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They Had Time

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~B~

 

The first time Beca Mitchell convinced herself that she didn’t believe in love at first sight was at the Activities Fair.

She hadn’t planned on going originally; she wanted to finish setting up her mixing equipment. But then her father had showed up with his dad voice and deep, dad disapproval and suddenly the room was too small. She slunk out with Kimmy Jin, thinking snidely to herself ‘Well, at least I know where she is now with English.’

Almost immediately, however, Kimmy Jin split off and went to the Korean Student booth and appeared to already be making friends. She was also smiling, something Beca wasn’t sure she knew how to do based on their (admittedly short) prior interaction that day.

If she were being honest, she was a bit jealous of how easily the other girl looked like she fit.  For one brief, wistful instant Beca allowed herself to be envious of Kimmy Jin and her apparent ease at finding a place to belong. She’d never considered herself a lonely person, but sometimes it was exhausting keeping everyone at arm’s length. Beca gave an awkward look around, forcing away the uncomfortable emotions.

‘Just remember. You’re here a year, then you’re out to LA to get on with your life. None of this matters.’

Walking, Beca looked down as a group of chanting frat boys went past her, using the moment to pull up her walls. She didn’t need any of this.

‘Just one. Damn. Year.’

She wandered around a bit, until she heard a sweet voice that lifted her out of her mental brooding.

“Hi, any interest in joining our a cappella group?”

Beca felt herself pulled over to the two women standing in front of the table, her hand reaching out for the flyer automatically. She looked back up at the women, almost immediately dismissing the, admittedly attractive, blonde as an uptight bitch.

But the redhead… Beca was sure her heart actually just stopped in her chest for a second. ‘Are her eyes blue… or grey. They look grey. But maybe blue? Whatever, they look…amazing.’

“Oh. Right, this is like a... thing now.” She retreated into the safety of her snark. It was familiar and comforting and she didn’t really have to think about it, which was good as her mind was elsewhere.

Huh. Love at first sight… is that, is that actually a thing?’ Beca paused a second, her expression freezing. ‘Wait. What?’ She hoped her face didn’t betray anything as she reprocessed her last thought. ‘No, that... That’s just stupid crazy talk.’ Beca Mitchell was not someone who believed in love, much less that ‘at first sight’ garbage. She could be friendly if the situation required it, but she really preferred not to deal with people. She wouldn’t allow anything to put any bumps on her road to LA.

The other women didn’t seem to notice her distraction as the redhead continued on. “Oh totes. We sing covers of songs but we do it without any instruments. It’s all from our mouths.” The beaming smile that spread over her face should be illegal. Beca’s heart stuttered again.

“Yikes.” Beca didn’t mean to say it out loud, but she had started to think of other ways this woman could maybe use her mouth instead of singing. But at least it still sounded snarky; no one could guess the image that had popped half formed into her head before she blocked it. Beca flicked her eyes over at the blonde. Okay, maybe she’d figured something out; the look on her face had edged into something almost… knowing. Maybe she just thought she was better than Beca. But maybe…

‘Fuck, what if she’s a mind reader?’ Beca half panicked and really wished she’d stop worrying about that. Every time an inappropriate thought popped into her head, she immediately wondered if someone could read her thoughts and felt a little guilty. If it was really dirty, she’d give an embarrassed ‘sorry’ to the mental ether, just in case. All of which was just ridiculous. But she couldn’t stop.

After a second, and when no one slapped her, Beca decided there was still no such thing as mind readers and she was safe, if stupid. She also wasn’t really paying attention as the embodiment of sunshine in front of her pointed out the various groups on campus.

 “…The Bellas, that’s us. We’re the tits…” The half wink caused Beca’s stomach drop. While she kind of liked the pride this woman took in her group, Beca was trying hard to ignore the use of the word ‘tits’ while keeping her eyes on their faces. The blonde was looking at her again but Beca ignored her. Barely.

‘Christ, woman. Just because it’s been a while since you actually found someone attractive does not give you permission to perv on the first gorgeous woman you see.’ Beca tried desperately to clamp down on the hormones that were stretching after a long hibernation. ‘I get it, her friend is hot, she’s hot and you’re attracted to her. But this is not the plan.’

“So, are you interested?” Animated eyes were wide with hope while the blonde looked… well, like she was hoping Beca would say no.

Beca’s mouth opened, sure that was a question in response to her last thoughts, but then she realized it was more for the ‘will you join our group’ speech. For a split second she had no idea what was going to come out. Part of her was saying yes, just to spend more time – ‘Shut. Up.

“Sorry, it just… it’s… pretty lame.” And she felt her lips twist into an unplanned smirk. Snark to the rescue, with a side of bitchy tacked on by accident.

She watched the blonde’s face shift with shock. “Aca-scuse me?”

Beca smirked again - she loved when she could get under the skin of someone this anal - until she noticed that the redhead’s face had fallen and those wide, gorgeous eyes darkened as she looked down. 

Her heart dropped and for a moment, Beca hated herself. ‘That felt worse than what I imagine a kicking a puppy would feel like.’

A strident voice pulled her attention back to the left. “Synchronized lady dancing to a Mariah Carey chart topper is not lame.” The smile the blonde gave looked pained, the tiny laugh forced.

The redhead rallied, her lips making an “O” as she inhaled. Beca’s eyes bounced from those, admittedly perfect, lips to the suddenly accentuated hollow of her throat.

Oh god.’ Beca jerked her gaze away and hoped her sudden swallow wasn’t obvious. ‘Did the day just get warmer?

“We sing all over the world and we compete in national championships.” She and the blonde both smiled at Beca.

“On purpose?” Beca couldn’t stop the snide comment before it slipped out, but it was better than the other thoughts chasing each other in the back of her head.

She watched as the woman’s jaw stuck out for a second and her head bobbed once, apparently Beca’s attitude was chipping away at her enthusiasm a bit. But the blonde… she gave that painful looking smile again.

“We played the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, you bitch.” Her face was incredulous; her tone sounding like it was trying to hold onto polite by her fingernails.

Beca looked away from her and to the right as lips formed that perfect circle again as she took another breath, the redhead’s hand going out to touch her friends arm too late to stop her. “Oh…”

Beca couldn’t help the half-admiring grin and arched eyebrows as she pulled her head back slightly. ‘Blondie got some bite to her.’ She wondered if it was weird that she kind of liked it.

“What Aubrey-” (‘Fitting. She looks like an Aubrey.’) “-means to say is, that we are a close-knit, talented group of ladies whose dream is to return to the national finals at Lincoln Center this year.” Her voice was getting softer with each word and Beca felt the gentle tone pulling her in.

Beca tried not to stare when the other woman took another deep breath, almost as if she was bracing herself. She looked down at her clipboard for a second, and when she looked back up, Beca was snared by the intensity in her eyes. She was pretty sure they were grey. ‘But maybe blue.’

“Help us turn our dreams into a reality?” The words were so sincere and felt like so much more than just a request to join a college singing group. This felt… personal; the look on her face; the way her lips curled up at the corner and back down suggested nerves beyond a simple recruiting speech.

Beca couldn’t begin to understand how she wanted to answer that from either perspective and her mind was in full flight mode.

“Sorry, I don’t even sing. But it was really nice to meet you guys.” Surprised at the sincerity in her voice, Beca turned and walked away, feeling the redhead’s disappointment rising and not allowing herself to look into those eyes. If she did, she may stay and agree to… something.

That was not the plan. The plan was to do her time. Get out. Not join an a capella group. Not make friends, much less find someone she was so strongly attracted to.

 ‘I didn’t even get her name.’ Beca wouldn’t allow herself to be sad about that. She also ignored the slight ache to her chest, the tugging thread still trying to get her to turn around.

 

~C~

 

The first time Chloe Beale saw the mystery girl at the Activities Fair, she didn’t fully understand why her heart settled into a new, deeper rhythm.

She spotted the brunette walking through the crowd, looking a bit lost and maybe a bit overwhelmed but covering it with an air of standoffishness.

I have to meet her. She’s beautiful.’ Chloe was looking forward to the friendship she saw stretching out before them and it never occurred to her that there was any other possibility.

“Oh. What about her?” She tried to calmly point her out to Aubrey, but she was sure some of the intensity had come through.

Aubrey turned around and eyed the woman approaching them. “Oh. Oooh. I don’t know. She looks a little too ‘alternative’ for us.” She dropped her air quotes and put her hand out to try and encourage Chloe to just let her pass.

Chloe just gave her a look and fluttered her eyes in a half roll. She was so tired of Aubrey being snobbish about this. They needed girls and they couldn’t afford to stick to Aubrey’s (Alice’s) standards.

The woman who called herself Fat Amy had been a noticeable and surprising exception to Aubrey’s ‘No, not her’ speeches today. Chloe rather liked how Aubrey interacted with the odd woman and Aubrey’s enthusiasm at hopefully seeing Fat Amy at auditions had kept them afloat when they were ignored by everyone else for the next half hour.

Cloe held out one of the flyers as the woman approached and made her pitch.

She watched as the girl’s interested gaze went down to the flyer and then back up, her eyes twinkling a bit. Chloe was startled to realize they were a deeper blue than she’d ever seen. Much prettier than the deep brown she had thought from a distance.

I was wrong. She’s gorgeous.’ Chloe could see the edges of a tattoo peeking around her right shoulder and wanted to ask about it, but didn’t.

“Oh. Right, this is like a… thing now.” The smirk on her face was dismissive and Chloe could feel Aubrey stiffen next to her.

Chloe tried not to stare at the other girl as she explained what they do and who the various groups are. Aubrey was nodding next to her, the smile still forced, but willing to let Chloe make her recruitment speech.

“Sorry, it just… it’s… pretty lame.”

Chloe felt herself deflate a little. ‘Why is this bothering me? It’s not the first, or even the worst, time this has happened today.’ The friendship she had envisioned started to fade.

Aubrey bristled beside her, Chloe could feel the agitation coming off her in waves, and she was not looking forward to any ‘I told you so’ rants later.

She tried to intervene before Aubrey got going, talking up the fact that they got to travel the world to perform, but the two other women seemed determined to snap at each other until Aubrey outright called her a bitch.

Chloe sensed the other woman getting ready to depart and made her absolutely last ditch effort. She needed this woman to audition. She ignored the back of her mind telling her she was full of it. That this felt like so much more than an audition.

“Help us turn our dreams into a reality?” She felt her voice get softer and was sure her eyes were basically begging. If she thought it would’ve helped, she’d have gotten down on her knees. ‘For the team. Right. For the team.

“Sorry, I don’t even sing. But it was really nice to meet you guys.” And there was a surprising amount of sincerity there from someone who had done little more than make fun of her passion.

Chloe froze, staring ahead for a second before watching the brunette walk away. She could see now that the tattoo was flowers, rising from under her shirt to wrap around her shoulder. Her heart thumped painfully with each step that separated them.

Her lips twisted sadly as she muttered to herself. “Shoot.”

“What… are we gonna do.” She felt Aubrey’s tension beside her and used that as a distraction as she tried to comfort her friend. And herself.

I didn’t even get her name.

 


 

~B~

 

When Beca finally found, what she thought was, a job at the Radio Station, she was as happy as she ever allowed herself to be.

However, the ‘internship’ was not at all what she thought it would be. They really should have called it what it was – mind numbing and repetitive manual labor. She wanted to play music, not just stack CDs. While Luke the station manager wasn’t so bad, Jesse took some getting used to. She still couldn’t believe that on their first day together he just never shut up. Like, ever. She was pretty sure he talked their entire shift and afterward, she couldn’t remember a single thing that had come out of his mouth. Except, she supposed, when he hit on her. Boy was he barking up the wrong tree.

When she had free time, she went to the quad and spent time looking around before she donned her headphones. All these people seemed to have a place. They were happy and smiling. Belonged. Even those weirdos who just ran around in a circle fit. Boy was that a booth she’d wished she’d skipped.

Over the next few weeks this became her pattern. Classes, when she attended, radio station and mixing in the quad.

Today she started her Titanium/Proclaimers mix and laid back on her bag, letting the music wash over her. Reminding her that this was all she needed.

If she happened to scan the people around her for a particular shade of red hair, so what.

Love at first sight was still not a thing.

Right?

 

~C~

 

Chloe couldn’t help looking for the Alt Girl, as Aubrey continued to call her, almost every day. She still kicked herself that she hadn’t made more of an effort to get to know anything about the woman, even after she shot them down so spectacularly.

But Chloe still had this feeling, pulsing at the back of her mind, that she would see her again. The feeling promised her that they were meant to be in each other’s lives, not just a single encounter.

So, every time she and Aubrey walked into a café near campus, the cafeteria or a break room. Walked down crowded halls and absently scanned the quad. Chloe looked. And hoped.

When her feelings were this strong, they were rarely wrong. Though sometimes they took a maddeningly long time to happen, she usually didn’t mind. But she had to admit, this time, she really wished life would hurry up and put them back in each other’s path. She was ready to see what fate had in store for them. She just knew it was going to be aca-mazing.

 


 

~B~

 

Beca sang softly as she shuffled into the showers. Once again she had to escape her father, though at least this time he had given her something to think about. All she had to do was make some sort of effort and he’d help her get to LA. Whatever that meant. Probably make friends or join a stupid group.

She still wished Kimmy Jin would’ve backed her up when she told her dad they were friends. Or that the death look Beca had directed at her roommate was something tangible she could throw.

As she hung up her bag of shower supplies, her mind went back to the Activities Fair. And the redhead. Again. It was something she found she did way too often, but now at least she had an excuse beyond remembering the pretty smile. Of all the groups she’d seen that day, the only ones that had any small appeal was the one that included music. So maybe she would find out more about the… Bellas?

Hanging up her towel and robe, she closed the curtain as she turned on the water. She continued to sing, letting the lyrics bounce around the stall.

After a minute Beca realized she felt cold air against her back before she felt a different kind of warmth sink in and she let her voice trail off as she stared straight ahead.

“You can sing!”

Beca spun around, loofa and sponge held protectively against her chest as she bounced off the wall behind her.

“Dude!” She pulled the shower curtain closed again in a panic.

Holy fucking shit, it’s her. I’m naked. She’s naked.’ Beca’s mind spun with every possible combination of these thoughts, unable to stop them. She was very particular who she let in her personal bubble and the number of people she allowed in it when unclothed was even less and currently stood at zero.

The curtain was pushed away and there were grey - (‘Ha. Grey! Maybe.’) – eyes, focused and intense, staring at her. ‘Oh god! Are they getting closer?

“How high does your belt go?” The woman pushed in and turned off the water.

“My what?!” Beca shrank back into the corner, eyes staring at the hand and arm reaching past her. “Oh my god.”

“You have to audition for the Bellas.” The redhead stopped in front of her, nodding with complete conviction, right hand on her hip as she stared at Beca.

“I can’t concentrate on anything you’re saying until you cover your junk.” Beca caught herself staring at the other woman’s chest – again – and jerked her eyes up and closed them briefly. She knew she was grinning but this was so fucking awkward that she couldn’t stop. ‘How the fuck is this my life right now?’

“Just… consider it.” She took a step closer to Beca, who noticed the other woman’s eyes flick down and back up. “One time we sang backup up for Prince.” Beca slowly reached for the curtain and pulled it quickly over her body. ‘Naked. We’re fucking naked. Oh god. Don’t use the words fucking and naked together right now. Fuck. Don’t use fuck at all! Don’t look!

The redhead held up her hand and took another step. “His butt is so tiny that I could hold it with, like, one hand.” She looked from her hand to Beca, smiling at the memory.

Wait, did she just look at my boobs? Seriously, how is this curtain out of the way again!?

As the other woman lowered her hand, she ended up pushing the curtain down completely and knocked a bottle out of the shower tote. Beca’s eyes rolled back in her head as she bent to retrieve it, trying not to brush against the woman standing inches from her body. She also tried not to pay attention to the parts that might be a bit closer as she moved past them. It was a battle she felt that she was slowly losing.

“Oops.” The smile was evident in the redhead’s voice as Beca stood and she realized the woman had taken another step closer. Beca was barely able to keep her arm from touching something it shouldn’t. Though she was coming to realize that she would really kind of like to.

What she thought was: ‘Fuck, any closer and we should’ve had dinner first. Is it hot in here? Jesus, she’s hot.’

What she said was: “Oh... jeez.”

She found it easier to stand up and just face the wall. The cold tile was a shock but felt comforting as her entire body felt like it was on fire. From desire or embarrassment, she wasn’t sure. Maybe, probably, both.

“Seriously. I am nude.” She was trying to be polite. But as she looked over her shoulder, she got another eyeful of the naked form behind her. Beca was almost positive she wasn’t doing it on purpose, she wasn’t one to stare. But she really wanted this to be over now; she was feeling too many things at the moment and she really couldn’t concentrate with all that on display. ‘I’m only human, for fucks sake.

“You were singing Titanium, right?” Her tone was determined as she leaned closer to Beca.

Beca looked over her shoulder again in surprise, incredulous. “You know David Guetta?” And she was pretty sure she deserved the sarcasm that followed.

“Have I been living under a rock? Yeah.” A pause. “That song is my jam.” Another pause as she leaned closer. “My lady jam.”

Okay, she didn’t need to know that, or see the look that she got when she met the woman’s eyes. ‘Don’t even fucking dare think about picturing that… Fuck. Too late.’

“That’s nice,” Beca said weakly as she faced the wall again. Maybe if she pretended this was normal it would all end and she could stop the images trying to push their way in.

A small laugh from behind her. “It is. That song really builds.” Beca looked over in time to catch the wink and saw the woman kind of wave her clenched fist in the air as if to prove her point.

Beca couldn’t help the pinched expression that crossed her face. “Gross.” This was how she was going to die, she was sure of it. Trapped naked and turned on in the communal showers at the college she hadn’t even wanted to go to. She didn’t envy whoever had to write her obituary. Beca looked back over her shoulder at the intruder.

“Can you sing it for me?” She actually bit her lip as she asked and Beca’s mind froze for a minute.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.’ If she weren’t so freaked out by the entire event, she was pretty sure she’d be wondering if this was actually what people meant when they used the phrase ‘wet dream’. Beca was never more grateful that she was so distracted because she was pretty sure her word vomiting subconscious would have said something like ‘Only if I can watch. Or help.’ But the part of her that was nothing but mortified was in the driver’s seat.

“Dude, no! Get out!”

“Not for that reason!” Apparently this girl actually did have some limits, which was good to know. “I’m not leaving here till you sing. So…” And she sighed, like she had nowhere else to be.

And Beca knew… knew… the only way out was to give in. She had the feeling this woman would stand here all day and not let her pass. So she gathered her pride, and her sponges, and turned around, covering her bits as best she could.

She sang; hesitantly at first, eyes darting over and away, unable to meet that encouraging yet intense gaze for long. After a moment, the other woman joined her, smiling as their voices blended together and Beca stopped looking away. It was amazing. Beca had never sung with anyone, just for her mixes and that could never have prepared her for this strong and immediate connection.

The song echoed through the shower and Beca forgot to be nervous. Forgot they were naked. Her voice got smoother, stronger. Her arms dropped to her sides and she couldn’t really look away anymore, not that she wanted to.

Beca’s gaze flicked from the other woman’s eyes to her mouth, and once (okay maybe twice) down to her chest. She distantly noticed the other woman doing the same, but in this moment, it didn’t really matter that they were naked.

As their song ended, and they smiled at each other, Beca became aware that she was looking down again, and jerked her gaze up, rolling her lower lip inward to bite it, embarrassed all over again at getting caught.

“Oh.” The redhead looked down. “Yeah. I’m pretty confident about…” she bobbed her body and motioned across it. “All this.”

Beca couldn’t help it; she gave one more look, nodding in heartfelt agreement. “You should be.”

They smiled at each other for several seconds before the other woman said “Oh” and handed Beca her robe, looking down as she passed it over.

‘Or is she looking at my boobs again. Oh god, this is so confusing.’

“Um… still need to... shower…” But she took the robe and held it up in front of her.

Suddenly there was a guy leaning in the stall opening. “You have a lovely voice.”

“Thanks.” Beca’s tone went from awkward and shy to pissed off, as the other woman nodded at him in enthusiastic agreement before looking back at Beca. Beca looked between them, mortified and annoyed at the way her day has gone.

Of course she’s with a guy. Why even would I think-’ She stopped herself and looked between them, hoping her ‘what the fuck’ was coming through loud and clear.

Apparently it worked, because the other woman’s face changed and she turned to head out, giving out a soft and adorable “Oh, yeah” as if she’d just remembered she was in the middle of something else.

Get a grip, nothing about this is adorable. Except maybe the way she smiled at me before he showed up. OH MY GOD. Get a grip on your shit. This is not a thing.

And then she was alone, the echo of “See you at auditions” ringing through the stall as the curtain was finally pulled closed again.

Cold shower it is,’ she thought.

Suddenly she looked up and it popped out without permission. “Fuck! I didn’t get her name. Again!” She flinched at the echo around her. Definitely louder than she would have intended.

From the far side of the room, sounding like it was almost in the hall, a faint female voice rung with laughter. “It’s Chloe.”

Beca rested her head against the tile and breathed out softly. “Chloe.” It settled gently but as solid as a concrete foundation. Something she felt as a beginning.

I am so fucked.’

She flipped on the cold spray as a rush of heat passed through her at the memory of lightly freckled skin and red hair in a messy bun.

So. Fucked.

 

~C~

 

Chloe didn’t mean to abandon Tom in the shower, but once she heard that voice she had to follow. It was exactly what they needed for the Bellas. And that tiny portion of herself that had spent the past few weeks scanning everyone in the quad still harbored a secret hope that she’d see Alt Girl again.

She padded over to the other side of the room and pulled the shower curtain slowly. The first thing she saw was a gorgeous tattoo of pink lotuses spreading across a shoulder and she knew immediately who it was. She couldn’t contain the grin as the brunette turned around in shock.

“Dude!”

I knew I’d see her again! I just didn’t realize it would be all of her.’ And it never occurred to her that she should walk away.

Chloe was so focused on the fact that the girl could sing, that she stepped forward to hear it better and turned off the water.

“How high does your belt go?” It also didn’t occur to her that she wouldn’t know what Chloe was talking about, or that she might mind this interruption. Chloe just kept pushing the curtain out of the way, not wanting any barriers between her and that voice.

She was so focused on trying to convince the Alt Girl to audition that she was getting closer in her enthusiasm, laughing when she accidentally knocked a bottle onto the floor. “Oops.” She took a step back as the other woman bent to pick it up. As she faced the wall Chloe took the opportunity to check out the equalizer tattoo on her back.

Different. I like it.

As she began to ask the other woman to sing for her, she spared a thought that maybe she shouldn’t have mentioned it was her lady jam. She’d been told most people didn’t appreciate random bits of personal information like that.  Chloe also was not so sure she wasn’t asking her to sing it for that reason. She knew that she’d never forget this moment if Alt Girl followed through, and it wouldn’t take much to pull it back out again when the mood struck next.

Her glee when the other woman turned around, awkwardly trying to cover herself, felt too big for the shower stall. Even being with the Bellas for three years could not prepare Chloe how she felt when she harmonized their voices. Even singing with Aubrey, her best friend for those three years, had never felt like this.

She felt warmth and pure happiness spread outward from her chest when the Alt Girl finally began to relax. Chloe loved this connection they’d made, finding her fingers were actually flexing. She wanted to reach out and take the other woman’s hand or brush her arm, something to make a physical link as well. She barely stopped herself in time, knowing that would cross a line. For now.

‘I knew we would sound perfect together. This is totes meant to be.’

She settled for smiling instead of the hug her arms were aching for, her joy spilling out of her when they drew to a close. Chloe loved the honest smile that spread across Alt Girl’s face and didn’t miss the way that navy blue eyes dropped lower again. Her heart started beating a little bit faster as suddenly embarrassed eyes snap upward. Chloe had never been one to ignore attraction, and hers was starting to push its way forward again.

“Oh.” Chloe looked down. “Yeah. I’m pretty confident about… all this.” She gestured to herself.

She watched the gaze dart down and up her body and beamed at the quiet ‘you should be’ that followed. She was content to stand here in this moment, feeling the heat from the body in front of her. Chloe’s brain poked at her, however, and she turned around to grab the robe hanging behind her. So what if she let her eyes linger while she handed it over.

And then Tom was there, complimenting Alt Girl’s voice. She nodded enthusiastically at him and back at her (hopefully) new Bella-to-be.

As she watched the other woman’s eyes dart between them, she realized that she had in fact been busy prior to this distraction. And her new friend’s face had changed, actual anger starting to make an appearance for the first time. Chloe turned, a bit reluctant to leave that small space filled new feelings and hopefully a new friend. But she knew that she should probably get Tom out of the shower stall.

“See you at auditions.” She pulled the curtain closed as she left.

She and Tom went back to their stall where Chloe kissed him absently, hurrying into her robe. Thankfully he was good natured and didn’t mind her ending their mutual shower.

She had to tell Aubrey.

But, maybe…’ She paused and let Tom walk out of the showers ahead of her, already back in his sweats and tank. ‘Maybe I’ll just let it be a surprise. I don’t want to argue over this for the next week.’ Chloe nodded to herself as she started forward again, only to stop once more when she heard a loud “Fuck!” from behind her.

She turned, afraid Alt Girl had somehow hurt herself, and took a step before the rest of it floated toward her.

She laughed when she realized that they had seen each other naked and never exchanged names.

“It’s Chloe.”

She paused and thought she heard a whispered reply, but before she could be sure the water had turned back on.

She smiled to herself and headed out the door.

She couldn’t wait until auditions.

Chapter Text

~C~

 

Chloe heard Aubrey give out a disappointed sigh and gave out one of her own. Auditions this year seemed a little slim compared to last. She hoped Aubrey didn’t ask if she thought it was because of The Incident last year. Chloe didn’t want to have to choose between her usual honesty and lying to keep Aubrey from spiraling again.

While they had a decent number of people show up, and every group should be able to get the bodies they need, there were only a couple that stood out and a handful more that would need a little work. But Chloe was confident she and Aubrey would be able to get them into shape in no time.

But Chloe couldn’t help but feel the sting of disappointment as the last person left the stage. She had so been hoping... ‘I probably scared her away, with the naked. And then naked Tom.’ She sighed to herself. ‘But, she did want my name, so maybe…’

Then she saw movement off to the side of the stage, a flash of brown and dark grey peering in. The other woman looked a mix of nervous, cocky and challenging.  Her head titled with a flash of ‘well, I’m here’ on her face as she met Chloe’s eyes from outside the stage door.

Joy flitted through her like lightning. “Oh, Wait! There’s one more.” She waved as Aubrey looked over at her questioningly.

She’s here!’

“Hi.” She tried to tone down her enthusiasm. But it was hard, so hard. It wasn’t until now that she realized just how much she’d been looking forward to this all week and the disappointment from earlier washed away unnoticed.

“Hello.” The brunette waved awkwardly with one hand before she dropped it, taking strides to the center of the stage when Chloe waved her over again. “Um, I didn’t know we had to prepare that song.” Chloe liked that Alt Girl kept their eyes locked as she walked forward.

Whatever this girl wanted to do was fine with Chloe and she waved the words away. “Oh, that’s okay. Sing anything you want.” Chloe watched as she knelt down before them. She had to remind herself not to stare down the grey top. ‘Though it’s not my fault. That is an extremely low-cut shirt.’

“Uh…” Alt Girl leaned forward and pointed at the yellow cup of pens sitting in front of them. “May I?” She scooted to the edge of the stage and leaned forward, arm outstretched.

“Oh…” Chloe nodded and watched as the pens were carefully dumped out on their desk. She was not going to look down her shirt. She was not. She… The brunette flicked a look at Aubrey, who hadn’t said anything but was watching the pens clatter down in an untidy pile.

And in that moment of distraction, Chloe let her eyes drop. Which was really just unnecessary as she’d seen literally everything already. But she couldn’t stop herself. The woman looked hot with her dark colors and skinny jeans. ‘Careful, Chlo, your toner is showing.’

As their last audition settled down cross legged on the stage, Chloe leaned back and folded her hands, trying not to smile. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Aubrey sit back in her chair and place her hands in her lap.

After a soft clearing of her throat, Alt Girl began to sing. While it was a simple song with the cup adding the beat, Chloe could feel herself begin to thrum with excitement. Every time those deep blue eyes met her own, the buzzing jumped a notch. She could feel her breath getting quicker with each connection and she felt her lips part. This was more than she was expecting to feel.

She really is beautiful. Add in her voice and she’s amazing.’ Chloe felt herself start to fall. Or continue one that had started in the showers. Or, if she was being honest, she’d started falling at the activity fair.

This girl is going to be… everything.’ She wasn’t sure if she meant for the Bellas or for her personally, but thought that ultimately it didn’t really matter. The connection was definitely there, Chloe could feel it every time their eyes met and she didn’t think she was the only one.

As the song drew to a close, those eyes flipped once more to Aubrey and back to Chloe. Alt Girl had this look like she wanted to smile, but wouldn’t let herself. So Chloe did it for her, letting the grin spread across her face before she looked at Aubrey.

Aubrey had remained quiet and still beside her the entire time and Chloe couldn’t help but hope this was slowly changing her mind about Alt Girl. She really wanted Aubrey to like her so Chloe didn’t have to beg or put her foot down. She could easily see the annoyance that floated beneath Aubrey’s attempt at an indifferent expression but she wasn’t sure of why it was still there. Then Aubrey’s lips twisted as she stared at the stage and it was all Chloe could do to not let out her snicker as it all clicked home.

This girl was good. Aubrey knew it. And she hated it.

I told you so.

~B~

 

Beca had been standing in the hallway for the last few auditions and felt her heart pound. ‘This is insane. What am I doing here?

They all, mostly, sounded so amazing. And she… She didn’t even know there was an audition song, or that she’d have to more than just… sing. Beca didn’t know how to make instrument sounds with her mouth. Why the hell hadn’t Chloe told her? She felt slight resentment at being so unprepared. She could see Chloe sitting in the front row, Aubrey beside her, as they took notes and clapped as each person finished.

She turned and took a few steps back down the hall to the exit before she stopped and spun around again.

This is so fucking stupid.’ She closed her eyes and heard her dad’s voice in her mind.

Put yourself out there.... Do something, make friends… And I’ll help you move to LA.”

She took a deep breath and actually stepped back into the doorway this time, her right hand nervously tapping the palm of her left. Her eyes focused on a mop of red curls that suddenly moved upward as Chloe met her gaze.

While surprised by the happiness that lit up Chloe’s eyes, Beca allowed herself to be pulled forward by them. She was nervous and felt awkward walking across the stage by herself as the two organizers stepped back. She could hear the rest of the auditorium whispering a bit before they settled down. But she quickly tuned them out to remain focused on the one familiar and friendly face.

As she explained that she didn’t know there was a song requirement, hoping that Chloe was getting the underlying ‘no, really, thanks for the heads up’, she settled to her knees in front of them, her eyes flicking only occasionally to Aubrey. She vowed to do her best to ignore the blonde while hopefully not making it obvious. Though, admittedly, Aubrey wasn’t giving her the hostile glare she was expecting. It was more confusion than anything. Maybe she wasn’t just one of those college bitches who hated Beca on principle because she didn’t fit their sorority mold. Or have any desire to. But it would be nice if there was more here than her experiences with high school cliques prepared her for. ‘That’d be… kind of neat, though probably just wishful thinking.

Beca would never admit to wearing this particular shirt combo for the express purpose of showing off her cleavage. The fact that she had to lean over in front of Chloe, whose eyes had already darted down at least once, was an added bonus. If she was admitting things. Which she was not.

As she looked back over at Chloe, already reaching for the cup, which was really her only wow factor at this point, her breath hitched silently.

Holy fuck. Her eyes are blue. They’re so fucking blue… like... is-that-even-possible blue. What kind of for shit lighting have we been in before? We were eye to fucking boob, how did I think they were grey?’ 

She cleared her throat awkwardly, trying to refocus and clear her mind. After a short pause, she began to sing. She’d learned this one night while she was bored watching YouTube, and she’d gotten to the point where she didn’t even really need to think about it. She found it was actually better to not think and let muscle memory take over.

Beca occasionally looked up at her audience of two, because really none of the rest of them mattered, feeling herself grow warm as Chloe’s eyes stayed on her. Each time their eyes met she felt a spark drift through her veins. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could take that gaze and ignore the slowly building fire.

She flicked her eyes to Aubrey, and the chill there helped. She wanted to laugh at the look on the blondes face, almost able read the ‘holy shit’ in Aubrey’s eyes. There was something else there too, something Beca’s quick glances at Aubrey couldn’t quite pin down, but it seemed… Calculating was the first word that popped into her head. As if Aubrey were weighing every possible outcome so she could be ready for anything. Beca got the feeling that Aubrey wasn’t one for surprises, which apparently Beca’s audition was.

She set the cup down and the final note drifted away.

And Chloe, that damn bundle of sunshine, gave her the same deep smile she had after their duet. Beca felt her palms start to sweat. ‘I am not emotionally prepared for any of this right now.’

Chloe looked over at Aubrey and her eyebrows arched up and down as Aubrey pursed her lips. Still not outright angry but not even close to smiling.

Beca could almost hear the ‘I told you so’ Chloe was thinking.

 

~B~

 

Beca sat on the edge of the stage and filled out the paperwork she also didn’t know she needed. She really was going to have to give Chloe some crap about the lack of information for this whole audition thing.

She was aware of the other groups filing out, discussing their options. She was also aware of the icy blonde that passed silently in front of her before heading up the aisle.

This is going to be fun.’ Her inner sarcasm was on point today. She sighed to herself as she filled in the last box. But before she could look around she felt a warm presence in front of her legs as a hand appeared in front of her eyes.

“Hi.”

Beca looked up into a bright smile and blinked. ‘Who dropped a sun in this room?

“I’m Chloe Beale.”

Beca blinked again as she refocused on those eyes that were suddenly so close again. ‘Jesus, those are deadly.’

“I figured it was time to do this properly.” Chloe winked up at her.

Beca smirked and took the hand in her own, trying to ignore another spark that floated through them. “Beca Mitchell. And by ‘properly’ you mean with our clothes on?” She felt herself winking back, which was a new thing for her. She wasn’t sure if she did it right. Or why she was worried about it suddenly.

Chloe just smiled. “That was one of the most unique auditions I have ever seen.” 

Beca started to shake her head depreciatively, but then was caught again by Chloe’s gaze looking up at her. So instead she blushed and looked to the side. “Thanks.” She cleared her throat and handed over the clipboard in her left hand. “Think I’m all done.” But she didn’t remove her right hand from Chloe’s or allow herself to really think of why.

Chloe took it, her fingers grazing along Beca’s briefly.  With a small tug of their right hands, she pulled Beca down a bit. “I’m not supposed to say anything, but… you’re totes in.” She smiled again. “Aubrey hasn’t said, but I know it.”

Beca looked uncertain. “That’s… good…?” She made it sound more like a question, not sure where this was leading. Beca thought that was the whole point of Chloe begging her to do this audition thing.

“Since I’ve already surprised you once this week, I don’t think I should just show up at your door,” Chloe wiggled the clipboard, “and throw a hood over your head.”

“What?!” Beca was a bit ashamed at the squeak in her voice.

Chloe just nodded. “Initiation, otherwise known as Hood Night. We show up, throw a hood over your head and kidnap you to a secret location. So you’ll probably want to be fully dressed next Friday night.” She paused a beat. “Unless you want to party in your underwear.” Her tone sounded like was considering that possibility and she wasn’t opposed.

Beca finally let go of Chloe’s hands, momentarily mourning the loss, groaning as she covered her eyes. “What have I gotten myself into?”

Chloe laughed and slapped Beca’s knee lightly before letting her hand rest there. “You’ll see. It’ll be fun. You’ll be fine.” She caught Beca’s eyes. “Don’t worry about Aubrey, I’ll protect you.” Chloe squeezed once.

Beca tensed slightly at the warmth that radiated from Chloe’s hand, then laughed awkwardly as she hopped off the stage to Chloe’s left. Distracted by her own reaction to the unexpected touch, it took her by surprise when Chloe grabbed her hand again and tugged her into a hug.

Beca wasn’t a person who hugged and would go out of her way to avoid physical contact whenever possible. She had a personal bubble the size of Manhattan. Yet this blue eyed woman ignored all the warning signs - though after the shower Beca should really have known better - and waltzed right in. After an awkward moment of hesitation, stunned at the feeling of Chloe’s body flush against her own, she patted Chloe on the back awkwardly. She refused to think of how her body tingled everywhere Chloe touched her. Not here, in front of everyone. Maybe once she was back in her room she would sort through what this meant. Or, and what she was really hoping for, she’d be able to push whatever she was feeling back into its box and lock it up again.

Chloe pulled back and planted a quick kiss on Beca’s cheek, who managed to strangle her full recoil down into a mere flinch. With another smile, this one so close that its light was all Beca could see, she gave one more hug before letting go and stepping back.

 “See you around!” Chloe gathered her files and the cup of pens then bounced up the aisle and out the door after Aubrey.

Beca stared after her, one hand reaching up to touch her cheek before remembering she was in public and dropped it back to her side.

What the fuck is going on right now?

 

~C~

 

While Alt Girl sat down on the edge of the stage with a clipboard, Chloe had avoided looking at Aubrey as they stacked their files together. Aubrey was being just a tad too efficient in her motions, a dead giveaway that she was a bit on the angry side. Chloe would rather not face that quite yet.

“So I’ll see you tonight for dinner, so we can go over all the candidates?” Aubrey’s tone was honeyed, another indicator she was feeling… prickly.

“Totes.” Chloe finally turned and smiled. “I’ve got a really good feeling about this year.”

Aubrey just rolled her eyes and walked away, refusing to look at the woman filling out the paperwork Justin had given her.

Chloe watched her Alt Girl for a minute, still on a high from just having the woman show up. For her to sound that good, unprepared, was more than Chloe could have hoped for. In hindsight, Chloe thought she should probably have told her there would be a set song. She decided to blame it on the thrill of convincing her to audition and not because she was distracted at the end by all the naked.

She finished placing the pens back in their cup, setting it down beside her files as she moved over to the stage. Her approach went unnoticed, so she put her hand in front of Alt Girl’s face.

‘Time I learn the name that goes with those eyes.’

“Hi. I’m Chloe Beale. I figured it was time we do this properly.”

The other woman blinked for a moment before taking Chloe’s hand. “Beca Mitchell. And by ‘properly’ you mean with our clothes on?”

Chloe felt her heart sing when Beca winked back at her. ‘Beca. Cute. Like her. And she’s flirting back! At least… maybe…?”

“That was one of the most unique auditions I have ever seen.”  Chloe held onto Beca’s hand, all her attention focused on watching as Beca started to shake her head, but then blushed and looked away. Chloe thought it was the most adorable thing she had ever seen.

“Thanks. I think I’m all done.” And she held out the clipboard, which Chloe took eagerly. So what if she let her fingertips graze along the other girls hand more than necessary. She couldn’t help enjoying the additional touch while trying not to read too much into the fact that Beca still hadn’t released her other hand. Or that she didn’t think Beca realized her thumb was lightly running over Chloe’s skin.

Chloe brought Beca closer and whispered conspiratorially, warning her about Hood Night and the impending kidnapping. Because Aubrey was going to add Beca to the roster. Chloe wasn’t going to give Aubrey a choice. She wiggled the clipboard that had Beca’s dorm room as well as cell number. She tried to ignore the running commentary at the back of her mind that began wondering what Beca wore to bed. Since all freshmen had to live in the dorms for the first year, she was pretty sure Beca wouldn’t sleep naked. Pretty sure, though finding out otherwise wouldn’t be... 

Dirty bird.’ She grinned as Aubrey’s mildly scandalized voice floated through her head at the image that tried to form.

She pulled herself together when Beca groaned. “What have I gotten myself into?”

Chloe lightly slapped her knee before letting it rest there, enjoying the firm leg just under her fingertips. “You’ll see. It’ll be fun. You’ll be fine.” She caught Beca’s gaze and saw the underlying worry and squeezed lightly. “I’ll protect you from Aubrey.”

After Beca hopped down, Chloe stopped fighting with herself and pulled her into a tight hug. It was all she could do to not wiggle in sheer happiness. She felt the awkward pat to her back and couldn’t fully resist the next feeling that rose up in her. But instead of planting a quick kiss on Beca’s mouth – ‘Friendly, this is just friendly.’ – she aimed instead for her cheek, feeling the slight flinch as her lips met skin.

Chloe pulled back long enough to smile before giving another quick hug and forcing herself to let go and step back. She didn’t have that much time before she met Aubrey for dinner.

After gathering her things from the table, she called back a “See you around!” as she headed up the aisle, though everything in her wanted to stay behind and get to know Beca better.

 

~C~

 

Aubrey settled back down on the couch in the living room of the Bella house and handed Chloe the glass of wine she’d just poured. “It wasn’t the best turnout this year.”

“No, but…” Chloe paused to take a sip from her glass. “There were plenty we can work with to get a full group.”

“I hope so.” Aubrey leaned back and grabbed the stack of folders from the table behind them. “Alright, let’s go through the first pass and set aside the no’s.” Picking up the first one, she read the name and showed Chloe the photo. “Cynthia Rose.” Aubrey looked at her notes. “I thought she was really good. Really strong, great voice.”

“Totes.” Chloe nodded and smiled. “Bit of swagger.” She shrugged when Aubrey looked at her. “What, we could use that maybe.” Privately she was a bit surprised that Aubrey hadn’t immediately dismissed her as ‘alternative.’ It must be something else about Beca that she hadn’t liked on sight. Chloe took a sip of her wine, grinning internally. ‘Or maybe liked too much.’ She knew Aubrey wasn’t quite as straight as Chloe had originally thought when they’d first met. Something she had believed right up until a drunken game of Spin the Bottle last year where Chloe had personally found out that Aubrey was an amazing kisser. So maybe there was more than an immediate dislike. She took another drink. ‘Too bad, Beca’s mine.’ Though after seeing Aubrey’s reaction to one of the other potentials, she didn’t really think she had to worry.

Aubrey set the folder down in front of Chloe and picked up the next. “Oh, her… Isn’t she the one who kept crying while she sang?”

Chloe tried not to laugh. “Yes. I was trying to figure out if she’d gone through a bad breakup recently.”

“Yeah, that’s… no. That’s definitely a no.” Aubrey looked over at her.

“She sounded okay through the sobs, but…” Chloe shook her head. “Can’t have the possibility of tears always looming in the performance.” Aubrey set the folder down in front of her.

They went through several more, adding Kori, Denise, Mary Elise and Ashley to the pile in front of Chloe. Then Aubrey’s voice changed, like she was trying to hold in any inflection she might make. Chloe looked over curiously.

It was the tall brunette that was awfully fond of her own boobs. But Chloe hadn’t missed the look in Aubrey’s eyes when she’d walked on stage. And it wasn’t just because she fit the ‘bikini ready body’ standard that Aubrey had set. “Well she’s definitely in.” Chloe said, teasingly.

Aubrey rolled her eyes. “Why do you say it like that?”

Chloe had a moment’s hesitation then decided to go with it. “Because you liked her.”

“She’s the look we’re after.” Aubrey shrugged. “Her singing was a little…” She frowned. “I’m not actually sure what that inflection was, honestly.”

“Her voice was good under it though.” Chloe eyed her narrowly. “But that’s not what I was talking about.”

Aubrey huffed. “You know I don’t have time for… whatever it is you’re implying.” She ran her hand across the Bellas scarf still tied around her throat. “This year is all about making up for…” She stopped. “Last year.”

Chloe patted her arm sympathetically. “It’s not like you couldn’t make time for something more, Bree.” Privately she thought it would do Aubrey a world of good to find someone to share this last year with. “I could see it in your eyes while you watched her.”

“You couldn’t help but watch her; there was a lot of groping.” Aubrey said absently as she read through the information sheet.

Chloe laughed and shoulder bumped her. “You know that’s not what I meant.”  Chloe hesitated then mentally pulled on some armor. “Bree. You’ve been alone the last three years. I just…” Chloe put her hand on Aubrey’s thigh. “I just want you to be happy. You deserve to be happy.”

Aubrey sighed. “Yeah, but… whatever it is you’re thinking isn’t going to happen.” She handed the folder to Chloe. “She’s not even eighteen.”

“What?” Chloe grabbed it and scanned quickly. “One Stacie Conrad, born January 9th, 1994. So she graduated high school early. That just means she’s smarter than she looks, with the groping and all. More mature for her age.”

“Means she can be a Bella, but nothing else.” Aubrey’s voice was firm. “End of discussion.”

“But, Bree.” Chloe pushed just a little. She’d see the instant spark and light in Aubrey’s eyes. It was almost as obvious as the one she’d felt when Beca had walked up to them at the Activity Fair. “That just means her birthday is in like, 4 months. Then she’d be eighteen…”

“End of discussion, Chlo.” Aubrey cleared her throat and took another sip of wine. Chloe could see past the hard line to the genuine disappointment underneath and it made her sad. Aubrey had so much to offer someone. She was smart, talented, driven, beautiful and utterly loyal. She could have anyone she wanted but rarely chose to let anyone close. And even then they never were around long. Aubrey would put up her walls, covered in barb wire, and push them away. Though, Chloe admitted, those Aubrey did let in were never anyone that Chloe felt were good enough for Aubrey. Her standards for her best friend were high, though she always encouraged Aubrey to find her happiness regardless of Chloe’s own feelings of who she was with. Chloe knew, without a shadow of a doubt after their single make-out session, that Aubrey had a strong and deeply buried passion inside her and hoped one day the right person would come along and set it, and Aubrey, free.

Chloe let it go. For now. “Okay, Bree.” She set the folder down in their maybe stack. She had plenty of time to work on it if Stacie seemed to return her interest. “Who’s next?”

“Fat Amy.” Aubrey held up the file. “I’m surprised I’m going to say this, but… I think she was really good.” She winced a little. “A little strident at times, but she sounded great at the Fair.”

“Totes. We can work with the rest of it, she’s got the basics.” Chloe laughed. “And mermaid dancing if we need to distract the judges.”

Aubrey set the folder down in front of Chloe. “Jessica.”

“She the happy one?” Chloe peered over her shoulder.

“Yes. But she was good.” Aubrey tapped the file on her knee. “We can cure bouncing, right?”

“If we can get Stacie to stop groping herself, we can get Jessica to stand still.” Chloe’s voice was sly.

Aubrey rolled her eyes and held up the last two. “Lilly and Beca.”

“Yes.” Chloe said simply.

“Why am I not surprised.” Aubrey set Beca’s down for the moment and looked over Lilly’s information. “I couldn’t hear a thing she said on stage, could you?”

“No, but her beatboxing was the best I’ve ever heard. And you could actually hear it. Unlike her singing.” Chloe poured more wine for them both. “I’m sure we can work on that too.”

“True.” Aubrey stared at the picture for a moment longer. “Alright, that’s one more in the maybe pile.”

“Is it really a maybe pile if we need them all?” Chloe took another drink. “Except the crier,” she added as an afterthought, though she felt bad saying it.

Aubrey made a face, her lips twisting. “I thought I was the one who was supposed to be all logical?”

“You are. That’s why you’re also going to take Beca.” Chloe plucked the folder from her lap and read over the paper again.

“Chloe…” Aubrey began but Chloe cut her off.

“Bree.” Chloe took a deep breath and turned to face her. “You know she sounded great. Her voice was so good.” Chloe smiled. “She can even harmonize really well.” She thought back over the shower.

“When did you learn about that?” Aubrey’s voice broke through the forming memory.

“Um…” Chloe rolled her lips together. “When I cornered her in the shower because I heard her singing and made her sing with me?”

“Chloe!” Aubrey looked like she wanted to laugh and yell at the same time. “I – you what?”

She shrugged. “I didn’t know it was her at the time. I just heard this amazing shower singer and… maybe walked into their stall and found out it was her.” Chloe smiled. “She was so flustered it was cute.” She bit her lip, considering. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. The whole package was cute.” She fanned her face while Aubrey rolled her eyes. “Actually, the whole package was hot, and I don’t mean because of the water.” She winked. “If you know what I mean.

“Oh my god, Chloe.” Aubrey took a large gulp of her wine.

“Don’t be jealous, Bree.” Chloe pushed a little, just to see where it led.

“That’s not… I didn’t…” Aubrey sputtered and Chloe watched, fascinated as the lightest blush hit her cheeks as she took a deep breath. “I meant you can’t do things like that!

“Well, now I don’t have to do it again, because we’re going to make her a Bella.” Chloe saw Aubrey sigh and cut her off. “Aubrey. I told you that I will support you this year. That I’ll let you make the choices you feel are right that will get us back to the ICCAs. But as your co-captain, the one request I’m going to make of you, is that we add her.” Chloe looked down as she realized her hand had gripped Aubrey’s arm. She forced herself to let go. “Because the Bellas need her.”

“And your toner?” Aubrey’s tone was snide, but it wasn’t as harsh as Chloe would’ve expected.

“Not the point.” Chloe shrugged. “You heard her on stage, unprepared, Aubrey. Wait until you hear her harmonize. It’ll be aca-awesome.”

“She’s not a Bella, Chloe.” Aubrey held up her hand. “We’ll take her. But… She’s not a Bella. Not where it counts.” Aubrey touched her chest. “Not in here.”

“It’ll be fine.” Chloe bounced once on the couch and barely restrained her clapping. “You’ll see.”  She hugged Aubrey tightly before settling back down.

Aubrey literally threw up her hands. “Fine. But this better not be about your toner, Chlo.”

Chloe crossed her heart. “I promise.” She bit her lip. “Mostly.”

Aubrey just rolled her eyes.

 

Chapter Text

~B~

 

At the knock on her door Beca jumped. She was really glad that Kimmy Jin was out with her friends so no one was around to hear the small ‘eep’ that accompanied the jump.  Or to see how, earlier, she’d paced the room, talking herself both in and out of cancelling the whole thing. It only got worse as the hour grew late.

She took a deep breath and, after one more look at her outfit, opened the door. She was met with brilliant blue eyes smiling mischievously into her own. Beca looked down and saw the silk pillowcase dangling from one long fingered hand.

“Oh. You were serious about that.” Beca swallowed. “I’d… uh… kind of started to think I had the day wrong. Or maybe you’d chang…” She let herself trail off.

Chloe nodded solemnly. “Bella business is always serious.” But then the grin broke free. “Sorry about that, but you’re stuck with us. This year it’s just Aubrey and I and you guys are a bit spread out.” She shook the pillowcase. “I personally saved the best for last. You ready?”

“Nnnnooo?” Beca drew it out, trying to prepare as the cloth came up and over her head.

She felt Chloe step closer. “Don’t worry.” The voice was soft in her ear, the breath warming the cloth against her face. “I’ve got you.” A hand slid down into her left and linked their fingers together. “Trust me.” The grip tightened comfortingly.

Beca took as deep a breath as she could without pulling the cloth into her mouth and nodded. “Alright.”

No, seriously. What the fuck is going on with me right now. When did I become the person who’s OK with being led blindly to some secret location? This is how fucking murders happen, Beca!

Beca let herself be guided from her room, hearing the door shut behind them. Even though she knew this hallway well enough at this point, she still expected to trip at every step. So much so that she actually tripped over her own feet. The strong grip on her hand kept her upright as another hand wrapped around her elbow until she was stable.

“You alright?” Chloe’s voice was still right next to her ear and even softer. The fingers squeezed her own.

“Yep.” Beca nodded blindly. “Just wait till you see me on the stairs.”

Chloe started them forward again and Beca heard her hum thoughtfully. “Alright, new plan.”  She pulled the pillowcase from over Beca’s head as they came to another stop. “We’ll just head over and put this back on before we get to the van.” She leaned in again, her lips touching Beca’s ear this time. “Just keep it our secret. Aubrey’s a stickler for the traditions.”

Beca was pretty sure she was flushed and hoped she could pass it off as the result of having a bag over her head and not the fact that her arm was basically pressed between Chloe’s breasts. She also realized she was clenching the hand in her own and forced herself to relax.

“Deal.” But she didn’t unwind their fingers now that she could see. She didn’t worry about why. Again. “Van? You didn’t say anything about a van.” She threw a quick look to her left. “This is starting to sound more and more sketch and I might be rethinking my life decisions right now.”

Chloe tugged her hand, her smile gentle as Beca followed her. They reached the stairs and started down. “You didn’t think we were going to try to herd a group of blindfolded girls across campus, did you? It’s not like we could gather you a few at a time and expect you to sit quietly, hoods on, while we got the rest.”

Beca thought for a minute, picturing herself in that scenario. “You’re right. I’d have bolted,” she said finally, nodding.

“That’s also why you’re the last.” Beca froze as Chloe’s lips brushed her ear again, this time without a cloth barrier. This felt way too intimate to be happening in a kidnapping. “No time to run.” Chloe smiled at her and swung their hands as they walked the last few feet to the door.

 

~C~

 

Chloe knew she should be more serious about this, it really was important to follow the traditions, but she couldn’t help but try and put Beca at ease.  The rest knew what they were in for when they auditioned. Beca was different, agreeing only after being cornered while naked in the shower.

She held her hand and pulled her toward the parking lot, knowing they had a few more minutes before she had to put the hood back on. Chloe could almost pretend they were out on a date, holding hands under the stars. She sighed at her own thoughts.

Just… hold your horses. Despite the fact that she’s holding your hand right now – and, okay, checked you out in the shower – you don’t even know if she’s into women. Picturing dates is very much jumping the gun.

Of course, finding that out would be the fun part. She smiled to herself as she remembered how Beca had jumped the first Chloe spoke softly into her ear. But only that first time.

Aubrey is going to murder you’ was the sobering thought she had as they approached the last line of trees between them and the parking lot. She just wasn’t sure if she meant for letting Beca walk unhooded, or because of her growing attraction.

“Alright. Hood time.” She smiled apologetically as she turned to Beca and lifted the hood up and over her head.

“It’s alright. It’s not forever.” Beca’s eyes widened just before they disappeared behind fabric. “I mean, it’s not, right? I’ll never have to do this again, right?” She paused. “Chloe?” Her hand reached forward, hesitantly.

Chloe bit her lip, hearing her name come from Beca’s lips for the first time. It sounded nice and sent an unexpected flutter of nerves through her stomach. She slipped her hand back into Beca’s and it already felt natural. ‘Like home.’ “I’m here, Beca.” She also liked the way Beca’s name felt on her tongue. “Let’s go, the path is clear until we get to the van. Just follow my lead.”

“Not much choice.” And while the tone was sarcastic, the fingers firmed between hers. Trusting. “After you.”

Chloe’s laugh trailed behind them as they reached the lot and the van waiting for them, the nervous chatter of their initiates floating out of the open door.

She guided Beca up and in. “There’s a step and then a seat right in front of you.” She guided Beca’s hand to the seat, watching to be sure she stepped high enough, and put a steadying hand on Beca’s hip. Once she was in and settled, Chloe slid the door closed and hopped in the passenger seat.

Aubrey’s eyebrow quirked at her once, but she kept her mouth shut and started the van, driving the long way around to their auditorium. At this time of night, no one was going to care if they were parked in the loading zone, so Aubrey pulled in sideways, giving them a straight shot to the door.

Between the two of them, they managed to get the girls out of the van and into a cluster before herding them inside. Chloe was really glad they didn’t try to do this all across campus, someone would have fallen and gotten injured. She still wasn’t sure how they got them in the doors and in line without blood being spilled.

Chloe bit back her grin as Beca’s hood was removed and she recoiled, letting out a small “ugh” until she figured out what was next to her was only candles. But she couldn’t hold it back once she offered the goblet of “blood of the sisters” and Beca stared at it.

“Dude, no!” Beca looked horrified as she looked between Chloe and Aubrey.

Chloe whispered, “Don’t worry. It’s Boones Farm.” She then winked and offered it to Beca again, nodding encouragingly as she took a sip this time.

Once they’d all had the symbolic drink, she and Aubrey stood up front to recite the oath. Chloe knew she should be looking at all the girls who were becoming her sisters, but her eyes were focused on the figure to her left.

You’ve got it bad, girl. Aubrey is literally going to kill you if you don’t focus.

Aubrey was halfway through the ‘traditional’ Bella oath before Chloe was able to look at the rest of the girls. Though, honestly, she felt the whole Treble/vocal cords/wolves part was probably an Alice addition, when she thought about it.

Once Aubrey turned on the lights, Chloe looked happily at the women milling in front of her.

“We did it.” She murmured as she leaned into Aubrey.

Aubrey watched Fat Amy go for the goblet and drink from it. “Did we?” Her tone was far from convinced.

While the rest of the girls put out all the candles and stored them away, Aubrey moved the van so it wasn’t towed in the morning. Once the auditorium was spotless and ready for the first rehearsal – already scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, afternoon – Aubrey led her charges to the outdoor theater for the initiation party.

The girls all funneled down the aisle to the tables and coolers of alcohol and Chloe heard someone in a Treble jacket start calling Beca’s name as he walked up the seats. She tried to ignore it, telling herself not to listen but she couldn’t help it. They were all still too close together and she found herself rolling her eyes.

“You’re one of those a cappella girls, I’m one of those a cappella boys and we’re gonna have aca-children. It’s inevitable.”

Beca’s tone was dry. “You’re really drunk right now.”

Then Chloe was finally in the middle of the mass of people in front of her, all talking and singing, and, most importantly, blocking Beca’s and the Treble’s voices. She poured herself three shots of the nearest bottle in quick succession, needing the buzz it would bring. Briefly she regretted not eating today, but figured that could only help the alcohol hit faster.

She wasn’t sure how long she mingled with her fellow a-ca people, but when she turned around, she noticed the Treble boy was turning away. Before Chloe realized she was moving she was already trotting up the aisle as she heard him say he was going to get Beca a drink.

‘Damnit. I should have brought her one.’

 

~B~

 

Beca watched Jesse turn around and climb back down the seats, instead of just going down the aisle, but then she saw why. Chloe was headed her way with a look of determination. She bounced into the space Jesse had just left and grabbed Beca’s hands.

“Hi!”

As Chloe tugged them together, Beca froze. “Oh!” She let out some sort of sound of surprise, quite against her will. She’d also deny it if anyone asked her about it.

 ‘Oh my god, is she’s going to kiss me?’ Beca spent a small moment of eternity wondering what it was going to feel like and trying to remember if she brushed her teeth before being ‘kidnapped.’

But Chloe just gripped around her wrists and tugged them forward. Beca tried very hard not to think about the fact that her hands were basically in front of Chloe’s junk. She could also be imagining it, but it felt like one of her knuckles ran across fabric before she settled back, trying not to remember what Chloe looked like under them.

“I am so glad that I met you.” Chloe’s eyes dropped to her lips as she pulled Beca closer.

Holy fuck she is gonna kiss me!’ Beca’s heart began to beat faster in anticipation.

She tried not to be disappointed when Chloe just rested their foreheads together, though her eyes remained on Beca’s lips. “I think that we’re gonna be really fast friends.” And she looked up with the most heart wrenchingly honest look in her eyes as her breath warmed Beca’s mouth.

Unexpectedly, Beca could feel the slow stirring of desire pooling low in her stomach. But being this close to Chloe’s eyes, not to mention mouth, was doing things to her libido that it probably shouldn’t in public. And sober. Or with a newly appointed ‘sister’ Bella, she supposed as an afterthought. Her discomfort at her new surroundings - still not sure the true reason she’d agreed to join this group – helped keep things at a low burn. But… she was beginning to want. It made her both heady and uncomfortable.

‘I could just lean forward. I don’t think she’d mind, with the way she’s staring at my lips.”

Beca felt herself grinning, that loose cannon portion of her brain taking over. “Yeah?” She tilted her head as Chloe repeated a firm “Yeah” immediately.

“Well you saw me naked, so…” As her mouth twisted in a smirk, she winked again and this time Beca knew she’d done it wrong. All her winks felt like blinks where one eye closed and the other mostly closed. Maybe she’d have Chloe teach her. It seemed like a valuable skill to have if they were going to keep hanging out.

Quite against her will, her eyes dropped down to Chloe’s lips and Beca was briefly thankful that she didn’t have any alcohol in her. She was fairly positive that she’d have said ‘fuck it’ and leaned forward just to see what they tasted like. That quick peck on the cheek after auditions had made her wonder for the past week. She’d actually been wondering about a lot of new things lately.

They just stood there, the party going on around them, as their gazes darted between eyes and mouth before Chloe exhaled and let go of Beca’s wrists. “Alright.” She moved her hands up to Beca’s shoulders and dragged them down to her elbows, shaking them slightly. Her body bowed toward Beca as her head leaned back a bit. “I’m gonna go get a drink.” Her hands dropped back down to Beca’s wrists before finally falling away.

Beca could only watch as Chloe turned around, her arms hanging at her sides where Chloe dropped them.

“This ginger needs her jiggle juice.”  She looked over her shoulder, directly into Beca’s eyes, both hands going over her head as she started to shake her hips.

Beca felt her body temperature rise, unable to stop her eyes from skimming down from Chloe’s face -‘Shit, is she biting her lip right now?’- and becoming glued to the motion in front of her. She was only able to look away when Chloe’s right hand came down and slapped her own hip, the sound breaking Beca out of her spell.

No woman should be able to wiggle her ass like that and then turn to complete innocence with a “See you later” called over her shoulder.

Dude. She just stared you down. And shook her ass. Which you stared at. And you didn’t kiss her. Way to go.’

Beca was so confused that she wasn’t sure if she was talking to Chloe, or herself, as she called after her. “Make good choices.” Her eyes darted around to see who else might have witnessed that interaction. Or maybe an escape route.

She started looking for Jesse, wondering where the hell her drink was, but before she decided to go in search of her own alcohol, Mary Elise came by to chat. Beca used the moment to try and cool herself down while she made small talk. Which she was terrible at. It consisted of mostly nods, and ‘mmhmm’s’ from time to time.

She tried not to notice as Chloe started to dance with… ‘Is that the guy from the shower? Ugh.’ Beca was almost grateful when Jesse finally showed up and Mary Elise left with a random ‘Be careful’. Except he started yelling “We are the Kings of Campus!” It made her feel embarrassed and she looked around to see who might have noticed. She obviously wasn’t drunk enough for this. Any of it. Especially not the way her mind kept returning to a certain redhead naked in her shower.

As she sipped her drink, her eyes fell on Amy, straddling the aisle and dancing. She smiled at the Australian’s confidence, and honestly her leg strength, before looking past her and saw Chloe kissing Shower Guy, her right arm around his back and fingers gripping at his sweater.

Beca downed her drink in one gulp, wanting… no, needing to burn away the sudden jealousy that flared up within her.

Beca didn’t do jealousy. She didn’t get attached. She didn’t make friends, despite what her dad wanted. She moved through people who were only an obstacle to her goal. LA was her goal. She just had to see this through to the end and then she was gone.

‘Not that there’s anything for me to be jealous of, for fucks sake.’ Chloe wasn’t hers, there was no claim she could make otherwise. Not even if she had been entertaining the idea of something more.

Which I fucking wasn’t.’ She thought, resolutely ignoring the fact that she knew she was probably lying to herself.

But she kept her eyes averted as she went down the aisle to get more alcohol. She had a feeling this would be a long night.

She never once thought to question why she didn’t just leave.

 

~C~

 

When Chloe turned away from Tom a minute later, her eyes scanned the seats above her, looking for Beca. She hadn’t meant to get distracted by him, especially after telling him that their mutual showers were over. And she felt she owed him, them, a proper goodbye kiss, though maybe it lasted longer than it would have if she were sober.

Her heart fell a little bit when she couldn’t find Beca in the crowd, which was ridiculous just for not seeing someone. Someone she’d known such a short time, no less. Chloe told herself that she just wanted to make sure that Beca was having a good time, and hadn’t gone home early.

She drifted slowly down the aisle, balance only a little wobbly after the shots she’d had earlier. She snaked her way through the crowd, greeting old friends and new with the same enthusiasm, until she was back at the alcohol. She poured herself another shot and downed it, already anticipating the next.

“Set me up.”

Chloe turned at the already familiar voice at her shoulder and saw Beca standing there, lowering a shot glass from her lips. “Beca!” Chloe grinned with delight. “I thought you left!”

Ignoring the glass in Beca’s hand, she poured a shot into her own and handed it to Beca. When Beca traded the full shot for her empty, Chloe filled it up for herself and clinked their glasses together before shooting it back.  She told herself she was just getting the last drop when her tongue came out and traced the rim.  It’s definitely not because that’s the side Beca’s lips touched. That’d be weird. Right? She resolved to stop worrying about such things for at least tonight.

Beca nodded and held up her glass again and Chloe repeated the ritual. Filling the glass in her hand and trading it with Beca, who eyed her strangely. But she willingly swapped, her eyes never leaving Chloe’s. After a third such round was gone, Chloe filled her glass once more time for Beca. But this time when they traded, she didn’t pour one for herself. She had to fight the urge to lick the glass anyway.

Beca’s eyebrow cocked. “Too much for you?” She looked like she wasn’t aware that her body was moving in time to the music, bringing her closer. Her eyes sparkled in the light as she threw the last shot back, the most relaxed that Chloe had seen her so far.

Chloe felt her balance tip a bit forward as she shook her head. “I’m about four… no... six… ahead of you. Any more and I’ll end up curled on a bench until Aubrey gets me home.” She muttered “again” under her breath and Beca smiled.

She watched as her own arm reached out and she tangled her fingers with Beca’s, who squeezed back. She turned and tugged lightly. “C’mon, let’s dance.” After a brief moment of resistance she felt Beca follow.

“What about… uh.. I never got his name. Shower Guy.” There was a pause. “Aren’t you guys here… together?”

Chloe couldn’t piece together the tone, her people sense sometimes went a little wonky with alcohol, but she thought it sounded too carefully uninterested. “Oh, Tom? No.” She found them an empty place in the midst of the Bellas. “He and I were just… friendly.” She turned to face Beca, starting to move her body to the music. “Though not anymore.”  Chloe closed her eyes to feel the beat and ran her hands through her hair. “But I may have gotten too carried away with my goodbye kiss tonight.” She frowned and opened her eyes when she felt Beca go still next to her. “What?”

Beca was watching her, eyes flickering over Chloe’s face before she smiled, open and free. “Nothing.” She began to dance with Chloe about the same time as the rest of the Bellas figured out they were there and circled around them.

Chloe spent the rest of the night laughing and dancing with each of her new sisters. And maybe trading stolen glances with one in particular. Maybe she let her hands linger a bit more than she did with the rest. Maybe she tried to get closer than she should. Beca didn’t seem to mind and as the night wore on, Chloe was pretty sure those touches were being returned.

It made her warmer than the alcohol, and dangerously close to throwing off the last of her self-control as the tension built up in her body, making her movements languid and teasing. She completely ignored Aubrey’s disapproving looks when she finally noticed them, but she did try and keep a semblance of distance between herself and Beca even though the urge to pull their hips flush was almost overwhelming.

As the party began to wind down, she and Aubrey led most of their recruits to the Bella house. Even though all freshman technically had to stay in the dorms their first year, the huge house was fully furnished though all rooms (save for the seniors) were undecorated. But they had made sure the beds were made in preparation of tonight.

After the girls wandered through the house exploring, dropping off one by one as they passed a bed and could no longer stay on their feet, Aubrey and Chloe paused by the figure passed out face first on the sectional in the living room, coat flung over one armrest.

Chloe pushed Aubrey back toward the stairs. “I got it. You go to sleep.” She kept pushing until the other woman walked away, one blonde eyebrow rising in a look that somehow eloquently said ‘I better not come down here in the morning and find you guys naked on the couch.’ Chloe just smiled and made shooing motions,  waiting until she was sure Aubrey wasn’t going to come back downstairs.

She knelt and pulled Beca’s boots off her, setting them beside the sofa. Pulling a thick blanket from the back she covered Beca gently. She shuffled up to Beca’s face, ostensibly to brush strands of hair out of the way, until she let her hand stroke the soft skin of her cheek.

She sighed softly and leaned forward, pressing a gentle, lingering kiss to Beca’s temple. “Goodnight, Becs.”

Reluctantly she rose to her feet and pushed her way upstairs to her room, every bit of her wanting to curl up between the sleeping woman and the couch for the rest of the night.

She could wait. Needed to be sure. Though, really, after tonight, she knew this was definitely more.

They had time.

 

~B~

 

Beca lifted her head and groaned. Maybe those shots hadn’t been the smartest idea ever. She rolled her tongue through her mouth, trying to find any moisture that hadn’t already drooled onto the couch. ‘Gross.’ Or maybe it’d been the “Aussie Surprise” that Fat Amy had made towards the end of the night. She was pretty sure she was dying right now.

It took several attempts but she finally managed to roll on her back, only then realizing that she was fully clothed and not in her dorm room. Though, yay for not being naked. She felt both relieved and disappointed about that as blue eyes passed through her mind. Beca spent a moment thinking of last night, and despite all the alcohol, she remembered dancing with Chloe. All the small touches the rest of the evening that had added to the heady haze she’d been in. She’d been unable to keep her hands to herself, letting her fingers tighten on Chloe’s hips whenever they’d been dancing together. Or drift down an arm. Across Chloe’s back. It’d been… nice. Maybe even a bit more than just nice.

Beca huffed out a breath and sat up, slowly, and looked around the living room. While the sun was up, there was no sign of the other girls yet. Beca flipped the blanket off and stood, stretching out the kinks a night on the couch had given her.

After pulling on boots she didn’t remember taking off, she padded into the kitchen, relieved when she saw the coffee maker sitting on the counter. After a couple moments of study and searching the nearby cabinets, she started a pot. Waiting while it brewed, she all but collapsed onto one of the stools lining the center counter and rested her head on the wood.

“Beca. I didn’t expect to see anyone up yet.” Aubrey’s too bright voice preceded her presence in the kitchen.

Beca lifted her head. “Morning, Aubrey. I hope you don’t mind but I started some coffee and I think it just finished.” She started to stand but Aubrey waved her back to her seat. Beca thought Aubrey looked more relaxed and decided it was because she was in her own kitchen, her own environment. Beca was also relieved she didn’t feel any of the stress she was already starting to associate with Aubrey’s presence.

Aubrey moved past her and reached into one of the cabinets and took several mugs out, setting them on the counter. “Not at all, means I can get started on breakfast.” She filled two of the mugs and set one of them in front of Beca as well as a small container of various kinds of sugar that looked as if they’d been lifted from the cafeteria.  “Though, if you wouldn’t mind keeping an eye on it, I get the feeling we’ll go through it quickly.”

Beca nodded. “Sure.” She tried a smile though she wasn’t sure how well it fit on her face. She still thought Aubrey was too uptight, but she was determined to give it her best shot. “And thanks.” She held up the mug and brought it gratefully to her lips. The first sip of coffee was sacred and she enjoyed it for a minute as she watched Aubrey get various things out of cabinets and fridge. “Is there… Uh… Anything I can help with?” She met Aubrey’s eyes as the blonde turned around. “Though, I must admit my cooking skills are… lacking.”

“No, but… thank you. It’s just pancakes.” Aubrey’s smile looked like it didn’t fit her either. But hey, they were trying. Beca considered it progress.

“Good morning!” The cheery voice burst into the quiet room and Beca winced as her head throbbed, rubbing her temple lightly. Chloe bounced into the room, looking freshly showered and bright eyed as ever. She came over and set a bottle of ibuprofen on the counter. “I think this will come in handy.”

Beca reached for the bottle immediately. “I think I love you.” As the room went still around her, she looked up. “What?” Aubrey had gone a bit wide eyed, one hand raised, batter dripping off the spoon she held, whereas Chloe’s eyes sparkled and her lips had started to twitch. Beca played her last statement over mentally and shrugged. “I’m a sucker for pain relief.” She popped off the top and spilled several into her hand, drinking them down with her coffee.

