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Death By A Thousand Cuts

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"Bye"

 

"Yeah. Bye, Chloe."

 

They hug and while Chloe leaves with a smile, Beca watches with one of her own. One that fades the second the cab pulls away from the curb outside her apartment. 

 

It had been their apartment, once. 

 

“We are not painting an entire room purple!” Beca points the lusciously bristled, brand new paintbrush at her girlfriend in a manner that’s as threatening as her tone. Which is to say, it isn’t, not really.

 

“Beca,” Chloe whines her name, throwing in a pout for good measure as she shuffles across the space between them. She’s wearing overalls that are far too form-fitting for the activity at hand and her hair is tied up in a messy bun. She wraps her arms loosely around Beca’s neck and for a moment, just a moment, all of the breath in Beca’s lungs in stolen. “But I already bought the paint.”

 

“And what, you just thought I’d be fine with it?” Beca challenges, dropping the paintbrush to the large expanse of cloth covering the floor to protect it from any spillage, her own arms winding around Chloe’s waist as though there was never any option for them to do anything else. Chloe grins at her and ducks her head, brushing her nose over Beca’s. 

 

“I made an executive decision.” Her voice is a whisper and it raises the hair on the back of Beca’s neck.

 

“Well, when you say it like that,” Beca breathes, Chloe’s lips a hair’s breadth from her own, “it sounds kinda sexy.”

 

They don’t get started on painting for a while and Beca finds out that overall clasps can be really awkward to undo when your hands are in a hurry. 

 

Beca isn’t sure when everything started to go wrong, she only knows that it did and one day she woke up to find an irrevocable crack running between the two of them. Something that couldn’t be boarded over or patched up.

 

She retreats into the apartment and pulls out a bottle of Jack, then pours herself enough to mix with some coke and sits down on the couch she’d been sharing with Chole twenty minutes ago.

 

They’re still friends and that’s great. They’d both been adamant about not losing the friendship and so far, they haven’t. It’s been almost a year since they officially broke up and Chloe comes over to hang out at least once a week. Years of being one another’s shadows, romantically or not, can’t just stop overnight. They’d tried that and the shock to their systems had been a bit too much. 

 

They’re best friends. 

 

Every night, Beca goes to sleep with that knowledge and it warms her. 

 

But every morning, she wakes up to find that Chloe isn’t there and then all she is, is cold. 

 

She brings up photographs on her phone to torture herself, looking at the two of them during happier times. And it’s not that they aren’t happy now, it’s just different. 

 

Well, and Beca isn’t happy.

 

Because for all the times she’s reassured Chloe that it’s okay, told her that she’s fine with this and that she’s sure they made the right decision, she’s lied every time something like that has come out of her mouth. 

 

Nothing about this is okay and all Beca wants is Chloe back in her apartment, back in her arms, back in her bed. 

 

But she goes about her life like normal; sleeping, eating, working, coming home to do it all over again. 

 

Sometimes she’ll drive the long way back from the studio to give herself time to think, to reflect. To remember. To ask herself, or anyone and anything that might be listening, if things will be okay but all she gets back is an ambiguous, “I don’t know.”

 

Late at night, she swallows past the lump in her throat and thinks about how it’s all such a waste. How what they had was so wonderful and amazing, and how it’s gone now. How it, nor anything quite like it, will ever been seen again. Because while everyone can have love, no one can have what was theirs. That’s something special that only the two of them share. 

 

It’s still there, of course. The love. It’s slightly misshapen and it doesn’t look quite the same, but it’s there. It’s not gone, it’ll never be gone. 

 

And maybe that’s part of what makes this so difficult. Chloe’s still everywhere, still living in the same town, still a bold imprint over Beca’s entire life.

 

“You know, we’re like Romeo and Juliet,” Chloe says, one night while they’re tucked together in bed, naked and covered in a thin sheen of sweat. 

 

“How’s that?” Beca chuckles, running her fingers through Chloe’s hair. “Actually, side note, that’s one of my biggest pet peeves.”

 

“What?”

 

“People using Romeo and Juliet as their example when talking about the greatest love story of the ages. Like, dude, they were what? Fourteen? And they both die at the end! That’s not romantic.” Beca makes a face.

 

“It’s what they did for each other that’s romantic, Beca,” Chloe says, rolling her eyes like she’d expected nothing less. “The barriers they crossed, the things they defied. The odds were against them but they were determined to be together.”

