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When Beca Mitchell gets off the plane in Atlanta, Aubrey Posen is waiting for her.

There is something rather jarring about the sight because she hasn’t seen Aubrey in person for over a year and yet – there is something about Aubrey’s posture that makes Beca feel like she’s in middle school all over again. Or at least in her freshman year of college.

It’s hot, mid-August. The sun is bearing down uncomfortably on her and Beca kind of regrets wearing a leather jacket.

Beyond the heat, it is humid as well.

Aubrey looks poised, though she bites her lip nervously, scanning the crowd for Beca.

When her eyes land on her, she’s relieved above all and rushes to her. Beca barely drops her bag in time for Aubrey’s tackling hug, only barely noticing that Aubrey looks exhausted beyond belief before her vision is obscured – or rather, nearly taken out – by both Aubrey’s hat and Aubrey’s hair.

“Aubrey,” Beca chokes out. “It’s so-” Aubrey releases her and holds her at arms length. “-nice…to see you?” she finishes, trailing off because she’s not sure why Aubrey looks so critical. Like she’s assessing her.

“You look the same,” Aubrey says, sounding neither pleased nor displeased. “God, Beca, it’s been a while.”

“I…yeah,” is all Beca can manage to say. It’s all she really is allowed to say, really. Especially after she took the first ticket out of Europe after the USO tour. The first ticket to LA and the furthest away from Chloe Beale and everything she wanted to forget.

She supposes what she and Aubrey have in common now, living miles and miles apart, is still one singular entity; a single person.

(A person Beca has tried to forget, time after time. But she can’t – not after everything she worked so hard to suppress, only to be crushed by her own tardiness.

She tries not to think about, really. She tries to lose herself in the anonymous faces and bodies that she indulges in from time to time in Los Angeles, where she fled to be alone for the first time in seven years.

And yet, all she can think of is a playful smile; all she can see are spellbindingly blue eyes that swim through her vision.

Sometimes, she reaches out across her empty bed, expecting to find her, hogging the blankets as she used to do in Brooklyn, but she’s met with empty air, which is what she realizes is all it ever was, in all honesty because she had never worked up the courage to do anything about it.)

Chloe is the reason she’s here at all, that she bothered to make the trek back to Atlanta. That she was immediately looking up flights when she received Aubrey’s call and Chloe’s text.

“I had a great flight, by the way,” Beca says lightly, when Aubrey finally releases her. She bends down to pick up her bag. “Thank you.”

Aubrey’s lips twitch into a smile – the first genuine one she’s offered Beca since greeting her. “Your clothes do look a little wrinkled. Private jet not doing enough for you?”

Beca huffs a little, ignoring that. Aubrey knows she had taken the first flight she could find, which was quicker than calling up Theo to arrange a private flight out to Georgia.

Instead, all she manages to grunt is a quiet, “coffee first. Sarcasm later.”

“I’m really happy see you again, Beca. Truly,” Aubrey says sincerely as she leads Beca towards the parking garage. “I’m glad you came. I think…” Aubrey trails off, glancing at her as they cross the street. Like she thinks Beca might break. “I think this will be good for her. And for you.”

Both of them soften considerably. Beca tries not to think about the implications of Aubrey’s tacked on statement.

Beca slumps a little and focuses on running a hand through her hair and tugging her luggage along. She feels sluggish suddenly, like her entire body had been on autopilot for the past day.

She's tired and hungry and really banking on that coffee before she’ll even come close to admitting that Aubrey has a point; it will be good to see Chloe again. Chloe had been – Chloe is – her best friend still. They still kept up with each other’s lives to the extent that they texted and emailed and sent each other cute photos of animals. Chloe would occasionally message her about her relationship and Beca would occasionally send Chloe affirmances or denials of whether she had gone on a date with another big name in Hollywood.

In the same vein, Beca thinks that Theo probably still thinks she’s crazy for putting her recording on hold to fly out to see her friend who she hasn’t seen in a year, but Beca couldn’t not see Chloe, not now, when she needs her the most.

"How is she?" Beca asks quietly. And suddenly, her chest tightens at the thought of Chloe being remotely upset or even close to crying. She hates Chicago with a passion and she hates herself more for forcing herself to stay away and for trying to see the good in him.

She just wanted Chloe to be happy and she still does.

