's actually quite fond of looking effortlessly amazing. She loves that designers actually ask her to wear their beautiful clothes at high profile events and that her hair always looks ten times better than what it would if it were left up to her to fix it.

It's just the in-between that always makes her feel awkward. She hates playing dress up for people who will tell her she looks good even if she doesn't. So she tells her manager to double the pay rates for the hair stylist and makeup artist because she's inviting a friend to help her this time. And if Chloe just so happens to want to be made over too, then she can be.

After hanging up with Amanda, she calls Chloe, hoping she doesn't have other plans already.

"Hey, Becs," she says upon answering. "To what do I owe the pleasure on this fine Friday afternoon?"

Beca smiles, her knee jerk reaction to Chloe these days.

"I was wondering, well hoping really, if you're free tomorrow morning for a few hours? I need a favor."

"A favor? Have we progressed again in the favor-asking department then?" Chloe asks playfully. Beca scoffs dramatically before responding.

"If you're just going to make fun of me then I guess I'll forget all about asking you to join me in getting pampered all day. I was going to see if you wanted to get made over while I try on potential dresses I can wear to the Grammys. You know, to help me choose, but..." Beca says, letting the sentence tail off and the offer dangle.

Beca hears Chloe squeal with glee after the words and she can't help but wish she could have asked in person to see it.

"It's a tall order but... I think I can sacrifice an afternoon to help you," she says, trying to come off seriously but failing entirely. "Where should I meet you?"

"Just come to my place around ten, they're due here at half past."

"Oh my god you're so famous they actually come to you. That must be awesome."

Beca laughs. It is kind of awesome.

"There are definitely perks I can't complain about," she says.

"Should I bring anything?"

"Just yourself," Beca says simply. "They're bringing everything here."

"I can't wait, then. Thanks for inviting me!" Chloe says genuinely. "I've never been made over by professionals before."

"You've never needed to," Beca says before she can stop herself. She closes her eyes, hating how sincere it sounded.

"Anyway," she says airily before Chloe can respond to that proclamation, "I'm about to head into the studio so I'll see you tomorrow morning, okay?"

"See you then, Becs," Chloe replies. And Beca swears she can practically hear Chloe's smile through the phone before she hangs up.

"You're an idiot, Mitchell," she says to herself. She looks down at Ginny, who's looking at her with the most "Bless your heart" expression she's ever seen.

"It just slipped out, alright?" she says. She picks up her jacket off the back of a chair and throws it on with a little more aggression than is strictly necessary. But she knows once she gets to the studio she'll feel much better.

Music is cathartic like that.

"Be home in a few hours," she whispers, kissing Ginny on top of the head before leaving.

She feels her anxiety start to slip away as soon as she parks her car at the label's studio lot. It melts away quickly in the face of her excitement.

The remix of her second song from the Martin Garrix concert was so hugely popular on social media that the label had decided to release a recorded version. She'd been in contact with Martin all week and they were both excited to collaborate in a studio setting.

And when she's finally in the recording booth she feels confident again. It pulses through her veins with the tempo of the music. Her voice is sultry and tempting, even to her own ears. She's proud of what they create together.

It doesn't take long, as these things go, to have a completed version. It isn't ready for release by any means, but it's good enough to work off of. She saves a copy of it to a hard drive before leaving, intending to take it home to tweak and mold. Make it into something she wants other people to hear.

She suppresses the urge to dive right into it as soon as she gets home. She knows Ginny needs some play time and she should probably eat something before she gets sucked back into the world of music making. It's a rabbit hole she loves going down, but she knows she tends to forget about other things while she's down there.

When she's satisfied that Ginny's sufficiently worn out, and when her stomach is no longer grumbling, she sits down in the little room she likes to call her mini studio.

She loves working on music at home. It makes her feel like her younger self, mixing music in her old bedroom at her mom's house or in the third floor loft she shared with Amy in college. It makes her feel innocent again. Like she can pretend she doesn't know what it feels like to be heartbroken. Like she can pretend she's never been rejected.

She gets lost in the track, missing the hours that coast by her until she finally gets to a place she's satisfied with. After climbing in bed that night, she still hears the baseline in her head. And when she drifts off, it stitches itself into the fabric of her dreams.

The next morning, Chloe arrives right on time. She greets Ginny with enthusiasm, kissing her head and scratching her ears. Beca tries to tell herself that there's nothing unusual about the fact that Chloe doesn't hug her afterward.

"Come on, we're having mimosas," she says, pulling Chloe into the kitchen and sliding a champagne glass in her direction.

"You really pulled out all the stops, huh?" Chloe asks, holding the glass while Beca pours orange juice and champagne into it.

"If we're gonna do this, might as well do it right."

She winks, and then taps the side of her glass to Chloe's.

"So what did you do at the studio yesterday? Anything I can hear?" Chloe says, her eyes full of interest.

"As a matter of fact, yes. Come on," Beca says, leading Chloe down the hall and into her home studio.

"I see you've graduated from mixing on your laptop," Chloe says, impressed. She takes a tour around the room, holding her mimosa in one hand while the other reaches out to everything she sees. Her fingertips skim over the spines of records sitting on shelves upon shelves on one wall. They hover over the equipment laid out over one long desk, and the framed albums on the wall opposite. Afraid to harm the symbols of Beca's hard work.

"Don't worry. I'm still that broody, alt girl at heart. Even without the constant attachment to my laptop and headphones," she says playfully.

Chloe laughs, and then takes a seat in the chair in front of the main computer.

"So let's hear it," she says, clapping her hands together impatiently. It reminds her of college Chloe. The one always eager to hear Beca's latest arrangement. She smiles at the words before taking a place behind the chair.

She leans around Chloe's shoulder to take the mouse on the desk, and navigates to the right program to play the track she spent almost all of yesterday working on.

She pretends she can't smell Chloe's shampoo.

"So my performance in Miami was more popular than I think anyone ever anticipated. The views on YouTube are in the millions. So we're releasing a recorded version for online only purchase," she says. She unplugs the headphones from their jack and tweaks the volume on the surround sound speakers in the room.

And she's not sure why but Chloe's back seems to stiffen when she looks up at Beca. Like she's suddenly uncomfortable. Beca wonders if she's taking up too much of Chloe's personal space and backs up, leaving the mouse on the desktop.

"Uh, just hit play whenever you're ready," Beca says awkwardly.

She can see the muscles in Chloe's jaw clinch before she moves, and she wonders why the action was necessary. But all other thoughts leave her mind when Chloe presses play. She listens to the song, critiquing herself as the seconds slip into minutes. Chloe sips on her mimosa as it plays.

When the song ends she still feels satisfied with how she left it the previous night. She looks at Chloe and waits for her opinion. Finally, after what feels like entirely too long, she downs the rest of her drink and speaks.

"Beca, I think-"

But her sentence is cut off as soon as it starts, because a loud knock at the door diverts all of their attention.

"To be continued," Beca says with a smile. She quickly opens the guest bedroom door for Ginny and then shuts it behind her. Ginny's never really been the jumping kind but the thought of dog plus expensive designer clothing makes her a little nervous. Then she leads Chloe back to the living room, and lets in the three people waiting at her front door.

She introduces them to Chloe who, she's pleased to see, is barely concealing her excitement.

"Okay, let's choose a dress first, before makeup," the personal shopper, Amber, says. She's carrying more garment bags than Beca thought would be possible for one person, but she makes it look easy.

Beca leads Amber and Chloe back to her bedroom, while the remaining two guests begin to set themselves up in her living room. And she feels oddly nervous, opening her bedroom door and letting Chloe in behind her. It feels almost too personal, letting Chloe see where she dreams.

She looks around the room, seeing her individual touches and wondering what everything looks like to Chloe's eyes. She's glad she doesn't have long to dwell on it because as soon as everyone is in the room Amber immediately dives into Beca's closet and begins hanging the bags. Chloe sits down on the edge of Beca's bed gingerly, and sits with her back ramrod straight. Beca wonders why she doesn't want to let herself get too comfortable.

"Okay first up," Amber says, walking out of the closet and producing a floor length black dress. "Black is never not in vogue, so always a safe choice."

Beca agrees. She tends to lean towards the color more often than any other. She takes it from Amber's arms and goes into the closet with it, shutting the door behind her. When she walks back out, she's met with two different facial expressions from her helpers.

Amber looks at her with her head tilted to the side, a furrow in her brow and a hand under her chin. Her gaze is analytical. Beca can practically hear Amber's thoughts on how this would look on the red carpet.

