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They Had Time

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~B~

The next few weeks passed by in a blur of classes, rehearsals and Chloe.

They stole what moments they could together, but those were not as often as either of them would like, considering the house had become Bella central. They managed to find alone time between classes when Aubrey wasn’t home – Beca didn’t quite feel comfortable fooling around when they weren’t alone, mostly because neither Beca nor Chloe were really ever able to be ‘quiet.’

While Beca cherished each and every one of their stolen moments, she also appreciated those surrounded by the rest of the Bellas in a cram study session. She maybe just wished she and Chloe had a little more alone time, especially since they still weren’t talking about what would happen after graduation.

It wasn’t that Beca didn’t want to know, because she did, so they could arrange… something. And she wasn’t sure, still, if she was staying at Barden past the end of the year. In the back of her mind she knew a lot of that counted on where Chloe ended up landing. So while she was undecided and they still had the ICCAs in front of them, it was easier to forget the rest of their lives existed for this small bubble in time.

Privately Beca had been worried that the closer they got to the finals, the more nervous Aubrey would become. She wouldn’t have been surprised to see the return of Captain Posen as the memories of last year must have been stronger than ever. But Aubrey had remained mostly calm and only had a few outbursts of temper that vanished almost as quickly as they came.

Where Beca thought things might really blow up had been the discussion about their Bella uniforms.

Cynthia Rose and Ashley had both come to Beca with their concerns.

/

“This new routine isn’t going to work in the skirts, Beca.” Cynthia Rose pointed out.

“I know. I’m just not sure what the answer is, so I’ve been avoiding it.” Beca admitted, making a face when Ashley rolled her eyes.

“We’ve only got two weeks to figure it out.”

“I know, Ash. I’ll…” Beca sighed. “Okay, okay. We’ll bring it up during cool down at rehearsal tonight, okay?”

It had gone better than Beca had even dared to hope. They’d just finished what felt like a billion laps of cardio and Beca decided to just get it out of the way.

“Aubrey, we’ve been thinking about the uniform.” Beca took a deep breath and sat up from where she’d been lying on the floor. “I know they’re Bella tradition but -

“It won’t work for the routine.” Aubrey finished calmly. She smiled her thanks when Chloe handed over a water bottle. “I was going to suggest we go this weekend, see what we can find.”

“Shopping trip!” Jessica yelled as she bounced in her chair while the rest of the girls cheered.

Chloe sat beside her but Beca merely blinked, her eyes still on Aubrey. “You were going to bring that up? Tonight?”

Aubrey nodded, one corner of her mouth twitching into a grin. “How’s that for coincidence?”

“It’s like it’s meant to be,” Stacie said as she flopped down on the floor near Beca.

“It’s just shopping, Stace, not a lifetime commitment.” Beca threw her towel at the taller brunette.

“Shopping is serious business, Beca.” Stacie propped herself up on her elbows. “You can learn a lot about a person based on the things they buy.”

Beca lay back on the floor, letting the cool surface leach some of the heat out of her. “Alright, don’t make it creepy.”

“Too late,” Fat Amy muttered as she passed behind them.

Chloe lay on her side, her head propped up by her hand. “Maybe we can sneak away and do some shopping for us.” Her voice was hushed and, Beca fervently hopped, would go unheard by the rest of the group chattering excitedly about what kind of clothes would work best with their new routine.

Because it didn’t sound like Chloe was talking about clothes at all and Beca felt all the heat that had begun to dissipate rush back into her face. “What?” She winced as it came out louder that intended and cracked in the middle. A panicked look around showed that the girls weren’t paying them any attention. Probably.

Chloe just grinned at her and kissed her cheek before rolling to her feet to sit by Aubrey as they discussed colors.

“If you need any advice,” said a sly voice in her other ear.

‘Oh fuck.’ Beca thought. She’d forgotten Stacie was lying beside her. “Er.” She didn’t want to look but found herself slowly rolling her head to the side, sure her eyes were going to pop out of their sockets. “Uh…”

“I’ve got a lot of experience in… shopping.” Stacie’s grin was as wide as it was smug and mischievous.

“NO THANK YOU, STACIE!” Beca winced as her volume control broke from panic.

The conversations around them died as Stacie dropped to her back and began to laugh loud and full, filling the room where it chased the echoes of Beca’s yell around the rafters.

Beca found Chloe’s eyes and the woman had the audacity to wink. Beca knew in that instant that Chloe was fully aware that Stacie was close enough to hear them and had intentionally left Beca alone with the wolf in designer clothing.

Groaning, she threw her arm over her face. “I hate you guys.”

Stacie pushed her arm out of the way and kissed her cheek before getting up. “No you don’t.”

Beca watched as Stacie walked over and threw an arm around Chloe’s shoulders. While she was still getting used to these kinds of personal comments and teasing… it also cemented her feelings of home and family.

No she didn’t hate them at all.

/

The shopping trip had been successful, though at times Beca felt that it had been exactly like herding cats. She and Aubrey had exchanged a variety of exasperated looks but both of them somehow managed to keep from killing anyone as the event extended far beyond what Beca had estimated. She should have known that expecting any, but especially those eight women to quickly pick outfits for a night as important as the ICCAs would have been a lost cause.

Once that was settled, in what felt like no time at all they were back in a rented bus and on the way to Lincoln Center.

The performance was on a Saturday night, but the drive was over thirteen hours so they arranged to miss their Friday afternoon classes and for a late check-in at a Best Western close to Lincoln Center. The trip was long, but went much smoother than the last; even though they took turns driving, Aubrey insisted that she be the one who filled the tank whenever they stopped for gas and to stretch their legs. The entire trip their excitement remained high as they all tried not to let their nerves get the best of them. Beca didn’t know how the others did it, but her task was made monumentally easier with Chloe sitting beside her, Beca’s hand firmly in her own.

They arrived at the hotel around two in the morning where they had reserved three rooms: Two were double beds and one was a king, which everyone had assumed was for Beca and Chloe, but Beca had handed the keys to Cynthia Rose and Denise. The two women had been making eyes at each other since Denise’s silent ‘I still love you’ confession, and while Beca was fairly certain this likely stepping over a line she wouldn’t want crossed in her own life, Chloe and Stacie had convinced her that it wouldn’t make anyone mad. Denise had immediately grabbed her key and Cynthia Rose’s hand and smiled her thanks, letting Beca finally relax; she’d been braced to get yelled at or punched for being so interfering.

Beca, Chloe, Stacie and Aubrey had all taken one of the doubles, leaving Lilly, Jessica, Ashley and Amy in the other. Aubrey’s eyes had gotten wide when she realized that this meant she’d likely be sharing a bed with Stacie, but Chloe had already thought of that. The night before, as they lay tangled in Beca’s sheets and hoping Kimmy Jin didn’t come home any time soon, Chloe had broached the subject of beds in the hotel.

/

“I think Aubrey hasn’t realized the bed situation.” Chloe said, running her fingers along Beca’s shoulder. She was lying on her back and Beca was half draped across her right side.

“That she’ll be sharing with Stacie?” Beca grinned. “Do you think she’s just blocking it out?”

“Totes. When she does, I’m afraid…” Chloe trailed off as Beca’s lips found her throat.

“Mm?” Beca finally prompted after she left the smallest of marks on Chloe’s skin. “You were saying?”

“Was I?” Chloe took a breath. “Right. Uh. I don’t want her to freak out before the performance. So I was wondering…”

“If I’d mind sharing a bed with Stacie.” Beca finished for her. She’d had the same thought and it always amused her how much their thoughts were alike.

“Yeah.” Chloe bit her lip and ducked her head. “You wouldn’t be mad?”

“It’s only two nights.” Beca said dryly. “I think I can keep my hands to myself.”

“It’s not you I’m worried about.” Chloe muttered under her breath.

Beca froze. “You don’t think…?”

“That she’s a sleep groper?” Chloe laughed. “No. I guess not.” She ran her hand down Beca’s back. “If anyone is a sleep groper, Becs, it’s you.”

Beca groaned and buried her face in the pillow Chloe was lying on. “I knew you’d bring that up.” A few days ago at the house Beca had woken up to a giggling Chloe underneath her. In her sleep, Beca had snuggled close and her hand was up Chloe’s shirt, one hand loosely clutching her breast. Beca didn’t think she’d ever been that mixture of amused and mortified before. ‘At least no one walked in on us that morning,’ she thought idly. Several times they’d been woken up by Aubrey, Stacie, Amy or Ashley all coming in to get them to come down to breakfast.

“It’s become my favorite way to wake up, honestly.” Chloe said lightly.

“Now who’s the aca-perv?” Beca said, leaning down to kiss Chloe before she could answer though she did feel Chloe raise her hand in the air before tangling her fingers into Beca’s hair.

/

Once they’d gotten into their rooms, they’d just put up the do not disturb signs, taken out their pj’s, taken turns in the bathroom to change and brush their teeth and fallen into bed. Beca had been too tired to worry overly much about anyone’s wandering hands – she was just happy to be off the bus and stretched out in a soft bed.

Since they had nothing to do until the performance, they slept in and gathered for a late brunch. They didn’t want to wear themselves out, so as much as they wanted to see the city, they stuck around the hotel until it was time to get ready and make the drive to the Center.

Arriving early for once, they had taken their seats to watch the other groups perform. It may have been ego, but Beca couldn’t help think that their only competition for first place was actually going to be the Trebles. Beca wondered where they were since their assigned seats in the next row were empty. She knew they were here because one, they’d never miss a competition they were convinced they would win, and two, she’d seen their bus outside. Truthfully, she was relieved she hadn’t found Jesse yet; it would be too awkward if he ignored her and she was nervous enough about the night without throwing that on top of things. She just hoped that her olive branch was accepted.

Of course, the relief meant that was the second he showed up.

As the Bellas went backstage to get ready and get their microphone from a stagehand, she heard a familiar ‘One, two, three swag!’ from behind one of the stage curtains.

Beca took the microphone she was handed and moved out of the way, turning to look at Chloe behind her. A nervous but warm and understanding gaze met hers and she felt the worst of her nerves calm. No matter what happened in the next few seconds, or even in the whole night, she’d get through it. They would get through it.

As Chloe stepped behind her, ostensibly to look at the stage, though Beca was sure she was checking to see if Jesse had noticed them yet, Beca looked past her to a very apprehensive looking Aubrey. Beca wasn’t sure if it was because she’d realized Jesse was there and was remembering the last time they’d all been in the same room, or if it was just the memory of Pukegate last year.

Both, probably.’ Beca thought to herself, the memory after the semi-finals trying to push its way to the front of her own mind. Reminding herself that things were completely different, she tried to give Aubrey a reassuring smile but it didn’t feel right on her face thanks to her nerves. The rest of the girls filed up and got their mics and Beca couldn’t put it off anymore. She felt Chloe’s calm presence at her back and scraped together every ounce of courage she could find as the emcee started his introductions.

“Hey.”

Jesse turned around in surprise. “Hey.” For once she couldn’t read his expression.

“Uh, good luck.” There were a hundred other things she wanted to say, starting with ‘I’m sorry’ but she knew now was not the time to do it. Not when he was seconds away from going on stage.

“Thanks. You, too.” While he sounded sincere, she still felt the wall between them; one of her own making and one she hoped she could remove as easily as she’d built it.

Beca smiled at him, holding everything else that might have poured out behind her closed lips.

“… the Barden University Treblemakers!”

She looked past him as the rest of the Trebles ran on stage to the cheer of the audience, feeling his eyes on her for a heartbeat longer before he turned away to stand at the edge of the stage. As the song started, and Jesse bounced a little in place, she couldn’t help but smile.

As he ran onto the stage, Beca stepped to the edge of the curtains to watch. They may be the opposition, but they really did sound great and she finally could appreciate what they brought to competitions. A presence behind her made her turn to her left and she saw Stacie step up behind her, the rest of the group following after. She didn’t have to turn to her right to know that Chloe was standing on her other side as the Trebles performed.

When Benji entered the stage and began to sing, Beca grinned widely. Though he had never complained, she’d figured out during movication nights at Jesse’s that Benji had wanted to be a Treble since before he started at Barden. But he never let it get him down, never stopped supporting them in what they did – and not just because Jesse was one of them. He truly loved the Treblemakers as a group and Beca could see the shock on his face at finally being on stage as one of them.

Beca couldn’t help the smile at seeing him achieve what she knew was his dream. She heard small noises of surprise from both Stacie – who hadn’t heard him in auditions because she’d left right after hers – and from Aubrey, who really should have known better because she had. As he grew more comfortable and the audience began to respond to him, cheering…  She thought if she were the kind of person to cry, this would definitely be the time to do it.

The Trebles performance drew to a close and Beca felt the nerves that had faded away suddenly make a resurgence as the girls shuffled around her. She turned around to look at them as Stacie inhaled sharply in a rare case of performance anxiety. Chloe’s eyes were calm and level as Beca met them and she felt herself relax. A little. Beca looked around and realized the rest of them were staring at her. She felt a sort of terrified elation at the unwavering trust they all appeared to have in her.