Aubrey shrugs and shakes her head. "You know Chloe,” she says, though she takes pause as if gauging Beca’s reaction. Beca wills her face to remain neutral. The time apart from Chloe has only cemented in her the knowledge that she’ll never be able to really forget Chloe. She knows everything about Chloe, from the way she likes her tea in the morning (earl gray, with a little milk) to her exact bedtime routine – a routine which Chloe never skipped, not even when drunk from the latest open bar deal well in the depths of Brooklyn.

In her mind’s eye, Beca can see the drunken attempts most clearly: the haphazard way Chloe would attempt to brush her hair and her teeth at the same time before finally giving up and pouting pathetically at Beca until Beca complied, also drunk out of her mind as well but sound enough to recognize that even then, Chloe was still beautiful. In Beca’s compliance, she always ended up helping to brush Chloe’s hair while Chloe brushed her teeth. It felt sickeningly domestic, but Beca craved it.  

“She says she just needs time,” Aubrey is saying when Beca tunes back into the conversation. “Time to process everything. Time away. Time to just. Focus on school. Which,” Aubrey continues, clearly about to go on a tirade. “She needs to go back to Ithaca soon or she’s going to just miss the first day of class.”

Aubrey somehow manages to sound like a sister, best friend, mother, and concerned aunt all at once. Beca thinks Chloe is lucky and perhaps a little unlucky to call Aubrey her best friend, but she recognizes that Aubrey is only concerned and fretful over Chloe’s fate – a concern that Beca feels all too keenly as well.

When they settle into Aubrey’s car, Beca stares ahead blankly, just focusing on counting her breaths while Aubrey fiddles with the key.

In the gentle hum of the car’s engine, Aubrey finally turns and says, plainly, with a small measure of hurt, “she’s just not talking to me about it, Beca.”

It makes the tension in Beca’s chest coil. “And what makes you think she’ll talk to me about it?” she asks before she can help herself. “Why would she talk to me if she can’t even talk to you? You’re her best friend.”

When Beca chances a glance at Aubrey in the ensuing silence, Aubrey is staring at her with so much incredulity and disbelief that it makes Beca’s mouth dry up.

“You’re her best friend too, Beca. She trusts you implicitly and she knows you’ll be honest with her no matter what.” Then, quieter, “you’re different, for her. And you know that.”

The biting ‘do I?’ hangs in the back of Beca’s mind and sticks somewhere in her stomach. She feels residual resentment – the same resentment she never addressed when she had first seen Chloe kissing him with the passion she normally reserved for singing or performing. It had struck a fuse in Beca and her shortening rope has only been reignited, though she’s unsure as to what this trip will bring.

“Okay,” Beca murmurs.

“Okay,” Aubrey repeats.

Watching the scenery pass by, Beca marvels at how different it feels and looks, even if she once called this place ‘home’ for four years.

Knowing that Chloe is at the end of this short car ride, Beca thinks that somehow, things haven’t really changed at all.

“Miss it at all?” Aubrey asks.

Befuddled by the onslaught of memories that accompany that question, Beca singles out one in particular – watching Chloe’s eyes shine by the flicker of a campfire.

“All the time,” Beca says, after a moment. “Yeah.”

Aubrey says nothing to that, thankfully, so Beca dozes off just for a moment.

 


 

 

Chloe (4:33 pm)
hey, can we talk? I really need to talk to you, bec.
Please.

The text message stares back at her, as if taunting her for leaving her read receipt on. Beca curses her past self’s decisions.

Finally, she gives in.

Beca (5:28 pm)
in studio right now
can I call you later?

Her life is in Los Angeles. She shouldn’t care about what is happening 3,000 miles away, but she does. Whenever it concerns Chloe, she will absolutely drop everything.

It’s frustrating to say the least, but she knows Chloe would drop everything for her, though just not in the way Beca wishes she would.

(In a heart-stopping, I’m in love with you kind of way, because that’s how Beca feels.)

Biting her lip, Beca shakes her head.

Beca (5:31 pm)
actually I have some time now
call?

Chloe’s call comes about two minutes later and Beca’s heart drops into the pit of her stomach when she hears Chloe’s first sob over the phone.

