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They Had Time

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~C~

Chloe looked down at the test in her hand, wondering why she wasn’t freaking out.

While the final class grade wouldn’t be posted for another week, this test had made up half of her grade and the giant red “60% “ circled on her paper told her that she was not going to pass.

Her Russian Lit teacher had actually looked disappointed when he handed her the test and that stung more than anything. She hated letting people down or having them be disappointed in her.

She also, quite firmly, pushed down the question that was screaming at the back of her mind: Had she failed on purpose? Because failing was not in Chloe’s nature. So either she really had let things slide – which, considering how much time the Bellas has taken up at the end and the fact that the rest of it was spent with Beca, was entirely possible – or…

Or she had failed on purpose.

Neither answer was something she wanted to focus on just then, so she put her paper back in her bag and continued walking across the quad to meet Beca for lunch, trying not to think about it. Except something this important to her future wouldn’t exactly sit quietly in the back of her mind until she was ready (or forced) to drag it out. It stood up and yelled, forcing her to really think about her choices.

By the time she saw the café in the distance, she knew she really only had one option; she was staying at Barden. With Beca. Hadn’t she been thinking on and off all year that she’d do whatever it took to stay with Beca? Unfortunately, this meant she probably had done that thing that she still wasn’t admitting to herself and she didn’t know how she felt about that. Stopping a few feet from the door, she pulled out her phone to send a quick text to Aubrey. Taking a deep breath, she put her phone away and opened the door, finding Beca in her favorite back booth.

“This seat free?” Chloe slid into the seat to Beca’s right and kissed her cheek.

“Only if you’re the smoking hot redhead who I’m in love with.” Beca closed down her laptop and stowed it back in her bag. She turned around and kissed Chloe’s cheek, her right hand immediately going to Chloe’s thigh.

Chloe felt her heart catch at the almost absent honesty in it; as if that was just the way it was going to be for the rest of their lives and so open compared to how Beca had been for most of the past year. It helped cement everything about her decision once and for all, not that she’d really been thinking of anything else once she’d made it. Not even Aubrey’s wolves would be able to pull her from Beca’s side, she mused with a smile.

“What’s that for?” Beca eyed her curiously.

“Oh, it’s…” Chloe broke off as her phone buzzed. “Sorry, one sec.” She gave Beca a grin and pulled it from her pocket. Aubrey had replied to her text and Chloe sent one back, confirming the proposed time, before putting her phone in her pocket. “Sorry.” She looked up and got lost in the dark eyes so close to her own. “What was I talking about?”

“I have no idea.” Beca grinned at her. “Good text?” She nodded toward Chloe’s purse between them.

“Oh!” Chloe laughed. “Right, sorry. That was just Bree. I was wondering… Would you come to the house tonight? I’d like to make you guys dinner.”

Beca chuckled. “You do realize I’ve been at the house almost every night since we got back from New York two weeks ago, right? You should just assume I’m a permanent gate crasher until the end of the year.”

The waiter came up just then and once they placed their orders, Chloe picked back up where they’d left off. “I didn’t want to just assume…”

“That I’d want to go back to Kimmy Jin’s deadpan hostility?” Beca made a face. “No thanks. Sure, it’s not quite as bad as it was at the start of the year, but…” Beca shook her head. “I’ll stick with one night a week to make sure I’m at least quasi following the rules for the next couple weeks.” She took a drink from her water then looked sharply at Chloe. “Unless Aubrey is sick of me, or you’d rather…”

Chloe put her hand over Beca’s on her leg and squeezed. “No. There’s nothing like that, honestly.” She smiled. “Aubrey doesn’t mind the company – no I’m not just saying that – and you know I prefer having you around.”

Apparently at any price,’ Chloe mused to herself as Beca took a deep breath.

“Sorry. Right. Knee jerk reaction.” She took another drink of water. “Yes, I would love to have dinner with you and the drill sergeant tonight.” Beca smiled when Chloe smacked her thigh. “I think she secretly likes it when I call her that.”

“Me too, though I can’t figure out why.” Chloe laughed. “Personally I’m just glad you guys bonded, no matter how strangely you guys sometimes express it.”

“So why the dinner?”

“End of the year thing.” Chloe shrugged. “It’s been a hell of a year and I’d like to celebrate it with the two people who mean the most to me.”