She couldn’t help the grin that spread across her face. “I love you awesome nerds.” It was the first time she’d said it to anyone but Chloe and she was surprised by how easy it was. Maybe she had this friendship thing down better than she realized.

“Yeah, you guys are the best.” Amy said, sniffling slightly. “Even though some of you are pretty thin, I think that you all have fat hearts, and that’s what matters.” Despite Amy’s obvious sincerity in what she was saying, Beca couldn’t help but look over at Chloe and Aubrey, who shared her look of confusion before smiling at each other.

“Okay, let’s just smash this!” Amy exclaimed and the rest of them all nodded and shook out the last of their nerves.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Barden Bellas!”

Chloe led the way on stage as the audience cheered for them and Beca took her place in the back as she scanned the crowd – which suddenly looked much bigger than when she’d been sitting amongst them. She wasn’t sure where but she knew that her dad and the step-monster – ‘Sheila,’ she reminded herself – had flown in to see her perform.

Beca was looking around to make sure everyone was ready when someone in the audience yelled ‘We love you, Bellas!’ and she saw Chloe look over as Aubrey smiled, their shoulders relaxing. On that auspicious note, Beca brought the pitch pipe – a new one that Chloe had ordered – up and blew their starting note before quickly putting it back in her pocket.

 “One, two, three, four.”

‘Here we go.’

The next five minutes passed in mostly a blur until suddenly it was over and she was standing back to back with Aubrey, the two of them bookended by Chloe and Stacie. Later, much later, she’d be able to remember more, but for this moment it was only a handful of images flashing through her mind.

Finding Jesse in the crowd as they began to sing ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’. His recognition of what song it was with a hint of embarrassment as he realized it was meant specifically for him. And finally the raised fist as he accepted her apology.

Chloe’s joy in turning something that had scared and pained her all year – her nodes – into something that could help push them over the line.

Aubrey taking her hair down and later, removing her jacket – more relaxed than Beca had ever seen her outside the Bella kitchen.

Various images of all the girls grinning, beautiful and confident as they worked the stage to the wild cheers of the audience.

Stacie’s last minute addition, a painful looking and absolutely amazing drop into a full split on stage.

The final ‘hands in’, surrounded by, she realized, her new family. For life.

As they broke ranks and got ready to leave the stage, Beca couldn’t help but turn to Aubrey. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to say, but she knew she had to mark the moment – but Aubrey only smiled at her and leaned down to give her a tight hug which Beca returned willingly, if a little awkwardly, still unused to hugging anyone but her mom and, now, Chloe.

“Oh sure, now that she helped us win, you’re all over her.” Chloe said as she came up to them.

Beca stiffened for half a second before Chloe’s teasing tone came through and she heard Aubrey snort out a laugh.

“You trying to get in on this action, Aubrey?” Beca said, eyebrow high and completely unable to keep the smirk off her face. She felt almost drunk from the high of performing and the excitement from the crowd and couldn’t fight the irresistible urge to tease. “I don’t know if Chloe’s willing to share.”

Aubrey pulled back, her jaw dropped as she looked at Beca. “No!” Aubrey covered her mouth, her eyes twinkling. Chloe started to laugh beside them and Aubrey and Beca both turned to her. “You guys are awful.” Aubrey said through her laughter.

“No, we’re kind of awesome.” Chloe gave her signature wink that left no doubt she was referring to something she shouldn’t while on a public stage in front of hundreds of people.

“Oh my god,” was all Beca got out before the rest of the girls rolled into them for congratulatory hugs and screams.

Beca finally led the way off stage, making for their row of seats where Jesse was waiting for her.

Jesse fist bumped her shoulder as she stopped behind him. “Told you, the endings are the best part.”

“Nah. This is just the beginning.” Chloe laughed as she came up and took Beca’s hand, who squeezed it gratefully. “You guys were great, Jesse.” She looked at Benji. “You were amazing!”

Benji just smiled. “Thanks. It was like a dream come true.”

Jesse met Beca’s eyes and she felt herself tense at the serious look he gave her. She braced for the yelling she still probably deserved for chewing him out all the time. She tightened her grip on Chloe’s hand for strength.

“Beca.”

“Jesse.” She still couldn’t read his tone or his face, which was unusual for such an expressive guy.

“I’m going to hug you now.” He held his stern expression for another heartbeat before it cracked and the goofball side of him showed through. “I just felt I should warn you so you didn’t punch me.”

Relief washed over her. “You are such a weirdo.” She felt Chloe let go of her hand and push her forward as Jesse reached to pull her in. She hugged him back, too grateful that they were talking again to put up much of a fight. She did, however, pin a note at the back of her mind that she was going to need some serious downtime to recharge from all this social interaction. But for now, she held onto him for a second longer and said “Jesse, I…”

He pulled back and shook his head. “We’ll talk back at school. Let’s just be aca-nerds tonight.”

She gave an overly dramatic roll of her eyes and sighed. “Do I have to?”

He nodded and grinned at her. “It’s inevitable.”

At the same time Chloe paused in the act of sliding behind Beca to the empty seat on her left and pinched her ass. “Yes.”

Beca yipped and spun halfway around, Jesse’s bark of laughter accompanying her. “You are going to pay for that later.” She realized the second it was out of her mouth that she probably chose the wrong words to the wrong person. In public. In front of Jesse.

Chloe’s eyes darkened and gained just enough heat to make Beca lick her lips. “I look forward to it.”

“What’re we looking forward to?”

Beca looked over and saw Aubrey standing behind her with Stacie looking over her shoulder. “Uh. Nothing?”

“That’s definitely not a ‘nothing’ blush, B.” Stacie said as she dropped into her seat next to Aubrey as the rest of the girls filed in behind her.

Aubrey took a second longer scanning Beca’s face before her eyes flicked over to Chloe with a grin. “No, it’s definitely not.” She gracefully took her chair between Beca and Stacie and turned to join the conversation she was having with Denise.

Beca willed her cheeks to cool before she turned back to Jesse. “Aca-nerds it is.” He grinned at her before turning around and sitting down as the emcee announced that the judges were making their final decisions.

Beca sat down, feeling Chloe’s hand immediately slip back over her thigh and take her own. Beca linked their fingers together as she finally felt the nerves come back. There hadn’t really been time to be nervous on stage once they’d gotten started. For the first time she considered, until she forced herself to push everything aside for later, staying at Barden for the next three years. Of staying a Bella and with this group of crazy women. Even if Chloe…

“Ladies and gentlemen…”

Beca’s attention was jerked back to the stage as the emcee stood next to a table that had been moved to the center and displayed a giant trophy. Her heart suddenly hammered in her chest and Chloe’s fingers tightened on hers. She heard Aubrey’s sudden inhale and, without thinking, reached over and took Aubrey’s hand, noticing that she grabbed Stacie’s, who grabbed Denise’s and so on until they were a united chain.

“Coming in second place...” The host unfolded the paper he was handed. “The Barden University…” Beca felt her heart stop. “Treblemakers!”

The guys all jumped up and cheered with the rest of the audience despite the fact that she knew they had to have been disappointed that they didn’t win this year. The Bellas all let go of each other’s hands to clap and Stacie let out a particularly loud and piercing whistle that made Beca wince.

“Don’t deafen them, Stace,” she muttered, but it was lost in the wash of noise from the cheering crowd. She leaned forward as Jesse sat back down and put her hand on his shoulder. “Congrats, dude!” She was trying desperately not to assume that with the Trebles coming in second, the Bellas had to have won. There were a few groups that had gone before they’d arrived and could have blown everyone away.

But she couldn’t help the small cocky voice in the back of her mind telling her that they would be going back on stage again very soon.

Chloe and Aubrey’s hands found hers again and the Bellas leaned forward as one as the emcee was handed an envelope.

“And now the reason we’re all here.” He opened the flap but didn’t take out the card yet. “The winners of the 2012 International Championship of Collegiate A Capella…” He took the card out and Aubrey’s fingers squeezed so tightly that Beca was afraid she’d break them. “The Barden University Bellaaaaaaas!”

The room exploded with sound and Beca found herself on her feet without any conscious memory of standing. The Trebles had turned around and were clapping for them and Jesse had reached out and pulled Beca in for a hug so quick that she thought she might have imagined it. Then Chloe was pushing her and they were filing back out of their row and running back on stage.

When Beca would have stood back with the group and let Aubrey and Chloe heft the trophy in the air, Aubrey waved her forward and stage whispered. “Get up here. This wouldn’t have been possible without you.”

With no other choice thanks to the hands of the others pushing against her back, Beca stepped up to take one side of the trophy while Chloe and Aubrey lifted from the other. Beca couldn’t help but have flashbacks to the last time she’d had a trophy in her hands and briefly hoped she wouldn’t be spending another night in jail.

Turning to face the crowd, she waved with her free hand, still in shock that she was standing there with a trophy for something that she’d called lame at the start of the school year. With nine girls who’d forgiven her when she’d walked out on them. With her one time nemesis smiling at her with no hint of the distaste that most of their conversations had been flavored with.

With the woman who had blown away all her defenses and gently held Beca’s heart in her hands.

After several minutes they were all ushered off the stage and into a large room which would double as a small reception area. Almost immediately Beca found herself enveloped in a group hug full of screaming Bellas. Just as she was about to hit her limit, and potentially flail her arms and take a sister out, she found herself plucked out of the center.

“Alright guys, let Shorty breathe.”

Beca smiled gratefully at Amy as the Australian ushered her to the edge of the mass where Chloe and Aubrey still formed the center. “Thanks Ames.” She backed up and leaned her hip against the table that they’d set the trophy on. She was still looking at it in disbelief that all that had really happened, when a hand landed on her shoulder. She sighed deeply. “I don’t know if I have any hugs left in me, guys.”

“Not even for your proud old man?”

She spun in place and was greeted with her father’s smile. “Dad!” She noticed the woman hovering behind him. “Sheila.” She surprised herself by actually feeling happy at seeing her step-mother for the first time ever. “I still can’t believe you guys came.” She let her father pull her in for a hug, finding it far easier than their last when she’d sought him out for advice.

“It’s a big night; we wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Sheila smiled back, her face going slack when Beca turned to her and, with a conscious effort to not tense her body, gave her a hug as well. It was actually the first one they’d ever had, and Beca decided it wasn’t as bad as she feared, but she wasn’t sure if she’d ever feel one hundred percent comfortable with it.

Her father put his hands in his pockets and she got the impression that he wanted to hug her again but knew she’d likely hit her limit. “I’m really proud of you Beca. You were amazing up there.”

The rest of the room faded out a bit as his words sunk in. He’d never said it in quite that way before. Sure, he’d been proud of her school accomplishments when her parents had been together, but that was small stuff like grades in middle school. He’d never said it about anything that had mattered, like her music – their conversation at the start of the year being a perfect example of him not understanding her more formative teenage years.

To have him here, now, telling her that he was proud of her made her realize that it was okay to take pride in what she had helped the Bellas accomplish tonight. It wasn’t just her, admittedly maybe – probably - undeserved, ego talking, like it had been way back at Regionals. Instead of just thinking she was better than everyone, she’d helped all the Bellas be better as a whole.

While it killed her to admit her father was right, ‘putting herself out there’ was exactly what she’d needed to do. But she did it on her terms, doing what she did best – mixing music and, hopefully, producing something amazing.

She looked up at her dad. “Thanks.” She twisted her lips into a smile. “I suppose that earns you another hug or two.”  He laughed and raised his arms again as she slid her arms around his waist.

“Who came up with…” Sheila waved her hand. “All that? It was amazing.”

“Beca.”  A different voice answered.

Beca turned to see Chloe and Aubrey approaching, though it was Aubrey that spoke. Chloe stopped next to her and Beca linked their fingers together, only realizing she’d done it when her dad’s eyes flicked down and back up as he grinned at her.

“I mean, I came up with the music.” Beca offered. “But these two came up with the routine.” She took a deep breath. “Dad, Sheila – this is Chloe and Aubrey, the Captains of the Bellas. Chloe, Aubrey – my dad, Francis, and my step-mom Sheila.”

Aubrey, who had perfect etiquette sense, Beca was coming to realize, held out her hand to both of them. “Pleasure to meet you.” She shot a look filled with – ‘Was that affection?’ – and pride at Beca. “And we wouldn’t have come up with the routine if it hadn’t been for her music, so she’s just as instrumental as we were in this trophy.”

Beca felt herself flush even as Chloe tightened her grip on Beca’s hand. “I’ll second that. She’s kind of a wizard with music.” Beca’s flush deepened under her father’s twinkling eyes. “They’re even playing her mixes on the radio.” She leaned forward and whispered, “She even played them herself overnight on Spring Break.”