 


 

 

Arranging things with Aubrey had gone smoothly after – though Aubrey had yelled at her frantically over the phone when Chloe showed up unannounced a day later, having flown straight from Cornell seemingly.

Now, two days later, Beca blinks awake in Aubrey’s car, staring at the familiar wooden building.

The Lodge at Fallen Leaves.

“You still have this place?” Beca asks, trying to wipe the sleep from her eyes.

“It’s a back-up plan,” Aubrey states primly.

“Do I get a guest room this time?” Beca asks, half-joking.

“Only if you pay for it.”

“…What? Are you serious?” Beca asks when Aubrey doesn’t even crack a smile.

Aubrey stares at her for an uncomfortably long moment before she finally smiles. “I was just kidding. Of course you get a place to stay. But what the hell was that reaction? Do you not make enough money, Miss ‘number 1 single of the summer’?”

Beca grumbles, nearly kicking the door open. Somehow, she knows she set herself up for that one. Walked right into it.

Clicking open her phone briefly, she unconsciously opens her messages. Scrolling through the list of unread messages, she hovers over Chloe’s name, staring at the last message preview – a message she received from Chloe.

I miss you

It stares accusingly back at her, as if asking why she never responded. A million reasons come to mind, but none of them hold a candle to the one reason that matters most, which is how terrified she felt. How terrified she feels, especially being here now.

Aubrey’s implored “she needs you” still rings in Beca’s mind. It contributes to the conflicting feelings Beca still gets whenever she reads an email from Chloe or even just sees a photo of Chloe on her Instagram feed.

She can’t believe she had ever been confused about her feelings about Chloe.

Now she’s mostly just regretful that she never did anything about them BC (Before Chicago).

Just her fucking luck.

Beca feels a stronger sense of familiarity as the walk along dirt roads. "What happened between them, Aubrey?"

"I think it’s complicated," is all Aubrey offers.

"Yeah, I figured," she mutters.

When they reach the lodge, Aubrey greets a few people before leading the way down the hall. Beca had never seen the inside of the guest rooms, but it figures that Chloe would have one of the better ones.

They're standing in front of Chloe's door sooner than Beca expects. She feels her palm sweat around the handle of her luggage, while she nervously tugs it closer to her body.

Aubrey knocks without warning, making Beca jump. She wants to shed her jacket. She’s no longer sure how it looks on her. She’s sure it looks fine, but it’s just-

“Chloe,” she breathes, when the door opens.

Beca catches her breath at the sight of Chloe. She’s wearing flannel pajama pants and shirt with an illustrated chinchilla on it. She looks exhausted and upset, her mouth visibly downturned. Her exhaustion is palpable even in the atmosphere.

Beca has only ever seen Chloe like this once before – when they had fucked up their performance at the Kennedy Center. The aftermath had been terrible and the Bellas had kept a wide berth. But Beca was glued to Chloe’s side and had held her while she cried.

Anything else she might have said, or anything that Aubrey might have said is pushed to the side because Chloe is launching herself at Beca to pull her into a suffocating hug.

Beca wraps her own arms around Chloe's waist, fighting the desire to pull her closer. She settles on rubbing her hand across Chloe’s back, bunching up the t-shirt fabric a little. "It's okay, Chlo," she says quietly.

I'm here.

Always. Forever.

"What are you doing here?" Chloe mumbles into her shoulder. "You’re too famous for this."

Beca laughs. "I missed Atlanta, obviously. I wasn’t going to let you take a vacation without me.” Chloe either laughs or sobs—Beca can't quite tell the difference. “I came for you.”

“Aubrey told you, didn’t she?” Chloe asks, pulling away. Beca misses her immediately. “She told you to come because I showed up unannounced.” It’s not quite accusing, but Chloe doesn’t look too happy.

“I wanted to come, Chloe,” Beca cuts in. “Not because of Aubrey. She’s cool, I guess, but I wanted to see you. I missed you. I’m here because you’re,” she pauses delicately. “my friend. I care about what you’re going through. You called me in tears and then said not much of anything else.” She inhales shakily. “That scared the shit out of me, you know.”

Chloe’s eyes soften while Aubrey shifts beside them.

“Let’s go out for lunch,” Beca says quickly. “I’ll buy. I’m starving.”

“I thought you wanted coffee,” Aubrey states.