Beca blinked at her and she saw that Beca was as touched as Chloe had been earlier. Idly she wondered if it was because Beca had never had anyone tell her that she was important before, or that Chloe would put her on the same level as Aubrey. Probably a mix of both, Chloe decided, as Beca’s silence grew.

“Is that a no?” She teased gently.

“No, I… I’d love to have dinner with you guys.” Beca cleared her throat. “What time?”

“Aubrey won’t be home until seven, so seven thirty?”

“Works for me,” Beca looked up as the waiter approached with their plates. “I don’t mind making dinner plans as I’m about to each lunch.”

“That’s because you’re a bottomless pit, Becs.” Chloe smiled her thanks as her food was set down.

“I’m sure I’m just making up for all the cardio that Aubrey’s made me do all year.” Beca shrugged and picked up her burger. “There was a lot of it.”

“Aw, poor baby.” Chloe kissed her cheek again before turning back to her sandwich. “You’re going to share those fries, right?”

Beca froze and looked at her out of the corner of her eye. “It must be love, because anyone else asking that would get a different answer. And be threatened with a fork.”

Chloe reached out and plucked a fry from the plate. “Thanks, Babe.” She popped the fry into her mouth as her heart thumped happily in her chest.

What was not graduating compared to having Beca by her side for the next year?

‘Nothing,’ she mused. ‘Nothing at all.’

Now she just had to tell her best friend and her girlfriend and hope they didn’t kill her.

 


  

 ~C~ 

Chloe pushed her plate away. “Oh my god, I’m stuffed.”

“I think’s because you ate half that pot of pasta by yourself.” Aubrey said while sipping her wine.

“It was impressive though, Aubrey.” Beca said as she forked up the last bite on her plate.

“Maybe.” Aubrey swirled her glass a little and stared into it. “Except Chloe only really eats like that when she’s nervous.”

Beca set down her fork and looked at Chloe quizzically who couldn’t help the flush that hit her cheeks. “What’re you nervous about, Chlo?”

“You’ve gone through all the trouble of softening us up, you might as well get it over with.” Aubrey said, though not unkindly. She reached over and squeezed Chloe’s arm. “You know I’m here for you, no matter what it is.” She darted a look at Beca. “Even if the hobbit got you pregnant.”

Beca was in the middle of taking a drink of wine and it came out her nose as she snorted and coughed.

“Bree!” Unable to stop laughing, Chloe grabbed her napkin from her lap and jumped up to start patting at Beca’s face. “You’re awful.”

“I think you meant to say ‘amazing.’” Aubrey smirked before schooling her face to look apologetic. “I am sorry that it came out her nose. I know it burns.”

Beca gave one last cough and blew her nose into her napkin. “Oh my god, Posen. If it wouldn’t make Chloe sad, I would plot a slow death for you.” She took the clean napkin Aubrey handed her and wiped her eyes. “When did you shoot wine out your nose? I can’t picture it.”

“Two years ago Aiden saran wrapped Asher to the recliner when he fell asleep after Thanksgiving dinner. Aiden blasted off an air horn while standing behind him. He’d done such a good job of wrapping him that when Asher tried to leap off the chair, he actually lifted it an inch or so off the floor and toppled over on his side. The crash it made when it hit the ground again startled Mom’s usually calm, and show winning, Rhodesian Ridgeback from where he’d been sleeping in front of the fire.”

“Aw, poor Rowan.” Chloe murmured.

“Mm, you mean ‘poor Aiden.’” Aubrey shook her head. “Rowan took off for the kitchen and ran right into Mother’s legs. Almost knocked her over and definitely knocked the apple pie out of her hands.”

“Oh god, not the pie!” Chloe whined. “Your mom’s recipe is the best and I will get it out of her one day.”

“She loves you, so she probably will.” Aubrey took another drink of her wine. “But what caused me to snort wine through my nose was that my staid, stately mother, who prefers a disappointed look that withers the soul -”

“I see you have things in common,” Beca said casually. She pointed when Aubrey merely looked at her. “See? Right there, I can feel my soul withering right now!”