Beca shifts to Chloe next, and... doesn't know how to interpret what she sees. Her eyes are moving, never resting anywhere on Beca for too long. Her lips are pressed into a thin line, like she's trying not to say something she knows Beca doesn't want to hear. It's an odd reaction, and it makes Beca feel self-conscious. She thought she'd looked pretty good in the mirror on the back of her closet door. Now she's not so sure.

"Well of course it's gorgeous," Amber says practically. "I love the high slit." She moves forward and brushes Beca's hair off her shoulders so the neckline is more exposed. "Will probably need to go with an updo if we choose this one," she says quietly, as if to herself.

"Chloe?" Beca asks, more than curious about her opinion.

"Yeah," Chloe says, almost absently. "Everything she said."

She isn't completely satisfied with that answer but Chloe doesn't look like she's going to offer anything more so Beca nods once and waits for Amber to get the next one ready.

She tries on three more. A navy knee-length number with tassels so awful she doesn't even show it to her audience, a dark green sequined dress that looks way better on her than it does on the hanger, and a light pink dress with a soft scoop neckline.

She dismisses the pink one herself, commenting that it makes her look too young. If she does happen to win her first Grammy, she doesn't want to look twelve years old when she does it. And though the green one looks much better than she would have guessed, all three women agree that the black dress looked best.

Chloe seems to be more into the conversation now. She comments with more original thought on the second and third dresses she sees, making Beca forget all about her weird reaction to the first one.

On the fifth dress, easily the most elegant of them all so far, Beca steps out of the closet already feeling confident this is the one. She just wants Chloe and Amber to affirm her opinion.

The dress is a beautiful coral color. Not orange and not pink but a perfect in-between. It hangs off one shoulder, leaving the other bare. And the high slit shows off almost an entire leg with every other stride.

Beca completely misses Amber's reaction to it because as soon as she's in view of the room, her eyes are drawn to Chloe. Chloe, who literally springs to her feet as soon as she sees Beca. And Beca can't help but smile, somehow understanding the action to be approval without Chloe having to say anything.

She is reluctant to look away, happy to continue taking in Chloe's admiration of the dress. But when she finally shifts her gaze over, it's to find Amber smiling at Chloe instead of her.

"Yeah, I agree," Amber says simply.

They talk about shoes for a few minutes and then Beca walks out to the living room to give her style team the chance to look her over. As expected, but not totally unwelcomed, they both proclaim her a knockout. She smiles and thanks them before sitting in one of the two chairs in the middle of the room.

Chloe takes the other, and the makeup artist swoops in on Beca, talking about color palettes and looking through her assortment of brushes.

The hair stylist walks behind the pair of seats and stops at Chloe with obvious approval in his eyes.

"I almost don't even want to style it," he says quietly. "Does your hair always look like this?"

Beca laughs out loud. She's no stranger to hair envy when it comes to Chloe, and has years of experience in asking herself why it always looks so perfect.

She listens as the two get into a discussion over hair products, bewildered over how many different things they talk about. She feels unable to really contribute to it, not knowing much beyond the conditioner and leave-in heat protectant she uses after each shower.

The makeup artist doesn't engage much, which honestly is something Beca likes about her and why she keeps hiring her instead of anyone else. She hates someone expecting her to talk while they color her eyelids or lips. It's like when the dental hygienist tries to make conversation at every teeth cleaning appointment. It just doesn't work.

When she announces she's done, Jeffrey, the stylist says he's done too. And Beca thinks he probably could have been done any time he liked because Chloe's curls are still perfectly intact. Beca thinks he probably just had a bit of fun playing with her hair, and didn't want to take any tools to it that would change it.

Beca and Chloe both stand to swap places, but before she can take her new seat in front of Jeffrey, Chloe catches her eye.

"You look... I mean, I've never-" she stutters. She presses her lips into the thin line Beca saw earlier in the bedroom before trying again. "You're going to wow everyone there."

Beca feels the blush creep up her neck but wills it not to rise any higher.

"Thank you," she says quietly.

When she finally sits, Jeffrey instantly gets to work. He suggests a style that gets her hair off both shoulders, so people can see both the Swarovski crystals on the covered shoulder and the bare skin of the other.

She goes with his suggestion, never having been let down by him in the past. He picks up the already hot curling iron and begins to work.

This time when the makeup artist is done, Jeffrey is still working. Chloe gets to stand before Beca, and when she's finally in Beca's line of sight, Beca stifles a sigh.

Chloe's always been beautiful. Beca's never been in enough denial about her feelings to say that Chloe isn't. It's just a statement of fact. Water is wet, and all that.

But now, with her curls a little wilder than usual from Jeffrey's excited hands, and with lid liner that makes her eyes even bluer than the sky itself, she's beautiful in the way that tries to steal Beca's breath from her. That tries to rob her of intelligent communication. She has to double check that her voice will be steady before speaking.

"Wow, Chlo. You really look amazing," she says with a smile. She's pleased with how easy she made it look to say. "Go look in the mirror."

Chloe excuses herself to the guest bathroom while Jeffrey finishes up. After only another few seconds, just long enough for him to twist one last curl around his finger, he deems her done. She stands up and walks down the hallway also, curious to see her finished look. When she arrives at the guest bathroom she stands in the empty doorway, letting it frame her.

"So?" she asks, getting Chloe's attention. The redhead instantly smiles at her, and then backs up a few paces so they can both look in the mirror. Beca steps into the space and turns to look at herself. And she can't deny that she looks good. Jeffrey had styled her hair into a messy bun that rested at the top of her neck, with twists of hair leading into it and loose curls framing her face. Johnnie, the makeup artist, had gone with dark eyeshadow and thick liner. It reminds her of a younger version of herself. Only now instead of the look making her look evasive and standoffish, it makes her look bold and powerful.

Like the kind of woman who eats Grammys for breakfast.

"You... Jesus, you look good," Chloe says. Beca smiles at Chloe's reflection before turning her gaze on the real thing.

"Thank you," she says again. And she's not sure why, but the longer she looks at the Chloe the smaller the room seems to become. And she can feel it all over again, just like that day in the park with Ginny, just like every other time she makes the mistake of looking at Chloe Beale just a little too long. She feels Chloe's gravity like she's made of metal and Chloe's the magnet.

It takes every fiber of willpower in her body to keep her eyes open when Chloe takes one step closer and wraps that same curl around her finger that Jeffrey had last let go of.

It's the look in Chloe's eyes though that keeps Beca's open. It's a look that seems familiar to her but only with secondhand recognition. As if she's seen it before but has never actually been the catalyst behind Chloe making it.

"Are they done?" Chloe asks. The question is quiet. Too quiet to come off casually and Beca really can't stand that she never knows what Chloe's thinking anymore. Chloe lets her hand drop from Beca's hair when she asserts that they are.

Beca leads them back into the living room and thanks her team for putting her together. Jeffrey parts with a bow and a request that Chloe call him anytime she needs a stylist. Beca smiles at how quickly Chloe sucked him in. Another one bites the dust.

The makeup artist walks out with barely more than a farewell, true to form. And Amber leaves after Beca changes out of the gown, collecting all the dresses back into their proper garment bags and promising to keep the chosen dress for the evening in safe hands.

After she closes her front door for the third time, she turns back towards the living room, intent on asking if Chloe wants to stay a while longer.

She throws herself onto the opposite side of the couch as Chloe and opens her mouth to see if she has any other plans for the rest of the day. But Chloe beats her to it, shifting closer and fixing Beca with vulnerable eyes.

"Beca, do you mind if I stay a bit longer? There's something I really need to say to you."

Beca nods, infinitely more nervous than she was five seconds ago and, for what seems like thousandth time, desperate to know what Chloe's thinking.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One

 

Beca doesn't remember the last time she was this nervous. Just a few words from Chloe and her whole chest fills with anxiety. It fights with her lungs for space. It compresses her heart.

She doesn't think very much time has passed, but it feels like an eternity since Chloe last spoke. She's certainly had enough time to come up with several negative possibilities.

Maybe Chloe is more observant now than she was in the past, and can see Beca's returning feelings for her. Maybe she's going to tell Beca she can't deal with that. Maybe this time it'll be Chloe who runs.

Or maybe she can deal with it as long as Beca doesn't get too close. Beca recalls grimly how uncomfortable she had looked in her studio when she leaned over Chloe's shoulder.