Looking up into blue eyes, Beca smiled gratefully. “Thanks.” She tried to ignore the flutter in her stomach as Chloe returned her smile and ran her hand down Beca’s arm until it rested on her wrist.

“Anytime.” The sincerity in Chloe’s voice plucked at something in Beca, and the small squeeze of soft fingers lingered long after Chloe had turned away to help with breakfast.

As Chloe and Aubrey took over the center island, Beca carried her mug to the back dining table and tried to stay out of the way. The other two chatted, drawing Beca in when she let them, as they started making enough food to feed an army.

Beca also tried not to stare; she was not the kind of person who was a creeper. But she couldn’t keep her eyes from trailing back, even when Chloe caught her at it. She didn’t allow herself to think about why she hadn’t left yet. ‘It’s pancakes. Who leaves when offered a free meal?’

Drawn by the scent of pancakes, bacon and coffee, the rest of the girls made their way down over the next half hour, Beca refilling the coffee pot as needed. They were subdued as they came in, yawning and in various stages of hangover, but the coffee and pain killers helped until breakfast was ready.

As her thudding headache finally eased, Beca allowed herself to be pulled into the conversations around her. She was so engrossed in a conversation with Cynthia Rose, that she was startled when Chloe set down a plate full of pancakes and bacon in front of each of them. Beca looked up and mouthed “thank you” even as Chloe was turning back to the kitchen proper, getting a bright smile in return.

After putting on enough butter and syrup to drown her pancakes, Beca took the first bite and immediately groaned louder than she intended. Flushing, she looked up. “Aubrey, these are amazing.” She saw a small smile hovering around Aubrey’s lips as Cynthia Rose enthusiastically agreed.

“Thanks, Beca.” Aubrey’s smile was a little less pained and more genuine.

Beca noticed that Chloe was still looking over at her, lower lip firmly between her teeth. Beca couldn’t decipher the look on Chloe’s face, but it made the flutter in her stomach worse. Determined to worry about it later, she turned back to her plate, not wanting anything to get cold. ‘I’m sure Chloe could warm you up.’ She blinked, fork halfway to her mouth. ‘I mean… it… the food… Jesus. Am I still drunk or something?’

After Beca devoured her breakfast, she took her plate to the sink, along with anyone else’s who was finished. She started another pot brewing as Aubrey and Chloe were finally sitting down to eat. Most of the girls had wandered into the living room to continue talking at this point, so Beca thought she’d start washing the dishes.

She’d just filled the sink and was reaching for the dish soap when a voice behind her stopped her. “I got this. You kept us in coffee all morning.” Beca turned around and looked up at a smiling Stacie who made a little ‘shoo’ gesture. Shrugging, Beca put up her hands and stepped back, heading into the living room.

Beca settled on one end of the couch, her full belly making her feel slow and sleepy again. She was content to let the conversation flow around her this time, as the rest of the group talking about the party the night before and enthusing about their first rehearsal later that day.

She wondered why she was still here now that breakfast was over. Beca was not the kind of person who hung out the morning after. Any time she didn’t make it back to her own bed after the few high school parties she attended, she was always the first one out the door the next morning. She never stuck around long enough to see anyone else, much less have an entire breakfast. But every time she thought of leaving, an equally strong desire to stay rose up, keeping her on the couch in the Bella house.

Then she heard a laugh float out of the kitchen, already able to recognize it as Chloe, and felt the flutter move up from her stomach and around her heart. ‘Oh.” Beca couldn’t hide it from herself anymore. ‘I’m staying for her. To just be near her. What kind of sappy bullshit is that?

Beca was not that girl. Any dating she did in high school was more because she fooled herself into thinking it would help her fit in. That she needed to fit in in the first place. And even that had stopped at the start of her senior year after her last girlfriend had told her she was emotionally unavailable. Which was fair, Beca thought in hindsight. She always held herself back from anyone in her life, be it friends or a potential partner. There was no chance of being hurt that way. But that moment had been the last layer to the walls she had been building ever since her dad left. She didn’t need anything or anyone as long as she had her music.

Except.

Getting to know Chloe had, so far, been effortless. Chloe had been nothing but nice to Beca, especially while trying to keep her from getting spooked during Hood Night. But Beca putting herself in this type of social interaction just because she wanted to be around Chloe? That was new territory that went beyond her father’s demands.

It made her nervous. Yet she stayed.

After the activities fair, she had never really denied her attraction to Chloe, the woman was absolutely gorgeous. And thanks to the impromptu shower invasion, Beca knew what the entire package looked like. Which was something her brain had liked to bring up while she was lying in bed this past week, though she always forced the thoughts away by mixing difficult songs in her head. The images were too… vivid… and Beca was not the type of girl to seek relief while thinking of someone she just met, much less while her roommate slept on the other side of the room. Even asleep, and just on the cusp of light snoring, Beca could feel Kimmy Jin judging her silently.

As thoughts of the shower sent a wave of heat through her, Beca forced herself up and into another stretch, trying to work the lethargy out of her limbs. She went back and stood in the kitchen entryway and watched for a second as Aubrey, Chloe and Stacie put the last touches on cleanup.

“Thank you, both of you, for breakfast this morning.” She suddenly wasn’t sure what to do with her hands so she put them in her back pockets. “But, I need to do a few things before rehearsal today, so I’m going to head out.”

With warm smiles, mostly, Aubrey and Stacie waved as she turned away and Beca nodded goodbye at the rest as she grabbed her coat. Walking into the foyer she stopped and pulled on her jacket, but before she could pull her hair out from under her collar, a second pair of hands slipped past hers and did it for her. Involuntarily, Beca’s eyes slid shut as warm fingertips returned to lightly stroke down both sides of her neck before smoothing her coat across her shoulders. Her heart tripped and felt like it was running faster to catch up.

She turned around and faced Chloe who stepped forward and slipped her arms around Beca’s waist. Chloe pulled her close and hooked her chin over Beca’s shoulder. After a second of letting her arms hang, Beca awkwardly lifted them around the other girl’s shoulders. “Oh, okay. So, you’re a hugger. Like. All the time. Noted.” She didn’t even realize when her arms tightened and she inhaled deeply, memorizing the citrus smell of Chloe’s shampoo and how their bodies fit together. Chloe was just so warm and soft that Beca didn’t mind. ‘I suddenly see the appeal to hugging. Maybe I’ve just been hugging the wrong people all these years.’

“Oh, totes.” Chloe pulled back slightly to look at her but didn’t let go. “But how long they last depends on how much I like someone.”

Beca’s mouth opened but nothing came out. She was frozen between her impulse to break free and the absolutely unexpected – yet almost overwhelming – desire to kiss the woman in front of her.

Chloe was watching, seemingly content to wait, her eyes darting between Beca’s with the occasional drop to her mouth. They were so close that Beca could feel Chloe’s chest rise and fall, her breath warm against Beca’s face. Beca closed her suddenly dry mouth and resisted the urge to lick her lips.

She tried to remind herself that Barden was an enforced rest stop on her path to being a music producer. One. Damn. Year. And she sure as hell didn’t kiss after only knowing someone for a total of five days… But she really, really, wanted to.

So when she tightened her grip again, fingers bunching a little at the back of Chloe’s shirt to pull her just a fraction closer, no one was more surprised than Beca herself. She noticed Chloe’s eyes had dropped to her mouth and stayed there.

Beca’s mouth opened but instead of leaning forward, she said, “This hug has lasted quite a long time.” Beca watched as Chloe’s eyes darted back up.

“It has, hasn’t it?” The wink was so much more devastating up close. “I may need to invent a new system just for you.”

“Heh.” Beca felt her grin slip into awkward. This was too much too fast and she was confused by her own reactions. Beca wasn’t sure how she hadn’t had a heart attack yet, and she was pretty sure she was on the edge of blacking out when she felt herself tugged closer. But Chloe just hugged her again and Beca sincerely hoped that the New Orleans marching band in her chest couldn’t be felt.

Beca closed her eyes and willed herself to let go and step back, finding it harder than she’d anticipated. “Uh, thanks again. For breakfast.” She turned and opened the door. “I’ll see you in a few hours at rehearsal.” She ignored the fact that she felt a little colder without Chloe’s arms around her.

“You’re welcome.” Chloe leaned in the doorway as Beca stepped outside. “Maybe I’ll get the chance to make you breakfast again, someday. See you later, Becs.”

“Not if I see you first.” As Beca walked down the stairs her eyes rolled. ‘Smooth. Real smooth.’ “Bye, Chlo.”

 

~C~

 

Chloe watched until Beca was had walked up the street and out of sight before she shut the door. She paused for a minute, reliving how it had felt to hold Beca and how, for one glorious minute, she thought Beca was going to kiss her.

We’re making progress, though.’ She hugged herself briefly before heading back into the living room, where Aubrey looked up at her, eyebrow twitching upward.

Chloe tilted her head, an unspoken ‘What’ in the gesture. Aubrey just shook her head and snorted quietly. Aubrey always had been too good at reading Chloe, they were too close and she recognized the signs of a new crush. Chloe lifted her head and sniffed airily as she settled into the spot Beca had been in.

She ignored the way Aubrey smirked at her indulgently before resuming her conversation with Stacie.

While Chloe was able to focus as the rest of the girls slowly took their leave, her mind kept playing back the scene at the door. She didn’t think Beca had realized her eyes had started to darken at the same time her fingers had tugged at Chloe’s shirt. That alone had almost tipped her forward into a kiss, only her self-made promise to not push Beca holding her back.

For now.

 

Chapter Text

~B~

 

After Beca got back to her dorm, Kimmy Jin was already gone for the morning. Or had never been back. Beca often woke up and found she was alone, unsure if Kimmy Jin had even been home the night before. Sometimes Beca created different scenarios that might keep her roommate out at random hours, her current theory being drug smuggling-to-pay-for-tuition.

After taking a shower and getting into a fresh set of clothes - ‘What does one even wear to rehearsal? Shit, I should’ve asked.’ - Beca tried to focus on homework. She eventually gave up as her mind refused to settle and started working on her most recent mixes instead.

Soon enough it was time to leave and she found herself milling in an auditorium with the rest of the new recruits.  Aubrey and Chloe were standing in front of two whiteboards that looked way more complicated than Beca would have thought for an a capella rehearsal.

Beca was standing with Fat Amy and Cynthia Rose in front of another board that had pictures of past Bellas groups on display.

“Man, the old Bellas was hot.” Cynthia Rose stopped next to Fat Amy and Beca, who was trying not to focus on Chloe standing behind her. Beca was almost positive it was physically impossible to tell when someone’s eyes are on you, but she swore she could feel it when Chloe turned her direction.

“Yeah, they kept it tight.” Amy sounded like she wanted to argue but was being polite.

They all turned around as Aubrey clapped behind them. “Okay. Sopranos in the front and altos in the back.”

The girls all settled into their rows and Beca forced herself to focus solely on Aubrey.

“As you can see, Kori is not here.” Aubrey waved her hand at the empty chair next to Ashley.  “Last night she was Treble-boned. She has been disinvited from the Bellas.” She moved the chair to the side.

“That oath was serious?” Beca couldn’t hold back her grin.

Aubrey spun around. “Dixie Chicks serious.”

Beca wasn’t expecting that level of gravity and her eyes widened slightly. Her eyes darted to Chloe, but the other woman was standing silent in front of one of the boards. ‘Okay. Wait, what does that even mean?’ But she kept her mouth shut.

Aubrey strode back to the front of the group. “You can fool around with whoever you want to, just not a Treble.”

Stacie spoke up. “That’s not gonna be easy.” She gestured with her hands at her junk. “He’s a hunter.”

Beca had to whisper so she didn’t crack up. “You call it a dude?” Stacie smiled smugly back at her, nodding.

Aubrey pulled their attention by lowering her voice and speaking earnestly. “Stacie, the Trebles don’t respect us, and if we let them penetrate us, we are giving them our power.”

Beca couldn’t wipe the smile off her face; this had to be a joke. She watched as Stacie crossed her legs tighter before Beca looked at Chloe again, but she still wasn’t smiling. ‘What the hell have I gotten myself into?’

Amy spoke up and waved her hand in the air. “Not a good enough reason to use the word ‘penetrate’.”

Aubrey moved back to the far side of the rows. “So. Does anyone here have anything to confess?” Dragging out the last word a little, her eyes were focused on Mary Elise, who was looking anywhere else. Beca looked around at the others, in case she was reading Aubrey wrong.

But no luck. Aubrey just waited. Staring. Eventually Mary Elise cracked. “It was an accident! I…”

Aubrey just nodded and cut her off. “Turn in your scarf and go.” She held her hand out, waiting. Beca thought it was ironic that the girl who told her to be careful at Jesse’s approach last night was apparently the one who ended up doing the deed.

The other girl started to plead, but when faced with that implacable stare she reached down to untie her scarf from her purse. The others all looked away uncomfortably as Aubrey smoothly brought her hand up, eyebrows rising, and pointed toward the door. Beca thought this was the most awkward thing she had ever been part of but her attention had been caught by the way Aubrey’s hand moved.

‘Jesus, that was the smoothest looking motion I have ever seen in my life. It was like… regal. Like she fucking practiced that shit but there’s no way someone sits in front of a mirror and perfects the gesture that they’d use to kick someone out of a capella group for banging the competition.’  Beca tilted her head, considering. ‘Wait… this is Aubrey. She may actually do that based on what I’ve seen in the last five minutes.’ She’d been kind of hoping that Aubrey wasn’t as uptight as she’d been at the Fair, but so far it looked like the ease at breakfast was the rare exception.

As Mary Elise rose to her feet, Beca’s attention was pulled back to the room when Amy coughed. “Slut.”

“Take your chair.” The tone was sharp, her eyes insistent.

No, she was wrong. This was the most awkward thing she had ever been part of. Beca and the others watched uncomfortably as Mary Elise dragged her chair squealing along the floor as she headed for the auditorium doors. When it bumped up against the step she let it go and ran sobbing from the room.

Beca looked back to the front. “Was that necessary?” She wasn’t sure at this point if she was talking to Aubrey or Chloe, since Chloe hadn’t stopped any of that from happening. But Chloe just looked back at her, face solemn.

Aubrey was stern. “This is war, Beca, and it is my job to make sure that my soldiers are prepped at go time with three kick-ass songs choreographed to perfection. And there are only four months until regionals.”

Beca briefly looked at Chloe, who would not meet her eyes, then away and took a breath. She licked her lips as she looked back at Aubrey. This may be slightly more than she was willing to take on just to make her dad happy. But could she really just walk away from her dream shot at LA? A very small voice floated up from the back of her mind. ‘Away from Chloe?’ She pushed it back down and ignored it.

“So, if you have a problem with the way that I run the Bellas, then you should just…” Aubrey gestured toward the door half a second before she let out a small choking sound. Her right hand fisted against her lips, her left resting against her chest, as small gagging noises slipped free.  The girls in the front recoiled a bit, eyes wide.

As Aubrey turned away, Chloe finally moved and stepped up next to her. “Don’t stress, Aubrey. Relax.” She briefly touched Aubrey’s elbow and spoke softly. “We don’t want a repeat of what happened last year.” Aubrey took a series of deep breaths, obviously working to control herself.

Lilly raised her hand as Aubrey finally pulled herself together. Chloe nodded at Lilly.

All Beca heard was silence, even though she could see Lilly’s lips moving.

Chloe asked “What are you saying?”

Beca is pretty sure she was the only one close enough to hear Lilly’s second attempt, so she repeated it. “She asked what happened last year.” Well. Part of it. Beca was not asking if they wanted to see a dead body. ‘Seriously, what the fuck.

Chloe smiled apologetically at Aubrey before turning back to the group. “We didn’t finish our set in Finals last year. There was an… Incident. It’s on YouTube.”

Lilly brought out her tablet and opened the program, waiting.

Aubrey took a deep breath. “It’s called ‘Aubrey gives it up.’”

Beca couldn’t look away as the performance played out, she was feeling a little stunned at seeing that much vomit come out of someone that skinny. She felt a wave of sympathy for Aubrey, and a lot of admiration with it. To come back from something like that..? Beca thought that took a lot of strength and determination. She sat back, noticing that most of the rest looked horrified. Most.

“Ooh, click on ‘guy pukes on cat’” Stacie pointed at the next video on the tablet, completely unfazed.

Aubrey clapped. “Enough! It happened. It’s over.” The girls settled back in their seats. “We will practice every day for at least two hours, seven days a week.” Chloe picked up a stack of paper and stepped back up next to Aubrey. “And I trust that you will add your own cardio.”

Beca stopped smiling. “Why cardio?”

Fat Amy was right behind her. “Yeah, no, don’t put me down for cardio.”

“Okay, moving on.” Aubrey turned and smiled at Chloe, gesturing at the papers she was holding. “This is a set list of all the songs that we have ever performed.” Chloe stepped forward to pass them out. “And you will notice that we only do songs made famous by women.”

Beca skimmed the list as she handed the rest over, unable to help the small smirk that appeared. “There’s nothing from this century on here.”

Aubrey stared at her. “Because we don’t stray from tradition.” Even Chloe looked at her seriously for a second.

Beca’s eyebrows rose as she flipped to the next page and scanned it. She let the papers drop to her lap and forced herself to put a smile on her face. Any goodwill she’d been trying to muster for Aubrey was slowly fading away.

“Now,” Aubrey turned to the boards and flipped one over. “This is how we become champions.”

Beca stared at the board filled what looked like a road map and wondered for the tenth time in as many minutes what she’d gotten herself into.

First up, and thankfully the shortest part of the day, was ‘learning’ how to walk in heels. Beca thought Aubrey just wanted to get an idea of how they moved and their balance. The whole group tottered back and forth, some better at it than others, before Aubrey let them change back into their regular shoes for cardio. “I’ll also trust that you’ll practice walking in those. We wouldn’t want anyone to fall over in the middle of the routine.”

While Beca had never really thought she was out of shape, she was starting to realize how horribly wrong she was. At least she was managing to keep up with everyone but Aubrey, who was sprinting ahead like she was Usain Bolt. She was glad for the short break when Aubrey finally noticed Amy hiding in the bleachers.

Then there were the mouth exercises and as much as her inner teenager wanted to giggle, if Beca never heard someone (except maybe Lilly) saying “WOW WOW WOW” again in her life, she’d be happy. Beca felt she’d eventually get the hang of making ‘instrument sounds with her mouth’, but for today she just felt like she spit everywhere.

Chloe and Aubrey ran through the choreography a couple times, and it didn’t really surprise Beca that it was the same routine from the video. Each move was then broken down, the girls running through them one at a time and Beca would never admit to anyone that she felt she was in way over her head.

There were two things that made the afternoon almost worthwhile.

It became obvious that Stacie trained in ballet when she did a pirouette one of her earrings flew off. That distracted Aubrey enough that she didn’t notice when Stacie’s leg came back around and it almost took Aubrey out. Beca almost choked on her water as she tried not to laugh as the blonde jerked backward out of range of Stacie’s long limbs.

And then there was Chloe.

When Beca messed up the simplest step - after making a stupid square in the air, she forgot which way to turn - Chloe came over to help her out.

“No, it’s like this.” Then Chloe was standing behind her, closer than she’d been to any of the others when she helped them. Beca tried to keep an annoyed expression on her face as Chloe’s hands came around and held Beca’s. Chloe brought their joined hands in the air to start the top of the square and Beca just closed her eyes as their fingers intertwined. She felt Chloe’s body brush against her as she stepped forward.

“I know… I can do it.” Or at least she might be able to if she could concentrate. Seriously, Chloe was like a furnace against her back. ‘A furnace with breasts. Very… soft… breasts,’ she thought as Chloe leaned over Beca’s shoulder. ‘Breasts you’ve seen naked.’ She mentally slapped herself. ‘Get it the fuck together.’

Chloe brought their arms down and along the bottom of the square, her hands shifted slightly and suddenly it was way too much like hugging in front of an audience and Beca stepped away. “Thanks, I’ll have to work on that.”

But by the time they put it all together and ran through the routine itself, it had stopped being even almost fun.  

Beca was pretty sure she was never going to get this down and that she may have made a terrible mistake.

At the end of a very long day of practice, Beca hung back, debating on asking the question that had been on her mind since the routine started.

When Aubrey's exasperation shown through as she passed a still-silent Lilly, Beca almost let it dissuade her, but she stepped up anyway. “Hey, Aubrey. Did we just learn the same choreography from that video?” She tried to keep any hint of judgement or anything Aubrey could take offense at out of her tone. Either she didn't succeed or Aubrey was the kind of person to take offense at everything.

Aubrey slammed her water bottle down on the piano, one of those fake smiles plastered on her face, and refused to look in Beca's direction as she started talking about some gig taking place in a week. Chloe's explanation helped a little, but Beca still wasn't sure what a 'mixer' even was. She was, however, pretty sure a week wasn't enough time for them to practice.

"Okay." Beca looked up as Aubrey took a deep breath. "Hands in, Bellas."

Beca looked around at the others, wondering if she was the only one who didn't have a clue what Aubrey was getting at, but she saw the same confusion on their faces. She saw Chloe start to speak, noticed that she and Aubrey had their hands held out, but Aubrey's voice cut through before Beca had fully drawn the connection.

"Hands in, aca-bitches."

One eyebrow quirked, Beca followed the rest of them in quickly adding their own hands to their captains. She was getting a little tired of feeling like she was expected to know things she had no way of actually knowing.

"Sing 'Ah'-" Aubrey started to explain, when Amy's sudden burst into song made Beca jump.

"No no no. It's actually on three, Fat Amy." Aubrey's smile was stretched tight around the edges as if she were ready to run screaming from the room.

The image made Beca smile as they ran through the countdown together, excitement in their voices. She had half a second to notice that Aubrey and Chloe were lifting their hands over their heads before the sound hit. Beca's eyes were glued to Aubrey to see how she reacted to the wall of noise. Aubrey turned from where she'd locked eyes with Chloe, or perhaps she was watching Stacie - who was watching Aubrey for direction - before turning to stare at the rest of them, eyes widening in surprise.

Beca rolled her lips together, trying hard not to laugh or say any form of the 'You should have expected this' that was bouncing around her mind. She looked away from Aubrey and met Stacie's eyes. The two of them had a silent moment of communication and Beca was relieved that she wasn't the only one who looked confused by what had just happened.

Aubrey's shoulders drew up and her hands fisted before she rubbed the skin in front of her ears as if she wanted to cover them retroactively. "Okay, we will work on that first thing next time."

Beca had to give her props, she didn't think the rest of the group could tell that Aubrey was seconds away from losing her shit. She turned away with the rest of the group until Aubrey's too casual voice called her back. She looked over her shoulder at that earnest also too earnest smile and knew nothing good was going to come from this discussion. Noticing Chloe nearby, she forced a smile on her face and it felt sarcastic even to her. She raised her eyebrows and tried to force her face into a more neutral expression. "What's up?"

Aubrey rolled her hand through the air before folding them together over her stomach. "You know you'll have to take those ear monstrosities out for the fall mixer." It almost sounded reasonable, if it weren't for the quietly disapproving look on her face.

The sarcastic grin freed itself again as Beca watched her. "You really don't like me, do you?" Maybe it was better to get everything out in the open now, or at least that's what she told herself.

Aubrey's eyebrows raised and everything about her expression told Beca that what she was about to hear was the unvarnished truth. "I don't like your attitude."

Beca was speaking before Aubrey had finished. "You don't even know me." She was so tired of the way some people were so quick to dismiss her for one reason or another. This was why she preferred her music to hanging out with people.

"I know you have a toner, for Jesse." Aubrey said it so matter of fact, as if it explained everything.

Beca was so amused that it took her a second to respond. "A what?"

 'What the hell is happening right now? Or - is this Hell? Did I die from drinking too much and now I'm actually in Hell?'

Aubrey's explanation of what a toner was didn't help matters. "Yeah, that's not a thing... and uh, you're not the boss of me, so..." She half pointed at Aubrey, wondering what it was about Aubrey that was dredging up childhood insults.

"You took an oath." Aubrey's eyes bore into her, as if they really had sworn on blood the night before.

Beca stared at her. "That oath cost you two girls already today. I'm pretty sure you need me more than I need you." Beca almost laughed, never having imagined that, after a perfectly calm and reasonable breakfast, she and Aubrey would be facing off at the end of practice. It stung, which surprised her, that they were back on different sides after the progress she felt they had made that morning.

Aubrey was taking deep breaths, her eyes never leaving Beca's until Beca took a step back. "I can see your toner through those jeans." Aubrey hurled at her back, sounding almost desperate to have the last word.

But Beca had always been quick with retorts, especially to hide when she felt hurt. "That's my dick." She turned and walked backward for a moment before nodding. Aubrey's jaw had dropped and Beca wasn't going to give her the chance to try and insult her some more.

As she gathered her bag, she noticed Chloe walking up beside Aubrey, but couldn't hear what they were saying as she left.

One. Damn. Year.

 

~C~

 

It wasn’t really in Chloe’s nature to sit back and be quiet, exactly. But Aubrey was so upset over causing their loss last year that Chloe had promised to support her this year. And, after winning the argument to add Beca to the group, Chloe was determined to support Aubrey.

So when Aubrey told her, when everyone had left after breakfast, that she’d seen Kori and Mary Elise leaving with Trebles, Chloe agreed to dismiss them. She just hadn’t realized that she’d be so cruel about it or so public. Knowing Aubrey it was to make a point of some sort, but Chloe didn’t like it. Aubrey could be intense, but she’d never been like Alice.

But she stood silently in front of the boards, letting Aubrey run the show, and tried not to sneak looks at Beca. They’d only been apart a few hours but Chloe had missed her. So she focused her gaze on Aubrey, until Beca would make some snarky comment and Chloe had an excuse to look at her.

Chloe also tried not to let it affect her when Aubrey stated that she ran the Bellas, focusing instead on making sure that Aubrey didn’t hurl all over their new team. Maybe she’d bring it up to Aubrey later, after they were alone.

It was a little easier, once practice was fully underway. Chloe had always enjoyed running, and at this point their routine was second nature to her. Even if she was a little tired of it, she was good at it. She couldn’t wait to see what the girls could do.

Chloe and Aubrey alternated between showing the steps and taking notes on areas of improvement as they watched the girls run through the routine one at a time.

Jessica was the happy, bouncy one.

Cynthia Rose put her own unique flare in every move.

Stacie may be a self-groper, but she was surprisingly fluid in her ballet; and extremely flexible, if Cynthia Rose’s face was any indication. It was actually adorable how confused Stacie looked every time Chloe had tried to keep her from groping herself. Something she noticed Aubrey eyeing when she thought Chloe wasn’t looking.

Denise, Lilly and Ashely were all a mix of hip hop, but they moved well. She figured they’d pick up the steps quickly enough.

Fat Amy was… going to be interesting. But she was game for anything. Except, apparently, vertical running.

They were all a bit awkward, but Chloe had no doubts they would be able to whip them into shape.

And then there was Beca. Her adorable little Alt Girl was maybe going to need some extra help with the choreography. Her body still tingled where it had touched Beca earlier while she was ‘helping’ her learn the moves. Chloe made a mental note to maybe offer some one on one sessions later. She even meant for choreography. Mostly.

They were on their seventh full run – Chloe had lost count of the number of times they had started and stopped when one of the girls forgot a step – of the routine when Aubrey finally ended practice.

“Okay, I’m calling it.” She sighed and walked past Lilly, whose lips were moving. “Nothing. I hear nothing.” She stared, exasperated, before moving on, not noticing Stacie eyeing her from the side.

Chloe could see Aubrey’s frustration and wished she’d remember it was only their first day. Aubrey couldn’t really expect them to be perfect at it already, could she? Maybe she’d have to remind her how their early practices had gone. Surely Aubrey would realize that she might be expecting too much too quickly.

And then there was Beca, she thought again.

“Hey, Aubrey. Did we just learn the same choreography from that video?”

Aubrey slammed her water bottle on the piano and ignored her. “Okay. Don’t forget to pick up your performance schedules.” She grabbed the stack and stood in front of the choreography board. “We have a gig next week. That’s right. Next week.” She handed them out as Chloe moved next to her.

Chloe said, “You guys, it’s the Sigma Beta Theta’s Annual Fall Mixer.” She watched as Beca came up and took the schedule, a little more subdued than at the start of rehearsal. Chloe really kind of wanted to give her a hug right now.

“Okay, hands in Bellas.” Aubrey threw her hand out, and it wasn’t until Chloe added hers on top of Aubrey’s, completely on auto pilot, that she realized the new girls would have no idea what Aubrey was talking about.

Chloe drew a breath, about to explain as she looked up, when Aubrey’s control slipped. “Hands in, a-ca-bitches!” The rest of the girls quickly piled their hands on, Beca’s resting on top of Chloe’s which distracted her a bit. “Sing ‘Ah’….”

Everyone jumped as Amy belted out “Ahhhhhhhhh.”

“No no no. It’s actually on three, Fat Amy.” Aubrey smiled nervously and Chloe could almost see her trying to wrestle her annoyance down.

“Ahh…. heh.” Amy trailed off as the group chuckled.

Aubrey began again. “All right. On three.”

And as they counted down together, not even Chloe could have been prepared for the cacophony that happened. Though, really, again, she should have. They were all new, and she and Aubrey had to stop expecting them to be perfect from the beginning.

Aubrey pressed her hands to face  briefly. “Okay, we will work on that first thing next time.”

Chloe smiled. “Good day, guys!” She stepped over to answer a few questions on the choreography from a few of the girls.

Aubrey’s voice caught her ear. “Oh, Beca… A word?” Chloe pretended not to eavesdrop as Aubrey pulled Beca aside.

“What’s up?”

“You know you’ll have to take those ear monstrosities out for the Fall mixer.” Aubrey was using her quiet “sensible” voice.

“You really don’t like me, do you?” Beca was using a tone that Chloe would later associate with ‘It’s amusing that you think this matters’.

Chloe thought, ‘Oh, Beca. Don’t open that door.’ But it was too late, Aubrey was already through. Chloe drifted to the side so she could see them both. And close enough that she could intervene if required.

“I don’t like your attitude.” Aubrey said. While Chloe knew it was deeper than that, she still didn’t really understand why.

“You don’t even know me.” Chloe knew she should not be finding that smirk attractive right now.

“I know you have a toner for Jesse.”

“A what?” Beca’s whole face screamed amusement, from her raised eyebrows to disbelieving smile.

“A toner. A musical boner. I saw it at Hood Night. It’s distracting.”

Chloe felt her mouth drop. ‘Oh shit.’ If Aubrey knew about that, then this was never going to be easy. She ignored her own feelings of jealousy that swept over her. While Beca may have been talking to him originally, she had gone home with Chloe. With the group. Whatever. Not that Chloe had any sort of claim just because she was falling hard for Beca.

“Yeah, that’s not a thing and uh, you’re not the boss off me, so…” Beca trailed off.

Aubrey’s gaze steeled. “You took an oath.”

“That oath cost you two girls already today. I’m pretty sure you need me more than I need you.”

Chloe could tell Aubrey hated that Beca was right. Aubrey’s eyes fluttered as she went silent, but she kept her gaze locked with Beca’s until the brunette turned away.

“I can see your toner through those jeans.” It sounded like an attempt to get in a stinging last word.

Except Beca spun around without missing a beat. “That’s my dick.” She held her palms out as she walked backward.

Chloe had to bite her lip to keep from moaning or laughing, she wasn’t sure which urge was stronger. Aubrey would kill her without hesitation, regardless of which one escaped. This was not the time to indulge in her own toner. ‘Who knew snark could be hot.’

When Beca turned away again to get her bag, with a smug nod and a smile, Chloe finally pulled herself together and approached Aubrey.

“Everything okay?” She hoped it didn’t sound like she’d been hanging on every word of the exchange.

Aubrey dropped her hand from her forehead. “We better have our shit together for SBT.”

Chloe shook her head. “I’m not worried. I think we’re gonna be a-ca-awesome.” She beamed at her best friend and bumped her arm.

Aubrey just sighed and flipped the board back around.

 


 

~B~

 

The Fall Mixer went about as well as Beca had assumed it would. A week of practice was never going to be enough. But still, she was standing up there in this flight attendant outfit, making a fool out of herself.

They sounded awful. They were not fully in sync in lyrics and the dancing was even worse, and they only had to stand there. Beca swore she saw even Chloe mess up a move.

Beca looked around at the crowd, unsurprised by the looks of pain or dull horror around her. It almost felt like a mercy killing when the preppy frat boy stepped forward and stopped them.

Aubrey immediately stepped over. “I am so sorry, Howie. I know we’re not performance ready.”

He cut her off. “I wanted the hot Bellas, not this… barnyard explosion.”

As Beca watched Aubrey’s shoulders stiffen and fall, she could just see the edges of Chloe’s hurt expression; it made her feel strange. Like she wanted to go punch the guy for making them feel bad, disappointed in herself for not being good enough and, strongest of all, wanted to hide Chloe away and make her laugh until the hurt was gone. Not even Aubrey deserved that level of disdain from some frat douche. But she focused on her anger; it was the easiest to deal with as they all shuffled back out the front. Familiar.

Aubrey made that even easier, slowly draining Beca of any protective feelings that may have been forming. “I hope you all remember the way you feel right now, so you never want to feel this way again.” She raised her voice. “Chloe?” Beca watched as the redhead came to a stop, arms crossed tightly in front of her as she looked over the lake. “Your voice didn’t sound Aguilerian at all.” Aubrey stopped behind Chloe as the rest of them turned to listen.  The way that Chloe simply stared at the water was making Beca nervous.

“Chloe, for serious. What is wrong with you?” Aubrey asked, exasperated.

Chloe turned around to look at the rest of them, her eyes meeting Beca’s briefly. Beca felt her stomach drop.

“I have nodes.” She put her hands on her hips before turning to Aubrey.

Aubrey gasped. “What? Oh my god.” She reached out and took Chloe’s hands, concern overriding anything else she’d been about to say.

Beca blinked at the gasps around her. ‘That’s not, exactly… what I was expecting to hear.

Chloe nodded, voice breaking. “I found out this morning.”

“What are nodes?” Beca was afraid to ask.

Aubrey answered her. “Vocal nodules.” Chloe met Beca’s eyes while Aubrey continued. “The rubbing together of your vocal cords at above-average rates without proper lubrication.”

“They sit on your windpipe and they crush your dreams.” Chloe’s voice was soft and Beca wasn’t sure how she’d handle it she was faced with a crying Chloe.

“Isn’t that painful? Why would you keep performing?” Beca felt she was missing something; it couldn’t be as bad as all that if Chloe still sang, right?

“Because I love to sing.” Chloe said it as if it explained everything. And, Beca guessed, for her it probably did. In that short week she’d seen how much Chloe lived for music in all forms, but especially singing. If any of them were going to spontaneously burst into song, it was Chloe. It made sense that she would just sing through her pain rather than not sing at all.

Stacie turned to Beca, who still found it difficult to take her eyes off Chloe. “Yeah, it’s like when my lady doctor told me not to have sex for six weeks, and I did it anyway.”

Fat Amy spoke up from Beca’s other side before she could form her own response. “You should really listen to your doctor.

Stacie shrugged. “Eh.”

Beca focused as Chloe started talking again. “The key is early diagnosis. I am living with nodes. But I am a survivor. I just have to pull back. Because I am limited. Because I have nodes.”

Aubrey’s voice was filled with more emotion than Beca had heard before. “Chloe, this is horrible.”

Amy’s voice interrupted. “Well, at least it’s not herpes.” When everyone turned to look at her, she continued. “Or do you have that as well?”

It was the tension breaker they needed, though Beca was sure that Amy was serious when she said it.

 

~B~

 

The girls all went back to the Bella house where Beca learned more than she ever wanted to about nodes and their care from Aubrey and Cynthia Rose. When Chloe said she was going to make some tea, Beca surprised herself by saying she’d get it. The shy smile she got in return lessened her awkward feeling as she stood from the ottoman and headed once more into a kitchen not her own. ‘Though, I guess this isn’t much different than making coffee while everyone is asleep.’

She filled the electric kettle and turned it on while she looked for the berry flavor Chloe had asked for. Placing the bag in a mug, she dropped once more on a stool to wait. She felt a little unsettled by the protective feelings still floating on the surface of her mind. The worry that cannonballed into the middle of everything else was just as confusing.

While Beca had only seen Chloe at practice for the past week, they had begun texting. Rather, Chloe had texted Beca that same Saturday night, offering some extra lessons. Beca was ninety percent sure it was a legit offer to help work on the choreography, but it was that ten percent that had her declining, making some excuse about a lot of homework. She wasn’t sure if she was really ready to be alone with Chloe or if she was too ready to be alone with Chloe. And it had only been a week.

So they texted. Every day. Good mornings, good nights, random stuff about their day in between. Beca had never been someone who texted unless she needed something. But texting with Chloe was as easy as everything else about her had been. Yesterday she even found herself sending baby animal pictures while bored in class, because she knew Chloe would find them adorable. She got back an alarming number of smiley and heart emoji’s mixed with an all caps ‘OH MY GOD THEY’RE SO CUTE’.

As the kettle clicked off, she grabbed a spoon and poured water over the teabag. She waited a few minutes to let it steep before lifting the bag with the spoon, wrapping the string around both to squeeze the excess liquid from it before throwing it away. After stirring a bit, she set the spoon in the sink and made her way out to the living room.

Chloe was sitting where the two halves of the sectional met, her knees drawn up and her back to the kitchen. Aubrey was sitting in front of her, Chloe’s feet tucked under Aubrey’s thigh. When Beca leaned over the back of the couch to carefully hand her the mug, Chloe straightened up and patted the space to her left with her free hand. Beca was about to head back to her spot on the ottoman when she saw the look on Chloe’s face. So, she sat where requested, trying to ignore Aubrey’s stare from that close. Beca kind of missed the truce they had during breakfast that first morning.

The girls all continued to talk quietly, almost like they would at a funeral, as Chloe sipped her tea. Which was just stupid because Chloe wasn’t dying. But Beca understood that the rest of the girls were taking it very seriously, so she let them be. She’d already decided to do a bit of research on her own, see what was real and what was their fear talking. And maybe it wasn’t unusual or a surprise at how much she already loved Chloe’s singing voice and wanted to do anything she could to help.

Once the tea was gone, and the mug was set on the table behind the couch, Chloe slid her left hand under Beca’s right, threading their fingers together. Beca looked around but none of the girls seemed to think that was unusual, though she couldn’t read the look on Fat Amy’s face. Anything could be going on in there.

She decided to stop worrying and just enjoy the moment, brushing her thumb along the back of Chloe’s hand. After another few minutes, Chloe sighed and rested her head against Beca’s shoulder. As Beca let her own head lean against Chloe’s, movement in front of her brought her gaze to Aubrey, whose eyes were watching Beca carefully, almost in warning. Beca just arched an eyebrow and looked away. Chloe wanted her here, which was good enough for now. She let herself sink into Chloe’s side and felt tension drift away from both of them.

Beca felt her brain slipping sideways as, for the first time, she consciously considered that this might be something other than a purely physical reaction on both their parts. It didn’t surprise her all that much to realize she was mostly okay with it.

‘Aubrey can suck it.’

 


 

~B~

 

The weeks passed and they all started to blur.

Classes. Bellas rehearsals. Radio station. Add a dash of texting the girls – mostly Chloe - then rinse and repeat.

Every few days she’d hand Luke a new USB of mixes and she tried not to be upset with the fact that she knew when he said “I’ll put it on the pile” that they were literally sitting in a pile in the submission tray.

The shared shifts at the station with Jesse had gotten better. They’d come to an agreement, after she pointedly told him he had the wrong parts, and he became more tolerable once he stopped hitting on her. He even made her laugh once or twice, with his stupid tricks using album covers, but he still talked way too much.

Beca was sitting on the grass in the quad, minding her own business, when his voice came up beside her.

“What’s up, weirdo?”

She turned just in time to catch a juice pouch thrown her way. “Okay.” She watched as Jesse laid out a blanket that he apparently carried around with him outside of work. “What’s this?”

“As much as I love spending time with you stacking CDs, and I do.” Jesse dug into his backpack and pulled out a candle. “I love it, like, more than life.” He set it down on the blanket.

Beca just stared at him. ‘Who the hell carries a candle in their bag?

“I figured we could do some other fun things that don’t make us wanna kill ourselves, right?” A box of snacks followed the candle.

Beca pulled the straw off the juice packet after a bit of effort and answered him absently. “Yeah.”

He reached back into his bag. “So, I brought some movies.” And he pulled out an actual stack of DVDs.

She let him ramble as she braced herself to stab the straw into the pouch. She almost always squeezed too hard, shooting herself in the face with juice, and she was not looking forward to public humiliation today. As she jammed it home, she looked away and winced until it was through.

Beca blew out a breath as he tossed the last case down. “Best scored and soundtracked movies of all time.” She gave him a tight grin. “That’s what I wanna do when I grow up. I wanna score movies. Bring people to tears, you know. Blow their minds.” He finally set his bag aside as he settled down. “I feel like only music can do that.”

She just looked at him as she sipped her juice. “Yeah. You must really sweep your girlfriend off her feet.”

“Oh I don’t have a girlfriend.” He was staring at her a little too earnestly for someone who she’d had The Talk with.

“What!?”

“No.”

 “You have juice pouches and Rocky!” Beca was only slightly teasing him. For almost anyone else, Jesse was probably a catch.

“Okay, so what do you wanna watch first?” He sorted through his stack again.

“Can we do something else?” He turned back to her. “We could relive my parents’ divorce. Or visit a gynecologist.”

“What, do you not like movies or something?”

 She took another sip instead of answering.

“Like, any movies? You don’t…” He trailed off with an incredulous chuckle.

He looked so offended she almost choked on her juice as she started laughing.

“What the hell is wrong with you? How do you not like movies? Not liking movies is like not liking… puppies.” His tone and the shock on his face made her tired, as well as annoyed.

“They’re fine. I just get bored and never make it to the end.” Beca would really like to not have to defend herself over this one day. Everyone always had the same reaction when she let this secret free.

His brows furrowed. “The endings are the best part.”

“They’re predictable. Like, the guy gets the girl and that kid sees dead people and Darth Vader is Luke’s father.”

“Okay, right, so you just happened to guess the biggest cinematic reveal in history?”

“’Vader’ in German means father. His name is literally ‘Darth Father.’” She blanked her expression and nodded at him, as if it was sad he didn’t know this already.

“Huh.” He nodded back a few times. “So you know German. Well, now I know why you don’t like fun things.”

She was pretty sure the look on her face wasn’t entirely masking her annoyance. She did like fun things, just because they weren’t necessarily what he thought was fun…. His voice interrupted her inner monologue.

“You know, you need a movie education. A movie-cation. And I’m gonna give it to you.”

“Yeah, in between Bellas rehearsals, which are always.

He looked over at her with an unreadable expression. “Are you guys getting ready for the riff-off?”

“What the fuck is a riff-off?”


 

~B~

At the end of her first riff-off, Beca was riding high off the exhilaration of what had just happened in that big empty pool.

She had stayed in the background for the first two rounds, learning the rules and seeing how it worked. Beca wasn’t yet comfortable with singing in front of others, especially after SBT, so she was content to provide backup vocals.

But then it had hit her, the perfect way to interrupt Jesse and the Trebles. She waited for a few beats, still unwilling to put herself out there, but no one else seemed to have any better ideas...

She bit her lip and ran forward – ‘Why are we standing so far back and have to sprint forward to sing, anyway?’ – and let loose with ‘No Diggity’. She was so nervous that the words just poured out of her almost without pause and it took her a bit to realize she was standing alone.

Until, finally, she wasn’t.

Beca, for the first time, understood how Kimmy Jin must have felt at the activities fair. She felt like she finally might belong when the rest of the Bellas surrounded her. Felt like maybe this whole thing wasn’t a mistake when everyone else, in and out of the pool, started to sing with her.

Beca wasn’t even really disappointed at losing to a technicality and she refused to let Aubrey take away how great she felt. Their group had come together and holy shit was it good. Even when they couldn’t do the Bellas ‘hands in’ that Aubrey demanded, Beca was still floating on how awesome it had been.

That’s when Beca noticed that Chloe’s hands were blue. Literally. Blue. And she just had to do something about it.

Still feeling her confidence boosted, Beca tugged on Chloe’s coat, smiling when she turned around. “Wanna go get some coffee?”

Chloe’s returning smile lit up the night. “I’d love that, Becs.” Linking their arms together, Chloe led the way out of the pool. Beca ignored the look that Aubrey gave them as they split off from the group.

The trip to the campus Starbucks was made in companionable silence, neither feeling like they needed to break it. After finding out what Chloe wanted, Beca pointed her to a corner table and went up to get their drinks. When she settled back down across from her, Beca couldn’t take the fact that Chloe’s hands were still blue. Without thinking, Beca reached over and pulled Chloe’s left hand to her side of the table.

Beca rubbed briskly at her skin, trying to warm it up quickly. It wasn’t until she had cupped Chloe’s hand between her own, about to try and blow warm air over icy fingers, that Beca realized what she was doing. Reluctantly she looked across the table through lowered lashes.

Chloe was watching her carefully, sipping from her hot chocolate, a small smile curling the corner of her lips. “Whatcha doin’, Becs?”

“Uh…” When her voice squeaked, Beca cleared her throat and started to let go, but Chloe just tangled their fingers together. “Palm reading?” She felt Chloe’s hand finally start to warm. Maybe the embarrassed heat she could feel creeping over her neck and cheeks was doing some good.

Chloe almost snorted out the hot chocolate she’d started to swallow. When she’d stopped coughing, she leaned forward. “Beca, if you want to hold my hand, you don’t need any excuses. You can do it whenever you want.”

Beca looked down and watched as her fingers started to toy with Chloe’s on their own. “Uh… What?” She looked up and saw that smile Chloe seemed to reserve for her. “Oh.” She felt a new warmth spread out from her heart. “That’s… Good to know.” Beca blinked. That certainly wasn’t the denial she thought she was going to say. Would have said to anyone else.

Chloe hummed in agreement and when she took a drink, Beca noticed her hands were back to their normal color.

‘Mission accomplished.’

 

~C~

They didn’t talk about anything of importance over their drinks, mostly just the highlights from the riff-off. But then Beca asked something Chloe would never have expected.

“Are Aubrey and Stacie, you know…” Beca hesitated. “A thing?”

Chloe sputtered for a second before her laugh finally found its way free. “Why do you ask that?”

“Just the way they look at each other. Aubrey when she thinks no one is looking but Stacie’s more open about it.” She snorted. “And because I honestly expected Aubrey to pin Stacie against the side of the pool and make out with her to stake her claim.” Beca shrugged.

“What?” Chloe sat back. “Why would you…”

“Because that Donald guy was singing all sexy to Stacie and she looked like she was into it.” Beca said. “To the point where Aubrey actually went and retrieved her.” Chloe only stared at Beca until she squirmed in her chair. “What? Is that out of line? Too intrusive?” She ran her hand through her hair. “I’m sorry.”

“No!” Chloe reached over and placed her hand on Beca’s to quiet her. “No, it’s not at all. I just… I didn’t think anyone but me would pick up on that.” She watched Beca, considering. “In fact, almost anyone else would have assumed that it was because she didn’t want The Hunter being too interested in one of the Trebles.”

Beca frowned. “Oh. I guess it could have been that.”

“But it wasn’t.” Chloe flashed a smile. “That’s totes why Aubrey did it, though she would never admit it. Not even to herself.”  

“Huh.” Beca was quite for a moment. “I think they’d work. Stacie would definitely help Aubrey loosen up.” She picked up her cup and frowned. “I’m almost out. Do you want to get a refill or…”

Chloe shook her head. “I’m almost done too.” As she finished the last of her hot chocolate, Chloe watched Beca stand and gather their trash, holding out her hand until Chloe handed over her cup with a smile. The warm drink had helped sooth her throat; not that she was going full out at the riff-off, but she could still feel a touch of strain leftover from their practice earlier.

She slid from her chair and met Beca who was waiting at the door and opened it for her. “Why thank you, ma’am.”

Beca shrugged. “I was already there. Seems like a dick move to stand there and wait for you to open it for me.” But she smiled and Chloe grinned back.

Chloe insisted on escorting Beca first as her dorm was closest, despite Beca’s half-hearted protests that she should be walking Chloe home. The trip was mostly spent in silence sprinkled with the occasional talk about classes, but Chloe found her thoughts drifting as she tried to pin down what, beyond Beca’s immediate presence, was making her heart skip in her chest. Eventually she realized it was the fact that Beca, of all people, had noticed things about Aubrey that most wouldn’t. Normally anyone new had to work to see the real Aubrey underneath the military style barbed wire she presented to the world. Though, Chloe admonished herself, Aubrey wasn’t truly like that until the second half of their junior year. Before that, she was much more open and prone to laughter. She’d never been exactly carefree, but she hadn’t been this closed off.

So for Beca to notice meant that she was present with the group – there in the moment and not just going through the paces like Chloe had feared.

As they came to a halt in front of her building Beca said stubbornly, “I don’t like the thought of you walking all the way back home by yourself.” Chloe swore she was almost ready to pout.

“Becs, I’ve been walking around by myself on and off for the past three years.” Chloe held up her keys where her BU whistle hung as well as a can of pepper spray. “I’ll be fine. I’ll text you when I get home, I promise.”

Beca scowled. “I hate it when you use logic on me.”

“But I’m so good at it.” Chloe tugged on Beca’s hand, having held it the whole way. “Seriously. It’ll be fine.”  She pulled Beca into a hug, smiling over Beca’s shoulder when she went willingly and without any of the hesitation she’d shown over the past few months.

Beca sighed as she stepped back. “Just text me when you’re home.”

“I will.” She leaned forward and kissed Beca’s cheek, whispering. “You’re cute when you worry.”

Beca rolled her eyes but Chloe could see the faint blush in the streetlight. “Oh my god, get going.” She pushed Chloe gently down the path. “It’s cold out.”

“Alright, alright.” Chloe laughed and backed up a few steps. “Goodnight, Becs. Thank you for the hot chocolate.”

“Night, Chlo.” Beca ran her hand through her hair. “And you’re welcome.” She hesitated. “Anytime.”

Chloe smiled again before she turned toward home, hands in her pockets because it really was cold as hell out there. She had no idea how she hadn’t gotten frostbite while they were in the pool. Then she smiled as she remembered at the way Beca had worked so diligently to warm them and then refused to admit that’s what she was doing.

Palm reading my ass.’ Chloe thought to herself with a laugh then laughed again at the unintentional double entendre. At first she’d been surprised when Beca had pulled her hand over, followed by a few seconds of confusion until she’d taken in the shade of her skin. It had melted her heart that Beca was concerned about her enough to forget her own aversion to human contact. It was moments like that where she wished Aubrey were there to see the care Beca took with Chloe’s well-being.

Chloe let herself into the house, locking the door behind her before removing her jacket and hanging it from the newel post. “Aubrey?”

“In here.”

Chloe pulled out her phone as she walked into the living room. “What’re you doing?”

Aubrey looked up from the notepad she was writing on, untouched school books stacked neatly around her. “Making a list so we do better next time.” She looked back down and started to write again.

“Bree.” Chloe chided. She pulled up her conversation with Beca as she sat on the other side of the couch.

 

Chloe :
I’m home, nothing bad happened to me.

Beca :
How do I know this is you and not someone pretending to be you to throw me off?

Chloe :
Aubrey is on the couch making a list of flaws to improve on. I could take a picture if you want.

Beca :
No, that’s good enough. No one else would be able to make up something so intrinsically Aubrey.

Chloe :
I’m going to try and talk her down. I had fun tonight, Becs. Thank you again.

Beca :
Good luck.

Beca :
I did too. G’night, Chlo.

 

Chloe smiled as she put her phone away but it faded as she watched Aubrey continue to fill another page of paper. “Seriously, Bree. It wasn’t bad.” She waited but Aubrey didn’t look up. “Aubrey!”

“What!?” Aubrey jumped then looked guilty. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to ignore you. What were you saying?”

Chloe sighed and stood up to move a pile of books out of the way so she could sit next to Aubrey. “You need to stop.” She put her hand on the notebook. “This is too much, even for you.”

“But we lost.” Aubrey said, as if it explained everything. And for her it probably did. Chloe knew Aubrey’s dad was focused on results because of his military career. She’d spent half the summer between freshman and sophomore year at Aubrey’s family home, so she’d met him and knew he could be intense. Aubrey said he had mellowed some, which explained why Chloe hadn’t found him half as difficult to please as she’d expected. And by this point in their friendship Chloe was treated as a daughter whenever she visited, so she never really got the full General Posen treatment that would explain some of Aubrey’s… quirks.

“By some stupid rule that I believe Justin made up on the spot to give the win to the Trebles.” Chloe said. “Because…” She hesitated. “We were awesome tonight.” She’d planned to say that Beca was right, but decided to avoid that. “We were in harmony, Aubrey. Better even than in practice.” She winced at how that sounded. “I know this will make our next rehearsal better.”

Aubrey sighed. “It’s just… disappointing. I thought we had it this year.”

“We should have.” Chloe said firmly. “I have never heard the entire pool break into song before. Have you?”

“No.” Aubrey bit her lip. “That was kind of amazing.” She looked at Chloe from the corner of her eye as she set her pen and notepad on the ottoman. “And before that… They were… We were in sync.”

“Exactly.” Chloe beamed at her. “So you don’t need this list, Bree. They’re coming along and we’re becoming a group. Every single time we hang out doing something other than rehearsal only makes it stronger.”

“You think we need more bonding nights?” Aubrey asked, leaning against the cushion behind her.

“I do.” Chloe answered firmly. “I don’t know that we need every weekend, but maybe every other, have a short Friday or Saturday practice and then go hang out?” She could tell that Aubrey wanted to give in. “They don’t live with us, so we can’t get to know each other the way we got to know the other Bellas when we finally got to move in. We have to do a little more because we only have this one year.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Aubrey pursed her lips. “I mean, I guess I wasn’t really thinking that we graduate this year. Or that one of them will be taking over once we’re gone.”

“They’ll need our guiding hands.” Chloe said. “But they have to trust us first. We have to learn to trust them.”

Aubrey nodded. “You’re probably right.”

“I’m sure I’m always right.” Chloe stood up. “Wine?” When Aubrey shook her head Chloe nudged her foot. “Come on, we need to celebrate tonight, because as far as I’m concerned, we won.”

Aubrey bit her lip and looked at Chloe. “Should we invite them over? I know it’s late, but… they could stay the night. And we can do breakfast in the morning.”

“That’s an excellent idea, Captain Posen.” Chloe leaned down and hugged her. She knew Aubrey’s worry was that they would hate her and that was the last thing she wanted. Respect, yes. Maybe a teeny bit of fear to keep up their cardio – but never hate or dislike. Because Chloe knew Aubrey was learning to relax with them, to make jokes, but only when they weren’t practicing. In practice… She was still a little too Alice-like for Chloe’s comfort.

“But, maybe you should text them. I don’t know that they’d answer one from me. After what I said tonight.” Aubrey said quietly.

“Sure, Bree.” Chloe stroked Aubrey’s hair. “I can do that.”

Aubrey stood up as Chloe stepped back. “I’ll take all this to my room and be back down.” She started to gather up her books then paused and faced Chloe again. “Thanks, Chlo. For always being here for me.”

Always, Bree.” Chloe kissed her cheek. “We’re family.”

Aubrey smiled at her as she grabbed the last of her books and headed upstairs.

Chloe pulled out her phone, grinning.

 

Chloe :
So, now that I made you stay home, how would you feel about a sleepover?

Beca :
Seriously?

Chloe :
I never joke about sleepovers, Becs.

Beca :
Is it serious Bellas business?

Chloe :
Totes.

 

Chloe hesitated a second before sending her next message.

 

Chloe :
It was Aubrey’s idea.

Beca :
Oh.

Beca :
Are you sure she wants me there?

Chloe :
Yes, she said everyone. You’re part of everyone.

Beca :
Guess I’ll be over in a few minutes.

Chloe :
Yay! Don’t forget to bring your jammies

Beca :
On second thought, I just started to feel a bit queasy…

Chloe :
Shut up and get your cute butt over here.

Beca :
Bossy.

Chloe :
You love me.

 

Chloe didn’t expect a response, so she moved to the next in her list until she’d texted everyone. Aubrey was coming back down the stairs as she was finishing the last exchange, which happened to be Stacie. Chloe began to laugh at Stacie’s last text as Aubrey walked up to her.

“What’s so funny?” She shoulder bumped Chloe affectionately.

Chloe just held her phone out so Aubrey could read it herself.


Stacie:
Is it a PJ’s optional sleepover? ;p

 

Aubrey pushed the phone back toward Chloe. “Oh my god. Why does that not surprise me?”

“What do you think, Bree? Should I tell her yes?” Chloe teased. “And that we have to double up in beds because we forgot to do laundry?”

“Chloe! No you should not.” But Aubrey was laughing with her and Chloe barely restrained the happy wiggle that wanted to come out when Aubrey muttered under her breath. “Dirty bird.”

“If you’re sure.” Chloe said slowly. “Really sure.”

“I’m sure.” Aubrey pointed at the phone, still chuckling. “Now type.”

Chloe grinned.

 

Chloe :
Aubrey says no. Guess you better bring them.

Stacie :
What if I don’t own any?

Chloe :
We’ll have to figure something out, I suppose.

Stacie :
Maybe Aubrey will have to loan me some.  On my way.

 

Chloe handed her phone to Aubrey again. “Thought you should be warned that I have no idea what’s about to happen and I cannot be held responsible.”

Aubrey handed the phone back. “She’s going to be the death of me.”

“If you let her.” Chloe said lightly. “It has been a while for you, you know…”

“Not that long!” Aubrey retorted and immediately looked away. “I’ll admit, it has been… Lonely. But I’m fine. Totally. Fine.”

“I think I overheard Stacie say that about you too.” Chloe grinned.

Aubrey groaned. “You’re going to be the death of me.”

“Nah. I love you and think I’ll keep you around.” Chloe nudged her. “Everyone is on the way. What’re you thinking, a celebratory toast then popcorn and a movie?”

“Yeah. We don’t have the supplies for a party, just breakfast. I forgot to stock up.” Aubrey shook her head. “I’ve got a list for tomorrow, if you need to add anything before I leave.”

“Okay. Let’s go start the popcorn.” Chloe linked her arm with Aubrey’s and turned them back toward the kitchen. “This was a great idea, Bree. They all seemed up for it.” She let her arm slip free as she went to grab the stack of giant bowls from the cupboard. “Even after I told them it was your idea.”

“You…” Aubrey stopped. “They did?”

“Yup. So relax and have fun tonight, okay?” Chloe set the bowls on the center island.

“I’ll try.” Aubrey said. “No promises.”

“That’s all I ask.” Chloe said, smiling as the first knock sounded at the door. “I’ll get it.” She gave Aubrey one more reassuring smile before she left the kitchen.

She opened the door to Amy standing there with a stack of horror movies. “Thought I’d bring us something a little lighter tonight. Or maybe to indulge the beast within.” She shrugged. “One or the other.”

Chloe laughed and opened the door wide when she noticed Denise and Cynthia Rose coming up the walk. “Works for me, thank you, Amy! Let’s get this party started!”

 

Chapter Text

~B~

 

After the riff-off, their coffee trips – Beca refused to call them coffee dates though she secretly loved when Chloe did – became more regular after practice and they slowly started to get to know one another better.  Chloe also started to invite some of the other girls at least half the time, allowing Beca to be social without having to actually ask anyone to hang out. She still wasn’t staying past this year, but she decided that it was easier to agree when Chloe brought it up and, honestly, the girls were kind of fun to be around. In small doses.

By universal unspoken agreement, the group as a whole avoided talking about the Bellas during their down time together. They also didn’t bring up Aubrey and her controlling tendencies while at coffee. Beca was sure that the others discussed it amongst themselves, but they, especially Beca, did not want to put Chloe in the awkward position of either defending her best friend or criticizing Aubrey behind her back.

As much as she enjoyed being with the others, Chloe was still the only one that defied all Beca’s ‘no interaction’ rules and it still confused her how it kept happening. Beca was slowly getting used to how Chloe would link their hands and arms, or pull her into a hug when she could tell Beca was having a rough day. While she hadn’t yet worked up the nerve to actually reach out and take Chloe’s hand on her own, Beca really liked knowing that she could. Emotions and feelings were still difficult for her to express, thanks to her father instilling a fear that everyone will eventually leave, but even she couldn’t deny how special Chloe had become.

This closeness was also fostered by Bella Bonding Nights. These happened at least twice a month and consisted of parties (under Aubrey’s watchful eye), Karaoke and - to Beca’s chagrin and Jesse’s amusement - movie nights, where Chloe invariably attached herself to Beca’s side the whole time.

Beca had drifted off once and when she woke, she found herself tucked under a blanket, Chloe’s arm draped across her waist and head on Beca’s shoulder. It was a testimony to how much Chloe had wiggled her way into Beca’s heart that Beca didn’t immediately get up and leave the house. Instead she’d spent a moment talking herself out of it, and a few more telling herself that it was okay to cover Chloe’s hand with her own. Something she was able to allow herself to do only because no one else was looking and she were covered by a blanket. She could feel Chloe’s body stiffen for the briefest moment before she let herself sink further into Beca’s body. Eventually Beca had drifted back off to sleep, feeling warm and happy, knowing that she was safe with Chloe.

Another unexpected side effect of movie nights was discovering that Aubrey liked horror movies. The first time they’d watched one Aubrey had laughed on and off, relaxing slowly throughout the evening. Beca could almost feel the tension draining away and by the end of the night it was almost… comfortable. It was enough to get Beca to agree to show up most movie nights, especially the horror ones. Not feeling the usual hostility from Aubrey was just an added bonus – an admittedly worthwhile one - to Chloe cuddling Beca every time either of them jumped.

The weeks seemed to fly by and suddenly there was Christmas break to deal with. And Chloe’s sad expression as they sat across from each other at their usual back table.

“What do you mean you’re staying here for break?” Chloe looked like Beca said she was going to take away her puppy.

Beca sighed. “Don’t give me those eyes, Chlo.” She shifted in her chair. “It’s cheating.”

“But… You’ll be all alone.” Chloe took Beca’s hand. “And it’s Christmas! You can’t be alone for Christmas!”

“But… I won’t be.” Beca said. “I’ll be with my dad and the Step-Monster for part of it.” And she couldn’t begin to explain how much she wasn’t looking forward to that. It’s not that Sheila was ever mean to Beca. In fact she usually was… normal. But Beca couldn’t shake the feelings of her younger self: loss, confusion, resentment and so much anger that it had changed her. She loved her father, she did. But he hurt her when he left. Hurt her mom by marrying another woman. And Beca couldn’t find it in herself to forgive him; especially since he never really listened when she talked about her hopes and plans. No matter how many times she explained it, she couldn’t shake his belief that she just wanted to be some DJ on the radio.

“How much of it?” Chloe eyed her narrowly.

Beca squirmed, finding she couldn’t lie. “Christmas Eve and Day.” Chloe’s mouth opened and Beca cut her off. “No, it’ll be fine. I’ve got some stuff to catch up on. And Kimmy Jin will be gone, so I’ll have a hostility free environment to get some real work done.” Beca was actually looking forward to being able to work on her mixes without the wall of hostility behind her.

Chloe sighed. “Fine. But you’re coming to the house on Friday for our party.”

“Yes, Chlo. I’ll be there.” Beca grinned. “I gotta give Aubrey enough grief to last through the break.”

“Becs!” Chloe slapped her hand. “No teasing allowed.”

“I promise to try not to start it.” Beca crossed her heart with her free hand. “That’s the best you’re going to get out of me, Beale. Take it or leave it.”

“I wish you two would get along more.” Chloe sighed and took a drink of her coffee.

Beca grunted indelicately. “That’d be a Christmas miracle.” It wasn’t that she hated Aubrey, because she didn’t – which was a fact that surprised Beca every time she realized it. It also maybe made her a bit sad but mostly tired. But it was Aubrey’s obvious dislike of her that kept Beca pushing and prodding. Plus there was the routine. Beca hated it with a passion and couldn’t see why Aubrey clutched onto it with both perfectly manicured hands. While they finally had the choreography down and they were able to sing in harmony, it was still… Boring. Beca had a few other words for it, but that was at the top. Not that Aubrey was willing to listen.

“I believe in miracles.” Chloe declared. “After all, you’re still a Bella aren’t you?” She grinned and Beca found herself smiling back. “Weren’t you the girl who said a capella was lame?”

“Just because I’m part of the group doesn’t mean I don’t still think that.” Beca replied and Chloe’s lip stuck out. “Oh my god! Stop pouting.” She squeezed Chloe’s fingers and took a deep breath. “I didn’t say I thought you were lame.” It was as close as Beca could get to allowing herself to tell Chloe how she felt.

“Aw, Becs.” Chloe beamed at her. “You do love me.”

Beca rolled her eyes and took a drink, trying not to think about how accurate that was coming to be.

 

~B~

 

Beca knocked on the front door to the Bellas House and shifted her grip on the large bag over her shoulder. A faint “Come in” reached her after a few seconds and, taking a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped through. Closing it behind her, she called out again. “Aubrey?”

“Kitchen.”

Beca made her way through and tried not to think about the image she made standing in the entry with a large Hefty bag over her shoulder. “Hey.”

“Hi.” Aubrey said from where she was mixing something in a bowl with her back to the door. It was said almost absently and lacked the usual bite it held when she talked to Beca at practice. “One sec.”

Beca moved to the island and set her bag on an unoccupied corner. “No rush.” She pulled out a stool and checked her phone to keep her hands busy as she sat down. Being alone with Aubrey made her a little twitchy.

“Alright, that can sit a bit before I have to…” Aubrey trailed off as she turned around and Beca saw her eyes narrow in on the bag. “Put it on a tray.” She looked back up at Beca who tried not to smile at the dusting of flour over Aubrey’s nose, as if she’d scratched it while her hands were covered. It made her look… human. “What’s, uh…”

Beca saved her from trying to come up with a polite question. “I didn’t have time to wrap anything. That’s why I asked to come over early.” She slid off the stool and took the bag to the back table and began to empty it. “I have time, right?” She stacked a few tubes of wrapping paper on the table, aware of Aubrey coming to stand beside her.

“Yeah, Chloe is in class for another hour and the girls won’t be here for at least two.” She answered absently as Beca pulled out a single wrapped gift. A badly wrapped gift, in a Beca’s opinion.

Beca cleared her throat and turned to her. “Merry Christmas, drill sergeant.” She started to hand it over, then paused awkwardly. “Unless there’s a designated gift… gift hour?” Beca closed her eyes for a second before meeting Aubrey’s questioning look. “Sorry, I don’t… This is kind of new. For me.”

She also hadn’t meant ‘drill sergeant’ in a bad way and it wasn’t until it was out of her mouth that she realized Aubrey might take it differently. But to her surprise, Aubrey didn’t react anything like Beca would have bet money on.

“That’s… Very thoughtful.” Aubrey’s expression softened a fraction. “Drill sergeant?” A laugh lay under the question and certainly not the prickly response Beca had expected.

With a half grin, Beca lifted one shoulder. “If it helps, I mean it in a good way?”

Aubrey actually smiled at her. “Then that’s how I’ll take it. And if you want me to open it now, that’s ok.”

Beca nodded and held out the gift. Maybe this would be the beginning of another truce, out from under the watching eyes of the rest of the girls. Where they could just be them instead of Captain and newbie. It was also the only present she’d wrapped because she knew Aubrey would be home. She watched as Aubrey pulled back the tape and unwound the two needless feet of paper Beca had basically wrapped around the gift.

A shiny whistle dropped into her palm.

Aubrey had turned the ‘Official BU rape whistle’ into a different tool: she used it when she made the girls run cardio. Often. She’d let out a blast to start them running, stop them and frequently to get Amy out of the seats. The pitch pipe used for their routine and choreography runs was a lot less intrusive.  Shortly after the SBT disaster, Beca had quietly lost her mind and stolen the whistle. Later that day she’d gone to the lake and chucked it in, giving it the one finger salute as it sank. With both hands. The next rehearsal, when Aubrey couldn’t find it and seemed honestly distressed, Beca had immediately felt bad.

Aubrey looked up at Beca, her expression touched and confused. “Thank you, but…”

Beca blew out a breath. “I kind of lost the other one. And I felt bad about it.” She braced herself for the explosion she knew had to follow. “So… I’m sorry.”

But Aubrey merely took a breath of her own before letting it out slowly. “Now the drill sergeant makes more sense.” Aubrey shocked her by laughing a little. “Thank you, Beca.”

“You’re welcome, Aubrey.” Beca looked back down at the table and shifted around her gifts to give herself something else to focus on.

Aubrey hesitated a second. “Do you want me to get your…?”

“No,” Beca shook her head. “I mean… Unless…” she trailed off again. Actually talking to Aubrey one on one as a human was harder than she thought it would be. “Mine was more… I wasn’t sure how it would be received?”

“I think I understand.” Aubrey said, nodding slowly. “Then I’ll save yours for the exchange.”

Beca nodded back, grateful they weren’t talking about the herd of elephants between them. “Um. You’ve got…” Beca awkwardly pointed at Aubrey’s face. “Some flour. On your nose.”

Aubrey took a swipe at it. “That doesn’t surprise me. Did I get it?”

Beca swallowed the laugh that bubbled up. “Almost.”  Aubrey had in managed to spread more across the top instead of wiping any off. Beca tapped the spot on her own nose. “It’s just a little sprinkle.” She briefly thought of reaching out to wipe it off for her, but while she and Chloe may be at that stage, she and Aubrey definitely were not.

Of course, if it were Chloe, Beca would have let her walk around all day until someone else pointed it out. And while the thought was tempting to do the same with Aubrey, Beca didn’t want the night to end in potential murder.

With a laugh, Aubrey took another pass at it and peered at her hand. “I don’t know how it ends up everywhere. Did I get it?” She looked down at her nose, going cross eyed, and Beca held back another laugh.

Yup. You’re good.” Beca smiled at her as Aubrey dusted her hand off against her jeans.

“If you’ll give me a few minutes to get the dough onto the tray, I’ll come help you wrap these?” Aubrey set the whistle down on the table.

“Oh, you don’t…”Beca started but Aubrey waved her off.

“Let’s just call it saving a tree by not using excess paper.” But she touched Beca’s shoulder briefly with another smile to take the sting out of it. “It won’t take but a second.”

Beca nodded wordlessly again as Aubrey went back to the counter and began to wonder if this was actually PodAubrey and if she should flee the house before she was taken over. Jesse had made her watch ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ a few weekends ago and apparently it had made an impression.

Finishing emptying her bag, she kind of folded it and put it on the floor under the table, thinking they could probably use it later that night. She turned and watched Aubrey finish prepping a cookie tray and putting it into the oven. After getting some things from a drawer, Aubrey set a timer before placing it on the island behind them.

“Alright, I’m set. Where shall we start?” She set down scissors, tape and a felt pen before looking at Beca and waiting.

Beca blinked at being asked instead of having Aubrey take over. Maybe it was because this was Beca’s thing and Aubrey’s future didn’t ride on it. “Um, I guess whatever’s easiest? I don’t do this often, I just…” She nodded at the wrapping from Aubrey’s present. “Wind the paper until it’s covered then slap some tape on it.”

“I see that.” Aubrey took another look at the gifts. “Alright, let’s start with… the framed ‘Black Swan’ poster?” She quirked a brow in question.

“It’s for Stacie. Cause she likes Mila Kunis and, you know, ballet stuff.” Beca explained, feeling awkward. She’d just happened to see it going through an old record store that also doubled as a used DVD store. The 12x16 poster just screamed Stacie to her after hearing Stacie go on and on about Mila Kunis one afternoon at the house.