Aubrey visibly bit back a grin and continued. “Grabbed Dad’s newspaper right out of his hands – who was not bothered in the slightest by the air horn - rolled it up and took off after Aiden; she chased him completely out of the house, yelling the entire time. Dad laughed his ass off as he cut Asher loose because he couldn’t do it on his own.” Her voice turned gruff as she imitated her father. “’What kind of military man can’t get out of a little saran wrap?’” She sat back and grinned. “Asher was so pissed and ready to go kick Aiden’s ass but Dad just patted him on the shoulder. ‘Don’t worry son. Mother was a track stare in college. Even I couldn’t outrun her. She’ll get him.’”

Chloe laughed until tears came out of her eyes. “Oh my god, I can totes picture that! Your poor mom, but… I love your brothers.”

“They seemed really nice.” Beca shook her head as her own chuckles slowed. “I don’t know why you turned out so rotten.”

“That was lame, even for you.” Aubrey shook her head sadly. “You used to have better insult game than that.”

“Yeah, well… I’ve got wine trickling out my nose. That’s enough to throw anyone off.” Beca blew her nose again.

“Sorry,” Aubrey said, one corner of her mouth twitching up into a grin.

“No you’re not.” Beca got up to throw away the napkins.

“No, I’m really not.” Aubrey stood and gathered their plates.

“I’ll get you back one day, no fear.” Beca took them from her and turned toward the sink. “You won’t even see it coming.”

Chloe leaned back against the wall from her spot at the back table, happiness rising to offset the nerves that had prompted her to eat a lot more than usual. She would never have bet that these two women would ever be able to do more than glare silently at each other, much less engage in this kind of banter. She was going to miss it, if she couldn’t get Aubrey to visit often.

“Beca.” Aubrey said as she pulled open the cabinet under the sink to get the dish soap. “I grew up in a military household. My brothers taught me how to sleep with one eye open.” She set it on the counter and turned on the hot water. “I’ll always see you coming.”

“Remember.” Beca put the stopper in the sink. “I’m small and sneaky like a ninja.”

“Maybe, maybe not.” Aubrey shrugged. “Guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

Beca shoulder bumped Aubrey as they stood side by side and began to wash the dishes. “Guess we will.”

Chloe finally pushed herself up and put the rest of the pasta and sauce into containers for later and cleaned up the rest of the kitchen. She finished wiping down the table as Aubrey put the last plate in the drying rack.

“Nice timing, Bellas.” Chloe picked up her glass and the bottle of wine. “Shall we finish this off in the living room?”

“Oh god.” Beca groaned.

“I promise to behave.” Aubrey crossed her heart with a finger. “If you do. Truce?” She held out her hand and Beca eyed it.

“I feel this could be a trap, but sure.” Beca took Aubrey’s hand and they shook once. “Truce.” She turned to look at Chloe. “Though I am beginning to worry that you want us drunk before you tell us whatever it is.”

“More that I want me drunk before…” Chloe stopped with a wince, noticing Aubrey’s gaze had sharpened.

“Chloe?”

Chloe took a bracing breath. “Can we sit?”

“Sure, but no more stalling tactics.” Aubrey walked over and picked up her glass even as she ran her hand down Chloe’s arm. “You’re the one who showed me that it’s better to confront things head on instead of letting them fester.”

“Right.” Chloe nodded. “I know you’re right… I just…” She walked into the living room, feeling the other two trailing along behind her. She sat down on the ottoman and pointed in front of her. Silently exchanging another look, Beca and Aubrey sat where indicated. She immediately shot back to her feet and paced. “Okay.”

“Chloe.” Beca said, her hand reaching out to circle Chloe’s wrist, tugging her gently to a halt. “Whatever it is… We’re here.”

“Okay,” she said again, mentally ripping off the Band-Aid and facing them squarely, though she remained standing. “I’m not graduating.”

“What?” Beca looked at her in confusion. “What do you mean?”

Chloe snuck a look at Aubrey but her face had gone still. “I’m pretty sure I failed Russian Lit. And that was the last of my required classes and… I got a D minus on the final. It makes up half my final grade.” Chloe felt dizzy from finally saying it, the relief at getting it over with warring with her stress as she waited for their reactions.

“Is there anything we can do?” Beca tugged Chloe’s hand until she sat down on the ottoman again. “Any sort of, make up test or…” She frowned and let go of Chloe’s hand to run her own through her hair. “Maybe my dad…?”