That pulled her father’s attention. “Wait, what?” He looked back at her, eyes wide. “Beca, why didn’t you tell me?”

She bit back her first response, which would have been pure habitual snarky teen, designed to be cutting, and took a breath. “There was a lot going on and, honestly, I was just in shock that they asked me.” Part of her was braced to have another DJ half-lecture directed at her.

“If it was anything like what we just heard, I’m not.” Her dad shook his head. “I had no idea, Beca.”

“That’s because you never listen.” Sheila said from where she’d been leaning against his side. She smiled to take the sting out of it when he looked over at her. “I think that’s a prerogative of all fathers and daughters.” She looked back at the rest of them. “My dad and I didn’t see eye to eye until I graduated college with honors.”

“See? Plenty of time.” Her dad sighed. “But I know I’ve been…”

We’ve been.” Beca interrupted, not sure if she liked this new honesty between them. It meant feeling a lot more emotions than she was used to. Chloe subtly leaned against her side just then, reminding her that not all emotions were bad. She took a deep breath. “And now we’ll be better.” She looked at Sheila. “At least, I hope.” To her relief, Sheila merely nodded with a smile and she knew that her step-mom was willing to try and work past Beca’s prior bitchy attitude.

‘That’s it, Chloe’s broken me.’ Beca thought. ‘If this works out, I might actually end up looking forward to holidays at my Dad’s.’

“Alright, that’s enough sap.” Her father blinked a few times, almost as if he was keeping back tears. “This is your night and you’ve all done amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“How do you decide the steps?” Sheila asked Aubrey.

Beca let the others talk, not missing the looks of pride that Chloe and Aubrey were giving her as they explained how the music had formed the routine. It had meant a lot to have Aubrey have her come up and take the trophy – more than she really expected. Aubrey could have just taken the win, rationalizing her leadership in using the best tool in the shed. The fact that she was willing to share what was, essentially, her and Chloe’s redemption trophy was like getting the Ultimate Approval from Aubrey Posen.

Honestly, Beca hadn’t expected it and couldn’t deny that she was deeply touched and it cemented the feeling that Aubrey was not only a decent human being after all, but actually cool, as much as she internally eye rolled at the thought. She’d sort of known Aubrey respected her skill and talent, after all she’d handed over the pitch pipe and asked for help, but taking hold of that trophy had made it real in a way that it hadn’t really been before. It made her all the more happy that she’d had a part in helping them redeem the Bellas from Pukegate.

“I think this is the most I’ve seen you smile outside of Disneyland.”

Beca blinked and looked at her dad. “What?”

He smiled at her crookedly. “Happiness looks good on you.” She saw in his eyes that something was coming but she didn’t have time to brace before he spoke again. “I assume that has something to do with… uh…” He nodded down where she still held Chloe’s hand. “Some new developments?”

“Oh my god.” She closed her eyes as Chloe giggled next to her. But she remembered her promise to herself, to not overthink or deny how Chloe made her feel and sighed before deadpanning, “Yes. The rumors are true. I do have an emotion .”

“How can a girl resist that?” Chloe leaned over and kissed Beca’s cheek which immediately flushed in pleasure and embarrassment. “While it took me quite a while to make her realize she loved me, I was smitten from the first sarcastic ‘yikes’.”

“That sounds like my girl.” Her dad laughed, but not unkindly and Beca grinned ruefully at him.

“Well, Aubrey did call me a bitch in that same meeting.” Beca looked past Chloe with a grin. “I totally deserved it.”

“Yeah you did.” Aubrey smiled back at her. “I’m also never going to let you live it down.”

“Deal.” Beca started to say more when a pair of arms slid across her shoulders and a chin rested on top of her head.

“Are we teasing DJ again?” Stacie asked and Beca could hear the grin in her voice.

“Do you ever stop?” Beca sighed elaborately and lifted her shoulders to try and get Stacie to move her arms but it only made her tighten her grip in a loose hug.

“Nope.” Stacie leaned past her and whispered confidentially. “It’s my second favorite pastime.”

“Dad, Stacie. Stacie, my father and Sheila.” Beca rolled her eyes as Stacie literally said ‘charmed’ and shook both their hands without moving from behind Beca. ‘Who even does that?’ “Do you always have to use me as a chin rest?”

“What can I say; you’re the perfect height for it.” Stacie kissed the side of her head but finally let her go. “It was nice to meet you both.” Then she was gone and Beca turned to see her merge back into the giant knot of college students that had enveloped the Bellas, including the Trebles.

“We should probably let you guys get back to the rest.” Her dad said then exchanged a look with Sheila, as if they’d prepared this next bit. “But we’d really like you both – or three,” he included Aubrey with a nod of his head, “to dinner in the next week or so.”

Beca’s fingers tightened around Chloe’s as she looked over and saw the small nod of agreement. Behind her, Aubrey smiled and Beca took a deep breath, fully committing to this fatherly reconnection thing like she had with Chloe. “I think we could all arrange that.”

“Great.” He said and rocked on his heels. “At the risk of getting mushy again…” His voice softened. “I really am proud of you, Bec.”

She let go of Chloe’s hand and gave him another hug. “Thanks, Dad.” She closed her eyes as the warmth of his arms soaked through her. ‘Who knew parental approval was something I needed.’ Beca thought idly.

Sniffling suspiciously, he stepped back and she turned to give Sheila a second, though still brief, hug. She still wasn’t sure where they stood, but maybe Beca had been too rough on her. After all, her father had been divorced from her mother for several years before Sheila came into the picture.

“We’ve got an early flight tomorrow and you’ve got some celebrating to do.” Sheila smiled at them. “I look forward to dinner.”

“Thanks for the invite,” Aubrey said. “Nice to meet you.”

“I look forward to hearing all Beca’s embarrassing stories.” Chloe said with a grin as Beca stepped back beside her.

“I could do with some Beca Mitchell teasing material,” Aubrey said thoughtfully.

Beca groaned. “Can I decline? Is it too late?”

“Nope, just means you won’t be there to stop them.” Chloe smirked at her.

“Fiiiiiiiiiine.” Beca sighed, both worried and pleased at the way her worlds were colliding. “But let’s just not include any naked baby stories, okay?”

“Don’t worry, we’ll give you a few Bossy stories to keep things even.” An unfamiliar voice said from behind them and Aubrey spun around with a gasp.

“Asher!” She flew into the arms of a tall blonde man who had to be her brother; they had the same nose and mischievous green eyes. He pulled Aubrey close and lifted her off her feet.

“Oh my god, put me down.” But Aubrey didn’t release her hold on him and in fact hugged him tighter.

“What’m I, chopped liver?” A second man stepped out from behind Asher, almost a mirror image except a few inches shorter.

“Aiden!” The second Aubrey’s feet hit the ground she threw herself at him. Aiden lifted her and, taking a few steps back, swung her in a circle.

‘Damn, the Posen’s have some great genes.’ Beca thought with a grin.

“We’ll see you at school, Bec.” Her father touched her shoulder and she nodded at him.

“Thanks again, Dad. For being here. It…” She cleared her throat. “It meant a lot.”

He started to say something but stopped and smiled at her. “You’re amazing, Beca. And I’m proud to call you my daughter.”

“Oh Francis, don’t make her cry in front of her friends.” Sheila bumped him.

“You’re right, I’m sorry.” He cleared his throat and smiled again. “Have fun tonight.” She saw the twinkle in his eyes a split second before he spoke again and braced herself. “Just try not to need bail this time, alright?”

“Okay, you can go now.” Beca laughed as Sheila pulled her dad away. “Safe flight.”

“Put me down, you asshole!”

Beca turned in shock. “Did Aubrey just curse?”

Chloe linked her arm with Beca’s and pulled her close. “Oh yeah.” She grinned as Aiden spun Aubrey a third time.

“I didn’t know she knew how.” Beca blinked. She’d have sworn that Aubrey Posen was too prim and proper to swear, much less in public.

“Oh you’re in for a treat. She’s totally different around her brothers.” Chloe practically vibrated with excitement.

“Is that anyway to talk to your favorite brother, Bree?” Aiden finally set her down but held onto her until she had her balance.

“I wasn’t talking to Asher,” she threw back, causing Aiden to clutch at his chest before they grinned at each other. “What are you guys doing here?”

“Well, as you know, Mom accepted that invitation to the Prescott’s once you guys were, uh, out of the competition.” Asher slung an arm around her shoulders. “And you know she couldn’t cancel that.

“And become a pariah until the next scandal?” Aubrey snorted. “Not hardly.”

“Right. So, when you called to tell me about this amazing new routine, we figured that the family needed to be represented. So here we are.”

“And Dad?” Aubrey asked in a voice that tried for nonchalance but Beca clearly heard the hint of hope and hurt in it and it made her want to reach out and touch Aubrey’s arm in sympathy.

“Called away last week. He’s off in…” Asher trailed off and scratched his head. “I forget, actually.”

“Some hush-hush meeting in some undisclosed location.” Aiden shrugged. “He said he’d try to call you tomorrow.”

“Oh.” Aubrey’s lips tightened before she put on a smile that looked way too much like the fake one Beca had seen in the beginning. “Duty first.” She winced as it came out a little more bitter than she likely intended and her smile cracked at the edges. “I’m really glad you guys are here.”

“Us too.” Aiden looked over at Chloe. “Gingersnap.” He held out his arms. “You look amazing.”

As Beca snickered, Chloe squeezed her hand before she went over to hug him. “You look pretty hot yourself. You been working out?”

“I gotta keep up with jerkface over here.” He nodded at Asher who shrugged. “He keeps adding to what he can bench press and you know us Posen’s.”

Everything is a competition.” Chloe laughed and turned toward Asher. “I remember.” She let him pull her into a hug and lift her off her feet.

“You really do look good, Gingersnap.” Asher said as he set her back down. “Nice to see that you’re not letting Bossy run you ragged.”

“Would you dicklicks please stop calling me that?” Aubrey sighed.

Beca’s startled laughter brought four pairs of eyes to her. “Um. Sorry. That’s…” She snickered. “That’s a new one, Aubrey.”

“Oh.” Aubrey flushed. “Sorry, they just bring it out in me.” Her teeth worried at her lip.

“No, it was…” Beca hesitated. “I don’t know if ‘cute’ is the right word, but… I kind of like seeing this whole family dynamic you’ve got going on here.” She waved her hand between the three of them grinned as Aubrey actually growled at her. “And I dig the nickname.”

“You’ve got our permission to use it.” Asher stepped over and held out his hand. “Asher Posen, elder brother to these two ruffians.”

As Beca shook his hand, feeling the strength in it, Aubrey snorted again. “You just love to say that. Makes you sound all responsible.”

“That’s because I am.” He said, his nose in the air.

“Except that time you let all the dogs run through the kitchen after it was raining.” Aubrey shot back.

“They looked so sad outside.” Asher shrugged as Chloe pouted at the thought.

“That’s why we have a barn, genius.” Aiden shouldered him out of the way. “I’m Aiden, stuck in the middle of these two for the rest of my life.” He ignored Beca’s hand and pulled her up into a hug. “You must be Beca.”

Beca winced, not wanting to imagine the things Aubrey must have said about her. “Um, that’s me.” She was half afraid that he’d spin her like he’d done the others but he only lifted her into the air for a second. “I didn’t even know Aubrey had brothers.”

“You didn’t mention us?” Aiden set her down and put his hand to his heart. “That wounds me, Bree.”

“You’ll live.” Aubrey shrugged and only rocked back when he pushed on her shoulder.

“Look, we don’t want to interrupt, you should be with your team.” Asher looked over their shoulders to the still growing knot of excited people. “Just, text me when you guys get to the hotel, whatever time that is. The parents wanted to do something nice for you guys.”

“That was really nice of them – and you.” Chloe said before Aubrey could protest.

“Despite what Aubrey says, we can be cool sometimes.” Aiden said, putting his arms around his sister again. He whispered something that Beca wasn’t close enough to hear, but she saw him kiss the side of Aubrey’s head as she blushed faintly.

“At least one of us.” Asher said from where he was hugging Chloe goodbye. The two brothers traded and Asher held onto Aubrey tightly. “Really great job tonight, Sis.”

“Thanks.” She pulled back and wiped under her eyes with the handkerchief he handed her. “I’ll text you when we’re on our way.”

“Sounds good.” Asher waved at Beca. “Nice to meet you finally. We’ll definitely have to sit down and exchange stories one night when Aubrey isn’t around.”

“Over my dead body.” Aubrey mock frowned.

“If necessary.” Aiden shrugged and winced as she punched his shoulder. “Ow. Now who’s been working out.”

Completely bemused, Beca watched as the trio of siblings gave each other another round of goodbye hugs, even though they’d see each other in a bit, and wondered at the strange turn her life had taken.

As Chloe turned toward the rest of the Bellas, pulling Beca and Aubrey with her, Beca shook her head.