 

“And then they died.” Beca grimaces and pulls her head back slightly when Chloe pokes at the tip of her nose. “It was all just really poor communication and planning. If they’d just talked-”

“Can we talk about how one of your biggest pet peeves has to do with a Shakespearen love story?” Chloe’s fingers drift across the skin of Beca’s neck, disappearing beneath the thin sheet covering them both. “Because I think that’s super interesting.”

 

“No, we can’t.” Beca’s eyes flutter closed. “Why are we like Romeo and Juliet?”

 

“Because our love story is epic. Think about it. You weren't even supposed to stay at Barden and you're so, so moody and distant and I'm the complete opposite of that. We shouldn't go together, but we do. Against the odds. Like Romeo and Juliet."

 

Maybe it’s because Chloe says it with such gusto, such resolute believability, but rather than make Beca laugh, the sentiment makes her heart skip a beat. Makes her chest tighten and tingle and her mouth go dry.   

 

“You’re such a dork.” 

 

At night, she'll wake up covered in a cold sweat, the dream that brought her back to the land of the living still fresh in the forefront of her mind. Only they aren't dreams. They're flashbacks, memories; another way for her brain to torture her. 

 

She can't escape what she's lost, even in sleep. 

 

She turns on the shower and disrobes, trying not to think of all the showers they’d shared together. Stepping under the spray, she grabs a bottle containing the dregs of Chloe’s grapefruit body wash and rubs some between her palms. She runs her hands over her body and tries not to remember how Chloe has touched every inch of her, knows every line and curve like a well-studied roadmap. 

 

And Beca cries, the tears melting in with the spray from the shower, because how can she ever possibly forget that.

 

Sometimes, she finds herself feeling resentful of how Chloe was so easily able to leave and move on. She doesn’t really talk about boyfriends or girlfriends anymore, not since Matt, not since Angelica, the first two Beca had heard about. Not since Beca had found herself having to try and politely request that Chloe never fucking bring them or anyone else up again around her because Beca felt like her heart had just been ripped out whenever Chloe spoke either one’s name. 

 

She hadn’t used those words exactly, but that sentiment had been there, bubbling just under the surface.  

 

There are songs she can’t listen to when she's alone now, films she doesn’t want to watch, but when Chloe comes over and asks for a movie night, Beca doesn’t say no. Maybe it’s because she’s a masochist or a glutton for punishment. 

 

Maybe it's because she's still in love with her best friend. 

 

Every laugh, every smile, every minor glance from Chloe is like a paper cut to her heart. Tiny, almost microscopic: small enough not to notice until the strings holding their life together had snapped, shredded. 

 

Years together, first as friends, then as so much more, and now back to friends. It’s a hard maneuver for anyone to make but she’s got Chloe convinced that she’s managed it. Almost has herself convinced some days, too. 

 

But then she remembers the small things. Spending time together over a few glasses of wine, or sometimes something stronger. Laughing, sharing secrets, opening up the little boxes she’d taped shut inside of herself one at a time until there was no dust left covering any of them. 

 

All of those boxes were unpacked and tossed in the garbage and new shelves moved in. Ones lined with things that belonged to Chloe, to both of them, that sat sparkling and shining, for a while. 

 

But things broke down and Beca isn’t even sure how. 

 

“I don’t understand why you’re so mad at me!”

 

“That’s the problem , Beca!”

 

She just knows that the wood of those shelves started to splinter and once the first one fell the rest toppled after it like dominos.

 

“I can’t. I can’t keep fighting with you.”

 

“Chloe-”

 

“Can you? Do you want to? Because it’s killing me, Beca. I love you too much to keep doing this.”

 

“What are you saying?” 

 

“You know what I’m saying.” 

 

And she never wanted things to end. She’d wanted things to get better, sure. She’d wanted the fighting to stop. Maybe if she’d worked a little less, maybe if she’d listened better; there are a thousand maybes and only one single certainty. 

 

“I think this is for the best.” Chloe’s eyes are wet and sad, and her voice and lips tremble in sync. “Don’t you?”

 

It’s a long moment before Beca speaks, but she swallows hard with a frown and nods.

 

“Yeah.”

 

She hadn't thought it was for the best, hadn't believed that.  

 

It hurts again. Those paper cuts are back, slicing slivers out of her heart and soul. 