“They serve coffee at restaurants,” Beca says lightly. Her eyes are trained on Chloe.

She looks into bright blue eyes – brighter than usual - and watches Chloe's expression for any tells or signs. Chloe nods slowly. "I think I'd like that."

 


 

 

They spend the day downtown. It keeps Chloe’s mind off things, though she’s as despondent as Beca has ever seen her. Still, she shops a little, eats her food, and behaves normally otherwise. Beca catches Aubrey shooting her worried glances all day, which Beca kind of understands, but she just ensures that Chloe is comfortable.

Chloe is dressed casually, in jeans, a white t-shirt, and a red cardigan, which she opts to tie around her waist when she notes how hot it is outside. Beca resists the urge to take a photo of her because seeing Chloe in person is still baffling to her. She hadn’t quite forgotten how beautiful Chloe was, but seeing her in the flesh only made for a more jarring experience.

When they finally return to the Lodge in the evening, it’s dark out and Aubrey looks exhausted, but determined.

“Campfire?” she suggests.

Chloe nods. “Sure. I’m going to change.” She makes her way back into the building quietly.

“What are you doing?” Beca hisses, once Chloe is out of earshot. “She’s tired, Aubrey. She should be resting.”

“Yeah, but she needs to talk to you, Beca. You weren’t here yesterday or the day before. She wasn’t Chloe.”

The emphasis Aubrey puts on Chloe’s name is all she needs to know. The knowledge that Chloe is anything but herself is scary to think about. It is enough to silence Beca temporarily.

When Chloe returns, she’s dressed in the most adorable set of pajamas that Beca has ever seen. There are many different breeds of dogs on the matching set.

“Hi,” Chloe says when she notices Beca’s staring.

“Cute pajamas.”

“Thanks,” Chloe says, tilting her head like she’s trying to figure Beca out.

"Oh shoot, I forgot the marshmallows,” Aubrey exclaims. She claps her hands, startling both Beca and Chloe out of their staring contest. “I'll be back in a bit."

Once she's gone, Beca is left alone with Chloe, and she suddenly feels extremely nervous. She shoves her hands into the pockets of her jacket, a frequent habit of hers whenever she feels uncomfortable. Chloe, being Chloe, catches the movement. Though she doesn't say anything, she moves herself over to the log Beca is occupying. Instinctively, Beca moves so that Chloe can sit as well.

It feels like déjà vu, sitting beside Chloe Beale while their lives feel oddly out of their hands.

Beca leans back as much as she dares and kicks her legs out. "So, are you going to tell me the truth now?" she asks mildly.

"I dunno,” Chloe says instantly.

She can see the pain in Chloe's eyes. She is curled in on herself, a shell of what a confident Chloe might look like. It pains Beca to see her like this.

"I know you,” is what Beca finally settles on. “I know how much you're hurting. You feel every emotion to the millionth degree. I know you like that back of my hand. Talk to me. Please," she begs, finding herself unable to care at how much her voice wavers. She’s begging because Chloe is scaring her. Chloe has scared her all day with her quietness and lack of emoting.

Chloe doesn't notice though, because tears slip down over her cheeks again, and her body curls into a protective posture, shoulders shaking. Beca can't bear it, and she's standing up, tugging Chloe with her. She hugs Chloe as best as she can, standing, because these full-bodied hugs are what Chloe enjoys the most. Chloe loves her hugs to be as emotional as possible – as warm as possible. Chloe’s surprised gasp turns into a sob almost immediately and she hugs Beca close. Being pressed against Chloe like this feels different than how it had felt when they hugged earlier in the day – this feels more intimate and more akin to what their in-between relationship had been just a couple of years ago.

“Oh,” Beca sighs. “Chloe,” she finishes, sighing sadly.

Chloe's right arm curls around Beca's waist while the other comes up to curl around Beca’s shoulder. "I’m a terrible girlfriend," she chokes out between quiet sobs. “I’m a failure – I can’t even keep the first real relationship I’ve had in years.”

"Don't. Dude. You are not a failure," Beca says forcefully, barely resisting from cursing. “You got into vet school, Chlo. You did that all by yourself. You’re so talented and wonderful and beautiful.”

The compliments slip out, unbidden.