“No.” Aubrey said. “That won’t work.” Chloe winced as Aubrey sat forward. “Did you fail on purpose?” Chloe wasn’t surprised that Aubrey had cut to the heart of it; she always understood Chloe from almost the first minute they’d met.

Beca snorted. “That’s… that’s ridiculous.” She looked up at Chloe and her eyes went wide. “Isn’t it?”

Chloe’s hands were tangled in her lap and she couldn’t take her eyes off them, feeling the weight of the two women looking at her. “I don’t know!” She bit her lip as it came out much louder than she’d anticipated. “I don’t think so.”

“But you’re not sure.” Aubrey’s voice was gentler this time, as if to avoid spooking a wild animal. Chloe shook her head. “That’s not like you.” She touched Chloe’s knee gently.

“I know.” Chloe said softly, finally looking up. She felt herself relax a little as she saw there was no condemnation in either of them. “I don’t… think I did? You know I have been struggling with that one all year.”

Aubrey nodded. “I know you were worried about it, and that’s why you put it off.”

“Which, I guess, in hindsight was silly. I should’ve gotten it out of the way instead of all my electives.” Chloe looked over at Beca.

Beca put her hand on Chloe’s where they still twisted in her lap. “Hindsight is always easier. All we can do is move forward.” She turned to look at Aubrey and then back to Chloe. “Something two strong Bella Captains taught me, eventually.”

“Yeah, well, I had some help.” Aubrey watched Chloe carefully. “How do you feel?”

Chloe sighed and finally forced herself to stop wringing her hands though she dropped her gaze back to them. “Like a failure.”

“Hey, no.” Aubrey said, instantly on the edge of the couch as she tipped Chloe’s chin up to face her. “You are not a failure. You’ve always been the one to keep me going and now it’s my turn to remind you that you’re amazing. It’s a setback, sure, but there’s no shame in it.”

Chloe felt her lip tremble as her eyes began to sting. “It feels like it. Like I let myself down… my parents. Both of you.” Her voice cracked as she looked between them.

“You could never let me down, Chlo.” Beca said softly. “Aubrey’s right. You’ve managed to keep us from killing each other all year, dealt with your own personal fears in your nodes… I don’t know that any of us truly appreciates the position you were in.”

Aubrey nodded, her own eyes becoming suspiciously glassy. “The position I put you in.” Chloe tried to speak but Aubrey shook her head. “I know we promised to put this behind us, but hear me out. Not only did you have all your school work with all the pressure of senior year, you had your supposed best friend – wait – treat you like crap because she was losing her damn mind.” She looked at Beca and back to Chloe. “I also continued to bitch about someone you obviously had feelings for because I couldn’t get my own head out of my ass. I put you in the middle of so much without stopping to think about what the stress was doing to you.” Her gaze dropped to Chloe’s throat. “Physically and emotionally.”

“We.” Beca put her hand on Aubrey’s arm. “I may have put the ‘we don’t talk about Aubrey’ rule into place, but I didn’t think of what my attitude was doing to your friendship. I think I assumed that you guys were talking about it – but you never had any outlets at all, did you?” Beca looked back at Chloe. “You were there for us, and we just… left you isolated.”

“No.” Chloe shook her head and swiped at the tears that had begun to escape. “I never felt isolated. Not even when I didn’t yell at Bree for being…”

“A drill sergeant?” Beca interrupted lightly and slid her eyes to Aubrey. “Too soon?”

“Nah.” Aubrey shrugged, also trying to lighten the mood. “It’s true. More accurate would be to say I was a bitch.”

Chloe gave a watery smile. “Maybe. But I hated what it was doing to you more than what you were doing to me.”

“That’s because you’re too pure for this world, Chloe.” Aubrey shook her head and cleared her throat. “What can we do? What do you want to do?”

Beca nodded. “What she said. How can we help?”

Chloe took another breath, trying to will the tension from her shoulders. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected, but she knew the instant support shouldn’t have surprised her. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do, honestly. There’s no make-up test or extra credit I can do. I’d have to take it again next year, so no graduation.”

“What does that mean, exactly?” Beca said carefully. “Would you just do the one class or…?”

“If I know Chloe, she’s going to do another full year.” Aubrey smiled at her. “As a Bella.”