‘Families everywhere,’ she thought. ‘Who knew this wouldn’t make me run for the hills.’

“You okay?” Chloe whispered to her. “I know that was a lot of family stuff.”

Beca laughed, surprised - though she knew she probably shouldn’t be at this point - at how well Chloe could read her. “I’m good, Gingersnap.”

Chloe winked at her and Beca laughed again, letting herself be pulled into a swirling knot of people who started cheering her name.

 


 

 

~C~

Chloe watched as Cynthia Rose pulled Beca into a hug and grinned. She knew she was definitely going to have to carve out some time for Beca to recover from all the crowds.

“Did I hear someone call you Gingersnap?” Stacie suddenly appeared beside her and Chloe grinned.

“That’s what Bree’s brothers call me.” She looked up at Stacie, waiting for what she knew was coming.

Stacie’s head tilted from side to side as she thought. “I can feel you waiting for me to make a salacious comment.”

“It’d be tradition.” Chloe grinned wider.

“So, you’d expect me to make an ‘I’d totally eat a Gingersnap’ comment or some such.” She tapped her chin.

“Mmm.” Chloe hummed. “But better than that. I have high standards for your innuendos.”

“Beca would kill me.” Stacie grinned at her. “I don’t want to be on the receiving end of one of her punches. She laid that one guy out.”

Chloe laughed. “She did, didn’t she?”

“So I’ll remain silent for once.”

“Who were those two tall, blonde and handsome man candies?” Amy came up beside them.

“Aubrey’s brothers.” Chloe eyed her. “You’ll probably get the chance to meet them at the hotel. They’ve got a surprise for Aubrey.”

“Mm. I’d like to get my hands on them.” She looked over at Stacie. “Unless you’ve already called dibs?”

“Eh.” Stacie shrugged. “They’re alright, I suppose.”

Chloe bit back a grin. Asher and Aiden were exactly the type that she’d seen Stacie out with previously.

‘Wonder if Stacie realizes why she’s not reacting to them.’ Chloe didn’t even bother to hide her grin. ‘Though it’s probably only obvious to me, and maybe Beca, that Stacie’s only got her eye on one Posen sibling.’

Amy was also staring at Stacie. “What? Are you feeling alright?”

“Fine, why?” Stacie looked down and swatted at Amy’s had as she reached to feel Stacie’s forehead. “Hey!”

“Just checking, ‘cause normally you’d be all over them before the rest of us had a shot.” Amy stared suspiciously at her. “Are you sure you’re not dying?”

Stacie rolled her eyes. “I’m fine.” She took another look at Aubrey’s brothers and shrugged. “They’ve got nice eyes, I suppose.”

It was all Chloe could do to hold back a snort. She’d never met three siblings that looked more alike than Asher, Aiden and Aubrey who weren’t actually triplets. The brothers could have almost been twins, though Asher did look a little older, and Aubrey was another mirror, though her features were more refined and delicate. But their eyes… Their eyes were all identical and Chloe knew Stacie had no idea how much of herself she’d just given away.

After another few seconds of close scrutiny, Amy shrugged. “All the more for me then.” She looked like she was going to head out after them and Chloe threw out her hand.

“Amy.” Chloe stopped her. “Aubrey’s family is off limits.”

“Yeah?” She looked back over her shoulder and Chloe could see the argument forming.

Chloe raised her eyebrow. “Oh yeah. You know Aubrey would lose her mind if you tried.”

“Fair point. Plenty of other men in this crowd that would want a piece of all this.” She slapped her stomach with both hands. “Time to mingle.” She stepped away and Chloe laughed.

“Think we should remind her that she’s sharing a bed with Lilly?” Chloe looked over at Stacie who shook her head.

“Nah.” Stacie followed after Amy. “It’ll be more entertaining to see what happens.”

“That’s one way to put it,” Chloe murmured as she wove her way through the crowd to save Beca before the new chant to lift her up on shoulders became reality.

 


 

 

~C~

Chloe looked around in drunken bliss.

When they’d arrived back at their hotel, they’d been met by Aiden and Asher who informed them that their rooms had been upgraded to the Junior Suites and extended for another night, giving them a full day to spend in New York and see the sights. It had been a minor ordeal to get them all packed up and moved to the new rooms, but they were gorgeous. Each room slept five, having two queen beds partitioned off from a sitting area that held an armchair and a foldout sofa bed.

If anyone had asked her at the beginning of the year, if she thought she’d be in a suite with the ICCA trophy sitting in a place of honor on the desk in the room, she’d have laughed. If they’d told her that the brooding Alt Girl who’d been so dismissive would not only be instrumental in winning the trophy but was also the one Chloe pictured spending her life with… Well, she’d probably have asked them if they had taken their medication that day.

She’d been worried about Aubrey as they queued up to go on stage, but every time she’d checked on her best friend she’d gotten a smile or a nod. While they didn’t always reach her eyes, and Aubrey’s hand found her stomach more than once, Chloe knew Aubrey would be fine. She felt steady and lacked any of the tension or stress that Chloe associated with impending breakdown.

The performance and aftermath had been a whirlwind and Chloe had savored very minute of it.

And now they were all spread across the sitting area in what had been dubbed the Captains Suite with a giant suitcase full of alcohol that Amy had sworn was full of spare outfits in case there was another burrito incident – even though it clinked whenever she moved it.

“I bet Aubrey’s never stolen anything from a hotel in her life.” Amy said as she mixed another drink for Ashley, one she’d dubiously named ‘Aussie Surprise’ and anyone who’d had a glass had gotten almost instantly smashed.

“What, like that’s a bad thing?” Aubrey said from where she was sitting cross legged on the floor next to Chloe.

“No. It’s not that, exactly…” Ashley said slowly. She was curled into one corner of the couch with Jessica by her side.

“Yeah it is.” Amy handed Ashley her drink. “They’ve got loads of these tiny bottles that’re meant to be taken and you’re, like, depriving yourself of them.” She immediately started mixing another and, though Chloe was still barely sober enough to observe, this one seemed stronger.

“Depriving?” Aubrey shook her head slowly. “They’re tiny bottles! There’s not enough in them to even wash my hair more than once.” She went to take a drink from her cup then looked down. “Shoot, I’m empty.”

“Here ya go, Cap’n.” Amy traded her empty cup for the full one, beginning the process again as she returned to the topic at hand. “They’re like men – use them once then dispose of them, am I right?” Amy leaned over and held out her hand to Stacie who rolled her eyes but high fived her.

“Personally, I think there’s nothing wrong with Aubrey’s inability to steal from hotels.” Beca said on Chloe’s left.

“I could steal if I want to.” Aubrey protested. “I just… don’t want to.”

“Mmhm.” Beca sipped from her second – no, third – refill. “I dunno about that, Posen.”

Chloe bit back hysterical laughter as Aubrey leaned forward to look past her at Beca, eyes narrowing. “Was that a challenge?” Chloe quickly looked over and didn’t miss the gleam in Beca’s eye.

“Well, it wasn’t. But it definitely is now.” Beca cleared her throat and sat up straight. “I propose a contest – that we each steal something from the hotel and bring it back here. If you get caught – and hopefully not arrested – you lose.”

“What happens if you lose?” Stacie asked. “Do you get punished?” She practically purred the last word.

“Perv.” Beca made a face. “I think you’d like that too much. But… we’ll have to come up with something that fits the copml – comle – complexity of the attempt at the time.”

“Do we get to pick what everyone has to steal?” Jessica asked.

“Nah.” Beca shook her head then put her hand on Chloe’s leg for balance. “Whoa. Um… No, you can find something, but there’s like… a time limit?” She looked around and everyone nodded at her.

“Thirty minutes.” Chloe offered. “If you fail your mission by getting caught, taking too long, or wussing out…” She slapped her hand on her thigh and made them all jump.

“Spanking!?” Stacie bounced in her chair and Beca groaned.

“Oh my god, why.” Beca buried her face in her free hand.

“Because making you blush is what I live for, DJ.” Stacie winked at Chloe. “It’s so easy to do.”

“Okay, so who’s first?” Cynthia Rose asked from the arm chair, Denise across her lap.

“I think it’d have to be Aubrey, wouldn’t it?” Amy said as she sat down with her drink again. “Since it’s to loosen her up and all.”

“She’s got a point, Bree.” Chloe agreed, finishing off the last of her own drink, her second of the night.

Aubrey rolled her eyes and sighed. “Fine.” She drained the almost full drink in her hand and Chloe’s mouth dropped. She knew that Aubrey could hold her booze, thanks to drinking with her brothers, but Amy’s drinks were incredibly strong and filled with god knows how many different kinds of alcohol.

Aubrey pushed to her feet and walked back into the bed area where they’d left their suitcases. Chloe was both worried and amused to note that Aubrey wobbled a little, an extremely rare occurrence and wondered if they’d find Aubrey passed out in a hall somewhere when that last drink finally hit her.

There was a lot of rummaging sounds and then Aubrey came back out with a long coat over her pajamas, wearing the UGGs she brought everywhere, a pair of giant sunglasses on the off chance they got to sightsee and a giant scarf in her hands.

“Um, Aubs…” Beca paused as her voice shook from laughter. “What’s the scarf for?”

“You don’t question a master of disguise, Beca.” Aubrey said haughtily and began to loop the scarf around her neck. Except she kept going and soon muffled herself like it was the dead of winter.

Beca stood and walked over. “I think it’s a little too conspicuous that way. Just…” she slowly reached out. “Hold still.” Beca brought the layers down and arranged it to hang more normally around Aubrey’s neck. “There, now you just look drunk instead of flat out crazy.”

The girls giggled as Aubrey merely sniffed. “This is all your fault anyway.” She took the free end of the scarf and whipped it around her neck, catching Beca in the face, before strutting out the door like a full on Hollywood Diva in the 50’s.

Stacie scrambled to her feet and caught the door before it closed and stuck her head out to watch Aubrey walk down the hall. “She’s… is she tiptoeing?”

Beca, after the shock of getting hit in the face with a scarf had worn off, pushed her way under Stacie’s head. “Yup. From potted plant to potted plant like this is fucking Mission: Impossible.” Beca dug in her pocket, bringing out her phone and starting to film. “The blackmail from this will be amazing.”

“I’ve never seen Aubrey this drunk and… carefree, before.” Stacie mused.

Chloe had begun to join them at the door, but stopped when Beca started to record it; she’d just watch it later. “It doesn’t happen often.”

“Did she kick the elevator door because it’s taking too long to open?” Beca said gleefully.

“Yup.” Stacie snickered. “I think she cursed, but it’s too far away to hear. Maybe your phone picked it up.”

Chloe was still trying to remember when she and Aubrey had last gotten drunk. She pursed her lips and tapped the bottom one, thinking. “Actually, I think the only time I’ve seen her this drunk was that time we made out.”

Beca and Stacie had been in the process of closing the door – apparently Aubrey had made it safely on the elevator – and they slowly turned to face her, identical slack jawed looks on their faces.

“What?” Stacie’s eyes were wide.

“Say what now?” Beca blinked at her.

“Oh shit, this requires shots!” Cynthia Rose urged Denise to stand so she could help Amy lay them out.

“You.” Amy pointed at Chloe and the now vacant chair. “Sit. Wait.”

Chloe briefly wondered if she should’ve maybe kept that under wraps, but it was too late now. She took the chair, and the ‘shot’ that Amy handed her. “Is it really a shot when you’ve filled up almost half a solo cup?”

“Don’t question my methods.” Amy said as she walked back to pour the rest. “Just enjoy.”

Chloe shrugged and downed the liquid that she realized was, thankfully, only vanilla flavored vodka. She looked over and realized Stacie and Beca were still standing at the door, staring at her in disbelief with a hint of something… else. Chloe grinned when she realized both of them were likely both trying to picture that event.

Dirty birds,’ she thought, using one of Aubrey’s favorite phrases.

“If you two would like to join us…” Amy held up two solo cups to the still staring brunettes who took them and downed them like they were water. “That’s the spirit.” She waited a beat then pushed them toward the couch. “Sit down, you’re making me nervous; standing there like zombies.” As one they walked woodenly to the couch and dropped down, their eyes still locked on Chloe’s face.

Bemused, Chloe watched as Amy made a fresh round of drinks for those who wanted them then perched on the arm of the sofa next to Stacie.

Chloe bit her lip as she realized the entire room had gone quiet and they were all staring at her. “Oh. I guess that’s my cue.” She cleared her throat. “Um, we haven’t really mentioned the Bellas before you guys, have we?”

“No.” Jessica said from her new spot on the floor. “It’s weird that it never came up, now that I think about it.”

“Not really.” Chloe made a face. “Most of them were awful.”

“What do you mean?” Denise asked, sipping from her cup.

“Our previous captain was named Alice. And she was… not a nice person.”

“You just avoided calling her a bitch, didn’t you?” Ashley grinned. “Even drunk, you’re still too nice.”