“I see.” Aubrey’s smile tightened just a bit before it relaxed again. “Seems perfect then. Let’s get it wrapped, labeled and under the tree.”

“You got a tree?” Beca turned and looked into the living room. “You got a tree.” There was a small fake tree decked out in yellow, blue and white sitting in the center of the ottoman. “And I’m just blind.”

“We got a tree.” Aubrey said, clearing a space and rolling out one of the rolls of paper. After placing the frame in the center and figuring out what was needed to perfectly cover it, she held out her hand. “Scissors.”

Beca handed her the scissors with a grin. That was the Aubrey she was a little more familiar with.

Aubrey asked for scissors and tapes like they were instruments and cut paper like a trained surgeon. Beca wrote the appropriate name and stacked finished presents to the side. They took breaks as the current batch of cookies was done and Beca helped Aubrey place them on cooling racks. The cycle repeated as the house filled with the smell of vanilla and chocolate as Beca’s presents joined the pile under the Bella tree.

She sort of thought Aubrey was as shocked as she was that the rest of the afternoon passed without any major squabbles. They got along so well that they lost track of time. And when Chloe blew into the house calling out ‘Is there any blood I have to clean up?’ they both replied with an exasperated ‘No dear’ at the same time.

Chloe stopped in the doorway, worry and astonishment warring on her face.

Beca tried for deadpan. “What? You thought we’d shed blood on the cookies?” She shook her head as Aubrey wordlessly handed her a cookie without looking at her. Beca plucked it from her hand and took a bite. “We’re not heathens, Chlo.” She let herself smile as Aubrey began to laugh.

It was weird, standing here in the Bella house and having a good time with Aubrey. If nothing else it proved that they could bond over an unspoken agreement to do nothing to harm cookie goodness.

For the first time, Beca began to have a little hope that there was more to Aubrey than just practice and cardio.

 

~C~

 

Chloe dipped herself another heavily spiked cup of eggnog and paused on her way out of the kitchen to survey the living room. The party was a success, without question, but the biggest gift, an apparently granted Christmas miracle, was Aubrey and Beca were getting along.

When she’d gotten home both of them were sitting in the kitchen on their laptops. Beca was at the back table putting together a playlist while Aubrey was at the island looking up new eggnog recipes.

They’d looked at her with near identical innocent expressions that she didn’t trust in the slightest. But the atmosphere was relaxed and tension free and Chloe felt a tightness drop that she hadn’t realized was in her shoulders. Their twin ‘no dear’ responses had tickled her endlessly when she’d finally allowed it to play back in her mind.

Penny for your thoughts.” Aubrey said as she stopped beside Chloe.

“Just thinking of this afternoon.” Chloe looked at Aubrey. “Thank you.”

Aubrey’s brow knit. “For what?”

“Getting along with Beca. Plus that hoodie is awesome.” Chloe looked back at the couch where Beca was pulling her present from Aubrey on, a black hoodie with ‘Sorry I Don’t Even Sing’ in white lettering.

Aubrey followed her gaze. “It was the only thing I could think of. She keeps to herself and doesn’t really share a lot about… anything, really.” Chloe turned to look at her, eyebrow high. Aubrey sighed. “Yes. I know I haven’t made any efforts either. I may be able to spend time with her, but I still don’t think she’s a Bella. Plus,” Aubrey’s face tightened for the first time that night. “All she does is push in practice.”

Chloe put her hand up. “I know, I know. And I’m working on it.” The problem was that she was starting to see Beca’s point of view. Not that Beca ever tried to subvert Aubrey or sway Chloe to her point of view. They actually only rarely discussed the set at all. But Chloe had to admit, she was a little tired of those three songs.

“It really pisses me off that Beca is one of our strongest voices and she’s just…” Aubrey continued, waving a hand in frustration. “So damn obstinate.” She frowned and Chloe could see that Aubrey was a little more tipsy than she’d thought, especially when she muttered under her breath, “Otherwise she could potentially be a great Bella.”

Chloe tucked that away for later examination or blackmail. “Bree…” Chloe stopped and squeezed Aubrey’s forearm. “Just… Thank you. For today.” She watched Aubrey’s eyes move back over to Beca, softening slightly. Chloe looked over in time to see Beca burrowing into the hoodie, a look of contentment on her face. She looked back at Aubrey, realizing that the fact that Beca had immediately pulled on her gift had pleased Aubrey more than she probably realized. Maybe Aubrey was closer to finally being okay with Beca than she realized.

“I couldn’t help it. She showed up like a trashbag Santa with literally a garbage bag of unwrapped presents over her shoulder.” Aubrey laughed. “Except my gift, which was basically just rolled in paper and taped.”

Chloe laughed with her at the image. “But wait, everything she handed out tonight was wra-” She thought she detected a hint of embarrassment on Aubrey’s face as she interrupted.

“I helped her wrap them.” When Chloe only arched a brow, Aubrey said defensively, “What? I couldn’t let her kill all those trees.”

Chloe decided to let it drop. “You never said what she got you, just that you opened it earlier.” She’d been dying to ask this all night but they’d never really been alone until now. Her own gift had been an honest to god cassette mix tape that came with a USB drive so she had a digital copy as well. Beca had mumbled some apology about it being lame but Chloe had cut her off with a hug. She could tell Beca felt awkward about it, but Chloe could already tell it was because it meant more to Beca than just a gift. This was something she’d made specifically for Chloe and Chloe alone. She would treasure it always for that reason.

“A new whistle.” Aubrey glanced at Beca. “To replace the one I ‘lost.’”

“Aw, that was sweet and thoughtful!” Chloe said.

“It was.” Aubrey looked back at Chloe. “Especially since she’s the one who helped me lose the other one. Which she apologized for.” The last was said with grudging admiration.

Chloe bit her lip. That was another almost another fight between them. Aubrey had immediately blamed Beca – though thankfully she’d waited until they got back home and she could tear apart her room looking for it. Chloe had basically dropped the subject all together, not engaging when Aubrey would bring it up again except to say ‘Hopefully it will turn up soon.’ “Sorry, Bree.”

“Why are you apologizing? It’s not your fault.” Aubrey paused, considering. “I’ve got to say, I’m impressed she owned up to it at all.”

“She’s not all bad.” Chloe ventured. “I hope today helps mend things between you."

Aubrey’s face softened again but whatever she was about to say was overridden by a third person stopping in front of them.

“Two things.” Stacie took another drink of eggnog. “You both look entirely too serious for this party. That’s not allowed.” She waggled her finger at them.

“Second?” Aubrey prompted when Stacie just stared between them as if she was sizing them up.

A truly mischievous smile spread across Stacie’s face. “Look up.”

Aubrey looked up automatically and said a soft “Oh.”

Chloe laughed. “Oops. I forgot you put that up there.” The second Stacie had arrived she’d pulled over the small step stool from the kitchen and hung a sprig if mistletoe from the doorway. It hadn’t surprised Chloe in the least to notice a second was hanging from her belt.

“That’s cause I haven’t caught you under it until now.” Stacie said. “Either of you.” Aubrey started to say something but Stacie stepped into her space. “What do you say, Bree. It’s a tradition.”

Chloe watched, fascinated, as the word Aubrey liked to say the most trapped her in a situation she couldn’t escape from. “I… uh.” She pulled herself up to her full height and Chloe already heard the decline in her head. “Fine. But,” she held up a finger, “no tongue.”

“Why Aubrey, what kind of girl do you take me for?” Stacie put her hand on her chest.

“One who has thoroughly Frenched half the people in this room already.” Aubrey said flatly.

“True. I’ll behave. Promise.” Stacie leaned forward and waited, forcing Aubrey to lean the rest of the way. But where Aubrey would have pulled back at the first touch of their lips and called it good, Stacie had already cupped the back of Aubrey’s head and held her there.

It was gentle, Chloe thought. Far more gentle than she’d have thought. Neither of them opened their eyes, or moved closer or further apart once Stacie’s hand was in place. But it radiated something that Chloe couldn’t quite put her finger on.

Stacie stepped back, letting her hand linger for a bit longer as her fingers toyed with blond locks. “See? Didn’t hurt at all.” She let her hand slip free and Chloe thought she’d figured out what she’d been sensing. When Stacie had first started talking to Aubrey, her face held the usual cocky expression that tried to challenge Aubrey and her resistances to getting into Stacie’s bed. But after the kiss that had dropped off Stacie’s face and she almost looked surprised. As if a lot more had just happened than a just a chaste kiss.

Aubrey seemed to come back to herself and looked around the room to see who might have been watching. Chloe took a quick scan as well and so far the only one looking at them was Beca. Who, Chloe noticed, had a small grin on her face, one that grew when she caught Chloe looking back.

“Now your turn.” Stacie was suddenly in front of Chloe who laughed.

“Do you have some sort of checklist, Stacie?” Chloe asked.

“Maybe.” Stacie ticked one finger through the air. “But really, I think I just have good timing. So, pucker up.” She leaned forward when Chloe opened her mouth to make some sarcastic comeback, but didn’t wait for Chloe to meet her like she had Aubrey.

Chloe suddenly found herself in a much deeper kiss than anticipated, Stacie’s tongue tangling with hers briefly. Purely on instinct Chloe chased it back into Stacie’s mouth for an instant before they both pulled away, laughing.

“Guess you forgot to behave that time.” Chloe chuckled, trying not to think about the fact that even that short few seconds told her how good a kisser Stacie was.

“Eh.” Stacie shrugged. “Sorry, not sorry.” She grinned. “Now you two should probably finish the tradition.”

“Oh I don’t…” Aubrey started but trailed off when Chloe looked at her, an exaggeratedly wounded expression on her face. She looked to the ceiling and sighed deeply. “Fine.” She looked back at Chloe, one eyebrow quirked in amusement.

Chloe had a moment of debate, remembering the one and only time she and Aubrey had shared a drunken kiss. Well, to be more precise they had basically been in each other’s laps as they attacked each other’s face for a good five to ten minutes, until their prior Captain, Alice, had made a bitchy comment. But Chloe settled for simply pressing her lips to Aubrey’s and letting her dictate how long it lasted. It didn’t surprise her when it ended after only a few seconds.

“Happy now?” Aubrey turned back to Stacie.

“Almost.” Stacie’s grin turned lecherous. “I do have this second set of mistletoe…”

The words hung in the air as Aubrey went pale and then flushed a deep scarlet. “I don’t… You… that…”

Stacie cackled. “Just fucking with you, Bree. It’s just for show.” She leaned forward and whispered in Aubrey’s ear though Chloe could still hear it. “Unless you want it to be more.” She turned and walked away before Aubrey could say anything else.

Chloe took pity on her as Aubrey helplessly watched Stacie walk away. “Come on; let’s get you more to drink.” As she turned back to the kitchen she noticed Beca’s face. It had gone still, her eyes a bit wide, as she looked away quickly, as if she hadn’t wanted to be caught staring.

I’ll have to ask later what that’s all about.’ Chloe thought to herself as she poured another glass of eggnog for Aubrey. When Aubrey drank a third of it in a single gulp, Chloe frowned. “You ok? I… I’m sorry if that… I didn’t mean to kiss her like that.”

“Yeah. I mean, no.” Aubrey shut her eyes and visibly tried to regroup. “It’s fine. I know it didn’t mean anything. Not that it should matter if it did. I just…” She shook her head. “That was. Unexpected.”

“The kiss itself or that you liked it?” Chloe asked with absolutely no inflection. The last thing she wanted Aubrey to think was that Chloe was making fun of her. Or judging.  

Aubrey started to answer, but stopped. “Both,” she said with surprising honesty. “I thought she might try and push it, but she didn’t. It wasn’t anything like I had expected. ” She trailed off again. “But I can’t.” Chloe wondered if Aubrey knew her tone was wistful instead of its usual firm denial.

Chloe thought about pointing out Stacie turned 18 in less than a month. Or how she’d been right, mostly, in Stacie’s maturity for her age. Except for her apparently compulsive dating habits – Chloe didn’t ask how many she slept with but she got the idea that it was a lot more than Aubrey would ever be comfortable with – she found Stacie had a very solid head on her shoulders. Her courses were incredibly science heavy and when she wasn’t on a date she was in the library.

Well, she had been in the library. One Thursday night Aubrey had found her half asleep over a table, starving, but refusing to go back to her dorm. Her roommate was throwing a party and there were at least twenty people crowded in it and it was too loud and she couldn’t study for her quiz the next day. Aubrey had all but dragged her back to the Bella house, sat her down at the table and made them dinner. After that, Stacie didn’t study at the library anymore, Aubrey having casually given her permission to use the empty Bella house instead. Except Aubrey usually studied with her and Chloe hoped that, eventually, this new budding friendship might turn into just a bit more.

But Stacie seemed to understand that pushing Aubrey wouldn’t work, so she merely prodded here and there to test the waters. Chloe honestly thought that they’d make a good match, but Aubrey was still adamant that she could - would -never go there. She’d even started adding to her counter to Chloe’s arguments: “Besides, we graduate this year. Starting something serious with someone would be… foolish.” Chloe had remained silent, not even about to suggest something casual to Aubrey, but it caused a pang in her heart because it could also apply to her and Beca; a fact she refused to think about now. There would be time for that later and things didn’t have to be casual. For either of them.

But instead of bringing any of this up at the party, Chloe merely squeezed Aubrey’s arm in sympathy. She would see how things progressed after Stacie’s birthday… Chloe chewed lightly on her lip thought. But maybe one more, tiny, nudge wouldn’t hurt.

“There’s always her present.” Chloe suggested slyly.

Stacie had insisted they open them at the same time, which they did and found she had given them all bullet vibrators because apparently she gets ‘a sweet deal when I buy them in bulk.’

When Beca had opened hers, Stacie had said she could use it to take the edge off before her first date. But she was looking at Chloe when she’d said it and Chloe had actually felt herself blush a little. Beca had paled, but rallied in time to flip Stacie off as if she hadn’t just gone wide eyed.

“Oh my god. Shut up.” Aubrey hissed, looking back into the other room. “Do. Not.” Chloe began to laugh. “I don’t even… that’s…”

Controlling her laughter, Chloe said airily, “That’s why she made her offer, Bree.” Stacie had told Aubrey if she wasn’t sure how it worked, she’d be willing to give her a helping hand. Aubrey had swallowed, but not in a way that meant she was about to lose it, but more to give herself time to answer, which she must have done on autopilot because what she’d said was “Thank you.”

“She’s seventeen Chloe!” Aubrey hissed again. “Stop laughing, it’s not funny!” But her lips were twitching as Chloe’s amusement bubbled up again.

Chloe started to giggle. “It’s actually totes hysterical from my perspective. You even thanked her for her offer to show you how to use it.”

“Chloe!” Aubrey’s scandalized tone was ruined as she began to laugh.

“Just saying-.” Chloe shrugged and threw her arm around Aubrey’s shoulders. “Come on, let’s go back in and join the others before you drown me in the eggnog.”

“Don’t tempt me.” Aubrey said but wound her arm around Chloe’s waist.

They walked back to the living room in time to watch Stacie sit herself across Beca’s lap and drape her long arms around Beca’s shoulders.

Chloe’s vision tinted green at the edges even as she tried to talk herself down. After all, she’d literally just had Stacie’s tongue in her mouth, accident or not. Stacie knew she and Beca had an… understanding. Right? But she couldn’t help drifting closer to listen.

“When are you going to let me catch you under the mistletoe?” Stacie pouted. “I’ve somehow missed it all night.”

“That’s because I’m small and sneaky like a ninja.” Beca said, leaning her head back on the couch to focus on Stacie.

“I think you’re avoiding me.” Stacie wound a strand of Beca’s hair around her finger and tugged. “My feelings could get hurt.”

Beca schooled her face into deadpan though her lips twitched. “Am I supposed to care about that?” She took another sip of her drink.

Stacie sighed. “Fine. I suppose you don’t have to go stand in the entryway.”

“Good, because that wasn’t –” Beca started to say.

“I’ve got some on me. We can just substitute that.” Stacie said innocently.

“Oh my god!” Beca cried. “You even think about using that one and I’ll shove it so far up your ass...” But she was laughing.

Stacie practically purred. “Ooh. Don’t tease me now, Beca.”

Chloe forced a chuckle through the jealousy suddenly beating at her temples. A glance to her right showed Aubrey’s lips had tightened again, her eyes on Beca and Stacie. Chloe figured their faces probably looked pretty similar at the moment. ‘Where there’s jealousy, there’s passion.’ Chloe thought.

“You’re unbelievable. You know that, right?” Beca started to push Stacie off her lap but she merely tightened her grip and remained in place.

“One day you may find out just how unbelievable I can be.” Stacie jumped when Beca poked her in the side and laughed. “Alright. Fine.” She pressed her lips to Beca’s cheek with an exaggerated smack. “I’ll just have to settle for this.”

She started to get up but this time Beca’s grip tightened. She kissed Stacie’s cheek so fast it was almost like it never happened. “You’ll have to make do with that, Legs. Forever.”

Stacie tugged Beca’s hair again and laughed as she stood up. “For now, B.”

It had meant nothing from either of them. Chloe knew that. She knew it. Her own kiss had been much more – Chloe suddenly  understood the look she’d seen on Beca’s face. Her own felt tight and stiff as she finally looked away. It took her longer than she was proud of before she worked herself out of her jealous fit.

Later, Chloe was sitting on the couch talking to Aubrey and Jessica when Beca sat down between her and Aubrey. All traces of jealousy washed away when Beca reached out and took Chloe’s hand. It was the first time she’d initiated any form of contact after that first night they had coffee. It was all she could do to remain still instead of flinging herself on Beca from the sheer joy the simple gesture caused.

By pure chance she caught Stacie’s eye across the room. Stacie’s glance dropped once to Beca’s hand in hers and back up. She shrugged and winked and Chloe smiled at her, all earlier discomfort forgotten.

 

~B~

 

Beca sat between the two captains, feeling warm from both the alcohol and the hoodie Aubrey had given her. It was just the right amount of oversized that allowed her to bury herself but not feel lost in it. When she’d first opened the present from Aubrey and saw her own words staring back at her, all she could do was look up and say “Oops?” through her laughter, thankful when Aubrey laughed with her.

It was these type of moments that reminded her why she didn’t just walk away from the rest of them, no matter what her dad said he would do for her if she stayed, because Aubrey in practice was almost always a walking bitch nightmare. Aubrey out of practice was prickly but tolerable. The hoodie showed she could be thoughtful and funny, which was something Beca wouldn’t have said in their first couple meetings. Though, to be fair to Aubrey, she had to have some redeeming qualities because Beca couldn’t see Chloe sticking up for her like she did.

Beca felt a gentle squeeze in her fingers and looked out of the corner of her eye at Chloe, but she wasn’t looking at Beca, still talking to Jessica on her other side. Beca looked back down at their joined hands, wondering if it was only alcohol that had given her the courage, or if she had finally reached the stage where she could reach out and hold Chloe’s hand without overthinking it to the point where she just didn’t. She supposed she’d find out the next time they saw each other without any alcohol in her system; a thought that gave her a pang when she realized it would likely be after the break.

It had been so long since she’d let someone in far enough that she would miss them when they were gone and now she had a whole group of people pressed against that wall. Sure, Chloe had made the furthest run for her heart, but seeing these girls every day had started forging a bond she hadn’t anticipated. She laughed with them, rolled her eyes with them behind Aubrey’s back and while she wasn’t really admitting it to herself, she was beginning to think of them as friends. She couldn’t come up with any other reason why she would bother getting more than gift cards to the local campus coffee shops and eateries for this gift exchange. She had even allowed Chloe to drag her around the past two weekends as they both tried to find the perfect gifts for their ragtag group of misfits.

She’d gotten Jessica and Ashley Thing 1 and Thing 2 shirts. They were together all the time and Beca wasn’t really sure, truly, which one of them was which. It wasn’t that they looked the same, but they were still sort of interchangeable except one was just a little bouncier than the other. The shirts had seemed the perfect opportunity to maybe remember who was who when she found them hanging at the back of one of those hole-in-the wall thrift stores; Chloe had squealed when she saw them, which Beca took it as a sound of approval. Jessica and Ashley had both made the same sound when they opened them together and went into the bathroom to change into them for the rest of the party.

Fat Amy was a bit trickier, because while they joked around a lot, Beca hadn’t yet got a sense of who she was beyond the humor. Most of what she talked about from home sounded like absolute nonsense and Beca didn’t really know what Amy liked beyond boys and booze. But then in November Amy had spent a week singing Amy Winehouse. Non-stop. Beca and Chloe had spent hours scouring nearby shops until they found the perfect Amy Winehouse wig. Amy had immediately gotten the joke and yelled “Fat Amy Winehouse!” The gift was obviously a hit and Beca was happy that she’d nailed it, but she was also starting to wonder if she’d made a grave mistake. Amy had yet to take it off and kept bursting into song when there was a lull in party conversation.

Cynthia Rose had almost passed out when she’d opened the card Beca had handed her. Luke the station manager had gotten tickets for an upcoming Rhianna concert for the station. He’d been seeing some girl he was trying to impress and was going to take her. When she dumped him in the middle of his shift after he found out she cheated on him with one of the jocks, he’d handed the tickets to Beca before he stormed out the door. While Beca loved Rhianna’s music, she was very much not a crowd person and almost handed them back to him the next day. Then she remembered she hadn’t gotten Cynthia Rose a gift yet and how much she loved Rhianna. Like, loved Rhianna. So Beca stashed them in with her music equipment where Kimmy Jin would hopefully never find them.

But the one gift that she hadn’t been sure of was Lilly. In that same thrift store where she’d found the t-shirts, she had found an old framed black and white picture. It was of a group of self-proclaimed carnival freaks and in the center were a pair of twin contortionists wound around each other. They looked exactly like Lilly. She’d fidgeted when Lilly had opened the gift and stared at it; began to worry as the minutes passed and Lilly simply continued to study the picture with an unreadable expression on her face. Then at the edge of her hearing, Beca had heard Lilly say “We were so happy then.” Before Beca had time to really process that Lilly had flung herself forward and Beca was enveloped in the briefest and most terrifying hug of her life.

While Beca had thought her gifts would be the oddest ones there, because really who shops for Christmas at a thrift shop that smelled like an old person’s attic, Lilly actually beat her. Which, in hindsight, shouldn’t have surprised her in the least.  Looking up from the contents of the small pouch she’d just opened, Beca awkwardly thanked Lilly with a smile. She then carefully put away her new switchblade. And tooth. She, and the rest of the girls, refused to let her ask what the tooth was for or what kind of tooth it was. 

Stacie was a close second with her idea of gifts. Aubrey had almost dropped it when she’d figured out what was in the package she held and Beca had smirked at seeing the normally put together Aubrey lose her composure a little. She’d had to smother a giggle when Stacie then offered to show Aubrey how it worked. Until Stacie had told Beca when exactly hers was to be used. Beca had refused to look at Chloe and it took longer than she liked to think to flip Stacie off. She and Chloe hadn’t even gotten to a date stage, much less a date she’d need to take the edge off for.

Beca smiled into her cup, thinking of Chloe’s gift. It was a black tee that said in alternating green and red letters, ‘Bah Fucking Humbug’ and she’d immediately replaced the tank top she’d worn to the party with it. Her flannel was then replaced by the hoodie and all in all, Beca thought this was the first Christmas she’d really enjoyed since her father had left. Frowning briefly, she pushed the thought away, not wanting the memories it would bring.

Thankfully her attention was drawn to the entry to the kitchen where Lilly had apparently materialized in front of Stacie who was walking out. They were standing sideways so Beca could partially see their profiles from her section of the couch. She tugged at Chloe’s hand and nudged Aubrey’s leg with her knee and nodded toward the kitchen when they looked at her.

Lilly’s face remained impassive but Beca thought Stacie’s eyebrow was beginning to rise in question. Lilly slowly raised one hand, extended her index finger and pointed up. Twice. She lowered her hand again, her face never changing and her eyes never leaving Stacie’s.

Beca didn’t think she could have gone through with it, that brief hug had been enough for her. But this was Stacie and Beca saw the corner of her mouth curl upward. She watched in fascination as Stacie leaned forward much as she had done with Aubrey and let Lilly come to her. Except when she did, she grabbed the side of Stacie’s head to pull her lower. But instead of kissing Stacie on the lips Lilly licked from between Stacie’s eyes and up the center of her forehead.

By this point the others had noticed the scene being played out in the entryway and Beca thought all of them were making the same mental note: Do not get trapped by Lilly under the mistletoe.

Aubrey turned back to Beca and Chloe, looking a little ruffled around the edges. “Did I just see that?”

“I wish I didn’t see that.” Beca said and took another drink before looking down into her cup. “But not as much as I wish I hadn’t just run out of eggnog.” She looked up at Aubrey. “I don’t suppose you’d play hostess and fill it for me?”

“Not a chance,” Aubrey said, grinning.

“I was afraid you’d say that.” Beca frowned and looked over at the entry. “Hey, where’d she go?” Stacie had come back in and was sitting on the other side of the couch, on the arm, but Beca had no idea where Lilly went.

“Not sure.” Chloe peered past her. “We could make a run for it?” When Beca hesitated Chloe stood up. “C’mon, there’s safety in numbers.” She tugged their joined hands until Beca reluctantly followed.

“Famous last words.” But she let Chloe lead her to the kitchen where they passed through the entry without being jumped. They each refilled their cups and headed back out until Chloe stopped them both. Beca looked around swiftly. “What? Where?” Chloe only raised her eyes to the mistletoe and back down and Beca couldn’t believe she’d been snared so neatly. “Clever girl.”

“One of my many good qualities.” Chloe said, stepping into her space. “But Stacie’s right. It’s tradition.”

Beca licked her lips as her eyes dropped to Chloe’s mouth and immediately felt like a horny teenager. ‘Which I guess I am.’ “You know I’m not much for tradition, Chlo.”

“Not yet.” Chloe’s eyes dropped to Beca’s mouth and back up. “I’ve got time to work on that.”

“You do?” Beca said, finding that she was already leaning forward.

“Yeah.” Chloe met her halfway and as their lips brushed together, Beca let her eyes close.

They were as soft as Beca had imagined, warm and smooth under her own. She hadn’t really expected fireworks, Beca wasn’t that kind of girl, but she did feel a thrum along her nerves, something sliding into place and finding a home inside her. She tilted her head just the smallest bit, just to see what it felt like to have their lips move across each other. She was aware of nothing else except Chloe, how she could feel the other woman restraining herself, letting Beca guide them. And Beca felt nothing but gratitude. She had never been a public display of affection girl either. She didn’t want their first real kiss to be in front of an audience.

But this… this was a nice preview of what waited for her if she ever found the nerve to take things to a new level.

She pressed a little closer, not aware that she was going to move until they were almost flush, and felt Chloe’s breath warm her face with what Beca was 95% certain was a stifled whimper. Even while that last five percent was trying to convince her it wasn’t, another smug voice in the back of her head kept saying it was.

When that voice began to get louder, and she started to worry that she’d deepen the kiss despite her earlier reservations about their audience, Beca leaned back a little and opened her eyes, meeting Chloe’s twinkling blue from closer than they’d ever been. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Chloe winked in that way that scrambled the circuits of Beca’s brain. “I hope so.” She turned and walked back into the living room.

Beca stood there a second more, noticing Aubrey’s eyes on her. They were unreadable and though it was close to the expression she had after Beca’s audition, it lacked the anger and annoyance from that day. After trying to figure out the emotion she could see shifting behind those bright green eyes, Beca decided she was too drunk to contemplate what any of it meant. So she merely looked away and followed Chloe back to the couch, which had gotten more crowded as everyone took a dancing break.

Beca settled herself back down between Chloe and Aubrey, listening as Fat Amy started up a story from back home that Beca eventually tuned out as she drank her eggnog and thought about where she was and where she was going.

Perhaps joining an a capella group wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Not if it gave her this new sense of belonging. She sank down into the warmth around her with a contented sigh.

Not if it gave her family.

Chapter Text

~B~

After Christmas, it was painfully obvious that Chloe’s nodes were getting worse.

A month before Regionals they couldn’t pretend anymore that she was going to be able to hit the note needed for ‘Turn the Beat Around.’ As the song came to an end Beca watched as Chloe rubbed her throat. She knew that meant Chloe had pushed herself too far, again.

Before Beca could move over, Aubrey had stepped up next to her and touched her shoulder.

“Chloe, you gotta be able to hit that last note.”

“I can’t. It’s impossible. And it’s because of my, my nodes.” The unhappiness in her voice was evident and it made Beca’s heart ache just a little.

Beca watched them as she tried to catch her breath. She hated seeing Chloe’s frustration at not being able to sing almost as much as she hated Aubrey constantly badgering her about it. Beca walked over and stood next to Chloe in silent support.

“Well, if you can’t do it, then someone else needs to solo.” Aubrey chugged some of her water. Beca didn’t think Aubrey was trying to be cruel about it, just stating facts, but she thought Aubrey sure as hell could have been gentler about it.

Before Christmas Beca had started to wonder if there were two Aubreys and the night of the Bella party - and definitely since - she realized just how true that was. One was the drill sergeant from Hell during practice and the other was someone Beca was coming to actually enjoy spending time with.

Out of rehearsals, Aubrey was more relaxed and prone to joking around with the rest of them. Beca was often caught off guard by her dry humor, surprised more than not by the fact that she was really starting to like what she felt might be the real Aubrey.

But practices were still strained between them and Aubrey’s intensity was growing the closer they got to Regionals. Beca felt they were always at odds even when she didn’t go out of her way to find some new way to provoke Aubrey. There was just something about her that Beca wanted to prod at, even after their Christmas miracle. Maybe one day she’d figure out why and stop coming up with new ways to be annoying because they were starting to get creative. During one particularly heated exchange of barbs a week ago, Beca had even found herself wondering idly about kissing Aubrey just to see if it would make her foam-at-the-mouth angry or shock her into silence.

“I think Beca should take my solo.” Chloe said suddenly.

Beca was so surprised that she could only look over at Chloe. She was touched, though she knew Aubrey would never go for it. Beca looked over and could practically hear Aubrey’s teeth grinding.

Beca sighed inwardly. Some days she really hated the duality of Aubrey Posen.

Fat Amy spoke up. “Yeah, Beca would be excellent. But, also… Someone else might be equally as excellent.” Beca looked over and couldn’t help the grin at the earnest look in Amy’s eyes.

“That’s true.” Beca jerked her thumb toward Amy. While she was touched that Chloe put her name out there, this set was tough enough to get through as a support singer. She didn’t know if she could sell a song that old with any sort of passion.

Fat Amy continued her pitch. “And they might be shy and not wanna come forward and say they wanted a solo.” Aubrey was nodding at her.

“Well, Beca doesn’t want a solo, sooo…” Aubrey took another drink of her water, a mocking challenge in her eyes.

Which, okay, Beca had expected Aubrey to say something like that, but the overly polite dismissiveness in her tone drove Beca crazy and it still managed to piss her off. “I would be happy to do it.” ‘It’s been at least a week since I’ve complained about the set.’ “If I got to pick a new song and do an arrangement.”

“Well, that’s not how we run things here.” Aubrey gave her patented fake smile and shrugged.

But what surprised Beca most was how Chloe didn’t give up. “Aubrey, maybe Beca has a point. Maybe we could try something new.”

“Aca-scuse me?” Aubrey’s tone was incredulous as she looked over, betrayal on her face. Beca could almost hear a silent ‘Et tu, Brute?’ “You can sing ‘Turn the Beat Around’ and that’s the last I wanna hear of this.”

Beca looked between Aubrey, who nodded and turned away, and Chloe, who looked a bit hurt, and found herself stepping forward. She blamed Chloe for making her feel things and wanting to try. For thinking that maybe this time, Aubrey would actually listen to her because they could laugh together anywhere but this stupid auditorium.

“That song is tired. We’re not gonna win with it. If we pull samples from different genres and layer them together, we could make some-”

Aubrey rounded on her and cut her off. “Okay, let me explain something to you because you still don’t seem to get it.”

Beca looked over at the floor and smiled to herself. ‘I knew this wouldn’t fucking work. Should have just kept my mouth shut.’ She was aware of the girls milling around, trying to feel Chloe’s calming presence behind her as she looked back into Aubrey’s angry face and tried not to let it bother her.

“Our goal is to get back to the finals and these songs will get us there.” Aubrey’s voice changed from sincere to indignant and Beca could only stand there and try not to scream in her face. “So, excuse me if I don’t take advice from some alt girl with her mad lib beats because she’s never even been in a competition. Have I made myself clear?” Aubrey’s laser stare swept over the room before targeting Beca again.

Suddenly it reminded her of the Activities Fair when Aubrey called her a bitch and Beca felt the same thrill go through her at seeing Aubrey’s fire. Fire meant passion and despite everything, Beca understood how Aubrey felt about the Bellas because it reminded her of her own love of music. If Chloe hadn’t been in her life, Beca probably would have enjoyed pushing Aubrey’s buttons just to see how deep her passions ran. But, then again, without Chloe there would be no Bellas. No Aubrey who laughed at Beca’s jokes… Or the one who cut Beca off at the slightest hint of going against whatever master plan Aubrey had envisioned.

It stung deeper than Beca expected, even after all these months of the same type of treatment. So she closed her mouth to keep from saying what she really thought, which likely would have gotten her kicked out of the group for good. She plastered on a smile as she nodded. “Crystal. I won’t solo.” She turned around and walked toward her water bottle, feeling Fat Amy pat her shoulder as she passed.

Aubrey said, “Fine. Fat Amy?”

“Yes, Sir?”

“You’ll solo.” Aubrey’s tone was final.

“Yesss.” Amy clapped once and said it louder. “Yes!”

Beca walked up behind her, unable to help smiling at how happy Fat Amy was at being able to take lead for the finale.

‘Remember, you’re just here to get to LA. So a solo doesn’t matter.’

Her eyes drifted back to Chloe as that small voice spoke up again. ‘But maybe she does.

 

~C~

Chloe loved watching Beca open up and let her behind those walls. She took every opportunity Beca allowed her (which was admittedly a lot) to hold hands, give her a hug, or just sit near her during practice or when they all hung out. She found her hands would actually twitch when Beca walked into the room, immediately wanting to pull her closer. Chloe had never fallen for someone this hard, this fast and while she thought it should worry her just a little bit, she never thought there was any chance her feelings wouldn’t be fully returned. Eventually.

Beca continued to show, in small ways, that maybe Chloe was a bit more than just a new friend. She’d bring Chloe a new bottle of water if Chloe had finished hers, or bring her a towel at the end of rehearsals. Beca had even figured out that Chloe usually had a protein bar with her for longer rehearsals and started bringing a few in case Chloe forgot them. She always opened the door if they arrived somewhere together and insisted that Chloe go first with a gentle hand on her lower back. Chloe had lost count of the number of times she would look over and find Beca’s eyes already on her. At first, Beca’s eyes would dart away immediately when she got caught, but lately she’d just give a small half grin before returning her attention to whatever she should be focused on instead of Chloe.

Everything was perfect. Except for her nodes.

During one of their practices it all came to a head while she was finishing the set. As pain flared and she had to drop to a lower octave, Chloe rolled her eyes in frustrated embarrassment as the song came to an end. She was glad everyone was behind her as she let her disappointment cross her face for a minute.

“I should’ve taken that cardio tip more seriously.” Fat Amy huffed beside them.

“How much have you done?” Aubrey asked as she retrieved her water.

Chloe rubbed her throat, trying to ease some of the pain

“You just saw it.” Amy dropped her arms, her tone indicating that should’ve been obvious.

Chloe braced herself as Aubrey touched her shoulder.

“Chloe, you gotta be able to hit that last note.”

“I can’t. It’s impossible. And it’s because of my, my nodes.” It killed her to say it, and it was made even worse by the rest of them chiming in with “her nodes.” It made her feel like she was complaining about it too much. Which, okay, she might, but they hurt like a bitch when she pushed herself.

“Well, if you can’t do it, then someone else needs to solo.” Aubrey said as she took a drink from her bottle. As if it was that cut and dried and Chloe wasn’t terrified of what it meant for her future.

“I think Beca should take my solo.” Chloe knew that there was no way she would go for it, Aubrey’s strange prejudice against Beca was too strong, but Chloe had to try. She knew Beca would do an amazing job if only Aubrey would let her.

She tried to ignore the look on Aubrey’s face as she set down her bottle to look through her notes. And, okay, maybe she was playing favorites, but Beca’s voice was incredible. She watched as Beca smiled at Fat Amy’s asking-but-not-asking for a shot at the solo.

“Well, Beca doesn’t want a solo, so…” Chloe could tell Aubrey was baiting Beca with her tone again. Aubrey had figured out the perfect pitch to push all of Beca’s buttons. Honestly, the two of them were so alike in the way they poked at each other that it drove Chloe up the wall that they couldn’t see it.

 “I would be happy to do it, if I got to pick a new song and do an arrangement.” Chloe kind of loved the rebellious spark that lit in Beca’s eyes even though they both knew Aubrey would never go for it.

“Well, that’s not how we run things here.” Aubrey dismissed it with a perfunctory smile and turned away. Chloe was beginning to hate that smile, which must have been why she found herself stepping forward.

“Aubrey, maybe Beca has a point. Maybe we could try something new.” Chloe may have promised to support Aubrey, but she knew they could be better.

“A-ca-scuse me?” 

Aubrey’s hurt expression hit a sympathetic nerve in Chloe. Maybe she should have taken Aubrey aside for this talk, not forced it in front of everyone. Maybe she’d backed Aubrey into a corner. A corner that Beca then tried to fence in as she attempted, in all the wrong ways, to make Aubrey see her point.

She couldn’t see Beca’s face when Aubrey dropped the “Alt Girl with her mad lib beats” line, but she half expected Beca to walk out after it. Crossing her arms protectively over her chest, Chloe felt horrible for starting them down this path and twisted her lips in a grimace. She was relieved when Beca just retrieved her water and came back to congratulate Amy .

Maybe she needed to try and talk to Aubrey about this once they were home. Maybe the pressure of being Captain was too much and it was changing Aubrey from the sweet, if intense, woman Chloe knew her to be. Changing her into more what Alice had been like, who also would have probably hated Beca on sight.

Chloe sighed as she went to get her own bottle of water. She’d hoped that Beca and Aubrey would have gotten closer after Christmas, but they still circled each other during rehearsals, poking and prodding to find each other’s weak spots. It frustrated her because they could be great friends if they just stopped. Chloe could see that both of them were trying to make the Bellas better. The goal was the same; they just had two very different ways they were trying to go about it. Chloe was afraid there would come a day where she would be forced to choose between them in some way.

How could she decide between her best friend and someone she was falling in love with?

  


 

~B~

When Beca stepped onto the stage at Regionals, she was a bit overwhelmed. There were more people than she thought there’d be for a college singing competition. Yet here she was, in this horrible outfit, about to perform in public for the first time since that stupid frat party.

But she took her place and tried to focus. At the first catcall from the audience, instead of making her more nervous, she felt a grin spread across her face and she relaxed. When Aubrey blew the pitch pipe and counted them down, Beca’s hard fought muscle memory kicked in.  She allowed herself one look at Chloe for courage and threw herself into it.

When she felt more comfortable, she scanned the crowd for reactions, annoyed but unsurprised as ‘Eternal Flame’ brought a few yawns. ‘Fucking stuck-in-the-past Aubrey. Chloe’s voice deserves so much better than this.

Then Fat Amy hit the stage.

“Aw yeah!”

Beca knew it was not going to be even close to how they’d done it in practice. That had some kick, but didn’t have the passion that Amy was throwing at it right now. She gave off an excited energy the rest of the Bellas picked up easily. Beca was grateful when the audience finally started clapping and cheering them on for the first time.

 As Amy strutted around the stage, owning the hell out of it, all the girls started smiling more naturally and put a little more ‘oomph’ into their steps. Except Aubrey, who kept looking at Amy in almost adorable bewilderment throughout the song.

As they faced off for part of the routine, Beca and Stacie just grinned at each other as Amy bounced her way between them and back to center stage. Beca found that she was having difficulty singing through her laughter. She just kept chanting to herself, ‘Don’t look at Aubrey. Don’t look at Aubrey.’  A task that was made exponentially more difficult because Aubrey was standing beside Stacie and from the corner of her eye Beca could see Aubrey’s confused death glares in Amy’s direction, who just kept singing, oblivious to anything other than her solo.

Then Amy threw off her jacket, ripped open her top and it was all Beca could do to not just completely lose it and fall to the floor in hysterics. She refused to look at Aubrey, knowing that would break her tenuous control.

When they got second place and made it through to the semi-finals, Beca knew it had to have been Amy’s solo that got them through. She just hoped Aubrey could see that.

 

~C~

Chloe stood frozen next to Aubrey and watched as chaos filled the lobby in front of her. Despite Chloe trying to keep anyone from getting involved in the hot mess below, Beca had gone down to check on Jesse.  She knew they were friends, but maybe getting between him and the other guy wasn’t the smartest move. Amy wasn’t far behind – “The kraken has been unleashed!” The next thing she knew, Beca had punched the guy who was harassing Jesse and Amy had kicked him in the balls.

A soft ‘ooh’ to her right caused Chloe to look at Aubrey, who actually looked amused; as if she might start yelling out advice any second like she was a coach at a boxing match. Chloe assumed it was the same twisted sense of humor that made Aubrey laugh at horror movies getting the better of her. But before she could comment on it, there was the horrifying sound of one of the giant glass windows shattering.

As Amy ran away, leaving Beca behind, Chloe could see a cop approaching from the outside. Aubrey immediately went into captain mode and ordered every Bella onto the bus immediately, making Chloe go find Fat Amy instead of going to Beca like she wanted. By the time Chloe returned, Beca was in the back of a cop car and Jesse was already calling Beca’s dad.

Without much choice, and since Jesse had already done what she knew was the worst thing possible, Chloe followed Aubrey onto the bus. It was a quiet trip back to Barden as all the girls were worried about Beca. As they pulled onto school grounds, Chloe turned to the rest.

“I think we should wait for Beca in her dorm. Jesse already called her dad, and this is all a stupid misunderstanding.” She glared at Amy who was still in the driver’s seat. “She won’t be stuck there all night.”

She knew it would be Aubrey she had to convince, but to her surprise her co-captain just nodded. Once they parked, they agreed to meet at Baker Hall in thirty minutes so they could change out of their outfits.

Once they were all there, Chloe led the way, remembering which room it was even though she’d only been there once. As they walked down the hall, Jessica asked, “What if her roommate isn’t home? Do we just wait outside?”

“I can pick the lock,” Stacie said confidently as they reached the door. “No problem.”

Chloe looked at Stacie quizzically as she knocked, tucking away that tidbit to ask about later. She was unprepared for the grim and unwelcoming expression that greeted her when the door opened.

“Hi. We’re the Bellas.” Chloe felt Amy wave awkwardly beside her when Beca’s roommate just stared at them. “Can we come in?”

“The white girl isn’t here.” Kimmy Jin started to shut the door.

Amy put her hand out. “Uh, yeah. She asked us to wait here for her, she wouldn’t be long.” Then she just sort of, pushed her way into the room like an unstoppable force of nature. Which, Chloe supposed, actually fit Amy to a T.

They all gave Kimmy Jin awkward smiles as they filed past and slowly took places on Beca’s side of the room, looking around casually.

After staring at them for several minutes, Beca’s roommate sat at her desk and ignored them; Chloe could feel the annoyance radiating across the room and fidgeted in her seat on Beca’s bed.

Aubrey stopped all attempts to talk about their performance, wanting to wait until Beca arrived, which Chloe supposed made sense. So they made small talk and Chloe tried not to worry as the night went on. While she knew that the rest of the girls would eventually give up and go back to bed, Chloe had already made the decision to stay until Beca got home. She’d just ignore the roommate from hell and sleep on top of Beca’s covers.

As the hour grew late, she’d never been so happy to see a door open in her life.

  


 

~B~

 

When Beca walked out of the Police Station, it didn’t surprise her that the Bellas weren’t there though she’d really hoped otherwise. She’d heard Aubrey send Chloe off after Amy, and as the cop was putting Beca in handcuffs, Aubrey efficiently herded the rest of the group together like a flock of baby chicks and out the side door.

But while she wasn’t surprised, she was a bit sad. Though her time in holding had been brief - a whole forty-five minutes once processed - she was freaking out and, for once, actively wanting someone’s arms around her in a comforting hug. Chloe’s arms, to be specific. Her brain kept teasing her with the memory of past full body hugs and it was causing a phantom ache that was driving her crazy. It was made worse by not knowing when she’d see Chloe next, or if Aubrey would even let her stay a Bella. While, technically, yes, this was ENTIRELY Amy’s fault, Beca was the one who’d been arrested.

But she was pleased that someone was there, and Jesse had been a pretty good friend lately. “Hey, Hilary Swank from ‘Million Dollar Baby.’” Even if he was a giant movie nerd.

She pulled up a confidence she wasn’t fully feeling, but figured it was good enough for tonight. “Heeey.” Jesse held up his hands like he was going to box and she punched at them lightly. “You know, you just have to say ‘Hey, Million Dollar Baby.’ You don’t have to reference the specific actress.”

As they walked toward the parking lot, he was half a step behind. “Damn. Prison changed you.” His voice was soft and full of faux concern.

“Thanks for bailing me out.” She’d not only have to pay him back but allow him to force her to watch at least two movies of his choice for his movie-cation plans.

“Well, I didn’t.” He stopped awkwardly.

That’s when she looked over and saw her dad get out of his car. She spun around and faced Jesse again. “You called my dad?”

“I know, I know, but they were putting you in handcuffs, Bec. It looked pretty serious.” He pleaded.

“That doesn’t mean you call my dad.” And while later she would remember his scared tone, right now she only saw fire. She could feel her dad behind her, his anger and disappointment washing over her back.

Jesse answered quickly, panicked confusion in his voice. “Who else was I gonna call? Okay, why are you yelling at me? I’m the only one here.”

“I didn’t ask you to be.” Beca’s emotions were too high, too chaotic and having to deal with her father was making it worse. She had nothing left over to try and remember that he was trying to be a friend.

He blinked a couple times, as if trying to get past the sting of that. “I was just trying to help.”

“I don’t need your help, you’re not my boyfriend.” She walked away from him, though she felt dealing with Jesse was the lesser of two evils at this point. She heard him say “Got it” as she approached her dad. “Dad, it’s not a big deal.”

“Yeah, it’s a big deal.” Her father was in full on disappointment mode and all she could do was stare at him. “I get a call in the middle of the night, saying my daughter’s been arrested for the destruction of property.”

“It was a misunderstanding and I was protecting my friends.” She could feel her lips drawn over her teeth as she tried not to scream. “I was, putting myself out there. Making memories.” She knew the second the words left her lips that they were the wrong ones and he wasn’t going to go for it. But she didn’t expect him to smash her hopes in that instant.

“If you think that I’m paying for you to go to LA after a stunt like this, I’m not.” He brought his hand up and waved a finger as if he was crossing it out in the air and then pointed as he backed up. “Get in the car.”

“You’re not even gonna hear what I have to say about this?” She couldn’t believe he wasn’t even giving her a chance to tell her side.

“No, not tonight.” He opened the car door. “Just get in.”

As she stalked over to the passenger side she heard Jesse walk away behind her.

 


 

~B~

 

Beca walked through the halls of her dorm and did her best not to think about the fact that she had possibly – probably – ruined her chances of getting to LA with her dad’s help. Sure, she had originally planned on doing it on her own, and she still could, but knowing that she would have help had taken a lot of pressure off in the last few months.

The drive home was exhausting; her dad’s silence hadn’t been loud enough to drown out her thoughts. She was angry at Jesse, herself, and while she was pissed at Amy, she wasn’t actually surprised that she’d left Beca alone.

The roller coaster of emotions, starting with the nerves before the performance and ending with a mess she hadn’t even figured out yet – feeling like a failure, a bad daughter, worrying if Chloe would be disappointed in her for punching that guy - had wiped her out and all she wanted to do was go to bed. Or, rather, go find Chloe but it was already late and Beca didn’t want to wake her. She also wasn’t quite ready to know if Chloe felt Beca had let the Bellas down. She was even worried about Aubrey’s reaction and if she was even still a Bella.

So when she opened her door to a chorus of “Heeeey!” it had caught her by surprise. Beca fell back on her faux confidence snark as it was always at the ready and easy to slip into. She held her hands up and bobbed her head like she was some badass before she smiled and closed the door behind her. She was touched that they had risked Kimmy Jin to make sure she made it home okay.

From Aubrey’s faintly relieved expression that she covered with an awkward smile, to Fat Amy’s new nickname – “What up, Shawshank?” – Cynthia Rose’s interest in prison life – “Did you get yourself a bitch?” – back to Amy’s probing questions – “Did they spray you with a hose?” – and finally Lilly, with her loudest voice to date – “I did a turn at county.” – it all added up to a feeling of ‘belonging’ that swept over her. It was a new emotion for her and she was a bit surprised to find she liked it more than she thought she would. To know that even Aubrey was glad to see her, even if she felt she had to hide it, soothed some of the ragged edges Beca had created in her thoughts as she worried on the silent drive home.

“You guys waited up for me?” She dropped her bag and looked around, but her eyes darted back to Chloe as she slid forward on Beca’s bed. It was the look in Chloe’s eyes that calmed the rest of the emotions that were still rolling through her; she still felt the phantom memory of Chloe’s hug and wanted nothing more than to burrow in until morning.

“Of course we waited up for you.” As if there was never any other plan in Chloe’s mind. Beca noticed Aubrey’s somewhat pained expression as she looked over at Chloe and braced for the lecture she was sure was coming.

Then Kimmy Jin was in her face. “They’ve been here for hours. It’s a real inconvenience, Beca.” She stalked out of the room. Beca couldn’t even wait until she was gone before she rolled her lips together and tried not to grin.

‘I’m going to pay for this later. I bet she shanks me one night.’

“Beca,” Aubrey drew their attention to her and Beca pulled her eyes from Chloe with an effort.  Aubrey placed her hand on her chest. “I’m glad you’re here.” She stood and stepped away from Beca’s desk. “I’m calling an emergency Bella meeting.”

“Noooo.” Amy tried to mutter quietly.

“First up…” Aubrey paced to the center of the room.

“Yeees.” Amy muttered again.

“Our score sheet revealed that the Sockapellas almost beat us. And Fat Amy, you need to do it exactly how we rehearsed it, okay? No surprises.”

And there it was. The fact that Aubrey was too caught up in what she thought was key that she missed what had made them beat the Sockapellas in the first place. It made Beca mad all over again and she forgot to be happy that Aubrey wasn’t going to yell at them for fighting.

“We should be taking risks. It’s not enough to be good; we need to put ourselves out there. Be different.” She darted her eyes from the group to Aubrey, trying to read her expression.

“Beca’s right.” Cynthia Rose spoke up. “The Trebles never sing the same song twice.”

“The audience loves the Trebles. They tolerate us.” Beca felt a boost of confidence with their eyes on her. She wouldn’t let Aubrey’s crossed arms and faux tolerate face stop her this time. Now that she’d been to a performance, seen the audiences reactions, she felt even more that her ideas would work. She decided to appeal to Aubrey and drop all of her usual snark. “We could change the face of a cappella if we…” Beca stopped and rolled her eyes, muttering. “Oh, my god. That sounded so queerballs. What’s happening to me?” Alright, so maybe she couldn’t drop all her snark.

She walked up to her desk to show them her ideas, Aubrey backing slowly out of the way. “Um, let me show you this arrangement I’ve been working on.”

Beca felt Chloe step up behind her. “I didn’t know you were into this stuff.” She leaned forward as Beca woke up her computer.

She answered distractedly, as she settled down in front of her keyboard. “Yeah.” But before she could do more than lay her hands on the keys, Aubrey interrupted.

“Okay, I have the pitch pipe and I say that we focus on the set list as planned.” Until that moment, Beca hadn’t noticed that Aubrey was clenching the pitch pipe in her hands like a talisman; like it gave her strength. She realized that Aubrey was strictly in Captain-mode despite the fact that they weren’t in the auditorium. Beca thought she should be grateful that the yelling hadn’t started – yet – even if she was disappointed that Aubrey still wasn’t listening to her. She’d half hoped that her earnest belief that they could be better would get through, but obviously she was wrong.

Beca adjusted her seat on the chair and faced Aubrey, Chloe settling into place beside her.

“From now on, there will be no more wasting time with work or school or boyfriends or partners.” She brought both hands to her chest as she paused and looked at the bed. “I’m sorry, Cynthia Rose.”

Chloe interjected. “But Aubrey, this stuff is pretty cool.” Beca looked up and found her eyes held for an instant, hoping the appreciation she felt showed. “Maybe we…”

“Okay. Rehearsal tomorrow, 8 AM sharp.” Aubrey spoke over Chloe yet again. She turned and headed for the door.

Meeting obviously adjourned.

~B~

The other girls stayed for a bit, mostly to get the gritty details of her life behind bars, but since that had lasted less than an hour, Beca didn’t have much to say. When they asked who bailed her out, she just said it was her dad and left it at that. It was still too fresh and she didn’t want to unpack all the past drama with her dad that a full explanation would require. They eventually made their goodbyes and she was left alone with Chloe who had resumed her seat on Beca’s bed.

Beca still wasn’t fully sure what her feelings were for Chloe or what was building between them, not that she was against it. Chloe had so far been incredibly adept at slipping past Beca’s long standing walls. Beca only recently admitted to herself that she enjoyed all the personal bubble invasions the cheerful woman imposed on her whenever they were together. Whether it was showing her dance moves that Beca would never admit to occasionally messing up on purpose, or sitting close enough to touch while they were hanging out, Beca never moved away or told her to stop. Beca may have been slow to accept that her feelings for Chloe were more than just as a friend, but she was letting it settle into her one day at a time.

Chloe scooted to the end of her bed again and started asking all kinds of questions about how Beca mixed songs. Because Chloe listened so intently, Beca found it easy to talk to her about music - easier than with Jesse who just wanted to get her to watch the end of his movie.

Seriously, who makes someone watch just the end of a movie because they say they never make it to the end. There’s no attachment, it’s just a guy piercing his own ear, an admittedly catchy song and a raised fist at the end.’ She’d been a bit grateful when Kimmy Jin showed up with her judgey friends.

Beca could talk for hours about something she was so passionate about, especially when she had such an attentive audience, who asked all the right questions.

She queued up a few songs that she’d mixed after listening to Chloe hum them under her breath over the last few months. It warmed her to watch the obvious delight that lit Chloe’s eyes as the music filled her ears.

“I didn’t realize that when you gave me that mix tape for Christmas, that you’d actually mixed them yourself.” Chloe said, pulling one headphone off her ear. “These are so good, Becs. Has Luke heard these?”

Beca looked down at her keyboard and scrolled through her library. “I’ve given them to him.” She lifted her shoulder in a half shrug. “I think they’re all sitting in the submission tray.”

“That’s… that’s just stupid.” Chloe said firmly. “I’m friends with him, I could go talk to-“

Beca turned and put a hand on her arm. “No!” She took a breath and met Chloe’s eyes. “I mean. Thank you for thinking they’re good. But, if he’s going to listen and think the same, I want it to be on his own. Not because anyone else asked him to.”

Chloe’s frown eased into a rueful nod. “That makes sense. Alright, I won’t send fifty anonymous emails to the station demanding that they play your music all the time.”

Beca grinned at her. “That may be overkill.”

“Not for something I believe in.” Chloe shrugged, her eyes drifting over to Beca’s screen again. “Hey, wait.” She leaned close enough that her hair brushed Beca’s cheek. “You’ve been holding out on me!”

Beca, momentarily distracted by the scent of Chloe’s shampoo, blinked rapidly. “What?”

“Your music. I need all of it. Immediately.” Chloe turned to her. “I can’t believe you’ve never shared this part of you with me before, Becs.”

Beca busied herself with grabbing one of her larger external flash drives. “I’ve never really shared this with anyone before.” She plugged the drive in and made sure nothing important was on it before deleting everything to make room for her music.

“I’m the first?” Chloe’s voice was soft in her ear and Beca momentarily lost focus.

“Actually, Jesse was first, a few weeks ago.” Beca copied all her meticulously categorized and labelled folders and added them to the external drive. She sat back and turned around again, finding Chloe had taken a seat on Beca’s bed. “That’ll take time – hey, what?” Chloe’s face was still, as if she were trying to hide what she was feeling. “Chloe?” Beca turned the chair all the way around to face her and took Chloe’s hand. “Chlo?”

“It’s stupid,” she muttered, not meeting Beca’s eyes.

“You know I won’t think that.” Beca squeezed her hand. “I’ve never thought that about you. You can tell me anything.”

Chloe bit her lip. “I…” She trailed off. Beca squeezed her fingers again and Chloe met her gaze. “I’m jealous that Jesse heard them first.”

Beca hastily swallowed the bubble of laughter that wanted to come out. She’d never in her life had anyone say they were jealous of someone else over her, for anything. She felt it probably wasn’t a thing that should make her happy, but it did.

 “Chloe.” She smiled when Chloe grinned sheepishly at her. “It wasn’t…” She took a deep breath, suddenly realizing the admission she was about to make. “It didn’t mean anything, showing him. His opinion wasn’t… isn’t… the one that matters.” She looked down at their joined hands and watched her own thumb run over the back of Chloe’s hand. “It was sort of a practice run for one day… showing you.”

“Oh.” Chloe’s voice was soft. “Thank you,” she said after another moment of silence.

Beca looked up again. “For what?” She found herself caught by the understanding in those blue eyes so close to hers.

“Trusting me with this part of you.” Chloe said simply. “I hope Jesse appreciates your trust in him.”

Beca rubbed her hand across the back of her neck. “Actually, he didn’t really ask any questions and only listened for a few minutes.” She frowned. “He said it was really good, but… I think he had other things on his mind.”

Chloe blinked at her. “Oh.” She looked away and picked at Beca’s comforter. “I see.”

Beca frowned, trying to figure out why the mood had changed yet again. Then she played back her last sentence. “OH! No!” She shook her head, her sudden laugh breaking in the middle as she squeaked. “No, we’re just friends! We’re not… Just no. We’re not those kinds of friends.” She shook her head again, this time trying to clear the image that was beginning to form. “Gross.”

“Oh.” Chloe repeated. “That’s…” She took a deep breath as if she were forcing herself to relax. “None of my business even if you were.” Bu the relief in her tone was obvious and Beca grinned.

“Chlo.” Beca jokingly chided. “I think you know me better than that by now.”

“I like to think I do.” Chloe’s eyes dropped briefly to her lips and Beca felt her heart skip a beat. “Sorry. Must be the day finally catching up with me.”

Beca nodded slowly. “I get that.” She thought about dropping it, but wanted to make sure there were no misunderstandings. “Besides, he just wanted to make me watch the end of ‘The Breakfast Club.’”

“I love that movie!” Chloe’s eyes lit up then she frowned. “Just the end?”

“Because ‘the endings are the best part.’” Beca quoted.

“And you never make it to the end, unless you’re trapped at the Bellas house.” Chloe finished, having already had the same discussion with her. “But, did it mean anything to watch the end when you haven’t formed emotional attachments from the rest of it?”

“No! Thank you!” Beca threw up her hands. “I’ve been wondering that myself! I’m glad it’s not just me.”

“Not this time.” Chloe said. “He seems like a nice guy, too nice for the Trebles, but a little weird.”

Beca’s lips twitched in a grin. “Takes one to know one, Beale.” She swatted away the finger that Chloe tried to poke in her side, feeling the last bit of stress fade away. She still had to deal with her dad and that whole jail thing, but that was a problem for next week.

“That’s why I noticed you at the Activities Fair, I’m sure.” Chloe said slyly.

“I walked right into that, didn’t I?” Beca asked with an exaggerated sigh.

“Both eyes. Wide open.” Chloe said with a wink. She pulled the headphones back over her ears. “Play me more?”

Beca hesitated only a moment before pulling up some of the tracks that she’d done the vocals on. Chloe pressed Beca’s headphones over her ears and closed her eyes and Beca loved how Chloe looked sitting on her bed. Listening to her music. She loved Chloe’s face; her wide gorgeous blue eyes currently hidden behind closed lids; the slope of her nose and the way her lips curved in a smile. She especially loved the faint scar on Chloe’s forehead, thinking it somehow made her that much cuter, even if Chloe refused to tell her how it had happened. Beca let herself drift, trying to push away the nerves at letting this personal piece of her soul into the open.

“You’re amazing.” Chloe’s eyes were suddenly open and looking into her own. Beca flushed at being caught staring and looked away, but Chloe reached out and pulled her chin gently back around. “Beca, these are amazing. You’re so talented and I’m honored you trusted me with this.”

Beca’s slow smile was interrupted by a yawn. “Oh my god, I’m sorry.”

Chloe just beamed. “Guess that’s my cue to head home.” She rose and stretched, groaning softly. “That morning rehearsal is going to be torture as it is.”

The ghost of needed comfort flowed back and Beca’s mouth opened without her expressly giving it permission. “You can just sleep here, I’m sure I can find you something to wear.” She turned around and started rummaging through her closet.

“Okay.” Chloe’s voice was soft and while Beca didn’t quite recognize the tone but she thought it was… pleased? Chloe cleared her throat. “But what about your roommate? She seems like she’d be extremely happy to see me still here.”

Beca turned around with two pairs of shirts and shorts. Chloe was sitting on her bed and taking off her boots. She set them by Beca’s desk and stood when Beca stepped forward.

“Thanks.” Chloe took the offered clothes and there was a second of pause as they both looked at each other.

Beca finally remembered Chloe had actually asked a question. “Oh, she’ll be gone for a while, if not all night. I’m really not sure where she goes or if I should be worried about it.”

“You worried she’s become a mafia hit woman?” Chloe snickered.

“Yikes. I hope not.” She trailed off for a second then shook her head. “I’ll… uh...” Beca pointed over her shoulder and twirled her finger. “Uh… yeah.” She turned around to change. She hesitated until she heard Chloe’s chuckle behind her and risked a quick glance to see that Chloe had also turned around, her hands already pulling at the bottom of her sweater.

Beca froze for a minute, her eyes following as Chloe pulled her shirt over her head, leaving her standing in a bra. Beca found she was unable to look away from smoothly moving muscles as Chloe folded her sweater. It wasn’t like she hadn’t seen it before, even outside the Shower Incident. Sometimes Aubrey made them run cardio for most of the day and they almost all ended up stripped down to a sports bra. But this was different. This was in Beca’s room. Next to Beca’s bed. Where they were going to sleep. Together.

‘Stop being a fucking creeper before she catches you.’ Beca shot her gaze forward and quickly started to change out of her horribly uncomfortable Bella uniform.

A few minutes later, Chloe asked, “All clear?”

“Yep.” Beca popped the ‘p’ at the end as she turned around, smiling, and went to set an alarm for them.

The two met at the side of Beca’s bed and looked down at it. Chloe’s head tilted. “I don’t think I realized how small this was when I was sitting on it.” Her lips twisted slightly. “Okay, do you want to be the big spoon or the little spoon?”

Beca scoffed. “I’m obviously the big spoon.” She really wasn’t sure where that boldness came from, though the mix of performing, getting into a fight and then put in handcuffs probably had something to do with her current chaotic state of mind. She shook her head and started turning off the lights. And maybe a bit of nerves that she was about to share a bed with Chloe.

Chloe gave a half curtsey and gestured with her hand. “After you then.” She smiled as Beca hesitated for a brief moment before climbing into the bed.

Beca stiffly moved to the far edge, her back to the pillows against the bookshelf that she decided to leave there for padding. She lay on her right side, her right arm bent under the pillow beneath her. Sharing a bed wasn’t something that she usually did, even when she was dating someone. She preferred her own space to sprawl. She felt awkward and a touch annoyed with herself for blurting the idea out. Mostly. A bit. Maybe.

Chloe just smiled at her and crawled onto the bed, lying on her back and looking up at Beca. “I am so glad that I met you. I think that we’re gonna be really fast friends.”

“Yeah?” Beca smiled, remembering Hood Night.

“Yeah.” Chloe nodded seriously, eyes twinkling.

“Well, you’re in my bed, so…” Beca clicked her tongue and winked. ‘Seriously? What is my problem tonight?

Chloe hummed in agreement, her smile widening, and turned her back to Beca and wiggled backward a bit, away from the edge. Beca swallowed heavily as she realized how close this brought them together and tried to figure out what to do with her left arm. Originally she’d let it fall between them, but that felt… too close. So she brought it up to lay down her side, but that felt awkward as hell. She shuffled a bit and sighed unconsciously.

“What’s the problem?” Chloe looked over her shoulder, her hands tucked in front of her chest.

“Nothing…” Beca inwardly rolled her eyes at exactly how unconvincing that was. “This is just… new.” She half shrugged. “No big deal.” She closed her eyes, determined to sleep. Though, to be fair, the warmth from the body sharing her covers felt… nice. She felt herself relaxing just a tiny bit.

“Becs.” Chloe waited until Beca looked at her. “I don’t bite.”

She smiled brightly as Beca muttered “You sure about that?”  

It was Chloe’s turn to shrug. “I’m not going to mind some cuddling.” She turned her back and wiggled backward again into Beca’s space. “You know it’s inevitable,” she said lightly.

Beca fought a brief battle with herself before she gave in, placing her arm gingerly over Chloe’s waist. “Whatever. Just… go to sleep.” She felt the other woman chuckle and her hand was pulled up between both of Chloe’s, who cuddled it against her chest.

Beca really didn’t hate how this felt and part of her was already wondering when it might happen again.

 

~C~

 

Chloe was mesmerized by the way Beca spoke about music. It was so full of passion that Chloe felt she could listen for hours as Beca explained how she matched different beats together.

She quickly got over the sting of jealousy at Jesse being let into this secret first. He obviously was unaware of what Beca had shown him, what it meant, and Chloe was glad that it hadn’t kept Beca from sharing it with her. Chloe just wished she had known about it sooner because all of it sounded amazing.

Beca let Chloe listen to a handful of mixes, including the arrangement that she’d wanted to play for Aubrey. Privately Chloe thought Beca was right, this was an option worth at least exploring. But Chloe also could understand Aubrey’s intense need to recreate the moment where she felt she failed and do it right this time. Only then would she feel redeemed – something only Aubrey felt she needed to do, because Chloe certainly wasn’t holding anything against her.

But then Beca had let her listen to several that Beca had laid down the vocals for and Chloe had immediately closed her eyes and let the music wash over her. Once the first song finished, she opened her eyes to meet Beca’s nervous ones and she spoke without thinking. “You’re amazing.”

Beca flushed and looked away, but Chloe reached out and pulled her chin gently back around. “Beca, these are amazing. You’re talented and I’m so honored you trusted me with this.”

Beca’s smile was shy and Chloe felt her heart swell and push a wave of affection through her. Then Beca yawned widely.

Chloe smiled. “Guess that’s my cue to head home.” She rose and stretched, groaning softly. “That morning rehearsal is going to be torture as it is.” She wasn’t looking forward to any of it, honestly, and not for the first time this year, she wished she could skip it but she didn’t want to face Aubrey’s wrath.

She’d turned to the door when Beca’s voice stopped her. “You can just sleep here, I’m sure I can find you something to wear.”

Chloe gave her a curious look that went unseen, but answered with a soft “Okay.” Chloe would never tell her, but she’d been thinking of what it would be like to sleep next to Beca for a few months now. And now that it was happening, Chloe was both thrilled and a little shy.

She sat on the bed to remove her boots, setting them aside. “But what about your roommate? She seems like she’d be extremely happy to see me still here.” She smiled when Beca turned around with two pairs of mismatched shirts and shorts. “Thanks.” She stood up and took the offered clothes. She got lost for a second in midnight eyes before Beca answered about the question about her roommate and turned to change.

Chloe reluctantly turned her back and pulled off her sweater, catching movement out of the corner of her eye as she folded it. Beca’s closet door was open and had a mirror hanging on the inside, and while the angle was awkward, Chloe swore she saw Beca spinning around to face her desk. Instead of making a joke that Beca could watch if she wanted – a joke she would have made to almost anyone else – Chloe tucked that thought away and finished changing. She asked “All clear?” as she put her folded clothes on the bench along the far wall. She muffled her third yawn in as many seconds. Today had been extremely long and she was ready for it to be done. Mostly. Her time with Beca could last forever, as far as she was concerned.

“Yep.” Beca said as she set an alarm.

Chloe stared down at the bed. “I don’t think I realized how small this was when I was sitting on it.” She hoped it didn’t spook Beca into changing her mind. Now that they were here, sleeping next to Beca was all she could think of. “Okay, do you want to be the big spoon or the little spoon?”

“I’m obviously the big spoon.” Beca declared, as if there were ever any doubt.

Chloe gestured and bent her legs in a mini-curtsey. “After you then.” She grinned as Beca hesitated, the full weight of what she had committed to obviously hitting her. But Beca slid to the back of the bed, arranging herself on her side and looked up when Chloe slid onto the bed. She thought Beca looked a little too much like a deer in the headlights and tried to figure out how to put her at ease.

She lay on her back and looked up at Beca, close enough to kiss. It reminded her of the party. “I am so glad that I met you. I think we’re gonna be really fast friends.”

“Yeah?” Beca smiled, obviously remembering the same thing.

“Yeah.” Chloe nodded.

“Well, you’re in my bed, so…” Beca clicked her tongue and winked at her.

Chloe smiled even as she hummed her agreement. She was afraid if she said anything it would come out as ‘it’s about time’ so she turned onto her side which brought her dangerously close to the edge of the bed. She wiggled backward, feeling Beca stiffen a little. The next several minutes were spent in silence, as Beca kept moving her arm, trying to get comfortable.

“What’s the problem?” Chloe asked, looking over her shoulder. Beca looked adorably confused as she rested her arm along her side.

“Nothing.”  Chloe stifled a grin. That was the most unconvincing thing Beca had ever said to her and by the grimace on her face, Beca knew it. “This is just… new.” She half shrugged. “No big deal.”

Chloe felt herself melt a little at the admission. She didn’t like to think that Beca had always been so alone, but she didn’t think Beca would appreciate her saying that. So she went with Beca’s preferred method to deal with emotions: humor. “Becs. I don’t bite.”

“You sure about that?” Beca muttered.

Chloe grinned widely at her, not sure if that was supposed to have been said out loud. “I’m not going to mind some cuddling.” She faced forward and wiggled backward again, definitely into Beca’s space this time.  “You know it’s inevitable.”

Beca hesitated, her body stiffening slightly before she put her arm over Chloe’s waist. “Whatever. Just… go to sleep.”

She grabbed Beca’s hand and pulled it up to cuddle against her chest, hoping Beca couldn’t feel the hammering of her heart. With each passing minute, Beca relaxed into Chloe and she wasn’t even remotely ashamed at how much she enjoyed the feeling of Beca resting against her.

After months of patiently working her way through the barriers Beca put in place, to finally be in this space where Beca trusted her enough for a shared bed sleepover… Chloe felt it was a moment of personal victory at achieving a goal she hadn’t realized she had.

As Beca’s breathing evened out into sleep, Chloe drifted with her, more relaxed than she’d been in months.

 

~B~

Beca felt like she’d only closed her eyes for a few minutes, but by the shift in light outside, she knew at least several hours had gone by, though it still felt extremely early. They had time before they had to get up. She settled in the warm bed, sighing in contentment.

After a while, she realized that they had shifted in their sleep. While she was still lying on her right side, the arm under the pillows had extended, her hand lightly curled around Chloe’s shoulder. Her left hand was curled around Chloe’s body and rested at the base of her neck. She opened her eyes again and looked down.

Chloe had turned around and was now facing Beca, her head on Beca’s pillow, face bowed toward Beca’s chest. Chloe’s left hand was between them, Beca could feel it pressing lightly into her stomach, while her right was curled around Beca’s body. Beca’s eyebrow quirked. Chloe’s hand had slipped under her shirt, high enough that it had slid mostly under Beca’s bra strap, pressed lightly into the middle of her back. Their legs had tangled together as well, and it was the most comfortable Beca had ever felt. Normally something like this would have had her slipping out of bed and possibly out the door to sleep on a couch somewhere.