"As if I didn’t forego hanging out with classmates multiple times because he wanted to Skype. As if I didn’t bring him around and introduce him to all the people that made my life bearable upstate." Chloe doesn’t sound particularly sad or angry. Just resigned and reflective. "As if I didn't stay up until two in the morning working assignments."

It had never seemed that bad through Chloe’s emails or through Chloe’s texts.

Chloe must have been so lonely, Beca realizes belatedly. A year too late.

However – and selfishly – Beca had thought frequently about this happening – about Chicago disappointing Chloe in exactly this way.

Sometime over the past year, Beca found solace in the act of accepting that she is not who Chloe needs – at least not at the moment.

The slow build up to realizing that she might never be what Chloe needs – at least, romantically – has gotten easier over the past few months.

(Someday, Beca will stand beside Chloe at her wedding and watch her marry the love of her life and Beca will be happy; she’ll be happy because Chloe has found happiness.

Chloe will have children of her own – children whom Beca will dote upon and spoil ridiculously.

Maybe she’ll meet somebody and be happy herself.

Maybe one day, in the future, when they’re old and wrinkled, Beca will laugh with Chloe and tell her that once upon a time, she loved Chloe with a burning intensity that it threatened to eat at her until she couldn’t handle it. But she handled it.

And here they are.

And they’d laugh about it and watch the sunset while their respective families laugh around them.

And they’d move on.)

In the present, Chloe’s eyes shine at her, like anchors. Like lighthouses, Beca thinks. Beckoning her home. She has been away for so long.

Wearily, she obliges.

“Chicago and I were happy…for a while, remember?” Beca remembers all too well. “When…we were in Europe. It was amazing, Bec. It was everything I had dreamed of. Or so I thought.” Chloe shakes her head. “I made it through the first year of vet school and things were just…okay. I think the distance was what started it. But he would visit me.” Beca remembers Chloe texting her excitedly. “I think…I don’t know what I think anymore. I thought I could be that person for him, you know?” Chloe’s eyes are glistening. “That…that person when you just…walk into a room and you just know that you’re home.”

It makes Beca stop breathing for a moment. “I know,” she murmurs, hoping that she manages to not give away how much she relates to Chloe’s statement. How much she feels like Chloe is the embodiment of her home. How much she desires to just wrap her arms around Chloe and just never let go.

She’d travel across the world for Chloe – and come to think about it, she did.

Chloe sighs then. It sounds so painful that it makes Beca’s heart splinter. She wants to pull Chloe back into her arms and her hands twitch in her restraint. She shuffles closer on the log as best as she can and lifts a tentative hand to Chloe’s shoulder, resting there for the moment. “Chloe,” she breathes, uncertain as to what she had been about to say. She feels like she had just been about to tell Chloe exactly what she thought about her – exactly what Beca herself is attracted to; what Beca sees in Chloe and how deeply Beca loves everything that Chloe is.

Beca blinks the thought away.

"Chicago didn’t deserve you. You’re – you’re Chloe Beale!" Beca exclaims, all awkward, flaily hands and an incredulous expression. “I…I just can’t even understand why somebody would break up with you,” she grumbles, like it’s a personal affront.

(And maybe it is.

She cannot reiterate how much he didn’t deserve Chloe.)

The result from her outburst is that Chloe is looking at her with that look again—the one that makes her traitorous body, mind, and heart all succumb to Chloe’s will.

(It makes her daydream and dream about Chloe and holding her hand and kissing her tenderly all at once – the simplicity of the actions themselves bely the intimacy that Beca craves.)

“I still love him,” Chloe whispers, a little brokenly. Her voice cracks. “I think I do, at least. How can I not?”

Beca draws in a deep breath and swallows down her intrusive emotions. She hates feelings for the sole reason that they are often extremely inconvenient. “I know you do, Chlo,” she says, the nickname coming out before she can help herself. “Maybe...maybe you just…” Beca’s not sure what words of encouragement she can offer – not when she feels the most selfish she had ever been.

“Chicago cheated on me.”

Beca hears the words, but she can’t process them immediately. She gapes at Chloe, replaying the words. In fact, they ring in her ears uncomfortably and she has a moment of dissociation when she contemplates the reality of that statement. “He what?” She’s not sure she understands the sequence of words.

Chloe lets out a short, sad laugh. It’s the worst kind of Chloe laugh. “Surprise. She made him feel special.”