Each new thought is bleaker than the last and Beca really just wishes Chloe would get it over with. The wait is killing her. But she's quiet as Chloe looks down at her hands, wringing them together. Beca pulls at the bun on the back of her neck just to give her hands something to do while she waits. Chloe only speaks after she's done and her hair is loose around her shoulders again. 

"God, Beca... I must be the biggest idiot in the world."

Beca doesn't know what to say to that. It doesn't give her any hints about what's coming next. Her anxiety gets bigger, but she tries for a response anyway.

"I'm... sure that's not true," Beca says quietly. "Chloe, what's... what's this about?"

Chloe looks up then, her blue eyes crystal clear and filled with something Beca can't name. Something she desperately wishes wasn't aimed at her.

"Do you remember that day in the park? With Ginny?"

Of course she remembers. She'd been a nervous wreck in the moments leading up to seeing Chloe again. She'd been angry over still believing Chloe just gave her up. Overwhelmed. Sad. She'd almost experienced life’s entire gamut of emotions in the span of just a few hours.

She doesn't say any of that though, in favor of keeping Chloe talking. So she just nods.

"You told me that day that I made you different. And I just accepted that at face value because I already knew that was true. Everyone knew it was true. You never kept me at the same distance as everyone else. And I loved being the exception to your rule. I loved that I was the one who made you different."

She looks at Beca now like that declaration is supposed to clear up any confusion. But of course it doesn't, and Beca's still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"Okay..." she hedges.

"But what I never took the time to realize until meeting you again, is that you make me different."

She pauses again, her eyes imploring Beca to understand.

"I'm different for you. And to you. And because of you. It took losing you and then finding you again to see that."

Beca looks back and forth between Chloe's eyes, trying to understand why this announcement is causing her to look so... defeated. She doesn't immediately spot any reason why those things are bad.

"I don't think that makes you an idiot, Chlo," she tries.

The corners of Chloe’s mouth twitch before she speaks.

"Please reserve judgment until the end," she says, looking back down again.

Beca nods again, resigning herself to just having to be patient.

"I never gave any thought to the fact that I was different with you than I was with anyone else. That's just how we were. There are so many things I never paid attention to. So many feelings I never cared to inspect."

Beca waits, stamping down something triggered inside her by those words.

"In college I didn't have a good reason for hating the nights you spent at Jesse's. I didn't have a good reason for being pleased each time you chose to spend time with me instead of him. I guess I just told myself I was selfish with you. And that was a good enough excuse for what I was feeling."

Beca's heart beats a little faster, chasing after the hope dangling off the ends of Chloe's words. She doesn't say anything though. She's not nearly brave enough to assume the best.

"I was happier when we moved here together," Chloe continues. "Spending every night with you and being closer to you than even we were at Barden. After Amy moved in, it never occurred to me that maybe it was weird how much I didn't mind sharing that foldout. That perhaps I should ask myself why I enjoyed waking up with you so much. Why I never felt the need to back away when I woke up tangled with you."

Beca swallows, hating how badly she wants the words to mean something she'd never dared to dream.

"When you met Sofía I... well I was probably more interested in the fact that you liked women than what could be considered normal. But of course I didn't think twice about why."

Chloe takes a deep breath here. Like the next words are going to scrape at her throat when they come out.

"The day you told me you loved me I just... didn't get it. You were my best friend. You weren't supposed to fall in love with me. And I, being the least emotionally intelligent person in the world apparently, told myself if I gave you a little time and space, you'd get over it and we could go back. So when you asked me to leave, I did. I just... had never thought of you that way."

And try as she might not to let them, Chloe's words sting her. She doesn't know why that announcement was particularly necessary. She's always known Chloe isn't attracted to her. She bites back the reminder of her rejection though, only showing her hurt in the clinching of her jaw and the flaring of her nostrils for a split second.

"I was a mess when I lost you. It hurt in a way I wasn't prepared to understand. So I think, instead of processing it, I just tried everything I could to get you back. I thought if we could just be friends again, then the pain I felt without you would go away."

Her eyes begin to brim with tears with the end of that sentence, and Beca feels her own mirror them. She feels the ghost of that pain wash over her, perhaps less potently, but with no less misery. And every cell in her body is begging her to move closer. Pleading with her to reach out and touch Chloe's skin to remind them both that they're here now, and that pain is behind them. But she doesn't, because she still isn't confident about where this is going.

"The day I saw Ginny in my clinic I thought I was going to throw up. It was like an Aubrey Posen nightmare or something."

And Beca smirks despite herself, picturing Chloe that nervous over seeing her again. But Chloe keeps going without returning it.

"For all the years I spent hoping you'd reach back out to me I wasn't at all prepared to see you so unexpectedly. You waited in that exam room a little longer than you actually needed to that day, because I had to wrestle with myself until I calmed down."

Beca thinks back to that day, remembering how much she hated that Chloe looked so put together. It somehow weirdly pleases her that it was all a show.

"I didn't really think you'd take me up on any offer I put on the table. So when you said we could go for a walk I said yes without hesitating. I actually had to find someone to cover my shift after that because I was supposed to work the day we went."

Beca feels some of the anxiety fighting for space in her chest relent a little. Give her heart a little more room to beat.

"You didn't have to do that you know. You could have just said you were working," she says before thinking.

Chloe smiles at her but it doesn't look like it holds any contentment.

"I didn't think I'd get lucky enough to get a yes from you twice," she says calmly. And Beca admits to herself that maybe that's a fair point. She's not sure she would have offered a second one either.

"Where are you going with all this, Chloe?" she asks, wishing she had more patience but not bothering to look too hard for any.

"I'm almost there," she says. Beca composes her face in a way she hopes conveys readiness to continue.

"When you said we could try to be friends again I... I felt like, God, like maybe I could be the kind of happy I used to be again," she says, pausing only for a moment before resuming. "Jesus, that sounds pathetic. As if I couldn't be happy without you. Which, I could. I was. I guess it just wasn't the same kind of happiness. Like the full potential of it was just barely out of reach. Does that make any sense at all or am I making myself sound crazy?" she asks. And Beca wonders if she's asking Beca or herself.

"I... know exactly what you mean," Beca admits quietly.

"And I think... after not seeing you for four years, I couldn't stop looking at you once you were in my life again. And I think that's what made me realize I never really saw you before."

And there's that hope again, taunting Beca. Daring her to reach for it. Her heart elbows anxiety out of its way as it picks up speed.

"When you went down to Miami and were with Sofía again, I finally understood everything I ever felt about Jesse. It was like a slap in the face and I can't believe it took me that many years to figure it out. But... I was still unsure about other things."

Beca wills her voice to be even. Begs the words to come out smoothly.

"What other things?"

And now Chloe stands up and begins to pace, occasionally throwing looks in Beca's direction as if she's daring herself to say something and looking at Beca for that one last push.

"It was weird for me being-" she says before pausing again. She looks at Beca like maybe she shouldn't say what she's about to. Beca doesn't say anything, but tries to tell Chloe without words that it's okay. She takes a deep breath, nods, and begins to pace again before letting the rest fall out. "-Being jealous of her."

Beca doesn't respond. She can't, because Chloe's words don't make sense. So she waits for the logic that's surely buried somewhere within them to surface. But Chloe keeps going before it arrives.

"I was jealous of her, and I was jealous of Jesse. And that made no sense to me because I never thought I wanted from you what you gave to them."

Beca feels her heart galloping so quickly now that it doesn't even feel like a beat anymore. It's nothing more than an out of control flutter, on the brink of vibrating in her chest.

"But then I saw you sing that song and I think that's when I realized it. When I knew that I was absolutely and irrefutably a huge idiot."

And Beca can't stand it anymore. Chloe's saying so many things Beca wants to believe mean one thing but she can't be certain until she hears it explicitly.

"What are you trying to say, Chloe?"

Her voice is barely above a whisper but red curls turn back to her at the question.

"I'm trying to say that... that I wanted you. That I watched that performance and felt things I can't even say out loud to you." A blush blooms red on Chloe's cheeks and neck, and she carries on more quickly after that. "I wondered how I would feel when I saw you again after that. Though I wasn't all that surprised to find the feeling was still there. Is still there."

Beca takes a deep breath, pleading with her lungs to fill because she feels like Chloe just sucked all the air out of the room with that admission.

"I know that's not what you want to hear," Chloe says when Beca doesn't reply. "You said you never wanted to feel that way about me again. And I get that. You've hurt so much because of me. But I'm telling you this because I don't think I'll be nearly as good as you were at keeping it secret." She stops pacing then and looks at Beca, speaking more softly. "I might not be very good at interpreting my feelings but I've never really been the kind to fight them once I knew they were there."