“It’s annoying how well you know me, but… yeah.” Chloe sighed. “Is it lame though? That I’d do a full year?”

“I don’t think so.” Aubrey frowned for the first time. “It’ll be weird to not be here for that.” She tilted her head. “Not to make it about me, but… It’s a weird thought.”

“Oh.” Chloe blinked. “I… I hadn’t really put that together. I don’t know how to be a Bella without you.”

“Don’t be silly.” Aubrey nodded at a silent Beca. “You’ll have Beca.”

Chloe looked over, knowing the struggle that was likely going through Beca’s head. They hadn’t talked about it much, both of them always too willing to push away discussions of the future, but she knew that Beca still wasn’t sure if she was going to stay at Barden for the full four years. “Do I?”

“Wait,” Aubrey put out her hand. “How is that even a question? I thought you guys-” She stopped herself. “Right, sorry. None of my business.”

“No,” Beca finally spoke up. “Chloe’s your best friend, so it is kind of your business.” Beca looked into Chloe’s eyes for a long moment. “But Chloe knows that my original plan was to get through this year and then move to LA to get started on my career path as a music producer.”

 Aubrey nodded slowly. “I remember you telling me a bit about it. I guess I just assumed…”

“I honestly stopped thinking about all of it – what I would do at the end of the year. It was easier to just live in the moment.” Beca grinned. “Chloe makes that incredibly easy when you stop fighting her.”

Aubrey gave a startled burst of laughter. “That she does.”

Beca took Chloe’s hands and tugged even as she slid over and Chloe sat between them. Beca kept one of her hands and squeezed it. “I guess my dad will be happy.”

“Happy?” Chloe blinked.

“Yeah. He’s going to be insufferable that he won.” Beca’s grin was slow but Chloe felt like it was almost blinding in its quiet happiness.

Chloe felt her heart beat faster. “He did?” She didn’t know why she was reduced to parroting back questions like some half assed therapist, but her brain seemed to be skipping tracks and she was sure she couldn’t be hearing what she thought.

 “You don’t think I could really leave you behind, do you?”

 Beca leaned forward and kissed her as Chloe felt herself lose her battle with her tears and they slid down and flavored their kiss with salt.

A soft sniffle from behind her caused Chloe to break the kiss and turned around to see Aubrey had grabbed the box of tissue off the table behind them. “Oh, that’s beautiful.” She dabbed at her eyes and handed the box to Chloe.

Chloe laughed, reminded of her dreams while she was under the influence of her pain medication. “You big softie.” She pulled free a tissue and mopped at her face.

“Only with the right people.” Aubrey smiled though her lips trembled. “I know we haven’t talked about it either, but… I’m really going to miss you.”

Chloe’s heart constricted painfully. “Me too. You’ll come visit, right?”

Beca pulled a Kleenex free. “She better.”

“Are you saying you’ll actually miss me, Beca?” Aubrey asked and Chloe could feel all of them trying desperately to keep the mood from devolving fully into tears and sadness at a parting that was still a few weeks away. Chloe was still fully prepared to be in denial about that fact for just a little bit longer.

“Who else can I practice my insults on? Stacie just turns them into porn jokes, Amy responds with something Australian that I just don’t understand half the time... And I refuse to insult Lilly as I think she’d scoop my eyes out while I sleep if she didn’t realize I was kidding.” Beca shuddered. “I kind of like my eyes.”

Chloe stroked her cheek. “Me too. I’ll protect you.”

“Well, it’s too soon to be sappy,” Aubrey said and Chloe grinned at their similar thoughts. “But the last few months you’ve grown…” She pursed her lips as she considered. “Tolerable.”

“You love me.” Beca said with a snort. “I’m irresistible.”

“Don’t push it, hobbit,” Aubrey said dryly but her eyes twinkled and Chloe knew that was the closest Aubrey was going to get to admitting that she’d actually grown fond of Beca.

Chloe felt lighter than she had in months. Sure, she still had to tell the rest of the girls and her family, but she was determined not to let herself feel like a failure anymore. Things like this happened all the time.