 

She isn’t sure when the water spraying down on her had turned cold but it’s freezing now and she realises that with a start, almost throwing herself out of the shower. She wraps herself in a fluffy purple robe that had belonged to Chloe and somehow gotten left behind in the shuffle of Chloe moving out. Beca doesn’t think she purposefully took it, but that day is a blur of pins and needles to her and she’s been glad for it since. 

 

It’s lets her pretend she still has some part of Chloe that can hold her.

 

She carefully reaches back in behind the showerhead to turn it off and wipes at her cheeks. She doesn’t bother brushing her hair. It’ll be an impossibly tangled nest in the morning but that’s future Beca’s problem now. She’s only concerned with current Beca and her pain and sorrow at the moment.

 

Maybe that’s why she picks up her phone and takes it into the bedroom. Maybe that’s why she sits down on the bed and types out a message, and doesn’t read over it even once before sending. 

 

She berates past Beca seconds later, but it’s too late.  

 

Can you come back

 

She knows that the text, grossly unpunctuated as it may be, is going to send a very specific message. One that Chloe could very easy ignore. She could just text back that she’s busy or tired, or that she just doesn’t want to. She could text back that she doesn’t know if that’s a good idea, because she’ll have read into the tone of the message as easily as she would have had she been there to see Beca writing it.   

 

Chloe could text back many things. 

 

But Chloe doesn’t return the message.

 

The lump that had formed in her throat in the shower is back now and seems larger than before. She throws her phone to the side and rests her elbow on her knees before dropping her head into her hands. With her palms covering her eyes, they catch most of the tears that fall. 

 

It hurts. Like a thousand cuts, all slashing at once. Beca feels them slice her open again and again, feels all that pain and longing seep out of her and into a room that’s felt empty since Chloe’s left.

 

That becomes infinitely less empty when Beca finally looks up, tear tracks shining on her cheeks.

 

Chloe, looking just the same as she had when she left, if not a little more out of breath, sways to a stop in the doorway and stares at Beca, at Beca wearing her robe, with wide eyes that glitter when the light glances off them.

 

“I-” Chloe’s breath hitches and the rest of the words get stuck in her throat. Beca remains immobile, seemingly frozen to the bed, staring. “I still have a key. You weren’t answering, so I got scared and….” she trails off and steps further into the room. Just puts one foot in front of the other, something Beca couldn’t do even if she wanted to right now, until she’s able to kneel down in front of Beca. 

 

Her hair is a mess and her eyes probably look red-raw if their soreness is anything to go by, but Chloe looks at her like she’s the most beautiful person in the world and it sends a lingering tear out to wander along Beca’s cheek.

 

Chloe’s thumb catches it. 

 

Brushes it away as her palm cups Beca’s cheek and tries to lift her head so she can look at her. Beca wants to fight it, she doesn’t want Chloe to see, to know, but she’s helpless. 

 

She always is when it comes to Chloe. 

 

So when Chloe brings her other hand into the fight, curving her palm around Beca’s other cheek, she doesn’t fight it anymore. She lets Chloe lift and turn her head and so when Beca opens her eyes, she’s falling head first into twin oceans. 

 

She wants to cry again. Wants to apologise for asking Chloe to come back and she tries to. 

 

“I’m sor-”

 

Chloe’s nose nudges her own and then her mouth catches Beca’s in a kiss that’s deep and desperate. It’s filled with a yearning Beca recognises and she returns the kiss in kind. One after another after another, until Chloe’s jacket has been pushed off and Beca’s robe has been hiked up. 

 

Turned hot and heavy, their kisses scarcely have any breath between them and Beca’s lungs burn and she doesn’t care. She’d let them fall prey to the flames and be happy if this is how she died. 

 

Her hands move frantically over Chloe’s body, wanting to touch every inch, remap every centimeter. Chloe’s shirt disappears and Beca’s urged further up the bed. Her robe gapes open at the neckline now and Chloe ducks her head to pepper kisses along Beca’s neck. When she reaches her ear, she whispers, “God, I’ve missed you,” and Beca’s heart feels like it stops and explodes. 

 

There’s no thinking then. Not as she works one arm out of the sleeve of the robe, loosening the flimsy knot at her waist further and letting it fall half open to expose herself on one side from shoulder to toe. The hand of the newly freed arm sinks fingers into thick red curls and when Chloe pulls back to land another kiss on Beca’s lips, she notices the robe has opened and lets out an audible whine before changing her mind. 