Beca holds her gaze, willing her mouth to catch up with her thoughts. Desperate to confirm this is all real before it slips through her fingers.

And it must be habit now, for Chloe to assume the worst when Beca's quiet. Because she looks like she's about to cry when she starts moving again. But this time she doesn't resume her pacing. Long legs put her in front of Beca in only seconds, and she sinks to the floor so they're at eye level.

"I know I'm too late. I'm not asking for anything. And I'll never ask you to leave so I hope this doesn't make you pull away from me. I just wanted you to know that... that I'm falling for you, Beca. No wait... that's not right."

Beca doesn't think she can survive it if Chloe takes this away from her. But she doesn't wonder what Chloe means for long.

"I'm falling for you again. I'm sorry I didn't realize that sooner."

And what little air she'd managed to pull into her lungs is yanked away from her again. Chloe steals it away with quiet words and glistening eyes. It abandons her all at once, unapologetic in a departure that leaves her utterly breathless.

"Please say something," Chloe pleads. "Anything." And then, whether from her ever-present instinct to touch or from just wanting to evoke something in Beca, Chloe places a hand on Beca's knee. And it must be the touch, Beca thinks, that signifies the reality of the moment. Chloe's palm burns white hot through her pants, sending electricity up from that point and making Beca's body finally, finally catch up.

"Kiss me," she says.

And it's weird, hearing those particular words leave her lips. She's imagined saying them to Chloe more times than she can count but they still scratch at her throat on the way out. It makes her demand sound smaller than it actually is. Less monumental.

"What?" Chloe asks, her eyes full of something that looks like the hope Beca's always trying to shun.

"Kiss me," she says again, pleased that it carries more authority the second time.

She sees Chloe's eyes fall to her lips before she visibly gulps. And then, she moves closer. She slips into the space between Beca's legs, one hand still searing the skin of her knee. Beca's hands twitch, but she masters their impulses. She holds perfectly still as Chloe comes closer, refusing to give even a millimeter. She needs this to be on Chloe. She needs Chloe to come to her, or she'll never believe this is what Chloe really wants.

And it's all so careful and deliberate. Not like the hug Chloe had thrown herself into outside that breakfast diner. It's slow and cautious, but somehow Beca knows it's for her benefit. Somehow she knows there isn't an ounce of hesitation in Chloe's body.

And just when she thinks she's on her last leg of self-control, just when she thinks she can't possibly wait another second, Chloe's there. Her lips find Beca's mouth in a kiss that threatens to burn her up from the inside out. Her hands fly to Beca's jaw and she pulls, refusing to let Beca stay so far away.

And Beca thinks she really might lose consciousness at any moment, because Chloe Beale is on her knees and kissing her. Her lips find Beca's over and over, leaving her only long enough to come right back. She tastes like the orange juice from the mimosas and Beca loses her breath all over again when her fingers climb into Beca's hair, pulling her still closer.

"Oh," Chloe breathes into Beca's mouth. "Oh wow."

And if Beca had a little more control of her faculties she might have echoed that sentiment. Might have been able to tell Chloe just how good her lips felt. How this was better than anything she ever daydreamed about in years gone by. As it is, she has no control or composure to spare. All she feels is want. And all she wants is more.

More, however, doesn't seem to be something she's prepared for. In one smooth motion Chloe's hands find Beca's hips, her thumbs sweeping across bones in a way that makes Beca want to shiver. But before she can even fully comprehend that Chloe's hands are exploring her body, her mind is distracted again. The next time she opens her mouth, Chloe's tongue explores that too. Beca can feel the hunger coming off of Chloe in waves. It drives her mad. It makes her dizzy.

"Beca," Chloe rasps in the seconds that follow Beca reciprocating the action. It falls from Chloe's mouth breathlessly, escaping quickly between strokes of Beca's tongue.

She doesn't think she's ever heard a more attractive sound in her life. It's jarring, the kind of primal response she has to hearing her name in Chloe's voice like that. It makes her pull back while she still can.

When she's decently sure she can handle meeting Chloe's gaze, she opens her eyes. Chloe's arms are still outstretched, resting on Beca's thighs while long fingers still at her waist. Her face is flushed and her lips are reddened. And her eyes wait for Beca's to find them, hungry and hooded.

"Please tell me we can do that again," she says. And honestly it's all Beca can do not to melt right back into her. It takes all she's got not to twist her fingers into red hair and kiss her again. But she needs a moment to breathe. Needs a moment to let Chloe's words imprint themselves into her memory.

"As soon as I'm sure I won't pass out from lack of oxygen," she manages. She smiles when Chloe gives her a shy laugh.

"Tell me what you're thinking while I wait?"

Beca's thoughts scatter in response to the question. She doesn't think she could possibly just answer with one thing. So she answers with them all.

"I'm thinking I can't believe that just happened, and I'm thinking I want to do it again. I'm thinking I don't know what I ever did to be enough for you. I'm thinking you taste fucking delicious. And I'm thinking that if you're an idiot then I must be too, because I've been kidding myself ever since I saw you in that little exam room. I could never, ever stand a chance at not falling in love with you."

And she thinks it's been long enough now to sufficiently catch her breath. That after literal years of denying herself, a few seconds in between kisses is much too long. She does reach for Chloe this time, reveling in the way it feels to tangle her fingers in wild curls. And when she feels Chloe's lips for a second time, she doesn't mind that she's rendered instantly breathless all over again.

She's just about to pull Chloe up and into a more comfortable position, like perhaps her lap, when they both hear it. A high whine issuing from the depths of her apartment. Ginny, it seems, was ready to come out of the guest bedroom.

"I'm going to need to have a stern talk with her about interrupting," Beca says with one hundred percent seriousness. But Chloe just laughs, getting to her feet and pulling Beca up with her.

"Come on, let's take her for a walk."

Beca's jaw drops. That's about the last thing she would have chosen from the list of options. And her face must betray that thought because Chloe just laughs again.

"Have you had enough already?" Beca asks. She's mostly teasing but there's a part of her that's genuinely worried it's already over.

"Not even close," Chloe says seductively, not helping the situation in the slightest. But, in that way she has of being sexy one minute and adorable the next, she's able to help Beca find some patience.

"But we've got all the time in the world."

And Beca can do nothing but smile as Chloe leads her away.

She likes the sound of that.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Two

 

Beca unlocks her front door with no small amount of nervousness. She, Chloe, and Ginny had just spent a perfectly normal few hours in Central Park. They walked along sunlit trails, played fetch with Ginny's favorite frisbee, got coffee to keep their hands warm. It was as if they were the same Beca and Chloe they'd always been. The versions of Beca and Chloe that had never admitted to each other that they both wanted more.

Were it not for Chloe's lingering stares and smiles that melted Beca's insides, she might not think what happened before coming to the park was even real.

She might think Chloe's confession had been a dream, fabricated by the most desperate of her subconscious thoughts. She might not actually believe Chloe had admitted to falling for her, or that she'd kissed her when Beca did nothing more than ask her to.

She wonders what Chloe's thinking as she opens the door for them all. She wonders if it will all feel real again once they're inside the same four walls that changed them into these new versions of themselves.

Ginny goes inside first and makes a beeline for her water bowl. Beca closes her front door after Chloe steps inside, wondering what she should say before her awkwardness gets the better of her. When she turns around again Ginny is already stalking off to the bedroom, surely preparing for a late afternoon nap.

"I think all that frisbee throwing wore her out," Beca says, smiling at Ginny's retreating form going down the hallway.

"Why do you think I insisted we bring it in the first place?" Chloe asks. Without warning, she steps into Beca's space, her smile warm but her eyes full of mischief.

Beca gulps, not at all ready for this new dynamic between them but welcoming the shiver that dances along her spine anyway. Chloe unfastens the buttons of Beca's coat before slipping her hands under the shoulders of it and pushing it back. And Beca thinks she's just not prepared. She can't process the idea of Chloe Beale trying to seduce her, even if all it entails is the removal of her outermost layer.

"Are you okay?" Chloe asks, her confidence falling away and leaving uncertainty in its wake. "Is... this okay?"

Beca nods quickly. She may still be in shock that this is all real but the idea of Chloe stopping is just plain intolerable.

"Gonna need more than a nod from you, Becs," Chloe says with a smirk.

"It's more than okay," Beca hastens to admit. "I just..." she trails off, feeling warmth spread up her neck.

