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baby, i know places we won't be found

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They meet at the table read.

Beca didn’t know what Chloe Beale would be like in real life -- her years in the music industry have taught her to never take someone’s public persona at face value. No one is who they project themselves to be on social media and red carpets, least of all actors.

Especially actors who can sing as well as Chloe.

But Chloe Beale, Beca quickly learns, is the exception to the rule. She’s a little more sedate in person than she is on talk show couches, but aside from that she pretty much lives up to the hype. She’s bubbly and polite and has this cute little laugh that makes Beca smile every time she hears it.

Which is kind of annoying, because this is Beca’s first acting gig, and she’s trying her best to play it cool.

***

Chloe finds her in the corner by the craft services spread before the table read starts. Beca is so focused on her task of making a coffee as slow as humanly possible, in the hopes of avoiding awkward small talk as she struggles with her first-day nerves, that Chloe has to touch her arm to get her attention.

“Hi! I’m Chloe. You’re Beca, right?”

“Oh, um, hi. Yep, that’s me.”

“Nice! I mean, I knew that, obviously, but it always feels weird to just start talking to someone famous like you’ve met them before, you know? I love your music, by the way.”

“I do know.” Beca nods, pressing her lips together. “And, thanks. I’m, uh, an admirer of your work too.”

Beca’s cringing at herself for being just about the lamest person on the planet, but Chloe lights up like she’s never heard that banal compliment before.

“That’s so sweet,” she says. Chloe squeezes Beca’s wrist before she leans in conspiratorially. “You know, I signed on only after they promised they’d offer this role to you. I’m so glad you took it.”

Beca’s lips part in genuine surprise at this piece of information. Chloe’s hand is still on her arm and she’s suddenly feeling warmer than she did a few minutes ago. She really wishes she wasn’t holding this damn cup of coffee.

“Oh, wow, um--” she starts when an anxious-looking production assistant appears at Chloe’s side and whispers something in her ear.

“We’re about to begin,” Chloe tells her once the PA has scurried off. She releases her hold on Beca’s wrist, fingers brushing her palm as she goes. “I’m really excited to work together, Beca.”

***

The whole getting into acting thing was Beca’s agent’s idea.

She’s been with him -- Joshua -- since she broke into the music industry after high school, and he hasn’t steered her wrong before. He’s the one who suggested leveraging her voice and her image as a “nouveau punk badass, but in a palatable way” to launch a solo artist career, which she’d use as a jumping off point to do what she really wanted: producing music.

And it worked. She learned so much -- and made so many connections -- developing her first album that the transition was relatively seamless. She now spends the majority of her time producing, while still providing vocals here and there when needed.

The public knows her best for the chart-toppers she’s featured in, but it’s the producing that pays the bills. And that’s how she liked it.

Until she hit a rut. She could still work -- still make kickass music -- but nothing inspired her anymore. Not like it used to.

Her mistake, in retrospect, was sharing that with Joshua. The next thing she knew he was texting motivational quotes and talking about “challenging herself creatively” and “diversifying her brand” (whatever that meant). He went radio silent for a week and she thought he’d finally dropped the matter, but then he started sending her scripts.

Scripts that she ignored... until one came with a post-it note stuck to the first page.

You’d co-star with Chloe Beale. - J

***

Beca [2:02 p.m.]: you’re playing dirty with that sticky note

Beca [2:02 p.m.]: I’m never disclosing any celebrity crushes to you again

Joshy [2:07 p.m.]: 🙄 okay sweetie

Joshy [2:08 p.m.]: I’ll messenger you the paperwork

***

Chloe Beale isn’t the only thing the film has going for it.

The screenplay was written by an edgy up-and-comer, who’s slated to direct too. And the plot is so riveting that Beca read it in one go, staying up into the early hours of the night.

The elevator pitch goes something like this:

It’s ‘Black Swan’ meets ‘Save the Last Dance.’ Two rivals at Julliard are competing for a spot in an advanced vocal arts course in London’s West End.

Ella is one of the most talented singers in her year, but what she really wants to do is compose music, and the West End is the best place to learn. She doesn’t care about making friends with her classmates, least of all the popular Charlie.