 

Beca’s back arches when Chloe’s mouth closes around her nipple, already stiffened and straining now against the tongue and teeth that worry it. She mutters things that don’t make sense and begs Chloe not to stop, tightening the hold she has on red hair like she’s afraid Chloe might try to leave. But all that does is make Chloe move into her, a groan of pleasure rippling through her at the slight pain dancing across. 

 

And they fit together just like they used to. 

 

Chloe’s thigh is between Beca’s legs as Chloe hovers half over her, her hair dishevelled and goddess-like, and at the first tease of friction that Chloe’s jeans provide, Beca whimpers. Unable to stop herself, she rolls her hips and grinds down, moaning loud and lewdly. Chloe curses and Beca can’t catch her breath as the other side of the robe is yanked away and Chloe pulls back to tug at the knot holding everything together. It comes free easily and Chloe stares down at her. 

 

She stares down at her long enough that Beca’s almost tempted to become shy. Nervous at the way Chloe’s fingers run along her naked body like she’s remembering. A tear lands on Beca’s stomach and it’s only then that she realises Chloe is crying. She pulls Chloe down into another kiss, this one less frantic but deep and earth-moving, and they stay like that, perfect, for a beat or two. 

 

Until Chloe’s hand closes around Beca’s hip and jerks her forward. 

 

Beca breaks the kiss with a gasp that rolls into a moan when she continues moving on her own, as Chloe’s fingers fiddle with the button on the front of her jeans and then she’s making Beca’s pause so that she can shimmy out of them. The socks and panties gone with them, Chloe’s left in only her bra and if Beca weren’t so desperate, maybe she’d stop to write a song about this moment. About how Chloe looks when she takes that last garment off or about what Beca feels just looking at her. 

 

How it feels when Chloe slides two fingers inside of her with ease and starts a rhythm that’s so achingly familiar. 

 

Chloe moves so she’s hovering over her again, one hand planted into the mattress to hold herself up, kissing Beca’s cheeks and her nose, even her lips. 

 

She can feel Chloe against her thigh, rocking back and forth and painting her skin. Feels the jerking desperation of Chloe’s movements and allows that to affect her own. Allows the breathy whimpers to fill her head and carry her forward. 

 

She bites at her lip when the fingers inside of her speed up but it’s no use. She moans and cries out, and calls Chloe’s name as she comes around fingers that slow and curl as she slowly comes down. 

 

Then she can’t help herself, weak as she feels, from sliding a hand between her thigh and Chloe and watching Chloe’s eyes roll into the back of her head as she resumes her own rhythm. 

 

“Stop,” Beca says, her voice a broken croak, and Chloe opens her eyes, surprised, but obeys. Moving her leg, Beca twists her wrist to press three fingers slowly into Chloe, knowing what she can take. What she likes. The cry that leaves Chloe is borderline pornographic and it makes Beca grunt against the burn of her wrist as it protests the way Chloe pushes down into Beca’s hand, looking for more. 

 

Beca knows she can’t keep that up, though, and she knows what Chloe needs, so with a nod of her head, Chloe rises enough so that Beca can slip her fingers free and begin working them over Chloe instead. Chloe’s hips move sharply against Beca’s hand, wanting a faster pace than Beca’s willing to give, and instead she takes her time, rubbing small circles across the spot that makes Chloe see stars and reveling in the wetness that coats her fingers. 

 

But Beca can’t draw it out forever, nor would she want to. Chloe comes apart with tensed muscles and a silent cry, and Beca watches it unfold from below her and wonders how she ever went so long without this. 

 

Wonders how she’d ever go without it again. 

 

“I love you,” Beca whispers, as Chloe’s body starts to relax against her. There are a hundred things she wants to say. “Please don’t leave,” is what eventually comes out and Chloe dips her head to kiss Beca. Soft and sweet, like a promise, and it’s one Beca returns shakily, a little afraid. 

 

“I love you, too.” Chloe’s words drain the fear from her, though. “I’m not going anywhere.” They wrap her up in hope and warmth, and as Chloe settles bonelessly beside Beca, slick and solid and real, Beca feels every tumultuous molecule in her body finally still.

 

Beca doesn’t know the future, can’t predict what only time will tell. She doesn’t know if everything is going to be okay this time. Maybe it’ll end up just the same. 

 

But god, Beca wants to try.