Or, and Beca lifted her head and looked over. Kimmy Jin’s bed was still empty – but no; Beca would still rather sleep on the concrete wall outside in a hurricane than risk sleeping in Kimmy Jin’s bed.

Though, if she were being honest, her desire to stay shouldn’t surprise her because Chloe normally made her feel comfortable. Relaxed. The Shower Incident notwithstanding as that evoked different feelings entirely. Which she also did not think about – much – and especially was not going to think about while sharing a bed with Chloe.

Beca got lost for a moment, absorbing all the places Chloe’s skin was touching hers. Thinking of how soft it was, warm with sleep. Wondering, without really focusing on the fact that she was wondering, what it would feel like in places currently covered by clothing. She let her fingers lightly stroke the back of Chloe’s neck before she stopped, not wanting to wake her.

She became aware of the soft warm breath against her skin and through her tank, the slow rhythm lulling her back to sleep. She wasn’t going to worry about their positioning; there was still time to figure out how to extricate herself later. If necessary. Maybe.

She let herself drift back under.

The next time she woke it was because Chloe had stretched and then burrowed into her. Beca kept her eyes closed and just let herself feel. While their positions hadn’t changed too much, there were some noticeable differences. Her own left hand had now crept up and was lightly curled in red tangles, gently cupping the back of Chloe’s head. And, most significantly, Chloe had nestled further into Beca’s cleavage, her nose brushing against Beca’s skin. Beca also realized that her own head was slightly bowed, her face almost buried in Chloe’s hair. She breathed deeply, pulling in the clean scent that was uniquely Chloe.

Beca paused for a moment, waking up further as she realized just how close Chloe’s mouth was to her nipples. She was suddenly thankful that she had chosen to sleep in her bra and it had some padding as her nipples became happily aware of their current neighbor. The warm breath slipping under her top was not helping matters and in fact may have been making it worse as her body began to tingle.

Unconsciously she flexed her legs as a different kind of warmth spread through her body, only to freeze as she remembered Chloe’s legs were tangled with hers. Chloe let out a small hum, her own legs tensing against Beca’s, sliding along them and dangerously upward before they relaxed again.

Chloe’s head nuzzled in for a second time, and Beca swore she felt a pair of lips lightly brush against her upper chest. She bit her lip for a second, completely unaware that her hand had begun to gently scratch at Chloe’s scalp until the taller woman let out another hum of appreciation. Beca froze, her body tensing even as she stilled, but Chloe let out a whine and nudged her head backward into Beca’s hand.

Chuckling, Beca relaxed bit by bit and let her hand free to lightly stroke through sleep tangled curls, scratching and massaging gently. She felt Chloe’s hand slide from under her bra strap, but stayed under her shirt, drawing lazy circles across the length and breadth of her back. Chloe raised her head and opened her eyes, smiling when she found Beca already watching her. “Morning.”

Chloe smiled back at her. “Hey.” She looked so adorably sleepy and that seemed only natural for Beca to bring herself just that little bit closer until their lips brushed together.

Even as her eyes closed, she felt Chloe’s small gasp of surprise and without even thinking, Beca slipped her tongue between Chloe’s parted lips. The first touch of their tongues sent another frission of desire down her spine, making her bolder than she might have been otherwise.

She spent her time learning the shape of Chloe’s mouth, how their tongues moved and fit together. This first kiss was everything she had wanted when thinking of it at Christmas; warm and soft, full of passion. It passed through Beca’s mind that they could have been doing this much sooner if she wasn’t so stubborn. Almost immediately, however, she realized that the past months of getting to know Chloe, to trust her, made this a thousand times better than if she’d given into her hormones on Hood Night.

Chloe’s hand cupped her cheek and Beca realized that Chloe was still looking after Beca, letting her dictate what they did and how far they carried it. Beca knew what it was to kiss Chloe, now she wanted to know what it was like to have Chloe kiss her.

She tangled their tongues together and pulled gently, slowly, until Chloe realized what she was doing. Beca heard the soft whimper as Chloe pressed forward, felt the need in it.

Chloe was everything Beca never knew she needed. She deepened the kiss, licking slowly into Beca’s mouth; with each sweep of her tongue, Beca found herself pressing closer, needing to feel Chloe against her. She tangled their legs further together, feeling her heart begin to pound as Chloe’s leg slid against her center. Instinctively she arched against it, unable to stop the small grind of her hips as they flew closer to a line Beca wasn’t sure they should cross yet.

With the last shreds of her control, Beca gently broke the kiss and rested her forehead against Chloe’s, trying desperately to control her breathing.

 

~C~

 

Chloe was content to lay there with her eyes closed; basking in the warmth and feel of Beca in her arms. She wasn’t surprised they’d ended up this way, she was a natural cuddler. Though, really, the hand under the bra strap was new. What she was surprised about was that Beca hadn’t jumped out of bed, awkward and adorable.

She could get dangerously used to this, waking up this way.

She raised her head slightly and let her lips drift over Beca’s skin and smiled as she felt Beca jump. She couldn’t help it, Beca’s skin felt so good against her lips. She briefly wondered if that was too much too soon; if that was going to be the nudge Beca needed to separate them. But Beca continued to stay in bed with her, hand still lightly playing with Chloe’s hair. Chloe wasn’t sure the last time she’d been this happy. Not that happiness was foreign to her. But this level of happy was new. Nearly addicting in its intensity. She was delighting in the tension pooling in her body, but felt no need to act on it. Things would happen, or not, at their own pace.

She focused on the hand drawing designs on Beca’s back, alternating her soft caresses with light scratches of her nails. Felt the way their legs were tangled; how Beca’s breath hitched when Chloe accidentally moved her thigh higher. She smiled again, tilting her head back and opening her eyes.

Navy eyes met her own, the affection in them obvious. “Morning.” Beca’s sleep heavy voice was a bit raspy from the performance the day before. Her hand moved down to gently massage the back of Chloe’s neck.

Chloe smiled back, sure her own eyes were twinkling. “Hey.”

Then Beca was kissing her and Chloe thought she was still dreaming. She’d long dreamt of this moment; how it would be, how she’d react, how it would make her feel. The last was the easiest to identify: it made her feel drunk, heady with all the emotions she’d been carefully keeping in check finally being allowed some freedom. It was soft and tender, never tentative or unsure, and Chloe felt herself sink into it, getting lost with every touch of Beca’s tongue against hers.

Chloe was no stranger to kissing, but each second tugged at her heart, telling her that this was something more, something deeper than anything purely physical. Surprised by the depth of her feelings, Chloe tried to hold herself back, not wanting to scare Beca off, not now that they’d reached this point. But Beca had other ideas and gently urged Chloe to take the lead.

Unable to stop herself, Chloe whimpered and pressed deeper, chasing Beca’s tongue back into her mouth as she took control of their kiss. She took her time, learning Beca the way she had Chloe, trying to say without words all the things that were in her heart.

Then Beca’s legs tightened around hers and Chloe found her thigh pressing up between Beca’s legs and felt Beca roll against her. Chloe was about to press upward, lost in everything she was feeling, when Beca broke the kiss, bringing her back to herself. Chloe licked her lips, pulling the last taste of Beca from them, as she tried to keep her own hips still. Despite knowing Beca was probably right in stopping before things went any further – seriously, Kimmy Jin could be behind them for all she knew – Chloe’s body desperately wanted to continue what they’d started.

Chloe’s eyes focused on Beca’s lips as she spoke.

“Breakfast before torture?” Beca’s lips twitched.

Chloe loved that half smirk. “Sure.” She worked to push down the intensity of the past few minutes, finding it easier than she would have thought under Beca’s adoring gaze.

But neither of them moved, staring into each other’s eyes a bit longer, silently acknowledging this new step in their friendship.  They started smiling at the same time and snuggled back down as if they hadn’t almost ripped each other’s clothes off minutes before.

They had time.

Chapter Text

~C~

In the following weeks things began to change. While they had seemed to always be near each other by chance before, now they practically orbited in each other’s gravitational pull.

Beca often invited Chloe to bring her homework to the station while Beca worked, though most of the time Chloe ended up ignoring it in favor of chatting with Beca, Luke, and to a lesser degree, Jesse. He and Beca were still walking on eggshells around each other after the whole Dad/jail fiasco, which Beca had finally told her about.

She couldn’t completely blame Jesse for doing it. Chloe had been heading for full panic when Aubrey had stepped in and started giving orders. Later, Chloe realized she had been relieved to have something else to focus on. It was likely planned on Aubrey’s part, because had Chloe actually witnessed Beca being handcuffed and put in a police car, she probably would have flipped her lid. Of course, she liked to think she would have convinced Aubrey and the rest of the girls to help come up with bail money before she tried calling Beca’s dad.

Once Beca’s shift was over, she would invariably feel bad that Chloe didn’t get her work done and offer to buy Chloe a cup of coffee. She would then suggest they go to the library, saying she could mix anywhere she could set up her laptop. They would sit on opposite sides of the table, each focused on their own work, but then a pair of eyes would drift up and linger. The weight of them would inevitably draw the other to look and they would sit there for a few minutes, smiling gently, until they looked back down again.

Sometimes they were joined by Stacie on nights Aubrey had a late class. Chloe still had a hard time reconciling the party girl with the studious woman surrounded by textbooks that were at least three inches thick. Even as a freshman Stacie had a better grasp on higher math and chemistry than Chloe did and could put it in terms that were much easier to understand. Beca and Chloe weren’t ashamed to immediately take advantage of that fact and soon the three of them, plus Aubrey, had a standing weekly study date at the Bella house.

The change Chloe loved most was movie nights. While in the past they may have shared a blanket, they generally just sat side by side. Unless they fell asleep, then Chloe felt she wasn’t responsible for her cuddle needs while unconscious. But now… now Chloe immediately plastered herself against Beca’s side. If there was alcohol involved, by the end of the night she was in Beca’s lap with her arms around Beca’s neck. Beca wouldn’t even try to get away; she’d just smile and loop her arms around Chloe’s waist, holding her in place.

It didn’t take the others long to notice that eventually they didn’t need the alcohol anymore for that to happen. Or movie night. It became just… who they were.

The suggestive comments – “Get a room, Shawshank.” “Geeze, the tension in here is going to wake up the hunter.” “I will make you run cardio if you two don’t put away your toners.” – flew fast and furious, but while Beca flushed and Chloe grinned, neither of them let go.

Practices were a little more interesting as they were able to keep their eyes off each other even less than their hands. Chloe was able to pull through by sheer force of muscle memory but Beca kept making tiny mistakes which Chloe may or may not have been partially responsible for. There were times that Chloe had noticed Beca’s eyes on her legs, usually something requiring a flex that made a muscle stand out. She tested that one day during their warmup stretches and Beca had simply sat there, staring at her.

“Beca!” Aubrey’s voice made them both jump. “Pay attention!”

“Here. Present.” Beca looked at Aubrey, a mixture of guilt and annoyance on her face. “Accounted for, whatever. Fuck. I’m paying attention!”

“Yeah, no. None of us are buying that.” Amy said. “I’ve seen you run into doors, walls, people on bicycles in the quad…”

“Cars.” Stacie offered. “Parked cars, Beca.” Beca stared at Stacie and flipped her off, her expression deadpan. Chloe hid a smile; she really did love Beca’s Resting Bitch Face.

“Trees.” Ashley and Jessica said at the same time.

“Ghosts.” Everyone stared at Lilly for several long and uncomfortable seconds.

“Didn’t you fall into a bush on the quad once?” Aubrey finally broke the silence. Chloe was surprised that she was engaging in the tease-fest during rehearsal. Maybe the long hours were finally wearing her down.

“Not because of Chloe. That time.” Amy offered. “That was because Stacie was doing one of her headstand splits.”

“Oh come on.” Beca whined. “I can’t be held responsible for that. It was distracting!”

“A girl has to keep in practice.” Stacie shrugged. “Gotta stay limber.”

Chloe watched as Aubrey turned away, ostensibly to get her bottle of water, but Chloe could see the ‘Oh, that’s right’ grin and the faint blush on her face. Chloe remembered that day too. A few of them had started practice early and had cranked up the heat in the auditorium too far by mistake. To cool things down, they’d opened the double doors leading outside. Stacie just happened to be perfectly in the line of sight to anyone walking in. Beca had tripped and fallen into one of the hedges that lined the walkway, a loud squawk and muffled curse announcing her arrival. Aubrey had been at the back of the room going over some notes, but Chloe had seen her stealing frequent looks at Stacie’s routine, totally distracted despite her best efforts not to look. She was pretty sure Stacie had noticed too.

 “Wait.” Beca narrowed her eyes at Amy. “Is that why you keep throwing shit at my head? To see if I’m paying attention?”

Amy pursed her lips. “Maybe.” She waited a beat. “Unless that’d make you mad, then no.”

“Oh my god, Amy.” Beca groaned and visibly calmed herself. “Please stop doing that.”

“Yeah, no. It’s too much fun, Shawshank.”

Things got a little better after that, until two weeks before the semi-finals. Aubrey had them running an all-day rehearsal one Saturday and Chloe had stripped down to her sports bra and leggings as the hours went by. She wasn’t sure how exactly it had happened, but suddenly Beca turned right instead of left and ran face first into Aubrey’s chest as Chloe sang ‘Eternal Flame.’

Chloe bit her lip desperately to control the burst of hysterical laughter that tried to bubble free as the rest of the girls froze. Including Beca, with her face pressed between Aubrey’s breasts for what felt like two years but was only two long heartbeats.

Beca pulled back slowly, her face as red as Chloe’s hair, her eyes slowly tracking up to Aubrey’s face. “Uh.”  One side of her mouth twitched up in a failed attempt at a smile. “Sorry, Aubrey.”

Chloe took a step so she could see more than Aubrey’s profile. It wasn’t as bad as she’d feared; Aubrey merely looked annoyed, an almost scolding look taking over as she stared at Beca.

“Damnit, Beca!” Aubrey finally spoke. “We’ve been doing this for months. What is your problem?” She put her hands on her hips.

Beca blew a strand of hair out of her eyes and took another step back. “I don’t know. I just…” Her voice dropped and she muttered, “I tripped.”

“How… What…” Aubrey trailed off, fire finally beginning to flash in her eyes. “Were you distracted?”

By the guilty expression on her face, Chloe, and probably everyone else, knew that’s exactly what had happened. It wouldn’t be the first time Beca had looked over her shoulder at Chloe that day, but it was the first time Chloe felt guilty about the teasing she’d been doing.

“Aubrey.” Chloe stepped up and put her hand on Aubrey’s shoulder. “We’ve been doing this for almost eight hours. Maybe it’s time we call it a night.” Aubrey’s head snapped around and Chloe knew she was about to protest. She tightened her hand on Aubrey’s shoulder. “We can go back to the house and order some food.” She dropped her hand to her stomach, Aubrey’s gaze following. She knew that Aubrey cared about her and her well-being, even over the need to practice, but she was a little afraid it might not work this time. “What do you say?” Chloe was relieved when the anger she could see dimmed a little.

Aubrey sighed. “Fine.” The girls cheered quietly. “But we’re adding a few hours to tomorrow to make up for it. We have to be perfect for the semi-finals.” The cheers became sighs of exhaustion, but none of them protested as they gathered their gear.

Chloe smiled her thanks and turned to the rest. “Let’s regroup at the Bella house after a shower and we’ll figure out whose turn it is to pick dinner! Great job today, guys!” She nudged Aubrey who rolled her eyes but relented when Chloe bumped her again.

“Yes. Most of you did good today.” Aubrey eyed Beca, who still seemed to be frozen in place. “I know tomorrow will be even better.” One eyebrow went up. “Right, Beca?”

Beca’s eyes snapped back up to Aubrey’s. “Yes, drill sergeant.” Aubrey’s eyes narrowed. “Shit! I mean, Captain… Aubrey. Captain Aub… Bree?” She took a step back. “Won’t happen again.” She gave Chloe a quick look and turned to get her stuff, calling over her shoulder. “I’ll see you at the house, Chlo.” She hesitated and half turned. “Aubrey… I’m sorry I ran into your…” She trailed off, her hands rising as if she was going to grope herself, her fingers rhythmically squeezing invisible breasts as she hesitated. “You know.” Aubrey simply stared at her then pointedly glanced down at where Beca’s hands were. Frowning, Beca looked down and a new rose color spread instantly over her cheeks as, mortified, she dropped them quickly. “Yeah, I’m just gonna go now.”

Chloe had nearly hurt something trying to restrain the giggles that demanded to come out the second Beca’s hands lifted. Finally getting herself under control, Chloe watched Beca go while she stayed by Aubrey. “It was just a mistake, Bree.” She heard a muffled sound and looked over to see Aubrey’s lips twitching. “Are you going to throw up?” She started looking around for the trash can, just in case.

Aubrey shook her head and held up her hand, trying to get herself under control. It wasn’t until she looked over that Chloe could see the mirth in her eyes. “Did you see her face?” Aubrey let out a chuckle that she quickly muffled when Stacie passed them; Chloe didn’t miss the half smile on Stacie’s face, obviously overhearing Aubrey’s laugh. “I think she thought I was going to claw her eyes out.”

“Bree.” Chloe said with affectionate exasperation. “I thought you were going to rip her eyes out.”

As the door closed behind the last of them, Aubrey finally let loose the laugh that she’d been holding back. She laughed until she snorted, leaning on Chloe for support. Unable to help herself, Chloe began to laugh with her, picturing Beca’s face as she lifted it from Aubrey’s chest.

“Oh god,” Aubrey choked out. “It was like she was a deer frozen by headlights.”

Chloe grabbed Aubrey’s arm. “That’s because she was frozen in your headlights!”

Their laughter filled the auditorium and by the time they were done, tears were streaming down their faces.

“Holy crap. That felt amazing.” Aubrey finally pushed off Chloe and went toward her bag.

“You know, Aubrey.” Chloe said, following behind her and wiping at her cheeks. “It wouldn’t kill you to let them see this side of you during rehearsal.” It was a fine line she was walking, but it was moments like this where she loved Aubrey the most. Where Aubrey let her wicked sense of humor free and she was able to laugh instead of yell. It had been closer to the surface since Christmas and Chloe encouraged it whenever she felt she could get away with it. She reached for the shirt she’d tossed on one of the stadium seats and pulled it over her head.

Aubrey sighed and grabbed her towel. “Chloe.” She wiped the tears and sweat off her face, sighing again. “I know you think I’m still too much of a hard-ass in practice. But I…” She trailed off. “Maybe once we’re through the semi-finals I’ll be able to… to relax.” She slung the towel around her neck and picked up her bag. “We just need to make it to the ICCAs so my mistake last year isn’t my defining college moment.” She said it quickly and without emotion, as if it were just a detail instead of the constant weight over her head.

Chloe gave her a soft smile. “We’ll get there, Bree. I just know it.” She picked up her own bag. “Now let’s go get some food.” As if on cue, her stomach growled loudly and her smile turned into a grimace. “I may be hungry.”

“Didn’t you bring any bars today?” Aubrey asked as they walked toward the door, putting on their jackets.

“No. I forgot.”

“Chloe.” Aubrey chided.

“Beca brought me a few.” Chloe shrugged. “But I ate them already.”

“Beca…” Aubrey paused before forcing the rest of it out. “Really seems to care about you.”

“I like to think so.” Chloe said airily, as if she didn’t sometimes still wonder about that same thing. They hadn’t shared a bed again since the night of Regionals. They hadn’t even kissed again. Not properly – drunken cheek kisses didn’t count. But it didn’t worry Chloe like she thought it might. Or maybe like she thought it should. The little ways Beca showed her that Chloe meant something were different than she was used to, but no less important. Every door Beca opened for her, every protein bar Beca stored in her bag, every time Beca reached out and took Chloe’s hand… All of it told Chloe that they were meant to be together.

Except Chloe was due to graduate in a few months and Beca would be staying at Barden.

She took a deep breath and – not for the first time – pushed that thought away. Despite the fact that the end of the school year seemed to be rushing at her like a freight train, she was determined not to worry about it. She had bigger issues. Like getting Aubrey through to the ICCAs without anyone losing a limb.

Aubrey locked the door behind them and they headed toward the house. After a minute, she spoke up again. “You know, when you told me that you guys kissed the night she was arrested, I wasn’t surprised.”

“You weren’t?” Chloe looked at her out of the corner of her eye, but Aubrey stared straight ahead, her hands in her pockets.

“Not really.” Aubrey’s tone turned contemplative. “I think I knew it from the moment you pointed her out at the Fair.”

“Knew what?” Chloe asked, intrigued. It’s not like Aubrey didn’t tell her things, but she’d kept quiet about how she felt about Beca and Chloe growing closer. To have it even come up at all was an unexpected, but welcome, surprise.

“That you guys were… probably… maybe… destined to be together.” Aubrey’s tone was almost wistful before she paused. “Which, I know, doesn’t sound like me at all.”

“Nope.” Chloe laughed. “This is about the last conversation I ever thought we’d have. I’m impressed, Bree.”

“Don’t be.” Aubrey replied quickly. “Just because I think she’s good to you doesn’t mean that I think she’s a Bella. Because the jury is still out there.”

“You’ll see.” Chloe shoulder bumped her as they turned onto their street.

“I told you I’d try and keep an open mind about it once you told me things were… progressing. And what did I say to you in return?” She finally looked at Chloe, one eyebrow arched high.

“To keep our ‘toners the hell out of rehearsal.’” Chloe quoted. “Which is apparently easier said than actually done.”

“We’ve only got a few weeks until the semis, Chlo. We have to be perfect.” Aubrey said it firmly, as if by sheer will alone she could bend the universe to her will. Which, honestly, wouldn’t surprise Chloe in the least if she found out it were true.

“We will, Bree. We will.” Chloe reassured her as they approached their door. “Now let’s relax for the rest of the night, alright? No worrying about the set, no sneaking off to make notes.” She unlocked it and led the way inside. “Tonight, we’re going to let our hair down.”

“I’ll try.” Aubrey took off her coat and hung it on one of the newel posts. She stretched and Chloe could hear several pops as things settled into place.

“Maybe Stacie could give you a massage to…” Chloe started but Aubrey pushed her shoulder.

“Shut up.” Aubrey headed upstairs. “I don’t care that she’s eighteen now. I can’t let myself be distracted.”

Chloe followed her, lips twisted in a frown. “But Aubrey…”

“Final.” Aubrey cut her off. “Got it?”

“Yeah.” Chloe sighed. ‘For now,’ she thought to herself. Ever since Stacie had turned eighteen, Chloe had been trying to nudge Aubrey into being more open to the feelings that Chloe knew Aubrey had for the tall freshman. Feelings that she knew were returned, though usually with a touch of confusion whenever she caught Stacie looking at Aubrey when she thought no one else was looking.

Chloe found it interesting that Stacie rarely went out with the same person twice but had remained at least somewhat focused on Aubrey. It had been that way since that kiss at Christmas and Chloe couldn’t tell if it was because Stacie couldn’t believe Aubrey had held out this long, or because the feelings Stacie had were something more than her usual date nights. Not that Chloe thought Stacie slept with everyone she dated – or that she would even care if she did.

They split to go to their separate rooms but Chloe paused in the doorway. “Hey, Bree?”

“Yeah?” Aubrey looked at her warily.

“I love you.” Chloe smiled.

Aubrey’s whole face softened as she smiled back. “I love you too, Chlo. What brought that on?”

Chloe shrugged. “Seemed the right time to remind you is all.”

“Thanks.” Aubrey hesitated, a sly look spreading across her face. “Try not to use all the hot water this time, will you?”

“Blame Stacie.” Aubrey’s entire expression changed and Chloe was fascinated when she saw the smallest hint of jealousy cross it. “It’s her fault that her Christmas presents are waterproof.” As Aubrey’s face slowly cleared in understanding, Chloe’s grin grew. “Tell me you did not just think I was thinking of Stacie when I use-”

“No!” Aubrey cut her off – far too quickly for Chloe to have been wrong – even as she turned red. “Oh my god, I should know better by now than to try and tease you about anything.”

“You really should.” Chloe shook her head. “But you love me anyway.”

Aubrey walked into her room. “Yeah, I do. I don’t know why, but I do.” She closed the door behind her.

Chloe chuckled to herself as she went into her room to change into a robe. “Yeah, keep telling yourself that you’re not distracted already, Bree. One day you may even convince yourself.”

 

 


 

~B~ 

Beca ran into the station, already yelling before she even made it to the booth.

“Hey!” Luke looked up in surprise as she knocked on the window. “This is my track! You’re playing my song right now!” Recognition hit as he focused on her and smiled. “That is awesome! You like it?” He took off the headphones and headed for the door, even as she found she couldn’t stop yelling. “You put it on the radio! That is amazing!”

When she’d first heard her song on the campus radio, she’d been leaving her dorm to head to the Bellas house for any final inspirational words from Aubrey before their performance tonight. Originally she’d thought she’d accidentally opened her own music playlist, but no, she was in fact on the radios streaming service. She stared at her phone until it finally sunk in that Luke had finally listened to her music. Not only had he listened to her music, he thought it was good enough to play on the actual radio. She texted Chloe immediately, telling her to tune in, as Beca ran across campus toward the station.

Luke stepped out of the booth. “It’s a sick beat.”  As he walked toward one of the racks, she became aware of Jesse leaning over the railing on the second floor.

“Yeah, I always thought her beats were pretty sick.” When she didn’t answer, he looked down and she could tell it bothered him.

Things with Jesse were never the same after she’d blown up at him outside the jail. They were cordial at work, even able to carry on a civil conversation at times – which was made easier on the nights that Chloe was there – but they weren’t the same as they had been prior. She was surprised to realize that she kind of missed him but she wasn’t done being angry at him.

 “Hey, Becky, listen. Spring Break, I want you to take the night shift.”  Luke said, unknowingly handing her the first step to her dreams. “Play your music.”

Beca couldn’t speak yet, didn’t trust her voice to not shake, but Luke kept talking and didn’t notice.

“The DJ at the Garage does a brilliant version of this, but yours? It’s better.”

Beca finally found her voice, boosted upward by her pride and confidence in her music. “Yeah it is.” She could feel the grin on her face and couldn’t have stopped it if she’d tried.

Luke picked out the CD he was looking for from the rack. “I’m going to listen to her tonight. I think you should…” He half shrugged. “You should come with.” He headed back toward the booth.

Beca felt her heart drop just the tiniest bit. “I have a thing.”

Surprised, he turned to her and finally took in her outfit. “Flight attendant training?”

She shook her head. “It’s the Barden Bellas.” Maybe the guy into music wouldn’t think it was lame, right? “I have the semi-finals tonight.” She saw Jesse coming down the stairs behind Luke.

“Really?” She couldn’t read his tone, but thought it sounded surprised with a hint of disappointment. “I did not have you pegged as an a cappella girl.”

“That’s ‘cause you don’t know ‘Becky’ like I do.” Jesse passed them, staring at Beca. “See you tonight.”

She turned to watch him go and Luke went back into the booth. Alone, mostly, she went to the volume control for the room speakers and turned it up, unwilling to let anything get in the way of how amazing it felt to know her music was being played for the entire school.

She reached for her phone and found several text messages from Chloe and two from Aubrey.

 

Chloe:
BECA! IS THIS YOUR ‘BULLETPROOF’ MIX THAT YOU PLAYED FOR ME THE OTHER DAY?!!?!?!

Chloe:
OMG BECA YOU ARE ON THE RADIO!!!!!

Chloe:
I CAN’T BELIEVE I KNOW SOMEONE THIS COOL!!

Chloe:
I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve just sent out a group text demanding the girls all stop what they’re doing long enough to listen to it!

Chloe:
Aubrey has just come into my room and accused me of making everyone late before we’re actually late.

Chloe:
I think she just threatened to kill me.

Chloe:
Yup. She *definitely* threatened to kill me. Plus her nose is doing that cute flaring thing.

Chloe:
I also may have just caught her listening to the station when I went in to borrow her curling iron since I still don’t know where I left mine.

Chloe:
OMG I forgot to tell you the important part!

Chloe:
I AM SO PROUD OF YOU BECA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! <3<3<3<3

Chloe:
See you soon and expect to be tackled when you get here.

 

Aubrey:
Just because you’re on the radio doesn’t mean you can be late. If you’re not in that bus by 1300 hours, I will end you.

Aubrey:
Good job, Beca, really. I’m happy for you. Now hurry your little ass up!

 

Beca laughed out loud as she read them, able to clearly picture the expression Aubrey normally had when she was promising eminent death to a Bella who had drawn her wrath. She looked up at the speakers as she heard her song blend seamlessly into the next one Luke had queued up. She didn’t think she could ever explain the rush that was still coursing through her veins at hearing something she had made played by someone other than herself. She looked down at her phone again. ‘Though I guess that might not be true. There’s two people at least, who know what it’s like to achieve a goal they’ve been dreaming of.’ She felt she understood a bit more of Aubrey’s drive get back to the ICCAs as she answered Chloe’s texts.

 

Beca:
Consider me braced for impact – just keep in mind that if you muss my hair, Aubrey will take us both out without blinking an eye.

Beca:
And thanks, Chlo. That means a lot coming from you.

Beca:
See you soon.

 

She flipped back to Aubrey’s texts.

 

Beca:
Message received, Drill Sergeant. Thank you, Aubrey. I’m on my way, I swear.

 

As she left, she thought there were probably a few more things she wanted to say to Aubrey, now that she understood, at least a little, but they could wait until after the performance, when Aubrey could maybe finally relax for a bit before the ICCAs.

The high carried her the entire way there, letting her forget for a while about the outfit she was wearing that already felt stifling and she hadn’t even danced in it yet. She practically trotted up the walkway, eager to see Chloe’s face and feel the hug she knew was coming.

She opened the door and stuck in her head. “Guys? I’m on time. Don’t kill me.”

Aubrey’s voice came from upstairs. “And first. I’m impressed. We’ll be down in a second.”

Beca grinned and stepped all the way in, closing the door behind her. She dropped her bag by the couch and flopped down on the cushion, thinking of their reactions to the news about Spring Break. A sudden flurry of steps on the stairs brought her to her feet, her grin once more practically splitting her cheeks.

“BECA!” Chloe shouted at the top of her lungs, dropping the heels and bag she was holding in either hand, as she made a beeline straight for Beca. “I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!” True to her word she rushed Beca and wrapped her up in a hug tight enough that she lifted Beca off her feet and actually twirled them around.

“Oh my god, Chloe!” Beca laughed and held on. “Put me down!”

Chloe set her down but didn’t let go. If anything her arms tightened. “I knew he would listen and love it!” She pulled back to look Beca in the eyes. “I’m so proud of you!” Her eyes dropped to Beca’s lips and Beca felt a thrill go through her at the memory of their first kiss and wondering if this would be the second. Feeling Chloe’s breath soft against her lips, Beca eyes began to close and they drew closer. Until they were reminded that they were not alone as Aubrey cleared her throat at the entryway.

“Sorry to interrupt.” Beca didn’t think she sounded sorry at all. “But the rest will be here any minute and I don’t think we’ve got the time for… any of that.” Beca looked over at Aubrey, her eyebrow quirked, but before she could say anything, Chloe looked over her shoulder.

“Sorry, Bree. Sometimes things go fast and the next thing you know-” Aubrey’s eyes were beginning to widen so Beca quickly covered Chloe’s mouth before she finished whatever she was about to say; Beca had a feeling it was going to be purposely overly provocative and she didn’t think she could have the thought rolling around her mind for the entire bus trip, much less during the performance.

“Sorry, Aubrey.”  She cautiously removed her hand from Chloe’s mouth, the twinkle in her blue eyes matching the smirk that was uncovered.  She half whispered to Chloe, “What am I going to do with you?” Beca widened her eyes as Chloe’s grin turned wicked. “Do not answer that right now.”

“You’re no fun.” Chloe pouted for half a second before her smile came back. “Except you’re now an official college radio musician type!” She leaned forward and whispered, “That’s kind of hot.”

Beca felt her cheeks begin to heat. “Thanks, Chlo.” She cleared her throat slightly and gently unwound herself from Chloe’s arms. “I still can’t believe it happened.”

Aubrey had been watching them silently but now she stepped into the room. “It was very good.” She looked down as she kicked one of Chloe’s shoes and sighed. “Really, Chloe?”

Chloe gave Beca a wink and turned around. “Oops.” She walked over and stepped into them. “Forgive me?” She leaned forward and kissed Aubrey soundly on the cheek, leaving a perfect lipstick outline of her lips. “Oops,” she said again, giggling innocently and fooling absolutely no one.

Aubrey eyed her narrowly before looking back at Beca. “Like I was saying. Your song really was very good, and now I know where all the new music Chloe has been listening to came from.” She turned toward the stairs and then half turned back. “Good job, Beca.” She walked out of the room and Beca could hear her walking up the stairs, probably to fix the damage Chloe had done to her make-up.

Beca got the feeling that Aubrey had wanted to say more but, for reasons that Beca still did not understand, that was the only thing she could allow herself to say. Maybe that was another thing she could try and unravel after tonight, though she was starting to think that Aubrey’s opinion of her was beginning to matter. Which was both annoying and confusing because none of this – of them – were supposed to matter. But it did make her think that maybe she had been right in thinking that the real Aubrey was someone worth getting to know above and beyond the Bellas or even as Chloe’s best friend. Someone she wanted to maybe be friends with once this was all over.

Chloe picked up her bag and set it next to Beca’s, but before she could say anything else the door opened and Cynthia Rose, Denise and Lilly spilled into the house. They added their bags to the pile and Beca found she was suddenly at the center of a whirlwind of congratulations, back slaps and another hug from Lilly. Beca thought she must be getting used to those because it wasn’t quite as terrifying as Christmas, though she did jump when Lilly first appeared in front of her.

By the time Aubrey was back downstairs, the rest of the Bellas, except Amy who was picking up the rental van, were there and all of them were clamoring for copies of her music, just like Chloe had.

Chloe looked at Beca, one eyebrow raised in question. Beca shrugged, trying to downplay how much it meant that they were that interested, and nodded. “I still have the external drive Beca gave me.” She held up her hand as they all turned to her demanding she turn it over immediately. “Not now, we don’t have time. I’ll let one of you have it when we get back and you guys can pass it around.”

Beca felt long arms wrap around her from behind and a chin rest on the top of her head. “You’ve been holding out on me, B.” Stacie said. “The Hunter has a thing for the music biz.” She lowered her head until she could whisper in Beca’s ear. “You now officially qualify for that.”

Beca felt panic beginning to stir and found herself looking across the room where Chloe and Aubrey were watching them with almost identical expressions of hastily hidden jealousy. Beca tried to wiggle free, only able to stutter out “Uh, um… Stacie – I don’t think –” before Stacie started to laugh.

“Just fucking with you, B.” She kissed the side of Beca’s head. “The song was amazing though. I can’t wait to get my hands on you.” She started to walk back to the group, swatting Beca’s ass on the way by. “I mean your music.”

Holy shit.’ Beca thought as she willed her pulse to slow. ‘What even is happening right now?

“Let’s go, Pitches!” Fat Amy burst through the front door. “The party van is here!”

“There better not be a stripper pole in the rental, Fat Amy.” Aubrey declared, finally ripping her gaze from Stacie.

“I dunno, Aubrey. That could be fun.” Stacie said as she walked past them, one finger trailing down Aubrey’s arm as she leaned over to pick up her bag. Beca shared a grin with Chloe when Aubrey’s eyes widened then closed.

“They were out.” Amy shrugged. “Plus the budget you gave me wasn’t big enough anyway.” She clapped her hands together. “What’re you standing around for? Let’s go!”

What followed was a flurry of bodies as bags were grabbed and final checks were done to make sure they’d packed everything they could possibly need before the door was locked and they all filed onto the bus. Aubrey stood at the door and Beca could tell she had a mental checklist that she was going through, making sure everyone was accounted for before they took off.

As they drove across campus, Amy called over her shoulder, “Too bad this van doesn’t have any way to hook up anything so Beca could play her music for us.”

“Oh my god, I totally forgot to tell you guys!” Beca straightened up where she was sharing the front row with Chloe. “Luke asked me to take over the night shift during Spring Break.” Chloe hit her in the arm. “Ow! What was that for?!”

“I can’t believe you forgot to tell me that sooner!” Chloe was practically bouncing in her seat. “Beca, that’s huge!”

Cynthia Rose leaned over. “That’s awesome, Beca! I heard they don’t even allow freshmen in the booth.”

Beca nodded. “Luke told me that my first day.” She felt her lips twist into a smirk and didn’t even bother fighting it.

“That’s…” Aubrey stopped and Beca turned to look at her. “That’s incredible, Beca. I’m proud of you.” Her voice was softer, less of the Captain in it and more Aubrey.

Beca heard something under the words, like there was still more Aubrey wanted to say but couldn’t, or wouldn’t, allow herself. She could almost understand it – Beca still wasn’t one to express her own emotions and it’s not like they were exactly chummy – so she merely smiled her thanks. It meant something though, that Aubrey obviously meant it enough to say it. ‘When did I start caring about what the drill sergeant thinks of me?

“What are you going to play?” Jessica asked from the back.

“When are you going to be on, exactly?” Denise asked at the same time.

“Honestly, I don’t know the details.” Beca shrugged. “He was in the middle of a shift when I was leaving, we didn’t have time. But when I find out, I’ll let you guys know. I promise.”

“You better.” Chloe exclaimed, poking a finger in her side. “I’m going home for the break and I’ll need to know when to tune in.”

“I promise, I promise!” Beca rubbed her side. “Just stop poking me!”

“That’s not what she said,” Stacie teased from behind them.

“Oh my god.” Beca groaned. “How long is this drive again?”

“Enough for you to tell me exactly how this morning went. In great detail.” Chloe settled down. “Better get started.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Beca mock sighed before she started to talk.

 


 

~B~

The first few hours had gone by rather quickly, with one notable exception.

Fat Amy had a giant burrito thrown at her by that asshole Bumper.

After Cynthia Rose, Lilly and Beca made sure that Amy hadn’t actually been shot like she was yelling, they’d gotten Amy’s bag from the bus so she could change in the gas stations bathroom. For once Beca was glad that Aubrey insisted that they pack spare outfits and bring them along. They’d gotten back on the road in semi quick order, but Chloe had moved to sit behind Aubrey so they could go over who they thought the competition would be this year. Eventually they had worn out that topic and Chloe had put in her headphones as she looked out the window.

Beca remained behind Amy, trying to plan a week’s worth of songs, when she noticed Amy had missed a spot in her clean-up and there was this disgusting burrito spatter behind her ear. She looked around to see if anyone was paying attention, and leaned forward to whisper in Amy’s ear. “You’ve got yourself a little something there.”

“Just leave it.” Amy whispered back. “It fuels my hate fire.”

Beca stared at Amy’s profile for several seconds, thinking it was the most serious she’d heard Amy be in a while – since the Riff-Off, actually. She grinned and sat back down, noticing Aubrey’s eyes on them as she did so. She waited, but when Aubrey didn’t say anything, just tightened her grip on the pitch pipe she held in her hands, Beca settled back in her seat as Chloe’s humming turned into singing. Because of course Chloe would be the one to burst into song.

 

I hopped off the plane at LAX
With a dream and my cardigan.

 

Cynthia Rose joined her.

 

Welcome to the land of fame excess
Am I gonna fit in
.

 

Lilly, Fat Amy and Stacie started to sing with them as Jessica and Ashley provided the music and Beca cut a look back over her shoulder.    

 

Jumped in the cab,
Here I am for the first time
Look to my right and I see the Hollywood sign
This is all so crazy

 

Beca looked around as the van came alive around her. ‘Is this really my life now? Miley Cyrus?

Then Aubrey joined in, her voice clear and happy.

 

Everybody seems so famous

 

Beca closed her eyes, mouthing a silent ‘please’ that meant everything from ‘please stop’ to ‘please kill me now.


My tummy's turnin' and I'm feelin' kinda homesick
Too much pressure and I'm nervous,

 

Everyone suddenly sounded louder, but she kept her arms crossed and her eyes straight ahead, willing herself not to smile. Because it was ridiculous. She was not going to sing no matter what. Not even if it was kind of making her feel like she belonged again.

 

That's when the taxi man turned on the radio
And the Jay Z song was on

 

Aubrey and Chloe definitely sounded louder and she saw Aubrey turn toward her. Trying to school her mouth to remain still, she turned and looked at Aubrey, who was looking at her earnestly, then to Chloe who appeared to be passionately serenading her.

“Oh my god!” Beca blurted, laughing. She had to look away from Aubrey and Chloe smiling at her before she gave in. She was not going to sing ‘Party in the USA’ no matter how catchy the damn song was.



And the Jay Z song was on
And the Jay Z song was on

 

Stacie was practically in the aisle, Jessica and Ashley standing up behind her on either side to look at Beca. Beca looked back and even Denise and Cynthia Rose were pushed forward to stare at her.

Beca looked between Aubrey, Chloe and Stacie – who wiggled her fingers at Beca as they all fell silent. Waiting. But it was the expression on Chloe’s face as she nodded encouragingly and Aubrey’s earnest and intense eyes – almost hopeful as the corners of her mouth began to turn up – that broke Beca. With the memory that Aubrey had liked her song on the radio –had said she was proud of Beca – Beca rolled her eyes to the ceiling and gave in. “So I put my-” The rest of them joined her, gleeful and even louder than before. Aubrey actually started bouncing in her seat as they sang.

-hands up
They're playing my song,
And the butterflies fly away
Noddin' my head like, yeah
Movin' my hips like, yeah
I got my hands up,
They're playin' my song
You know I'm gonna be okay
Yeah, it's a party in the USA

One by one they trailed off as the van started to chug and slow down, Amy the only one singing the final lyric until she finally stopped with a quiet “Whoa.”

“What the hell?” Aubrey asked.

“Umm… It’s pretty cool, actually.” Amy gripped the steering wheel and Beca’s stomach twisted. “I think we’re just running out of gas.”

“No, that can’t be. You just filled the tank.” Aubrey snapped as Beca leaned forward to look at the dash.

Beca’s stomach twisted further and dropped. The gage was definitely on empty and she heard the disconcerted mutterings in the back.

“Yeah, I did.” Amy hedged. “And… yet… maybe I didn’t because I got hit by flying Mexican food.” The last was said through gritted teeth as Aubrey shifted in her seat. As the van started to give a few final sputters, Amy cranked the wheel to pull off to the side of the road. As they came to a halt, the engine finally stopping, she announced, “And we’re out.”

Aubrey’s disbelieving voice cut through the silence. “A-ca-scuse me?”

“A-ca-believe it.” Amy answered immediately.

Beca watched Aubrey carefully, unsure which way she would go: panic or anger. But Aubrey’s brow was knit and her jaw had dropped as she tried to figure out how they were going to get to their performance. She looked a little adrift and Beca felt bad even though none of this was her fault. Aubrey stared out the window into the fields beside them, the most lost that Beca had ever seen her.

“Man, what are we gonna do.” Amy asked from the driver’s seat.

“Maybe we could call…” Chloe started to say but Aubrey put her hand up.

“No, don’t even say it, Chloe. How dare you?” Aubrey’s eyes closed but Amy had picked up on it immediately.

“Oh, no, actually that is a really good idea. I’ve got Bumper’s number.” She leaned down to get her phone from her purse under her seat.

Confused, Aubrey asked “Why do you have Bumper’s number?”

Beca pursed her lips and looked at Aubrey, wondering if she really didn’t know what the rest of them did. By the expression on her face, it hadn’t even been on Aubrey’s radar that Amy and Bumper were friendly.

“Uh….” Amy drug it out as she tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t get her yelled at. “Uhhhhhh.”

Beca couldn’t keep her lips still and if Aubrey looked over at her now she’d probably kill Beca for laughing. But she couldn’t help it – while she thought Bumper was a horrible person, she wasn’t going to knock Amy for what she did in private. Plus Amy’s voice got higher the longer she stalled and for some reason that almost always tickled Beca’s funny bone.

Even without looking she knew when Aubrey figured it out because her hands dropped to the seat in utter defeat.

“Amy!” Aubrey barked but whatever else she was going to say was stopped when Chloe touched her shoulder.

“Aubrey, it’s the only way.” She said it softly.

Aubrey took a deep breath as Amy finally produced her phone and looked back at her.

Beca watched as Aubrey’s fingers tightened on the pitch pipe again, her jaw firming as she nodded. “You’re right. Go ahead and call them.” Beca could tell it cost her to say it but Beca couldn’t figure out any other way that would get them to the performance on time.

She sighed as Amy dialed Bumper. She was not looking forward to spending time trapped on a bus with Bumper, Amy, Aubrey and Jesse.

She looked over at Chloe who gave her a wry smile. At least Chloe would be with her.

 


 

~B~

It was almost as uncomfortable as Beca had envisioned, but the Trebles had showed up to drive them the rest of the way. It was a bit crowded, Bellas on one side, Trebles on the other, but they fit with all their bags. She figured it was fate having a cosmic laugh at her expense for having Jesse sitting across from her.

“So, Bellas…” Bumper began from the back where he sat next to Amy. “What boring, estrogen-filled set have you prepared for us this evening?” Beca looked up in time to see Aubrey roll her eyes and refuse to answer.

“Um. Excuse me?” Amy said. “But you guys are gonna get pitch-slapped so hard your man boobs are gonna concave.”

Amused despite herself, Beca found she was grinning at Jesse.

“Oh, it’s like that is it?” He said, smiling back.

Beca shrugged. “Amy claims to be a prophet. I don’t have any reason to doubt her yet.” He laughed and she felt some of her annoyance with him drain away.

“Nine miles, guys.” Donald said from the driver’s seat.

“I feel it’s time for a last warm-up, fellas. What do you say?” Bumper held up his phone. “Huh?” A note played. “Here we go: You can suck my balls.” Beca rolled her eyes as the Trebles followed his lead, smirking at them across the aisle.

Amy hummed a note. “You can lick my ass.” Beca saw Aubrey look over her shoulder, but none of the girls sang with her, to Amy’s frustration.

“You can suck my balls.”

Aubrey finally nodded the okay and for the next five minutes they amused themselves by singing childish lines back to the Trebles.

I’m so glad we’re all adults here,’ Beca thought to herself with an eye roll. ‘At least we sound good.’

  


 

~B~

 

“Where did he come from?” Stacie whispered harshly to Aubrey.

Beca felt her heart sink while she watched the Footnotes. They were almost as good as the Trebles.

“Shh.” Aubrey hissed.

“It’s over. There’s no way we can beat the Footnotes and the Trebles.” Amy said behind her.

Beca didn’t want to, but she thought Amy was right. They had mad energy, a great song and there were a lot of them on the stage, led by some guy with an amazing voice. ‘And an ego,’ she thought, raising her brows as he wiped his brow and stared at her cockily.

Aubrey called them over. “Aca-huddle, now.”

Beca turned in time to see Chloe touching her throat, the worry and stress obvious in every line of her body and Beca wished she could offer a hug. Or maybe it was she that needed the hug.

“The top two teams go to the finals, so we just have to beat one of them.” Aubrey looked around at them. “And if we do it exactly how we rehearsed it, we will get here, okay?” She turned to Amy. “Exactly.” Beca smiled slightly as Amy looked around, wondering why everyone’s attention was on her.

“Hands in.” Aubrey said with determination.

Beca grit her teeth as Stacie asked her usual, “On three or after three?”

“Screw it. Let’s just do it.” Aubrey dropped her hand and turned away as they were introduced.

As they walked on stage, Beca took in the larger crowd but strangely enough, though it was only her second time in front of an audience – third if you counted the frat house debacle – she wasn’t that nervous. They’d done this enough that she could do it in her sleep – and had. She pushed back the memory of the dream she’d had where she was trapped in the auditorium, Aubrey alternately demanding that she do cardio and dance the routine in the full outfit until she got it perfect.

Aubrey counted, “One, two, three, four.”

Beca looked around and spotted one of the crew checking his phone. The audience was sitting still, their faces impassive and lacking any of the animation they’d been showing mere minutes before. She then made the mistake of looking over and seeing the Footnotes making fun of them, two of them in the back actually covering their ears.

Beca felt that contrary spark rise up in her, the one that caused her to do reckless things like punch a guy and wrestle Amy for a trophy. The memory of Aubrey’s text ‘Good job, Beca, really’ floated through her brain, followed by ‘It was very good.’ The only question was, would Aubrey kill her or be proud of her? Beca let her eyes close, wondering if she dared. Knowing if she was going to do it, she had to do it now so it would blend right with the chorus.

This time, baby, I’ll be, Bulletproof

Chloe looked back at her, shocked at the change, but kept singing as she looked back up at Aubrey.

Beca continued to harmonize with the rest of them, not stopping when Aubrey broke formation to turn around and look at her. The look she was getting was not from the Aubrey who could have fun. It was definitely not an Aubrey who looked like she was pleasantly surprised by Beca’s contribution. This was an Aubrey who was singularly unimpressed and thoroughly pissed off.

Beca looked at Amy who stared back at her, her confusion evident as her moves grew sloppy. ‘Jesus, Ames. Maybe a little less fucking shock.’

She looked back out at the crowd, noticing that while they still weren’t dancing in their chairs, some of them were finally smiling. To her relief, and the one thing that might save her, several of the judges looked intrigued. If only Amy would stop looking at her like she’d grown horns.

As they closed ranks to start ‘Eternal Flame’ Beca saw Aubrey turn and look over her shoulder. Almost against her will she felt her eyes drawn up, finding the anger she suspected and a hurt she didn’t. She just hoped Aubrey would listen to her explanation before ripping out her vocal cords.

When the set ended, she and Amy led the way off the stage, Chloe not far behind them, when Aubrey pushed her way forward.

“What the hell, Beca?” Aubrey’s face was flushed. “Were you trying to screw us up?”

Beca stared at her for a heartbeat. “Are you serious?” Was Aubrey really that focused and blind?

“Newsflash. This isn’t the Beca show.” Aubrey said snidely.

Beca shook her head in disbelief. “Okay, I’m sorry that I messed you up, but in case you hadn’t noticed, everybody pretty much dozed off during our set.”

“It’s not your job to decide what we do and when we do it.” Aubrey snapped. “Why don’t you ask the rest of the group how they felt about your little improvisation?”

Beca looked around at the girls she had spent so much time with that she thought of them as friends. Stacie was standing behind Aubrey and wouldn’t meet her eyes. Neither would Cynthia Rose or Denise.

But what hurt most was that Chloe stood there, silent, looking anywhere but at Beca. Beca felt her heart begin to ache, wondering if it was actually freezing in her chest. She didn’t trust her voice not to crack if she talked to Chloe now, so she turned to Amy instead. “Amy?”

Nodding a little, Amy finally said, “It was cool…” She eyed Aubrey. “But it did take us a little by surprise.”

Aubrey latched onto it, all the validation that she needed. “Yeah, a lot by surprise.”

Amy made a face and held up her hand, her fingers only an inch apart. “Mmm, a little.”

But Aubrey wasn’t paying attention. She drew herself up and tugged down her jacket like armor. “I told you she wasn’t a Bella.” As if that was the worst thing she could think of to say to punish Beca in this moment.

That brought Chloe back to life. “Aubrey, don’t.”

But it was too little too late. Beca felt herself grin, though she figured it was more of a grimace as she took a verbal swipe at Chloe, selfishly wanting to spread her pain and misery so she didn’t feel so damn alone. “No, that’s okay. You don’t have to pretend you’re allowed to have a say in the group, right?” All the things they never talked about landed between them and Beca felt a twinge at the hurt look on Chloe’s face. It was the one thing she had been afraid of, that she would screw this up and hurt Chloe. But in those painful, self-torturing thoughts, never had Chloe hurt her first.

“Your attitude sucks. You’re a grade-A pain in my ass,” Aubrey sneered, bringing Beca’s attention back to her, which was a better choice at the moment.

Aubrey meant anger where Chloe meant the pain of once again being second in someone’s life. Of never being the one chosen, especially by someone who Beca had let in further than anyone else because she trusted them when obviously she shouldn’t have. Or maybe it was Beca at fault all this time. Why would anyone choose her? Maybe she wasn’t good enough; would never be enough to matter. Anger was familiar and welcome and burned away the tears that wanted to flow as the hurt in Chloe’s eyes grew. Anger was easier to deal with than facing the pain in those blue eyes that ripped at her all the more because it was she who caused it.

Focusing on Aubrey was easier; not just because she’d treated Beca like trash all year but because Beca had felt like maybe she’d finally gotten Aubrey’s approval and now… now she’d just ripped it away. Like it was nothing. Like Beca was nothing. She felt like a fool for thinking that she was starting to be part of something and she was never really part of it at all.

Aubrey’s eyes went over Beca’s shoulder at the sound of footsteps behind them. “You’ve been spending a lot of time with Jesse. How do we know you’re not hooking up with him and cheating on Chloe?”

“Whoa. Whoa. Aubrey, calm down. We’re not hooking up, I swear.” Jesse’s voice came from behind her.

Beca saw red and she rounded on him.

“Jesus Christ! That’s perfect. Of course you’re here right now.” He stared at her and it didn’t even matter that he was taking on a kicked puppy dog look. “I don’t need your help, okay? Can you back off?”

“Trebles. Time to bring the pain.” Benji walked into their crowd, oblivious.

Beca turned back to the girls she had thought maybe were becoming family. Aubrey was staring at her, dismissive disdain in every line of her face. Stacie looked like she wanted to be anywhere but here; like she wanted to say something but was too afraid to in the face of Aubrey’s anger. And then there was Chloe.

Chloe looked as hurt and betrayed by Beca’s outburst as she did by Chloe’s lack of support. As Beca took a step back, both Aubrey and Chloe’s faces changed. Aubrey took on the same exact look it had when she kicked out Mary Elise, all of the condescending ‘you brought this on yourself’ from that day coming through loud and clear. Chloe’s head tilted and her gaze sharpened but for the first time Beca couldn’t read what was in it.

Beca took another step away from them and licked her lips with a sigh. “If this is what I get for trying…” She turned and walked past a silent Jesse. She wasn’t surprised that only one person called after her as she stormed out of the building.

But she was surprised that it hurt when it wasn’t Chloe.

She reached the parking lot and took a deep breath of the cool night air, trying to push back the tears that were starting to creep up again. A breeze brushed her cheek and she closed her eyes tightly, willing herself to not start crying in some random parking lot.

‘How do we know you’re not hooking up with him and cheating on Chloe?’ Aubrey’s words flashed in her mind and she focused on them instead.

She couldn’t believe Aubrey had accused her of that. Even Aubrey knew better, knew that Beca would never have cheated on Chloe, no matter that they never put a name on what they were.

Cheating was one of the only things that Beca hated with all her being. That was how she lost her father to his new wife. She would never put anyone through what her mom had gone through when he left. The scars from that still felt new and were the foundation for every wall she had ever built. For Aubrey to accuse her of that – Beca clenched her fists, briefly wanting to go back in and rip Aubrey a new one.

She looked around, wondering how much it would cost to take a cab back to campus before she remembered she’d walked outside without any of her bags. Going back in right now was not an option and the thought of a bus ride with the Bellas, who had obviously lost, and the Trebles, who were at least in the top two, was like glass in her throat.

“Nice job on stage, Beca.”

Beca looked up and saw a few girls she recognized from one of her music classes walking past her. She blinked and looked around, realizing that the building was emptying behind her. She had completely lost track of time and the competition must be over. “Thanks,” she replied belatedly. She watched them walk toward one of the cars and took a step forward. “Hey.” The blonde she thought was named Claudia turned around and looked at her. “Do you guys think I could catch a ride back with you?”

“Sure. Come on.” Claudia waved her over. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah. Just needed some space.” Beca said, putting on her seatbelt. “Thanks. When we get back, I’ll give you some gas money.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Claudia said as she joined the line of cars exiting the lot. “You can buy me coffee to keep me going during finals.”

Beca gave an absent smile and nodded as she looked out the window as they passed the Treble bus, still dark and empty. She didn’t know if she was relieved that no one was out there yet, or disappointed.

She spent the drive back to campus in silent contemplation, thumbing through the memories of the past six months and wondering if she regretted any of it. Or if she would change anything. Or what the next four months would look like without Chloe by her side. Without Amy making inappropriate sexual comments at meals. Without Lilly making terrifying declarations that only one of them could hear and were always too afraid to share with the rest. Even without the Aubrey that laughed and joked; who had looked at her so damn earnestly mere hours before, silently encouraging Beca to let go and sing with the rest of them.

She got back later than expected. Claudia and her friends had detoured to a fast food place almost immediately after leaving the auditorium. Beca had declined, not because she didn’t have any money, but because the thought of food actually made her feel sick.

It wasn’t until she reached for her key that she remembered she had literally nothing with her and hoped that someone still cared enough to bring her stuff back to the Bella house. Not for the first time she thought it would be handy to have Stacie’s gift of picking locks. Taking a deep breath she knocked on the door, hoping Kimmy Jin was home.

The door opened almost immediately but instead of the snarky comment Beca had braced for, Kimmy Jin merely turned around and walked back to her desk where she’d apparently been studying late. Beca stepped in and closed the door behind her, confused by the distinct lack of hostility she felt from her roommate. That had never happened before.

Beca turned to her closet, thinking of taking a shower, and saw her bag, coat and purse sitting on her bed, with her phone set on top. A mix of relief and sadness washed over her and she felt like crying all over again.

She swallowed and ignored everything in favor of getting her shower kit together. It had been a long day and a long soak under the water sounded like heaven. At this time of night the showers were usually empty and she could eke out a few extra minutes of hot water. She resolutely did not let herself think of Chloe, which invariably happened every time she had showered since The Incident.

When she was finished, she quickly dressed and padded her way back to her room. She methodically put away her shower gear, put her coat and bag in the closet and finally crawled into bed with her phone where, as expected, she had several texts waiting for her. She read Stacie’s first, not quite emotionally ready to see what Chloe had to say first.

 

Stacie :
Hey, B. As you can see, we brought your stuff back. Chloe packed everything up with hers and we both dropped it off with your roommate. Hope she didn’t steal anything.

Stacie :
I’m sorry I didn’t say anything after the performance. I know it’s useless to say it now, but I thought it sounded amazing and I should have told Aubrey that.

Stacie :
I’m not really good with that kind of fighting and I let myself get intimidated by Aubrey. I’m sorry I let you down.

Stacie :
I saw you get in the car with that group from music class, but please let me know you made it home.

 

Beca debated for a minute then decided it wouldn’t prove anything to let Stacie worry all night.


Beca:
I’m home. All my stuff seems to be here, thanks for bringing it.

Stacie :
Thanks for letting me know, I was starting to worry. Look, I know I’m leaving for spring break at the end of next week, but I’ll be back a couple days early. Let me know if you want to have coffee.

Stacie :
Just think about it. I’ll let everyone know you’re home.


Beca took a breath and opened the second set, these from Chloe.

 

Chloe :
I’m sorry I didn’t say anything when Aubrey blew up at you.

Chloe :
I know it’s not any excuse, but it felt like suddenly I had to choose between you both and I froze.

Chloe :
I don’t want to do this over text, but I’m afraid that you won’t let me see you otherwise.

Chloe :
I never once thought there was anything between you and Jesse. Neither does Aubrey, I swear. She was just lashing out and he happened to walk into her line of sight and provide her with the perfect way to hurt us both.

Chloe:
I know it’s too late, but when you left I yelled at Aubrey. Found out she thought we were talking about her behind her back all year. That we made a joke of how… controlling… she can be, when we were alone. And she wanted to hurt us because she felt we betrayed her.

Chloe :
She’s not proud of it, but I don’t think I could get her to admit it in front of anyone else. That’s no excuse for her, what she did was shitty. What I did was shitty and I just hope that you’ll forgive me enough to meet me sometime this week before I leave for break.

Chloe :
Even if you tell me that you never want to see me again.

 

Beca felt the tears finally slip down her cheeks and turned on her side to face the wall. She couldn’t believe how much she wanted to walk out of her dorm and over to the Bella house, just to feel Chloe’s arms around her. She hesitated before texting back, not surprised when she got an immediate answer.

 

Beca :
I’m home. I need some time to think. I can’t promise anything right now.

Chloe :
Thanks for letting me know. I won’t push, but I really hope you’ll say yes.

 

Just one damn year.’ She thought for the first time in months. ‘This was just supposed to be one damn year to make my dad happy. I was never supposed to make friends. Meet someone like Chloe.’ Beca stifled a sob.

It really sucked when the one she was running from was the same one she wanted to run to.

The only one who could make it stop hurting.

 


  

~C~

 

Chloe watched Beca walk away, wondering if this was a horrible nightmare and could she please just wake the hell up now.

Far too late she turned to her best friend. “Aubrey, it actually went really well.” Too late to bring Beca back to her.

“Chloe, stop!” Aubrey couldn’t meet her eyes, just turned and walked away, but Chloe could read the pain in her face.

“Excuse me.” Jesse walked past her, quiet hurt in his voice. The rest of the Trebles filed past and Chloe bounced a bit between them.

“Oh, my god.” She tugged on her jacket like Aubrey had done moments before. “Okay.” She let the rest of the Treble’s pass and sought out Aubrey.

“No, I’m not going to stop.” Chloe hissed as she pushed Aubrey into an empty dressing room. “What the hell was that about, Aubrey? You know Beca isn’t sleeping with Jesse!” That seemed safer than everything else for the moment.

“I don’t know that. She could be.” Aubrey’s green eyes blazed at her.

“Aubrey.” Chloe chided. “You do know that. She spends all her time with me.” She tried to lower her voice from the shout she wanted it to be. “Where the hell did that come from?”

Aubrey spun away but Chloe could still see her reflection in the mirror. “How often to you guys talk about me?”

Chloe blinked, blindsided. “What? What are you talking about?”

Aubrey’s eyes closed. “Behind my back.” Chloe saw her swallow and wondered if she should grab the trash can by the door. “How often do you do it?”

“We don’t talk about you.” Chloe said, bewildered. “I mean, I’ve told her a bit about how we met, how crappy Alice was to us. But…” She trailed off. “Aubrey, talk to me, because right now I have no idea what’s going on and I need something to make sense.” She took a breath. “What is happening to us right now?”

Aubrey rounded on her. “Beca said something that made it sound like you guys talk about me behind my back. That you do it a lot.” When Chloe just stared at her, Aubrey spit out, “’You don’t have to pretend you’re allowed to have a say in the group.’” Aubrey stared at her, the pain finally visible in her eyes and Chloe flinched as she sensed how deep it ran. “That tripped a little too easily off her tongue for it to have been the first time.”

“We don’t talk about you that way, Aubrey!” Chloe threw up her hands. “We have… had… an agreement that we didn’t talk about the Bellas as a group, we don’t talk about you as Captain or how you refuse to listen to anyone else’s ideas that could possibly make us better!” Chloe pushed back her own rising anger. “Do you really think that little of me? Do you really think I could do that to you?”

“You? No.” Aubrey said, but her chin rose. “Beca, yes.”

“Then trust me when I tell you it didn’t happen.” Chloe’s mouth twisted. “She didn’t want to put me in the position of having to choose between her and my best friend.” Aubrey’s mouth opened but nothing came out. Chloe took a deep breath. “We both have a lot of thinking to do. And talking, but right now I have to go find Beca and apologize. You and I will talk at home.” She turned to leave, but Aubrey’s soft voice caused her to pause in the doorway though she didn’t turn around.

“I’m sorry. I’d say I didn’t mean to hurt you, but that would be a lie.” She sighed, sounding actually defeated for the first time since Chloe had met her. “But I am sorry. I wasn’t thinking, just reacting. For that one instant, I saw my best friend talking behind my back with the woman who has challenged me at every turn all year. Talking about me. And I wanted…” Her voice cracked. “I wanted you both to hurt as badly as I was in that second. Jesse just happened to give me the perfect ammunition. And I used it.”

“Mission accomplished, Aubrey.” Chloe said as she left the room. “Mission fucking accomplished.”

 

Chapter Text

~C~

 

After she’d left Aubrey in the dressing room at the semi-finals, Chloe had gone searching for Benji to see if he’d managed to catch up with Beca. He only shook his head, his attention focused on the stage as the Trebles performed. Chloe found Stacie, Lilly and Denise nearby and recruited them into helping her search for Beca.

By the time the Trebles were announced the winners that night – along with the Footnotes – they still hadn’t found her and all her stuff was still piled alongside Chloe’s in their dressing area. Panic was just beginning to make serious headway as it scratched at the back of her mind when Stacie appeared.

 “Lilly found her out front and texted me but…” Stacie met Chloe’s eyes. “I got there as she left with a group of girls from one of her classes.”

Chloe stared at her, the words refusing to make sense. “What?”

“She’s left without us, Chlo.” Stacie squeezed her arm. “But I recognized some of the girls. She’s heading home. She’ll be fine.”

The words still didn’t feel real. “She left?”

“Yeah.” Stacie rubbed her arm gently. “But she’s safe. I promise that I wouldn’t have let her get in the car if I didn’t know who she was getting in it with.”

Chloe faltered. “But… She left her stuff.”

“I know. Let’s go pack it up, yeah?” Stacie took Chloe’s hand. “Bring it home for her?”

Chloe let herself be led to where their gear was and mechanically packed up her own belongings. As it slowly sunk in that Beca had left them, Chloe turned and put Beca’s gear away carefully. Stacking them with hers, she let her hands trail over Beca’s coat as she placed it on top.

Aubrey had finally re-joined them, her face pale and lips trembling, but Chloe didn’t have it in her at that moment to ask if she was okay. It was obvious that Aubrey had finally thrown up, but in the wake of Beca walking away from them – from her – everything else seemed distant.

The Trebles were loud and boisterous as they led the way back to the bus, passing the trophy back and forth between them. The Bellas all filed on after them, somber and quiet. Even Amy didn’t say much as she took the seat next to Bumper at the back.

Chloe found herself sitting beside Aubrey and across from Jesse who looked as miserable as she felt. She briefly thought about apologizing to him for Aubrey dragging him into their mess but the thought faded almost as quickly as it appeared; lost under the weight of the fact that Beca wasn’t sitting beside her.

Several times she felt Aubrey take a deep breath as if she was going to say something, but then only let it out in a deep sigh. Chloe was thankful because she really wasn’t ready to deal with Aubrey yet. She thought she would need several drinks and a good night’s sleep before she was ready for that. Not that she thought she’d be getting anything you could call ‘good sleep’ until she talked to Beca. Until she could explain that after that first instant of surprise, she thought what Beca had tried had worked. That she should have said it immediately and long before Aubrey tore everything apart.

Before leaving the city, Donald drove to a gas station where they purchased a five gallon gas can and filled it. When they reached their abandoned van – miraculously still in the same spot – the transfer from one vehicle to another was made quickly as Jesse silently took the can and added it to their bus.

Amy drove to the next town, which hadn’t been all that far away, and filled the tank without incident. The drive back was spent in silence, each girl lost in their own thoughts. Chloe was sitting the front seat Beca had sat in, trying to recapture the closeness they’d had only hours ago and wondering how it could have all gone so wrong so fast.

The silence was only broken when Stacie asked Amy to stop by Beca’s dorm. “We need to drop off her stuff. Chloe? Do you want to go with me?”

She did and she didn’t, but the two of them carried Beca’s stuff upstairs. Chloe braced herself as they knocked but the door was opened by a glaring Kimmy Jin. “She’s not here.”

“I know.” Stacie held up the bag she held. “She caught a ride home with someone else. We said we’d bring her stuff back.”

As Kimmy Jin opened the door and stepped back, Chloe bit the inside of her cheek, willing herself not to give in to the panic that had never really faded. ‘Beca is fine. Stacie said she recognized the group she was with. Maybe they just stopped for food somewhere.’ She placed Beca’s phone on top of the pile.

“Thanks.” Stacie ushered Chloe toward the door. “Appreciate it.”

As the door shut behind them, a small choked sob slipped free as they started down the hall. Stacie immediately stopped and put her arms around Chloe. “She’s fine.” She squeezed tightly. “Just being her old pissed off self and blowing off steam. You guys will sit down and talk it out and everything will be fine.”

Resting her head on Stacie’s shoulder, Chloe sniffed and forced back her tears. “I hope so.”

Stacie stepped back again. “And if not, it’s not like we don’t know where she lives.” She leaned forward and stage whispered. “And have someone who can get the door open if she gets too stubborn.”

Chloe half smiled but it fell away as quickly as it came. “Thanks, Stace.”

As they got back on the bus to make the drive to the Bella house, Chloe had started texting her apology to Beca. It wasn’t how she wanted, it felt somehow pushy, but she couldn’t just wait until she saw Beca face to face; which she was afraid wouldn’t happen if she waited for Beca to contact her first.

Plus she still had to deal with Aubrey.

But when they got back, Aubrey went up to her room and locked the door. Chloe felt guilty when she realized she was somewhat grateful, unsure if she could handle another fight at that moment. After a few minutes of staring at the ceiling as she lay in bed, Chloe heard Aubrey come out and walk into the bathroom. As the shower turned on, Chloe’s phone chimed from where she’d tossed it on the bed.

She grabbed for it, her heart spiking in reaction, but it wasn’t Beca.

 

Stacie:
I texted Beca to let me know when she got home and looked at her phone. She just did and I told her I’d let everyone know. Don’t worry, Red. You guys will work it out.

Chloe:
Thanks, Stacie. You’ve been a really good friend tonight.

Stacie:
Don’t tell anyone, I’ve got a reputation to protect. Try and get some sleep, Chloe. I’m sure it’ll all work out. You guys are good together.

 

She let her arm drop, trying not to read too much into the fact that Beca had texted Stacie and not her. Except how could she not? After everything that had been building these last few months, was this it? Were they over?

Her phone buzzed in her hand and she jumped.

 

Beca :
I’m home. I need some time to think. I can’t promise anything right now.

Chloe couldn’t hold back the tears anymore and they rolled down her cheeks as she answered.

Chloe :
Thanks for letting me know. I won’t push, but I really hope you’ll say yes.

 

She waited, but there was no return text. Chloe rolled over and curled into herself, her phone pressed against her stomach, as she let herself cry. She cried for herself, at the fear of losing one, if not two, of the most important people in her life. For Beca, who Chloe had betrayed by not speaking up for her when she needed it most. Even for Aubrey, would never be able to escape the weight of last year’s ICCA finals as well as thinking that Chloe had betrayed their friendship by talking behind her back.

When Aubrey finished her shower, Chloe pulled herself up to take her own, needing to wash the day from her before she collapsed back into bed and tried to sleep.

The next morning she was at the center island, staring down into her coffee, when Aubrey came in. She hesitated in the doorway and for a moment Chloe thought she might leave.

“Coffee is fresh.” Chloe offered neutrally without looking. She’d spent the night tossing and turning, her emotions bouncing between misery and anger. She felt worse when she checked her phone and found no new messages and barely restrained herself from texting Beca. She had promised she wouldn’t push but the need to reach out was driving her crazy.

“Thanks.” Aubrey said carefully as she stepped into the room. Once she had her coffee she took the seat across from Chloe.

Taking a breath, Chloe looked up and blinked in shock. In all the years they had known each other, the number of times she had seen Aubrey looking less than perfect could be counted on one hand. This morning her cheeks were pale, her eyes were bloodshot and the bruised looking skin under them showed her night was just as fruitful as Chloe’s own had been. She didn’t think she’d actually ever seen Aubrey look worse.

Chloe bit down her normal instinct to ask if Aubrey was okay. Not only was the answer obviously ‘no’ but Chloe was still angry at her. She just wasn’t sure how to untangle her anger at the way Aubrey had lashed out from the anger she felt on Beca’s behalf.