"You just what?" Chloe asks, getting Beca's jacket the rest of the way off and draping it over a chair.

"It's kind of embarrassing..." Beca says quietly, regretting the words as soon as they're out because she knows Chloe will demand to know the rest. And sure enough, Chloe's smile brightens with the potential behind Beca's hesitation.

"It's just me, Becs," she says, stepping even closer. Beca feels her lips part without permission and she wonders wildly how she ever kept her secret for as long as she did four years ago.

"I've just thought about... this, being with you like this, I mean, so many times. And I told myself just as many times that it would never happen. I think it's going to take me more than a few hours to believe it all," she states, still feeling a little embarrassed but mostly proud of not stuttering her way through.

She's not sure what part of that admission does it, but at some point along the way Chloe's expression had changed from playful to sincere. Her hands find places at Beca's jaw, and she gives only a moment for Beca to search for breath before she leans in.

And Beca thinks maybe there's no such thing as getting used to Chloe like this. Maybe she'll never get over the novelty of Chloe's lips against hers. And honestly? The idea doesn't bother her in the slightest.

And it's right about then that she tells herself to stop thinking and just start feeling. Her hands pull Chloe closer, and she feels Chloe's hips under her palms. She feels the designs of Chloe's belt under her fingertips.

Her lips move with Beca's and her fingers inch closer to Beca's hair with every heartbeat. It's not until she feels her legs begin to threaten her with giving out that she starts thinking again.

And she thinks it's a really bad idea, leaving herself vulnerable and exposed to gravity like this. She feels precarious on her own two feet, as if her knees could give out at any second. So she leads them away, blindly walking backwards but knowing her apartment well enough not to encounter anything.

When the backs of her legs find her couch she sits down hard, eager to continue what Chloe started in a more stable position. She is surprised (though she's starting to think maybe she shouldn't be) when Chloe doesn't sit next to her. Instead, she swoops down right on top of Beca, a knee on either side of Beca's hips.

Beca's instantly grateful for the decision to sit down, because this is the closest she's felt to passing out since Chloe started her confession hours ago.

"You're really good at kissing," she says, resting her wrists on Beca's shoulders. And Beca smiles, irresistibly reminded of another time she'd been told the exact same thing. She doesn't comment on that though, but gives a pleased hum instead. She likes that Chloe likes kissing her.

"You've really thought about stuff like this before?" Chloe asks, surprising Beca again with a question instead of a kiss. She shifts somewhat uncomfortably under Chloe's weight and stare, not exactly willing to be forthcoming with those daydreams.

"I mean, not... recently. I've been trying a lot harder not to this time around."

Chloe just looks at her, considering the words. She brushes Beca's hair back before responding.

"But you did before?"

"I... yes. I did," she says. And then, "Is that weird for you?"

Chloe bites down on her bottom lip, a sign that usually means Chloe's anything but uncomfortable. Beca can't help but stare at it.

"No," she finally says, releasing it from its prison between her teeth. "It makes me feel... wanted."

"You are."

The words are quiet but so honest. Beca loves the feeling she gets from saying them. She's liberated by finally expressing herself and having those feelings be welcomed. And that's when Chloe finally gives in, bending down to chase Beca's lips.

It's funny, how time passes differently when she's kissing Chloe Beale. Instead of passing in seconds and minutes, it goes by in heartbeats and sighs. It can be counted in the number of times Beca's fingers slide down Chloe's spine, or how often a ragged breath escapes from their throats.

It's measured in passion.

She stops only when she has to. Only when the need for air is at its most desperate. But Chloe always stays close, apparently as happy with their arrangement on her couch as Beca is.

"Tell me again," Beca says, during one of these such gaps.

Chloe smiles and slips warm fingers under Beca's shirt collar. "Tell you what again?"

"Tell me you're falling for me," she states shamelessly. She wants to hear the words in Chloe's voice again. Wants to have more than just the one memory of it.

"I'm falling for you, Beca." It's quiet but lacks no conviction. Subdued but not weak. "I'm falling for every part of you. I never thought this would be possible once I realized how I felt. I was sure you'd moved on, and I had no one to blame but myself."

Chloe's palms rest at Beca's collarbones, her fingers reaching upward on either side of Beca's neck. She wonders if Chloe can feel the pulse beating wildly for her words.

"When you told me to kiss you I thought surely I'd heard wrong. And then, even after kissing you I wondered if maybe that's all I would get. That's why I asked what you were thinking, because I had to know if you had any feelings left over for me."

Beca smiles, loving that she's getting more of Chloe's secrets.

"I can't remember the last time I was as happy as the moment you said you couldn't help falling for me too."

And the words make Beca happy, too. But they also make her curious.

"Is it weird for you?" she asks before she can help herself. "Being with me like this? Kissing me?"

Chloe considers her again, blue eyes searching Beca's face.

"No, it isn't. I wondered if it would be, while you were in Miami. Of course I didn't think I'd actually be able to test it out," she says thoughtfully, her eyes unfocused. "But I did wonder if it would be different, you know, because you're a girl. Or because you're... well, you. It's not every day you get the impulse to kiss your best friend."

"Speak for yourself," Beca says quietly. It makes Chloe only smile wider.

"But when I kissed you I wasn't thinking about any of that. I just really, really liked it."

Beca hums again, in complete agreement. "And this?" she asks, indicating their current position. She pulls on Chloe's lower back, bringing her closer for emphasis.

"Oh, I love this," she says, as if it was something Beca should already know. "Even before I realized how I felt, I craved being close to you. At Barden and then in that shitty studio in Brooklyn. I was always reaching for you. It was like a reflex or something. You have no idea how many times I stopped myself from touching you after I found you again."

And Beca can't help but smile again, remembering how she thought Chloe was holding back. It pleases her to know she was right.

"And that never clued you in, huh? Never thought to yourself 'Maybe that's weird...'?" she asks with a smirk. Chloe pushes lightly on her shoulders.

"Rude," she says. "It was actually something you said at that breakfast diner that made me wonder about you like that for the first time. But I dismissed it because I didn't think I was attracted to you that way. And I missed you so much I just thought that was to blame."

Beca tilts her head to the side, her interest piqued. She wonders what on earth she could have said to make Chloe question herself.

"What did I say?"

"It was when you were talking about Sofía, actually," she says, making Beca even more confused. "Well, when you were talking about why it didn't work out. You said you never felt the way you thought you should feel. That if you're with the right person, you should feel like you're never close enough to them."

Beca just stares back, a little surprised that Chloe found those words worth remembering so closely.

"Yeah?" she eventually asks quietly, prodding Chloe to continue.

"I guess that just... struck a chord or something. Because I experienced that feeling so many times with you."

A lump rises in Beca's throat following that confession. And she thinks maybe she's starting to believe Chloe really is falling in love with her.

"You did?" she asks, needing confirmation.

"Like I said," Chloe smirks, "I'm an idiot."

Beca laughs, feeling warmth settle in her chest.

"Better late than never?" she jokes. But Chloe doesn't laugh. She just answers with a kiss.

/

Several hundred heartbeats later and not much had changed, except Beca now knows what it's like to lay beneath Chloe, trapped and at her mercy. And what it's like to have those lips at her neck. And she's quite keen on the idea of a repeat performance. 

But she hadn't eaten since breakfast, and the light outside her floor to ceiling windows was turning that golden hue that only comes with sunset. She figured they were both probably hungry.

"Will you stay for dinner?" she asks, combing her fingers through red curls and pulling them away from Chloe's face.

Chloe nods and pulls back, propping herself up on her elbows and looking down at Beca with a smile.

"I can't believe I spent all afternoon making out with you," she says before laughing.

"And here I thought you were enjoying yourself," Beca teases.

"No, I just mean... I can't remember the last time I've done that, you know? I feel like a teenager again or something. Like I can't remember the last time I spent that long just kissing someone. It always escalated before too long."

Beca's brow furrows and she nods thoughtfully. She tries to think about the last time she was with someone like this. Being with someone without pressure or thought of moving forward. She comes up empty, and she's about to say so when Chloe speaks first.

"That's not to say I don't want it to escalate with you. I just think maybe I need to... work up to that. God, I probably should have said that from the beginning right? Now I feel like I'm... leaving you hanging."

Beca bursts into a fit of laughter at that last sentence. She hadn't expected anything from Chloe and that's certainly not where her mind had gone when Chloe mentioned how nice it was just to kiss.

"First off," she starts, reining in her laughter, "someone thinks highly of herself."