Chloe shrugged. “Easier than hating.” But honesty made her continue. “Most of the time. Alice was truly horrible. She insulted Aubrey and I almost from the beginning, but really she was rude to everyone but her core group of three minions.”

“She definitely sounds like a bitch.” Cynthia Rose muttered. “I’m surprised you guys stayed. I’d have decked the bitch and quit.”

“Mm.” Chloe nodded. “But other than the core four, the rest of the girls weren’t so bad. And I had Aubrey.” She looked over to see if Stacie was going to make a dirty joke but she was still staring at Chloe as if she had grown a second head. Or maybe through her, Chloe couldn’t quite tell.

“So last year, somewhere after the semi-finals, Alice had invited one of the other frat houses over for a joint party.”

“Was it the Trebles?”

Chloe looked down, startled. Lilly had appeared like magic, sitting beside the coffee table at Chloe’s feet. “Actually, yeah.”

“What about the oath?” Stacie finally spoke up.

“Alice hated the Trebles, but she wasn’t above using them for their alcohol. They always thought they’d wear us down if they brought enough.” Chloe shrugged. “I never really had a problem with any of them except Bumper. And he’s mostly harmless, just rude.”

“Mm, yeah.” Amy nodded slowly. “Someone should teach him a lesson.”

“Too bad he left for LA.” Beca offered. “I heard it from Benji during the after party. That’s how he got a spot in the group.”

“Right, well. Guess that’s that then.” Amy took a gulp of her drink. “Back to the making out.”

“One of the girls decided we should all play Spin the Bottle.” Chloe waited as the hoots died back down. “When it was my turn, it had landed on Aubrey.” Chloe bit her lip, hoping desperately that Aubrey wouldn’t kill her for this.

“And.” Cynthia Rose prompted when she’d been quiet too long.

“And instead of the quick kiss on the lips, we just… sort of…” Chloe trailed off, still not sure exactly how that had happened.

“Sucked each other’s face off?” Ashley joked.

“Kind of.” Chloe grinned. “I’m still not sure how it happened, honestly, but I kinda found myself in her lap with her tongue down my throat. For a while.”

“Okay. I’m just going to say it.” Jessica wiggled in her seat. “That’s kinda hot.”

“Mm.” Chloe hummed in agreement. It had been, actually. It wasn’t anything she’d have expected, there had been no hint of tension between them two of them, as far as Chloe was aware – but Aubrey was an excellent kisser and it had been easy for Chloe to get lost in her. “But all good things must come to an end.”

“Did you guys, you know…” Amy cut a look at Beca, then back at Chloe. “Blink once for yes, twice for no. Shawshank, look away if you don’t want to know.”

Chloe laughed when Beca flipped Amy off. “No. Alice… was Alice.”

“What does that mean?” Beca’s eyes were sharper than they should be under the layer of alcohol in them.

“You’re not going to like it.” Chloe warned but Beca just watched her and Chloe sighed. “She said ‘I didn’t know you were a dyke, Posen.’” It angered her all over again thinking about it. “Aubrey pushed me off her lap and went up to her room, her face bright red.”

“That whore.”

Chloe looked over, startled at the anger in Beca’s voice. “What?”

‘Beca can’t be jealous of Aubrey, can she?’

“That whore, Alice.” Beca said again and Chloe couldn’t tell if the growl she heard was from Beca or from Stacie, who could probably burn through steel with the anger in her eyes. Though, as she looked at the rest of them, seeing the absolute fury on all their faces, she realized it could have been from any of them.

Or all of them. It warmed her, pushing away the bad side of her memories of that night, to know that all of these women were furious on Aubrey’s behalf despite everything. She just hoped that one day Aubrey was able to see how loved she was.

Chloe sighed again. “I told Alice she didn’t have to always be mean and went to make sure Aubrey was okay. Which she was, just a bit mortified.”

She watched Beca make a conscious effort to push back her anger. “So, do I have to worry about Aubrey challenging me for the honor of your hand?”

“Nope, that was a one-time thing. She’s my best friend.” Chloe grinned at her, letting a bit of the heart eyes show. “You’re my best girl.” She was happy when her words did the trick and broke the tension in the room as Beca flushed bright red.

Before anyone could speak, there was the sound of running footsteps outside the door and the handle turned frantically.

“Is that Aubrey?” Ashley asked, peering at the door as Amy walked over to it just as frantic knocking began.

“She must have forgotten her key when she was getting ready in her Master of Disguise outfit.” Beca mused.

“What’s the password?” Amy said through the door.

“Amy! Open the door!” Aubrey’s voice carried through clearly.

“Not until I know it’s you.” Amy paused for a second. “Have you or have you not made out with someone in this room?”

Chloe cut a look at Stacie, on the off chance this sparked any sort of tell – Chloe still had no idea if anything had happened between her and Aubrey – but Stacie was looking at the door and smiling, giving away nothing.

“What? Just…” Aubrey’s voice both dropped into a whisper and somehow grew louder. “Open this door or I’m going to make you run cardio even though we’ve already won!”

“Right. That sounds like Aubrey.” Amy quickly opened the door and was knocked out of the way as Aubrey darted through it and slammed it again. Aubrey leaned back against it, her eyes closed and breathing heavily.

“Were you caught?” Beca asked from the couch.

“No!” Aubrey started digging in the pocket of her coat before she pulled something out of it and held it up proudly.

“What is…” Stacie started laughing. “Is that the women’s bathroom sign?”

“Ripped it right off the wall in the main lobby.” Aubrey set it down on the coffee table with a flourish.

“Well, I guess she passed this rou- wait.” Beca looked around the room. “Did anyone time her? Was she over?”

“I did.” Stacie tapped her watch. “Twenty minutes.”

“Woohoo!” Aubrey spun in a circle in a sort of – Chloe thought it looked like the Snoopy dance, honestly. “Take that, bitches!”

“Maybe she’s cut off.” Chloe whispered to Amy.

“I heard that!” Aubrey stopped suddenly and pointed at Chloe. “I earned my alc’ol thank you very much. Taking that away should only be a punishment and I,” she drug out the word, “am aca-awesome.”

“Mm, it certainly sounds like it.” Amy said with a smirk.

“What?” Aubrey looked at her, frowning.

“What?” Amy stared back, not giving an inch before she turned back to make Aubrey a new drink.

“What did I miss?” Aubrey looked at them all suspiciously.

“Chloetoldusaboutthetimeyouguysmadeout.” Beca blurted.

“What?” Aubrey looked at Chloe. “What did she say? I don’t speak DrunkBeca.”

Chloe closed one eye. “I sort of told them about spin the bottle.”

“Oh.” Aubrey blinked at her. “Oh!” She started to flush as Amy handed over the cup and immediately lifted it to her lips.

“I’m kind of sad that’s something I’ll never get to see.” Stacie said idly, inspecting her perfectly manicured nails.

Aubrey choked mid-drink and Amy slapped her on the back. “Oy, don’t waste it by spitting it all over the floor!”

Aubrey finally choked it down and took a big gulp of air. “Can we just pretend you didn’t hear-” She was cut off by a chorus of voices from around the room.

“No!”

“Right then.” Aubrey nodded and took an even bigger drink. “Who’s next?”

“For spin the bottle?” Beca’s eyes were wide and Chloe couldn’t tell if she was joking or not.

“No!” Aubrey yelled. “For your little theft challenge! Oh my god.” Aubrey turned bright red and the rest of the girls grinned at her.

“I’ll go,” Stacie offered. “I’ve got my key. Just need someone to time me.”

“Got it.” Aubrey said before anyone else could and held up her wrist, staring intently at it. “Wait… wait…” Chloe watched Stacie smile affectionately as Aubrey held up one finger. “Okay… Go!” Aubrey pointed at the door and Stacie saluted before slipping out.

Chloe stood up and walked somewhat unsteadily to sit next to Beca. “You okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Beca said, her hand instantly finding Chloe’s but she did frown. “As bad as Aubrey was, it sounds like That Whore Alice was worse.”

Chloe smiled as she heard the new title in Beca’s words and knew it was probably going to stick. “Yeah, but Aubrey made it better.”

“I’m glad you two had each other.” Beca brought their joined hands over so she could play with Chloe’s fingers. “No one deserves that kind of treatment.”

“Not even Captain Posen?” Chloe asked, curious as to the answer, only slightly aware of the fact that Aubrey had moved to sit in the armchair.

“No.” Beca’s reply was immediate. “Sure, she was kind of controlling and demanding – and, okay – sometimes I felt singled out.” She rolled her head to look at Aubrey. “Ear monstrosities is one thing that comes to mind.”

“You have a spike through your ear. You should have a thicker skin.” Aubrey said. “If it helps, I’ve grown used to them and think you look strange without them?”

The corner of Beca’s mouth twitched up in a smile. “But you were never outright cruel.” Aubrey opened her mouth and Beca held out a hand. “Not even after semi-finals.”

“That’s probably kinder than I deserve, but… thank you.” Aubrey smiled at her.

“That Whore Alice though…” Beca looked back at Chloe. “I’m going to punch her in the tit if I ever see her.”

“I feel I shouldn’t tell you that there’s a yearly Bella Reunion.” Chloe said. “Oops.”

“That would be the only thing that would make me go to something like that.” Beca rolled her eyes. “Because of course there’s a reunion.”

“You wouldn’t go because I asked?” Chloe batted her eyelashes as the door opened across the room.

“Don’t give me the eyes,” Beca whined. “I’m powerless.”

“Give it up, Beca. You’re whipped.” Aubrey laughed and leaned forward to slap her knee as the door opened.

“Was there any doubt? ” Stacie asked as she stepped into the room. “What’s my time, Bree?”

Aubrey looked down. “Ten minutes. What…?”

Stacie held up the bellhop bell from the main desk. “Like taking candy from a baby.” She accepted the cup that Amy handed her. “Who’s next?”

“Me.” Beca said and gave Chloe a kiss on the lips. “For luck.” She stood and Chloe slapped her ass.

“Got your key?” She grinned as Beca jumped.

“Yes.” Beca dug into her back pocket and waved it. “Time keeper?” She looked at Aubrey who repeated her process and Beca slipped out the door.

Aubrey took Beca’s spot. “Did you really tell them?”

“Sorry, it just sort of came out.” Chloe fidgeted and it was her turn to take Aubrey’s hand into her lap. “You mad at me?”

“I should be, but I think I’m too drunk to care.” Aubrey laughed. “Plus, it’s not just my story – so it’s not like I can forbid you from talking about it. Unless you said bad things about me.” Aubrey’s face fell. “Was I horrible?”

Chloe started to laugh even though she knew it wasn’t really appropriate. “Oh, Bree. You are an excellent kisser. Trust me.” Aubrey’s face broke out into a wide grin and Chloe smiled back at her. “Also, you’re adorable when you’re drunk, did you know that?”

Aubrey flushed and shook her head. “You’re biased.”

“Maybe, but that doesn’t make it any less true.” Chloe leaned back against the couch and watched as the girls lined up for another round of shots.

Two rounds later there was a clatter at the door and then it opened and Beca backed in slowly, pulling a cleaning cart behind her.

“Are you kidding me?” Ashley stood up and walked over.

“How did you even walk off with that and no one saw you?” Jessica followed, laughing.

Beca shrugged and Chloe fell a little bit more in love at the smug grin combined with the glint of amusement in her eyes. “I’m smol and stealthy.” She looked over as Lilly stepped next to her, palm raised. Cautiously Beca hive fived her and Lilly went back to her spot on the floor without speaking.

Probably for solidarity on being stealthy,’ Chloe thought.

“Did you just say ‘smol’?” Aubrey threw a pillow at her.

“Hey!” Beca swatted it out of the air. “What, it’s true. How long was that?”

“Eighteen minutes and forty seconds.” Aubrey declared.

Amy, meanwhile, had begun to root through the shelves. “You couldn’t get one that was stocked with stuff for the minibar?”

“Sorry Ames.” Beca shrugged. “Thieves can’t be choosers.”

“I’m not even from this country and I know that’s not the phrase, Beca.” Amy pushed the cart to the side in annoyance. “But I guess we’re set for soap and towels.”

“My turn.” Chloe stood up and waited until the room stopped threating to spin. She patted her pockets but Beca handed over her key. “Thanks, babe.” She pulled Beca in and gave her a kiss, not quite as chaste as what Beca had given her earlier and in fact was fast approaching spin the bottle territory.

“Don’t make me hose you down,” Amy said, throwing a towel at them.

Beca pulled back, her eyes dark and a bit hazy. “Aubrey, can you do the… uh… timing…” she waved her hand through the air. “Thing?”

Aubrey cleared her throat. “Alright Chlo… go.” She snorted a laugh. “I made a rhyme!”