Beca can’t find words. She never expected Chicago to disappoint Chloe like this.

Chloe stares blankly at Beca for a moment. Before Beca can say or do anything, Chloe starts to cry in earnest and all but collapses into Beca, messy tears, limbs, and all. When Chloe’s body sinks into her side, Beca twists as best as she can on the log, wrapping her own arms around Chloe. She presses a kiss to the side of Chloe’s head, holding her tight against her neck, allowing her tears to just soak her skin. It warms her and twists her insides at the same time.

Beca considers herself unhelpful in moments like this, but Chloe has been her exception for everything. When she hears Chloe’s crying, this time in person – and with the knowledge of exactly what brought it on – all Beca can do is hold on tight and murmur reassurances. She keeps her voice just low enough and whispers assurances into Chloe’s ear as best as she can. Running her fingers soothingly through Chloe’s hair, she keeps her close, as if protecting her from whatever outside forces try to penetrate their little bubble.

Chloe’s cries echo a little around them and Beca is thankful for Aubrey’s suspiciously long absence. “You’re going to be okay, Chlo,” Beca whispers. She feels her own heart splinter because nobody deserves to be cheated on and especially not Chloe, in Beca’s eyes.

Chloe cries for a good five minutes, all while Beca rubs her back. She attempts to mumble soothing words, though she never quite makes sentences. Just disjointed mumbles here and there, into Chloe’s soft hair and against her ear. How keenly Beca feels the emotion behind her words – well, Chloe will never know. Beca reflects how special Chloe is and how beautiful she is – all of which she conveys to Chloe as best as she can while restraining herself from telling Chloe exactly how in love with her she is.

When Chloe finally calms and her trembling stops, Beca combs through her hair one last time. "Are you okay?" she asks. The urge to call Chloe “babe” or “baby” rests heavily on the tip of her tongue, but she reminds herself that she is not in a relationship with her.

When Chloe’s sniffles subside and wind down, Beca tries to hold herself together when Chloe pulls back. Chloe swipes hastily at the tears on her face, laughing a little. “God, I’m sorry,” she says unnecessarily.

“Don’t apologize,” Beca murmurs. She hesitates before reaching up to thumb a stray tear away from her face. “It’s unfair how beautiful you still look,” she grumbles, eliciting a laugh from Chloe. “Lucky,” she teases. “I always look like a monster when I cry. It’s why I try not to do it,” she says, pretending to flip her hair.

Chloe laughs – a short laugh. “That’s not true,” Chloe says quietly. “I think you’re beautiful.”

Beca’s throat closes a little bit, so she opts to just remain silent. Chloe’s blatant honesty will be the death of her.

They sit in comfortable silence for a minute.

Beca tries not to look over at Chloe too often.

Chloe picks at a loose thread on her pajama pants. “I'm probably less of a mess than I should be, I guess.” She taps her chin. “Which is probably what scared Aubrey more. I wasn’t fitting into her definition of broken-hearted long-term girlfriend.”

Beca thinks that Chloe looks ridiculously beautiful, with her hair up in a pony tail and her matching pajama set. "Wait," Beca mutters with a frown. “If Chicago cheated on you, then why did he call it off with you?”

Chloe laughs in a self-deprecating manner. “I mean, I guess I wasn’t being the best girlfriend.”

“Don’t,” Beca says quickly. “Don’t say that about yourself.”

Chloe sighs. “I’m…he said that what we had wasn’t enough. I don’t really know what that meant, but he said that he had met somebody else – somebody who was closer to the base. Maybe it was somebody on the base. Who knows? I didn’t want to know. He just told me that it was hard to make time for me and that I obviously felt similarly because I wasn’t making time for him.” Chloe laughs, bringing her knees closer to herself. “Do you know how hard it is to schedule time around a million midterms and assignments?”

“Chlo,” Beca says softly.

“I mean, I guess the underlying theory was that I wasn’t enough. And he just needed somebody who was. He said he missed when it was just us in Europe,” Chloe says, referring to the extra time she spent in Europe before flying back to America for her studies.

Beca doesn't say anything to that – how could she? She had taken the first ticket away from that.