Chloe frowns, but Beca sees relief in blue eyes.

"Second," she says, more seriously now, "please don't think that way. I'm so happy just kissing you. I'm not going to get mad at where you draw the line in the sand when all I've ever wanted was just to stand on the same beach."

Chloe nods but Beca feels compelled to say more. She needs Chloe to understand.

"We're not on anyone's timeline but our own."

Chloe kisses her then, and Beca can feel the tension escaping her shoulders as she does.

"You're amazing, you know that?"

"Come on," Beca says, choosing not to answer and sitting them both up. "Help me make dinner."

She smiles when Chloe wordlessly follows.

/

"What are you doing for Thanksgiving?" Chloe asks half an hour later when they sit down at Beca's dining room table. There hadn't been much to choose from in the kitchen, but they managed to make a solid dinner of spinach alfredo (Beca still hadn't added much to her list of cooking abilities in the four years they'd spent apart).

"Uh, ordering Chinese food and eating in like I always do?"

Chloe looks at her with wide eyes. Beca might as well have said she was going to live with nuns or something.

"What?! Please tell me that is not how you've been spending Thanksgiving since you moved out."

Beca doesn't really see the big deal of it. She never saw the point of going to either of her parents' places for the holiday. It was just one meal. And she had gotten invites from some of her work friends over the years, but never felt close enough to them to look past the awkwardness of spending the day with their families. And she wasn't about to make a huge, elaborate dinner for just herself so... Chinese takeout was sort of the ideal alternative.

She explains all this to Chloe but it doesn't seem to change Chloe's mind one bit about it being completely unacceptable.

"I usually go visit Aubrey for a few days," she says after reprimanding Beca for bad holiday habits. "It always coincided with my fall break at school so it was easy."

Beca nods, seeing the logic behind such a choice. She wonders if Chloe wants her to go with her this year.

"Obviously this is my first year out of school so I don't have a fall break. I was going to invite Aubrey here." She takes a sip of her wine and Beca takes the opportunity to contribute.

"You should. New York in the fall is beautiful. She'll love it."

"It is," Chloe agrees with a smile. "But I was thinking, since we're friends again-" she stops here, eyeing Beca's smirk, "-well, since we're... whatever we are. Oh, you know what I mean!" she laughs, obviously frustrated with her inability to articulate what she wants and amused by Beca's enjoyment of her attempt. "Anyway, I thought maybe we could invite all the girls up, and maybe have a proper Thanksgiving?"

Beca finishes the bite of pasta in her mouth and swallows before responding. 

"You did, huh? And how long have you been sitting on that idea?" she smirks again.

"Since the day you went on Seth Meyers," Chloe fires off, not missing a beat. Beca quirks a brow and her silent question of Why then? is pretty obvious.

"Aubrey told me you texted her that day, apologizing for pretty much ghosting everyone. So I know you'd like to see them all."

And now Chloe's the one smiling like she has the upper hand. "You're such a closet softie."

Beca puts her fork down and gasps with mock offense. "You take that back! I will not tolerate such slander!"

But Chloe just laughs. It's the contagious kind, the kind that irresistibly spreads. Before long they're both laughing. 

And Beca thinks this could be the kind of happy she's always searching for.

"Shall I send out the invites or did you want to do the honors?"

Beca mumbles something unintelligible, but it's all for show and they both know it. "You do it. I guess I wouldn't mind seeing all those nerds again."

Chloe's answering smile is Beca's favorite as she pulls her phone out. After Chloe sends what she's sure is a text to the group chat, they fall into easy conversation about various topics. They talk about songs Beca's in the middle of still writing, what book Chloe's currently reading. Beca asks about Rosie the deer and Chloe fills her in on the little fawn's approaching move to a rehabilitation facility. After they finish eating Chloe helps her clean up, and then they take Ginny out together.

And Beca can't help but wonder if this is what being with Chloe will be like. Can't help but wonder if it'll always be this easy. A tiny, naïve part of her says yes. A slightly bigger, more pragmatic part says no. But the biggest part, the part that probably matters the most, doesn't care one bit as long as Chloe always finds a way to smile at her like she does tonight.

They go back upstairs together and Beca wonders how much longer she can convince Chloe to stay. But Chloe surprises her again, and by this point Beca's lost count of how many times she's been caught off guard by her words in the last twelve hours.

"Can I stay with you tonight? If not, that's totally fine," Chloe says quickly, making sure Beca knows she can say no. "But I really don't want to leave you yet."

Beca smiles, her insides feeling like liquid heat before she nods and pulls Chloe by the hand down the hallway and into her bedroom. And it's funny how just a few hours ago she'd been nervous about Chloe even being in this room, when she was now pulling her inside and shutting the door behind them.

She pulls out an oversized t-shirt and a pair of shorts and hands them over before digging in a bathroom drawer for a new toothbrush. She's so glad her dentist gives her about five of them every time she gets her teeth cleaned.

They brush their teeth together, staring at each other with goofy grins in Beca's bathroom mirror. And it feels so familiar, getting ready for bed with Chloe. It almost feels like four years can't possibly exist between the last time they did this together and now.

When Beca gets in bed that night, she goes through her usual routine. She scratches Ginny's ears at the foot of the bed and she plugs her phone into its charger, checking her notifications one last time. She smiles when she finally reads the text Chloe sent out earlier in the evening.

Chloe: Thanksgiving at Beca's! Who's in?

She shakes her head, but secretly loves that Chloe volunteered her space. She does miss those losers and she wants them back. She likes that Chloe doesn't need Beca to use words to explain that. She reads through the responses, feeling a shot of happiness at each yes that came through.

It isn't until she turns her bedside lamp out that her routine encounters its first change.

Instead of falling asleep with nothing but her thoughts for company, she feels strong arms wrap around her. They pull her flush against their owner. They make her feel safe. They keep her warm.

Soft lips find hers next, and then they whisper.

"Sweet dreams, Becs."

She returns the sentiment, and then, she falls asleep in the arms of the woman she loves.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Three

 

Beca's not sure how long it will take to retrain her brain. Even with all of Chloe's affirmations of her feelings permanently tattooed in her memory she still catches herself holding back. She still has to remind herself she's allowed to touch, and kiss, and look. She doesn't mind though, because remembering that Chloe wants her to do those things will always be welcome.

Chloe, on the other hand, doesn't seem to need such reminders. Beca thinks it's because she's not nearly as versed in the art of restraint. Doesn't have as much practice under her belt. This doesn't bother her either. She quite likes being taken by surprise with Chloe's more lustful impulses.

It's easy, being with Chloe. She can never spend too much time with her. Never seems to want the same amount of space or separation she'd wanted with others.

Being without her is harder. Sometimes Beca can almost convince herself that the time Chloe spends away from her will be long enough to make her realize she doesn't want Beca after all. She supposes the years she spent telling herself Chloe could never want her are responsible, and she'll need to retrain her mind on that way of thinking as well. But she's working on it.

Thankfully, Chloe doesn't seem to want to spend any more time away from her than is necessary. And Beca's heart always leaps at how happy Chloe is to see her again.

She's been spending more and more nights at Beca's apartment, much to Beca's (and Ginny's) approval. And Beca loves waking up in Chloe's arms. It thrills her that Chloe still reaches for her in the middle of the night. Chloe's kisses to the back of her neck are better than any alarm tone she's ever had.

It's how she wakes up Monday morning the week of Thanksgiving. There's pressure at her hip, fingers squeezing at the jut of bone, and lips are at her spine. She lets out a sigh when the lips travel upward, her backbone directing them in a path up her neck. It's how she tells Chloe she's awake.

"Good morning," Chloe whispers. It's rough and still thick with sleep. It tells Beca its owner hasn't been awake long.

"Morning," Beca says back. She stays in the same position, quite happy to let Chloe continue kissing the skin she finds facing her. The hand at her hip slips upward too, under the camisole Beca fell asleep in. It ventures across previously unexplored skin, up and up until it halts just below a certain line the two have yet to cross.

"Chloe?" Beca asks uncertainly. She's been patient these weeks they've been together. She's been happy, moving along at any pace Chloe wanted to set for them. But she's also always been happy to continue. Always happy to offer up any part of her body Chloe wanted to explore. And this time is no different.

"Can I?" Chloe asks. Her knuckles brush the underside of Beca's skin in a way that makes her next breath uneven.