Chloe grinned and left the room, feeling conspicuous walking around the hall at midnight. Since the others seemed to have decent luck in the lobby, she hopped in the elevator and rode it down, humming under her breath with the softly playing muzak.

She stepped out and wandered the lobby, trying desperately to look like she was just stretching her legs – and not run into anything because her balance was off thanks to the alcohol. She spotted an iced water cooler with strawberry infused water and made a beeline for it. She forced herself to sip it instead of gulping it, making a mental note to insist everyone upstairs drink water the second she got back.

The guy behind the desk had been watching her, but not in a creepy way or one that suggested he was about to call the cops because she and her friends were a bunch of thieves. It was more idle curiosity and to make sure she didn’t need assistance.

But, even though it was midnight, this was New York and it really was the city that never sleeps. She looked up as a crowd of people came in and realized this was her chance. She quickly looked around the lobby, barely holding back the laughter as she saw the space where Aubrey’s sign had been, just out of sight of the front desk.

Chloe spotted a dish of mints sitting on the corner of the desk and casually, she hoped, made her way up to it. She waited until the desk clerk was fully engaged in checking them in and casually slid the bowl off the counter as she walked by it. All in all, she thought it had gone pretty smooth. She hadn’t knocked it off or dropped it, or thrown the mints all over the floor. She continued her casual pace, her heart hammering away in her chest as she reached the elevator banks and pushed the button to go up. Thankfully they were out of sight of the desk, though she knew there were cameras everywhere and, honestly, how they expected to get away with this –

As the doors opened, she forced herself to take a deep breath and step in, hitting the floor for their suites. Panicking would do no good and they were all basically committed now. Hopefully the hotel would chalk it up to youthful pranks and maybe just charge them for it. Chloe winced – she’d have to make sure to tell Aiden and Asher to let them know if there were any… incidental charges to the room once they left.

Once she got to the floor, however, she power walked all the way down to the room and fumbled with the key card until the light turned green and she was able to open the door and rush in. She winced as the door slammed behind her, but she understood Aubrey’s reaction earlier. It definitely had felt like she’d be caught until she was safely through the door.

“Mints?” She forced herself to say casually as she set the bowl down by Aubrey’s sign and Stacie’s bell.

“Nicely done.” Aubrey looked at her watch. “Fourteen minutes.” She looked over as Lilly tapped on her shoulder.

“Time me.” It wasn’t as loud as it had been in the pool, but it certainly wasn’t the whisper they’d gotten used to pretending they understood.

Aubrey nodded. “Alright…… go!” She looked up. “Where’d she go?”

Chloe looked around. “Did anyone hear the door open and close?”

“Am I the only one who thinks she actually can teleport or walk through walls?” Beca asked as she walked out of the bathroom and sat down at the end of the couch next to Aubrey.

“That’d make a lot of sense, actually.” Amy mused as she poured a new drink for Chloe. “A lot of sense.”

“Thanks.” Chloe smiled as Amy handed it over. “OH! I almost forgot – we also maybe should be drinking water.”

From Aubrey’s other side, Stacie pointed at the desk that held the trophy. “Already on it, Gingersnap.” She grinned when Chloe made a face at her. On the desk were two full water pitchers filled with slowly melting ice. “I asked room service for it, so hopefully it’s better than the stuff everyone can dig out of a machine.”

“Then my job is done.” Chloe pushed on Aubrey’s leg. “Scootch.”

“Now who’s bossy,” Aubrey asked as she slid over a few inches, which put her thigh to thigh with Stacie.

“I learned from the best.” Chloe wiggled into the space left between Aubrey and Beca. “So I’d say it’s all your fault.”

“There’s no way.” Jessica said, obviously continuing a conversation that had been going on since Chloe had been out of the room.

“Do you really want me to prove it?” Beca asked with a sigh.

Jessica and Ashley exchanged a look. “Yes,” they replied in unison.

“What’d I miss?” Chloe asked, taking the first sip from her new drink and her eyes shot open at the strength of it. “Holy crap, Amy. Did you decide to drop the mixer altogether?”

“What mixer?” Amy asked as she lowered herself into the chair.

“Oh my god we’re all going to die.” Chloe took another, cautious sip that burned as much as the first had. ‘Maybe the trick is to drink it quick so you don’t taste it,’ she thought to herself.

“They think I can’t get another cart.” Beca sniffed. “I can’t let that go unchallenged.”

“Oh, Becs…” Chloe put her hand on Beca’s leg. “Wouldn’t that be asking to get caught?”

“You have so little faith in me?” Beca said, all puppy dog eyes and Chloe thought it was patently unfair to use those when she was drunk.

“I… No, that’s not…” Chloe shook her head. “Alright, go forth and conquer.”

“Faster.” Ashley said. “You have to do it faster than you did before.”

“Pssh.”Beca lifted her cup to her lips, draining it in one go. “I got this.”

Chloe watched her walk out the door and hoped that her luck continued to hold. She needn’t have worried though, because ten minutes later, Beca backed another cart through the door.

“No. Fucking. Way.” Ashley stared at her. “Seriously?”

“I’m like a ninja.” Beca said with satisfaction as she pushed it next to the other one.

Chloe stared at her. “If I didn’t love you before, seeing this demonstration of your ability to provide may have tipped me over the edge.” She fanned her face. “Be still my beating heart.”

Beca had walked over and was pouring out a glass of water. “I, Miss Beale, am quite the catch.” She looked around. “Is Lilly back yet? Where is she at on time?”

Aubrey glanced at her watch. “She’s at twenty minutes.”

“I wonder what she’ll come back with.” Denise mused.

“I’m afraid what she’ll come back with,” Cynthia Rose offered. “I like the girl, but don’t forget her Christmas presents.”

“That knife came in handy when I needed to get a package open.” Stacie shrugged.

They turned as the bathroom door opened and Lilly walked out.

Wearing a blonde toupee on her head.

“Where the hell-” Beca began then stopped as words failed her.

“-did you come from?” Chloe finished.

“-did that come from?” Amy demanded.

“How the hell did you get in the room and no one saw?” Cynthia Rose dropped her voice. “Are you a ghost? Is that what’s going on right now?”

Lilly only shrugged and took a seat on the floor by one of Beca’s carts.

“Right, well.” Amy looked at her own watch. “Guess that makes it my turn.” She finished her drink. “Alright Aubrey, do the thing.”

“And… go.” Aubrey looked up. “Please don’t get us kicked out.”

“If they haven’t yet, with two carts missing, I’m sure we’ll be fine.” Amy sighed when Aubrey only raised an eyebrow. “I promise I won’t do anything that will get us kicked out of the hotel.”

“Thank you.” But Aubrey was talking to the air as Amy had already left the room.

Beca sighed and looked at the two carts. “I suppose I should take those back, or leave them on other floors.”

“We should race them.”

Once again all conversation stopped as all eyes turned to look at Aubrey.

“We should what?” Beca blinked. Then blinked again as what looked like a bubble floated past her face. Chloe looked over and saw that Lilly was lying on her back, having produced a bottle of bubbles from somewhere, and had started blowing them around the room.

“Race them.” Aubrey looked back at Beca. “You and I.”

“How…” Beca frowned. “How would that even work?”

Aubrey stood up and looked in the cart, appraisingly. “I think you and I would fit in these vinyl bags they use for dirty linen.” Aubrey looked at the bags on either end, as if she was comparing them. “The other one is for trash and too small. At least you got ones that were empty and ready for tomorrow.”

“But…” Beca stood up and walked over to peer in. “How would it work if you and I are in the bags?”

“Someone would have to push us.” Aubrey explained.

“I volunteer as tribute.” Stacie said immediately.

“Chloe’s my driver.” Beca shot back.

“Guess we’re doing this,” Chloe muttered under her breath.

Ashley had also gotten up and was looking through the carts. “Oh, hey.” She held up two items that it took Chloe longer than she liked to recognize as a shower cap and swim goggles.

“Why the hell do they have swim goggles on a maid cart?” Cynthia Rose asked.

“Guests are strange. My aunt was a hotel maid for a year, people asked for all kinds of weird things.” Denise offered. “They’re probably just trying to be prepared for anything.”

“Wind resistance.” Jessica suddenly said.

“What?” Beca turned to her.

“You have to put on the cap and goggles to cut down on wind resistance.” Jessica said earnestly.

“Wind resistance is key, Beca.” Ashley said as she handed them to her.

Beca frowned and looked down. “It is?”

“Yup.” Both women said together and Chloe suddenly wondered if she was correct in who was who.

“Now, to decide where to do this and how we judge the winner.” Aubrey paced away, muttering to herself.

“We can just do it down the length of the hall.” Stacie said. “It’s long enough that we can get a good run at it.”

Chloe nodded. “Yeah, and it’s wide enough, being on the fancy floor.” She had a momentary twinge. “Does anyone know if we’re alone up here? Are there other fancy people who would call the desk on us for making noise?”

“We’ll just duck into the room. Someone can hold the door open so we don’t have to screw with the keycard.” Beca said absently, standing in front of one of the bags attached to the cart. “Yeah, I think we can fit in these.”

Chloe couldn’t help but think this was a bad idea; they were all drunk and no telling what could get broken, be it themselves or something in the hotel, such as the plants that were dotted along the hall. But she knew that once Aubrey had her teeth in an idea, there was very little that would talk her out of it.

“Alright.” Chloe stood up. “Jeshly and Ashica… No. That’s… not right.” Chloe blew out a breath, sure the fact that she now questioned who was who was combining with the alcohol to twist her tongue. “Jessley… That’s not right either, but I’m going with it.”

Both women looked at each other then back at Chloe. “We’ll take it.” Jessica – she was pretty sure Jessica was the blonde – said. 

“I kind of like the sound of it,” Ashley nodded. “Certainly shorter than saying both our names.”

“Good.” Chloe pushed past it. “You guys will stand at wherever we decide the finish line is and be the judges in case it’s a photo finish.”

“We’re going to leave you guys in the dust.” Stacie sneered but it was broken with a grin.

“Guess it’s a good thing we’re using cleaning carts. The loser can clean up after the winner.” Beca shot back.

“If I was a betting woman…” Cynthia Rose began.

“But you’re not doing that anymore.” Denise nudged her.

“Right.” Cynthia Rose sighed. “But this is a harmless…” Denise frowned at her and Cynthia Rose sighed again. “Alright, I won’t offer to take bets.”

Denise patted her arm. “We’ll get the door.” She stood and opened the door wide, allowing Stacie and Chloe to push the carts out into the hall, the rest of the girls following.

Chloe looked from one end to the other. “Okay, we’re kind of at the far end from the elevators here, so why don’t we make this the finish and have you guys start way down there?” She pointed and Jessica and Ashley stood across from each other a few feet past their door.

“Why finish here?” Beca asked.

“Cause any security is likely going to come up from the elevator and you don’t want to have to double back and risk running into them.” Chloe smiled at her. “I’d hate to have you break the one thing your dad asked of you tonight.”

“Yeah yeah.” Beca shook her head. “But good point. Obviously you’re the brains right now.”

“The brains are swimming in Amy’s booze, but I’ll take it.” Chloe began to push the cart down the hall, Beca and Aubrey following with Stacie pushing the second cart behind them.

They set the carts side by side as Beca and Aubrey pulled on the shower caps, tucking their hair up and pulling on the swim goggles. Chloe whipped out her phone and took a picture before they could stop her.

“You’re giving me a copy of that, right?” Stacie said as she leaned over to look at it.

“Oh this is going in the group chat.” Chloe said, already hitting send.

“Why do you hate me?” Beca whined.

“I don’t hate you.” Chloe kissed her cheek. “I love you.” She turned and kissed Aubrey’s cheek as well. “You too.”

Stacie had been studying the cart when she looked up. “Um, how are you guys going to get into these? It’s not like we can lower it for you.”

“Shit.” Aubrey frowned. “I didn’t think of that.”

“I mean, I could probably lift Beca into it like a toddler in a shopping cart.” Stacie absently swatted Beca’s hand as she tried to punch her shoulder. “But Aubrey’s got a few inches more.”

Chloe looked around and spotted a chair halfway down the hall next to a table. “Hold on.” She jogged down and picked it up, though the weight of it made her wish she’d dragged it. “This could help, if one of us steadies you.”

“It’s still a bit of a stretch and hop, but better than being lifted like a fucking toddler.” Beca said with a last glare at Stacie who blandly stared back at her. “Alright, let me try this.” She pulled the chair over and stepped on to it. Stacie and Chloe stood on either side, ready to help however was needed.

Beca lifted her leg up and lowered it into the bag and stopped. “This isn’t going to work.” She pulled her foot back and stood on the chair. “My weight will offset the whole thing.”

“Now who’s the brains.” Chloe said as she went to the other side of the cart and put her weight on it. “Okay, now what?”

“Now I try not to break my leg or my junk.” Beca said as she put one hand on the middle of the cart and the other on Stacie’s shoulder. “Here goes nothing.” Closing her eyes behind her goggles, she pushed herself up and over dropping neatly into the bag. Cautiously she opened them again and smiled. “See, nothing to it.”