“I’m sorry I thought you were talking behind my back.” Aubrey offered. “I have no good excuse for thinking you were. I do know better than that.” She took a deep breath. “I know you would never let B… anyone… do it either.”

“No, I wouldn’t.” Chloe agreed, ignoring the stutter over Beca’s name. “The fact that, even for a second, you think that I could –“ Chloe trailed off. “Hurts.”

“I know.” Aubrey sighed. “It’s just… The way she said it... The way she seemed to grin.” Aubrey looked down at her coffee. “Like it… Like I… Was a joke between you.” Her voice dropped to almost a whisper. “As if you guys said it all the time.”

“Aubrey.” Chloe chided.

“I know!” Aubrey looked up again, tears at the corners of her eyes. “I know.” She repeated. “It just… brought up every insecurity I ever had. All at once. Even the ones I had buried.” Aubrey traced her finger along the edge of her mug. “All the ones I felt when I would walk into this kitchen and Alice would stop mid-sentence and exchange a look with whoever she was talking to.” Chloe opened her mouth, but Aubrey kept going. “Then, when I left, they would… laugh.”

Chloe frowned. “I didn’t realize she’d done that too you too.” She shook her head. “But that almost makes it worse. Because that means you think I could do to you what Alice had done for all those years.” The thought stung. “That I could be anything like her – That Beca would…. That I could lo- like someone who was anything like that?” Chloe ignored the startled look that Aubrey gave her at the word she almost used. “I would never do anything like that to you because I know what it’s like.”

“I know.” Aubrey admitted. “I’m sorry.” She sighed. “I understand if you can’t forgive me. But I am sorry. I was wrong.” She stretched her hand out on the counter between them. “I’ll tell you that every day until you forgive me, if I have to.”

Chloe stared at her hand, sorting out her feelings. It was so hard to separate the different layers of anger in her. “You deliberately tried to hurt me and Beca.” She forced herself to say Beca’s name without any special emphasis. “And it worked, but not in the way you thought.”

“I know she’d never cheat on you.” Aubrey said immediately, pulling her hand back to cradle her mug. “I do. I also know that any time she spent with him was spent watching movies. It was a stupid, childish thing I did and I’ll apologize to her for it.”

Chloe knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Aubrey had landed on the one thing that Chloe could say with absolute certainty was something Beca would never do. Not after the small things Beca had shared about her family and her father leaving. While Beca had only told her the basics – her father left her mother for another woman – Chloe had sensed there was a lot more under the surface. She had thought they had more time to get to know each other better before she asked and began to unravel the layers around Beca’s heart. Now she just hoped she could see Beca one more time.

“You need to.” Chloe finally said. “I don’t know how she’ll react, but you have to at least try.”

“I will. I’ll text her later.” Aubrey looked back down and took a drink from her mug. “I don’t think she’d take a call from me.”

“Probably not.” Chloe agreed, wondering if Beca would even take one from her. “But the text is a good start.” She twisted her mug in her hands. “It’s what I did last night.”

Aubrey looked up again. “I didn’t want to ask… After you went in the house, Stacie said that Beca wasn’t home when you dropped off her stuff. Is…” She hesitated. “She okay? Stacie texted to say Beca got home alright last night, but…”

“Yes, she’s home. But okay? I don’t know.” Chloe swallowed at the lump suddenly in her throat. “I asked her to see me before we leave at the end of the week. She said she’d think about it.”

“I’m sorry.” Aubrey looked back down at the counter.

“What are you sorry for, exactly?” Chloe felt her anger finally gaining a foothold over her sorrow. “Just for trying to hurt us? Anything else?”

Aubrey blinked. “For trying to hurt you, of course.”

“So you’re not sorry you attacked her in the first place?” Chloe pushed.

“She’s the one who went off in the middle of our set.” Aubrey’s voice was starting to rise. “If she hadn’t done that –“

Chloe cut her off. “You can’t believe that we still would have won over the Footnotes with our routine.”

“It got us to the finals last year!” Aubrey sat up. “It would have done it again.”

 “Aubrey, we only had the Trebles to worry about last year. There was no way we were going to beat the Footnotes too.” Chloe shook her head. “It didn’t sink in until after we were on the bus, but Beca was right. The audience had gone quiet. The judges looked bored. Until Beca sang ‘Bulletproof.’”

“She had no right to make that decision.” Aubrey insisted.

“It’s not like she could stop in the middle of the damn set and ask you, Aubrey.” Chloe said, exasperated. “She took a chance-“

“And it failed.” Aubrey said, color coming back into her cheeks.

“You don’t know that’s why we lost.” Chloe pushed back. “That could be why we came in third.” She’d heard that’s where they placed from Benji just before they left and she knew Aubrey still hadn’t looked at the scoresheet he’d handed her. Chloe figured it didn’t matter anymore.

Aubrey bit back whatever she was about to say and took a drink of her coffee to give herself time to think. “No.” Chloe blinked at her. “I mean, you’re right. I don’t know either of those things. But I still think she shouldn’t have done it.”

Chloe’s mouth dropped open and she stared at Aubrey. “Are you really that stubborn?”

To her surprise, Aubrey merely sighed and unknowingly echoed Chloe’s thoughts. “It doesn’t matter now, does it?”

“It does to me.” Chloe said. “I supported you for so long – I stayed quiet even though I’ve thought for months that the girls maybe had a point in trying something new – that when it came down to having to give an opinion contrary to yours, I froze!” Aubrey recoiled from the anger in her voice. “Because I thought it meant I would have to choose between you!” Chloe blinked back the angry tears that stung her eyes. “I couldn’t even look her in the eye, Aubrey. I let her stand there, alone, while you treated her like crap.” Chloe pushed away from the counter and rinsed out her empty mug.

“Chloe…” Aubrey trailed off.

“Suddenly ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t feel big enough, does it?” Chloe said as she left the room.

She had just reached the couch when she barely heard the soft voice behind her. “Not even if it could win the ICCAs.”

The honesty of it, and the pain in which Aubrey said it, was almost enough to pull Chloe back around. But she continued to her room, not quite ready to start forgiving.

 

~

 

To say that things had been awkward between them for the past week would be an understatement and now they were both getting ready to leave for Spring Break. Aubrey had already packed for her flight in a few hours and was watching as Chloe packed for her flight tomorrow.

“Aubrey, can you just give it a rest?” Chloe shoved another shirt into her suitcase. “I’d like to finish packing without bloodshed.”

Aubrey sighed from where she was sitting at the end of Chloe’s bed. “I’m sorry.”

“I know.” She didn’t look at Aubrey though, just turned back to her dresser. They’d said those four words a lot to each other over the past week.

That first morning had been only one of many small discussions-slash-fights they’d had since the semi-finals. Aubrey remained intractable in her belief that Beca was wrong to layer another song over theirs but she was sorry for her part in Beca’s silence for the past week.

Chloe, for her part, tried to separate her anger at Aubrey for driving Beca away – which she knew was never the intention – and her anger at Aubrey’s inability to see Beca had just been trying to look out for the group. It was a strange place she found herself in because of it.

Chloe knew that Aubrey had been coming around to having Beca in Chloe’s life – accepted it, even. She’d said as much that day Beca had run into her at practice and showed great remorse in being a large part of the reason that Beca remained distant this week; which is ultimately what allowed Chloe to half forgive Aubrey. She realized she couldn’t, and didn’t want to, throw away almost four years of friendship because of a single, albeit supremely fucked up, five minute span of time. Chloe also didn’t think she could survive what she was afraid was coming if she cut Aubrey out of her life at the same time.

Things were still strained between them though; they practically tiptoed through their conversations as they tried to knit their torn edges back together. It was made worse when, at least once a day, Aubrey would get stuck in a loop where she would try and rehash that night. Chloe knew she was trying to work out her feelings and just hoped that one day Aubrey might see the other side of things. Until then it just exhausted her and she’d eventually just stopped responding, letting Aubrey ramble until she realized what she was doing and stopped.

They kept hearing Beca’s music on the radio, a few songs here and there, and Aubrey always commented on how great it sounded. Yesterday Chloe had finally asked her, “Since you think she’s got such a good ear, don’t you think she maybe has a point about our set?” Aubrey’s mouth had closed with an almost audible snap and Chloe thought that would be the end of it. Until today.

Chloe closed the dresser drawer and went over to her vanity, trying not to clench her jaw as Aubrey started up again.

“I just don’t know why she felt she had to go rogue.” Aubrey still sounded bewildered at even the mere thought of it. She’d been particularly vocal today, as if she were trying to pre-make up for not being able to talk it out with Chloe for the next week. “I just-”

Chloe finally snapped. “Aubrey, if you don’t drop it, I’m going to give Stacie permission to use your room while you’re at your parents on spring break.” The stricken look on Aubrey’s face almost immediately made Chloe feel bad, but damn it, she was pissed too. She took a deep breath and looked at Aubrey through her mirror. “I’m sorry. That was a horrible thing to say.” It was also completely not true and not just for the fact that Stacie would be out of town too. Even in the middle of all this, Chloe would never hurt Aubrey that way.

Aubrey shook her head though Chloe could still see the hurt she’d caused. “I deserved it.”

“No.” Chloe sat down beside her. “You really didn’t.” She took Aubrey’s hand and pulled it into her lap, lacing their fingers together. “But you can’t keep bringing it up, Aubrey. It’s too soon.” She sighed. “And I can’t ask her for you because she won’t see me.”

Aubrey squeezed her hand. “I know. I’m sorry. If I thought my apologizing again would do any good, I’d do it. But…”

“But she didn’t answer your first one.” Chloe finished for her. It hadn’t surprised either of them that Beca had ignored Aubrey’s text.

They sat silently for a bit, each lost in their own thoughts. They’d kept in touch with the other girls all week; Aubrey even apologized for her ‘unprofessional outburst’ when Chloe finally convinced them to come over so she could. While she refrained from complaining about Beca’s alterations, she was completely sincere in her apology for her behavior. They had both agreed to keep some specifics – such as Aubrey lashing out at thinking Beca and Chloe had been talking about her – between them. That was a far more personal issue and Chloe didn’t want to share all their dirty laundry. Even as hurt as she was by both of them, the last thing she wanted was for the rest of the girls to think less of Aubrey or Beca. Or herself, if she was going to be honest; she was not without blame at ending up in this circle of Hell they found themselves in.

But Beca had stayed away and didn’t text unless it was in response to Chloe giving in to her own anxiety and texting first. Which she had allowed herself to do only twice.

The first time was Monday evening, a full two days after their performance. She’d simply texted Beca ‘I hope your Monday wasn’t too bad. Have a good night, Beca.’ Beca took so long to respond that Chloe had already brushed her teeth and gotten into bed before her phone chimed. All she’d said was ‘You too.

The second time was yesterday, Thursday, after spending the entire week distracted and unable to concentrate in class. Stacie had seen Beca in the quad on the way from her music class, so Chloe at least knew she was still around and hadn’t done something crazy like leave before the end of the year. Beca had taken even longer to respond to that one.

Chloe :
I leave early on Saturday for my parents. Would you be willing to meet me for coffee tomorrow night?

Beca :
I can’t. I still need… time. But I hope you have a good visit with your parents. Maybe when you get back.

Chloe had bit her lip to keep the sob from escaping but she couldn’t stop the tears.

Chloe :
Then I’ll text you when I’m back.

She had debated on sending her next text but decided she didn’t have too much more to lose at this point.

Chloe :
Good luck at the station, I’ll be listening when I can. I miss you.

She hadn’t expected a reply to that, but it still stung when there wasn’t one.

What she hadn’t told Beca, or even Aubrey, was that she’d made the decision to have node surgery while she was at home. With everything else going on, she didn’t want to add any possible pressure by texting Beca with it beforehand and she didn’t want to worry Aubrey when she was already spiraling at not moving on to finals. She’d explain it when she got back to school and on the mend. The doctors had told her that her voice would take a few weeks to get stronger, but since the season was over, she supposed that didn’t matter anymore either.

Letting her memories slip away, Chloe played with Aubrey’s fingers. “When is Stacie going to be here?” Stacie had offered to drive both Aubrey and Chloe to the airport a few weeks ago and had assured them that nothing had changed.

Aubrey checked her watch. “In about thirty. Should give us plenty of time to get to there.”

Chloe stood up and pulled Aubrey after her. “Let’s go make sure you packed everything on your checklist.” She turned to the door but Aubrey tugged her to a halt.

“You’re my best friend,” she began. “I’m sorry for… everything… this year. But especially for everything I did that caused your problems with Beca. I never wanted that.” Aubrey looked down at their joined hands. “Not once I saw how you were together.”

“But you still don’t think she’s a Bella.” Chloe stated.

“No.” Aubrey said simply. “While I can admit that we got along outside of rehearsals, and I was maybe starting to like her… I never really felt like she wanted to be there. For you, yes. But never like the rest of them; never wanted to be a Bella.” She sighed. “I don’t want to fight anymore, Chlo.” She squeezed their fingers together again. “I also don’t think I can leave if you hate me.”

The naked vulnerability in Aubrey’s eyes tugged at Chloe’s heart. “Oh Bree.” She pulled Aubrey into her arms. “I don’t hate you. I could never hate you.” She wasn’t lying either. It was Captain Posen that Chloe still had a problem with, a distinction she had spent all week determining. And since they didn’t make it to the ICCAs that was thankfully someone she didn’t have to deal with right now. They could work out the rest of it when they got back, but Aubrey would always be her best friend. She kissed the side of Aubrey’s head. “We’ll get past this.”

Aubrey tightened her arms around Chloe’s ribs. “I love you, Chloe. I’m sorry I’ve been stuck in a rut all week.”

“Me too,” Chloe couldn’t help but say wryly as she pulled back to look her in the eyes. “I love you too, Bree.”

One side of Aubrey’s mouth twitched as she tried to smile. “Maybe the break will be good for me to get out of my head.”

“Me too.” Chloe almost told her about her surgery. Almost. “Now let’s go get your bags and fix our make-up before Stacie gets here and accuses us of abusing each other.”

Aubrey finally let out a watery laugh and let herself be led to her room.

Chloe refused to think about the fact that when Aubrey was gone, she still had a night alone in the house before she left in the morning. She wasn’t looking forward to the silence and too much time to think without any distractions. Time to miss Beca and their talks or their comfortable silences; Beca’s smirk and raised eyebrow; the soft feel of her skin and the fact that she let Chloe basically attach to her body wherever and whenever  she felt like it on any given day.

Chloe was startled out of her thoughts when the front door opened downstairs. After they’d repaired the damage their tears had done to their makeup they had moved to Aubrey’s room for one last scan of her checklist.

“Honey, I’m home.” Stacie’s voice sang up to them.

“We’re up here, Stacie.” Aubrey called as she zipped her suitcase up.

“Ooh, are you both in the bedroom? Be still my beating heart.”

Chloe could hear the smile in Stacie’s voice and rolled her eyes. “In your dreams,” she called out, happy for the simple banter to distract her.

Often.” Stacie said as she appeared in the doorway; she winked when Aubrey spun to look at her. “Your chariot awaits.”

Chloe looked down at the bag in Stacie’s hand. “I thought your flight didn’t leave until tomorrow?”

“It doesn’t.” Stacie shrugged. “But I thought I’d ask if I can crash in one of your empty rooms tonight, since I’m coming back in the morning anyway to drive us both back to the airport for our flights. If that’s okay?”

“Sure.” Chloe replied casually, as if she weren’t suddenly overwhelmed with relief at not having to be alone in the house. “Grab any room you want. Sorry I didn’t think of that myself.”

“Does that mean I can sleep in Aubrey’s?” Stacie asked innocently.

“No.” Aubrey replied firmly.

“Um.” Chloe’s lips twisted as her brain nudged her. “Except I just remembered I took off all the sheets in the other rooms to do laundry tonight. To, uh. Stay busy.” She had hoped the mindless activity would at least give her something to focus on.

“Oh.” Aubrey turned back to her suitcase and opened the front flap as if she’d put something in it she needed, except Chloe knew it was empty.

“Ah, the couch is fine.” Stacie said, dropping all of her coy flirting. “No big deal.”

“You could share with-” Chloe started to say but to her surprise Aubrey cut her off.

“No… it’s… That’s fine. You can sleep in here tonight.” Aubrey zipped the flap back up and turned around. “I’m sorry. It’s just… Habit.” She touched her throat where her Bella scarf was usually tied. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.” Stacie shrugged. “Bedrooms can be a sacred place. I get it.”

“It’s fine, Stacie.” Aubrey half smiled. “I promise.”

Chloe was shocked that Aubrey had agreed to it at all; the only person Aubrey even let near her bed was Chloe. No one else was really even allowed in her room when she wasn’t around, so for her to let Stacie sleep in it was a big step. Or, she thought as she hid a smile, Aubrey really didn’t want Stacie to share Chloe’s bed even though she knew nothing would happen.

Stacie pursed her lips, eyeing her narrowly, but nodded. “Thanks, Bree.” She set her bag down on the red wooden table Aubrey had brought home from a garage sale their first year; she and Chloe had spent a few weekends cleaning it up and refinishing it. Every few months they moved it from one room to the other, ‘sharing custody’ as Chloe joked. They still hadn’t figured out who got to take it with them when they graduated. Chloe pushed away the sudden panic that rose at the thought of graduation and focused on Aubrey who was still talking.

“You’re taking us to the airport; the least I can do is let you sleep in my bed.” Aubrey flushed faintly as she realized what she said.

Stacie opened her mouth and Chloe could already hear the innuendo filled comment that surely was about to follow, but all she said was, “No problem, Aubrey. It’s not that far, really.”

Chloe cleared her throat. “We’ll order in some dinner when we get back, Stacie.”

Stacie nodded. “Sounds good. I’ll meet you guys downstairs.”

“I’m all packed.” Aubrey started to lift her bag from the bed but Stacie leaned past her to pick it up instead. “Oh, you don’t…”

“I skipped the gym this week, let me pretend this counts.” Stacie turned and left the room without another look back.

“Don’t forget your carryon.” Chloe grinned at Aubrey before she followed Stacie downstairs.

They may still have a lot to talk about, but Chloe knew she and Aubrey would work through it together.

Then she could work on Aubrey’s refusal to admit her feelings for Stacie.

And, somewhere, somehow, she had to do whatever it took to get Beca to agree to see her before the end of the year.

“Aubrey!” Stacie called back up the stairs when Aubrey still hadn’t joined them after a few minutes. “Get your cute little butt down here before you’re late!”

 


  

~B~ 

For the next week Beca went through the steps of college life.

She woke up, she went to class, she did her homework and she went to sleep.

For the first half of the week she didn’t even mix music, but finally the noise in her head drove her back to her laptop where she tried to drown her pain in driving beats.

All the girls had texted her through the week, asking her how she was, and she told each and every one of them that she was fine. She knew they didn’t believe her, but that didn’t matter. Without rehearsals her schedule didn’t bring them together and they didn’t need to know that she was barely eating.

She didn’t know if she was relieved or disappointed that Chloe had respected her wish for space but Aubrey had texted an apology the day after the semi-finals.

 

Aubrey :
I'm sorry I said what I did about Jesse. I know you would never cheat on Chloe.

Aubrey :
I'm not proud of it, but when I thought you and Chloe had been talking behind my back all year it hurt. And I lashed out at you both.

Aubrey :
It… I… was wrong and I'm sorry, Beca. I really am.

 

Beca didn't bother to answer Aubrey, though she was surprised and grudgingly impressed that Aubrey would own up to doing anything wrong at all, much less apologize for it. It annoyed her as well, because it unintentionally brought a spotlight onto her own actions.

When Chloe hadn't been able to meet her eyes, had taken so long to stand up for her, Beca had lashed out in the same way. She even knew she was doing it at the time, but seeing it now, in the light of Aubrey's apology for doing the same thing, she felt small about it. She still felt Chloe chose Aubrey over her, but that didn’t give Beca the right to be just as shitty.

It had barely registered at the time that Aubrey had accused her of cheating before Jesse was suddenly there. Had he not offered an immediate and better target for her anger, she might actually have launched herself at Aubrey once it had. Her father had cheated on her mother and left them for the other woman. The irony of that was that woman cheated on him and he left her too. Beca would never, ever, put anyone through that, much less someone like Chloe.

Chloe's texted explanation had made it easier to let that anger go, and even though Beca wasn't going to answer her, so did Aubrey's. It was a kneejerk verbal punch on both their parts that snowballed and grew bigger than, she thought, any of them intended. It was much easier to decide that those particular offenses cancelled each other out.

Which left her with Aubrey's inability to comprehend that any other way but hers might be valid and that Chloe had remained silent when Beca needed her most.

The real bitch of it was that the pain she felt from Chloe not speaking up, for not even being able to look Beca in the eyes as she stood in front of Aubrey’s anger, was almost nothing compared to suddenly being without her. That pain cut deeper and sharper than she could have ever predicted and it was only because of the years she’d spent walling off her emotions that kept it from reaching her face each day. It was also the loneliest she had felt in years and she knew it was going to take time to replace the wall that Chloe slipped under and the rest of the Bellas – including Aubrey – had crashed through like a demolition team. She had let them in and now there were several large holes where pieces were missing.

But none were bigger than the Chloe shaped hole in her life.

Part of her had been hoping that Chloe would just show up and force Beca to talk to her until they’d worked through all the hurt feelings. But all she did was text once on Monday, like she was testing the waters, and again on Thursday, to see if Beca was ready to see her yet.

 

Chloe :
I leave early on Saturday for my parents. Would you be willing to meet me for coffee tomorrow night?

 

Beca had stared at the text for the longest time, trying to sort out her feelings. She knew she had fallen hard for Chloe, that wasn’t in question any more. But she didn’t know if she could forget the fact that Chloe had chosen Aubrey over her. Or maybe she was scared of the fact that part of her was ready to forgive Chloe already just to stop hurting all the time. Beca tried to refuse to let herself think of how much she missed the thousand looks, touches and hugs she would give and receive every day. She tried not to acknowledge the ache in her arms or heart because she knew if she did, she would run straight into Chloe’s arms and never let go.

The practical side of her, snide and sounding kind of like the Aubrey in rehearsal, would remind her that Chloe was going to graduate in less than six months. What future did she really think they were going to have together when Chloe left? Was Beca really the kind of person that Chloe would want to have a long distance relationship with? Was Beca even willing to make that kind of commitment when her own goal was to move to LA at the end of the year? So what if she had started to think that maybe she would stay at Barden in the past few months; she felt like there would be too much pain if she tried it now.

And the rest of the girls – while she slowly was realizing that she did kind of love them in her own way – they weren’t enough to make her stay.

Beca looked back down at her phone. She wanted to see Chloe so badly it terrified her. So she took the coward’s way out and pushed her away.

 

Beca :
I can’t. I still need… time. But I hope you have a good visit with your parents. Maybe when you get back.

Chloe :
Then I’ll text you when I’m back.

Chloe :
Good luck at the station, I’ll be listening when I can. I miss you.

 

Beca spent the rest of the night staring at her phone, wishing she had the strength to text back what her heart was screaming.

I miss you.

I need you.

I love you.

 

~

 

“Happy spring break.”

Beca looked up automatically and turned around to see Kimmy Jin watching her. She waited a heartbeat for some sarcastic comment but nothing was forthcoming. “Thanks.” She felt her lips form a half grin that fell away the second Kimmy Jin turned around and walked toward the door.

Looking around the room as the door shut, Beca tried not to think too much about what she must have been like for the past week. To have someone who was normally the roommate from hell sincerely, and borderline consoling, wish her a happy spring break said horrible things her general mental state. She also didn’t want to think about what it meant that she briefly wished Kimmy Jin was leaving tomorrow on Sunday morning instead of this afternoon; at least then the room wouldn’t be full of just her own silences.

She turned back to her laptop with a sigh. She’d spent all of Friday learning how to run the station equipment from Luke and the high from being the only freshman allowed in the booth had kept her going through her music library until late. She’d gone to bed with her head filled with possible playlists and ignoring the nudges from her heart to call a certain redhead. She’d slept late; part of her was half convinced she’d done it on purpose.

Chloe’s flight had left two hours before.

So she’d dove back into her library, creating a playlist for each day next week. She was working Sunday through Friday, eleven at night to four in the morning. She had a list of commercials she needed to play with roughly the times they were scheduled, a few generic station intros she could use if she wasn’t up to talking on air and the freedom to play almost whatever she wanted. She stayed up late, constantly changing and reworking her lists, trying to decide if each day should have a theme or if she should just play a mix of genres, until she finally fell asleep on her keyboard around three in the morning.

She woke late on Sunday, or early afternoon depending on how you looked at it, and worked on a few new mixes until it was time to head to the studio.

Walking across campus at night wasn’t new; she’d done it several times after practice or instead of staying over at the Bella house. But the emptiness of it was different; with most of the students having left for break there just weren’t a lot of people walking around. She kept an eye on her surroundings, her whistle and pepper spray handy, just in case, but she’d never felt threatened on campus before and didn’t anticipate any problems tonight.

Beca let herself in with the key Luke gave her – after making her promise to give it back without making any copies of it, “I’ve been burned before” – and locked the door once she was through; tugging on it to make sure it had latched. It was strange to walk through the studio with only a few lights on and the low murmur of the pre-programmed music that was playing before her shift to keep her company.

But when she stepped into the booth and looked around, she only felt calm.

Everything else faded as she locked the door behind her, surveying what would be her world for the next six nights. This was the experience she had wanted when she first signed up to work at the station. It was something she knew she could do but hadn’t been sure she would get the opportunity for, especially with the ‘no freshmen’ rule.

Dropping her backpack by the door, Beca made her way to the chair and sat down. She took a moment to revel in finally being able to be part of the music instead of just stacking the CD’s other people used in their shifts. She picked up the headphones, the corners of her mouth turning up in a small smile as she put them on.

This is where I belong,’ she thought as she turned to one of the laptops.

The first night passed almost too quickly. It felt like she’d barely sat down and got started when suddenly the silent alert she’d set went off to remind her to put on the hour of pre-programmed music that ran before the morning crew got in. She checked the clock to make sure she hadn’t set the alert wrong and was surprised to see that it was almost four.

She checked the length of her planned songs and made some adjustments so it would end just before she left. She had used most of the pre-recorded station slogans all night, but thought she was ready to sign off live.

As the last note faded, she cleared her throat and turned the mic on.

“You’re listening to 95.7, WBUJ, music for the independent mind. My name is Mitchell and I hope the late night crowd has enjoyed listening to something a little bit different tonight. I’ll be back Monday night at eleven with some new mixes. Until then… Happy Spring Break, Barden University.”

She clicked the mic off and smiled as the programmed music took over.

“That was awesome.” She whispered to herself as she took the headphones off and set them down. She ran her fingers along the edge of the desk and pushed back the chair so she could stand up.

Grabbing her bag, she left the booth, taking one last look around at all the room and already impatient to start her shift later that night.

She made her way back to her room, deciding against stopping anywhere for a quick meal in favor of crashing in her bed. She was both exhilarated and exhausted but thought that sleep would win out once she was in bed. She was right, the second her head hit the pillow she was out like a light. It was also the best sleep she’d had in over a week.

She woke up and grabbed her phone, still half asleep, and had typed out half a text to Chloe before she remembered that they weren’t talking. Letter by letter she deleted it and let her hand drop to the bed as she stared at her ceiling. Her good mood faded as she realized she had no one to share it with.

You could, if you just stop being stubborn,’ a small voice told her.

She ignored it and got out of bed to go search for food. But it kept playing back in her mind. She hadn’t even told anyone when she would be on. And she’d promised she would. Granted that was before everything had gone to hell and she still needed time to think about how she felt about Chloe… but the rest of the girls… They didn’t deserve to be shut out, did they?

Beca mulled it over through her lunch, since she’d gotten up after noon, and decided to send the same generic text to almost everyone. She refused to let herself think of the two people she left off her list.

 

Beca :
Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but I’m covering the radio Sun thru Fri, 11p-4a. 

 

Almost immediately she started getting replies congratulating her again and saying they would tune in. She knew most of them were with their families, so she didn’t really expect them to be able to stay up to listen, but the thought made her happy. Jessica, Lilly and Cynthia Rose had all caught last night’s show, apparently still on campus and said her music was great and were looking forward to getting copies of her library.

Of course, that brought her back around to Chloe.

She’d been able to push everything to the back of her mind last night in all her excitement, but now… Beca sighed and took out her phone again. She brought up Chloe’s messages and started typing.

 

Beca :
Had my first shift at the radio last night. I’m on 11-4 the rest of the week.

 

She sent it quickly, before she could add anything else. She wasn’t ready to deal with her feelings yet. She knew she’d have to make a decision when Chloe came back – would she meet her or would she close that door forever. Her heart gave a painful thump in her chest then she glanced down as her phone vibrated in her hand.

 

Chloe :
I know how much this means to you and I’m so proud of you. I’ll listen when I can.

 

Beca sighed as the waitress came over with her check. She couldn’t decide if Chloe was giving her space with the lack of emotions in her text, or if she’d written Beca off already. Paying, she forced that thought away too until she was ready to deal with it.

Now she just had to keep from thinking about it for the rest of the day.

She’d just gotten back to her dorm when her phone buzzed again.

 

Stacie :
Hope you recorded it, B. I was out with one of my old friends from high school and we weren’t near a computer to stream the station. I’m back on Wed, I’ll text you when I get to campus, but I hope you’ll meet me for coffee before your shift one night.

 

Beca chewed her lip as she thought. Stacie seemed like a safe person to have coffee with; they had always gotten along and she was pretty sure Stacie wasn’t going to judge her for anything.


Beca:
I can do coffee. We’ll figure out what time when you’re back. Have a good time at home.

Stacie :
Glad you agreed. I’d have hated to have to show up at your dorm and pick the lock while you were still sleeping.

 

Beca let out a bark of laughter, realizing it was the first time she’d laughed since the Bella bus on the way to semi-finals.

 

~

 

That night she spotted a familiar title and pulled the CD from the rack. ‘The Breakfast Club’ cover stared at her and she remembered Jesse had brought the movie back with a promise to make her watch the whole thing one day. Until that whole jail thing happened and their friendship had gone downhill. She’d forgotten it was there and never gave it back.

When she got home, she felt restless instead of sleepy and searched her shelves until she found the movie. Sighing, expecting to be bored halfway through, she settled herself in bed with her laptop and headphones and started the movie.

What she didn’t expect was to be straight up crying at almost six am on Tuesday morning when the movie ended. She lifted her hands to find tears rolling down her cheeks as she choked back sobs. She started to laugh at herself as she pulled off her headphones and wiped away her tears.

“Oh, my god.” She blew out a breath and shook her head to try and clear it. “Okay.” She wiped her nose and laughed again.

‘If Jesse ever finds out about this, that happy asshole will never let me live it down.’

She wiped her face again and stared at her laptop before she got ready to sleep.

‘Shit, I need to find more movies.’

 

~

 

When she woke later on Tuesday, Beca went to the campus library which had a movie selection. She sweet talked the guy at checkout into letting her have the entire stack she’d grabbed even though it was over double the amount they usually allowed out to any single person at one time.

At the end of her shift on Wednesday morning, she got a few hours of sleep before going out and grabbing supplies for the movie marathon she still couldn’t believe she was going to have.

In the middle of working her way through the stack, her phone chimed for the second time that day. Stacie had already texted that she was back on campus and they’d arranged to meet Thursday night for coffee. ‘Maybe she’s free from whatever plans she had and wants to meet tonight instead,’ Beca thought as she picked up her phone. She felt her heart stutter few times.

It was Chloe. Swallowing, she thumbed open the message.

 

Chloe :
I’ll explain later, but the Bellas are back in the competition. Practice is Sunday at noon.

 

Beca paused the movie and stared at her phone, a small smile on her lips. Did this mean that Aubrey had forgiven her? Then she realized that if that were the case, that Aubrey probably would have texted Beca herself. ‘Though,’ Beca thought, ‘I didn’t respond to her apology text last weekend.’ So maybe she would have had Chloe do it, thinking that Beca wouldn’t answer her… or maybe Chloe was –

Beca shook her head again. Unless she was willing to text either Chloe or Aubrey to find out, anything she thought of was simply going to be spinning her wheels in the mud.

She checked to make sure she still had enough time to finish the movie before she started it again. As it played, it occurred to her that Stacie might be the perfect neutral party to bounce all this off of.

Feeling like there might be a break in the clouds for the first time in a week, Beca let herself be drawn back into ‘Jaws.’

Jesse was right about at least one other thing. This score is amazing.’

  


  

~B~

“Hey there, DJ.”

Beca looked up as Stacie dropped gracefully into the seat across from her. “Hey.” She looked her over. “Didn’t you go home to California? Aren’t you supposed to be tan?”

Stacie shrugged. “It’s not like I spent a lot of time outdoors in the sun. I was mostly in a dark room the whole time.”

“Oh.” Beca looked down at her coffee and fidgeted until Stacie laughed. She knew Stacie had figured out that she was trying not to picture what sort of activities Stacie might have been up to when she grinned at Beca.

“Relax. I was helping my grandma go through her library. She’s got hundreds of books but doesn’t really know what they are anymore.” She tore off a piece of the lemon bread she’d bought. “So we took inventory and then I felt compelled to organize it according to fiction and non, and then by genre.”

“Of course you did.” Beca grinned. “When we first met, I never took you for the book type.”

“That’ll teach you to judge a book by its cover.” Stacie pointed a finger at her.

“I just assumed you were all about the boys.” Beca took a sip of her coffee.

“Don’t forget the girls.” Stacie shrugged. “The hunter is an equal opportunist.” She took a drink from her own cup. “I heard several of your shows. They were really good, B.”

“Thanks.” Beca shifted in her chair. “It’s been a lot of fun and the experience will be great for when I get to LA soon.”

Stacie frowned. “What do you mean ‘soon’? Aren’t you a freshman like me?”

Beca rolled her lips together; she’d forgotten she hadn’t really told anyone about her plans to leave at the end of the year. “Yeah, but…” She took a breath and let it out slowly. “I only came here to make my dad happy.” Stacie just twirled her finger for Beca to continue. “He nagged me until I agreed to come to college for a year. He thinks that I’ll ma… stay.” She hoped Stacie didn’t notice the stumble in her words. She’d been about to say ‘make friends and stay’ but she didn’t want to dive right into the drama.

But Stacie only asked, “Did it work?”

Beca sighed. “I don’t know.” She picked at her napkin. “I’d started to think so.”

“Then everything went to shit two weeks ago.” Stacie said, nodding. “And now?”

Guess we’re getting into it now anyway.’ Beca sighed again. “I don’t know.” She dropped the napkin and drummed her fingers on the table. “I’m… stuck.”

“Between?” Stacie raised her brows.

“A rock and a hard place,” Beca muttered.

“You mean Aubrey and Chloe.”

Beca made a face. “When you put it like that…”

“It sounds more appealing.” Stacie winked when Beca looked up in surprise. “Kidding!” She tilted her head. “Mostly.” She half laughed when Beca could only stare at her. “I’m sorry. I know that was some serious crap that happened after the semi-finals.” She leaned forward and put her hand over Beca’s, her green eyes practically radiating her apology. “I am really sorry, Beca, that I didn’t stand up for you when Aubrey tore into you. You didn’t deserve that and I should have said something.”

Beca lifted one shoulder and let it drop. “It’s fine.” She looked down into her coffee to avoid Stacie’s intense gaze..

“That’s never the truth when people say it.” Stacie squeezed her hand. “It would have hurt me if the positions were reversed. I’ve never been good with confrontation involving friends.” She shook her head. “I’ve never really had a lot of people that I would call friends. I never really cared about anyone enough to stick around.”

Beca looked up again. “I’d have never thought that. You’re always out with people.”

“Beca,” Stacie said wryly as she let Beca’s hand go. “Have you really ever seen me with or heard me talk about the same person more than twice?”

Beca took a drink of coffee, letting her mind play over the last few months. “No, I guess not.”

Stacie shrugged and leaned back. “I prefer not to be tied down to any one person. Or, I suppose, I haven’t found anyone who kept my interest for more than a date or two.”

It was out before Beca could think that maybe it wasn’t a path they should go down. “There’s Aubrey.” A flash of something flickered in Stacie’s eyes but it was gone too fast for Beca to identify it.

“She’s fun to tease.” Stacie shrugged, but just a bit too casually in Beca’s eyes. “Like you are.”

Beca ignored the attempt at deflection. “Is it because she’s held out for so long?” She leaned back. “Or is there something more?”

Stacie stared at Beca so long she began to squirm in her seat. “I’ll be honest if you will.”

Beca’s mouth went dry. “I-“

“You can refuse to answer, but you can’t lie.” Stacie offered, raising her hand. At Beca’s slow nod, Stacie took a breath. “It’s probably a combination of both those things. I’ve at least usually gotten to second base with someone by now, but…” It was her turn to pick at her napkin. “Ever since Christmas…. There’s something different about her. Something I don’t understand. Yet.” She broke off another piece of bread and popped it in her mouth.

Beca nodded. “I get that. It’s like… There’s two Aubreys, right?”

Stacie nodded. “Exactly. There’s the borderline awful version at rehearsal, and the fun version at the house.”

“Exactly!” Beca threw her hands up. “Thank you! I thought I was crazy!”

“You are,” Stacie grinned at her. “But not about that. I’m not sure which one is the true version though.”

“The fun one.” Beca surprised herself by how quickly she said it. “That’s the one that feels right, though kinda…”

“Smothered under a layer of uptight bitch?” Stacie asked with one eyebrow raised.

“That works,” Beca laughed before she let it fade. “I liked that version,” she admitted.

“Me too.” They sat in silence for a few seconds before Stacie said, “Alright, your turn.”

Beca braced herself, unsure exactly what was coming.

“Do you love Chloe?” Stacie watched her intently.

“Jesus, Stacie. Go right for the throat why don’t you?” Beca felt her face grow warm.

She shrugged. “Why beat around the bush? Chloe says you haven’t texted her for two weeks.”

“I have too!” Beca blurted.

“In response to hers,” Stacie pointed out. “Never on your own.”

“I told her about the radio shifts!” Beca protested before muttering, “I didn’t realize you guys talk.”

“I took Aubrey to the airport Friday night and stayed at the house that night so I could drive Chloe and myself to the airport the next morning.” Stacie took a drink. “It was the first time we’d spent a lot of time together. It was fun.”

“And you guys talked about me?” Beca tried not to sound petulant but it creeped about the edges. She wondered if this was what Aubrey felt when she thought Beca and Chloe had been talking about her all year. She didn’t like how it felt at all.

“Not really. We talked about a lot of things. Mostly, though, about the previous Bellas and this apparent utter whore – my words, not Chloe’s – who was captain. Sounds like she was worse than Aubrey.” She pursed her lips. “Which could explain a bit about this year, actually.” Stacie shook her head, pressing her hand to the table between them. “Only…  She said she missed you. Missed talking to you.” She watched Beca carefully. “That she was afraid you were never going to talk to her again.”

Beca swallowed back the lump in her throat. “Oh.”

“You still haven’t answered me though.” Stacie said softly.

“Yes.” The word slipped free before Beca could stop it. Even though it was the first time she’d admitted it out loud, she was surprised at how easy it was to say.

“What are you going to do?” Stacie asked.

Beca shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Stacie offered.

Beca thought about it as she reached to pull off a piece of bread and chewed it slowly. “No. I don’t think that’d be right. If she didn’t really talk about it with you, I don’t think I should.” She met Stacie’s eyes. “I need to figure it out on my own and then talk to her about it.”

“Sounds like a good start.” Stacie smiled at her. “Except…” She hesitated.

“Except we’re apparently back at practice on Sunday.” Beca made a face. “I guess I better figure it out quick, huh?”

“Aubrey texted you?” Stacie said, surprised.

“No, Chloe.” Beca bit her lip. “I was trying to figure out if that meant she did it for Aubrey or behind her back.”

“That’s…” Stacie lifted her cup in salute. “That’s a very good question, DJ.”

Beca grinned. “Is it lame that I like how that sounds?”

“A little.” Stacie ducked as Beca threw her napkin at her. “Just kidding. Mostly.” She grinned when Beca stuck out her tongue. “But I think playing your own music on the radio, even if it’s just a college radio, qualifies you for the title.”

“Thanks, Stace.” Beca took a deep breath, feeling lighter. “This has helped.”

“Yeah?” She smiled when Beca nodded. “I’m glad. Now tell me what you’ve been up to for the past two weeks.”

Beca grinned. “You won’t believe me.”

Stacie leaned forward, elbows on the table. “Try me.”

“I’ve been watching movies.” Beca mirrored her pose.

“Bullshit!” Stacie exclaimed. “You hate movie night.”

“Sometimes.” Beca nodded. “But it’s true.”

“Tell me all about it.” Stacie settled back in her chair. “Expect a quiz on each movie as proof, by the way.”

“Hey, I promised you honesty.” Beca stood up. “But lemme go get another coffee and some more bread. I seem to have eaten half of yours.”

Stacie called after her, “Don’t you even think about running away, DJ. I know where you live and your lock sucks.”

Beca laughed as she got in line, feeling lighter than she had in weeks.

 


  

~B~ 

Beca yawned as she crawled into bed Sunday morning. She checked her messages one last time, not sure if she was relieved or disappointed that there was nothing since the day before.

Tim, the guy who was supposed to cover Saturday night, called her late Saturday afternoon claiming to be too sick to work that night. Beca was pretty sure he was still drunk from whatever his last party was.

When Chloe had texted to let Beca know she was back shortly after, Beca felt bad that she was grateful she had an excuse to put off their meeting one more day.

 

Chloe :
Just wanted to let you know I made it home safe.

Beca :
This is going to sound like a lie, but I’ve gotta cover one more night. I do want to talk to you, but I don’t want to have to rush through it because I have to go to work.

 

Chloe had taken so long to respond that Beca had grown worried that she’d waited too long and fucked it all up.

 

Chloe :
You don’t know how happy that makes me.

Chloe :
Not that we can’t meet today, but that you want to at all. I hope, and I’m not pushing at all, but I really hope we… I… will still see you at rehearsal tomorrow. Maybe we can talk after.

Beca :
I don’t know if I’m ready to deal with Aubrey yet, Chloe. But either way, after sounds good.

Chloe :
See you tomorrow then. Have a good shift tonight, Becs.

Beca :
Thanks. Have a good night, Chlo.

 

After reading their conversation one last time, Beca plugged in her phone and set it on the bookcase beside her as she yawned again. Tim had called so late that she hadn’t been able to get a nap in before she started and she’d been up since the end of her last shift, trying to stay up to flip her schedule back to normal. She had to get some sleep and definitely before she tried to make a decision about rehearsals. Not that she had any idea what she was going to do or even what she wanted to do beyond one important fact.

She needed to see Chloe. 

 


  

~B~ 

Beca knocked at the door of her dad’s faculty house, still surprised that she was seeking out his advice. They hadn’t exactly gotten along since he had left all those years ago and his inability to understand her dream drove her nuts. Except, she supposed, when you have nowhere left to turn, you’re never too old to want your father’s advice, even if you don’t take it.

She’d woken up thirty minutes after rehearsal started and, at first, was relieved that the decision had been made for it. But then she pictured Chloe’s disappointment when Beca didn’t show up. Hell, she even pictured Stacie’s disappointed face and thought that was patently unfair of her brain to throw at her when she was still groggy. And if Aubrey was the one who had actually invited her back… and she didn’t show… As a disappointed Aubrey also flashed behind her closed eyes, Beca rolled over and groaned into her pillow before she forced herself to get up and shower.

Her first stop had been Jesse’s. 

The night before she realized she had to try to fix things with him before she could move on, in whatever direction that ended up being. To say that that had not gone well would be an understatement.

She had thought she knew what their fight was about – that she had been a complete bitch while he was just trying to be a friend AND she had attacked him for no reason at the semi-finals – but then he pulled out the big guns.

“Seriously? You think I’m mad because you yelled at me?”

Caught off guard, she fumbled for the right words. “No, I know…”

But he cut her off. “No, you don’t. You think you know, but you don’t.” She could only stare at him while he continued. “You push away anyone who could possibly care about you. Why is that?”

His soft, hurt tone, edged with disappointment, pulled nothing but honesty from her. “I don’t know.”

“Well, you better figure it out because I’m done with…” He looked at her and shrugged. “Whatever this is.”

“Jesse.” She began, as he started to close the door.

“I’m done.”

It hadn’t been at all what she envisioned but, she supposed, it was probably what she deserved. Maybe she was just a horrible person who kept everyone away and should keep everyone away. Because maybe other people weren’t the problem.

Maybe it was her and who better to tell you the unvarnished truth than your family.

Her father opened the door, surprised to see her there. “Beca.”

“That’s me.” She plastered on a fake smile that fell as he stared at her. “Um, can I come in?”

“Oh!” He stepped back. “I’m sorry, I just… please.” He closed the door behind her. “Um, I was about to make some tea, would you like some?”

“Sure.” She took off her coat as they passed through the living room and draped it over the arm of the couch.

“You don’t look like you just came by to say hi.” He filled the kettle from the faucet.

“I don’t?” She took a seat on one of the stools by the counter.

“Call it father’s intuition.” He smiled at her. “What’s on your mind, Bec?”

“Promise you won’t yell or judge till I’m done?” She regretted the way she said it the instant it was out of her mouth and even more so when she saw him flinch. “I’m sorry. Bad habits.”

“It’s… I get it.” He set the kettle on the stove and turned it on. “But yes. I promise.”

Beca took a deep breath and told him almost all of it. How she joined the Bellas. How she felt about the way Aubrey ran things. How things had blown up at the semi-finals. Everything except whatever was between her and Chloe. She would discuss that with no one else until she and Chloe had a chance to sit down.

“So they’re at rehearsal, right now, and I overslept, so I figured why bother…” She finally stalled out when the kettle announced it was ready. “No one was more surprised than me, but… I really liked those girls.”

He poured the boiling water into their cups. “And you thought quitting was the answer?”

‘Well,’ she thought, ‘I wanted a real opinion.’ But the Beca who answered was the daughter who was hurt when her father left. “Seriously? You can say that to me?”

He set the kettle in the sink and sat down in the stool opposite her. “Oh, come on, Bec. That’s so unfair.” The hurt in his voice snuck through her armor and she remained quiet as he watched her. “Look. Your mom and I, we didn’t work. But I tried so hard to make things right between us.”

He had, she reflected, as memories of birthday cards and invites to come stay the weekend or summer at his new house washed over her. Cards she’d taken the money out of and thrown away and invites she rarely took advantage of.

It hadn’t mattered when he was no longer with the woman he’d left her mom for. It had only mattered that he’d remarried and, apparently, been able to remain faithful to Sheila when he couldn’t with her mom. It wasn’t until this moment that she admitted that maybe meant he had grown, that he and her mom weren’t meant to be, and maybe none of it at all had ever had anything to do with her.

“But you just… you shut me out.” He sounded like he had accepted it, but she could hear the hurt under it.

It was like Jesse all over again, but this time she had rebellious teen to fall back on, even if she was starting to view things differently. “Yeah, well, I shut everybody out. Don’t take it personally.” She shook her head. “It was just easier.”

“It’s also really lonely.” He said simply, cutting to the heart of things without even realizing it.

She gave a soft, disbelieving laugh at what she was about to say. “What do I do?” She looked up at her father.

One corner of his mouth twitched up as he thought. “Well, that’s up to you.”

She twisted her mouth as it tried to smile. ‘That’s such a dad answer.’ But he only grinned at her. The problem was she knew he wasn’t wrong, that this decision had to be her own if it was going to mean anything.

But telling him the whole story had helped remind her of a few things.

While her father watched her patiently, willing to give her all the time she needed to work through it, Beca sat silently for a while. She ran the past few months through her mind again. She’d said the truth to her dad. It had constantly surprised her that she actually liked them pretty much from the start, even if she hadn’t admitted it to herself until Christmas. They made her laugh and she had fun with them.  All of them.

Sure, Aubrey had taken longer, but… she thought of Christmas again and a flour dusted nose. Aubrey could have done any number of things when Beca pulled out that trash bag of gifts. She could have made fun of Beca or channeled the condescending bitch from the Activities Fair. But instead, she had immediately offered to help Beca wrap her gifts and never once was she anything but kind. They had laughed the entire afternoon and that was one of the first times that Beca realized that Chloe could never been friends with anyone who was truly horrible at heart.

Last week, even with everything still unsettled between herself and Chloe, after her coffee with Stacie, Beca had gone to her shift with a smile on her face. While she had, without question, been happy playing her music for the past few days, after their talk it felt like she didn’t have a lot of the other baggage hanging over her anymore. Stacie had helped her realize that she had to make a choice because avoiding it wasn’t an option. She could either tell Chloe how she felt, and risk more heartache, or she could walk away and probably regret it forever.

She still had to talk with Chloe, but at least she finally realized that she did want to work it out. Laughing with Stacie had reminded her of all the relationships she’d built in the past six months and that she didn’t want to throw any of them away.

Not even Aubrey, but that was an entirely different talk and one she freely admitted she was not looking forward to as much. It was also one she had to think about much sooner than she wanted, since the Bellas were apparently back. She was also surprised at just how much she wanted to be part of that, no matter what the outcome was. Assuming Aubrey would let her back in, of course. She still didn’t think they would win against the Trebles, they hadn’t yet with the set, but she realized she wanted to see this season through to the end.

And maybe, she grudgingly decided, that even though she absolutely did think they would have a better shot by mixing things up, she didn’t have the right to storm in from day one and try to impose her will on those who thought differently. It absolutely killed her to admit it, but maybe if she had calmly gone to Aubrey from the beginning, or even asked if they could talk in private, things might have gone… smoother.

Her father was smiling at her when she looked up at him. “What?”

“You’re smiling.” He said simply. “I assume you’ve come to a decision then?”

She actually reached up and touched her mouth. ‘Damn, he’s right.

“Guess I have.” She stood up. “I hate to dump all my problems on you and leave, but…”

“What else are fathers for?” He rose to his feet. “Glad I could help.”

Slowly she eased forward and wrapped her arms around him. “Thanks, Dad.” She couldn’t remember the last time she had initiated a hug between them and felt faint regret at being so distant. Though, she supposed as she felt him hug her back, she probably wouldn’t have been ready until now.

“Anytime, Bec.” He kissed the top of her head. “Maybe you’ll come over for dinner soon?”

“I’d like that.” She let him go and stepped back. “I’ll call you.”

“Hope you’re able to work it out with the girl.”

She’d started out of the kitchen before his choice of words sunk in. She spun around and stared at him. “Uh… what… why would…” She cleared her throat. “I mean, what?”

“I’m your father, Bec. Not blind or deaf.” He grinned at her. “Your voice changes when you talk about Chloe. I mean, for a while it was between her and Aubrey, but you have a different smile when you talk about Chloe. That sealed it for me.”

“Oh.” She blinked at him, filing all that away to unpack later. “Are you… I mean…” Coming out to her father wasn’t something she had expected out of today. She hadn’t exactly been hiding it, but they had never discussed it.

“I just want you to be happy, Beca.” He shrugged. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I don’t care how or with whom.”

She blinked back the sting of tears. “I love you, Dad.”

His own eyes were suspiciously glassy as he stepped over to hug her again. “I love you too, Bec.”

 


  

~B~ 

Beca approached the auditorium and took a deep breath. Rehearsal had been going for over three hours and she didn’t know how Aubrey was going to react when she walked in. Even if she had been the one to have Chloe text Beca, there was no telling how her tardiness would be accepted.

And if she hadn’t intended Beca to join them, it could get ugly pretty quick.

As she opened the glass doors all she heard nothing but a lot of screaming and yelling… and was that… one of their whistles?

She ran through the open wooden doors and into utter chaos.

Chapter Text

~B~

Beca’s brain had a hard time processing everything that was going on as she ran into the room.

“Guys.”

Apparently no one heard her over the din as they kept screaming and yelling.

After the sound, the next thing that hit her was the smell, which she tried vainly to ignore as she surveyed the room.

Halfway up the row of chairs, Ashley looked like she was comforting Jessica, both of them watching as Stacie blew her whistle as she tried to get away from Cynthia Rose by climbing up the seats – or maybe she was demonstrating how she would mount and hump someone in a chair or the chair itself; at this point Beca wasn’t going to rule anything out. Cynthia Rose was half climbing up behind her, trying to reach the whistle, Beca assumed, but the why of it escaped her. Denise was standing behind them, apparently trying to talk Cynthia Rose down. Or offer advice. Beca’s head already hurt trying to figure this out.

Aubrey and Chloe were on the floor and Fat Amy had them both in a headlock as she knelt over them. The three of them were apparently wrestling for control of the pitch pipe that lay less than an inch from their fingertips. It was also the only thing that made sense in this entire room.

Because beyond them… ‘Holy shit, is Lilly lying in a pool of vomit? Making… a vomit angel? God, that explains the smell. Poor Aubrey.’

She jogged forward. “Guys! Stop!” She halted next to the piano. “What is going on?”

That apparently did it as everyone slowly noticed her standing there.

Chloe looked up first, her face contorted as she fought to reach beyond Amy’s grasp around her neck. She stopped struggling, surprise taking over at seeing Beca standing  there. Beca didn’t allow herself to linger, this was not the time to let herself get lost in how it felt to be in the same room as Chloe after what felt like centuries.

Especially because Aubrey wasn’t far behind, her mouth dropping in shock.

Stacie gave one last blow of her whistle as it fell from between her lips as the room finally, blissfully, fell silent.

Cynthia Rose froze with her hands on Stacie’s ass and looked over her shoulder.

Denise, Jessica and Ashley all stopped still and stared at her with varying degrees of shock and distress on their faces.

Beyond the pile that was Amy, Aubrey and Chloe, Lilly sat up and Beca had to choke back her own urge to throw up.

Aubrey took advantage of the distraction as Amy finally loosened her grip and snagged the pitch pipe from under Chloe’s hand. Chloe stared at Aubrey in disbelief but Aubrey was too busy pushing herself out from under Amy’s arm and to her feet, brushing her hair out of her face. Chloe was a bit slower to rise, Amy still kneeling beside her.

“Nothing. Nothing.” Aubrey panted.

In the bleachers, Stacie pushed Cynthia Rose’s hands off her thigh and stood up while Ashley and Jessica appeared to wipe away tears – Beca wasn’t sure if it was because of the chaos or because the smell of vomit was so strong. Denise went to help Lilly as Aubrey stepped forward, trying to pull herself together.

“This is a Bellas rehearsal.” Aubrey straightened up and lifted her chin as if there wasn’t vomit trailing down the side; the hand she was holding up to stop Beca’s approach still held the pitch pipe. As Aubrey tightened her jaw, Beca briefly wondered if she could possibly have anything left to throw up.

‘Well, I guess that answers the question of if it was her idea to text me.’ Beca thought. While she had expected that reaction, she was still disappointed at being confronted with it. But it changed nothing, and she had prepared for this outcome. Sort of. Aubrey could be unpredictable and nobody could have prepared for the tableau Beca had walked in on.

“I know.” Beca took a cautious step forward. “I just…” She paused as Chloe began to rise, unable to help it when their eyes met. Aubrey turned to watch Chloe stand up beside her, but Beca couldn’t spare more than a glance, so caught was she in trying to read Chloe’s expression. She was fairly certain that Chloe was as happy to see Beca as Beca was her, but it seemed subdued. Beca couldn’t decide if it was because she was trying to protect her heart and not read too much into Beca’s being there, or if it was because of the apparent death brawl that Beca had walked in on. ‘Probably a combination of both.

Chloe broke first, turning to look at Aubrey. Beca’s eyes flicked back over in time to catch the hint of remorse disappearing from Aubrey’s face as she turned from Chloe.

Beca took a breath. “… wanted to say that I’m sorry.” She met Aubrey’s eyes, trying to make her understand that Beca truly felt bad for the way things had turned out. That she wasn’t just paying lip service in order to get back into the group. Something must have shone through because Aubrey took a breath then tightened her lips as she toyed with the pitch pipe.

“What I did was a really dick move.” Beca closed her eyes as she heard her voice shake. Standing in front of them and apologizing was harder than she imagined. She knew she had to, knew it was necessary for any sort of fresh start, but she had never opened herself up this way before. Shaking her head at her own insecurities, she continued. “And I shouldn’t have changed the set without asking you guys.” Beca forced her eyes open to look at Aubrey. “And I definitely shouldn’t have left.”

Beca looked around at the rest of them, but focused back on Aubrey. “I let you guys down and I’m really sorry.” She’d needed to say what she had to the rest of the girls, but she knew there was so much more that she knew she needed to say to Aubrey; she was just finally listening to that part of her that suggested it was better done in private.

But Aubrey merely looked at her and while there wasn’t any of the hostility that she’d had before Beca had apologized, it definitely didn’t look welcoming. Closing her eyes briefly, Beca took a breath, then a second, before giving the last of her rehearsed speech. “And…” She broke off, finding the words stuck in her throat under Aubrey’s implacable stare. “Aubrey, if you would have me, I want back in.”

She was aware of the rest of the girls shifting in place to look at Aubrey, all of them taking a deep breath as they waited to see what would happen. Amy’s mouth dropped and she looked over at Aubrey and back at Beca, as if she understood what it had cost Beca to admit that.

And Chloe… Beca was having a hard time reading Chloe still. She hadn’t expected rainbows and puppies, but she’d thought she’d at least get a smile or some hint that she was happy to see Beca. ‘You don’t know what happened in this room before you walked in and it was obviously something serious. Just give it time before you decide she’s done with you forever.’

But it was Aubrey she had to convince and Beca met those green eyes in time to see them change. When Beca had first walked in, Aubrey had been obviously embarrassed at being found in such an undignified position, especially by someone she considered an outsider. That had shifted to anger as she tried to make Beca leave, but when Beca had started her apology, Aubrey had almost looked impressed that Beca had admitted she was wrong.

And now, well, now Aubrey looked almost vindicated and like she was back on solid ground. In fact, the longer they stared at each other the more Beca felt like Mary Elise must have in that first rehearsal. Then Aubrey lifted her eyebrows and Beca was right back there in that awkward moment where Aubrey made Mary Elise drag her chair to the door.

The silence stretched as Aubrey looked away and down at her hands. The rest of the girls shifted again and Beca could almost feel them willing Aubrey to accept Beca’s apology. At first, when Chloe merely crossed her arms, Beca felt her heart drop, thinking that Chloe was, once again, going to remain silent instead of standing up to Aubrey. But then she turned and gave Aubrey a look and Beca could clearly read the annoyance in it.

Aubrey looked back up and Beca could suddenly see the corner that Aubrey felt trapped in. She was clutching the pitch pipe so hard her fingers were white and even if Beca thought that Aubrey was possibly willing to forgive her, maybe Aubrey’s fear of losing control was too great. It was almost like she was split down the middle between not wanting to be this way and feeling like she had to, for whatever reasons, real or imagined, that she put on herself.

Beca realized she was going to have to give her either an out or some sort of sign that proved Beca was willing to abide by her rules. With the memory of Mary Elise fresh in her mind, Beca took one last look around the room and nodded. This was either going to work, or she was going to walk out that door.

With that sobering thought, she turned away from them and began to walk out. As she passed the chair, she looked over her shoulder to make sure they were still watching as she reached for it. Slowly she began to head for the door, dragging the chair after her. Barely audible over the sound of the legs on the floor, she heard Amy say Aubrey’s name in disbelief.

Beca stopped and looked over her shoulder. Aubrey’s gaze dropped to look at the pitch pipe in her hand but that moment had been enough for Beca to see that Aubrey wanted to give in but either didn’t know how or didn’t want Beca to know it. Beca felt her lips twitch as she fought back a grin. ‘This is so stupid and if she doesn’t say something soon, I’m going to have to come up with something else.’

Just as she took the step up to the first level of seats, she finally heard Aubrey behind her.

“Wait.”

Beca let the chair drop with an exhale. “Thank you. That would have been embarrassing.” She paced slowly back to stand in front of them as Amy smiled at her.

Aubrey drew herself up and spread her arms. “Beca, I know that I have been hard on you, okay?” She put on a fake smile and half nodded as she admitted it. Her voice softened a little. “I know that I have been hard on everyone here.” She looked over at Chloe who nodded at the acknowledgement while beside her, Amy looked away.

Aubrey slowly looked back at Beca. “But I am my father’s daughter.” She took a trembling breath, pausing before she continued, her words broken. “And he always said, ‘If at first you don’t succeed,’” but she had to stop again, rolling her lips together, and Beca could see her fighting to keep back tears, her shaky breaths almost echoing in the silence. “’Pack your bags.’”

Beca was frozen, unsure how even to respond to that statement much less the apparently broken Aubrey who stood in front of her. But Aubrey was already turning and walking toward one of the seats.

“Jesus.” Fat Amy turned to Chloe, eyebrows high.

Chloe nodded slightly. “It’s really crazy.”

Stacie had climbed back down the chairs to stand on the main floor, Jessica and Ashley moving to join the rest of them, as Aubrey collapsed into one of the seats and wiped off her chin. The rest of the girls slowly moved in around them. Denise was helping wipe Lilly down with towels and Beca restrained a shudder as she moved toward Aubrey.

“I get it. Um… Mine gets on me, too.” Aubrey looked up at her. “Not like that, but…” Beca looked down, trying to figure out how to bridge the gap that suddenly didn’t seem as wide as it had a minute before. “Um.” She looked back up at Aubrey and shrugged. “I guess we don’t really know that much about each other.” She looked around. “About most of you, really.”

Stacie stepped forward. “Well, I’ll confess something that none of you know about me.”

Beca half grinned as Stacie took a deep breath, expecting to finally hear what Stacie was majoring in, something she had made Beca keep guessing at during their group study nights. She didn’t think that most of the other girls knew just how much studying Stacie did every week, in addition to her many dates.

With a deep exhale, Stacie said, “I have a lot of sex.” Beca barely bit back a laugh.

“Yeah, we know, Stacie.” Amy said with an eye roll.

Stacie mock glared at her. “Only because I just told you.”

Beca swallowed another laugh. “This is a good idea.” She pointed at Stacie. “That was a pretty bad example, but this is a good idea.” Stacie fluttered a wink at her and Beca had to look away before she lost it. She looked over at Chloe beseechingly. “Why don’t we all go around the room,” she said as she turned a chair around and let Denise cover it with a towel for Lilly. She turned another for herself and sat down. “And we can all say something about ourselves that nobody else knows.” She took off her scarf as the rest of them got comfortable.

“Okay.” Cynthia Rose stood up. “I got somethin’…” She sighed. “This is hard for me to admit to you guys.” She put her hands on her hips as she looked at them.

Beca saw Aubrey nodding, then Amy leaned forward and whispered, “I think we all know where this is going.” Aubrey half turned toward her but only took a breath as Amy said, louder, “Lezbehonest.”

“Well, for the last two years…” Cynthia Rose pushed up her sleeves. “I’ve had a serious…” She hesitated again, wringing her hands together. “Gambling problem.”

“What?” Amy made a face.

“What?” Beca repeated after her. That wasn’t something that she’d even thought was a possibility. ‘Aren’t you supposed to know when you’re friends are having a problem,’ she thought to herself. It was followed immediately by, ‘Of course, you probably have to consider people your friends and not hold yourself apart from them to have that work.’

“It started when I broke up with my girlfriend.” Cynthia Rose continued.

“Whoomp! There it is.” Amy joked as the rest of them had normal ‘I had no idea’ reactions.

Cynthia Rose just shook her head and looked at her, until Beca realized she was looking past Amy at Denise. To Beca’s utter amusement, Denise whispered ‘I still love you’ which caused Amy to look back and forth between them like a faced paced tennis match until the realization sunk in.

“Anyone else?” Beca tried to distract them from Cynthia Rose as she sat back down. Lilly raised her hand and Beca leaned forward.

“I ate my twin in the womb.”

Beca looked back at the rest of them, eyes wide and hoping that someone other than her had heard that but they just stared blankly back at her. At Amy’s quiet, ‘What?’ Lilly sighed and settled back in her chair.

A bit horrified, Beca took a second to pull herself together. “Okay.” She leaned back and looked at Lilly before picking someone at random to get her mind off that. “Um, Fat Amy?”

Amy looked around. “I’m an open book. I mean, for God’s sake, you guys all call me Fat Amy.” Beca merely looked at her, deciding now was not the time to point out that it was because had Amy told them to. “See, I guess I’m just not really living if I’m not being 100% honest.” She looked around, lips pursed. “And my real name is Fat Patricia.” She said it fast then took a deep breath, as if she’d cleared a weight from her shoulders.

Jessica, or maybe it was Ashley, said “What?” as Aubrey exhaled beside Amy, a half grin beginning to form.

“Okay,” Beca surprised herself by saying. “I’ve never been one of those girls,” she offered as she looked at Aubrey before looking at the rest of them. “Who had a lot of friends who were girls. And I do now.” She looked up at the ceiling, smiling despite her embarrassment. “And that’s pretty cool.” When she looked down, Amy grinned at her.

But it was Aubrey’s expression that caught her. Aubrey was actually smiling at her, a light behind her eyes as if she’d heard something she’d been waiting for, until Beca caught her at it. Then she rolled her lips and looked away, kicking her foot lightly as Beca continued. “So, that’s me. Someone else please go.” For all her confidence, admitting things like that was still difficult, even if she knew she was in a safe space and that none of these girls – including Aubrey – would make fun of her for it. Keeping herself closed off and secret was so much easier, but damned if her dad wasn’t right. It was also incredibly lonely.

She looked up as Chloe took a deep breath. “Okay.” She stood, blowing out another breath. Beca could almost see her gather herself before taking another bracing breath. “Over spring break,” She swallowed heavily before continuing. “I made the courageous decision to remove my nodes.”

Beca gasped and was surprised when Aubrey echoed it, almost as if she’d taken a blow to the stomach. Obviously Chloe hadn’t told either of them and the knowledge that Chloe had gone through all of it completely alone stuck in Beca’s throat. Had she not been so fucking stubborn she or Aubrey would have been there for Chloe. She would have to find some way to try and make it up to her.

“I know.” Chloe looked at Aubrey. “The doctor said that I can’t sing above a G-sharp,” she paused to fight back tears. “Maybe ever.” Beca felt her heart break when Chloe’s voice cracked and she sobbed. “I thought… the season… was over.” She sat back down, shaking her head and looked over at Aubrey, tears in her eyes. Aubrey immediately put her hand on Chloe’s arm and squeezed.

Stacie put her hand on Chloe’s other shoulder. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” The compassion in her voice was the only one not laced with shock and Beca felt the tiniest bit of relief that Chloe had apparently found someone she could talk to.

Beca pulled her gaze from Chloe’s watery eyes as Aubrey looked over at her, her face slowly becoming more and more determined. Beca froze, her nerves beginning to climb as Aubrey pushed up from her seat and took a deep breath.

“Beca.” Aubrey said it so seriously, her face so determined, that Beca quickly rose to her feet in response. “What do we do?” Everyone held their breath, eyes darting between the two standing women.

Beca was still surprised that Aubrey had admitted her failures earlier and this shock almost knocked her back off her feet. She felt almost overwhelmed with the implied admission that maybe Beca had been right and the trust Aubrey had just handed to her. She would never have expected this and in fact would have been more than happy to sing the same three songs at Finals as long as she was still part of the group. But to be given this chance...

Her eyes involuntarily flicked between Aubrey’s and down to the pitch pipe she was holding. Beca knew the rules, Aubrey had the pitch pipe so what she said goes… Aubrey blinked once and almost without hesitation tossed it to Beca. But Beca had seen the split second of loss in her eyes before she did it and wondered what it had cost Aubrey to literally throw away the talisman she’d clutched so tightly ever since Beca had met her.

Except Beca was usually terrible at catching things, even something as important as this, and the pipe bounced off her hands and rolled all the way across the floor into the pile of vomit.

Aubrey shook her head. “I’m sorry.” Beca didn’t know why Aubrey was apologizing, she was the one who’d flailed and knocked it out of the air.

Beca folded her hands in front of her then pointed to the side. “Maybe not here.” She shook her head, finally allowing herself a small grin.

This was not how she expected this confrontation to go and they still had a couple of serious talks that needed to happen, but damned if she wasn’t excited to finally be able to really show them what she thought they could do as a group.

This could change everything.

 


 

 ~C~

The Wednesday Chloe had gotten Aubrey’s text that the Bellas were back in the finals, she’d been sitting in her hospital bed. Unable to let out the scream of excitement that she wanted to, she had to settle for slapping the table in front of her, which was far less satisfying.

When the nurse was finally finished with the last exam before they released her, she’d texted Aubrey.

 

Chloe :
Can’t talk, but that’s ACA-AWESOME! What happened?!

Aubrey :
I’ll explain more when we’re both at home, but the Footnotes got disqualified, so we’re back in.

Aubrey :
I’ve texted the others already and let them know that rehearsal is at noon on Sunday. I’ll be home a few hours before that, I should have plenty of time to get back from the airport and get ready.

Chloe :
Sounds good, Bree. Have a good rest of the week at home.

Aubrey :
You too, Chlo.

 

She knew that when Aubrey meant ‘the others’ she was not talking about Beca, so she took care of it herself. Beyond how Chloe felt about her, she knew Beca was one of them and had to give her the chance to join them.

 

Chloe :
I’ll explain later, but the Bellas are back in the completion. Practice is Sunday at noon.

 

She didn’t really expect a response, figuring that Beca would either have to think about it or was asleep before her shift that night. Chloe had managed to catch a bit of Beca’s show the night before, staying up late in her uncomfortable hospital bed, and Beca had sounded so incredibly confident as she gave the station slogans and introduced herself. For the first time in over a week Chloe had gone to sleep with a half-smile on her face, Beca’s voice in hear ears and her music following Chloe down into slumber.

While she recovered at her parents, she debated on telling Aubrey about her surgery, since apparently her decision was a little premature, but once again decided Sunday was soon enough. She knew Aubrey would feel guilty at not being there to support her. She would probably even be mad at herself for being the reason their friendship was strained to the point where Chloe felt she couldn’t share such big news. Chloe didn’t want Aubrey to feel even more upset than she already was, or ruin the good mood this second chance would have given her.

Chloe also tried, and sometimes failed, not to worry about if Beca would see her when she got back. She knew that starting down that path would be her own never ending spiral of fear and tried to keep herself distracted. But whenever a sliver of doubt would work its way through, she immediately attempted to counter it with any number of rehearsed arguments.

In the beginning, she always started with the most eloquent and heartfelt apologies, outlined reasons why they were perfect together and it ended with declarations of love on each side, after which they would fall madly into a passionate kiss and Aubrey would be standing to the side saying “It’s beautiful.”

Then she stopped needing the pain meds and her daydreams were a little less fantasy and a lot more serious. There were tears and yelling, blame and apologies but underneath all her fear and doubt lay a glowing spark of hope that never faded. She truly believed they were meant to be and all they required was a little time alone to sit down and actually talk.

Every night she listened to Beca’s show, loving each time she heard “Hello Barden, I’m Mitchell and you’re listening to…” and told herself that it wasn’t pathetic that she let it sooth her into sleep.

Every day she tried to avoid the biggest fears swirling through her mind – Beca, Aubrey, her voice, the Bellas. Would she even be able to sing ever again, much less in a competition? The doctors had told her that she should really not sing for a full week or two, but they cautiously agreed she could give it a try on Sunday. If she felt any strain or pain she was to stop immediately and give it the second week, if not a third, before she tried again. She was pretty sure that Aubrey would understand, eventually, but Chloe didn’t know what she would do if she couldn’t sing.

Finally it was finally time to head back to Barden. Stacie picked her up from the airport, since she was already back in town, and Chloe resisted the urge to ask her if she’d seen Beca; except Stacie saw right through all her attempts at small talk on the way home.

“We had coffee Thursday.” Stacie closed the door behind them and started up the stairs with Chloe’s suitcase.