"Yes," Beca says, willing herself not to be embarrassed over the eagerness in her voice. And Chloe's touches have grown bolder and bolder every day since that very first confession on Beca's couch. Her kisses have traveled farther and farther away from Beca's lips. She's left her marks across Beca's skin and been proud of them. But this is still different. This is new.

Warm fingers travel across Beca's chest, experimenting with various amounts of pressure and lingering in certain places longer than others. And Beca's heart beats furiously, like if it just thuds hard enough, Chloe can hold it too. She has no doubt that Chloe can feel it, but she makes no effort to calm it down. She's happy to give these beats to Chloe.

"Your skin is so soft," Chloe whispers. Beca smiles but doesn't comment. She thinks anything would probably feel soft under a touch as gentle as Chloe's.

"Is this... okay?"

Beca turns over then, happy that Chloe keeps her arm securely around her.

"More than okay," she says. Her words are breathless, and Chloe smiles at the way they leave Beca's throat.

"I don't think I was done yet, you know," Chloe says, pulling Beca closer both with her arm and the devilish glint in her eyes. Beca lets herself be led, puts up no fight against entering Chloe's orbit.

"As much as I would love to not be done here," she starts, letting her own arm fall over Chloe's waist, "you, madam, have someone to pick up at the airport."

Chloe lifts her head to look over Beca's shoulder at the alarm clock sitting on her bedside table. She groans at the little red numbers on its display.

"Why must Aubrey have chosen the very earliest flight into JFK?"

Beca laughs. Doing anything early in the morning had never been an issue for Chloe in the past. She's rather pleased with the idea of it being a problem now only because Chloe doesn't want to leave her bed.

"If she didn't she wouldn't be the Aubrey Posen we know and love," Beca says playfully. "Now go get dressed before you get distracted again."

Chloe tuts at her, but still doesn't leave her bed without a kiss first. Beca stays a few more seconds, curling up in the warmth Chloe left behind. She's going to miss falling asleep and waking up together the next few days.

"Are you sure you don't just want to tell Aubrey right away?" Chloe asks, seemingly reading Beca's thoughts. She's standing in the doorway of Beca's ensuite bathroom, a toothbrush hanging out of her mouth and her voice adorably muffled with toothpaste.

They'd agreed weeks ago, when it was decided the Bellas would be spending Thanksgiving in New York, that they'd keep their relationship a secret until everyone was all together in one place. Chloe said she liked the idea of being face to face with them when she tells them, in her words, that she 'finally got her shit together.'

Beca smiles at her now and gets up, amused that she's already proposing breaking the deal just so they don't have to hide anything for the three extra days Aubrey is staying with Chloe first.

"I really don't have a preference over when or how we tell them," she says, scooting by Chloe with a light touch at her hips and grabbing her own toothbrush. "But I know you do. Even if you don't think you do right now."

Chloe finishes with her teeth just as Beca starts, and after rinsing she looks at Beca in the mirror and sighs. "I know, and I'll be glad we stuck to the plan on Thanksgiving day. I just kind of hate I have a whole week off of work and can't stay here with you."

Beca smiles through her toothpaste and then finishes with her routine quickly so she can put herself back in Chloe's immediate space.

"You'll have fun with Aubrey. I have to work today and tomorrow anyway," she says as she pulls Chloe in. She hooks her wrists together at Chloe's lower back.

"And we're still on for meeting up with you on Wednesday?"

"I'll be all yours," Beca confirms. "Well, and Aubrey's."

Chloe laughs and brushes Beca's wild hair from her eyes. "I don't think I much liked the way that came out."

"How might I make it up to you then?" Beca teases.

"You could try kissing me. Better bring your A game though or I'll believe your heart's not really in it."

Beca laughs at the absurdity of such a statement. Her heart could never be out of it. But then she leans in anyway, finding Chloe's lips in a way that's become familiar. She kisses her in the way she's had time and practice enough to learn Chloe likes. The way that always leaves her chasing Beca's lips whenever they eventually retreat. The way that draws sighs from her throat.

It's when she feels Chloe's hands start to wander that she stops. They navigate down her back on either side of her spine, only stopping when the material beneath them is that of her shorts instead of her top.

"Someone," she says heavily, smiling against Chloe's mouth, "is handsy this morning." She places one final kiss there before withdrawing, looking steadily at Chloe who looks back shamelessly and with her hands still on Beca's backside.

"I can't help it! You can blame our impending separation."

"Hmm," Beca starts, backing out of Chloe's arms but holding eye contact. "Blame, or thank?"

Chloe rolls her eyes, reminding Beca resolutely of herself, but then she follows.

It takes longer than it should to say goodbye, and even after skipping breakfast Chloe only manages to get out the door with just enough time to make sure Aubrey doesn't have to wait.

Beca puts herself together more efficiently after Chloe's gone, no longer distracted by wandering hands or tempted with skin begging for her kiss.

And the rest of that day and even the following day seem to smile upon her because they don't drag on and on. She's productive and organized during her time at the studio. She takes Ginny for a walk in the now cold weather, but Ginny still loves it. She makes dinner for herself and it's surprisingly pretty good (she's been practicing more cooking ever since she learned she'd be the Thanksgiving host). And everything is dotted with Chloe's texts. Broken up by messages which nicely punctuate the passing of their time apart. 

Messages that leave her smiling.

Chloe: Miss you. Can't wait to see you tomorrow.

Messages that make her laugh.

Chloe: Aubrey just got FIERCELY hit on by a woman who is at least sixty in this bar. I have NEVER seen her struggle that hard for words. It was hilarious.

Messages that make her squirm in her seat.

Chloe: God I want you. Can I stay over Thanksgiving night?

By the time Wednesday afternoon rolls around, she's itching to see Chloe again. And she knows that Chloe's texts will have made it that much harder for her to keep her hands to herself while they're in Aubrey's company.

She walks into the restaurant they're meeting at for lunch and immediately spots them. She turns down the assistance of the maitre d' and makes her way over, keeping her eyes on Aubrey.

"Hi!" she greets when she's close enough. Aubrey's returning smile is wide and she's on her feet in seconds, wrapping Beca in a hug far tighter than she expected.

"I'm so happy to see you," she says in Beca's ear. And it makes a little guilt wriggle uncomfortably underneath her skin. She'd always thought of Aubrey as her friend after the trial of her first year as a Bella was over. But she thinks maybe she always thought of her more as Chloe's friend. And she thinks maybe that was unfair, because nothing about this hug seems at all disingenuous.

"Me too," she says when Aubrey eventually lets her go. Chloe hadn't stood up during the interaction, and Beca slides into the opposite side of the booth they'd been sitting at without any more of a greeting than, "Hey, Chlo." She figures that's a friendly enough hello for two friends who see each other somewhat frequently.

Their lunch together is easy. They talk about Aubrey's life down at the retreat she still runs. About Beca's work and the feel of her next album. Chloe doesn't add much, pretty much already knowing everything being discussed. But every time Beca catches her eye she's smiling.

When it's time to go, and after Beca's interacted with the few fans brave enough to approach her, Aubrey excuses herself to the ladies' room. Beca and Chloe wait for her in the booth with secret smiles on their lips.

"You look beautiful today," Beca says quietly. She interlocks her own fingers together to keep her hands from reaching across the table for Chloe's.

"Thank you. So do you."

She allows herself to let her eyes stay on Chloe longer now. She was afraid to give much more than cursory glances before. Afraid Aubrey would be able to see the love in her eyes before she wanted her to.

When she sees Aubrey approaching again she stands, and they walk out of the restaurant together.

"Thank you for lunch, Beca," Aubrey says, pulling her into another hug.

"It was my pleasure," she responds. "So I'll see you both tomorrow then. Do you have everything you need?"

They'd agreed to split the food making duties between the three of them.

"We got it covered, Becs. Are you sure you won't need any help?" Chloe asks, a smirk aimed in her direction.

"Rude," Beca says. "I got this."

"Of course you do," Chloe says, and then she pulls Beca in for a hug too. Beca wills herself not to smell Chloe's hair but can't help the smile that blooms on her lips when Chloe whispers in her ear.

"See you tomorrow, babe."

She gives a louder goodbye after that, and then Beca watches her walk away arm in arm with Aubrey. She finds herself more impatient than ever for the moment everyone will know Chloe's hers.

The next day is hectic in the hours immediately preceding the arrival of the other Bellas at Beca's apartment. She only almost burns something twice but she's worried the whole time something will go wrong and all they'll have to eat will be turkey and dessert. But in the end it all comes together decently. Pinterest for the win.