Then, she replays Chloe’s words. Beca feels blinding rage first, before it gives way to profound sadness. "I'm sorry," she finally manages to mutter. It had been more than she ever wanted to know, but she feels Chloe’s pain so keenly. Chloe, who only ever gave everything she had; Chloe, who felt everything to the nth degree and more; Chloe, who loved without reason, but loved nonetheless.

“When he said those things…I thought about it for so long afterwards. I like who I am right now. I liked who I was when I met him. But now? I've never felt more...comfortable with myself. And if Chicago doesn't like this version of me...who did he see at all while we were in Europe? Am I…”

Chloe doesn’t finish that thought, leaving Beca hanging for a moment. She can’t even look at Chloe for the moment though, because she’s not sure what she’ll find.

“Am I…not enough?” Chloe finally says and Beca can feel her eyes on her. She turns to meet Chloe’s gaze, feeling brave enough.

"I don’t know what he wanted," Beca admits. She never got to know the guy. “Maybe he wanted somebody to remind him of home. Maybe he wanted family. Maybe he just wanted somebody to sing for him,” she says with twist of her lips. Chloe doesn’t look quite so sad anymore, so Beca powers on. “You’re…so much more than whatever idea he had of you. You’re so much more than your relationship with him,” she says. “You deserve the world.”

Chloe exhales. "...Beca?”

Beca tries not to look too nervous. “Yeah?”

“Thank you for everything.” Chloe kicks at the dirt a little, sending a little bit of dust flying. “You know what I’m most happy about, though?”

“Getting rid of him?” Beca asks before she can help herself. “Sorry,” she apologizes quickly, unsure if they’ve moved on to the stage where she gets to talk shit about him.

Instead of responding or chastising her, Chloe turns away and smiles, facing the fire. “You,” Chloe says simply, and Beca’s heart flips again. “You’re my best friend, Bec and now you’re here by my side.”

Best friend.

Her heart twists or rather, the knife in her heart twists, just a little bit more.

Beca doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It reminds her of something she had said to Chloe just a year ago with a gentle nudge to Chloe’s shoulder. “Oh. Well, don't tell Aubrey. She’ll die.”

Chloe smiles at that, giving Beca a moment of reprieve before she giggles. It’s a sad, watery giggle, but a giggle nonetheless and it sends Beca’s head spinning. "I won't if you won't,” Chloe whispers, as if sharing a dear secret. She tilts her forehead into Beca’s shoulder, resulting in another shiver even though the campfire burns brightly in front of them.

Beca swallows and opens her mouth before she snaps it shut. She wills herself not to say anything.

“Thank you, Beca. For...for being here.”

Beca clears her throat. “Um, obviously?” she says, trying to play off how intensely her heart is beating. “I mean…Always, Chlo," she whispers, softening. It feels painful to talk. Beca blames the smoke for the lump in her throat and the tears welling up in her eyes. “I’m always going to be here, you know that right?”

Chloe leans a little more heavily into Beca's side, dropping her head back down onto her shoulder more comfortably. Her hand, not around her waist, comes grip her knee.

Beca briefly wonders who she pissed off in a past life. This is borderline torture, but it’s so, so fitting. Beca can only close her eyes and prays for her body not to react inappropriately. That would be truly unfortunate, but completely understandable.

It reminds Beca of what it felt like when she first allowed herself to recognize her feelings for Chloe. It began near the end of her senior year and only spiralled out of control the longer they had lived together in Brooklyn. Beca realized a bit too late that maybe Chloe had similar feelings for her, though Chloe had become less and less like how she had been while they were in school.

As Beca fell in love with Chloe, Chloe drifted away.

She remained affectionate as per the norm, but the look in her eyes – the look normally present whenever she looked in Beca’s direction – slowly dissipated and Beca’s hope dwindled.

But she feels embers again. Embers she’s only too happy to stoke. It somehow represents everything Beca has ever known about her life: slow realizations and being so close to tasting happiness, but never quite getting it.

Still, when Aubrey comes back from the lodge, she makes no comment on their position and instead busies herself with opening an obscenely large bag of marshmallows.

When Beca hears and feels Chloe’s giggle when Aubrey spills about half the contents on the ground, it makes Beca think of quiet nights spent next to Chloe, just breathing and being in love.

Somehow the pain of being in love with Chloe Beale doesn’t seem so daunting anymore.