“I didn’t…” Chloe sighed as she followed. “Ask.”

“I know.” Stacie set the bag down on Chloe’s bed. She turned and gave her an amused look. “I could practically hear how hard you were telling yourself not to.”

Chloe hung her purse from the back of the chair at her vanity. “That obvious, huh?”

“Only a little.” Stacie sat down on Chloe’s bed and watched her.

Chloe pulled off her coat and hung it from the chair. “I’m pathetic.” She walked over and flopped face first on her bed beside Stacie.

“Nah.” Stacie rubbed her back. “Just in love.” Chloe only groaned. “And in your first fight.”

“That’s even more pathetic.” Chloe rolled over onto her back. “Did she look okay?”she said plaintively, giving in to her need to hear even a scrap about how Beca was.

“Yeah.” Stacie turned to move the suitcase on the floor and settled down beside her. “Some dark circles – kinda like yours, actually – but she’s loving her shift at the radio.”

Chloe smiled. “She sounds really good.”

“Right?” Stacie laughed. “She’s a natural.”

Chloe tried to stop herself but blurted it anyway. “Do you think she’ll see me?” She turned to look at Stacie.

“I don’t know, Red.” Stacie pursed her lips. “I think so. But she’s very skittish, our DJ.”

Chloe laughed. “That’s one way to put it.” She bit her lip. “I like the sound of that.”

Stacie nodded. “So did she.” She sat up again. “How about I leave so you can text her.”

Chloe grabbed her arm before she could stand. “Just… can you wait?” Her lips twisted. “If she says no, I don’t… want to be alone.”

“Of course.” Stacie smiled. “I’ll go downstairs and give you some privacy though, yeah?”

Chloe pushed up off the bed with her. “Okay.” She went to her purse and dug out her phone. “Stace?” She looked over her shoulder where Stacie paused in the doorway. “Thanks.”

“What’re friends for?” Stacie smiled at her and left.

Chloe looked down at her phone and took a deep breath. “Okay. Time to see where this leads.” She’d thought, reworded and pre-freaked out for the past week about what she would send when she got home. She’d finally settled on something simple and hopefully non-pushy.

 

Chloe :
Just wanted to let you know I made it home safe.

 

While she waited, she slowly changed into a pair of sweatpants and her phone chimed as she was pulling on an old Barden U t-shirt. Almost afraid to look, she opened up Beca’s message.

 

Beca :
This is going to sound like a lie, but I’ve gotta cover one more night. I do want to talk to you, but I don’t want to have to rush through it because I have to go to work.

 

Chloe felt her legs give way and she sat heavily on her bed as relief washed over her. She covered her mouth to stifle the sob she couldn’t hold back anymore as she read and reread Beca’s text.

‘Jesus, get it together, Chloe. It’s not like she’s declared her love or anything. She just finally agreed to be in the same room with you.’

Chloe pushed down her elation and tried to not sound too eager.


Chloe:
You don’t know how happy that makes me.

Chloe :
Not that we can’t meet today, but that you want to at all. I hope, and I’m not pushing at all, but I really hope we… I… will see you at rehearsal tomorrow. Maybe we can talk after.

 

She bit her lip after she sent it. ‘God, that sounds pushy. Why did I say that?’ Her phone buzzed almost immediately.


Beca:
I don’t know if I’m ready to deal with Aubrey yet, Chloe. But either way, after sounds good
.

 

That was fair. There was a lot more going on than just the fight between them.

 

Chloe :
See you tomorrow then. Have a good shift tonight, Becs.

Beca :
Thanks. Have a good night, Chlo.

 

She forced herself back to her feet instead of just sitting on her bed and staring at Beca’s name. “Tomorrow isn’t all that far away, Beale.” She sniffed again and resolutely locked her screen. “You’ve just spent almost two weeks without her. Twenty-four hours is nothing.”

While that was true, it also felt like forever. It also felt a lot like how she viewed graduation – which was a thought she immediately pushed back into a box, locked and shoved into the back of her mind.

Blowing out a breath she forced herself to go downstairs where Stacie was waiting in the living room, flipping through one of Aubrey’s fashion magazines.

“I didn’t know Aubrey was into this stuff.” Stacie said without looking up. “Though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; she’s always perfectly dressed.”

“That’s Bree alright.” Chloe half laughed and Stacie looked up.

“Chlo.” She set down the magazine and scooted forward like she was going to stand. “Are you crying?”

“What?” Chloe touched her face, surprised that it was wet. “Um. I guess I am.” She detoured to the side table where a box of Kleenex sat.

“Did… she say she wasn’t ready yet?” Stacie frowned. “I would have sworn-”

“Yes. No… I mean…” Chloe stopped and took a deep breath. “She wants to, but apparently she has to work tonight. She doesn’t want to rush our talk to fit it in beforehand.”

“Oh.” Stacie sat back, her face smoothing. “That’s great, right?”

Chloe laughed. “It’s aca-mazing.”

“So why the,” Stacie wiggled her finger at Chloe’s face. “Waterworks?”

“Relief, probably.” She grabbed the box and sat down on the other half of the couch. “That I hadn’t screwed up completely. At least not yet.” She muttered the last as she blew her nose.

“No use in worrying about it, Chloe.” Stacie pulled her leg up and shifted so she was facing Chloe. “I know my saying this is useless, because you already know this. But you’ll just make yourself sick if you dwell.”

Chloe groaned and leaned her head back. “It’s already started.”

“I figured.” Stacie eyed her narrowly. “So why don’t we go get lunch?” She checked her watch, “Or an early dinner, I guess.”

“I don’t know.” Chloe put her hand on her stomach.

“When did you eat last?” Stacie asked pointedly.

Chloe sighed. “Breakfast with my parents.”

“Then it’s settled.” She stood up and held out her hand. “I won’t take no for an answer.” She wiggled her fingers.

Chloe laughed and gave up. “Alright, I guess I should go change back into something other than sweats.”

“Who cares? You look gorgeous.” Stacie pulled her up when Chloe took her hand. “Just go put on some shoes and grab your purse.”

“Yes mom.” Chloe headed back toward the stairs. “Will you stay tonight again?”

“Sure, I’ll text Aubrey to see if I can sleep in her room again.” Stacie pulled out her phone. “I know you didn’t do the laundry last time. We’ll do it tonight. Maybe that’ll keep you distracted.”

“Maybe.” Chloe started up the stairs when Stacie’s voice reached her.

“And then maybe you’ll tell me why you sound like a boy going through puberty.”

“What?” Chloe laughed nervously, she’d been hoping Stacie didn’t notice.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong – it’s sexy when your voice goes all raspy, but it’s not a usual Chloe-voice.” Stacie came into the entryway as she was putting away her phone. “Aubrey says it’s okay, by the way.”

“Great.” Chloe started up the stairs. “I’ll go get my shoes.”

“Don’t think I’m going to forget.”

But it wasn’t until they were back at the house, both of their stomachs happy and full, that Chloe finally relented and told Stacie about her surgery.

“Oh, Chloe.” Stacie dropped the sheet she’d just pulled out of the laundry basket. “You doing okay?”

“Yeah.” Chloe shrugged. “The doctors said I should be able to sing, but we’re not sure of the range yet.”

“I know I made that crack about not listening to my doctor after SBT, but… Can you really sing tomorrow?”

“They said I could try, but if I feel any pain I need  to stop immediately and give it another week.” She snapped the pillow case she was folding in agitation. “At least.” She could see Stacie watching her out of the corner of her eye and sighed. “I promise. If I feel any twinge I’ll stop.”

Stacie picked up the sheet again. “I’ll hold you to that.” She waited until the sheet was folded and in the stack between them. “Did you tell anyone else?”

“No.” Chloe sighed. “Everything was too… in the air.”

“I’m sorry you went through that alone.” Stacie touched her shoulder.

“I had my parents.” But she reached up and squeezed Stacie’s hand. “If we had made it to finals, I wouldn’t have done it until the summer. But since I thought we were done, I figured I might as well.”

“Makes sense.” Stacie pulled another sheet and began to fold it.

“And after all the fighting… I didn’t tell Aubrey because she couldn’t change her plans with her parents; she’d have worried about me the whole time.” Chloe offered.

“She’s going to feel like crap, you know.” Stacie pointed out.

“Yeah. I’ll… deal with that tomorrow.” Except she already planned on being out of the house when Aubrey got home; she’d decided it was better to see Aubrey for the first time at rehearsal.

“And Beca?”

“That’s… more complicated.” Chloe mechanically folded another sheet. “After our fight…”

“She’d have still been there.” Stacie declared. “No matter how large the stick up her tiny butt.”

Chloe chuckled then sobered. “Except she had the station. Her big break.”

“Crap.”

“Exactly.” Chloe half smiled. “So either she would have blown off her chance to play her music to be with me, which would make me feel like crap, or…”

“Or she takes her shot and feels like crap because she would have felt she was blowing you off.” Stacie made a face. “That’s… I guess I see your point.”

“I mean…” Chloe reached for another pillow case to fold it. “It would have been nice to share it, I guess? But I still kept in contact with you and some of the girls over text. So I wasn’t alone.”

“Except you couldn’t talk to anyone about anything you were going through.” Stacie grabbed the last sheet.

“I’ll admit, it felt like a very long week.” Chloe set the pillow case down. “After another very long week.”

Stacie put her sheet on the stack and picked the whole thing up. “Let’s go make some beds.”

“You’re good people, Stace.” Chloe leaned forward and side hugged her.

“Eh.” Stacie shrugged. “No one will believe you.”

“Oh, I can think of a few who might.” Chloe said as she picked up the pillow cases.

“Crap.” Stacie said again, but she grinned. “After you.”

Laughing, Chloe led the way upstairs. ‘Tomorrow.’ She thought as they went into the first room. ‘One way or another, I get to see Beca tomorrow.’

“Stop daydreaming and start tucking, woman.” Stacie threw a sheet at her.

“Oops.” Chloe grabbed it and threw it back. “Bossy.”

“You love it.” After unfurling one of the sheets, Stacie lifted one corner of the mattress and pulled the sheet under it. “Don’t even try to pretend otherwise.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Chloe tucked in her side helped unfold the top sheet.

“Good girl.” Stacie stood back as Chloe finished pulling up the blanket and tucking it under the pillow cases she’d already put on.

Tomorrow was still both so close and yet so far away, but having Stacie in the house helped. At the least, she’d be able to talk Chloe down when she started climbing the walls and staring at the clock.

“Thanks.” Chloe said as they moved to the next room.

“You’re welcome, Chlo.” Stacie squeezed her shoulder.

Chloe took a breath and vowed to try focus on nothing but laughing with Stacie for the rest of the night. They’d listened to the start of Beca’s broadcast together before Chloe finally excused herself to go to sleep. It had been a long day, but she really just wanted to continue her tradition of falling asleep with Beca’s voice in her ears.

She pulled the covers up over her shoulders and hugged one of her pillows as her radio played softly in the darkness.

“It’s midnight here at Barden University and this is Mitchell…”

Chloe snuggled down into her pillow as Beca’s voice wrapped around her.

  


  

~C~

Chloe approached the auditorium doors and took a deep breath.

She hadn’t seen Aubrey since she arrived, though Aubrey had texted her that she was home. Chloe wasn’t sure if the reveal she was about to do would blow up in her face, but she figured this time she needed to do it in front of the girls.

She’d avoided Aubrey because as much as Chloe had forgiven her, she had to deal with Captain Posen now and she had to stay strong and not fall back into silent habits. She was afraid that if she saw Bree that she’d fold without a fight.

She opened the door and heard the other girls cheering in excitement. Aubrey was standing in front of them, sheet music in her hands as she beamed excitedly at them.

“Okay. The a-ca-gods have looked down on us and they have given us a second chance.” She began handing the paper out to them as Chloe came up behind her. She hadn’t really expected Beca to be with them already, but she’d hoped she was wrong.

“Shalom!” Amy exclaimed as she took the stack from Aubrey and passed it down.

Chloe braced herself and decided to just get it over with, like ripping off a Band-Aid.

“I texted Beca.” She was going to sit until she felt Aubrey stiffen beside her.

“You did what?” Aubrey stared at her in shock.

“She makes us better.” She said simply.

“That’s not an opinion for you to have, Chloe.” Aubrey said, already firmly in Captain Posen mode.

“Why? Because it’s not yours?” Chloe shook her head, the anger starting to creep in even though she wanted to be calm. “You’re not always right, you know.”

Aubrey handed her the sheet music. “We will win without her.” She nodded and raised her brows encouragingly.

Sighing, Chloe took the paper and looked at it. “Aubrey, this is the same exact stuff we’ve been doing.” She winced as that sounded more accusatory than she meant it. “Why did you have to print off sheet music? It’s only been two weeks.”

“You can’t be too careful, Chloe.” Aubrey smiled at her again, though it seemed a little more strained this time. “I thought a refresher couldn’t hurt.”

Chloe sighed. Until Beca showed up there was no reason to push on doing something different quite yet. And if Beca didn’t show up… Then it wouldn’t matter at all.

Aubrey herded them out of the chairs, beaming. “Okay! Let’s run it through from the top, alright?”

~

“Okay, stop.” Aubrey snapped, her hands coming up in frustration. “What is happening to us?”

They’d been practicing non-stop for an hour and while Chloe was relieved that she didn’t have any pain while she was singing, she would be the first to admit that her voice was not where it needed to be. Stacie had caught her eyes several times, an eyebrow arched in question, and Chloe had to smile at the protective streak that apparently ran deep in the tall brunette.

Aubrey stepped in front of them and turned around, gesturing in frustration. “Chloe, you sound like you smoke three packs a day.”

Guess that answers the question of how noticeable the change is.’ She panted slightly, trying to catch her breath and keep hold of her temper.

Aubrey turned again before Chloe could respond, both hands out. “Stacie, you are so behind on choreography.” Stacie let out a deep sigh as Chloe passed between them. Despite her own annoyance, Chloe bit back a grin at Stacie’s eye roll and forced patience.

But Aubrey wasn’t done. “And Jessica and Ashley, it is like you haven’t been here all year long!”

“Aubrey, really?” Jessica’s face crumpled.

“We’ve literally been here the whole time.” Ashley snapped.

Aubrey turned and paced away, touching her stomach briefly, as Amy stepped forward. “Aubrey, please, just give us a break.” She looked around at the others. “It’s kind of not the same without everyone here.”

Cynthia Rose crossed her arms. “We need Beca.”

“Maybe if Aubrey loosened the reins a little bit.” Chloe hadn’t meant to say it, or quite that snidely, at least, but she had promised herself she wouldn’t stay quiet anymore.

Aubrey had crossed her arms tightly over her stomach as they’d been talking. “Okay, shut it, Chloe!” Chloe’s head snapped around in shock.

“Whoa!” Stacie interjected but Chloe didn’t even look at her, she was too focused on Aubrey.

Chloe’s own arms had crossed protectively and all she could do was stare at Aubrey – or, she supposed, Captain Posen, because her friend Bree would never have said that to her. It was something that Alice had used to say to them and the reminder cut deeper than she could have imagined.

Aubrey looked at Stacie and sarcastically put her hand on her own chest. “Oh, I’m sorry. That was rude.” She looked at Chloe with the last word and stepped forward, almost like she was going to apologize. Except her tone was anything but apologetic and grew more strident as she spoke. “Chloe, could you please get your head out of your ass? It’s not a hat.”

Chloe could only stare at Aubrey’s glare, her mouth dropping in a gasp at the weight of it. She heard the quiet murmur around her as the other girls reacted, but Aubrey merely walked away from her to stand in front of them.

‘A-ca-awkward.” Amy muttered and Chloe could feel all of them staring at her, waiting to see what she would do.

Aubrey took her place and clapped her hands sharply. “Again.”

Mechanically Chloe fell into place, trying to figure out how they had come to this and how to get them out of it. She kept looking toward the door, hoping that Beca would walk in and the two of them could try and talk sense into Aubrey. Except Chloe had a sinking feeling that something drastic was going to have to happen before Aubrey ever entertained anyone else’s ideas.

The next two hours went by as painfully as the first and Chloe was more and more convinced that Aubrey was somehow channeling Alice. Each snap, each borderline personal attack on the others had reminded Chloe about that last year and it was everything that she and Aubrey had promised never to be.

Everything finally came to a head when Aubrey barked at her again.

“Jesus, Chloe. How is it you sound worse than you did two weeks ago?”

Chloe felt her control fray and she stepped forward into Aubrey’s space. “You know who you sound like?” She didn’t give Aubrey a chance to answer. “Alice.” That seemed to register as Aubrey shut her mouth and her expression changed from hostile to pensive, her fingers toying with the pitch pipe she had yet to let go of. “I have been there for you for so many years… and all you do is treat me like shit!”

“All right, no, okay, just shut up!” Fat Amy threw up her hands as she yelled over the top of them. “Everyone!” Chloe and Aubrey looked over at her in surprise as she sighed. “Come on, I joined this group so I could hang out with a bunch of really cool chicks.” She shrugged. “And also ‘cause I was really sick of all my boyfriends and I need to get away from that.”

Chloe saw Aubrey shift beside her and take a breath and restrained her own sigh as Aubrey looked at Amy in annoyance. She thought the Alice line might have done it, might have finally gotten through but now the moment was broken. She knew Amy was just trying to keep them from fighting, but maybe that was the kind of thing that Aubrey needed to hear after all. Maybe Chloe was going to have to dig deep and show Aubrey the ugly side of what she was doing.

Amy was still going and she looked from Chloe to Aubrey. “But this is some serious horseshit.” Aubrey looked confused when Amy exhaled and said, “What’s that smell?” She flapped her arms. “Stinks everywhere.” Amy looked at the rest of them. “I don’t wanna be like the old Bellas.” She lifted her arm and let it slap against her side.

Aubrey merely looked at the ceiling and shook her head as Amy walked past her toward the seats where they’d left their stuff.

“Yeah,” Cynthia Rose agreed. “I wanna be how we are now.” She stared right at Aubrey as she said it on her way to her own bag.

Aubrey could only watch her, the pitch pipe held loosely in one fist, then looked over as Lilly came up and offered what appeared to be a silent, “Me too.”

Chloe moved to join the rest of them as they began to pack up. “We should have listened to Beca.” She was aware of Aubrey’s mouth dropping open in shock that Chloe had actually said it out loud.

Chloe felt sick. She’d been wrong, so wrong to let Aubrey go on this long. If they left now, this way, she wasn’t sure they would ever be able to come back together as a group. But she didn’t know how they could continue any sort of practice after all that. She didn’t even know if she wanted to and if Chloe was finally fed up, she knew the rest of them had to have stuck around only out of loyalty.

Aubrey turned to watch her. “Oh, so it’s my fault?” She threw it out as a challenge.

Chloe sighed, already tired of the fighting. “That’s not what I’m saying.”

“No, no, no, that’s what you’re all thinking, isn’t it?” Aubrey accused. “That I’m the jerk. I am the girl obsessed with winning.”

Guess we’re not done after all.’ Chloe thought as she turned to face her. “Aubrey, you’re too controlling and it’s gonna ruin all of us.”

Aubrey pointed at herself. “You know what, I can lose control if I want to.” She began to back up, her breath coming faster. “I can let go.” She slapped her hands together. “This time I’m not gonna choke it down.” She backed up even further.

Fascinated despite herself, Chloe watched as Aubrey gave a slight jerk and a sound was pulled from her stomach. Chloe put her hands on her hips and cocked her head, though inwardly she thought this might actually be a breakthrough. If Aubrey was willing to let go of her stranglehold on herself enough to willingly throw up – something she had tried to repress for years, and all the signs were there that it was about to happen – then maybe she’d also get rid of the anxiety and constant pressure of her own expectations. Chloe wasn’t even thinking of the Bellas at that moment; she just wanted to do anything to drain the poison and every last trace of Alice out of Aubrey and have her be the real Bree again.

So Chloe put on as neutrally a sarcastic expression as she could and watched as Aubrey continued to gag, her hands braced on her knees until she finally let herself go.

And boy did she ever.

Chloe willed herself not to recoil, to keep pushing Aubrey, but the amount of puke aimed at her was truly terrifying.

What she thought was, ‘Oh god, don’t let me puke too.’

What she did was start nodding and clap sarcastically before spreading her arms. “Come on, bring it! You can do better than that!” She forced an incredibly condescending smile on her face while the rest of the girls ran screaming into the seats behind her.

Amy yelling “Enough! Enough!” was the only thing louder than the sound of Aubrey puking out everything she’d eaten in the last six months.

Chloe finally had to look away. That was more than even she had expected and the smell was truly horrendous. ‘How the hell have we come to this?’ She felt the last of her control snap as she saw Aubrey still had a grip on the pipe and her anger boiled over at the reminder that even after all that, Aubrey was still Captain Posen and unable to truly let go.

“We could have been champions!” Chloe screamed as her hands fisted at her sides. She took off around the puddle on the floor, determined to rip that symbol out of Aubrey’s hands. Aubrey let out a scream and sprinted away from Chloe, except she didn’t count on Amy stepping forward and grabbing her around the waist.

“Give me the pitch pipe, you bitch!” Chloe snarled as Amy slung Aubrey around in a half circle. Chloe crashed into them and tried to reach around Aubrey to rip it from her hands. “Give it to me!” Some part of her had decided that if Aubrey no longer had the pitch pipe, if someone else was in control by having it, maybe she would get her friend back and not be this drill sergeant from Hell.

She knew she had to get it away from Aubrey at any cost because she really missed just having her best friend around.

Then there was nothing but confusion as the three of them screamed in each other’s faces. Chloe tried desperately to reach Bree’s hands while Aubrey tried to keep the pipe away from Chloe and break free from Amy’s death grip around her waist; except mostly what she ended up doing was kicking and flailing as Amy lifted her into the air.

“Give it to me!” Chloe kept repeating it, beyond anything else rational or coherent.

“Never!” Aubrey shouted back and Chloe redoubled her efforts.

She was briefly aware of another body trying to join the fight, catching a flash of Lilly’s silently screaming face, but that was the same time that Chloe regressed to middle school and pulled Aubrey’s hair. As Aubrey screamed in shocked surprise, Chloe also swore she heard a whistle. Amy reached up and pushed Lilly back out of the way as the three of them continued their impromptu wrestling match.

Chloe wedged her left hand under Aubrey’s arm while she pulled at Aubrey’s shirt with her right. She’d just gotten a grip on the pitch pipe and was trying to tug it free when Aubrey jerked her hand away and the pipe went flying. They all froze as they watched it arc forward and land on the ground and then Chloe and Aubrey were leaping through the air for it, both of them still screaming.

Her breath exploded out of her as she hit the ground, her fingers just shy of the innocuous object that had become the focus of all her anger. Aubrey’s hand landed on hers a second later as they both pushed each other out of the way.

“Move, you bitches!” Amy screamed behind them and Chloe grunted again as Amy landed half on her and half on Aubrey. One of Amy’s arms looped around Chloe’s throat and, she dimly realized, Aubrey’s because she let out another grunt as they both strained to reach the pipe.

A new voice finally intruded and it was the only one that could stop Chloe in her tracks.

“Guys, stop! What is going on!”

Her hand still reaching for the pipe, Chloe let her foot fall to the floor as she stopped pushing forward. Craning her neck she looked up and saw Beca standing by the piano, staring around her in shock.

This definitely wasn’t how she’d envisioned their reunion.

Chloe looked back down in time to see Aubrey take advantage of her distraction to snag the pitch pipe from under her fingers. Chloe stared after her, incredulous, as Aubrey pushed herself from under Amy’s arm. ‘Seriously?’

Chloe rose to her feet, her heart heavy as Aubrey told Beca she didn’t belong because this was a ‘Bellas rehearsal.’ It hadn’t worked, none of it had worked. They’d wrecked everything, Aubrey was still Captain Posen and Beca had seen Chloe wrestling around on the floor like a crazy person.

But as she stood, she drank in the sight of Beca like a starving woman staring at a feast. She’d missed Beca from her ear spike to her boots and everything in between. It took everything she had to not run over and kiss Beca senseless or wrap her up in a hug and never get go. Or both; both sounded amazing. She wasn’t sure how long they stared at each other, but apparently it was long enough that Aubrey turned to Chloe, though whatever she was going to say or do was lost when Beca began to apologize for the way things happened at the semi-finals.

“And I definitely shouldn’t have left.”

Even though Beca was talking to Aubrey, she felt that in particular had been directed at her.

She gauged Aubrey’s reaction and felt a little hopeful that she had dropped some of her anger, though she still wasn’t remotely welcoming.

“And…” Beca trailed off and Chloe saw the effort she put her next admission.  “Aubrey, if you would have me, I want back in.”

Chloe sucked in a breath and watched Aubrey even more carefully. The raised eyebrows spelled trouble and Chloe crossed her arms to keep from trying to physically shake sense into her. She had to let Aubrey be the one to make the decision otherwise Aubrey would only fight them all every step of the way, but Chloe wasn’t sure how long she could stay silent to let her.

Beca’s gaze darted to Chloe and back to Aubrey, waiting.

Then Chloe deflated. Aubrey had put on her snob face. The one she’d used in that first practice when she kicked out Mary Elise. Her heart sinking, she waited as the silence grew. As Amy shifted nervously beside her, Chloe pulled her arms tighter to her chest and stared at Aubrey. ‘She’s done everything you could have ever asked for. She’s apologized to the group. She’s apologized directly to you and is basically begging you to let her back in. Just fucking say yes.’

But Aubrey refused to look at her and only looked back up at Beca with disinterest.

Beca nodded as if she’d expected nothing less and turned away. As she passed the chair, she gave them another look and grabbed it, dragging it slowly to the door after her.

Oh my god.’ Chloe would have laughed if it wasn’t all so tragic. Apparently Beca had remembered the same thing that Chloe did and was playing out the final part of Mary Elise’s humiliation. Chloe felt a twinge of regret at how that went down. She knew now she should have stopped Aubrey from such a public display of what would happen if vows were broken. She should have insisted they do it privately, just like they had with Kori. But Aubrey had thought the publicity of it would drive home the point better than anything else would.

Now here was Beca, proving that she remembered – that she was willing to abide by Aubrey’s rules.

“Aubrey.” Amy whispered, the only one of them who had spoken so far.

Chloe watched Beca go, knowing that if Aubrey let Beca get all the way out the door, she was going to follow. She would try and patch things up with Aubrey, but Chloe was done with Captain Posen.

Beca turned around again and Chloe saw Aubrey’s head drop down as she played with the pitch pipe still in her hand. She noticed Beca give a half smile as she turned toward the door and wondered what she’d seen that Chloe had missed. Beca took the step up onto the concrete that led to the door and Chloe readied herself to follow.

“Wait.” Aubrey finally broke.

“Thank you.” Beca dropped the chair and turned around. “That would have been embarrassing.”

Chloe barely kept herself from shouting “YES” at the top of her lungs. They had a lot to work out, but the fact that Aubrey had been able to fight past her own stubborn nature was a giant step in the right direction. Chloe crossed her arms tightly again to try and remain focused; they weren’t fully out of the woods yet.

Aubrey sighed and spread her arms. “Beca, I know that I have been hard on you, okay?” She gave an almost sarcastic smile and Chloe rolled her eyes.  “I know that I have been hard on everyone here.” She looked over Chloe.

Chloe couldn’t help the slightly sarcastic tilt of her own lips as she nodded, because ‘hard on everyone’ wasn’t quite the way she’d have put it. ‘Raging tyrant’ was closer, though bringing that up now wouldn’t do anyone any good.

As Aubrey looked back at Beca, her face changed and Chloe couldn’t read what was underneath it, but it made her worry a little. For Aubrey this time, not because of her. “But I am my father’s daughter.” Instantly Chloe felt her heart ache as Aubrey’s breathing shook and her voice cracked. “And he always said, ‘If at first you don’t succeed…’”

Oh Bree,’ Chloe thought, as Aubrey fought for control over her emotions. As much as she wanted to reach out and comfort her best friend, she knew she couldn’t do it now.

Aubrey took a deep breath and forced the rest of it out. “‘Pack your bags.’” With that, she turned to go take a seat, her shoulders slumped in defeat.

Chloe had to look away, her own emotions a jumbled mess that she couldn’t sort out. She was relieved that Aubrey seemed to be Aubrey again and that Captain Posen was nowhere in sight, for now. But she also ached for her friend and for her own part in pushing Aubrey to the breaking point, even if it was for her own good.

She met Amy’s wide eyes as the Australian said “Jesus.”

Chloe nodded, “It’s pretty crazy.” The stories she’d heard about Aubrey’s dad and his focus on goals and results were legion. When she’d met him after their freshman year, she had realized most of them were likely true. While he’d been warm and welcoming to Chloe, she could also see that he was a man who expected, and demanded, results.

Beca slowly followed her over. “I get it. Um… Mine gets on me, too. Not like that, but…Um.” She looked at Aubrey. “I guess we don’t really know that much about each other.” She looked around. “About most of you, really.”

Stacie spoke up. “Well, I’ll confess something that none of you know about me.” She took a deep breath and Chloe wondered she could possibly be nervous about. “I have a lot of sex.”

Chloe bit her lip as she tried not to laugh, though she realized she should have expected something like that. Stacie was almost as bad as Beca with her sometimes offbeat sense of humor.

“Yeah, we know Stacie.” Amy rolled her eyes.

“Only ‘cause I just told you.” Stacie retorted.

“This is a good idea.” Beca pointed at Stacie and Chloe could almost see the grin she was holding back. “That was a pretty bad example, but this is a good idea. Why don’t we all go around the room and we can all say something about ourselves that nobody else knows.”

Chloe followed the others as they grouped in a circle. She really only had one thing that qualified at this point and now that the time had come to reveal it, she was nervous. She was only half listening as Cynthia Rose confessed to her gambling problem, though she was shocked that something like that had slipped by her. She was usually better at reading people than that. ‘Probably all out of whack because of dealing with a tightly wound Aubrey and figuring out where Beca and I stand.’

She hadn’t realized that Lilly was speaking until she saw Beca’s head snap around in her direction. Chloe looked up as Beca half recoiled from Lilly. “Okay.” Chloe made a note to find out what that was all about later. Though as Beca took a second cautious look at Lilly, maybe she was better off not knowing.

Okay, it’s going to be your turn. Just do it quick and get it over with. It’s not like they’re going to shun you.’ Chloe told herself.

“And my real name is Fat Patricia.”

Chloe’s head jerked up but her surprise faded almost immediately. It seemed a very Fat Amy thing to do to lie about her first name; mostly because half of what she did and said made no sense to a sane person anyway, so why would giving her name be any different. Then Beca’s voice brought her eyes forward.

“Okay. I’ve never been one of those girls who had a lot of friends who were girls.”

Chloe found it adorable how Beca’s eyes couldn’t settle on any one person as she spoke, but bounced around almost the entire time. She did lock eyes with Chloe at times, and then Aubrey, but only for a second or two before moving on.

“And I do now.” She smiled awkwardly and looked at the ceiling. “And that’s pretty cool.” Her smile was self-conscious but her eyes refocused on Chloe while she said it. Chloe had half turned to see Aubrey’s reaction and she was thrilled to see that Aubrey had actually smiled at Beca before she quickly hid it behind a look at feigned indifference. She had a feeling that Beca had just said the one thing that would make Aubrey finally begin to fully accept her as a Bella. “So, that’s me. Someone else please go.”

Chloe tensed and took a deep breath. “Okay.” She forced herself to stand though she couldn’t quite bring herself to look at Aubrey. “Over spring break, I made the courageous decision to remove my nodes.” She finally turned as Aubrey’s breath hissed out of her and Beca gasped. “I know.”

Chloe closed her eyes and took another breath. ‘Get it all over with now. No more secrets or holding back.’

She nodded slightly. “The doctor said that I can’t sing…” Her voice broke and she had to force herself to continue. “Above a G-sharp… maybe ever.” She realized she felt like she had let them all down and that was partially the reason that she hadn’t told anyone but Stacie before now. “I thought… “ She broke off with a sob. “…the season… was over.”

She dropped back into her chair as she lifted her hands and let them fall again, helplessly. She looked over at Aubrey, ready to apologize but Aubrey’s hand was already on her arm, her face full of nothing but concern.

Stacie touched Chloe’s shoulder. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” Chloe nodded, trying to calm her racing heart. Stacie had said the same thing the night before, when Chloe had a mini-panic attack at having to tell the rest of the group what she’d done.

Then Aubrey pushed to her feet, a look of determination on her face. “Beca.”

Beca quickly rose to face her and Chloe couldn’t even begin to guess what was about to happen. Then Aubrey shocked Chloe right out of her distress.

“What do we do.”

Chloe froze, unable to believe what she’d just heard. ‘Holy crap. Did she just ask Beca for help? Is Captain Posen really completely gone? Did I die during surgery and this is some fucked up form of Hell?’

Silent for once, Beca’s eyes darted down to the pitch pipe and back up.

What is she…’ Then realization hit. ‘Of course. Aubrey has the pitch pipe and Beca’s not taking any chances.’

After a final hesitation that Chloe knew was Aubrey preparing herself to fully give control to someone else, Aubrey tossed the pitch pipe to Beca. The second it was out of her hands, Aubrey’s posture changed. There was a subtle shift in her shoulders that spoke of relief, not defeat, and her exhale was more of peace than cold fury at being forced to hand over a piece of her armor.

Beca’s hands grabbed at the air but instead of catching the pipe safely, she deflected. The entire group watched as it rolled across the floor, unable to move to stop it and unable to look away, as it finally landed in the mess across the room.

“I’m sorry,” Aubrey murmured as she looked back at Beca.

Beca’s hands were clutched in front of her throat as she looked back at the pipe. “Maybe not here.” Then she smiled and Chloe felt like the room got brighter.

She stood and carefully watched Aubrey. Even before she saw Aubrey’s face, Chloe felt her own body relaxing, responding instantly to the absence of tension she’d grown so used to in her friend. Chloe reached out and touched her arm. Aubrey looked back at her, green eyes clear and, if not exactly bright, they weren’t the hostile glare she’d spent the past few hours looking into. She had been about to ask if Aubrey was okay, but the answer was perfectly obvious as Aubrey smiled at her. It was small, but it was the most genuine one they’d shared in weeks.

Instead, she pursed her lips. “If you go open all the doors, I’ll go get the mop and bucket.”

Aubrey winced, though her good mood didn’t fade. “You don’t have to do that, Chlo.”

“The more of us that help, the faster we can get out of here.” Ashley said as she stood.

“Uhhh…” Amy took a step sideways. “I’ll just go…”

“Nope.” Beca shook her head. “You’re not going to get out of this one.”

“But…” Amy trailed off when Beca merely arched an eyebrow. “Fine. I’ll go with Chloe then. We’re going to need a lot of bleach.”

Chloe stepped up to Beca. She couldn’t fight it any longer, but she still held herself back from the hug her body was craving. She settled for running her hand down Beca’s arm. “I’m glad you came.”

Midnight blue eyes met her own and Chloe wanted to drown in them. “Me too.” She covered Chloe’s hand with hers and squeezed. “There’s so much I want to say.”

“But now isn’t the time.” Chloe nodded. “I know.”

“Soonish?” Beca half phrased it as a question, smiling again when Chloe nodded. “Good.” She looked around then took a step closer. “Because I really missed your arms around me.”

The obvious longing in Beca’s voice made Chloe’s heart leap in her chest but she kept herself still. This really wasn’t the place for that, but now that it was between them, it was all she could think of.

“Guess we better clean quickly.” Beca said with a wry grin then looked past her. “Amy! Don’t think I don’t see you creeping toward the door.”

“I was going to get the… er… cleaning supplies.” Amy protested.

“Closet is the other way.” Beca pointed and Chloe turned around in time to see Amy grumble her way to the correct door.

“Sometimes it’s like herding cats.” Aubrey said suddenly from beside them. “I never found the trick of it, obviously.” Chloe looked at her sharply but Aubrey remained relaxed and almost content. “Good luck with that.”

“With you to help if I stumble, I’m sure I’ll be fine.” Beca said as she watched Amy, but Chloe could tell she was focused on Aubrey.

Aubrey straightened and gave a small, shy smile before she laughed. “You are such a suck up, Beca.”

“Doesn’t make it any less true.” Beca shrugged. “You were right when you said I had no idea how competitions work. I’m going to need to know what to expect at Finals; I assume it’s a bit different from the semi-finals.”

“Alright.” Aubrey nodded and Chloe could tell she was deeply touched by the gesture. “Guess we better get started so we can get out of here. I, for one, need a shower.” She walked past them to one of the exits to begin the airing out process.

Chloe realized that Beca was still essentially holding her hand and she squeezed Beca’s arm again.

Ashley was right. The faster they got this done the faster they could get out and freshen up before Beca showed them her ideas.

Beca let her hand slip free and turned around. “Okay, where the hell did Amy go?”

 


  

~A~

Aubrey Posen never considered herself a difficult person.

Sure, she could be driven and goal oriented, but she figured that was a natural byproduct of growing up in a military family. Her father was career military and her mother was an aristocratic matriarch who regularly entertained the city’s old money families. Aubrey had two older brothers, Asher and Aiden, who were five and three years older than her, respectively, and they had both followed their father’s footsteps into the military.

Growing up, she had looked up to both of them, following them around whenever they let her tag along. When Asher turned six, their father had set up a children’s sized obstacle course on their property. In the beginning, he would help guide him, and later Aiden, through it with steadying hands and a gruff word of advice or praise. But as they got older, he would walk alongside with a stopwatch and urge them to go faster; Aubrey would often run by his side, cheering them on.

Aubrey couldn’t wait until she turned six and got her shot at it, especially because their father kept adding to it bit by bit as the boys got taller and stronger. At first her father had tried to discourage her, as he considered it inappropriate for a young girl to crawl on the ground under a series of ropes, climb over obstacles and scale walls. But even at a young age Aubrey never really let anyone keep her from whatever she’d set her mind on.

Just before she turned seven, she convinced Aiden to let her run it once. She had been practicing in secret in the barn – mostly running and standing jumps by treating hay bales as a scratchy substitute for the miniature wooden wall – and thought she could do it. If she could finish it, no matter how long it took, he would go to their father and try to convince him to let her start ‘training’ with her brothers. If she couldn’t finish it, she would do Aiden’s chores for a week, in addition to her own.

They waited for a sunny day when their father was gone and their mother was busy entertaining in her parlor and crept outside. Asher was sitting on the steps and their guilty expressions immediately made him suspicious. After ten minutes of quiet pleading, she made the same deal with him. She had a twinge of worry, she really didn’t want to do extra chores for two weeks in a row, but she knew she could do it. She’d heard every piece of advice that her father had given them and was (pretty) sure she wouldn’t have any problems.

In the end, it took her forty-five very long minutes, but Aubrey completed it to her brothers’ complete astonishment. She’d flopped over on her back in the grass and stared at the sky, feeling herself warm with a child’s pride in themselves and in a sister’s ability to surprise her beloved brothers.

True to their word, both her brothers had gone to their father the next time he was home and spent the whole afternoon convincing him to let Aubrey run it for him. Except this time the rules were a bit different – if she took longer than she had the first time, she had to let the whole thing drop. Aubrey had felt her stomach gurgle but she forced herself to ignore it while her father got out the stopwatch. Her mother protested – this was definitely not how a young lady behaved – but her father had overruled her and had led the way outside. With a few last bits of advice from her brothers, Aubrey watched her father and ran for the course at his signal.

She’d learned from her first time, able to better apply the bits and pieces of advice now that she’d run through it once and had knocked fifteen minutes off her time. Her father had pulled her into his arms and hugged her, saying how proud he was of her and she made the Posen name proud. It was one of her most cherished memories, the one she would pull down from the shelf and hold close when things got rough. It reminded her that she could do anything she put her mind to.

After that he treated her no differently than her brothers, for the most part. As she grew older she followed them into the tougher parts of the obstacle courses, gaining speed and strength until she could do them as well as they could. She had strength to her frame, could lift almost as much as them at that age, but remained slender; a fact that would annoy her for years. Until the day she first beat Aiden’s time and she realized that her lack of muscle mass was actually an asset.

When she reached puberty, her mother interceded once more, having given up trying to tame her strong willed daughter until then. She insisted Aubrey spend time with her learning proper etiquette and how to behave like a young lady. Aubrey had resisted at first, but slowly her mother’s enforced lessons sunk in and Aubrey learned there was a second kind of power in it. The time with her father had given her physical strength, but her mother gave her a different and more personal strength born from confidence. The two sides of her ‘training’ continued – she wouldn’t give up the rougher stuff despite her mother’s attempts to dissuade her – until she could shoot a gun as well as her brothers and mingle perfectly with any of the high society crowds that her mother entertained at the house.

She had her share of bumps at high school – boys who just wanted to get into her pants, boys that were afraid of the fact that she was more athletic than them – but for the most part her circle of friends remained drama free and she had several relationships that had ended mutually with no hard feelings.

Then her senior year a new girl, Kacey, had joined her class and Aubrey realized she might be just the tiniest bit into girls.

As the year went on that had progressed into a full-fledged certainty and Aubrey didn’t know how to fit that into her vision of her future - the one that included a husband, picket fence, family pet and two children. On the surface she kept a positive face, but underneath she was a roiling mess of confusion that began to manifest in the most horrifying of ways.

The first time she’d projectile vomited, she was thankfully by herself. She’d been on their outdoor homemade shooting range and trying to use the mechanical repetitiveness – and the noise – of it to drown out her own thoughts. Except her mind kept playing back snippets of Kacey’s laugh or her smile and Aubrey’s confusion and denial finally erupted – directly out of her mouth and all over the ground in front of her. Once she’d recovered, she’d run to get a shovel and essentially buried her shame and hoped no one noticed that the ground looked freshly turned.

The second time it happened was a month later when Asher brought his college girlfriend home for a visit and Aubrey’s first thought was that she was gorgeous. This time she had at least managed to make it to her bathroom, though she spent a great deal of time sanitizing her bathtub.

After that, any time Aubrey got stressed out, be it over schoolwork, a fight with a friend or tension with her parents, her stomach tried to expel itself from her mouth. Most days she was able to push it back with deep breathing, but sometimes it took her by surprise: After prom when she left her date holding out a hotel room keycard, a disgusting lecherous grin on his face; before taking her SATs and again before applying to various colleges despite knowing she’d scored well; after graduation when Kacey hugged her goodbye as they were both going off to different colleges.

Aubrey finally realized she had to talk to someone the summer before she started college and thankfully Aiden was home for the summer. She’d confessed everything she’d been feeling to him – her confusion, her stress and worry – and in his typical loving manner he’d reassured her that everything she was feeling was normal. He’d reminded her that she didn’t have to have her entire life plan figured out before she’d even set foot on campus.

But the most important thing was that he told her he’d always love her, no matter who she brought home for Christmas.

So she’d come to Barden with as open a mind as she could and had met one Chloe Beale when they became roommates their freshman year.

Anyone with eyes could see that Chloe was gorgeous on the outside and Aubrey could admit in the furthest reaches of her mind that she found Chloe attractive. As they grew closer that year, through auditions and becoming Bellas together, that grew into a much deeper appreciation for the generous spirit that lived inside her new friend. But she never really thought on it much as the two of them quickly became inseparable and Aubrey had, for the first time, someone she could call ‘best friend.’

Chloe was about the only thing that got Aubrey through three years of the Bellas with Alice as their Captain. While Aubrey had been elated to join the group, that had dimmed quickly. Alice was one of the most horrible people that Aubrey had met and she had a knack for saying the most spiteful things that landed in the perfect spot to inflict the most damage. But with Chloe there, Aubrey was able to let most of it roll off her back and she only rarely had a bout of nervous stomach and even less occurrences where she threw up from stress.

She even worked up the nerve to try and figure out once and for all how she felt about women when one of the girls in her class asked her out for coffee. Aubrey had cautiously accepted, telling herself to act no differently than she would if it had been one of the guys. She wasn’t worried about Chloe’s reaction as Chloe herself had been out on dates with both sexes; she’d even helped Aubrey pick out her outfit, though she insisted Aubrey could make a potato sack look amazing.

The date had been pleasant and filled with laughter, and while Aubrey realized that yes, she did indeed like women a bit more than she thought, there wasn’t anything between them that made her pursue it. That was the pattern for her entire college career – casually date, never anything serious. She’d had her moments of physical distractions, but those were always with men. She’d never really found the right woman where she felt comfortable enough to let her guard down.

There was a single night their junior year where they had played Spin the Bottle with the rest of the Bellas and a few random frat boys. During Chloe’s turn, the bottle had landed on Aubrey. She would later chalk it up to the alcohol, but instead of the chaste kiss on the lips that Aubrey would have expected, the two of them had fallen deeply into each other for several long minutes of teasing tongues and stolen breaths. They only pulled apart when Alice had jeered, ‘I didn’t know you were a dyke, Posen.’ Aubrey had immediately turned bright red and left the room, hearing Chloe behind her say ‘You don’t always have to be so mean, you know.

Aubrey hadn’t been surprised when Chloe came in to make sure she was okay, she was just grateful that she’d managed to calm her racing hormones. Because kissing Chloe had been the first time Aubrey had really kissed a woman and it had definitely rung her bell more than she had expected. But Chloe had merely shown the concern a friend would, so Aubrey tucked her feelings away and focused on school and the Bellas. She was sure they would fade with time and she wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize her friendship with Chloe.

Then they made it to the ICCA’s and Alice had stepped up their practices. The pressures she put on them to not ‘Fuck up my shot at going out a winner for my final year as a Bella’ became almost unbearable.

Until the almost went away without warning and Aubrey threw up over everyone in front of her while she was onstage.

Chloe was there for her afterward, doing everything she could to make Aubrey feel better, but then it had ended up on YouTube and Aubrey spent the next week mostly in the bathroom. When she came back to Barden the following year, Aubrey was determined to both redeem herself from Pukegate, as that stupid podcast was calling it, and bring the Bellas back to the finals to win it.

Except they were the laughing stock of the school and not even Baloney Barb would audition for them.

/

“What about her?” Chloe’s voice brought Aubrey out of her musings.

The woman Chloe was pointing at was pretty and had the bikini ready body that Fat Amy did not, but she also had a gigantic ear spike and more tattoos than Aubrey felt a Bella should have; at least Chloe’s wrist and ankle tattoos were small and easily overlooked. She also had dark eye liner and some sort of leather cuff around one wrist, which was definitely not Bellas material.

“Oh. Oooh. I don’t know. She looks a little too ‘alternative’ for us.”

She should have known that Chloe was going to ignore her; she’d heard the hint of personal interest in just those three words. So she put on a smile and let Chloe do the talking while Aubrey looked for anything positive. She just knew Chloe was going to insist on letting her audition if the girl had any interest.

‘She’s pretty enough and her eyes are an interesting shade, if you can get past the heavy layer of sarcasm in them.’

“It’s all from our mouths.” Chloe was saying when Aubrey tuned back in.

“Yikes.”

Aubrey forced herself to smile again, though inwardly she was truly wishing that Chloe would realize this girl was just humoring her. It wouldn’t surprise Aubrey if numbers were exchanged, but it was obvious to her that Alt Girl wasn’t interested in a ca pella at all.

“Sorry, it just… it’s… pretty lame.”

Aubrey couldn’t hold herself back anymore. ‘Who does she think she is…’

“Aca-scuse me?” Aubrey felt her lips peel back over her teeth. “Synchronized lady dancing to a Mariah Carey chart topper is not lame.” She let Chloe continue her spiel until the brunette gave another snide remark and felt most of her control snap. “We played the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, you bitch.” To her surprise, however, the shorter woman merely arched her eyebrows and looked impressed by Aubrey for reasons that she couldn’t begin to fathom.

As expected, all Chloe’s efforts were for nothing and they both watched the other woman walk off after offering a sincere sounding, “It was really nice to meet you guys.”

/

 

She thought that’d be the end of it.

The day of auditions finally arrived and Aubrey found herself stuck in her chair when a tall brunette walked out and declared her hobbies as cuticle care and the E! Network – but the expression on her face after she said it was almost sarcastic, as if it were something she rehearsed because people expected her to say something so shallow. But Aubrey felt her breath catch and forced herself to breathe when Chloe looked over at her and her expression changed to mirth at whatever she saw on Aubrey’s face. Aubrey felt the flutter of nerves in her stomach and willed them away, this was not the time and certainly not allowed just because her libido just stood up and waved for the first time in eight months.

She made it through the rest of the auditions and had just begun to gather the paperwork when Chloe started motioning someone forward from off-stage and suddenly the girl from the Activities Fair was walking nervously across the stage. She knew Chloe must have convinced her somehow, which meant that the girl probably wasn’t here because she truly wanted to be.

The problem was, she had an amazing voice and Aubrey knew they had to take her. She still let Chloe work to convince her, mostly to detract herself from the fact that Stacie wasn’t even eighteen yet.

‘She’s not a Bella, but if she gets us to finals, I can let her pretend.’

Despite Aubrey’s fears on Hood Night, when she’d noticed Beca talking to Jesse, it had been fairly obvious that she and Chloe had sparks flying between them; not that they’d allowed that much space between them while dancing. The next morning Aubrey had been relieved to find she and Beca could be civil to each other – though apparently that was only outside of rehearsals as Beca challenged Aubrey’s authority from day one. It had put her off balance and she’d blurted out the only thing she could think of – the Jesse/toner accusation – even though she knew it wasn’t true.

That Chloe and Beca were practically meant to be was also obvious in the care that Beca took with Chloe the day she revealed her nodes. She opened doors, brought protein bars and offered Chloe water before she had any herself. Since Chloe’s happiness was one of the most important things to Aubrey, she realized she’d have to alter how she interacted with Beca, at least out of rehearsal. To her surprise, it was somewhat easy. They could laugh within the group, though they were never alone with each other until Christmas. That was when Aubrey realized that she actually liked Beca.

She swore to herself that she would never share it with anyone, but seeing Beca with that garbage bag of presents had been adorable. The way Aubrey’s gift had been wrapped was just icing on the cake. This was a Beca she could laugh with when she found flour on her nose. Someone she was happy to wrap presents for though she told everyone it was to save on wrapping paper. Someone she’d had the opportunity to catch under the mistletoe but didn’t want it to be misunderstood, so Aubrey had hung back in the kitchen, pretending to go through the drawers looking for another dipper for the egg nog. She’d liked that Beca.

She just wasn’t a Bella.

In rehearsal Beca continued to push and complain. Almost every day Aubrey’s stress would spike, coming close to the breaking point, but then Chloe would gradually talk her down, recognizing the signs of impending doom.

After the riff-off Aubrey had finally grudgingly admitted that maybe she had overreacted to losing – something that was anathema to her entire family – and had apologized to the girls when they’d all settled down for the sleepover they had later that night. But what she kept to herself, because it annoyed the ever living hell out of her, was that Chloe had been right. They had never heard the entire pool break into song like that before. But admitting Chloe was right would have led to admitting Beca was right and that could never happen.

Then came the fight at Regionals and Aubrey knew that Beca had expected Aubrey to start yelling when they were all in her dorm, but Aubrey wasn’t bothered by the fighting at all. She respected that dedication to a friend and was almost ready to at least listen to Beca’s ideas, but then Beca had said ‘Oh, my god. That sounded so queerballs. What’s happening to me?’ and Aubrey had known she had been right the first time.

Beca wasn’t a Bella – she just wanted the spotlight and was still making fun of the one thing Aubrey held dear.

So she kept Beca at arm’s length at the house and stayed in Captain mode while in rehearsal.

But then, on the bus heading to semi-finals, Aubrey felt herself silently pleading with Beca to sing with them. She thought she could feel that Beca wanted to give in but wasn’t allowing herself. Aubrey knew a little bit about that and smiled encouragingly. When Beca began to sing, Aubrey was elated, feeling – for the first time – that maybe Beca was coming around.

And then everything had fallen apart.

Aubrey wasn’t sure how it happened, exactly, but she knew that she had overreacted but couldn’t have stopped herself even if it had crossed her mind to try.

All she knew was that Beca had cost them second place – she ignored the small voice at the back of her mind that pointed out that they probably wouldn’t have beaten the Footnotes anyway – and she had to have done it purely out of spite to steal Aubrey’s moment.

“I told you she wasn’t a Bella.”

Then came the horrible span of time where she thought that Chloe had been talking behind her back and her world had finished collapsing around her.

No chance to redeem herself at the ICCAs.

No more Bellas.

And she may have just destroyed the one relationship that mattered to her.

Aubrey really did feel horrible at being the reason that Beca had walked out on them at the ICCAs, though she still believed Beca had overstepped her bounds. Even more, she felt like the lowest scum of the earth for her part in Beca staying away from Chloe.

Her apology via text didn’t feel like enough, but Aubrey didn’t know how to get across how sorry she was. What stuck with her the most was the fact that Beca had been the one to insist that she and Chloe not discuss Aubrey or the Bellas. It showed a far deeper consideration for Chloe than Aubrey herself was giving because Aubrey couldn’t seem to stop talking about it.

The week before she left for her parents, she’d thrown up every day. If she and Chloe had any difficulty talking – usually after Aubrey tried to relive the moment in her failed attempts to process what had happened – she found herself in the bathroom times a day though she somehow managed to hide that fact from Chloe.

Getting the call during Spring Break had been the miracle she’d been praying for. She still had a chance to redeem herself.

Seeing that everyone else was excited to be back had lifted her spirits even more. Ultimately, she’d decided to ignore the fact that Chloe had texted Beca; obviously Beca wasn’t interested because she hadn’t shown up.

Aubrey also ignored and buried the small part of herself that was actually disappointed that she had apparently been right about Beca. She told herself it was only for Chloe’s sake that she wished otherwise.

Except Aubrey had looked at the scoresheet for the semi-finals. It was actually a bit higher than it had been at Regionals and the only thing different there had been Beca’s layering of ‘Bulletproof’ over the rest of them.

Which means it was because of Beca she – they – had their second chance.

Aubrey hadn’t told Chloe, but she’d found the performance on YouTube and it had been better than she remembered at the time. But Beca wasn’t a Bella and Aubrey was going to be damned if she let the Alt Girl back in. She could just see the smug smirk and hear the unspoken ‘I told you so.’

Beca hadn’t shown up after Chloe’s text, which meant Beca still wasn’t a Bella.

~

How the hell did we get to this?’ Aubrey thought as she stared at Chloe. But it was quiet and at the back of her mind.

At the surface, she was saying horrible things to Chloe and the rest of the girls but couldn’t seem to make herself stop.

“You know who you sound like?” Chloe looked her square in the eyes. “Alice.”

Aubrey froze at the name, her fingers clenching around the cool metal of the pitch pipe, not liking how true that suddenly felt. Her mind showed her a flip-book of images where she had acted just like Alice in the way she had criticized, demeaned, demanded, yelled and even mocked in the last few hours alone. She didn’t even want to think about the past few months in that light because if she did, she wasn’t sure how she could ever look Chloe in the face again.

Not that Chloe was done yelling at her. “I have been there for you for so many years… and all you do is treat me like shit!” Aubrey barely held back the flinch as that one struck home.

Then Fat Amy was yelling at them to shut up. “Come on, I joined this group so I could hang out with a bunch of really cool chicks.” She shrugged. “And also ‘cause I was really sick of all my boyfriends and I need to get away from that.” Amy looked between her and Chloe. “But this is some serious horseshit.”

Aubrey looked at her in confusion and shook her head, momentarily distracted by wondering exactly how the Australian’s mind worked sometimes.

“I don’t wanna be like the old Bellas.” Amy threw out as she walked past Aubrey to get her bag.

Taking a deep breath, Aubrey looked at the ceiling and willed herself to try and calm down. She was still severely rattled by Chloe’s declaration that she was like Alice and she fought to find anything to balance her mental state. The foundation that was Chloe felt like it was crumbling and Aubrey didn’t know if she would survive if it was gone.

“Yeah,” Cynthia Rose followed Amy. “I wanna be how we are now.”

She barely registered Lilly’s nod and silent agreement before Chloe passed on the other side.

“We should have listened to Beca.”

Aubrey felt cold all over as her world suddenly tilted around her but instead of apologizing, like she wanted to, she found herself yelling. “Oh, so it’s my fault?”

Chloe turned around with a sigh. “That’s not what I’m saying.”

“No, no, no,” Aubrey put her hand out. “That’s what you’re all thinking, isn’t it?” She looked at the rest of them. “That I’m the jerk. I’m the girl obsessed with winning.”

Chloe turned to face her fully. “Aubrey, you’re too controlling and it’s gonna ruin all of us.”

Aubrey started shaking her head before Chloe was even finished. “You know what, I can lose control if I want to.” She began to back up, not even sure what point she was trying to make. “I can let go! This time I’m not gonna choke it down.”

Somewhere at the back of her mind was a tiny, sane, voice telling Aubrey to stop before it was too late. 

The rest of them watched her with various degrees of confusion, but she backed up some more as the first rumbling started low in the pit of her stomach. A sound very much like ‘hurk’ came out of her mouth as she leaned forward and braced.

‘What the fuck am I doing right now? What point does this even make?’ But now that she was on this path, she couldn’t seem to stop it.

Chloe watched her, hands on hips, every single bit about her expression saying that she didn’t believe Aubrey would go through with it. Then again, Aubrey couldn’t believe she was about to go through with it. But here she was, panting as the urge grew stronger until suddenly it was spewing out of her mouth. Between bouts, she heard Chloe heckling her as the rest of the girls screamed in horror and ran up into the seats.

“Come on, bring it! You can do better than that!”

Aubrey puked until she had nothing left inside her but before she had time to do more than draw a breath of air, Chloe was screaming at her.

“We could have been champions!”

Aubrey screamed reflexively and ran right as Chloe charged at her from the left. She was too busy making sure she didn’t slip in her own puddle of embarrassment that she missed Amy stepping forward and grabbing her around the waist before Chloe slammed into them, screaming and trying to wrestle the pitch pipe out of Aubrey’s hand.

“Give it to me!” Chloe kept yelling.

“Never!” Aubrey started to yell back but Chloe pulled her hair and then there was nothing but incoherent screaming. She thought someone else had joined the battle and while they were swiftly pushed out of the way, it was enough distraction that Chloe had managed to shove her hand under Aubrey’s arm and had a grip on the pitch pipe, tugging relentlessly. Aubrey jerked her arm and the pipe went flying; when it landed she and Chloe both launched themselves at it but fell just short.

The three way wrestling match continued as Amy landed on them, her arm going tight around Aubrey’s neck. She was getting ready to try and push herself up so she could elbow Amy when suddenly Beca was there, shouting at them to stop.

Chloe had noticed first, immediately going limp to look up at her; Aubrey used that moment of distraction to grab the pitch pipe. She wasn’t even sure what prompted her to do it and for once she didn’t find the same comfort in its weight that she had ever since Alice had given it over.

Pushing herself up, she said “Nothing” as she slid out from under Amy’s arm. “Nothing.” She circled around and half hopped over Chloe’s feet. “This is a Bellas rehearsal.” Aubrey straightened her back, as if nothing unusual had just been happening.

“I know.” Beca took a step forward, cautiously like she was approaching a wild animal. “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.”

Aubrey didn’t miss the way that Beca and Chloe stared at each other as Chloe stood up. She’d half turned, feeling a little more subdued at yet another reminder of the harm she had done, but then Beca’s voice brought her back around as their eyes locked.

As Beca continued, Aubrey grew more and more conflicted. She could tell Beca’s apology was genuine and heartfelt; it was obvious with the way she wouldn’t meet Aubrey’s eyes for long and the steadying breaths she was taking.

But Aubrey couldn’t let herself relax; she still had an iron fist around herself that demanded the others follow her because she was Captain. It was like her two halves were starting to argue amongst themselves.

‘Except Chloe is supposed to be your Co-Captain and you’ve basically ignored that fact all year.’

‘But I have the pitch pipe.’

‘Which is probably why Chloe tried to take it from me.’

“And… Aubrey,” Aubrey’s focus came back to the room. “If you would have me, I want back in.”

‘Say yes.’ The rational part of her said immediately, much louder than it had been before.

‘She’s not a Bella.’ The Captain part of her argued back.

‘She wants to be! She’s here, she’s apologizing. She’s making the effort.’

Aubrey watched as Beca grabbed the chair and began to drag it to the door. At first she was puzzled but then that first rehearsal drifted back and Aubrey was amused despite herself. Beca was obviously trying to prove that she could follow whatever rules Aubrey threw in front of her.

Beca turned to look at her but Aubrey still couldn’t bring herself to speak, so she looked down.

The fear of letting go of this, of being Captain, was climbing up her back and whispering in her ear. But then she felt Chloe shift beside her and a new, greater fear started screaming louder than anything else had before.

‘Chloe is going to walk out that door after her.’

The almost paralyzing panic at the thought of losing Chloe from her life drove everything else from her mind as she finally found her voice. “Wait.”

Beca let the chair drop with a thump. “Thank you. That would have been embarrassing.”

Aubrey drew herself up again. “Beca, I know that I’ve been hard on you, okay.” She smiled sarcastically, but it was more toward herself for downplaying how horrible a person she’d been. “I know that I have been hard on everyone here.”  She looked over at Chloe, knowing she was going to have to have a much more personal talk in private just to even begin to try and apologize. She winced as Chloe’s smile was as sarcastic as her own had been.

She tried to swallow her pride. “But I am my father’s daughter.” She felt herself begin to shake as the realization of what she’d put everyone through continued to sink in. “And he always said,” her voice broke and she had to pause. “’If at first you don’t succeed,’” Her breath shook and she willed herself to keep it together. “’Pack your bags.’” She let her shoulders slump as she turned away, refusing to meet anyone’s eyes as she collapsed into a chair.

“I get it.” Beca broke the silence. “Mine gets on me, too.” Aubrey looked up from lowered lashes and met Beca’s gaze. There was no hostility in it, which Aubrey felt would have been deserved, nor was there any pity, which is what Aubrey had been afraid of. “Not like that, but… Uh.”

Aubrey looked over as Amy handed her a towel and smiled gratefully as she wiped away the vomit that she’d tried to ignore had run down her chin.

Beca came to a stop and watched Aubrey, considering, before she shrugged. “I guess we don’t really know that much about each other.” She looked around as if struck by a thought. “About most of you, really.”

Aubrey watched as Beca pulled over a few chairs for herself and Lilly, but it felt almost distant. She was surprised that she hadn’t felt the urge to throw up after admitting her failures, and not just because she had nothing left. She’d spent the week after they’d split apart dry heaving over the toilet long after she’d emptied everything out of her stomach. But this was different, she felt almost calm; she just couldn’t figure out why.

Suddenly she heard Stacie saying, “I have a lot of sex.” Aubrey couldn’t help the wince at the reminder. She’d gotten to know Stacie semi-well over their study… well, not dates, exactly, but they had a standing appointment with Beca and Chloe every week and Aubrey knew there was much more to her than a great body. In addition to those nights, Stacie frequently had her books spread all across the center island of the Bella house while Aubrey made them dinner and, despite her own ‘hands off’ decree that she’d given herself, Aubrey found herself constantly drawn to Stacie like a moth to flame.

Chloe had been right though. Aubrey had become more and more like Alice as the year went on. As they got closer to finals, she felt she had to push harder, make them all be better, so she could redeem herself at the ICCAs.

‘I have been so selfish.’ Aubrey thought with sudden and deep sorrow. ‘I made it about me, instead of the Bellas. It was about what I needed, not what the group needed. Sure, winning is ultimately the goal, but like Fat Amy had said… most of them probably joined to have fun with a group of women and sing together. And I was too driven to allow it.”

She felt bad that even now she was ignoring them as they shared, but she’d needed the time to sort herself out.  Beca’s voice pulled at her suddenly and she played back the first few words to see what had caught her attention.

“Okay. I’ve never been one of those girls…” She met Aubrey’s eyes before flicking back at Chloe. “Who had a lot of friends who were girls.” She looked around at all of them before meeting Aubrey’s eyes once more. “And that’s pretty cool.”

It was like a knot came undone and Aubrey felt all the doubt she had about Beca fall away. She knew Beca felt awkward about admitting it, but that was exactly what Aubrey had needed to hear all this time. She just wished that maybe they could have done it sooner, though she feared that she wouldn’t have listened. Still, she realized she was smiling when Beca’s eyes dropped to her mouth and Aubrey looked away, rolling her lips even though it was far too late to hide it.

Chloe jumped to her feet. “Okay.” She took a deep breath that immediately scared Aubrey. Chloe never braced herself before saying anything. “Over spring break,” She paused to swallow and Aubrey’s nerves ratcheted higher. “I made the courageous decision to remove my nodes.”

Aubrey let out her breath with a gasp, suddenly realizing why Chloe had sounded so off. If she hadn’t been so focused on being perfect, she might have put things together. She hadn’t even asked how Chloe’s throat was doing when she’d heard that first rough note. ‘I am the worst friend in the world and I’d deserve it if she walked away from me.

Chloe nodded at her, responding to to the shock Aubrey knew was on her face. “I know.”

Except there was no way she could understand the depths to which Aubrey felt herself plummeting, realizing that Chloe had to have made the decision before she left and had kept it from Aubrey. Beca’s instant gasp meant that she hadn’t been aware either and Aubrey felt her heart break at the thought of Chloe going through it alone; especially because Aubrey was the one who had torn everything down in the first place. Aubrey forced away her self-recriminations, vowing to do better, to be a better friend to Chloe than she had been lately.

“The doctor said that I can’t sing above a G-sharp,” her voice broke. “Maybe ever.” Tears in her eyes, she practically sobbed as she looked down at Aubrey. “I thought… the season… was over.” As she sat down, Aubrey immediately reached over and squeezed her arm, trying to apologize for leaving Chloe to handle this burden alone.

Stacie’s soft voice reached her and she looked over to see her patting Chloe’s shoulder. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” But she said it not in shock at hearing something new, but a reassurance of comfort already given.

And instead of feeling even the tiniest shred of jealousy, Aubrey felt only relief. ‘At least someone was apparently there for her.’ She made a note to thank Stacie for it later.

Aubrey looked over at Beca with a growing feeling of determination. She stood up, feeling freer than she had in months.

If Chloe could risk her voice and get surgery… If Beca could admit that she’s not the aloof badass that she tried to come across as… If Cynthia Rose could admit that she has a gambling problem…

The least Aubrey Posen could do was place her trust in someone who had started to earn it a long time ago, even if Aubrey was too blind to see it at the time. In Beca who was willing to apologize and place herself back under the thumb of someone who had treated her like trash all year long.

Aubrey didn’t even realize she was going to stand until she was already on her feet. “Beca.” Beca scrambled to stand up and face her. “What do we do?”

She was confused at first, because Beca didn’t say anything. Aubrey had assumed that Beca would jump at the chance to finally share all the ideas she’d had that Aubrey had pushed away. Then she saw Beca’s eyes dart down to the pitch pipe Aubrey had forgotten she held.

With only a single twinge at losing what she had felt was her anchor all year, Aubrey tossed the pitch pipe to Beca. Immediately she felt freer, lighter, and she realized that her anchor wasn’t in the piece of metal arching through the air, but in the best friend sitting beside her. She knew Chloe was watching her and could almost feel her surprise as Aubrey let go. She felt a laugh bubble up from nowhere but then Beca’s hands accidentally batted the pitch pipe over into the pool of vomit and the laughter died as she remembered her earlier behavior.

“I’m sorry,” She looked back at Beca, wanting to say more but at a loss for words.

Beca rolled her lips together as she pointed. “Maybe not here.”

Chloe stood up next to her. “If you go open all the doors, I’ll get the mop and bucket.” She said it gently and without recrimination.

Aubrey winced, but felt her tension fading again. “You don’t have to do that, Chlo.”

Ashley joined them. “The more of us that help, the faster we can get out of here.”

Amy began to step away. “Uh…”

“Nope.” Beca shook her head. “You’re not going to get out of this one.”

Even as Amy tried to argue, Beca’s attention was already half on Chloe. Aubrey stepped back, trying to remain unobtrusive but needing to know that they were going to be okay. When Beca said ‘Because I really missed your arms around me,’ Aubrey almost walked behind them to ‘trip’ into Beca and push them together. At the last minute she realized that it wasn’t her place to try and force it. Though, watching them, she knew that they would be fine, no matter what happened during their talk.

“Amy! Don’t think I don’t see you creeping toward the door.” Beca suddenly yelled.

Aubrey bit back a laugh as Amy grumbled the entire way to the closet door. Clearing her throat, she said “Sometimes it’s like herding cats.” She licked her lips nervously though she was trying for casual. “I never found the trick of it obviously.” Chloe looked at her sharply but Aubrey only smiled. “Good luck with that.” She realized it sounded sarcastic, but for once she wasn’t trying to be.

Beca kept watching Amy but she half turned to Aubrey. “With you to help if I stumble, I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

Aubrey suddenly straightened with a smile as she laughed. “You are such a suck up, Beca.”

“Doesn’t make it any less true.” Beca shrugged as she finally looked at Aubrey. “You were right when you said I had no idea how competitions work. I’m going to need to know what to expect at Finals. I assume it’s a bit different than the semi-finals.”

Aubrey felt herself grow warm as happiness suffused her at the peace offering she didn’t deserve. “Alright.” She nodded toward the closet. “Guess we better get started so we can get out of here. I, for one, need a shower.” She walked toward the closest exit door to open it and get some fresh air circulating.

Behind her she heard Beca mutter, “Okay, where the hell did Amy go.”

As she propped open the door Aubrey knew there was going to be a lot of talks that had to happen. She had a lot of people to apologize to.

She wasn’t worried though, they had time.

Chapter Text

~C~

Chloe unlocked the door to the house, letting Aubrey and Beca go first before she followed them in and locked it again behind her.

After the auditorium had been thoroughly cleaned and sufficiently aired out, they had all agreed to meet back at the Bellas house in a bit, giving Aubrey and Lilly a chance to shower and change. Chloe didn’t have a chance to ask before Beca was by her side, as if there wasn’t any question that she’d just come back to the house with them. Aubrey had merely led the way, her smile small but genuine.

“I’ll shower first, if that’s okay?” Aubrey hesitated on the stairs, looking from Beca to Chloe.

“Sure, Bree.” Chloe smiled. Her anger had completely faded on the walk home, unable to maintain it with in the complete disappearance of Captain Posen and Aubrey’s obvious contrition. The fact that Beca had been walking quietly on her other side was the icing and cherry on top of her good mood.

She watched Aubrey walk up the stairs and started to follow Beca into the living room when she stopped. “Um.” Beca turned to look at her. “I know we need to talk, and really, that’s all I want, but I need to check on her.” She bit her lip and looked away. “We said some horrible things to each other.” She looked back up in surprise as she felt Beca take her hand; she hadn’t even heard Beca move.

“Of course.” Beca smiled at her. “I’ll wait for you.” Beca stroked her thumb across the back of Chloe’s hand and she had to hold back a shiver.

“Thanks.” Chloe cleared her throat as her voice cracked, her heart beating way too fast for such a simple touch. “It won’t take long.” Reluctantly she backed up, letting her hand pull free, and hurried up the stairs after Aubrey.

She knocked softly on Aubrey’s closed door and said, “It’s just me. Can I come in?” At Aubrey’s quiet ‘Of course,’ Chloe opened the door and slipped inside. Aubrey was standing by her bed, laying out a fresh outfit for after her shower. She’d taken off her stained top but still had on her bra, jeans and boots.

Chloe leaned against the door. “I just…” she hesitated and Aubrey spoke into the silence.

“I’m sorry.” She smoothed the fabric of the top she’d just laid out. “For this whole year.” She took a deep breath and looked at Chloe who felt her heart ache at the misery in Aubrey’s eyes. “I have treated you like shit and I don’t know how to make it up to you.”