Chloe and Aubrey arrive first, laden with glass dishes and the big foil baking pan that surely contains the turkey.

"Beca! This place is beautiful!" Aubrey says, setting down the food she carried in.

"Told ya," Chloe says, not looking up from the table where she was arranging trays. It makes Beca smile.

"And you must be Virginia! Chloe won't stop talking about you," coos Aubrey, crouching down to a happy Ginny. She always loves meeting new people.

Beca watches them fondly for only a few seconds before the next knock is heard at her front door. The Bellas start arriving in quick succession after that. And Beca's heart feels fuller and fuller with each new person. Emily is first. She barely gets over the threshold before she throws herself into Beca's arms with all the same enthusiasm Beca remembers. She doesn't let go for a long time. Beca's guilt squirms again, but she knows she won't let the same amount of time and space between them again, so she tries to shove it aside and just enjoy the moment.

Cynthia Rose, Flo, and Stacie are next. CR offers a one-armed hug and her ever-present easygoing smile. Flo greets Beca with an anecdote about how the living room is bigger than her entire childhood home. Stacie kisses both cheeks, and even leans in a third time but is distracted when Chloe suspiciously runs into her arms before her lips can land again. Beca suppresses the laugh that threatens to erupt from her lungs.

Jessica and Ashley also arrive together, to no one's surprise. They come in bearing more wine than Beca expected two people of being able to carry. But everyone cheers when they just keep placing bottles on the table.

Lilly comes in alone, not even bothering to knock. Beca doesn't even see her come in. She's only made aware of her presence when two thin arms wrap around her middle from behind and the words, "It smells like family," are whispered in her ear.

Fat Amy is last, and is twenty minutes late. She comes through the door with an unsurprising "The party can start now!" and everyone cheers again.

The apartment is full of smiles and laughter. More laughter than Beca's sure it's seen since she's lived in it. She can't remember the last time she felt this happy.

When they finally all settle down, Beca directs them to her dining room. She'd added the leaf into the center of the table to make it longer, and extra chairs to accommodate everyone. It was a tight fit, but this group of girls had never really minded being close. Chloe sits down next to her with a sweet smile, and Beca has to remind herself she's not allowed to take her hand yet.

There's some amount of appreciation for how good the food looks, and then the wine is poured. And then Beca clears her throat to catch the attention of the room.

"Speech!" Amy shouts, making everyone laugh.

"Um, no," Beca says, flushing. But she does have something to say. "But I did just want to say that I'm so glad all of you are here. I can't believe I let so long pass by between us, but I'm glad I pulled my head out of my ass because you nerds are... pretty irreplaceable."

"Damn right," Cynthia Rose says, throwing Beca a wink.

"So today," Beca goes on, feeling less embarrassed now, "I'm thankful for you."

The same sentiment is thrown back at her from ten different people, and they all take sips of their wine to toast the occasion. Then, they dig in.

Dishes are passed around until everyone has a little of everything, and Beca feels relief after the first bite of her stuffing. It's as good as she could have hoped for.

And it seems like a hundred different conversations are going on at once, with everyone talking at the same time. But Beca wouldn't change a thing about it. From her place at the center of the table she's able to talk to nearly everyone, but she mostly talks to Emily who sits across from her. She wants to hear every minute detail of her career, and Beca ends up promising to take her by the studio before she leaves New York on Sunday. It feels like college again, promising to take Emily to a music studio with her family surrounding them.

It's during a lull in conversation that she hears it. She'd been wondering how the announcement would be made, perfectly happy to leave it up to her girlfriend to break the news. Chloe's voice cuts through and over all the others when she speaks.

"Stace, could you pass the sweet potatoes? Oh, and Beca and I are a couple, by the way."

The reaction is instant. Stacie stops halfway in handing over the dish, her arm holding sweet potatoes hostage in midair. Aubrey drops her fork. It clatters loudly on her plate. Emily squeals. Jessica, Ashley, and Flo all look at them with dropped jaws. CR laughs. Lilly just keeps eating, and Amy does a legitimate spit-take. 

"What?!" Aubrey and Amy say together. By now everyone is smiling. Emily is looking at them with all her teeth on display, her hands clasped together at her heart.

"Surprise?" Beca says. But then she finally gets to touch how she wants to. She puts her hand in Chloe's lap, and it's instantly taken up by both of Chloe's.

"Happy Thanksgiving, Becs," she says, leaning in. And Beca's never been super big on public displays of affection, but right now there isn't a bone in her body telling her to be modest. She lets Chloe kiss her soundly, barely registering the hoots and yells from her guests. When Chloe pulls back, it's Aubrey's voice she registers first. And she doesn't think she's ever heard anything nicer come out of her mouth.

"Finally figured it out, huh Chlo?"

Beca smiles at her blonde friend, grateful for such subtle approval.

"Better late than never?" Chloe says, repeating words Beca said to her weeks ago.

Amy stands up then, drawing the attention of everyone from her place at the end of the table.

"Could we raise our glasses again?"

Beca smiles, preparing for what will surely be a ridiculous speech but raises her glass nonetheless.

"Nobody in this room has suffered more than I have watching these two goofballs not be together," she starts. And Beca holds her glass high still, thinking an argument could be made that she suffered the most, but she holds her tongue anyway.

"So let me be the first to say, FINALLY!"

All the Bellas laugh, but Amy still stands.

"I won't wish you the best, because if there's any couple who doesn't need it, it's you two. But Chloe?"

Chloe leans forward then, her arm across the back of Beca's chair.

"Yeah, Ames?"

"Take care of my girl, would you?" Beca huffs at the insinuation that she can't take care of herself, but the entire table knows it's for show.

"I promise," Chloe says sincerely, placing a kiss at Beca's temple.

Amy raises her glass an inch higher then before she states, to the amusement of the room, "To Bhloe!"

There's a loud chorus of "To Bhloe" around the room and they all drink again, breaking down into laughter at the silliness of the toast.


A hundred questions come their way then. How did it happen? Who kissed who first? How long have they kept their secret? And Beca entertains them all, happy to boast the story of how she finally wound up with Chloe Beale.

"Wait! This is important," Stacie states loudly after Chloe admits sheepishly to her reaction to Beca's Miami performance. She leans forward on her elbows, her hands under her chin.

"What's Beca like in bed?"

The whole table erupts into laughter but Beca. She's only too quick to begin her reply.

"Stacie! We are not about to talk about-"

"I don't know. I haven't found out yet," Chloe starts at the same time and cutting Beca off.

"Chloe!" Beca says, dropping her face in her hands. But as the seconds go by she can't hold back the laughter, and when she looks up they're all smiling at her.

"Well damn girl what are you waiting on?" CR asks jokingly. "Beca won't bite." And then, after hearing her own words she adds, "Well, maybe she will. I can definitely see Beca having a few surprise kinks. It's always the quiet ones."

They laugh again and Beca stands up, shouting "Dessert!" and taking herself into the kitchen before her blush reaches her cheeks. She can hear them all joking as she uncovers the various desserts Chloe and Aubrey brought with them.

"So," a low voice says in her ear, while familiar arms wrap around her from behind, "do you bite?"

Beca laughs and spins around.

"Guess you'll have to find out," she says, snapping her teeth shut for effect. She doesn't mean anything by it. Doesn't want to imply any sort of impatience or expectation.

"Then let's hurry with dessert, shall we? We can see them all again tomorrow."

And Beca thinks if she'd had anything to drink at that moment she'd have pulled an Amy and done another spit-take. But she's not about to say no when the idea being proposed is one she's fantasized about more than she'll ever admit to.

Chloe kisses her then, leaving her wholly unsatisfied, and begins taking more food to the dining room.

Beca tries to put her less than innocent thoughts aside for the remainder of the time the Bellas are with them. Of course, jokes are made here and there, but Beca's starting to think she might have been the most surprised of the group to learn Chloe wants to be with her. Everyone else just sort of accepted it and moved on. The energy doesn't feel much different now than it did before the announcement, with maybe the exception of a few more smiles aimed in their direction.

After she's finished dessert, she leans back in her chair, looking around at her family. They're talking over one another and laughing at inappropriate jokes. Drinking wine and already making plans for the next reunion. Chloe puts her hand in Beca's lap and smiles before leaning in Stacie's direction and talking in a low voice. Beca looks at Ginny next, passed out under the table from so much excitement (and probably a belly full of table food she's never allowed to have).

And when she looks up again, she smiles.

Her apartment has never felt more like home.

 

 

Fin