Charlie loves dancing as much as she loves singing, and she doesn’t get why Ella’s never liked her. Especially since they sound so good together.

As competition heats up it forces the two closer together, building tension, creating conflict, and, ultimately, helping them come to terms with feelings that they didn’t know were there.

Looking back, Joshua had majorly buried the lead on his post-it note.

Beca wouldn’t just be co-starring with Chloe Beale.

She’d be her love interest.

***

The film isn’t a musical, exactly, but it does feature a handful of songs, which happen to have been developed by a producer Beca’s worked with before.

It’s just the two of them in the studio when she records her vocals -- a couple solos, a group number, and a duet -- two months ahead of filming. After the first song, it occurs to her that this is probably the most comfortable she’ll feel while making this movie, but she shoves that thought to the back of her mind.

It’s good to get out of her comfort zone. That’s why she’s doing this, right?

They record the duet last. Beca skims over the scene in the script to get in the right mindset. It’s a pivotal moment between Ella and Charlie, when they finally give up on fighting and come together, turning their solos into a duet, making each other better.

Chloe has already recorded her parts, and Beca gets goosebumps when she hears the first few notes Chloe sings in her headphones.

When Beca steps out of the booth and listens to the updated track, a long-dormant ember crackles to life inside her. She and Chloe sound good together, especially when they sing in harmony, and before she knows it she’s sitting at the mixing console, playing with the levels.

She has Joshua get the film execs to bring her on as a music consultant, after that.

***

Beca’s first day on set is a whirlwind.

The first several weeks of shooting are slated to take place on a studio lot in Burbank, and Beca’s grateful to start off on her home turf. She’s filmed something here before -- a sneaker ad, maybe -- but she soon learns that the little commercial set didn’t come close to the scope of a movie production.

There are hundreds of workers all constantly on the move, perpetually in a rush. Joshua said studio execs are betting on the movie being a box office hit, especially with two big names attached as the leads, and the financial expectations are virtually written across everyone’s faces.

This is big business.

And Beca’s been around the block a few times in the entertainment industry. She’s performed at sold-out arenas and produced albums for A-list musicians and been nominated for a handful of Grammys.

Despite all that, she still finds this film project hella intimidating.

Even though she’s practically chaperoned through every stage of the process -- baby-faced PAs shuttling her to hair and makeup, to wardrobe, to her trailer -- she’s feeling a little lost.

At least, until she finds Chloe Beale.

Or, rather, Chloe Beale finds her.

“How’d I know I’d find you by crafty?”

Beca startles at the closeness of the voice and nearly drops the paper plate that’s in her hands. Holding it level, she turns around to find Chloe giving her a megawatt smile. She’s in full makeup but there are rollers in her hair, and something about seeing her half-made up like this gives Beca butterflies.

“Ha. Yep, that’s always a safe bet with me. When in doubt, look near the snack table and that’s where... I’ll be.”

She trails off, cursing herself for managing to be extra awkward whenever this girl is around. But if Chloe thinks she’s weird, she doesn’t show it. She just giggles, as if Beca actually said something funny.

“You a big fruit salad fan?”

Beca looks down, following Chloe’s gaze, and grimaces. She’d kinda zoned out while scooping the fruit onto her plate and it’s piled comically high.

“Eh, I’d say I’m a casual fan. Like, I don’t change the station when I hear them on the radio, but I don’t own their albums.”

Chloe laughs again, and it feels earned this time.

“You’re funny,” she says, like she’s confirming a suspicion.

Beca wonders what other preconceived notions Chloe might have about her. The thought makes her already-rapid pulse race even faster, so she puts it aside.

“I actually don’t know why I got all this. I’m way too anxious to eat anything right now.”

Chloe’s bottom lip juts out in a sympathetic pout and it’s unfair, really, how cute she is. Normally Beca would be admonishing herself for expressing any kind of vulnerability to a practical stranger, but she already feels safe confiding in Chloe.

It’s worrisome, to say the least.