Chloe felt herself drawn to Aubrey’s side, unable to stand the pain radiating from her. “You’ve already started.” She gripped Aubrey’s arm when it looked like she was about to protest. Aubrey quieted and waited. “Right now… You’re a different person.” Aubrey’s chin quivered like she was going to cry and Chloe realized her mistake. “No, no… just.” She took a breath and tried to organize her thoughts. “When you came back this year, you’ve been becoming a different person. More driven and focused than I have ever seen you, but also harder. You felt different; you didn’t laugh or smile as much as you used to. I just chalked it up to the embarrassment you were feeling over last year.”

Chloe felt bad about everything she was laying on Aubrey in this moment, but she knew it had to be done. That was the only way they could begin to heal. She squeezed Aubrey’s arm again and smiled. “You don’t feel like that anymore. You feel like you. My best friend; who I love more than anything.”

Aubrey gave a watery smile. “Thanks, but you don’t have to… I know I was horrible and it should take time for you to forgive me.”

Chloe watched her for a minute then went with her heart. “I know you know I was going to walk out the door if she did.”

Aubrey flinched but looked at Chloe squarely. “It’s what finally snapped me out of it.” Unshed tears lined up against the bottom of her eyes. “The fear of losing you in my life was greater than the thought of losing control or admitting my failures.”

Chloe spoke past the lump that had formed in her throat and took a step closer. “I came up here because I needed you to know that I wasn’t walking away from you. I was walking away from Captain Posen.”

Aubrey stilled under her touch. “You weren’t?”

Chloe shook her head. “I could never walk away from you, Bree. You’re part of me.”

The sob finally broke from where Aubrey had been holding it back and she collapsed into Chloe’s arms when she tugged Aubrey to her. “I’m so sorry, Chloe. I don’t know how it happened. I never wanted… I never meant… I just couldn’t…” Her words fell over each other as she talked faster, unable to complete any of her thoughts as she tried desperately to explain something she clearly hadn’t understood she’d been doing until now.

Chloe soothingly rubbed her back but she made no attempts to stop Aubrey’s tears even though seeing her break down this way was killing her. Her first instinct was always to soothe and fix whatever was broken. Except this time what had been broken was Aubrey herself and Chloe knew that this was another form of release that Aubrey needed to begin healing. Chloe was willing to stand there as long as necessary, relieved beyond measure that she was slowly getting her best friend back, who she loved without reservation. Beca knew this was important and would wait for her as long as it took.

Chloe didn’t like to think of what would have happened if Aubrey had let Beca walk out that door and Chloe followed her. She knew they’d still have been friends, even remain close best friends, but she couldn’t help but think that something indefinable and irreplaceable would have been broken forever if Captain Posen had won instead of Aubrey.

Eventually Aubrey finally cried herself out and merely rested her head on Chloe’s shoulder. Her voice was soft and tired. “I’m sorry.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, all remaining tension leaving her with it. “And thank you.”

Chloe let out a startled chuckle. “Why are you thanking me?”

“For staying by my side, even when you know you should have left.” Aubrey sniffed but didn’t raise her head. “I’m so sorry, Chlo.”

Chloe’s hand continued to move in comforting circles. “I know you are. And I’m sorry too.” She pressed lightly to keep Aubrey quiet when she would have spoken. “I egged you on earlier. Intentionally.” She sighed. “Once I realized that you weren’t you, I’d gotten this stupid idea that if you threw up, it would get whatever poison was in you… out.”

Aubrey finally lifted her head and took a step back, her face tear streaked but still clearer than it had been when Chloe walked in. “Poison?”

Chloe sighed as she went to the dresser and grabbed a couple Kleenex. “Yeah. I know, it’s crazy. But there were two parts of you all year. There was Bree and there was Captain Posen.” Chloe smiled ruefully as she handed the tissues to Aubrey. “I didn’t like her very much most days.”

“Looking back, me neither.” Aubrey sniffed as she blew her nose and cleaned off her face. “I’m shocked none of you left.”

“That’s because you let them see the real you outside of rehearsal.” Chloe smiled gently at her. “They all like the real you. So they stayed.”

“Until today.” Aubrey threw the tissue away and straightened slightly.

“Because Captain Posen…” Chloe hesitated.

“Turned into Alice.” Aubrey finished for her. At Chloe’s nod, she sighed. “That’s really what got me thinking. How could I turn into the person who treated us like garbage for three years?”

“Except she treated us like garbage in and out of practice.” Chloe pointed out, not sure if it would help. “You also didn’t really treat anyone like garbage until today. You were just…”

“A bitch.” Aubrey interrupted.

“Sometimes,” Chloe said honestly. “But usually you were just pushing us to do better. To be perfect.”

“You know I’m going to stay I’m sorry for the rest of our lives, right?” Aubrey turned back to her closet and grabbed her robe.

“You don’t need to.”  Chloe shook her head firmly. “Not to me. I’m sure we’ll talk more later, but now I think we can do it without the yelling and screaming.” Chloe felt herself relax even further as the casual mention of the rest of their lives reassured a fear she didn’t know she had. Though, in hindsight, the fact that it was the thought of losing Chloe in her life that snapped Aubrey free meant that Aubrey had chosen Chloe over what she viewed as the way to winning. Aubrey had never chosen anything over winning before and Chloe found she was smiling at the realization that Chloe was just as important to Aubrey as Aubrey herself was to Chloe.

“Oh god!” Aubrey suddenly turned to her. “I forgot Beca was downstairs.” Chloe smiled again, happiness stealing back over her. “Why are you wasting your time up here with me?”

“Aubrey.” Chloe said gently. “You are never a waste of my time. Got it? Never.”

“Okay, Chlo.” Aubrey’s smile trembled around the edges, but it was there. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Bree.” Chloe opened her arms and Aubrey came back into them. “I love you.”

Aubrey clutched her tightly. “I love you too. I’m glad…” She sighed. “I’m glad you finally kicked some sense into me. It finally got through that you weren’t fighting me. You were fighting for me. And no one has really done that for me, other than my brothers.” She pulled back and kissed Chloe on the cheek. “I don’t know if I can ever tell you how much that means to me.”

“You’re worth it, Aubrey.” Chloe cupped Aubrey’s face. “And I guess I’ll just have to spend the rest of our lives proving it to you.” She planted a loud kiss on Aubrey’s lips. “And you’re going to let me.”

“Alright, alright. That’s enough.” Aubrey laughed and pushed Chloe toward the door. “Now go back downstairs and talk to Beca.” One corner of her mouth twitched down in a frown. “I’m going to have to apologize to her too. A lot.”

“You can do it while I’m in my shower.” Chloe reached out and squeezed her hand one more time. “No blood on the furniture though.”

“I’ll be on my best behavior, I promise.” Aubrey crossed her heart. “Now get out so I can change.” But she held on to the tips of Chloe’s fingers as she turned away. “We’re really okay, you and I?”

“Yeah, Bree. We’re aca-awesome.” Chloe winked at her and left the room.

When she got downstairs, Beca was sitting the end of the sectional, closest to the door. Her head was back and her eyes were closed but Chloe could tell she wasn’t sleeping.

“She okay?” Beca asked without opening her eyes.

Chloe smiled settled on the couch next to her, but not so close that they were touching. “She will be.” It warmed her to know that even after all that had happened, Beca was concerned enough about Aubrey to ask. She knew that Beca was actually concerned, not just asking for appearances, and it both made her happy and annoyed the hell out of her.

Chloe had always thought the two of them could be great friends if they just stopped judging each other by that first meeting; Beca wasn’t as ‘I’m above it all’ as she appeared and Aubrey wasn’t really the snobby, judgmental college senior. From the way they were both slightly broken to the fact that they’d made themselves strong to make up for it, Chloe could see so many similarities that it was ridiculous. They just needed to get past their petty squabbles, get their shit together and realize that they could be great friends on their own and not just through their shared connection to Chloe. She hoped that after everything that had happened that day meant the two of them might finally start to get along.

“Are you okay?” Beca rolled her head to look at Chloe as she opened her eyes.

“I am now.” Chloe said. “Beca…”

“Chloe…”

They laughed as they started speaking at the same time.

Chloe scooted a little further away from Beca but only enough that she could turn towards her, pulling one leg up on the couch. “Can I go first?” At Beca’s nod, Chloe took a deep breath. “I need to tell you that I’m sorry, that I was wrong for not supporting you after the semi-finals.” Beca watched her carefully, pulling in one corner of her lip to worry it with her teeth. “You were right. We weren’t going to win that night, not against the Footnotes.”

“I still… I know I shouldn’t have done it without asking but…” Beca sighed.

“How could you ask us in the middle of the set?” Chloe offered and Beca nodded. “I said as much to Aubrey that first week.”

“Did you guys fight a lot?” Beca winced.

“Boy did we.” Chloe half laughed then stopped when she saw Beca’s face fall. “No, don’t put the blame on yourself. It might not have been quite as fast without your… nudges, shall we call them… But she was different from the beginning of school. I think this would’ve happened no matter what.”

“I’m still sorry for my part in it.” Beca said and put her hand on Chloe’s knee. “I was just as stubborn about thinking that my way would be better. I couldn’t see that I hadn’t yet earned the trust… or the right, I guess.”

Chloe took a moment to absorb the warmth from that small touch before she refocused on Beca. “I should have challenged Aubrey sooner. I definitely should have done it after regionals when I heard your music. I’m sorry I let you down, in so many ways.”

“I forgive you.” Beca said after they were silent for a minute. “For all of them.”

Chloe looked up, startled. “What?”

  


 

~B~

Beca shrugged. “I forgive you.”  She knew they were going to have a lot of longer talks about this, but the simple truth of it was that she needed Chloe in her life and was willing to work through whatever was necessary to make that happen. It still kind of annoyed her that it took talking to her dad – and to a lesser degree, Jesse – to figure that out.

Chloe covered Beca’s hand with her own. “How can you say that so easily?”

Beca pursed her lips and thought about how to answer that. “I just spent two weeks without you around. I don’t want to do that ever again.” She exhaled softly, determined despite the fact that it terrified her to put so much of her heart on the line, to be completely honest. "Every day I sat down at the studio desk and thought the same thing: This is where I belong." Beca scuffed her shoe against the floor. "Except after a few days, one of those small voices you get at the back of your mind had something to say." Chloe squeezed her hand. "It asked me if I was so sure I was exactly where I needed to be, so happy about it... Then why did I feel so lonely."

“Oh, Beca.” Chloe said and leaned forward to brush away a tear that Beca hadn’t realized was running down her cheek. “I’m so sorry.”

Beca licked her lips. “Yes, it did hurt me when you didn’t say anything when Aubrey… said what she said. At the time, it was just one more person in my life who chose anyone else over me.” She turned her hand over and grabbed Chloe’s when she tried to pull it away, sorrow filling her clear blue eyes. “But for the first time in my life, being alone hurt worse.”

“I’m sorry I made you feel that way,” Chloe said softly, looking away from Beca. “I just… I froze. You are both so important to me and…”

“I know.” Beca said quietly.

“You don’t understand.” Chloe took a deep breath. “If I had been thinking clearly, I would have realized that Aubrey and I would have fought, but been fine in the long run. The past few weeks have proved that.” She tightened her fingers around Beca’s hand and looked up again. “I should have told her you were trying to help the group, not steal the spotlight. That she was wrong to say what she did. I should have chosen you.”

Beca took a breath, feeling that settle somewhere inside and make itself a home. “Thank you. That does mean a lot.” She winced. “And okay, maybe some small part of me wanted to save the day, but I swear I really was just trying to help the group.” She hesitated a minute. “I just… Kind of remembered how Aubrey had said she was proud of me and my music making it on the radio. I thought… I don’t know. I thought if we made it through to finals, then maybe that would be the first step to Aubrey and I finally finding some common ground. But I never meant to come between you and Aubrey – I don’t ever want to be the cause of problems between you two.”

“You’re not.” Chloe sighed. “And I know you wouldn’t try, even if you could. I’m sorry I let you think you weren’t important to me. I promise – Aubrey and I are going to be fine.”

Beca brought her other hand over so she could hold Chloe’s hand between both of hers. “I’m not going to lie and say that fear of being left behind is gone, because it’s not. That’s going to take some work. I’m also going to probably regress into being a total dick at times to hide my feelings. Which I apparently have.” She muttered the last bit but Chloe heard her and let out a watery chuckle. “But if you’re willing to put up with me…”

“Yes!” Chloe said immediately then bit her lip and looked embarrassed. “Oops. I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”

Beca laughed, feeling most of the worry drop from her shoulders. “Then I’m not going anywhere.” Chloe started to speak then stopped. “What?” It came out more wary than she intended, but she was still feeling extremely vulnerable and exposed.

“Can I hug you?” Chloe asked quietly.

Beca could tell she was trying not to push; there was no way she could know that Beca had been aching to feel her arms all day. For weeks. “As long as you want.”

Chloe was immediately on her feet, tugging Beca up after her. Beca felt the laugh bubbling up inside her and let it out. She sighed in contentment as Chloe’s arms closed around her, tentatively at first then tighter as Beca pushed closer, not wanting any of the hesitancy that continued to linger between them.  Sure, the pain was still there, but it was fading as the warmth from Chloe’s body spread, pushing away the cold loneliness she’d been feeling since she’d walked out of the concert hall. She was so tired of thinking and just wanted to feel in this moment where it was just the two of them.

They had time to work out the rest of it.

After a minute, Beca pulled herself from where she’d burrowed into Chloe’s hair. Slowly she let her nose trace across Chloe’s cheek until they were face to face; she pulled back slightly to look Chloe in the eyes but saw nothing but peace and… love… staring back at her. Gently, half afraid that Chloe would disappear or that she would wake up alone in her bed, Beca brought their lips together.

It was like coming home.

Beca felt the last of her tension slip away and she leaned into Chloe. The kiss was slow and soft as Beca took her time to get reacquainted with the woman in her arms. Even when Chloe slipped her tongue past Beca’s lips, deepening their kiss with a quiet whimper, their pace remained unhurried, almost languid.

“Oh.” Aubrey’s startled voice came from behind them. “I… I’m sorry, I’ll just…” Beca heard her footsteps retreating back to the stairs.

Chloe pulled away, reluctance in every muscle, but she smiled as she looked over Beca’s shoulder. “Wait, Bree. Come back.” She rubbed the tip of her nose against Beca’s.

“I didn’t mean to intrude.” Aubrey said as she came back to the entryway.

“You didn’t.” Beca offered. “We were just getting to know each other again.”

“That’s one way to put it,” Aubrey said wryly, making Beca smile.

Chloe laughed. “Guess that means it’s my turn to shower.”

Beca nodded sadly. “I didn’t want to say anything-” The back of Chloe’s hand hit her in the stomach and she grunted. “Just kidding.”

Chloe stepped past her, her hand sliding down Beca’s arm. “I’ll be down in a bit.”

Beca linked their fingers together at the last minute and tugged a laughing Chloe back in for one last kiss. “Alright.” Her nerves were coming back at the thought of being alone with Aubrey. Some of it must have shown in her eyes because Chloe whispered against her lips.

“You’ll be fine.” Then she was walking upstairs, pausing long enough to touch Aubrey’s shoulder reassuringly and whisper, “It’ll be okay.” Beca could only smile at the way Chloe made sure to soothe them both.

Beca and Aubrey both watched Chloe walk out of the room and then faced each other, awkwardly alone for the first time since Christmas.

Beca’s mind went blank as she tried to figure out what sort of ice breaker was used in a situation where you had to apologize to your semi-nemesis. Then she noticed that Aubrey’s hand was lightly stroking her throat and she spoke without thinking.

“Um… Would you like me to make you some tea?” Beca could only assume throwing up that much would cause a strain. “I know it’s your house and all but…”

“Oh.” Aubrey blinked at her then shook her head. “No, that’s… you don’t have to do that.”

“Peace offering?” Beca felt the corner of her mouth turn up. “My cooking skills are still lacking, but I can rock an electric kettle.”

Aubrey took a slow breath and nodded. “Alright. Thank you, Beca.” It sounded a little stilted, but the smile with it was genuine enough.

Beca immediately turned to the kitchen, happy to have something to do with her hands, even if it was only for a few minutes. Aubrey followed slowly behind her as Beca filled the kettle with water. As she turned it on, Aubrey reached up into the cabinet for a mug then raised one at Beca in question.

“Sure.” Beca smiled and it felt more natural this time. “Thanks.”

‘What is it about us that we can relax together in the kitchen?’ she thought to herself. ‘That’s weird, right?’

But she couldn’t deny that she herself felt more at ease and she thought that maybe Aubrey’s shoulders had less tension in them as, together, they prepped three mugs for tea. Once the water was boiling, they made their own, saving the third for when Chloe came downstairs.

Beca sat on one of the stools and sighed. “I’m sorry.” Aubrey hesitated as she took the stool on the opposite side of the center island. “For being a dick all year.”

“Thank you.” Aubrey said simply and part of Beca bristled at the agreement with her words, though rationally she knew it wasn’t like anyone, especially Aubrey, could deny that’s exactly what Beca had been.

She forced her hackles back down. ‘This is what you need. Get everything in the open, clean slate. Figure out where you go from here.’

Aubrey was watching her over the rim of her tea; after another sip, she carefully set it down and her fingers tightened on the handle. “I’m sorry for being a drill sergeant all year.”

“I didn’t mind the drill sergeant,” Beca found herself saying. “It was the aca-dictator I had a problem with.”

‘Let’s just poke the fucking bear, Beca.’ She groaned at herself but to her surprise, Aubrey chuckled. It was another reminder that Aubrey wasn’t one of the typical snooty college bitches that she’d first appeared to be back at the Activities Fair. Aubrey had slowly been showing that she actually had an excellent, sometimes dry, sense of humor and could admit when she was wrong. Most of the time. Eventually.

“Fair.” Aubrey twisted the mug in her fingers. “I’m sorry for her, too.” She sighed and met Beca’s eyes. “I had this idea in my head and I couldn’t let it go.”

“I think I can relate,” Beca said wryly and Aubrey’s mouth twitched into a small grin that quickly faded.

“I thought…” She stopped and took a second before finally exhaling in a sigh. “Oh… I thought that if we came back this year. Did everything exactly the same way as we had done it the previous year, we could get to finals. I could get on stage and…” Aubrey let out a bitter laugh. “Just… erase everything that had happened last year.”

“Doesn’t seem all that crazy.” Beca tilted her head. “Maybe a little,” she smiled to take the sting out of it. “But we all get ideas stuck in our heads.”

“Yeah, but we don’t all berate the people that are supposed to help us make them happen.” Aubrey said softly and looked down into her tea as if it held the answers.

“We’re only human, Aubrey.” Beca finally said after a bit. “I kept thinking that my way would be better. And that you were just too…” She fell silent, looking for the right words.

“Stupid?” Aubrey offered.

“No.” Beca replied instantly. “I never thought you were stupid, Aubrey. Especially not after I’ve seen you at this counter, surrounded by law books.” Her self-made promise for honesty made her keep going. “Stubborn, pig-headed and… a grade-A pain in the ass maybe.”

Aubrey flinched as if Beca had hit her. “I’m…”

Beca held up her hand and shook her head. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean it the way it sounded. I just meant to show you that you were right.” Beca said. “My attitude did suck all year and I would deliberately find ways to annoy you.” She shook her head. “I thought my way was better.”

Aubrey sighed again. “Maybe it would have been. Maybe it would have prevented all… this.”

 “I don’t know if I would’ve been ready.” Beca mused.

Aubrey’s brows drew down. “What do you mean?”

Beca sighed. “I’ve done…. A lot of thinking. More than I really have all year. Maybe ever. If it wasn’t about what I wanted to do with music, it didn’t matter. Wasn’t part of my plan.” She took a sip of her tea to give herself time to figure out how to answer, realizing that maybe they still had to open up a little bit. “And… It took a lot of things, but I eventually realized that I’d been incredibly arrogant.”

Aubrey snorted behind her mug and immediately looked horrified. “Oh my god, I’m sorry.”

Beca grinned. “It’s fine. You can say it.”

Eyes beginning to twinkle with amusement, Aubrey rolled her lips together. “Maybe… Maybe just a bit.” She sighed. “Of course that’s the pot calling the kettle black.”

Beca only smiled as she continued. “I realized I joined the group and just expected you to do it my way. That you’d listen to some rando freshman just because she was so convinced she was right.” Beca smiled ruefully. “I never thought to sit down and explain my ideas to you; I just complained and expected you to take me seriously. Maybe if I’d done things privately instead of in the middle of rehearsal, everything would’ve been different.”

Aubrey thought for a minute. “Maybe. But I don’t know if I’d have listened anyway.” She tapped her temple. “I knew best, remember?” She pursed her lips. “I almost gave in once.”

“You did?” Beca looked up in surprise.

“Yeah. After you got back from jail – nice left hook, by the way.” Aubrey smiled at Beca’s bark of startled laughter. “You’d offered to show an arrangement you were working on – but…”

“I said I sounded queerballs,” Beca said, realizing she’d once again insulted Aubrey’s and Chloe’s passion without thinking. “So what changed…? Can I ask what happened today?”

“Chloe didn’t tell you?” It was Aubrey’s turn to look surprised.

“We… had other things we had to work out.” Beca said delicately.

“Which I walked in on,” Aubrey said ruefully. “I’m sorry for that too.” She flattened her hand on the counter between them. “Beca, I’m sorry I accused you of cheating on Chloe. I… I was hurt and I lashed out like a child. It… I… was wrong and I know you would never...” She shook her head sorrowfully.

Beca nodded. “One of the other things I realized this past week is that I did the same thing. When I made the crack about Chloe not having a say.” Beca reached out and touched the back of Aubrey’s hand. “Which I am sorry for.”

“I think mine was worse.” Aubrey looked down at their hands. “I knew better.”

“So did Chloe. You happened to have picked the one thing she knew I would never do because of my dad.” Beca watched Aubrey’s eyes widen in surprise and realized that she hadn’t known about that. Beca echoed Aubrey’s question, “Chloe didn’t tell you?” Aubrey shook her head and Beca laughed. “Man, she’s done an amazing job all year at keeping everything so separate, between your stuff, my stuff and all the Bellas. I’m surprised she hasn’t snapped.”

“She did that today.” Aubrey murmured. “I owe her – and all the rest of you – several thousand apologies.”

“I can’t speak for the rest of them, but I’m willing to start fresh after this talk.” Beca realized she still had her hand on Aubrey’s and pulled it back awkwardly. She picked up her mug and took another sip of her tea. “If you want to.”

“I’d really like that,” Aubrey said shyly. “Thank you,” she said suddenly and Beca stared blankly at her, confused as to where this was going. “For… for telling Chloe that you guys shouldn’t talk about the Bellas as a group – or me as a captain – so Chloe wouldn’t feel like she was choosing sides. It was more consideration than I apparently was giving either of you.”

Beca shrugged one shoulder awkwardly. “It didn’t seem right.” She took another sip, trying to work through all the frustration of the past few months. “Because I do like you, Aubrey. Just…”

“Not in rehearsal.” Aubrey waited until Beca nodded. “Chloe said it was like there was two of me. Aubrey and Captain Posen.”

Beca sat up. “Exactly! But… I didn’t know how to broach that with your best friend. While I may have been convinced I knew what was better for the music, I don’t have a lot of experience with friendships and how this all works.” She blushed slightly. “I just knew I didn’t want to get in the middle or step in something I shouldn’t. So I usually waited for your cue on how we would interact on any given day.”

When she fell silent, Aubrey studied her face. “You’re a good friend, Beca. I’m sorry I didn’t realize that sooner.”

“We got along well here in the house.” Beca pointed out. “I know that wasn’t just me. I wouldn’t have bothered if I thought you were just humoring Chloe.”

“No it wasn’t just you.” Aubrey agreed. “I just didn’t realize how perfectly I’d split myself while in and out of rehearsals until now.”

Since they’d come back around, Beca decided to ask again. “So… that scene I walked in on?” Beca asked delicately, unsure if Aubrey was still willing to share.

“Chloe decided it was finally time to kick my ass.” Aubrey looked down at the counter and started to trace the grain of it. “I had been particularly awful all day. I don’t even know why and part of me kept trying to stop. But the most horrible things kept coming out.” Aubrey sighed. “Chloe told me I sounded like Alice.”

“Alice?” Beca thought for a minute. “I kind of know the name, but…”

“The Captain from our prior three years. She was a total bitch.” Aubrey looked into her tea, scowling.

Beca wondered if Aubrey knew her lip had curled ever so slightly when she said it and couldn’t hold back her grin. “I think you’ve said that about me.”

“No, she was… She was a terrible person. She would say demeaning things to almost all the girls, except her chosen inner circle. Chloe and I took the brunt of it as the ‘youngest’.” Aubrey’s eyes flashed with anger. “She told Chloe just before the final performance that her breath smelled like egg.”

“She sounds like a whore,” Beca said, immediately angry on Chloe’s behalf.

“That too,” Aubrey agreed, the anger changing to amusement. “But it kicked my brain into gear, when Chloe said it today, though it wasn’t quite enough at the time. Finally the girls had all had enough and were getting ready to walk out of rehearsal. Chloe said I was too controlling.” Aubrey began to blush and Beca looked away to give her time to collect herself.

“So I said I could let go if I wanted. That I wasn’t going to hold back. So I… didn’t. All over the place.” Aubrey rubbed her stomach briefly. “Next thing I knew, Chloe was yelling and ran at me, so I ran away. Unfortunately it was into Fat Amy – or Fat Patricia?” She looked up at Beca, one eyebrow raised.

“I’m still going to call her Amy,” Beca said. “It’s too late for me to call her something else at this point.”

Aubrey nodded. “So she grabbed me, Chloe ran into us and we all scrambled for the pitch pipe.” She frowned. “Actually, Chloe was grabbing for that, I think Amy just wanted to wrestle.” She took a drink of her tea. “Somehow it flew out of my hand and landed on the floor, so we leapt for it. Amy jumped on us, and you know the rest.”

“Sounds like I missed quite the event.” Beca mused. “If you don’t want to – or aren’t ready to answer this – it’s okay, but… Why did you ask me for help?”

Aubrey’s answer was as quick as it was matter of fact. “Because you were finally a Bella.” Her eyes were clear as they focused on Beca.

Beca’s brow furrowed. “What are you talking about? I auditioned, I’d been at every practice…” she trailed off as Aubrey shook her head.

“That didn’t mean you wanted to be there.” When Beca just stared in confusion, she continued. “From the moment I saw you at the Activities Fair, I just knew you would never want to join the Bellas. I knew you weren’t going to be interested with your ear monstrosity and ‘I’m too cool for this place’ attitude.” Beca tried to interrupt but Aubrey spoke over her, smiling. “And in practice I never felt that you wanted change things to make us better.”

“That whole ‘I know I’m right, so you should just listen to the new girl’ thing.” Beca said quietly. “Aubrey, I’m… I’m really sorry.” Beca reached out and touched Aubrey’s hand again.  “In addition to all that – All I could think of was getting through the year and making it to LA to become a music producer. My dad told me that if I joined a group, made some friends, and make any sort of effort to take this year seriously, he’d help me move at the end of it. That day, right after, is when Chloe cornered me in the shower and told me I had to audition.” She smiled at the memory. “After I got over being freaked out and…. Uh…” Beca felt herself blush. “… super pissed, I figured I could just… skate through.”

Aubrey had smiled at the mention of the shower, but it dropped from her face as she twisted the mug. “It’s not like I ever tried to welcome you in because I’d made up my mind about you. I’m sure wasn’t  easy to be in a group of talented, strong, beautiful women and feel like you have something to show, to contribute to make us better, but couldn’t, because you weren’t being given a chance to speak.” She sighed again. “It also can’t easy when the supposed leader isn’t really leading, just barking orders and expecting to be obeyed and never questioned. I guess I’m saying I should have made it easier for you to want to fit in and that’s my failing. As a leader, I let everyone down.”

“I could’ve maybe tried less to get under your skin,” Beca offered. “I should have tried harder to show everyone that…” She paused and took a deep breath as she looked down; it was her turn to search the slowly cooling tea for answers. “That I wanted to be there – here – that I considered you friends.” She looked back at Aubrey. “All of you, not just Chloe.”

Aubrey searched her eyes for a moment then seemed to come to a decision. “I could tell what it cost you to say that, in the group share. To open up to us and admit it. That’s what made me realize that you’d become one of us when I wasn’t looking – because I’d already dismissed you. And then Chloe dropped the surgery bombshell and… If she could be that brave, then how could I not follow her example? She’s always been a guiding star for me, and I stopped listening to her. And now here we are.”

“I feel like I should say I’m sorry again,” Beca said wryly. “I’m sure I didn’t make things easy between you. You must have hated the idea of us together.”

“No.” Aubrey sat up and looked at her earnestly. “Okay, maybe at first. But not after I realized how well you were taking care of her even as you tried to make it look like you weren’t. You guys are good together. You’re good for her, not just to her.” She twisted her mouth a little, considering. “And maybe it’s time we stop saying ‘I’m sorry’ to each other,” Aubrey mused. “We’ve both done and said horrible things to each other.”

Beca nodded slowly, the same thought having been circling in the back of her mind. “They do sort of cancel each other out.”

“Exactly.” Aubrey held her hand out and smiled when Beca took it. “Clean slate?”

“Clean slate,” Beca repeated and they shook on it before picking up their mugs again. “She’s been gone a long time – does it always take her this long to shower?”

“No.” Aubrey looked over her shoulder as if Chloe would suddenly appear. “She’s giving us time to talk.”

“Always so considerate.” Beca shook her head. “She’s literally like a ball of sunshine.”

“You have no idea,” Aubrey laughed. “But you will.”

“Oh boy.” Beca said then jumped as there was a loud knock at the door.

“I got it,” Chloe yelled as she started down the stairs. “You guys just keep talking – unless you’ve murdered each other. Then I’m going to be extremely disappointed in you both.”

“Smart ass,” Aubrey muttered though she was smiling. “Can I ask if you’ve figured out what will save us from my mistakes?”

“I’ve got a few ideas, but I’d rather wait until everyone is here to share it, if that’s okay?” Beca said hesitantly, still unsure of her footing in this new peace between them.

“Sure.” Aubrey shrugged easily then laughed as Beca’s eyebrows shot up. “I’m not sure how long it’ll last, but for the first time I’m okay with not being in charge and having to make all the decisions.”

“I know you’re trusting one of the rookies on your team to score the big goal or whatever sports metaphor works best. I really appreciate that you think I can do it.” Beca said earnestly. “So please, don’t abandon me completely. I know I’m going to need advice at some point.”

“You got it.” Aubrey said, her expression softening and Beca hoped that Aubrey understood that she wasn’t trying to take over entirely, she just wanted to help them win. Aubrey and Chloe were still running this ship and Beca was more than happy to simply provide new ideas. Aubrey lifted her mug. “To the Bellas.”

“The Bellas.” Beca clinked their mugs together.

“Are you guys drinking booze without me?” Fat Amy suddenly appeared in the doorway, looking at them suspiciously. “Or was that the only way you two didn’t kill each other?”

“Why does everyone think we’re going to do that?” Beca asked Aubrey, exasperated.

“I don’t know,” she said airily. “You’d think we don’t get along or something.”

“I, for one, would say we’ve always gotten along in the kitchen just fine,” Beca noted.

“I would definitely agree with that statement,” Aubrey affirmed with a mischievous grin.

Amy stepped up to the end of the island and reached for Beca’s mug. “No, seriously. Are you guys drunk right now?” She sniffed it then took a drink and made a face. “Ugh! If you’re not going to spike it, you definitely need to put more honey in your tea, Beca.”

Shrugging, Beca said, “Told you.” She smiled at Aubrey as Jessica, Ashley and Lilly walked into the living room. “We’re just high on life, Ames.”

“What, you’re high?” Amy perked up again, sliding the mug back across the counter. “Where’s at?"

Groaning, Beca dropped her head into her hands as another knock came from the front door. “Please let that be the rest of them so we can get this show on the road before Amy tries to strip search me.”

Aubrey’s delighted laugh filled the kitchen as Amy snorted. “In your dreams, Shawshank.”

Beca only let her head thump against the counter as she groaned again. She felt a hand gently pat her hair and thought it was Chloe, but then she heard Aubrey say, “There there. I’m sure they’ll be here soon.”

“You two bonding is too weird for me, I’m out.” Amy turned on her heel and strode back into the living room. “Don’t go in the kitchen, it’s like the Twilight Zone in there.”

Beca tilted her head so she could look at Aubrey with one eye. “You’re enjoying this aren’t you?”

“Maybe just a bit.” Aubrey smiled serenely then grew more serious. “But honestly, I’m really just enjoying feeling lighter than I have in a while.” She shrugged. “And maybe I’m looking forward to seeing how you handle all…” She waved a finger at the bodies still piling in the living room. “That.”

Chloe appeared at Aubrey’s side and gave her shoulders a hug. “How’re my two favorite people doing?”

Aubrey leaned into her while Beca merely closed her eye again. “Amy’s accused us of being drunk or on drugs and Beca’s afraid she’s going to get strip searched for her stash.”

Chloe gasped. “Over my dead body!” Startled, Beca looked back up in time to see Chloe stomp her foot.

“You’ve no room to talk; you already invaded her shower, Chloe.” Aubrey said, obviously trying not to laugh.

 “Uh.” Beca felt her face heat up and she looked away from green eyes filled with amusement and crystal blue filled with mock outrage. “Oh look, the rest are here.” She slipped off her stool and grabbed her mug to put it in the sink. “Let’s get going guys.” She didn’t look back and she walked out of the kitchen, Chloe and Aubrey’s laughter following behind her.

“Where are we going, DJ?” Stacie asked when Beca joined the rest of the girls.

“To the sweet spot.” Beca realized her mistake immediately after the words left her mouth.

“Why, Beca.” Stacie put her hand on her chest. “I didn’t know you were interested.” She fluttered her eyelashes as her eyes drifted over Beca’s shoulder. “What will Chloe think?” Then her eyes went wide. “Or am I joining you guys?”

“Oh my god.” Beca stared at her. “That’s… not… Why… Holy crap!” She jumped when Chloe slipped her arms around Beca’s waist.

“Sorry, Stace.” Chloe hooked her chin on Beca’s shoulder. “Not this time.”

Stacie winked. “Maybe next time.”

“Next time for what?” Aubrey walked past them on the way to the door.

“Nothing!” Beca practically yelled and both Chloe and Stacie laughed at her as she pulled herself away from Chloe. “Come on guys, we’re going back to the pool.” She didn’t even look back. “The one without the water, Stacie. I can feel the skinny dipping comment you’re about to make.”

Beca opened the front door and escaped into the falling night, grateful for the cool air on her burning cheeks.

‘I swear they’re going to be the death of me.’

   


 

~B~

“All right.” Beca said as she led the way back to the center of the deep end. “Let’s remix this business.”

It had seemed the perfect place to show them what she thought they could do. The empty pool really did have great acoustics but it was also the first place she’d actually put any effort into being one of the team. And it was the first time they had really come together and sang outside of rehearsal. She hoped Aubrey understood that and didn’t only think of it as a place they lost to the Trebles.

“Um,” Beca began as she reached the bottom of the incline. “Aubrey, would you pick a song for us please?”  She turned around as the rest of them came to a stop a few feet away. She hoped it showed Aubrey that she was serious about Aubrey continuing to lead the group. Beca scanned the group and realized all eyes were on her and felt the sudden weight of their expectations fall on her shoulders.

‘Jesus. I hope I don’t fuck this up.’ She felt her nerves begin to jitter. ‘Man do I understand Aubrey a bit better right now.’

Aubrey looked around briefly before she said, “Bruno Mars, Just The Way You Are.” Aubrey’s eyebrows went up as she nodded encouragingly, her face clear of any hint of doubt. Beca felt her shoulders straighten a little, like she’d already met the extremely high standards she knew were ahead of her; like she’d gotten the Aubrey Posen Seal of Approval; that one nod, the purity of trust in her expression, showed that she was in this because she believed in Beca and not just because she didn’t have any better options. It was almost identical to the one she’d given Beca on the bus – the one she’d thought of on stage – and it made Beca more determined than ever to make Aubrey proud; to show her that she hadn’t made a mistake.

Beca was slightly shocked that it wasn’t a song sung by a woman – she’d have almost sworn that Aubrey wouldn’t have listened to male artists at all, but she supposed that was just her own snap assumptions that she never bothered to find out if they were true. She also briefly wondered if this was Aubrey’s way of once more telling Beca that she was sorry for any past judgements on her character; that she’s done trying to change Beca to fit the group… That she wanted Beca to be just the way she was. It caused her to freeze for half a second as she tried not to laugh or go all gooey with emotion. “Okay.” Beca found herself nodding back as she tried to pick a song that would fit just right with it. She wasn’t sure if she’d have more than one chance to convince them, so this had to be perfect.  “Um… Chloe, are you okay to take the lead?” She hadn’t heard Chloe singing in rehearsal, and while her talking voice was a little rough, the last thing Beca wanted to do was push her after surgery.

“Yeah.” Chloe nodded confidently, nothing but trust and confidence in her eyes.

Unexpectedly nervous at all their eyes on her, Beca cleared her throat and looked back at Aubrey. Taking note of Aubrey’s own nerves, evident in the way she flattened her hands like she was bracing herself, Beca closed her eyes and listened for the melody in her mind before locking gazes with Aubrey.

Beca let the first notes slip free, her body and left hand bouncing in time to the beat as she kept her focus on Aubrey. She was second to follow Beca’s lead with the rest of the girls finding their places easily. Beca let her own voice still as the simple melody built; she couldn’t help being proud of them as they blended together so perfectly once they finally stopped fighting each other. When she felt it was time, she looked back over at Chloe and gave her a small nod; she smiled when Chloe returned it and began to sing, her voice clear and steady.

 

Oh, her eyes, her eyes make the stars look like they're not shinin'
Her hair, her hair falls perfectly without her trying
She's so beautiful and I tell her everyday

 

She hadn’t really considered it when she’d asked Chloe to start them off, but the song was kind of perfect for how Beca felt about her. Hadn’t she already thought there were stars in Chloe’s eyes at least twice? While Beca hadn’t gone so far as to tell Chloe she was beautiful, it was definitely something she’d thought at least once a day since The Shower Incident. Maybe, after all this, she’d finally find the courage to actually tell Chloe how she felt, instead of just hoping her awkwardness somehow translated correctly. Then she saw the smile hovering around Chloe’s lips and realized that maybe her emotions were written on her face for anyone to see.

Feeling herself warm with the emotions she could feel building between them as well as the simple pleasure that she was feeling in singing with her new friends, Beca just hoped she wouldn’t derail everything as she began to layer ‘Just a Dream’ into it. It was a little different to listen to a remix versus singing song A and have someone else start with song B – the urge to switch to song B was difficult to ignore; Beca had found this out when she started doing her own vocals for songs, having to start over several times until she got used to it.

Beca watched Chloe carefully, ready to stop if it looked like it had knocked her off balance, but Chloe’s smile widened even as she kept on singing, perfectly in time with the beat the rest of them were still creating. She looked back at Aubrey, unable to stop remembering the scathing looks while they were on stage; but Aubrey merely watched her, waiting to follow Beca’s lead.

Beca felt herself smile. ‘Time to push her beyond her comfort zone or this was all for nothing.’

She pointed at Aubrey, hoping that she realized Beca wanted her to swap songs. This was the hardest part, she knew, in seeing if they really could change how competitions were done. She knew Aubrey got it by the sudden light in her eyes and then her voice was blending with Beca’s as beats created by the rest supported both songs.

She wasn’t looking for it, hadn’t expected it to happen, but Aubrey’s obvious approval radiated from her like a wave as she kept her eyes on Beca, willing to follow wherever Beca cared to lead them. Beca couldn’t help the feeling of pride at finally, finally, being able to show Aubrey – all of them – the things she knew could win them the trophy.

Beca felt chills as they continued, each individual adding more flair as their confidence grew until the pool rang with their voices. As they drew to a close, she was thrilled as Aubrey and Stacie paused when she did, joining back in until all of them were singing the same final word. Beca waited as she caught her breath, watching Aubrey closely.

Aubrey’s face lit up as she drew in a deep breath, and Beca was surprised to feel relief and more than a little trepidation as she waited. Beca looked at Chloe and was met with that special smile that Chloe rarely gave to anyone else. Then Chloe looked at Aubrey and where almost anyone else might have silently sent an ‘I told you so’, Beca could tell that Chloe was just as thrilled as Beca was that Aubrey had loved it.

As the rest of the girls exchanged grins, Aubrey broke the silence. “Hands in.” But her eyes remained on Beca, as if she was waiting for her to object.

Beca felt a surge of pride at Aubrey’s obvious approval and finally let herself relax. She wondered if Aubrey expected her to yell or be upset that Aubrey had slipped back into Captain mode. Beca understood that was bound to happen, especially because Aubrey had been doing it for so many months. It also wasn’t as if Beca really wanted to lead the group – she was happy just providing music. She just hoped that Aubrey wouldn’t fall back into her old habits – though with Chloe’s new stance on speaking her mind, Beca didn’t think that would happen. The two of them, when they were acting together, made a great team and Beca was more than willing to support them.

Aubrey held her hand out, smiling as widely as Chloe was and waited. With a grin of her own, Beca slid forward and placed her hand on Aubrey’s, the rest of the girls crowding around them. And it was perfect, they didn’t have to ask ‘on three or after three’, they just began the count together, as if they’d been doing it for years.

Then Chloe scared the living hell out of everyone with an almost bone rattling bass note that reverberated through the entire pool.

Even as Chloe slammed her hand over her mouth, Amy was already asking “What was that?”

“I don’t know; I’ve never made that sound before.” Chloe’s face was the definition of confusion as she touched her throat.

Beca’s first thought was, ‘Shit, her hands are fucking blue again!

Her second thought was, ‘Oh god, I hope that didn’t hurt her vocal cords or set her back on recovery.’ But Chloe didn’t look like she was in pain, just surprised, and Beca let her suddenly tense shoulders relax again. She watched as Chloe touched her throat then must have felt Beca’s eyes on her because she turned and smiled reassuringly.

“Yo,” Cynthia Rose stepped up. “But with your messed up vocal cords, you could hit the bass notes.”

“Do you know what that means?” Aubrey said earnestly, but before she could finish her thought, Lilly put her hand up. “Yes, Lilly?”

Beca leaned forward with the rest of them to hear the reply, only to jump again when Lilly’s voice carried clearly to the rest of them. “I think I have something that can help us out.” Even years later, Beca was never sure if it was because Lilly had actually spoken up for the first time ever, or if it was the acoustics in the pool.

“Excuse me, bitch, you don’t need to shout.” Fat Amy said.

As the rest of them laughed, Beca stepped up to Lilly and put an arm around her. “Don’t get mouthy.” She urged the group toward the end of the pool. “But, let’s get out of here and back to the house where it’s less cold.”

Aubrey looked over her shoulder. “You guys are welcome to have a sleep over. I know classes start tomorrow, but, if you wanted to get a change of clothes and whatever books you need then come back and I’ll make something for us to eat?”

It was the first time Aubrey had made the offer of a sleep over directly. Always before the invite had been delivered by Chloe, though Beca did know several of them were because Aubrey had wanted them there.

“Sounds great!” Jessica beamed.

“I could eat,” Fat Amy said as she climbed the ladder. “All that wrestling today used a lot of energy.” She slapped her waist as she stepped back from the pool edge. “It takes a lot to keep this gorgeous motor running.”

Beca was next up the ladder and, shaking her head in amusement at Amy, she turned and helped Lilly, Aubrey then Chloe step up onto the concrete. She winced when she felt just how cold Chloe’s hands were.

She was distracted when Stacie finally reached the top and smirked as she accepted Beca’s offered hand. “Such a gentleman.”

“Shut up, Legs.” Beca grinned back at her before turning back to the rest of the group. “That sounds like a great idea. I’ll get my laptop so we can go over music.”

“Yes!” Ashley cheered. “The mythical library of mixes! I’m bringing my laptop too.”

Beca laughed. “Alright, I get it. I’ll make sure I have everything.” She tugged Chloe to hold her back for second. “Your hands are fucking blue. Again.”

Chloe looked down and shrugged. “I’m cold.”

“Dude, we’re past that. Those are like… cadaver hands.” Beca raised her eyebrows and nodded. “Seriously. Like, the hands of a dead person.”

She looked up at Beca from beneath her eyelashes. “Would you like to read my palm again to warm them up?”

Beca felt herself flush. “That’s… I didn’t… I wasn’t…” She closed her eyes and took a breath before opening them again. “I didn’t know how to ask if I could warm them up.”

“I know.” Chloe smirked at her. “It was a really cute try, though.” She bit her lip. “You could ask now…”

“There’s no way I’m touching those ice monstrosities.” Beca pretended to back away, but there was no way she was going to let Chloe walk anywhere else with her hands like that.

“Oh, Beca you don’t –” Aubrey called over but it was too late, Chloe was already moving, her hands pushing their way under Beca’s shirt to press against her stomach.

“Holy fucking shit!” Beca screamed and tried to push her away. Chloe’s fingers felt completely frozen and Beca’s skin tried to crawl away from the contact. Chloe, laughing at Beca’s reaction, only pushed closer, her hands sliding to curve around Beca’s ribs. Beca pulled in a breath to scream again but then Chloe leaned forward and kissed her. Beca’s brain short circuited under the onslaught of conflicting sensations and her brain chose to focus on the warm lips against hers instead of the cold hands around her waist.

As the thought crossed her mind to deepen the kiss, several people coughed around them, reminding her that they were not only in a public space, but surrounded by their friends. Reluctantly Beca pulled back, opening her eyes to meet Chloe’s mischievous grin.

“Thanks for warming me up, Becs.”

Beca took a steadying breath, realizing that Chloe’s hands were indeed warmer, which had been her entire goal. “You’re… uh… welcome.” She fought the urge to lick her lips and looked around at the rest of them who just smiled at her. “You guys are all aca-pervs.” She couldn’t help the grin at Chloe’s delighted chuckle.

“You guys put on a good show, I couldn’t help it.” Stacie said with a wicked grin that only deepened when Beca’s cheeks flamed with a different kind of flush. “God you’re so easy to rattle, DJ.”

Aubrey spread her arms and waved everyone forward like she was herding cats. “Alright, let’s go. We can resume making her uncomfortable when we’ve got her locked in the house.”

Beca felt her mouth drop. “Who are you and what have you done with Aubrey?” The words were out before she could think to stop them and she winced. Thankfully Aubrey only threw her a smile over her shoulder as she kept the others moving.

Chloe slid her fingers from under Beca’s shirt. “I think you’ll notice a few differences from now on.” She pursed her lips. “I figure she’ll fall back into bad habits a time or two, but I think we can all keep that from happening too much.” She linked their arms together and shoved her left hand into Beca’s coat pocket. “Let’s go get your stuff.”

Pushing down the sense of loss at not feeling Chloe’s skin against hers, Beca nodded and followed the rest of them toward the dorms.

It might have taken longer than it would have for someone else, but as they excitedly traded ideas back and forth, Beca finally realized that being here, amongst these wonderful nerds, was exactly where she belonged.

  


 

~C~

Chloe hadn’t known what to expect when Beca led them into the pool, but she’d had faith that it would be exactly what was needed to put Aubrey’s mind at ease.

The fact that she knew it would also give them a shot at winning the ICCAs wasn’t bad either.

“Um, Aubrey, would you pick a song for us please?” Beca said as she turned around to face them.

Chloe stopped with the others, her hands already starting to chill as she waited for Aubrey to come up with a song.

“Bruno Mars, Just The Way You Are.” Aubrey said almost immediately.

Chloe grinned to herself as Beca took a moment to process the fact that it was both from this century and not sung by a woman. Asking Aubrey also showed that Beca was serious in wanting Aubrey’s input and making sure she was comfortable in actually letting Beca show what she could do.

“Um, Chloe?” Beca turned to her. “Are you okay to take the lead?”

“Yeah,” Chloe said, trying to hold back her grin. She couldn’t wait to see what Beca had planned.

Shaking out her nerves, Beca set the beat. Aubrey was next, followed by Cynthia Rose and then the rest until the pool was filled with their voices blending together in perfect harmony. At Beca’s nod, Chloe felt a last flare of nerves rise but once she’d started, Beca’s eyes on her calmed her again.

 

Oh, her eyes, her eyes make the stars look like they're not shinin'
Her hair, her hair falls perfectly without her trying
She's so beautiful and I tell her everyday

 

Chloe felt the words settle inside her heart. Kissing aside, she and Beca had yet to make any declarations of love though Chloe had realized months ago that she’d fallen hard for the sarcastic freshman. She was also at least ninety percent positive that Beca returned those feelings but was too used to keeping people at arm’s length to allow herself to admit to them. Chloe had been content to follow Beca’s lead, never pushing too far past her comfort zone no matter how many times Chloe had actually pushed into her personal space. The song became her way of telling Beca at least some of the things she’d been holding back, hoping that Beca could read the truth in her eyes.

She could tell Beca was worried that she’d throw Chloe off when she started in with ‘Just A Dream’ but Chloe had spent the last month or so listening to Beca’s mixes; she knew what to expect and had ‘Just The Way You Are’ firmly in her mind. Beca’s pleased smile sparked her own as they continued to weave their lyrics together. It was easy for her to stay focused – she just had to keep singing to Beca and it didn’t much matter that they weren’t alone.

That didn’t change as Beca’s focus shifted to Aubrey and Chloe looked over at her best friend. Aubrey didn’t look stressed out or worried; she looked content to follow Beca’s lead – until suddenly the brunette was pointing and Chloe knew that she wanted Aubrey to switch songs and take lead. With only a grin, Aubrey dove into the new song, switching seamlessly with nothing but as wide a smile as she could manage while singing.

Chloe felt the shift as the girls around them put more enthusiasm and energy into the song, feeling like one cohesive group for the first time since the riff-off. She’d never felt that type of connection with the prior Bellas group, never felt like they all made each other better. They may have been good enough to make it to finals, but Chloe realized that they probably wouldn’t have won because they only had the technical side – they lacked heart.

But now… They were instinctively following Aubrey’s lead; her pace, her enthusiasm and her strong voice - even the smile on her face that was obvious without even looking - kept them all on track while Beca kept their pace and acted as conductor. Chloe felt her skin prickle with the magic of the moment, realizing that this is how it should have been all year: She and Aubrey leading the group and Beca directing their choral arrangements. It would have been – it was – perfect.

‘One might even say it was pitch perfect.’ Chloe thought to herself with a mental eye roll at her cheesiness.

It was almost funny that they were being shown the way by one petite brunette who would swear up and down on a stack of bibles that she was heartless. Except she was leading them into new territory because she believed in them and what they could do – what they as a group could become. Chloe glanced around as they began to clap or stop a foot to the beat, realizing that it wasn’t just her; the rest of them felt it too.

As they drew to a close, Beca’s eyes remained on Aubrey, waiting to see what she thought. Chloe looked over, already knowing that she would be smiling and couldn’t resist grinning back at her; there was still a distinct lack of the tension that had radiated like an aura around Aubrey since the start of the year.

Aubrey exhaled happily. “Hands in.”

Chloe looked over in time to see Beca grin in relief before they were all crowding around, ready to finally get the signature Bellas pre-show move down. Aubrey counted them down and Chloe felt so happy she could almost cry – until the sound coming out of her mouth scared the hell out of her.

“What was that?” Amy asked as Chloe slammed her cold hand over her mouth.

“I don’t know; I’ve never made that sound before.” Chloe touched her throat. It hadn’t hurt in the slightest, which was a relief, but it certainly wasn’t normal.

Cynthia Rose leaned forward. “Yo, but with your messed up vocal cords you could hit the bass notes.”

Chloe rubbed her throat again, feeling Beca’s concerned eyes on her. She gave a reassuring smile as Aubrey spoke up. “You know what that means?” Chloe grinned again at the poorly hidden excitement under Aubrey’s voice. Lilly’s hand went up and Aubrey turned to her. “Yes, Lilly?”

“I think I have something that can help us out.”

The rest of the girls had leaned forward to hear better and they all moved back with startled expressions at, for the first time, being able to hear Lilly speak clearly.

“Excuse me, bitch, you don’t need to shout,” Fat Amy joked.

Beca moved up to Lilly and put an arm around her as the rest of them laughed and turned to leave. “Don’t get mouthy. But, let’s get out of here and back to the house where it’s less cold.”

Chloe saw the look that Beca gave her hands and grinned. ‘Always so considerate even when she’s pretending otherwise.’

As they reached the ladder, Aubrey looked back at them. “You guys are welcome to have a sleep over. I know classes start tomorrow, but, if you wanted to get a change of clothes and whatever books you need then come back and I’ll make something for us to eat?”

Chloe had to swallow the lump that suddenly appeared in her throat. Aubrey had always used her as an intermediary when she wanted the girls to hang out – or the cover of a mandatory Bella bonding night. This was the first time she’d felt comfortable enough to reach out on her own and Chloe finally felt the last of her worries fall away.

Following Jessica and Ashley, Fat Amy headed up the ladder. “I could eat. All that wrestling today used up a lot of energy.” At the top she stepped back and slapped her waist. “It takes a lot to keep this gorgeous motor running.”

Beca was next up the ladder and Chloe didn’t even try to hide the fact that she was admiring the view. As Lilly followed, Aubrey shoulder bumped Chloe and whispered, “Your toner is showing.”

“That happens sometimes. I blame Beca.” Chloe shrugged as Aubrey laughed and started up the ladder.

“I blame her ass.” Stacie said as she stopped beside Chloe, the two of them momentarily alone. “Not that I’m looking – don’t claw my eyes out.”

“I wouldn’t.” Chloe winked at her. “Aubrey would kill me.”

Stacie grinned. “Yeah?”

“Mmhmm.” Chloe put her foot on the ladder. “Even if she’s too stubborn to admit it.”

Behind her she heard Stacie mutter, “Tell me about it.”

Beca was waiting at the top, hand outstretched to help Chloe from the ladder, and she held back a grin at Beca’s wince. One day Chloe was sure she would remember to bring gloves with her when she went outside.

“Such a gentleman.” Chloe turned as Stacie let go of Beca’s hand, amused at the disconcerted expression that crossed over Beca’s face.

“Shut up, Legs.” Smiling, Beca turned back to the rest of them. “That sounds like a great idea. I’ll get my laptop so we can go over music.”

“Yes!” Ashley threw her arms up. “The mythical library of mixes! I’m bringing my laptop too.”

“Alright, I get it. I’ll make sure I have everything.” Beca laughed as Chloe started to follow the group away from the pool. Except Beca’s fingers caught her sleeve and tugged her backward. Chloe turned to look at her, eyebrow raised in question. “Your hands are fucking blue. Again.” While the words were almost accusing, the tone was both amused and worried.

Looking down, Chloe shrugged. “I’m cold.”

“Dude, we’re past that. Those are like… cadaver hands.” Beca gave her an earnest look. “Seriously. Like, the hands of a dead person.”

Chloe didn’t even try to fight the mischievous feeling rising up in her. She looked back up at Beca. “Would you like to read my palm again to warm them up?” She grinned at the color that rose over Beca’s cheeks and fell a little more in love as Beca began to awkwardly stutter out an explanation.

Finally Beca closed her eyes and took a breath. “I didn’t know how to ask if I could warm them up.”

Chloe felt herself melt, somewhat surprised her hands weren’t instantly thawed with the warmth that admission spread throughout her body. “I know.” But the urge to tease was still there. “I know. It was a really cute try, though.” She bit her lip coyly. “You could ask now…”

Beca shook her head immediately, though the mirth in her eyes showed she was playing along. “There’s no way I’m touching those ice monstrosities.” She began to back away.

Chloe looked over as Aubrey’s voice carried to them from where she’d stopped to see if they were coming. “Oh, Beca you don’t –”

But Chloe was already moving, having done a version of this to Aubrey numerous times over the years. She pushed closer to Beca, her hands already under Beca’s shirt until she could press both palms against Beca’s stomach.

“Holy fucking shit!” Beca cried, trying to push her hands away.

Chloe couldn’t help the laugh that slipped free, but she was distracted by the feel of Beca’s stomach muscles jumping against her palm. Her hands were still too frozen to truly feel Beca’s skin beneath her fingertips, but that didn’t stop her from curving her hands around Beca’s waist. Ignoring the squirming woman, she slid them up Beca’s ribs and tugging her ever closer until Chloe couldn’t resist the urge that was pushing at her brain.

She captured Beca’s lips with her own, feeling Beca instantly stop moving except for the gentle pressure of her mouth. After what felt like hours, Chloe wormed a little closer, her hands beginning to slip around Beca’s back to pull her tighter and just as Beca’s mouth began to part, there were several pointed coughs around them.

Chloe pushed down the tingling that had begun to crawl its way up her spine and grinned when Beca pulled back and groaned quietly. “Thanks for warming me up, Becs.” Her hands felt nice and toasty where they rested against Beca’s sides.

“You’re… uh… welcome.” Beca looked around. “You guys are all aca-pervs.”

Chloe laughed happily. ‘If there hadn’t been any other signs of it, the fact that Beca just used an aca phrase would’ve sealed it. She’s totally one of us.’ Stacie’s teasing voice pulled her back to the group.

“You guys put on a good show, I couldn’t help it.” Chloe watched, fascinated, as Beca’s cheeks turned scarlet. “God, you’re so easy to rattle, DJ.”

“Alright, let’s go. We can resume making her uncomfortable when we’ve got her locked in the house.” Aubrey began to usher everyone into motion.

“Who are you and what have you done with Aubrey?” Beca asked in surprise.

Chloe took pity on her when Beca winced, obviously regretting her choice of words. Reluctantly she slid her hands out from under Beca’s shirt. “I think you’ll notice a few differences from now on. I figure she’ll fall back into bad habits a time or two, but I think we can all keep that from happening too much.” She hooked her arm with Beca’s and shoved her hand into Beca’s pocket. “Let’s go get your stuff.”

  


 

~C~

Chloe settled into the middle of the sectional with a sigh, a glass of wine in her hand.

Aubrey was in the kitchen making up a pot of pasta with a couple different options of sauce, since it was both easy to make and could be done in bulk.

Beca was at the center island with her laptop, busily copying her music library to several different hard drives that the girls would then share amongst themselves after they’d finished dropping their bags off upstairs.

Stacie dropped down on the couch next to her. “How’s the throat?”

Chloe smiled and leaned against her. “It’s good.”

“Even after that bass note that, in the right crowd, you could make a fortune off of as a human vibrator?” She wiggled her eyebrows at Chloe’s bark of laughter.

“You are…” Chloe trailed off, unable to come up with the right word because she was laughing too hard.

“Amazing.” Stacie winked. “The word you’re looking for is ‘amazing.’”

“I can only imagine.” Chloe chuckled again and took a sip of her wine. “There was a bit of strain during rehearsal, but I think some of that was just all the tension, you know?”

“Yeah, I felt it too.” Stacie mused. “It’s funny how that feels like a lifetime ago already.”

“Right?” Chloe shook her head. “It keeps flashing through my head that only, what, five or six hours ago we were all screaming at each other?”

“Is that it?” Stacie let her head rest against the couch. “I know there’s still a lot to be said, but… Is it wrong that I would just rather move on?”

“No.” Chloe tilted her head until she was leaning on Stacie’s shoulder. “But Aubrey’s going to need to apologize to you guys. A lot.”

“Yeah, I know.” Stacie hesitated, looking over her shoulder into the kitchen. “Is she okay? I mean, really okay?”

Chloe nodded, though her smile was sad. “She is. For the first time all year, she’s not a coiled spring. Once she stops being embarrassed, she’ll be even better.”

Stacie sighed and faced Chloe again. “She’s going to beat herself up over this, isn’t she?”

“For a bit, yeah.” Chloe sat up again and took a drink of her wine. “But maybe between all of us, we can keep her from sinking too low.” She looked over as the rest of the girls began to file down the stairs.

“Sounds like a plan, Red.” Stacie sat up. “There more of that in the kitchen?” She pointed at Chloe’s glass.

“Yup. Couple bottles, actually.” She grinned at Stacie’s raised eyebrow. “I thought we’d need it.”

“You’re so smart.” Stacie leaned forward and kissed the side of Chloe’s head before pushing herself up off the couch. “I’ll be back, save my spot.”

“Always,” Chloe called after her, wondering if Stacie realized just how many times she’d looked into the kitchen before finally giving into her need to be near Aubrey.

‘Probably not. Stacie’s inability to realize her interest in Aubrey is a lot more than sex is only matched by Aubrey’s ability to ignore her own feelings. If that doesn’t prove they’re perfect for each other, I don’t know what does.’

She looked over her shoulder again, smiling as Stacie casually leaned on the island across from Beca and slightly behind Aubrey at the stove, showing no sign of moving despite the full glass of wine in her hand.

Chloe smiled to herself. ‘Nope, definitely clueless. The amount of teasing that I’ll be able to do when they figure it out will be aca-awesome.’

~

Once dinner and most of the clean-up was over – and the musical library of one DJ Mitchell was quickly shared –the talk finally turned to ideas for their set.

Chloe was sitting between Aubrey and Beca, the rest of the girls arranged on the sofa or ottoman as they slowly digested what seemed like a ton of pasta. They’d been listening to random mixes that Beca had made for the past hour, but they kept going back to the one that she’d almost played for them the night she was arrested.

“I like that it starts out kinda slow, for all of two seconds before it picks up and doesn’t really stop.” Cynthia Rose said.

“I do have at least one change I want to make,” Beca said and she looked at Chloe from the corner of her eye. “I… Jesse and I had a fight, and I don’t have any idea if he’ll ever talk to me again.”

Chloe smiled at her. “He will. What’s your idea?”

“I want to include that song from the Breakfast Club.” She clicked around in her list until ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ started playing. “It was one of the movies he tried to get me to watch.”

“The one where you watched the end first?” Chloe still didn’t understand that, but it had obviously been important to Jesse.

“Yeah.” Beca flashed her a grin. “But I finally watched it over break, along with a bunch of others, and maybe it would be the thing that at least gets him to talk to me again, so I can apologize.”

“Wait.” Fat Amy put out her hand. “You watched movies? On your own?”

“Yes, Amy.” Beca rolled her eyes. “Please don’t make a big deal about it. I’m sure it was a fluke and won’t happen again.”

“Yeah, no. It’s going to happen next weekend.” Amy said firmly.

“We can watch a horror movie,” Stacie offered before Beca had the chance to protest. “No chances of emotions there – unless jumping at every loud noise is an actual emotion.”

“Jesus – you guys – no way.” Beca shook her head. “That’s…” She trailed off when Chloe touched her arm.

“We can cuddle under a blanket and I’ll protect you.” Chloe promised. “Plus Bree will probably laugh at it – until she snorts.” Chloe looked over at her best friend. “Again.”

“You’re lucky I love you,” Aubrey muttered behind her wine glass.

“I know.” Chloe replied airily.

“If we could please get back to the task at hand?” Beca asked plaintively. “Instead of ways to annoy me?”

“Sure, DJ.” Stacie said from Beca’s other side. “It’ll give me longer to plan how best to torture you.” Beca groaned and Stacie patted her knee. “I think that song would fit fine in this mix.”

Chloe sat back as the discussion continued. She knew nothing would be fully decided tonight, they’d still have plenty to discuss the next few days. Aubrey and Beca had agreed that they’d have no actual rehearsals for the week, but they were all welcome at the house while they finalized the song list.

“So what kind of choreo do you see with it?” Ashley asked.

After a beat, Beca realized they were all looking at her. Chloe bit back a grin as Beca turned a little green. “Why are you all looking at me?”

“Cause you’re in charge.” Aubrey said, a little smugly.

“Oh no. My job is music.” Beca shook her head. “I’m not a dancer.”

“Liar.” Chloe leaned forward and whispered in Beca’s ear. “I remember how you danced at hood night.” She grinned as Beca’s eyes glazed briefly and her cheeks flushed.

“Uhhh…” Beca cleared her throat. “That’s… That’s different and all I’m going to say about that right now, here, in the middle of your living room.”

Chloe took pity on her. For now. “Alright then, I suppose Aubrey and I could come up with a few things to start us off, once we’ve got the songs.” She looked around the room. “As long as you guys promise to speak up if you have any ideas or changes?” As the group voiced their agreement, Chloe scooted to the edge of the couch. “Then I think I’m going to call it a night.”

Almost as if on cue, Aubrey yawned. “Me too, I guess.”

“Those suckers are contagious,” Ashley said around her own yawn. “Guess I’ll head upstairs too.”

Chloe watched as Beca shut down her laptop as the rest of them pushed themselves to their feet. “I didn’t mean to break up the party.”

“It’s been a long day, Red.” Stacie said as she stretched. “I just hope the bed I’m trying tonight is half as comfortable as Aubrey’s mattress.”

“What now?” Fat Amy turned to face them. “Did you guys start doing your own version of horizontal running?”

“No!” Aubrey exclaimed, her voice cracking in the middle.

“But she just said…” Jessica trailed off, obviously unsure how far they could tease her.

“I wasn’t in it at the time.” Aubrey stood and straightened her shirt. “She took Chloe to the airport the morning after I left and I told her it was alright to sleep in my bed the night before.”

“I’d taken all the other sheets off to do laundry that night.” Chloe offered when the rest of them looked at her questioningly. “Empty house meant I wanted to keep myself occupied.” She turned and smiled at Stacie. “Though I think we ended up talking all night and didn’t do laundry until last night.” She stood and clapped her hands once. “So fresh sheets for everyone!”

“Including you, Aubrey.” Stacie said as she walked toward the stairs. “I changed them this morning before I left.”

“Thanks, Stacie.” Aubrey said before she began to clean up the various glasses and plates that dotted the tables behind the couch. When Chloe moved to help her, Aubrey shooed her away. “I’ve got this, I’m just going to let it soak and I’ll wash them in the morning.”

“If you’re sure.” Chloe said and let Aubrey push her back toward the couch. “Night, Bree.”

Beca had just finished putting her laptop back in her case when Chloe stepped up beside her and tugged her hand. She waited until the other girls at least appeared distracted and leaned close enough that only Beca could hear her. “Share my bed with me?” She grinned at Beca’s startled look toward the group of women heading upstairs. “Just to sleep.” Chloe looked down as she took Beca’s hand. “I understand if it’s too soon after… everything.”

Beca was shaking her head before Chloe had finished. “No – that’s… I’d like that.” She looked like she had more to say, but she only smiled and gave a half bow. “After you then.”

Chloe grinned at the reminder of the first, and only, time they’d shared a bed, though the positions had been reversed. “Definitely a gentleman.” She walked in front of Beca and laughed at the frustrated growl behind her. “Don’t fight it, Becs. It’s cute.”

“Yeah yeah.” Beca poked her in the side and Chloe let out a yelp as she jumped forward. “It’s all an act to lure you in.”

Chloe stopped in place and spun quickly, causing Beca to run into her. “And what’ll you do when you’ve got me where you want me?” She could tell she’d caught Beca by surprise by the way her eyes widened in panic.

“You’ll… uh… just have to see.” Beca said, striving for a confidence she obviously didn’t quite have a grasp on. She ran her hand through her hair as she licked her lips nervously.

Chloe forced herself to look away from Beca’s mouth and reached out and took her hand. “Guess I will.” She tugged gently as she stepped backward, turning as Beca willingly followed her upstairs, briefly detouring to get the bag she’d placed in the double room she thought she’d be sharing with Amy.

Both of them were quiet as they readied for bed, stealing not-so-subtle glances at each other and smiling as they were caught at it. Soon enough they’d brushed their teeth and settled into bed, both of them lying on their backs as Chloe’s bed was marginally bigger than the one in Beca’s dorm.

“I’m glad you came today,” Chloe said into the darkness. “I don’t know how any of that would have ended if you hadn’t shown up.”

“Probably a slap fight next,” Beca said lightly and Chloe chuckled.

“I did pull her hair,” she admitted and the bed shook with Beca’s laughter.

“How very elementary school of you,” Beca said when she’d finally stopped giggling. Chloe thumped her in the side. “Ow.” Beca sighed as the last chuckle faded. “I think you guys would’ve been fine.”

“I don’t know about that.” Chloe admitted. “We were… we were horrible.”

“Aubrey told me some of it.” Beca fumbled between them until she found Chloe’s left hand and squeezed it. “I still think you guys would’ve found your way out of it.” She took a breath and paused before continuing. “I’m not sure if the group would’ve been intact, but… I think you and Aubrey would’ve been okay.”

Chloe thought for a minute, remembering all the anger and rage she’d been feeling at the time. “Maybe. Eventually.” She sighed. “I don’t know how long that would’ve taken though.” She threaded their fingers together. “So – thank you.”

“I almost didn’t. But I had an eye opening talk with my father.” Beca sighed. “He did that parent thing where they’re brutally honest and force you to really think about what you want.”

“How rude.” Chloe rolled over onto her left side, regretful that the action required her to let go of Beca’s hand.

“Right?” Beca rolled to face her, her left hand immediately tucking a strand of hair behind Chloe’s ear. “But he made me realize that I really liked being part of the Bellas. That I like all of these crazy women spread across this house. And it made me realize what he’d been telling me all along, which annoys me to no end.”

Chloe laughed. “What’s that?”

“That making an effort was worth it.” Beca smiled wide enough to be seen in the dim light as she rolled onto her back. “Especially if the friends I make are willing to forgive me when I act like an asshole.”

Chloe wiggled closer and put her head on Beca’s shoulder. “I think we were all assholes, honestly.” She felt Beca’s arm circle around her back and pull her close. “We probably deserve each other.”

“Probably.” Beca yawned and they both fell silent, the long day finally stealing over them.

As Beca let out the softest snore under her, Chloe let herself drift, happy and secure for the first time in weeks, safe in the circle of Beca’s arms, vowing to do whatever was necessary to remain there for as long as humanly possible.

Chapter Text

~B~

They spent that first week back from Spring Break hashing out what songs to include in their set.

Beca finally had to put a hard limit on the song length when it went above five minutes and Aubrey backed her up, saying that under four was better. Once the songs were finally settled, Beca spent half the next week putting the mix together, always being sure to run the various edits by the group to get their opinions. The other half of the week was spent deciding on solos and who would do them. Then the real work began. The girls not only had to memorize the new, admittedly complicated, mix as a whole, but also their individual parts in it, while Chloe and Aubrey also started to work on the choreography they’d have to memorize next.

“You sure you don’t want any input in that?” Chloe asked Beca as they all took a break one afternoon.

Beca shook her head. “Not me. I’m the one who ran into Aubrey’s boobs, remember?” She forced herself not to blush at the memory.

Aubrey laughed. “That’s because Chloe was distracting you.” She gave Chloe a pointed look. “On purpose. All day.” Chloe merely batted her eyes at Aubrey like the embodiment of a Disney cartoon.

“What?” Beca thumped Chloe in the leg. “Dude. Not cool.”

“Yeah, that’s accurate.” Fat Amy said from where she’d collapsed on the floor. “I believe you thought she was hot.”

Beca groaned. “I’m never going to live that down, am I?”

“Nope.” Aubrey agreed, though Beca noticed her cheeks had turned slightly redder than they had been.

Chloe shoulder bumped her. “Your face when you realized where you were? Priceless.”

“You mean when she finally lifted herself up from Aubrey’s chest?” Stacie grinned unapologetically at Beca when she spun in her chair to glare at her. “You were redder than Chloe’s hair.”

“I hate you guys so much.” Beca groaned and covered her face with a towel. “Why do I put up with you again?”

“Because we’re fun.” Jessica said, grinning when Beca peeked at her.

“This is fun?” Beca grumbled, taking the bottle of water Chloe handed her.

“Well, it is for us, if that counts,” Ashley said and ducked the towel Beca threw at her.

“No.” Beca ignored the rest of them as she dug in her bag, handing Chloe one of the protein bars she’d stashed earlier. “I still hate you guys.”

“Thanks.” Chloe tore it open and took a bite. “But this is not proving the ‘I hate you’ statement.”