Chloe pushed down on the handle she held to help counter balance. She wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to keep pushing down on it as well as run down the hall like a lunatic. “Yeah, that’s easy for you to say.”

Aubrey had already moved the chair by her cart, but to the side so the way forward was clear. “I think I can step into it easier, if you’ll hold down your side, Stace?” Stacie was already moving, watching Aubrey carefully. It was a bit clumsier, and honestly Chloe was afraid the highly inebriated Aubrey was going to flip ass over tea kettle into the middle of the hall, but Aubrey made it safely in the bag with a triumphant ‘ta da!’

“Do we get a practice run or…” Stacie asked Chloe but Beca interrupted.

“Hell no, we’re only doing this once because if we do it twice, one of us will die.”

Aubrey shifted in the bag. “She’s probably right. I guess… I’ll do a count down?”

“Sure.” Chloe shifted her grip on the handle, the feeling that this was a bad idea continuing to grow but unable to fully push through the wall of alcohol.

“One…”

“On three or after three?” Stacie asked, teasingly.

“Oh my god, woman!” Aubrey looked over her shoulder, trying for exasperated but the effect was ruined by the shower cap and goggles.

“Sorry, once for old time’s sake.” Stacie said contritely. “I’ll be good.”

“That’ll be the day,” Beca muttered.

“Count on it.” Stacie shot back and Chloe laughed.

“Okay, let’s… let’s just get this over with.”

Aubrey began again. “One… two… GO!”

Chloe ran forward, trying to push the cart both down to the floor and down the hall, finding it was actually a bit easier than she thought, once she got it going. The carts were designed to carry a fair amount of heavy linen, so the weight in front wasn’t as much of a deal breaker as she thought it might be. She did wish they’d remembered to take things off the bottom shelf, like the toilet paper, as she heard several hit the ground and roll behind them.

Halfway down the hall, Beca crouched down in the bag, trying to lessen the drag against the cart.

“Cheater!” Aubrey half yelled, half whispered.

“Just cause you’re too tall, Posen, doesn’t mean it’s cheating!” Beca turned to look at her and that offset things just enough that the cart tipped forward when Chloe didn’t expect it and couldn’t counter balance it quickly enough.

Beca tried to push herself back, but that just made things worse and as Stacie pushed Aubrey ahead, Beca and Chloe came to a stop with Beca hanging halfway over the front of the bag. “Oh god, I’m going to puke.” She pushed herself back up with a groan. “I’m cutting myself off, water only if I make it back to the room alive.”

A quiet cheer caused them both to look up the hall where Aubrey and Stacie had come to a stop between Jessica and Ashley. Aubrey was doing some sort of victory shimmy dance in her bag until the cart began to tip on its side. Stacie had stepped back to, Chloe assumed, fully admire Aubrey’s victory moves and was too far away to keep it from tipping over on its side. Chloe wondered if anyone else felt like the cart was moving in slow motion before it finally slammed into the ground, spilling Aubrey out along with half its contents.

After a second in which everyone stood frozen, Aubrey jumped to her feet in a full on “Superstar” pose and yelled “I’m okay!”

Stacie was immediately at her side, peering at her head but Aubrey’s hands slapped at her. There was an intense debate before Aubrey pointed down the hall and Stacie turned to jog down toward where Chloe and Beca stood in shock.

“Aubrey is fine.” Stacie said as soon as she didn’t have to shout. “She’s got a small cut on her head that she insists isn’t anything. I may need help pinning her down in the room to look at it.”

Beca snorted. “I bet you want to pin her down.”

Chloe rolled her eyes then looked back where Aubrey was leaning forward, hands braced on her knees. “What happened?”

“Her victory cheer offset the whole thing. The cut looks small, but…” Stacie shrugged but managed a small smile.  “She told me to rescue Beca and tell you both, and I quote, ‘We won, pitches!’” Stacie looked back where Aubrey was waving off Jessica’s attempts to look at her head. “Even drunk, she’s competitive.”

“You have no idea.” Chloe sighed. “Now how do we get Beca out of here?”

Stacie met Beca’s frown with a smile. “I know what the quickest way is.”

“I hate you.” Beca held up her arms. “And if you tell anyone this happened, I will shank your ass in your sleep, Conrad.” Chloe decided not to say anything about Aubrey’s phone that was suddenly aimed in their direction.

‘She must not have hit her head too badly if she’s able to film Beca for blackmail.’ She wondered, not for the first time and definitely not for the last, if they realized just how alike they really were. She didn’t want to imagine what life would be like without them both in it.

“Cross my heart.” Stacie stepped forward. “Put your arms around my neck and lift your legs. Chlo, we may need your help.”

Once Beca had a grip on Stacie, Chloe stepped around to them, pushing down on the cart to tilt it just enough that Beca was able to lift her legs while Stacie swung her up and over.

“See? Not so bad to have me carry you away.” Stacie set her back on her feet.

“Don’t let it go to your head.” Beca took off her shower cap and goggles, running her hand through her hair. “Come on, let’s clean up the evidence.”

They’d just leaned down to pick up the rolls of toilet paper that had fallen out of Chloe’s cart when they all froze again. “Was that a door?” Chloe looked around, suddenly conscious of the fact that they were in a nice hotel, in New York, at one in the morning and having drunken cart races with stolen cleaning carts.

“Maybe we should…” Beca looked around and took a step toward the room.

“We can’t just leave it, Beca.” Chloe started to say but another noise stopped her as she looked behind her. The halls actually formed a T, the top bar running left and right from the elevators and Chloe knew they could be discovered any minute. “On second thought…” She turned around to find Stacie and Beca already halfway down the hall, Beca hanging on to Stacie’s shirt for extra speed. Her mouth dropped before she half yelled, half whispered after them, “Seriously?”

She took off down the hall, leaving the cart behind her as evidence. Aubrey looked up at the pounding feet approaching her and without any hesitation bolted straight between Cynthia Rose and Denise, Jessica and Ashley not far behind. Stacie pushed Cynthia Rose and Denise in the room, Beca following, and waved her hands to hurry Chloe along.

Chloe finally dashed past her and into the room, feeling the wash of air as Stacie slammed the door closed.

“Why were we running?” Ashley said. Chloe looked over and saw that she was plastered against the wall like the room was about to be invaded.

“Thought someone was coming up one of the halls. Figured it was better to clear out,” Stacie said absently as she dug through her bag by the beds.

“But we left the carts out there.” Beca pointed out. “And we’re the drunk ass college students on the fancy floor.”

“And one of us is bleeding.” Jessica noted.

Chloe’s head snapped around and she saw that a line of red was running down Aubrey’s forehead.

“This is nothing. I got worse than this going through the obstacle course back home.” Aubrey pushed Chloe’s hands away. “Stop fussing.”

“Aubrey.” Everyone stopped as Stacie walked back into the room. “You’re going to sit on that couch and let me take a look.” She gave Aubrey a level stare and waited. Chloe thought Aubrey would argue as much, or even more, than she had with Chloe, but to her surprise and unending amusement, Aubrey only met her gaze for a few seconds before nodding.

“Okay.” She made her way to the couch and sat down, waiting, as Stacie sat on the table in front of her.

Chloe sat next to Aubrey and peered at it with Stacie. “It doesn’t look bad.”

Stacie shook her head. “No, but she took a pretty good knock when she hit the floor. My cousin got a concussion once from something similar.” She leaned forward with a gauze pad and patted gently at the cut.

“I’m too hard headed to have that happen.” Aubrey said, her eyes almost crossing as she kept them focused on Stacie and a smile on her face that Chloe would classify as ‘sappy.’

“Maybe.” Stacie murmured. “But you’re going to let me take a look anyway.”

“Okay.” Aubrey said again, her smile never leaving her lips as Stacie fussed over her. “But I told you, it’s nothing. I don’t even feel it.”

“That’s the alcohol, genius.” Beca sat next to Stacie. “You’re totally going to have a grotesque scar,” she teased.

“She will not.” Chloe leaned forward and pinched Beca’s knee before turning back to Aubrey. “And even if you did, it just meant we would be twins.”

Aubrey reached over and ran her fingers against the scar on Chloe’s forehead. “I don’t even notice it anymore.”

Stacie smiled and gently pushed Aubrey’s arm back down. “Hold on, I’m almost done.” She gently wiped the rest of the blood from her forehead. “It’s already stopped bleeding, thank god. Chlo, can you get me a Band-Aid?”

“I got it.” Beca said as she opened the small medical kit that Stacie had with her. She grabbed one of the bigger ones and carefully opened the packaging and peeled off one of the covers. “Here you go.”

“Thanks, Dr. Mitchell.” Stacie said with a grin.

“Ew, no.” Beca made a face. “That’s my dad.”

“My mistake.” Stacie carefully applied the bandage to Aubrey’s head and the care she took with it made Chloe smile.

“Will she live?” Cynthia Rose asked as she sat back down in the chair.

“I think so.” Stacie had been watching carefully and she finally sat back. “I think you’re in the clear on the concussion, Aubrey.”

“Told you.” Aubrey reached up and knocked on the side of her head. “Hard. I think I need a victory shot.”

“I think we’ve had enough shots,” Chloe interjected. “It’s all fun and games until someone tips over in a cleaning cart.”

“Don’t be a spoilsport.” Aubrey pouted. “If Stacie says I can have one…?”

Chloe rolled her eyes but turned to an amused Stacie. “Well, Dr. Conrad?”

Aubrey turned pleading eyes on Stacie. “Pleaaaaaaaaase? I’ll be a good girl.”

Stacie bit the inside of her cheek. “Somehow I highly doubt that.” Aubrey’s insulted gasp made them all laugh. “But yeah – I think we could all use one after that scare.”

“Yay!” Aubrey would have jumped up but Chloe had been expecting it and blocked her. “Boo!”

“You stay there, we got this.” Stacie stood up and took her kit from Beca. “Thanks for the assist.”

“Thanks for dealing with the blood.” Beca shrugged.

“Eh.” Stacie tossed the kit back in her suitcase. “Never bothered me.”

Ashley had finally pulled herself from the wall and had begun to pour shots into cups. “And the first annual Bella Cleaning Cart Races comes to a close, Aubrey Posen winning by a mile.”

“Despite the fact that Beca cheated.” Aubrey said as she took the offered cup.

“I don’t think it’s cheating if I’m taking advantage of my natural physical state.” Beca pushed on Aubrey’s leg. “Move over.”

“Why does everyone keep making me move?” Aubrey said but moved over so she was at the other end of the couch from Chloe.

“Luck of the draw,” Beca said as she settled into the open space between them. “Thanks, Jess.” Beca took the offered shot. “To Aubrey.”

“To Aubrey!” The rest of them cheered.

“To me!” Aubrey yelled and downed the shot.

Beca frowned and looked over. “I don’t think the cap and goggles did anything for wind resistance, Jessley.”

Ashley grinned. “I just wanted to see if you guys would put them on.”

Beca poked Chloe in the leg. “I can’t believe you forced me to join this group of psychos.”

“You love us.” Chloe snuggled into her side.

“Yeah.” Beca sighed deeply. “I do.”

After the excitement of blood and the fear of getting caught, the decision was made that continuing to find things to steal might be pushing their luck. Something worse could happen and none of them felt like tempting fate. They talked for another half hour before the first yawn happened.

“Since no one has come knocking on our door, I assume we’re not busted.” Beca raked her teeth over her lip. “Think we should clean up before we pass out?” She walked to the door and stuck her head out. “Holy crap.” She pushed the door open. “Guys, it’s all gone.”

“What do you mean ‘gone?’” Stacie walked over and peered over her arm. “Holy crap. It’s gone.”

“That’s what I said,” Beca said testily. “How…”

Chloe had been watching Lilly and noticed the small smile. “Why didn’t you get one of us to help?” Lilly shrugged and Chloe smiled back. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Am I drunk or did I just hear Lilly?” Cynthia Rose asked as she looked between her cup and Lilly.

 “Yes.” Chloe said simply.

It wasn’t long after that they finally called it a night. Jessica, Ashley, Lilly, Cynthia Rose and Denise all left to go to their suite, promising not to come knocking too early. Since the Posen’s had extended their stay, they could sleep in again and have another late breakfast.

“As winner,” Aubrey said as she rummaged in her suitcase. “I call dibs on the bathroom first.” Without waiting for a reply, she walked in and shut the door.

Chloe crawled onto one of the beds and groaned. “Who knew being horizontal could feel this good?”

“I did.” Stacie grinned when Chloe rolled her head to look at her. “You had to know that was coming.”

“I should’ve. I really should’ve.” Chloe felt the bed bounce as Bec dropped beside her and immediately attached herself to Chloe’s side. Chloe’s body slowly relaxed under Beca’s weight, having missed it last night when they slept apart.