And, maybe, she was secretly a bit relieved because she still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She had been going for an education degree, but that had never felt like a fully perfect fit. When she was in high school it had been a toss-up between a vet and a teacher, but she wasn’t sure if she could handle seeing animals in pain without feeling it herself. So she’d gone the teacher route, though she had taken enough courses that, if she decided to change her mind, it wouldn’t put her that far behind. She supposed she’d continue that trend next year and, maybe, come to a decision about it.

She took a deep cleansing breath and felt Aubrey and Beca lean against her from both sides.

She had time.

Again.  


~B~ 

Beca looked around the attic and whistled. “How long has this stuff been collecting up here?” She lifted a lid off a box and found a handful of wigs that looked like they’d been made into a nest by rats. “And you want to sleep here?” She turned to where Chloe stood at the top of the stairs.

“I don’t want to sleep with all this stuff, Becs.” Chloe rolled her eyes. “I want to clean it out and make it our room.”

“It would take an entire year for us to just get the junk out, Chlo.” Beca jumped when Chloe pinched her ass.

“That’s why I’m going to enlist help.” She came up behind Beca and hooked her chin over her shoulder. “Close your eyes and just… consider it.” Beca let out a deep sigh but did as she was told. “Just picture the room without all the stuff in it. Add in a few dressers, my vanity and your mixing table here against the railing.”

“Hmm.” Beca found it was actually easier to picture than she would have thought.

“A giant bed in that far corner…” Chloe kissed her neck and Beca shivered.

“Don’t start that, it’s not there yet and Aubrey’s downstairs.” Beca grinned even as she tilted her neck to give Chloe more room.

“Aubrey’s standing behind you,” an amused voice said behind them.

“Jesus Christ!” Beca leaped forward out of Chloe’s arms and barely opened her eyes in time to stop from crashing into a couch half covered with cloth. “Where the fuck did you come from? Why didn’t the stairs creak? Did you float?” Beca put her hand on her heart and leaned back against the arm of the couch. “Shit, I think I’m dying.”

“Military family.” Aubrey said with a shrug, as if that explained everything.

“Jesus.” Beca said again, willing her heart to slow. “I think you’ve taken ten years off my life.”

“Oh take the dramatics down a notch.” Aubrey stepped into the room and put her hands on her hips. “I haven’t been up here in years. I forgot how much was up here.”

“Chloe wants to clean it out. Tell her it’s a bad idea.” Beca pleaded.

“No, it’s actually not.” Aubrey turned to her. “I kind of always meant to last year, but, well… things happened.” She nudged a box with her foot. “Most of it is old clothes that can probably be donated or need to be thrown away.”

“See? You’re outvoted.” Chloe pushed off the railing where she’d been leaning. “I was thinking maybe we’d come back early from the summer break, say a week or two?”

“It’s going to take the two of us longer than that.” Beca frowned as she looked at the stacks of boxes.

“I’ll come back and help.” Aubrey looked over when Beca scoffed. “Can’t have you throwing away a lost Bella treasure, can I?”

“I’d be shocked you would let a Bella treasure be lost.” Beca rolled her eyes and made air quotes. “What with all your ‘tradition’ talk.” Aubrey growled at her and Beca grinned.

“Alice didn’t care for any of that,” Chloe offered.

“That whore,” Beca couldn’t stop herself from saying under her breath. Chloe continued like she hadn’t heard though Aubrey gave her a quick smile.

“So Bree and I came up once our second year and kind of looked through it, but never really had the chance to make any sort of dent in it.”

“Yeah, well…” Beca trailed off and sighed, knowing it was a lost cause. “Fine, but even the three of us will take forever.”

“That’s why I’m going to get the girls to help.” Chloe said as she heard voices calling from downstairs. “Looks like they’re arriving, c’mon.” She bounced down the stairs before Beca could reply.

“She’s going to be the death of me.” Beca groaned theatrically, hoping it would carry down the stairs.

“You’ll enjoy every second of it.” Aubrey said, pushing Beca lightly toward the stairs. “You’re already so whipped.”

“Rude.” Beca grunted but let herself be ushered down to see the rest of them.

“You love me,” Aubrey replied and Beca grinned. The phrase had been cropping up a lot since Chloe’s dinner a week ago.

“Jury’s still out.” Beca said as she rounded the corner into the living room. “I’ll get back to you.” She heard Aubrey snort as she nudged Beca out of the way. Beca ignored her and went to sit on the arm of the couch by Amy.