Beca rolled her eyes. “Just… eat your snack bar.”

Slowly the routine came together, the last steps were ironed out and they grew serious about their rehearsals; Beca was always aware of the rapidly approaching deadline that was now less than two months away. They still had daily rehearsals, but now they had them twice a day when schedules allowed, but most of them spent the evenings back at the Bella house for homework and dinner.

Beca and Chloe had suggested, and - to their astonishment - Aubrey agreed, that they take one weekend night off, either Friday or Saturday, to hopefully keep them from becoming as burned out as they had been before the semi-finals despite the increased rehearsals. They’d watch a movie, to Beca’s chagrin, or sometimes, after a lot of alcohol, challenge Beca to make mixes on the fly of whatever random songs they threw at her.

Finally Stacie convinced them all to go to a karaoke bar just off campus that she was familiar with. They were sometimes a little lax about carding people and she was fairly confident they could all get well and truly smashed in addition to blowing off a little steam.

They stayed until the place closed, picking the worst songs imaginable for each other as they all took turns buying rounds for the table. They laughed and joked, pushing and heckling; they even created numbered scorecards on napkins, holding them up during each song. Except the rankings were reversed – the more you messed up, the higher your score. The winner (or was it loser) had to drink a glass of the cheapest alcohol on the shelf; Stacie (or at least her smile and low cut shirt) had gotten a discount on purchasing a whole bottle for the table.

All in all, it was a great way to let some of the tension fall away. Even Aubrey stayed relaxed and took the drinks Chloe, Beca and Stacie slid in front of her; the three of them had an unspoken agreement to ensure Aubrey had a drink at all times, just to see her – for once – forget everything else and just live in the moment. Despite the fact that Beca was almost positive Aubrey had drank more than the rest of them, she was the one who screwed up the lyrics the least. Aubrey switched to beer halfway through the night, and they all stared in amazement as Aubrey drained her pint in one go and then belched out the entire alphabet after slamming her glass on the table. Beca thought it was the single most impressive thing she’d seen Aubrey do outside of anything music related.

“If I’d known you were this much fun, I’d have tried to get you drunk months ago.” Amy signaled the waitress to come over where she ordered Aubrey another one.

“Months ago I’d have been at home making lists.” Aubrey said as she sat back with a contented smile. “I’d have never done this because I’d be afraid I’d…”

“Pull a Posen?” Amy flinched when Beca hit her in the shoulder. “Ow! Did you learn that in prison, Shawshank?”

“Rude.” Beca sat back as the rest of the table looked anywhere else – except Stacie and Chloe, who were trying very hard to keep their annoyance from showing.

“Something like that,” Aubrey murmured, managing to look both amused and embarrassed at the same time.

In a rare showing of contrition, Amy reached across the table and put her hand on Aubrey’s arm. “I’m sorry.”

Aubrey just shrugged her shoulders. “It’s okay. It’s something I’ve learned to live with.” She smiled. “And I haven’t really had the urge to do it since… that… day, so it’s fine. Really, Amy.”

Despite the bump in the mood, the rest of the night went smoothly. The dubious title of ‘karaoke winner’ had gone to Ashley and she’d promised them all painful retribution when Amy poured an almost full glass of vodka as her ‘prize.’ At the end of the night, Beca looked around and smiled as they tumbled out the door, Chloe hanging off her side as usual. These girls meant the world to her. They were her people.

“That was fun,” Aubrey said.

“You say that because you didn’t have to drink a full glass of that cheap ass vodka.” Ashley whined.

“Next time you should sing better.” Amy took a deep breath of the night air. “But I’m not quite ready to go back to the dorm yet, I’ve got a date.”

“It’s like one in the morning. Are they still waiting for you?” Cynthia Rose asked.

“Psh, who wouldn’t wait for all this?” Amy ran one hand down her side. “Laters, pitches.”

Beca watched her go. “That is one secure woman.” Nothing was ever going to keep Amy down.

“I can respect that.” Stacie shrugged as she urged them to start walking.

“What’s the matter, Conrad?” Beca teased. “Got a hot date?”

“Yeah, with my books.” Stacie kicked a rock.

While it wasn’t far off campus, Beca was grateful that the walk back began the sobering process. As the girls started to split off into the various directions of their different halls, promising to make it to the next rehearsal, which was thankfully not until late the next afternoon, Chloe looped her arm through Beca’s and tugged her closer.

“You’re too drunk still to let you wander off unattended.” Chloe didn’t seem to notice that she was leaning into Beca’s side, making them walk slightly at an angle from Stacie and Aubrey who were somewhere behind them.

“I am?” Beca blinked slowly and frowned. “Are you sure? I don’t feel like I’ll wander off.”

‘Plus, like, there’s no chance in hell I’ll leave your side before I have to.’ Beca thought and immediately rolled her eyes at herself.

Red locks bobbed as Chloe nodded. “Yup. It would be irresponsible of me to let you get lost.” Her voice took on a very earnest tone, her bright blue eyes wide and sincere. Beca tripped a little as she got lost in them.

A snort to their left brought their gaze to Aubrey and Beca asked “What?” as the blonde drew even with them. It amused her to realize Chloe said it in unison with her.

“Oh please. Both of you are too drunk to walk straight. Of course, that could just be because of your –”

“If you make a toner comment right now…” Beca tried to mock glare at her but thought she only ended up squinting like she was staring into a bright light. She was aware that she was slurring but before she could regroup, another snort to her right distracted her. She turned, tugging Chloe along with her, and staggered slightly as the earth wobbled beneath her.

Stacie rolled her eyes. “It’s not like she’d be wrong, DJ.” She shrugged as Beca gasped, Chloe mirroring her again. “I know; the truth hurts.” She looked past them to Aubrey and gave her a flirty wink. “My roommate is out of town this weekend, you want a safe space?” She ignored the repeated twin squawks of outrage from Beca and Chloe and waited for Aubrey’s reply.

Beca slowly swung her head around to look at Aubrey, noticing that instead of the refusal that she’d have expected, Aubrey looked like she was considering it.

 “Why do I think that’s not exactly what you mean?” When Stacie just shrugged as they continued walking, Aubrey sighed. “You sure your roommate won’t mind if I sleep in her bed?”

Stacie opened her mouth to answer, the gleam in her eye giving them an idea of what might come out, but Chloe interrupted.

“Aubrey, you used to not like it when I would even sit on your made-to-military-standards-bed. It took a full year before you stopped wincing. You’re going to sleep in someone else’s without permission?” Chloe’s eyes were sly, as they looked between the two women. Beca made a mental note to never get on Chloe’s bad side.

Stacie spoke before Aubrey could. “You forget she let me sleep in her bed during Spring Break.”

“Oh shit!” Chloe slapped her forehead, almost knocking herself down before Beca grabbed her at the last minute. “That’s right! I forgot!”

“Wait, what?” Beca held up her hand. “This sounds… kinda familiar…” Her eyes widened. “Wait, did you guys actually… you know.” She waved her free hand around her waist. “You know.” She added a small pelvic thrust for good measure. The sober part of her that was buried at the bottom of a sea of alcohol couldn’t believe she’d asked that, much less thrust her fucking hips in public.

NO!” Aubrey yelled and then coughed to hide her sudden panic.

“No, Aubrey wasn’t in it at the time.” Stacie answered and Beca swore that she heard her mutter, “Unfortunately.”

“That’s right…” Beca snapped her fingers as a memory leaped forward. “Because you were doing airport runs. And Chloe had this… obsession with laundry?”

Chloe shrugged. “I needed to keep busy.” Beca felt a wave of remorse as she suddenly remembered why Chloe wanted to keep busy. Chloe must have noticed because she kissed Beca’s cheek. “But that’s the past. And now I’m drunk with my three favorite peoples in the whole wide world.”

Amused at how Chloe had almost exactly mirrored her earlier thoughts about the Bellas, Beca refocused on Aubrey. “And you let her sleep in your bed?” Beca asked again, still surprised considering the feelings of everyone involved. Not that Chloe had told her anything, but Beca knew there was something between Aubrey and Stacie, even if she didn’t know the details.

“It was the least I could do.” Aubrey shrugged. “I wasn’t going to be in it.”

“Come on, Aubrey. Maybe I’ll tell you about what I thought of while I was in your bed.” Stacie crossed behind Beca and Chloe, who had been looking back and forth between them while trying to unsuccessfully walk in a straight line. Ignoring the deer in the headlights look that she was getting, Stacie tugged Aubrey’s hand and started them off toward her own dorms. “Have fun you two. Try to get some sleep.”

“Yeah, don’t keep Chloe up all night, hobbit.” Aubrey called over her shoulder.

Beca and Chloe came to a brief halt, staring after their friends.

“Did she just call...?” Beca sputtered.

“Did they just…” Chloe murmured.

Then, after a pause, “Do you think they’re…” they asked at the same time.

Beca turned to Chloe and trailed off as their eyes met and Chloe smiled at her. She couldn’t help but return it and the two of them stood there for a while, lost in each other as they wavered back and forth on unsteady legs.

Finally Beca’s brow furrowed. “What were we doing again?”

“I wasn’t letting you get lost?” Chloe said hesitantly then nodded. “Yup, that sounds right.”

“Right.” Beca nodded with her then frowned. “Hey, I’m not that drunk!”

“You literally just forget what we were talking about,” Chloe pointed out.

“Damnit.” Beca pouted until Chloe gave her a sloppy kiss on the cheek. “I hate it when you’re right.”

“I know you do. But it’s okay, I’ve got you and you won’t get lost!” Chloe tugged them forward until Beca started walking with her toward the Bellas house. “And I’m always right.”

“You wish.” Beca snickered.

Often.” The way she said it sounded suddenly like she was talking about something else entirely.

Almost against her will, Beca looked over and the borderline hungry look on Chloe’s face made Beca trip over her own feet.

“You okay?” Chloe asked sweetly.

“Yeah. I’m good. I’m just… great.” Beca swallowed heavily against the tingling that was spreading out from her spine. “Just…  A little drunk.”

“Me too. But we’re almost home.” Chloe said as she turned them down the street leading to the house. She heaved out a sigh. “It’ll be good to get out of these clothes.” Beca missed another step and only Chloe’s grip kept her upright. “Don’t worry,” Chloe said as if she didn’t know exactly what she was doing to Beca. “I’ve got some pj’s you can borrow.”

“Great.” Beca heard her voice crack and cleared her throat. “I didn’t want to have to detour to my room. Kimmy Jin’s back to being weird again.”

“One of these days we’re going to have to follow her, you know.” Chloe said as they reached the front door. “Just to see if any of our theories are correct.”

“Yeah, I’m not so sure about that. If she’s a hit woman she’s going to know and I really don’t want to get killed before we go to the ICCAs.” Beca said as she followed Chloe inside. “Aubrey would figure out how to haunt me while she was still alive.”

“Mm, good point.” Chloe leaned past her to lock the door, and Beca swallowed at having Chloe suddenly so close to her face. “I’m going to get us a couple of bottles of water.”

“Okay.” Beca said, leaning helplessly against the door, grateful that the walk and night air had left her with only a light buzz.

While the two of them had been inseparable since the night in the pool, they were usually surrounded by the others and it had kept them mostly PG-13 in their relationship. Apparently realizing that they’d have the house to themselves had turned things up a few notches and Beca felt herself drawn to Chloe like a moth to a flame.

By the time Chloe came back to the stairs, Beca had talked her hormones back down and she was able to walk up the steps without stumbling over any – a not-so-minor feat when she had Chloe walking ahead of her. In a skirt.

Struck by a thought, she paused at the top of the stairs. “Does Aubrey really make her bed to military standards?”

Chloe laughed. “Oh yeah. Her father and brothers are career, so it’s really all she’s known.”

“Can I see?” Beca wasn’t sure if this was crossing a line, but she couldn’t resist taking a peek.

“Sure, you weirdo.” Chloe grinned at her and led the way to Aubrey’s door and opened it.

 “Holy shit.” Beca looked inside. “You could bounce a quarter off that thing!” She pointed at the bed in amused shock. “Who even does that?”

Chloe shrugged where she leaned against the doorframe. “Posens.”

“I thought that was just a thing they made up in stories or the movies.” Beca shook her head.

“I did too - then I started rooming with Aubrey.” Chloe fell silent and Beca looked over at her, caught by the slight darkening of her eyes. “If I tell you something, do you promise to not run away? And you don’t have to say anything when I’m done, I don’t want there to be any pressure.”

“That sounds…” Beca trailed off. ‘Kind of scary.’ But she nodded. “I promise.”

Chloe bit her lip. “I just thought you should know that I really like you.”

Beca felt herself blush. “I like you too.” That wasn’t the word she wanted to use, but she couldn’t seem to free the other one from behind her teeth.

“And… whenever you’re ready… maybe we can take things a bit further.” Chloe’s eyes flicked between her own and Beca could only assume that she was waiting for her to bolt.

“What, in Aubrey’s bed?” Beca joked, always falling back on humor when she got nervous.

“While it may serve her right, and does seem kind of intriguing…” Chloe smiled gently. “That’s not really where I was picturing things.”

Beca felt the smile slip from her lips. “Oh… OH! You’re serious…” She knew she should probably come up with something a lot smoother than that, but her mind was blank. She knew that they’d been building up to this type of moment, but she hadn’t really thought of how it would happen and was completely unprepared for the reality. Having random flashes of The Shower Incident just before bed was not enough to prepare her for Chloe letting her know she was ready for… more.

“Just thought I would let you know.” Chloe touched Beca’s arm and her fingers felt like a brand even through Beca’s coat. “I meant it, Becs, when I said there was no pressure. I don’t even mean tonight or anything you’re not ready for.” She reached to close Aubrey’s door and Beca stepped out of the way. “I just… wanted you to know.” She didn’t wait for Beca’s reply, just turned to lead the way to her room.

While Beca was absolutely sure how she felt about Chloe, she’d continued to hold herself back because of that small part of her that always waited to be left behind. She knew it wasn’t necessary with Chloe, but old habits died extremely hard and at her core, Beca knew there would be nothing left of her if Chloe ever walked away.

Wrestling with her own fears, Beca followed Chloe into her room and shrugged off her coat as Chloe set the water bottles down on a red wooden table. Beca frowned. “These weren’t here the other night, were they?”

“Nope,” Chloe said as she shed her jacket and boots. “Aubrey and I have shared it ever since we moved into the house. It’s my week.”

“Oh,” Beca said as she sat down in one of the chairs by the table and pulled off her shoes. “Guess I just was in here the wrong weeks.”

Chloe frowned. “What was I supposed to get…?” She tapped her chin before her eyes lit up. “Right. Sleep clothes.”

While Chloe rummaged in her closet, Beca leaned on the table. She wasn’t really sure when it happened but at some point her head drifted down to rest on the tabletop. The cool wood felt nice on her cheek and she let her eyes close. She felt a hand drift through her hair and opened one eye to see Chloe crouched beside her.

“Becs, you gotta drink some water and then we can sleep.” She held out an already opened bottle.

Beca let her eye close again. “M’not sl’py.”

Chloe laughed. “Sure. C’mon. Don’t make me put my hands on your neck again.”

Beca shot upright, eyes wide in panic. “Dude, no!” She reached out for the bottle. “See? Drinking now.” But she checked to make sure that Chloe’s hands weren’t actually blue again and was relieved to find they were not.

Chloe just smiled as she picked up her own bottle, eyes twinkling. “Good girl.” She pointed over her shoulder. “Clothes are on the bed. I’ll be back in a second.”

“Okay.” Beca said quietly as she took another drink from her bottle, the ice cold water waking her up as well as helping clear away the lingering alcohol fog.

She slowly pulled off her flannel, wrinkling her nose at the bar smell that lingered. “Maybe I need to shower,” she muttered as she reached to pull her shirt off. Except she must have still been a little more tipsy than she realized because somehow she’d gotten her arms tangled and her shirt got stuck halfway over her head. “Are you fucking kidding me?” She growled and tried to pull her arm free but only managed to almost pull a muscle before she stopped.

“Did you say something?” Chloe’s voice stopped in the doorway and she giggled. Uncontrollably.

Beca groaned. “Of course you walk in now.” She grunted as she tried to free herself, hearing Chloe’s giggling get closer. “Dude! It’s not funny! I don’t know how this happened!”

“Must be natural talent,” Chloe said between snickers.

Beca helplessly flailed her hands. “I will have you know, I have been undressing myself for years. This has never happened before.”

The giggling came to a slow stop. “Maybe you should start letting someone else undress you then. For safety purposes, of course.” Chloe’s voice was husky and it sent chills up Beca’s spine as she froze in place. Chloe immediately apologized, “I’m sorry, I don’t know where that came from.”

Beca let out a slow exhale and wiggled her arms. “Could you… maybe…” and her own voice had dropped to a whisper, the only way she could keep it halfway steady as the chills turned to sparks of desire. She could feel Chloe get closer, she was like a sun dropped into the room sometimes. Still, she jumped when she felt gentle hands work the fabric free and off her head. She blinked as her hair fell into her eyes. Before she could move, Chloe’s hands came up and threaded through her locks, pushing them backward and out of her face.

“Hey.” Chloe grinned down at her.

“Thanks.” Beca blinked again as she realized that at some point after leaving the room Chloe had taken off her shirt. ‘That is... a lot… of skin extremely close to my face.’ She couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to press her lips against it, if it was as soft as it looked, if Chloe’s muscles would jump at her touch. Beca realized she was staring and snapped her eyes upward, which didn’t help because then she was looking directly at Chloe’s pink sports bra. Sure she was blushing, she finally forced her eyes up and onto Chloe’s face, only to find the redhead smirking at her.

“Oh. Yeah.” Chloe looked down at her own chest. “I’d decided I wanted to take a shower, get the bar off me before we crawl into bed.”

Beca tried not to show how much the one/two combo of picturing Chloe in the shower and the ‘we crawl into bed’ had affected her except she could actually feel the goosebumps rising on her skin. “Oh.” Her voice cracked again and she cleared her throat. “I’d had the same thought earlier. I’ll take mine after yours.” Chloe’s fingers ran through her hair again and Beca couldn’t stop her eyes from closing briefly. When she opened them, Chloe was smiling again.

“Sounds like a great plan.” She stepped back toward her closet and pulled two robes from hangers. “I’ll set towels out for you.” She tossed one of the robes over her shoulder, the other on the bed and turned toward the door. Before she stepped out, she looked over her shoulder, eyes twinkling. “You could always join me, you know.” Then she was gone down the hall before Beca’s mouth had a chance to drop. Which it had, because the impulse to follow after Chloe was almost overpowering in its urgency.

Beca froze, teetering on a knife’s edge she hadn’t been aware she’d begun to even step on, but completely sure of several things.

First, Chloe absolutely meant what she had said and Beca was more than welcome to walk down that hall and into the shower with her.

Second, Chloe absolutely didn’t expect Beca to actually take her up on it; which was fair, because Beca hadn’t moved much past the hand holding stage despite the fact that they’d kissed. It wasn’t like she didn’t want to kiss Chloe again, it just seemed like the timing was wrong, even if they were together most of their waking hours.

Third, Chloe was never going to push Beca into doing anything she wasn’t ready to do. From the beginning, Chloe had let Beca find her own way through whatever was growing between them.

Beca knew that there were dozens of times where she could actually feel Chloe holding herself back and the invasions of Beca’s personal space never pushed past her comfort zone. Beca also knew that if she’d shown even the slightest bit of her hackles rising, Chloe would have backed off immediately.  So while she would willingly hug Beca and basically plaster herself against Beca’s side, she never went further than taking Beca’s hand, no matter how many times her eyes would drop to Beca’s lips.

Which was a lot.

Beca felt herself calm as she realized that the choice was always going to be hers because Chloe had already made her own. Even the declaration in Aubrey’s doorway was another way that Chloe showed Beca she was more than a college fling. That she was ready for more but willing to wait until Beca was comfortable – even though both of them knew the end of the year was hurtling toward them.

In a thousand ways Chloe had been choosing Beca all year.

Briefly Beca wished she’d have realized it sooner. If she’d been more honest about how she felt about Chloe and what their relationship was becoming, it might have made her stop lying to herself about the fact that she was part of the group for more than just humoring her dad. All the things she hadn’t hidden from herself until her dad convinced her to examine her feelings: she liked the Bellas, liked having friends, and liked being a Bella. Maybe if she’d accepted all that, things might not have gotten as bad as they had.

 ‘No use crying about that now. Who knows, it might have still blown up for other reasons. Aubrey and Chloe clearly had their own issues to work out that none of us knew about.’

With the last of her alcohol buzz fading away under a different kind of buzz, Beca pushed herself to her feet, her heart starting to beat faster as she came to the decision that she didn’t want to wait anymore. She didn’t want to make Chloe wait for her anymore. With fingers that had begun to tremor slightly, Beca unbuttoned her jeans and slid them from her hips. Folding them and her shirt and placing them on the chair she’d recently vacated, she turned to the bed and picked up the robe.

She took a single step toward the door before turning back.

‘If you’re going to do this, Mitchell, go all the way.’

Beca finished stripping, feeling awkward and vulnerable doing so in someone else’s room, shoving her bra and underwear between her other clothes before pulling on the robe.

Beca licked suddenly dry lips and walked down the hall toward the bathroom, feeling herself grow almost lightheaded with the rush of nerves and heady desire that swirled through her like a tropical storm. It wouldn’t surprise her to pass out in the hallway, lying there until Chloe tripped over her unconscious body.

Oh my god, calm your pits.’ Beca told herself as she put her hand on knob for the bathroom door. ‘It’s not like you’re a virgin. Hell, you even know what Chloe looks like naked.’

Her tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth as the image of that day formed in her mind, as clear and sharp as if it had happened yesterday. It wasn’t like she’d spent a lot of time thinking of it; in fact she usually pushed it away the second it crept into view, not ready to deal with the implications of how it made her feel. Or didn’t have the time to… fully… appreciate it, thanks to her ever present, silent yet judgey, roommate. But today…

Desire coiled low in her belly, pulling and demanding until she opened the door and stepped inside, immediately enveloped in a cloud of steam and heat that made her outside as flushed as she felt on the inside.

Closing the door softly behind her, she saw Chloe’s robe was hung on a hook and, with one last bracing inhale, slipped off her own robe and hung it up as well. Her skin felt too small as she paced forward and pulled gently on the shower curtain. Beca didn’t look over until she had stepped into the tub and closed the curtain behind her.

Facing Beca, her body bent slightly backward under the spray, Chloe’s eyes were wide and bright, her expression caught somewhere between delight and disbelief, though her smile was widening. Her hands had frozen in the process of running through her hair, obviously either in the process of, or just finishing, rinsing it out.

Beca tried to keep her eyes focused on Chloe’s, but she was only human and Chloe was gorgeous. Her eyes took in every inch of water beaded skin, flush from the surprising heat of the shower – ‘I should have known she’d like it hot.’ – taking in the firm muscles from head to shoulders before finally landing on two perfect breasts that were half arced in her direction because Chloe still hadn’t moved.

Beca jolted, realizing that she’d been staring and looked up, sheepish this time. But Chloe had let her own gaze wander, lingering here and there before finally looking back up into Beca’s face. Chloe’s bright blue eyes had gone darker, dropping the disbelief and gaining desire and Beca felt the weight of it tugging at her, urging her closer.

In the past, the fear of rejection had always been stronger, holding Beca back and unwilling to take the risk that she was wrong, that she’d made a mistake. Tonight the need to feel Chloe against her skin was greater than any fear and she deliberately stepped past that mental ‘do not cross’ line in her mind even as she took the single step that separated them.

Slowly, almost as if she were moving underwater, Beca reached out her hand to cup Chloe’s left cheek, watching as those darkening blue eyes closed. When they opened again, Beca felt herself react to the heat in them and, unthinking, pushed closer until their bodies were flush and Chloe’s lips were under hers. The kiss was soft, borderline hesitant and felt completely inadequate for the need filling Beca’s veins. She could feel Chloe trembling underneath her and realized that Chloe was still holding herself back; still worried about scaring Beca away.

She didn’t want Chloe to hold back, to worry about how Beca would react. Beca couldn’t think of a single thing that Chloe could do in this moment that wouldn’t be perfectly okay.  Beca had never been good with words. She wasn’t even necessarily good at showing how she felt most of the time, though it had been getting easier with Chloe. She’d always been so much better with music, at mixing songs that expressed all the emotions she couldn’t bring herself to let out.

But she was naked in a shower, no laptop or soundboard in sight, just the gloriously naked woman in her arms. The woman she… Beca pulled back to meet Chloe’s eyes, seeing the question start to form.

“I love you.”

The words slipped out as naturally as she was able to mix two seemingly incompatible beats together. No more fear of being rejected, no more wondering if it was returned. Just – finally – the realization that this was who she wanted, this was where she wanted to be, and Chloe wanted her in return. Chloe’s eyes widened as everything seemed to still around them and Beca grinned in pure joy at the wonder she saw staring back at her.

Chloe froze in place, her eyes wide and searching as Beca finally felt the first trickle of panic even though she knew she didn’t need to. ‘Oh God, please don’t have let me have made a terrible, horrible mistake. Jesus, did she stop breathing?’

“Chlo?” Beca shifted her weight forward, concerned. “Are you breathing?” Still wide eyed, Chloe shook her head and Beca couldn’t help the small grin that formed. “Can you try for me?”

With a sudden gasp, Chloe’s paralysis broke. “Did you just say what I think you just said?” She stared at Beca, her eyes still wide in shock.

Beca worried her lip between her teeth. ‘It’s not like you can take it back now. There’s no JUST KIDDING about any of it. And it’s the first time in your life you’ve ever said it, so just own it.’

“Yeah.” Beca cleared her throat as she felt it trying to close from the nerves she didn’t have two seconds ago.

“Can you say it again?” Chloe must have read the hesitation in Beca’s eyes because she quickly added, “I want to make sure I’m not imagining things.”

“I love you.” Beca let the words fall between them, hanging halfway between terror and hope.

Beca wasn’t sure who reached for whom first, but suddenly their bodies were flush and her hands were in Chloe’s hair. Her breath hitched as Chloe’s hands gripped her hips and pressed even closer. Beca turned slightly until her back was against the wall, bringing Chloe with her to rest against Beca’s chest. Her left hand tangling in Chloe’s hair, Beca leaned forward, feeling Chloe’s hands flexing against her sides as she brought their mouths together.

Just before they touched, Chloe spoke against Beca’s lips. “I love you too, Beca.”

Even as her heart leapt in her chest, Beca’s mind slowly began to short circuit at the feel of Chloe’s body sliding against her own. Beca ran her tongue along the seam of Chloe’s lips; the second they parted she slipped through, finding Chloe’s tongue already reaching for hers. Their hands wandered, stroking and tugging even as the kiss deepened; Beca shifted her legs until her knee parted Chloe’s, pulling them even closer together and still it didn’t feel like enough.

Beca had, somehow, forgotten what it felt like to kiss Chloe. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t wanted to, several times, since that morning after regionals. It was more that the timing never seemed right. They were either surrounded by the others at all times or were buried in school work. Then, of course, the semi-finals happened and while they weren’t back at square one – and in some ways were a lot closer – they had needed to find their way back to each other.

Kissing Chloe was different from kissing anyone else in her past; it had been enjoyable, sure, but she’d never lost herself like she was doing right now. Kissing Chloe was all consuming and she lost track of almost everything else as they traded kisses that quickly grew more heated than the water still raining down on them.

Nothing in her life had prepared her for how it felt to have Chloe’s body pressed against hers or how well their bodies fit together. At the first touch of Chloe’s nipples sliding across her skin, Beca moaned into the kiss. Chloe mirrored it and deliberately pressed herself closer, brushing their nipples together and Beca thought she was going to explode from the sheer unselfconscious sensuality of it.

Beca had no idea how much time had passed before she felt Chloe shiver against her in a different way than the trembling they’d both been doing since the first second their bodies touched. Beca tried to pull back, but her head was pressed against the shower wall and she couldn’t move very far. Plus Chloe’s tongue was still buried in her mouth and the thought of losing that for even a second drove Beca to pull her closer.

Some remote part of herself wondered if she should probably be concerned by just how much she needed to be even closer to Chloe; that maybe it wasn’t healthy to be this frantic to want to belong to someone and have them belong to her in return, especially given her history of keeping everyone at arm’s length. The all-consuming need to touch and be touched was new, something she had never felt before, but then the dim memory of two weeks that felt like half of her was missing floated to the surface. Clearly being apart from each other didn’t work for them and it wasn’t just her – she could feel that same desperate need from Chloe beating back at her every time Chloe pressed against her.

Chloe shivered again and Beca forced two brain cells back together enough to pull her mouth away and tilt her chin up and out of reach. “Chlo… w…” Chloe merely dropped her lips to Beca’s throat where she began to suck. “Jesus.” Beca’s eyes rolled back in her head and her body bucked in reaction.

Chloe let out a half chuckle. “I think I’m going to like that response, Becs.” Her voice vibrated along Beca’s skin and Beca couldn’t help the whimper that followed. “That one too.” Chloe’s teeth nipped at Beca’s collarbone. “I can’t wait to see what else I can pull from you.”

“Me either,” Beca heard herself say and Chloe laughed, finally pulling away to look at her.

“You say that like they’re new.” Chloe ran her right hand down Beca’s side, grinning even as Beca’s eyes closed.

“Can we pretend I didn’t say that?” Beca opened one eye. It wasn’t like she’d never had sex before, but apparently everyone else was incredibly lackluster at it because Chloe had already made her feel more in the last however many minutes than anyone had in high school. And all they had done was kiss. Beca was pretty sure she was going to die before this night was over.

“For now.” Chloe leaned forward to kiss her again but stopped. “Are you blushing?”

“No!” Beca cleared her throat when it came out all squeaky. “I mean. No. It’s… the heat from the shower.”

“I don’t think so,” Chloe said, bringing her index finger up to trace Beca’s lower lip.

Beca was suddenly aware that the water had in fact cooled off. It was still warm but it was edging toward cold and – Chloe shivered again. “Dude, you need to get out of this shower.”

Chloe raised an eyebrow. “I believe you are the one who climbed into my shower this time, Becs.”

Beca grinned. “Yeah I did.” Then she shook her head. “But I mean – the water, it’s getting cold. You need to finish your shower and get out of it before you turn blue again. Like, all over blue this time.” She reached up and adjusted the shower head so it was aimed as low as possible.

“Oh.” Chloe blinked. “I hadn’t noticed. I was… distracted.” She giggled.  “But I was actually all done when you stepped in.”

“You were only in here like, less than ten minutes.” Beca urged Chloe to step back and then turned them, so Beca was between Chloe and the water.

Chloe shrugged. “You learn to shower fast in a house with ten other women.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. But I still need to shower.” Even as she rubbed Chloe’s arms, Beca got a strange sense of déjà vu until she realized that was the exact same thing she’d said during The Shower Incident. She almost looked around for a naked guy to suddenly show up and compliment her voice – almost. “And I don’t know that I can handle cadaver hands right now.”

“I dunno about that, Becs. I can think of all kinds of ways for the two of us to warm them back up again.” Chloe winked at her and Beca swore she felt her legs almost give out at the heat in that simple gesture. Or maybe it was the visuals that suddenly ran rampant through her mind.

“Holy crap.” Beca sucked in a breath. “That… Yeah… You may have a point there.” Beca couldn’t help but drop her gaze with a grin. “Or two, as it were.” She wondered at her sudden confidence boot but assumed it had a lot to do with her overclocked hormones and everything to do with the woman whose eyes suddenly sparkled with glee.

“Why, Beca Mitchell.” Chloe gasped in exaggerated shock. “That was awful forward of you.”

Beca laughed and shook her head. “Yeah, I’m not quite sure what’s happening with me right now. I..” Chloe put a finger on her lips to quiet her.

“You better not be about to apologize.” Chloe’s hand slid around to cup the back of Beca’s head. “I kinda like forward Beca.” Before Beca could even come up with a response, Chloe had kissed her on the nose and pulled back the shower curtain. “I’ll see you back in my room.” She stepped out and was gone, the curtain closing behind her.

Bemused, Beca stood there for a moment longer before turning back to face water that was decidedly cooler than it had been. Or maybe it was that the shower was emptier without a second body in it. Just as she reached for Chloe’s body wash, she heard Chloe yell “Look out” over the sound of the shower. Beca looked up and barely caught the wash cloth that flew through the air and almost landed on her face. “Thanks, Chlo.”

Resolutely turning off her mind before it could start second guessing everything that had just happened and pre-second guessing what was likely to follow, Beca quickly began to wash herself in hopes that she wouldn’t be rinsing off in pure ice water. The tension and desire may have ebbed slightly with their banter, but as she washed between her legs she knew it wouldn’t take much to spark into an inferno. And for the first time in her life, Beca was okay with letting herself get lost and swept away.

She rinsed the conditioner out of her hair as the water finally edged into ice and let out a squawk as she frantically reached for the handle to turn it off.

‘Well, if the shock of kissing Chloe Beale while we are BOTH NAKED didn’t burn off the alcohol, that sure as hell would have.’

Beca pulled back the curtain and found a large fluffy towel sitting on the counter waiting for her. When she lifted it, she found an unopened blue toothbrush sitting under it. Smiling, Beca dried herself off and slipped into the robe before vigorously towel drying her hair. After making use of the comb Chloe had left her, Beca took extra care brushing her teeth, wishing dimly that she hadn’t had the nachos at the bar. When she felt minty fresh and ready, she set her toothbrush into the glass sitting by the sink and opened the door.

When she reached Chloe’s room, she found it was softly lit with blue twinkle lights strung around the ceiling. Beca stepped in and closed the door, smiling as Chloe stood up from where she’d been sitting at the end of her bed.

“Thanks for the toothbrush.” Beca leaned back against the door. “Were you trying to tell me something?”

“Nope.” Chloe said as she took a step forward. “I realized my breath was probably atrocious and over compensated.”

Beca shook her head and pushed off the door, meeting Chloe in the center of the room. She tucked a still slightly damp curl of hair behind Chloe’s ear. “I didn’t notice anything.” Beca felt the heat seeping back into her veins as she realized she’d been away from Chloe’s touch for far too long. Her hands fell to her own robe and slowly undid the sash, watching Chloe carefully for any sign that the mood had altered. Chloe’s eyes had dropped to her hands and Beca saw her lick her lips, causing Beca to lick her own in pure reaction.

Apparently we’re both still on the same page.’ Beca thought as she pulled the loose knot free. She felt her nipples tighten as the cool air found its way through the gap in the robe. Or maybe it was the way Chloe’s gaze locked where the fabric hung open.

Beca took Chloe’s hand and put it on the collar of the robe.

Smiling softly, Chloe brought up her other hand and, with a gentle push, slid the robe from Beca’s shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. She let her fingertips run across the newly exposed skin and Beca shivered under their touch, feeling her desire rising behind them. Even as Chloe’s fingers trailed down her arms, Beca reached forward and untied her robe with one last flare of nerves.

As the sash fell free, Beca reminded herself one final time to not overthink, to just go with her instincts. All she wanted to do was make Chloe feel how she’d made Beca feel all year, even if she had been too blind, stubborn and stupid to realize it until now: Safe, desired, loved.

Beca slipped the robe from Chloe’s shoulders, feeling Chloe’s hands slide across the top of her breasts as she let her arms drop so the robe could pool on the floor. Chloe took a step backward toward the bed, then another and Beca followed as if she was tethered, unwilling to let any more space get between them.

Then Chloe was sliding backward onto her bed and up until her head rested on her pillow and Beca found herself sliding against Chloe’s left side. Beca’s left leg stretched out atop Chloe’s own and she felt Chloe’s right leg rising until her calf rested against Beca’s hip. Chloe’s hands tangled in Beca’s hair and pulled her down, a whimper only half heard before their lips found each other again.

Beca couldn’t keep her body still, overwhelmed at the feeling of Chloe underneath her and the way she would arch into Beca’s touch. Even as she licked hungrily into Chloe’s mouth until they both needed air, her left hand wandered from shoulder to neck and finally down to breast. Chloe let out a small cry as Beca’s fingers gently ran over her nipple and Beca shuddered as the need in it went straight down her spine. Emboldened, Beca let her hand cup briefly before finally palming and kneading, her thumb circling the already straining nipple.

Beca.” Chloe moaned and Beca heard so much more than just lust in it.

Safe.

Beca’s hand dropped to Chloe’s hip, needing an anchor as she lowered her head and replaced fingers with lips. Her tongue circled pebbled skin as Chloe held her to her chest; she pulled the taut peak into her mouth and sucked lightly, letting her tongue stroke and tease. Chloe cried out again, her body beginning to push back into Beca’s a little more insistently.

Beca hadn’t wanted to rush, had wanted to take her time, but Chloe’s hips were beginning to rock and the leg against Beca’s hip pulled at her and, as she had already thought earlier, she was only human. She slid her hand from Chloe’s hip and across her stomach, feeling the muscles trembling beneath her, before she finally cupped between Chloe’s legs. She let Chloe’s nipple slip free and looked up as her fingers slid down into heat, her breath catching as she realized how wet Chloe was.

All for her. Because of her. She’d never felt so wanted by anyone before in her life and it both terrified and exhilarated her.

Chloe’s eyes glittered in the soft light, snaring Beca effortlessly until they dropped to Beca’s lips, urging her forward without a sound until Beca licked down into her mouth.

Desired.

Beca stroked slowly at first, learning where Chloe was sensitive, what made her back arch, her hips buck or her eyes close as she cried out. Then she shifted lower, sliding inside and Chloe’s eyes locked on hers, the need in them pulling Beca ever closer. Chloe’s hips began to roll like waves against the shore and Beca matched her rhythm, pushing deeper, twisting sharper, the heel of her hand pressing firmly against her clit.

Beca fought her own climax rising at the feeling of Chloe’s ragged breath against her face, the quickness of which Beca was beginning to match, her body undulating against Chloe’s below her. Wordless cries, broken moans and quiet pleadings filled Beca’s ears, sliding down her veins, pushing against her will to go slowly, to make it last.

But Chloe’s hips were beginning to jerk, her body clenching and tightening around her fingers and Beca thrust faster, her lip firmly between her teeth as she held back her own release; she was completely caught off guard and woefully unprepared for how Chloe felt under her fingertips, how she sounded as Beca’s name broke across her lips like a prayer.

Then Chloe’s body stiffened, her neck and back arching as her eyes closed as she flew over the edge, her leg still trying to pull Beca closer. Beca’s breath stopped in her throat at how beautiful Chloe was in that second; knew that no matter where life took them, she would never love anyone else as much. She let her hand still, pressed deeply inside, but she kept up a firm pressure with her palm, trying to keep Chloe as high as possible for as long as she could. Pushed by her newly awakened emotions, she leaned forward and whispered against Chloe’s ear, needing to tell her even if Beca knew she could never adequately express everything inside her that sang Chloe’s name.

“I love you, Chloe Beale.”

Even as Chloe’s body shook as a second orgasm rushed through her, her back hit the bed and a sob broke free as Chloe’s right hand desperately gripped the back of Beca’s head and pulled her into a frantic kiss. Beca, admittedly a bit in shock at the effect her words had, returned it fiercely, ignoring the small pain from where she’d actually drawn blood from her own lip.

Beca couldn’t help herself, while she did ease her hand free, she continued to stroke lightly, unwilling to end the small aftershocks she could feel as Chloe slowly relaxed under her. She peppered Chloe’s face with kisses, dipping back every half dozen to take her lips gently.

Loved.

 


 

 

~C~

When Beca had stepped into her shower, Chloe had been convinced she was far drunker than she’d thought and had gone straight into hallucination. The other, more logical in the moment, explanation was that she had slipped and hit her head, but was still hallucinating. Because there was no way Beca, her shy, sometimes awkward, alt girl was standing naked in her shower and reaching forward to cup her cheek.

Except she was.

Chloe let her eyes close once, afraid that Beca would vanish, but the warm palm kept her grounded, though most of her control was blown when Beca pushed forward and kissed her. Chloe returned it tentatively, almost afraid of her own desire that flared up hotter than the water at her back, but then Beca whispered the one thing that Chloe would have expected even less than Naked Beca in her shower.

“I love you.”

Chloe’s breath stopped in her throat as her eyes searched Beca’s, waiting to wake up or waiting for Beca to say ‘just kidding.’ Chloe’s heart seemed to stall as the words settled between them until finally it thumped back to life, hard and fast as if it were trying to pound its way out of her chest.

“Chlo?” Beca leaned forward, concern growing in her eyes. “Are you breathing?” Chloe could only shake her head, her lungs useless under the weight of her fear, of her hope. “Can you try for me?” Beca’s crooked grin was familiar, soothing.

Chloe’s lungs filled with a gasp and she said the only thing that was spinning around in her mind. “Did you just say what I think you just said?” Beca bit her lip, her eyes flicking between Chloe’s and Chloe felt panic beginning to come back. ‘Maybe I pushed too much, maybe I shouldn’t have asked.’

“Yeah.” But it came out as a squeak and Beca cleared her throat.

The fear slowly began to subside, running down to the drain with the water still cascading over her. “Can you say it again?” Beca’s mouth opened slightly and Chloe saw the hesitation in her. She knew it must have been difficult for Beca to open up and say the first time, but… “I want to make sure I’m not imagining things.” She had to know.

“I love you.”

That was all Chloe had needed as her heart pushed her forward into Beca’s arms, both of them suddenly desperate to remove any distance between them. Beca’s hands in her hair, Chloe’s hands on her hips, and when Beca leaned back against the wall, Chloe knew that Beca had done it to put herself against the coldness of it instead of pressing Chloe against it. She wondered if Beca even realized why she’d done it.

Just before their lips met again, Chloe realized she hadn’t said them yet, the words that had been growing in her heart since that day at the activities fair.

“I love you too, Beca.”

She had no idea how long they kissed, so lost was she in the feel of Beca’s body under her own and the firm strokes of Beca’s tongue. The last barrier between them had dropped and Chloe almost felt like laughing from the euphoria she felt at knowing nothing would ever get between them again. Chloe pushed their bodies together, delighting in the sounds pulled from Beca as their breasts slid together, already needing to hear it again and again.

Finally Beca pulled her mouth away and tilted her chin up and Chloe was drawn to the slender column of her throat, fastening her lips and sucking. “Jesus.” Beca’s body bucked against her and Chloe saw fireworks.

 “I think I’m going to like that response, Becs.” She spoke against Beca’s throat, unwilling to move away from skin that was already darkening from her attentions. Something inside Chloe clicked, or unlocked, seeing her mark on Beca, however innocently in which she’d given it. Even though she knew there was nothing between Beca and Jesse, when Aubrey had lashed out at them both, there was a second where, at the back of her mind, she wondered. Even knowing Aubrey was wrong, there was a shadow that told her that Beca wasn’t hers to be jealous over. But now Beca was hers, wanted to be hers and it was everything that Chloe had wanted all year. To know where she stood with Beca. To know that Beca wanted her too.

Beca whimpered and Chloe’s thighs flexed. “That one too.” She moved over far enough to nip at one shoulder. “I can’t see what else I can pull from you.” Chloe almost felt like laughing like a kid at Christmas when she realized she would get to spend a lifetime learning everything there was about Beca; how to make her tremble from a look, a touch. Chloe would treasure every single second they spent together and she vowed to make sure that Beca knew how much each of them meant to her. All Chloe wanted, all she needed, was for Beca to let Chloe love her in the only way she knew how: With everything she was.

“Me either.” Beca said and Chloe could hear the breathlessness of it and finally pulled away to look at her.

“You say that like they’re new.” She danced her fingers down Beca’s ribs as those dark eyes closed.

“Can we pretend I didn’t say that?” Beca opened one eye and Chloe felt her heart melt. Only Beca could make her toes curl with the most passionate of kisses then turn into shy and awkward in a heartbeat.

“For now.” Chloe leaned forward then stopped as color spread across Beca’s cheeks. “Are you blushing?” She was going to die from adorable overload in this shower, she knew it.

“No!” But it squeaked and Chloe grinned as Beca cleared her throat again. “I mean. No. It’s… the heat from the shower.”

Chloe traced Beca’s lower lip. “I don’t think so.”

“Dude.” Beca looked suddenly more worried than Chloe felt she should. “You need to get out of this shower.”

Chloe felt her eyebrow rise. “I believe you are the one who climbed into my shower this time, Becs.”

“Yeah I did.” Beca’s grin verged on wicked and Chloe loved every cocky inch of it. Then she shook her head. “But I mean – the water, it’s getting cold. You need to finish up your shower and get out before you turn blue again. Like, all over blue this time.” Beca reached up and adjusted the shower head so it was hitting as low as possible on Chloe’s legs.

Chloe blinked. “Oh. I hadn’t noticed. I was… distracted.” She giggled as the urge to get distracted again almost overwhelmed her. But now that Beca had pointed it out, the water was decidedly not as steamy as it had been when Beca first climbed in with her. “But I was actually all done when you stepped in.”

“You were only in here like, less than ten minutes,” Beca said, urging Chloe backward and placing herself between Chloe and the spray.

“You learn to shower fast in a house with ten other women.” Chloe shrugged, though her heart was still melting and spreading warmth throughout her body. Beca was forever considerate of Chloe’s physical well-being and Chloe didn’t think she realized how much she did it.

All her life, Chloe had taken care of other people; from her family, to her childhood friends, to the Bellas, and Aubrey was forever telling her she needed to remember to take care of herself as well. Aubrey was the first non-family to help Chloe do that, but even she got wrapped up sometimes in her own things and didn’t watch Chloe as carefully as she usually did.

Then Beca walked into her life, projecting an aura of not caring about anyone or anything, yet eventually she always managed to take care of Chloe. Making her favorite tea for her throat, bringing snack bars and trying to keep her hands warm, Beca had shown time and again that Chloe was important enough to care about her – care for her. It was one of the final keys that had made her fall in love with her prickly alt girl in the first place. Because, despite everything she had ever said to the contrary, Beca cared. Not just a little, and not just for Chloe or because she felt she had to – but because under the layers of protection she’d surrounded herself with, the real Beca Mitchell cared because that’s just who she was. She just hid that part of herself away to keep her heart safe. And Chloe couldn’t wait for the day that those walls finally vanished and everyone else could see what she had seen all along.

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Beca said, her hands rubbing up and down Chloe’s arms as if to warm her. “But I still need to shower.” She paused for a moment and Chloe wondered what she was thinking as the strangest expression crossed her face. “And I don’t know that I can handle cadaver hands right now.”

Chloe couldn’t help it, Beca had handed her the chance to tease her on a silver platter. “I dunno about that, Becs. I can think of all kinds of ways for the two of us to warm them back up again.” Chloe winked, half because she knew the affect it had on Beca and half to keep herself distracted from the images that ran through her mind.

“Holy crap.” Beca pulled in a breath. “That… Yeah… You may have a point there.” Her gaze dropped to Chloe’s chest, the cocky grin back in place. “Or two, as it were.”

Chloe gasped in shock, glee overtaking her hormones for once, because Beca had never flirted back with her quite this boldly before. “Why, Beca Mitchell. That was awful forward of you.”

“Yeah, I’m not quite sure what’s happening with me right now. I…” Just like that, adorable and awkward was back in full force.

Chloe quickly put a finger against Beca’s lips. “You better not be about to apologize.” She cupped the back of Beca’s head. “I kinda like forward Beca.” She kissed her on the nose and pulled the curtain aside and stepped out, closing it behind her. It had taken extreme willpower to leave a completely naked Beca Mitchell behind her, but, truthfully, she knew the water was just about to reach the end of her comfort zone. And there were much better places to continue this than a cold shower.

She pulled a washcloth from under the sink, where they always stored a spare or three, and tossed it into the shower. “Look out.”

“Thanks, Chlo.”

She quickly dried herself and her hair, probably over-brushed her teeth and set out a towel for Beca. After a moment digging through the drawers, she also found an unopened toothbrush that she placed where Beca would find it.

Forcing herself to leave the bathroom, she went back to her room and traded overhead light for the softer lights strung around the room. Finding that she wanted to pace, she forced herself to sit on her bed after moving the sleep clothes she’d set out earlier to her vanity.

She could still feel Beca’s soft skin against hers, how right it had felt as their bodies slid together. Chloe’s eyes closed and she drew in a breath as a sudden body memory hit her and she was on her feet and moving toward the door before she stopped herself.

Beca will be out of the shower soon.’ She made herself walk back to her bed. ‘You can wait fifteen more minutes, Beale.’

 She forced herself to think about their new choreography, each individual part, anything and everything to keep herself on her bed and not pushing Beca against a wall and kissing her senseless. Because kissing Beca was as addicting as she had expected and now that they’d crossed the line they’d danced up to months ago, Chloe wasn’t sure how she was going to handle having to go to class instead of getting lost in her touch.

She looked up as a shadow crossed her and found Beca closing her door to lean against it. There was banked desire radiating from her and it pulled Chloe to her feet.

“Thanks for the toothbrush. Were you trying to tell me something?”

“Nope.” She stepped forward, finding it more difficult to not rush forward than she’d ever imagined. “I realized my breath was probably atrocious and over compensated.”

Beca pushed forward and Chloe’s pulse sped up as she reached up to tuck a lock of hair behind Chloe’s ear. “I didn’t notice anything.” Slowly, she untied her robe, letting it hang open and Chloe found she was unable to look away from the flash of cleavage suddenly on display. Then Beca put Chloe’s hand on the edge of her collar and waited.

Just like Beca to make sure I know she’s ready for this, but still giving me the opportunity to stop us here.’

She smiled and lifted her other hand to push and let it fall to the floor. She couldn’t help but run her fingers across Beca’s shoulders and down her arms, knowing that the shiver running through Beca was from her touch.

Then Beca was undoing Chloe’s robe and sliding it free, forcing Chloe to move her arms, but not before she slid her fingertips across the tops of Beca’s breasts, wanting nothing more than to feel their weight in her palms.

Instead, Chloe stepped back, toward the bed, pulse beginning to soar as Beca matched her until the two of them were lying on her bed, Beca’s body branding hers wherever they touched. She let herself sink into the bed, felt Beca sink into her and got lost in the unending kisses that pulled the breath from her lungs.

Beca’s hand never stilled for long, running up her arm and across her shoulders, briefly stopping to stroke her thumb where Chloe’s pulse beat wildly in her neck and Chloe thought she’d go mad before it finally skimmed down to her breast. It felt like Chloe had been waiting for this moment for her whole life and everywhere that Beca was felt like a live wire, electricity racing across her skin with every brush of skin, every stroke of her fingertips.

At the first touch of Beca’s fingers against her nipple, Chloe cried out softly, the sound immediately swallowed by another of Beca’s devastating kisses. The feel of Beca’s palm against Chloe’s nipple caused her thighs to clench in reaction but it was the slow circling of her thumb that arched her further off the bed. She didn’t want to sound as needy as she felt, afraid that she’d scare away a still sometimes skittish Beca, but she couldn’t stop herself. She had wanted this for so long that even the most innocent touch was close to driving her insane with need.

Beca.” Chloe moaned softly, overwhelmed by the tender care she could feel in that simple touch. Not that anything about this moment was simple, for either of them because she could feel Beca trembling against her. Instinctively Chloe knew it wasn’t from fear, but from Beca holding herself back much as Chloe had earlier. She could feel that Beca was being careful, learning how to please her as Chloe had started to do in the shower. The knowledge that Beca wanted to make this moment everything Chloe needed it to be, even though Beca herself may want to go faster and take Chloe on her terms… Knowing Beca wanted her as much as she wanted Beca allowed Chloe to shed the last of her fears and worries and just focus on how she felt – how they felt together.

Beca’s hand slipped down to her waist but before Chloe could protest the loss, a warm mouth covered her breast and Chloe’s body began to spiral. She couldn’t have stopped the way her body rolled against Beca if she tried, and she didn’t want to. With each firm brush of her tongue, each half felt edge of teeth pushed Chloe further past the line of no return.

Then Beca’s hand was moving again, sliding across her stomach and down between her legs and Chloe’s body became an inferno.

With every touch, stroke and, eventually, thrust, Beca lifted Chloe higher and higher, toward a release that was approaching both too fast and not fast enough for the need racing through her veins. Beca’s name was the only word her mind retained, the rest was a litany of moans and cries that got steadily louder until everything went still as she felt like she shattered into a million pieces.

Chloe was sure the only thing keeping her against the bed was Beca’s weight against her as her orgasm crashed through her. She could feel Beca’s hand still inside her, feel herself clenching around it, when Beca whispered against her ear.

“I love you, Chloe Beale.”

Chloe wouldn’t have dreamed it was possible to come from words alone. She didn’t even know it was possible to come a second time before you had even finished the first one, but her body apparently wasn’t aware that it might not be a thing. She let herself fall back against the bed and pulled Beca to her, frantic with the need to feel Beca’s mouth on her own. Needing that second anchor to keep herself from falling apart; struck by the overwhelming love that coursed through her at those five words.

Beca eventually slid out of Chloe, but she kept up a light stroke, each brush against Chloe’s clit causing her to twitch, though not unpleasantly. She kissed Chloe’s eyebrow, then her closed eyelids before dropping down to kiss her gently, then her cheeks and chin before returning to her lips.

Chloe hummed in contentment under Beca’s comfortable weight, her body feeling both light and heavy as she came down from the double high. She couldn’t remember a single time in her past that she had felt this connected to anyone. This moved by desire and love, beyond cared for – she mused for a moment before deciding the word she was looking for was ‘cherished.’ Every single light kiss against her skin dropped immediately into her heart, filling spaces she hadn’t even realized were empty. Even though she thought it was the sappiest thing in the world – and she had had many a sappy thought as a teenager – her soul calmed under Beca’s touch; recognized that Beca was it for her. Beca was her home.

She knew it was terribly greedy, but she wasn’t ready to lose Beca’s touch. So, half by chance and half by intent, the next time Beca’s hand slipped downward, Chloe’s hips arched up and Beca’s fingers slid gently into her once more.

She let out a groan, unable to stop the smile from spreading across her lips when Beca echoed it. Chloe’s hand slid from the back of Beca’s neck to cup her cheek.

“You make me feel so good, Beca.” Chloe pulled her into another kiss, then another, getting lost in the rhythm of hand and tongue as Beca answered her without words.

After several minutes, Beca kissed her way down Chloe’s body and Chloe whimpered at the loss as that forced her to move her hand. At least until Beca fit herself between Chloe’s legs and licked firmly from her entrance to her clit. Chloe arched her back, her right hand going back to clutch her headboard as her left scrabbled for purchase in the sheets under her until suddenly Beca’s fingers laced with hers, gripping tightly. Chloe looked down to see Beca looking back up at her, eyes dark and full of heat that Chloe could feel on her skin.

Beca built her up slowly this time, love in every touch, and Chloe slipped over the edge for the third time.

As Beca crawled her way back up Chloe’s body, she sat up, needing to finally give back what she’d spent the entire night receiving. Chloe tugged and twisted until Beca was lying underneath her and kissed her hungrily.

Chloe dimly realized that it was probably better that they hadn’t done this until now – she had every intention of spending as much time as possible in positions very much like this one. Any sooner and Aubrey would have killed them both for missing so many practices.

She shifted lower, her lips eagerly finding a taut nipple and rolling her tongue around it as Beca arced below her. Beca’s hips rolled against her stomach, her hands tangling in Chloe’s hair to hold her close, gasping as Chloe bit down lightly. She took her time, moving from one breast to the other, until she felt Beca had waited long enough and she should probably stop torturing her.

Chloe shifted her weight, kissing her way down Beca’s stomach and that’s when Beca began to plead.

“Chlo, please.” Beca began to tremble beneath her. “I need…” She urged Chloe lower. “I need you.”

Chloe had to take a breath as Beca begging for her touch made her lightheaded. “I’ve got you, Becs.” Chloe lifted her head and pushed up to give Beca a fierce kiss. “I’ll always be here to catch you.” It was a vow she’d never made before – except maybe to Aubrey – but she knew Beca didn’t mean just the physical nature of their encounter. There was a weight behind it that Chloe felt down to her bones; knew that Beca meant she needed Chloe and she meant it with every wild beat of the heart pounding against her own.

Chloe quickly kissed her way down Beca’s body, pausing to suck where her hip met her left thigh, smiling against bruising skin as Beca cried out again. She really liked that reaction, she realized. She’d have to see where else she could coax it from.

Chloe settled between Beca’s legs, feeling fingers once more run through her hair, and knew the time for teasing was over. She licked with firm strokes, using the flat of her tongue, worshipping every inch as she learned where Beca was sensitive - what made her gasp and shake, or scream Chloe’s name. Her lips found Beca’s clit and she alternated with sucking and quick, teasing flicks of her tongue, unable to get enough of each sound that left Beca’s mouth because of her.

Carefully she slipped two fingers inside, losing herself briefly in slick heat until she felt one of Beca’s hands leave her hair; looking up, she saw it latch onto the headboard as Beca pushed herself downward. Chloe slipped in a third finger, pushing deeply with each thrust and felt Beca clamp down around her, Chloe’s name dropping from her lips in a high grunt of pleasure as her hips moved faster, her cries becoming wordless but no less pleading.

Chloe moved faster, her fingers rubbing until she found that ridged spot inside. Beca’s passionate cries filled Chloe’s ears, sweeter than any music she had ever heard in her life, starting low but growing in volume and strength before finally breaking with a whimper that shook her body.

 “Chloe.

Chloe felt herself shudder, feeling the love in those two syllables run down her back like quicksilver. She’d said Beca’s name the same way, felt so much love that she thought she’d drown in it.

“I love you, Beca Mitchell.” Chloe whispered before turning her head and, driven by instinct, bit gently on Beca’s inner thigh but sucked hard.

Beca’s body locked and braced against the bed, this second orgasm rendering her silent as it washed through her. Chloe thrust as deep as she could, her fingers pressing against Beca’s inner walls, but remained still as Beca’s hips pushed at her until, with a half sob, Beca’s body collapsed against the bed. She released the headboard and covered her eyes with her forearm, her lungs heaving as she gasped for air.

Chloe released her suction lock on Beca’s thigh, but soothed it gently with her tongue, knowing that her mark was going to stick around for a while. She realized that she quite liked the idea, that Beca would have this reminder of what she meant to Chloe whenever they weren’t together. She really hoped Beca didn’t mind, because she could feel her determination to renew it whenever it began to fade.

Reverently kissing the already dark bruise on Beca’s thigh, Chloe – with reluctance – eased her hand free and pushed her way up. She covered Beca’s body with her own, her thigh between Beca’s, and gently moved Beca’s arm, relieved to find she wasn’t actually crying. Beca’s eyes found hers and she stroked Chloe’s cheek with her fingertips before lifting her head to kiss her tenderly.

When they paused for air, Chloe asked gently, “Are you okay?”

Beca grinned, “Yeah, sorry.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I just… There’s a lot swirling in my head right now.”

Chloe kissed one of Beca’s eyebrows simply because she could. “I know the feeling.”

“Yeah but…” Beca paused and grinned as Chloe kissed beside her left eye. “It’s funny.”

“What’s that?” Chloe shifted sides and kissed the right side of Beca’s chin.

“I’ve got all these walls and you just keep walking through them like they don’t even exist.” Beca let out a soft chuckle. “You break all my rules of personal space and I willingly let it happen. I don’t even try to fight it. I haven’t from the beginning.”

“I did notice the distinct lack of cursing and screaming when I showed up in your shower.” Chloe said thoughtfully, absently, before trailing her lips down Beca’s throat.

“Shock, mostly.” Beca stretched underneath her. “Who expects that to happen?”

“You’ve only yourself to blame – singing like that in those acoustics. You should’ve known I was helpless to your lure.” Chloe said innocently just before her teeth nipped Beca’s collarbone.

Beca hissed in a breath, then exhaled slowly, her legs flexing. “Right, that’s all my fault.” She laughed, then sobered. “While I have a lot of regrets in my life, singing with you in that sketchy ass shower is not one of them.” She kissed Chloe again. “That’s how I know that I’m completely in love with you.”

“August 29th, 2:18 PM.” Chloe said, reluctantly lifting her head away from Beca’s neck but wanting to see her reaction.

“What?” Beca half laughed. “Did I black out and miss an entire conversation?”

“Nope.” Chloe grinned down at her.

Beca rolled her eyes. “Alright, I’ll bite – what’s so special about August 29th at 2:18 in the afternoon?”

“Activities Fair.” Chloe said and saw the way Beca’s eyes snapped back to hers and sharpened. “Aubrey and I were handing out fliers and that’s when I first laid eyes on you. And fell in love.”

Beca blinked at her and Chloe could tell she hadn’t expected it and it meant the world.

“You knew even then?” She finally asked, smoothing Chloe’s hair back from her face.

“Maybe not on the surface,” Chloe said. “But I knew I wanted to follow you, find out your name.” She remembered the tug pulling at her all those months ago; telling her to not let this unnamed girl walk away, no matter that she had been snarky about a capella.

Beca sniffed slightly and let out a watery laugh. “Within two minutes of talking to you for the first time, I thought to myself, ‘Huh. Love at first sight… is that, is that actually a thing?’” Chloe felt her own breath catch, having never expected something like that from the brooding girl under her. “I immediately told myself that was crazy talk and then retreated into my default ‘snarky bitch’ mode.” She smiled, though it trembled at the edges. “I’d have never bet, in a million years, that I was right the first time.”

Chloe found the faint blush that rose on her cheeks adorable and felt herself fall in love all over again. “I love you.” Chloe kissed her, loving how natural it felt to say after months of holding herself back.

Beca tugged on Chloe’s lower lip with her teeth. “Hearing you say that makes my fingers tingle.”

“Ooh.” Chloe purred. “I really like the sound of that.”

“Insatiable,” Beca shook her head sadly. “I knew it. You can’t get enough of all this.” She lifted her shoulders and waved with one hand down to indicate her body.

“Normally I’d say something to keep your ego from inflating, but yeah, no. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting you.” Chloe pressed her thigh upward, loving how Beca arched against her and moaned.

“I’d say I created a monster, but I’m not sure which of us I’d be talking about.” Beca licked her lips and gave a slow roll against her.

“Good news is, we have all night to figure that out.” Chloe flexed her thigh upward again.

“Think Aubrey would kill us if we skipped practice?” Beca asked lightly, as if her hands weren’t sliding down Chloe’s back to grip her ass.

“Probably.” Chloe rested her forehead against Beca’s, her eyes closing as Beca pulled her hips tighter and closer.

“Could be worth it.” Beca’s breath drifted over her lips and Chloe felt herself drawn down to her mouth.

“Could be.” Chloe sank into the kiss, all thoughts of rehearsals, Bellas and her best friend slipping away.

Everything she would ever need was right here in her arms. She knew Aubrey would understand.

Maybe.

 

 


 

~B~

Beca woke gradually, confused at first by the weight half sprawled over her back. It didn’t take long before the memory of the evening before assembled itself and she smiled sleepily. The weight on her back was a very naked Chloe and where before Beca would never have allowed anyone else the intimacy of such a position – she’d found it stifling, almost claustrophobic, the one time it had happened in high school – having Chloe there was nothing but comfort and security.

There was a knock on the door and Beca realized it was probably what had woken her up in the first place. She licked her lips, getting ready to tell whoever it was to go away when Stacie’s voice came from the hallway.

“Breakfast is almost ready. Aubrey sent me up to wake you.” There was a pause and what sounded like a muffled snort. “Bree was afraid to come up here.” Beca could hear the glee in her voice and pictured the wide smile that had to be on Stacie’s face. “She was afraid she’d hear things. I made her draw straws and I lost… But since she didn’t want to come up and I got to, I’d say we’re both winners.”

“Stacie, that doesn’t even make sense.” Chloe said and Beca jumped, not realizing she was awake.

“I was hoping that I’d maybe hear something to tease Beca about later,” was the sly reply.

Beca groaned while Chloe laughed. “I hate you, Conrad.”

“You love me.” Stacie shot back. “Seriously though, Aubrey’s making cinnamon French toast and I know you don’t want to miss that.”

“She’s like a culinary wizard,” Beca muttered with grudging reverence. “One who knows my weaknesses.”

“We’ll be down in a minute, Stace.” Chloe said through another laugh as she burrowed down into Beca’s hair.

“Alright, but if Bree sends me back up, I’m coming in to drag you guys downstairs, naked if I have to.”

“Stop picturing me naked.” Beca half yelled through a yawn.

“One day.” Stacie said, her voice more muffled as if she was already heading down the hall. “But that day is not today.”

Chloe giggled even as she stretched and Beca was distracted before she could decide if she was annoyed, flattered or flustered at Stacie’s comments – a naked Chloe rubbing against her back, still warm and soft from sleep, was not making Beca want to get out of bed.

“Morning.” Chloe’s sleepy voice murmured into her ear.

“Morning.” Beca finally opened her eyes and happened to look at Chloe’s clock. “More like afternoon.” She blinked several times but the numbers didn’t change. “It’s twelve thirty. Wasn’t practice at one?”

“Yes,” Chloe said slowly. “Yes it was. Huh. Wonder if it’s cancelled or just moved to later.” She rolled off Beca who immediately missed her warmth.

“Guess we’ll know when we go downstairs.” Beca’s stomach suddenly rumbled and she turned her head to look over. “Chloe, you know I love you, right?”

“Mmhm.” Chloe rolled up on her side, her hand stroking Beca’s back.

“So when I leave your bed to go downstairs for food, you won’t think less of me?”

“I dunno…” Chloe trailed off, her eyes twinkling.

“But Aubrey’s French toast is amaziiiinnnnnnnng.” Beca whined.

“I know. But first.” Chloe leaned down and kissed her. Beca let herself get lost in it, still a bit in shock that this was something she was able to do without fear or hesitation, no matter that they were both still naked after a long night of very thorough lovemaking.  Chloe pulled back slowly. “Much better.”

“Agreed.” Beca smiled up at her then yelped as Chloe reached down and pinched her ass.

“Now let’s get downstairs before it gets cold. Or Stacie comes back up and opens the door while we’re changing.”

“She’d do it too,” Beca muttered. “Aca-perv.” The two of them rolled out of bed and Beca couldn’t help but stare as Chloe stretched out her body, releasing her breath with a groan very much like the ones she’d been making last night.

“Now who’s the aca-perv?” Chloe said with a laugh, getting the pj’s she’d set out last night.

“Guilty.” Beca raised her hand, glad that she had when Chloe tossed her a pair of shorts that were quickly followed by a shirt. As they got dressed, something occurred to her. “Did Stacie call Aubrey ‘Bree’?”

“Yup. Twice.” Chloe pulled her shirt over her head. “I noticed that too.”

“Is there…” Beca had a memory of asking the same thing the night before. While she knew how Stacie felt, but she didn’t know if they’d talked or taken it further. “Something between them?”  Chloe hesitated and Beca put her hand up again. “Nevermind, I didn’t mean to ask for gossip.”

“No, no… It’s… While it’s not entirely my story to tell, I can say that, as far as I know, nothing has happened between them.” Chloe ran her fingers through her hair before picking up her brush.

“Do you think they, you know, last night?” Beca sat on the end of the bed, finger combing her own disarrayed hair.

“You can’t say ‘sex’, Becs?” Chloe looked over her shoulder and grinned. “Even after last night?”

“Whatever,” Beca ignored the slight flush she could feel creeping up her neck. Talking about sex always felt awkward, for all that she was fairly certain that she spent most of her time in the gutter. “Do you?”

“You’re so cute.” Chloe set down her brush and leaned against her vanity. “Guess we’ll have to go down and see if we can pick up any clues.”

“I bet they did.” Beca said as they headed toward the door.

“I dunno,” Chloe opened it and let Beca walk out first. “Bree can be pretty stubborn.”

Beca snorted. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Would you like to be pot, or kettle?” Chloe asked dryly.

“I believe I shall be pot,” Beca decided as they headed down the stairs.

As they made their way kitchen, Beca felt lighter than she had since she was a kid and knew it had everything to do with the woman walking beside her and holding her hand.

“Damnit.” Stacie’s voice carried to them from the back table. “I bet Aubrey five laps of cardio that I’d have to come back up and get you guys.” She was sitting on the bench against the wall, a loaded plate in front of her and one waiting beside her.

“You didn’t see Beca inhale two and a half servings the last time I made French toast,” Aubrey said as she carried two more plates over and set them down.

“Guilty.” Beca inhaled deeply. “That smells great, Aubrey.”

“Thanks, Beca.” Aubrey smiled at her as they passed each other, Beca going straight for the food and Aubrey to the fridge where she took out a jug of orange juice and brought it over.

Beca settled herself on the bench across from Stacie. “Sorry I disappointed you, Stacie.” She picked up the mug of coffee that Chloe set down in front of her. “Thanks,” she looked up and smiled when Chloe squeezed her shoulder and took a seat on Beca’s right.

“Eh.” Stacie shrugged. “As long as you didn’t disappoint Chloe last night, too.”

Beca choked on the mouthful she’d just taken and just barely kept from spitting it out across the table. “Jesus Christ!” Stacie only grinned at her.

“No complaints here,” Chloe said as she poured syrup over her freshly buttered French toast.

“Oh my god.” Beca closed her eyes. “Please kill me now.”

“Then who would eat all the food I made?” Aubrey asked from right next to her and Beca jumped. Aubrey leaned down to place two plates in the middle of the table, one loaded down with scrambled eggs and the other with bacon, before finally taking a seat next to Stacie.

“Good point.” Beca immediately scooped some eggs onto her plate and snagged a few slices of bacon. “Letting any of this go to waste would be a crime.”

The conversation tapered off then as they made a serious dent in the mountain of food in front of them. It wasn’t until her second cup of coffee, poured by a smiling Aubrey, that Beca realized that all traces of the prior tension between them were gone. Even at Christmas there had been a slight undercurrent, however faint, and there definitely was some lingering that night they’d had their big talk. But now there was nothing.

Beca bit back a grin and wondered if that was because she’d gotten some or because they’d all gotten some. So far neither of the other women had given away any tells that Beca could spot, but maybe Chloe would pick something up from Aubrey.

A warm hand on her thigh caused her to look over at Chloe, but she was talking to Stacie about one of her classes and Beca realized she’d done it subconsciously. It wasn’t until that moment that she noticed that her own right hand was already on Chloe’s leg and she had no idea how long it had been there.

Oh yeah,’ Beca thought to herself as she took another drink of coffee, squeezing Chloe’s leg lightly and feeling the returned grip on her own. ‘I’m a gonner and I don’t even care.’

She looked up and saw Aubrey was watching her over the rim of her coffee. Beca felt momentary panic and had the impulse to move her hand away, like she’d been caught doing something wrong. Thankfully it never reached her muscles – or they were just ignoring her – and her hand didn’t even twitch, except maybe to tighten her fingers to further remind herself of her right to be there.

But Aubrey merely lifted one corner of her mouth in a smile that reached her eyes and Beca felt the acceptance in it. Acceptance of her personally, sure, but also the acceptance of her in Chloe’s life and… Beca almost flushed with pleasure when she realized that it was more than that.

Aubrey approved of Beca for Chloe.

Beca knew that the standards the two best friends had for any possible relationships the other had must have been high – it wasn’t anything they’d ever talked about, but it was obvious by how much they loved and cared for each other. It also wasn’t an approval that Beca had even been seeking – she would have been with Chloe regardless of Aubrey’s feelings on the matter. It just might have been more… stressful.

But to realize that she’d met the incredibly high standards of one Aubrey Posen? Not just to help guide the Bellas, but to be one worthy of Chloe’s heart?

Beca held back the grin that wanted to break free, not wanting to explain anything if she started laughing like a lunatic. She forced herself to sip her coffee and looked at the women around her.

The world was theirs – all of theirs – as long as they stayed together.

‘The Trebles won’t have any fucking idea what hit them.’

Chapter Text

~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.

 

Chapter Text

~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!”