The three of them were silent, almost on the edge of drifting to sleep, when Aubrey came back out. Chloe half expected her to say something about the fact that Beca was obviously intending to share a bed with Chloe, but Aubrey only hesitated for a second before she put her toiletry case back in her suitcase.

“Guess that means I’m up.” Stacie stood and stretched before getting her pajamas and toothbrush from her bag. “I’ll be quick.”

Chloe watched as Aubrey briskly pulled down the comforter and, to her unending amusement, arranged the extra pillows that were piled on the bed into a line down the middle. “Is that like, the demilitarized zone?” She felt Beca push up to look and heard her quiet snicker.

“Exactly.” Aubrey slid into the bed. “We’re all adults, but there’s been alcohol.”

“Is that to protect her or you?” Beca asked lightly.

“Neither. It’s just… there.” Aubrey reached over and plugged her phone into the charger she’d already set up.

Stacie came back out and laughed. “I don’t know if I should be flattered or insulted.”

“Neither.” Aubrey said again and Chloe could see her flush slightly. “It’s just… there.”

“Whatever you say, Bree.” Stacie put her stuff away and slid into her half of the bed.

Beca was next and when Chloe was finished with her turn brushing her teeth, she left the bathroom door open a crack and the light on. She’d stubbed her toes on enough unfamiliar furniture in her travels that she insisted on at least something to see by.

She slid into bed and into Beca’s side, unsure if the other woman was asleep yet or not. She was pretty sure that Aubrey and Stacie had dropped off as all lights in the room were off and they were unmoving lumps in the other bed. But Beca turned immediately and kissed her, hard and fast, almost as if she’d been waiting to do that since Chloe had gotten her ‘good luck’ kiss earlier.

She felt herself get lost in it, Beca’s touch always making her feel drunk and the actual alcohol only heightened that. Conscious of the fact that they weren’t alone, Chloe pulled back when she felt herself wanting to do more than just kiss. So when Beca’s voice whispered out of the darkness, she was shocked and thrilled down to her toes.

“I think they’re asleep, wanna fool around?” Her hand ran across Chloe’s hip and tugged lightly, unintentionally tickling her and Chloe squirmed and tried not to laugh.

Chloe’s mouth opened but then a very scandalized – yet still amused – Aubrey spoke from the next bed. “Do not even think about it. I will end you.

“Oh shit.” Beca burst into hysterical giggles and buried her face in Chloe’s neck to muffle them. Helpless to do anything else, Chloe fell right after her, trying to stifle her giggles in Beca’s hair.

“You’re so busted,” she whispered and felt Beca’s frantic nod as more cackles were smothered against Chloe’s skin.

“Worth it,” Beca whispered back, still shaking with laugher.

Stacie’s tone was considering. “Unless, you want to give a show. But I feel I should warn you, I tend to offer tips, critiques and general off color commentary.”

“Oh my god.”

Chloe laughed again as Aubrey and Beca said it at the same time as Beca suddenly stopped giggling. “Maybe we should just sleep.” Chloe offered.

“That’s probably a good idea.” Stacie shifted in the bed. “I’m not very good with just watching.”

“Holy fuck.” Beca whispered and cleared her throat before saying, louder. “No, sleeping is good. Sleep is very good. Nothing going on over here, nope.”

Chloe pushed Beca onto her back and rested against her side. “Night.”

Three voices already blurred with sleep said it back and she let herself begin to drift.

She didn’t really want to have this amazing day end, but maybe she was ready to see what the future held. Though she wasn’t really sure how to live a life that wasn’t beside Beca and the girls as a Bella.

‘Monday. I’ll worry about that on Monday.’

With that final thought, and Beca’s heartbeat against her ear, Chloe fell asleep.

 


 

 

~B~

Beca wasn’t ready to open her eyes, but she stretched out all her limbs like a starfish, realizing that Chloe was no longer beside her.

Once she’d gotten all the morning cracks and pops out, she opened her eyes and looked around. Chloe was nowhere in sight and the other bed was neatly made. Her head felt like she’d been kicked by a mule, but she thought she was actually pretty well off in the hang-over department.

Beca frowned and wondered if she’d dreamed what she thought she saw last night. She’d gotten up to use the bathroom only a few hours after they’d fallen asleep, and all the pillows that Aubrey had lined the bed with had been on the floor. She had stared at them as she tried to figure out what that meant, when she’d looked up and realized that there were no longer two distinct lumps on the bed, but one large pile in the middle. She couldn’t tell who was who or how exactly they were tangled up, but there was no question that the two of them were snuggled comfortably together in the middle of the bed.

Beca only smiled, hoping that meant they were finally past whatever denial they both had and finished her business in the bathroom. She crawled back into bed with Chloe, finding herself immediately in the little spoon position as Chloe rolled over and pulled Beca in.

She’d been hoping she could catch them still in bed together when she woke up, but obviously she was last.

Beca flipped off the covers and slid to the side of the bed as Chloe rounded the partition from the sitting area. “Oh.” She smiled brightly. “I was just about to come get you. We’re going to meet Aubrey’s brothers downstairs for breakfast.” She leaned down and kissed Beca thoroughly. “Morning sleepyhead.”

“Mornin’” Beca said through a yawn. “Do I have time to shower?”

“Yup. But only if you hurry.” Chloe ran her hand through Beca’s hair before reaching down to grab her hand. “Up and at ‘em!”

“Have you already had coffee this morning?” Beca asked as she dug into her suitcase for clothes.

“Nope. Just water.” Chloe picked up a bottle from the table. “Which I now present to you.”

“Aw, thanks. You do love me.” Beca took a long drink before handing it back. “Okay, let me get in there.” She crossed to the bathroom as Chloe followed her. She looked out into the room at Stacie who was sitting on the couch. “Morning.”

“B.” Stacie looked up. “Hurry, I’m starving.”

“Alright, alright. Keep your shirt on.” Beca closed the door behind her as Chloe continued into the other room.

Beca showered quickly and brushed her teeth again after she was dressed. When she came back out, Aubrey walked back in.

“Beca, good. You’re ready. Aiden’s already got a table downstairs.”

Beca grabbed her boots and sat down. “I wasn’t sure I would want food, but I feel human again after a shower.” She pulled them on and went back into the bedroom to grab her phone, purse and keycard. “Alright, let’s get some food.” She walked back out and realized she was talking to an empty room. “Nice.”

Shaking her head she opened the door and took the Do Not Disturb sign off the handle and put it on the inside before closing it behind her. The other three were waiting at the elevator, which opened while Beca was still fifteen feet away and she jogged to catch up.

“This is way too early to be doing cardio.” Beca said as she leaned against the back wall. “Especially after yesterday.”

“It’s never too early for cardio, Beca.” Aubrey said happily. “I get up early in the summer and go for a run around the property.”

“That sounds disgustingly unhealthy.” Beca shook her head. “To quote Amy, ‘Don’t put me down for cardio.’”

They made their way to the restaurant, gathering the rest of the Bellas in the lobby and found Asher and Aiden waving to them from the back where several tables had been pushed together. Aubrey did quick introductions, realizing that not everyone had met them last night, as the wait staff came over and took their drink orders and promised to be right back with them.

Beca and Chloe had sat across from Aubrey and her brothers, which meant she was easily able to overhear Asher’s low question.

“Why do you have a Band-Aid on your head?”

Aubrey’s fingers rapped against the table. “Is this my brother talking or the guy who’s wondering if he’s going to have to reimburse the hotel for damages?”  She smiled sweetly when both her brothers laughed.

“Your brother.” Asher said after studying her for a minute.

“Cleaning cart races.”

“What?!” Asher coughed and lowered his voice. “Maybe we need to revisit the other guy option.”

“Everything is fine.”

Aiden reached up and poked at her forehead and she smacked his hand. “Says the girl with a bruise.”

Aubrey winced as she couldn’t help prodding it herself. “Yeah, but I’m the only casualty.”

“Then I guess there’s only one thing to say.” Asher sat up and looked at her. “I’m disappointed in you.” Beca felt her heart sink as Aubrey’s face stiffened and started to fall. His eyes widened as he realized how seriously she was taking him because he quickly reached past Aiden to grab her hand. “For not inviting us.”

“Way to go, asshole.” Aiden elbowed him in the side. “But he’s right. How could you not think we’d want in on that action?”

Aubrey cleared her throat quietly and Beca could almost see her pushing back her insecurity. “Because I was really drunk at the time and celebrating with my team. My obnoxious older brothers were the last thing on my mind at the time.” She picked up her menu.

“Fair point.” Aiden nodded. “Next time then.” He reached over and squeezed Aubrey’s hand and she flashed him a quick grin.

“Deal.”

Beca couldn’t help but smile at the obvious affection the three of them shared. Growing up she’d been of two minds to the idea of having a brother or sister. On the one hand, as an only child, she didn’t have to compete with anyone for parental affection or put up with the crap she’d seen some of her friends go through from a sibling. On the other hand, when her parents had gotten divorced, she used to wish that she wasn’t going through it alone, that she had someone to talk to about her fears of what was going to happen next. Of course, as she got older, she also thought that she wouldn’t wish that kind of nightmare on anyone else, so she’d stopped thinking about any ‘what if’s’ about growing up.

But seeing Aubrey with her brothers… Beca thought for the first time in a long time that things might have been different if she’d had a brother or sister... If they’d been like the Posen’s, at least; maybe she wouldn’t have had so many walls around her.

Beca shook her head. It wouldn’t do any good to wonder what her life would have been like now. But she found she really liked this unexpected layer to Aubrey; one who wasn’t afraid to call her brothers dicklicks, of all things, right after winning the most important trophy of her college career. Beca grinned as Aubrey swatted Aiden’s hand as he made a cooing sound and tried to touch her forehead. Yeah – maybe having someone like them in her corner would have made things a little more bearable. But then her choices may not have led her to be sitting here at this table with the beautiful woman sitting to her right.

Chloe caught her staring and leaned over. “What?” Her hand slid over and rested on Beca’s thigh and Beca covered it with her own; she thought, not for the first time, that she really liked the way that their hands always seemed to gravitate to each other. Beca had never been one to seek out touch, even before her parents’ divorce, but it already felt second nature with Chloe.

“Nothing.” Beca smiled at her. “Just thinking of how pretty you look this morning.” She smiled again as Chloe blushed and squeezed her leg.

“Flatterer.” Chloe closed the distance and kissed Beca’s cheek before she turned back to her menu.

Beca spent another few seconds watching Chloe, noticing the blush was slow to fade, before she lifted her own menu. She was trying to decide between an omelet and a stack of pancakes, when a loud thud and the shaking of water glasses brought her head up with a jolt.

Amy looked at the rest of them. “What? Can’t a girl go off on a scavenger hunt and come back successful ten hours later?”

Beca was shocked to realize that they had forgotten all about Amy going off to find something to steal. They’d never once thought to question where she was when they all went to bed. She wanted to blame it on the fact that Amy hadn’t roomed with them the first night, but… ‘What if something had been wrong?’

She felt Chloe’s hand on her right leg and looked over to see matching disbelief. “Chlo, we… Holy crap.”

“I know. I know.” Chloe shook her head. “But she’s here, she’s safe. This is Amy, we’re talking about. We probably should have been more worried about New York City.”

Beca shook her head. Amy was an adult. They all had their phones and she’d have called if she needed them. It just didn’t sit well that she’d completely forgotten about Amy, but it wasn’t like she was Amy’s guardian. But damned if she didn’t feel like a crappy friend at the moment.

“What the… It’s just a bible?” Ashley picked up the item that Amy had dropped. “You were gone ten hours to steal a bible?”

“Look on the inside.” Amy pointed and Ashley opened the cover and snorted.

“It’s from another hotel.” She tilted the book so the rest could see.

“You stole a bible… From another hotel?” Aiden said slowly, looking around the table to see if he was understanding correctly.

“Ain’t no trick in stealing a bible from the hotel you’re in, is there?” Amy took a seat at the end of the table. “There’s one in every room. No technique in that.”

Asher leaned toward Aubrey. “Will you explain later?”

“I… I don’t think one can explain Amy,” Aubrey said slowly. “She’s more… someone you need to observe for yourself.”

Beca looked up as a cup of coffee appeared on the table in front of her and she smiled gratefully at the waitress who had delivered it. Taking the first sip, she looked around the table and smiled to herself.

Chloe and Aubrey were telling her brothers about the drunken cart races and Beca saw the obvious affection between the four of them. Chloe must have sensed her looking because she turned her head and met Beca’s eyes and Beca felt a warmth completely unrelated to her coffee ease through her. With a smile meant only for Beca, Chloe turned back and pulled out her phone to show them the picture of Aubrey in shower cap and goggles.

This certainly wasn’t how she’d pictured herself spending her ‘just get through it’ year at college. But they were her family and she wouldn’t trade them for the world.