But Beca doesn’t have time to dwell on that. Because Chloe puts her hand on Beca’s arm, just above her elbow, and leans toward her. All Beca can do is stand stockstill as she blinks rapidly, wondering what the hell is happening. At some point she realizes that Chloe’s reaching around her, but it barely registers because she’s so close Beca catches the sweet scent of her perfume.

When Chloe steps back Beca clears her throat, praying that her cheeks aren’t as red as they feel. Chloe holds up two plastic forks, grinning like she’s proud of herself.

“Come on,” she says, tugging on Beca’s elbow. “I’ll help.”

***

During the first week of filming, Beca learns a lot about Chloe Beale.

The most obvious is that she has no regard for personal space. She hugs Beca hello every morning and squeezes her wrist whenever Beca makes her laugh.

There are a lot of overly affectionate people in Hollywood -- some genuine, most not -- so it’s nothing new. The weird thing is that, when it’s Chloe, Beca doesn’t mind.

Chloe Beale is also endlessly kind. It’s almost annoying, actually.

After just three days on set she’s on a first-name basis with basically every member of the crew, greeting each one she passes, happily pausing to take selfies or record short video messages for people’s kids.

As a result everyone loves her in an almost palpable way. Soon Beca can tell when Chloe is nearby even before she sees her because the faces of those around her light up.

Beca feels like she should be sort of envious. Aside from her fans, people don’t react that way to her. And it’s fine, she gets it -- she’s introverted and shy and deeply sarcastic. It takes people a little while to warm up to her, and that’s okay.

It helps that Chloe’s kindness extends to her, too.

Beca began working with an acting coach soon after Joshua sent her the script, but she still feels like an imposter every time the cameras start rolling. Her first few takes were a complete disaster -- she forgot most of her lines and stammered through the few she remembered. When they had to take a 30 minute break to reset the lights she immediately set off for her trailer, on the verge of tears.

She was standing in the tiny bathroom, head tipped back as she held tissues to her eyes so she wouldn’t ruin her mascara, when there was a soft knock at the door.

It was Chloe Beale, holding a bag of Twizzlers in one hand and her script in the other.

“Wanna run lines?” She stepped inside, not waiting for Beca’s answer. “I brought snacks.”

They run lines together pretty much every day, after that.

***

One of the craziest things about life, Beca has learned, is that even the most surreal experiences begin to seem commonplace after a while.

Soon that axiom is proven true once again, because filming a movie starts to feel normal. And not long later, Chloe Beale stops being Chloe Beale.

She’s just Chloe.

***

Beca doesn’t know if Chloe ever thought of her as Beca Mitchell. But if she did, the illusion is definitely shattered midway through their second week of shooting when Chloe points out she has a poppyseed stuck in her teeth.

Chloe smirks while Beca works the seed free with her tongue, trying not to blush.

“I’m gonna let you in on a little actor secret, Bec.” She looks around, like she’s making sure no one else will hear. “Everything bagels, while delicious, are pretty much never a good idea on set.”

Beca narrows her eyes. “Gee, thanks for that sage wisdom. How have you not won an Oscar yet?”

It’s the kind of retort that many people in the industry find off-putting, but Chloe just laughs.

“It’s only a matter of time,” she says brightly.

Beca rolls her eyes (though she thinks she’s probably right). “Any other words of wisdom you’d care to bestow on me today, Ms. Beale?”

“Hmm.” Chloe cocks her head as she thinks. Beca can tell the exact moment an idea occurs to her, because she sinks her teeth into her bottom lip in a very distracting way. “Well, this isn’t wisdom so much as a request: don’t eat a bagel before we shoot our kissing scene.”

The laugh that escapes from Beca’s mouth is squeakier than she would have preferred.

“Uh, okay. I mean, I wasn’t planning on it…”

“Good,” Chloe says, like they just confirmed lunch plans. But then her gaze drops to Beca’s lips, and Beca feels it like an atmospheric shift. “Because I’m allergic to sesame seeds.”

***

If Beca didn’t know any better, she’d think that Chloe was flirting with her.