“Glad you guys could make it. I’ve got a proposition for you.” Chloe beamed and Beca thought she was barely restraining from clapping her hands.

“Oh?” Stacie sat up straight. “Now we’re talking.”

Beca rolled her eyes. “Chlo, you realize you have to watch what you say in front of Hormones here, right?”

Chloe only winked at her. “As you know, I’m not graduating.” She said it without any trace of the quiver that she’d had the last time she’d assembled them as a group.

Beca had been grateful that not a single one of them had made Chloe feel bad or question herself in any way. They’d all immediately, and happily, latched on to the fact that she’d be staying as a Bella and Chloe had burst into tears all over again.

Stacie had gotten the Kleenex and rubbed her shoulder. “Someone needs to keep me – and Beca – in line, and Aubrey’s not going to be here to do it. Who else are we going to listen to?”

And that was it as far as the rest of the Bellas were concerned.

Chloe continued. “So I figured that we could figure out the bedroom situation a little bit early, since it’ll be up for grabs.”

“Well, I assume that Beca will move into your room.” Ashley said.

“Actually, I was thinking that we could move into the attic, which would free that room.” Chloe said brightly. “There’s basically five bedrooms – Aubrey’s single, which is under the attic – the other single is downstairs – and three rooms that can double. Us taking the attic means only two other people would have to share.” Chloe looked over at Denise. “I’m still sorry you aren’t staying.”

Denise shrugged. “Me too, but my mom needs the help around the house since her health took a turn. I’m still going to the local college, so I won’t be set back too far.” Beca thought that was the longest sentence she’d ever heard Denise speak.

Cynthia Rose rubbed her shoulder with a frown. “I wish you were staying but it’s good that you’re helping out your mama.” Denise smiled sadly at her and nodded.

“Unless you guys get new blood with auditions.” Aubrey pointed out. “Then you’re back to sharing.”

“Right, but, until then…” Chloe looked back at the rest. “What do you think?”

“I think there’s a catch about the attic.” Jessica said. “Like, why do you feel like you need to convince us.”

“Because the attic needs to be cleaned out.” Beca threw out. “And Chloe wants to use you for cheap labor.”

“I am never cheap!” Stacie objected with a grin. “Shut up, Mitchell.” She pointed at Beca before she could even open her mouth. Beca grinned at her. “But I’ll help.” She held up one finger when Chloe opened her mouth. “If I get one of the singles.”

Beca caught movement out of the corner of her eye and looked over to see Lilly nodding. “I think Lilly wants the other single…?” Lilly nodded again, her mouth moving but Beca couldn’t hear anything.

Amy, who was near Lilly, looked over. “She wants the downstairs one because it’s ‘closer’.” She looked back at Lilly. “I don’t ever want to know what it’s closer to.” Lilly only stared at her until Amy looked away. “Though I was thinking a definite single would be nice, I don’t think I want to fight her over it.”

“Right. Well, that’s two,” Chloe said brightly. “I’m thinking we could come back a week or two early and get it all done before school starts.”

Jessica and Ashley had been talking quietly and Jessica looked up. “We’ll take the double.”

“Not surprised,” Amy said in an aside to Beca who ignored her.

“And we’d love to help,” Ashley smiled.

“Thank you.” Chloe said, going over to hug them both. “That means a lot.”

“Count me in,” Cynthia Rose said. “I didn’t have much to do this summer beyond some meetings.” Denise put her hand on Cynthia Rose’s leg. “It’ll keep me out of trouble.”

Everyone turned to look at Amy. “What?”

“Well?” Beca nudged her. “You going to join the rest of us in manual labor?” She grinned at Amy.

“Uh…” She looked at the rest of them. “Uhhhh…” Beca almost laughed as Chloe gave the full puppy dog eyes. “I suppose you need someone to get snacks and stuff. I could, like… do that.”

“You’re a real pal, Ames.” Beca said.

“Thanks, Amy.” Chloe ignored Beca. “We appreciate it.”

“Alright, now that that’s settled.” Aubrey stood up and she and Chloe pushed the ottoman out of the way. “There’s one or two bits of Bella business we need to take care of.” She stood before them. “If you ladies could please stand up?”

As they all rose to their feet, Beca exchanged bewildered looks with Stacie while Chloe went to a side cabinet. She brought out a wooden box and before moving next to Aubrey who cleared her throat before speaking.

“At the start of the year, I had serious doubts that Chloe and I had created a group of Bellas that would push us through to the finals.” She took a breath. “I was wrong. We picked the perfect team and I’m sorry I took so long to see that.”

The girls all made noises of dissent and Beca smiled. Aubrey had had her own talks with them as a group and individually, apologizing for how she’d been all year. As one, even Amy, they’d forgiven her and were willing to look past it. They were also aware of the split in Aubrey’s personality and since Captain Posen had never made a return, they were more than willing to embrace the Aubrey they were able to relax with.

“Thanks, but we all know I was awful.” Aubrey shook her head. “But this isn’t about me, this is about you guys. You became a team and you’ve helped me be better. And you’ve made the Bellas the first all-female a capella group to ever win the ICCAs. I am proud of you and proud to be part of you.”

Beca grinned as the girls jumped around her and cheered, reminding her all over again of the excitement after Aubrey had walked them through the oath all those months ago.

Chloe opened the box. “So here are your keys to the house. You’ve earned them.”

The girls quickly formed a lazy line, taking their key rings and the hugs given by the two captains. Beca, by nature, hung around the back and stepped up. Except Chloe closed the box as Beca reached for the last ring. She frowned up at her but Chloe’s face was unreadable.

“Beca Mitchell.” Aubrey said and Beca jumped, feeling guilty though she knew she had nothing to feel guilty about.

“Present?” She felt herself stand straighter under their combined gaze.

“You’ve also proved me wrong. You are not only a Bella, you’re a leader.” Aubrey flicked a gaze past her as she heard a murmur of excitement behind her. “You’ve persevered in the face of the opposition – in this case me, and probably mostly by sheer contrariness – but you came through for the group when they needed you. It was your ideas that led us to victory.”

Beca felt herself blush under the praise, not having any idea it was coming and struck right in the feels as Aubrey’s obvious pride in her laid her bare. “You guys did the choreo-” she began but Chloe shook her head.

“We couldn’t have done that without the music.” She smiled and Beca felt herself calm. “You’re exactly what the Bellas need. In a Captain.”

Beca took a step back but a hand on her shoulder kept her from taking a second. “Hey, no…” She hadn’t seen this coming at all. She just assumed Chloe would take over and Beca would continue to do her music thing. She wasn’t ready for anything like this.

“Just give in, DJ.” Stacie said behind her. “It’ll be easier in the long run.”

Aubrey watched her. “You know I wouldn’t say these words if I didn’t mean them.”

“Yeah, but…” Beca waved her hand. “Chloe’s still going to be here, she’s… I can’t… I’m not…”

“You are.” Aubrey said firmly. “But I’m sure Chloe would be co-captain if you think you ne-”

“YES!” Beca didn’t even care that she was yelling. “Please say you will.” It was her turn to give Chloe the puppy dog eyes.

“Of course.” Chloe grinned and opened the box again.

Beca exhaled in relief and lifted the set of keys from the box. Chloe closed it and took it back to the cabinet.  “Thank you.”

“The house is yours, guys.” Chloe said. “Just don’t go in the basement, it’s haunted.”

“Wait, what?” Amy’s voice broke the silence that had fallen.

“You’re fuckin’ with us, right?” Cynthia Rose took a step back and started looking around as if she expected a ghost to materialize next to her. “You let us sleep in this house and didn’t tell us it was haunted?!” She shook her head. “Not cool.”

Jessica huddled closer to Ashley. “I mean, it’s not like we’ve seen anything, right?”

“Right. It’s just the basement.” Chloe said reassuringly.

“There’s no such thing as ghosts, guys.” Beca rolled her eyes. “I’m sure it’s just pipes or something.”

“I’ll remind you that you said that later,” Aubrey grinned at her. “But for now… There’s just… one more tradition.” Aubrey shrugged. “It’s the last one though, I promise.”

“I don’t think I can take any more surprises,” Ashley muttered.

“Chloe?” Aubrey turned and watched as Chloe went to the coat closet and pulled out something that either looked like a garbage lid or one of those round snow sleds. “Every Bella must christen the house by sliding down the stairs.”

Beca felt her mouth drop. “Dude, no!”