Not just because of the sesame seed comment, either. (Though the implications there are… suspect… to say the least.) As the days go on, additional little moments give Beca pause.

Like the other morning in the hair and makeup trailer when Chloe met Beca’s eyes in the mirror, watching with a coy smile as Sal fussed over Beca’s lipstick.

“I like that darker shade on you, Becs,” she’d said. “Very femme fatale.” She chuckled softly. “Fitting.”

And Beca didn’t totally get the reference, but Chloe was smirking at her with an arched eyebrow and she suddenly wished they’d turn the AC up a bit more.

Or take last night, for example. It was late -- somewhere between their 12th and 13th hour on set -- and Beca was about ready to collapse. When the director announced a 10 minute break so the crew could reset, she debated whether it was even worth the energy to walk over to her designated chair. Before she could make up her mind, Chloe appeared beside her.

Chloe frowned at her, pushing out her bottom lip in a way Beca was really starting to enjoy. “It’s not fair, Becs,” she said before she looped an arm through Beca’s and rested her cheek on her shoulder.

It was cold on set and Beca found herself leaning into the heat of her. “What’s not fair?”

“That it’s, like, 3 a.m. and you still look so pretty.”

Then there’s the whole “Becs” thing. They’d only known each other for about a week when Chloe started calling her that. And Beca’s usually wary of overly familiar people in this town -- a lesson she learned the hard way in the early days of her career -- but something about Chloe giving her a nickname just feels… nice.

It helps that she knows Chloe doesn’t want anything from her. Chloe already has the clout, the status, the fame, the wealth. She’s been starring in movies since she was a teenager. She could get any studio exec on the phone at the drop of a hat. Hell, she even has 3 million more Instagram followers than Beca.

Truly, Beca couldn’t care less about any of that. Except for the fact that it means there’s no ulterior motive lurking behind Chloe’s friendliness.

Or, flirtiness.

Maybe. Whatever.

Regardless, it’s not that she minds. It feels good to get attention from the person everyone else’s attention is focused on. It makes her feel warm and special in a way that she hasn’t felt in… she doesn’t know how long.

She just doesn’t want to fall for a charismatic straight girl.

Besides, Chloe has a boyfriend.

***

Chloe [9:48 p.m.]: hi!

Chloe [9:48 p.m.]: whatcha doing?

Beca [10:01 p.m.]: hey

Beca [10:01 p.m.]: I’m enjoying my first night off in weeks

Beca [10:01 p.m.]: like you should be

Chloe [10:02 p.m.]: lol

Chloe [10:02 p.m.]: who says i’m not?

Beca [10:02 p.m.]: i mean, the fact that you’re texting your coworker is a pretty big sign

Chloe [10:02 p.m.]: that doesn’t mean i’m not enjoying the night off!

Chloe [10:02 p.m.]: and maybe i missed talking to said coworker

Beca [10:03 p.m.]: that’s gotta be, like, some form of Stockholm syndrome dude

Beca [10:03 p.m.]: we’ve basically spent every day together for the last two weeks

Beca [10:03 p.m.]: surely you’re sick of me by now

Chloe [10:03 p.m.]: mmmmm

Chloe [10:03 p.m.]: nope 😚

Beca [10:04 p.m.]: 🙄

Chloe [10:04 p.m.]: why? are you sick of me?

Beca [10:04 p.m.]: yes.

Chloe [10:04 p.m.]: BECA!!!

Beca [10:04 p.m.]: lmao sry I couldn’t resist

Chloe [10:04 p.m.]: that was mean!

Beca [10:04 p.m.]: omg. Beale, please

Beca [10:04 p.m.]: you know I’m not sick of you

Beca [10:04 p.m.]: I wouldn’t be texting you at this ungodly hour if I was

Chloe [10:04 p.m.]: it’s… just after 10

Beca [10:05 p.m.]: like i said

Beca [10:05 p.m.]: ungodly

Chloe [10:05 p.m.]: well don’t let me get in the way of your beauty sleep

Chloe [10:05 p.m.]: not that you need any 😉

Beca [10:06 p.m.]: lol no it’s fine

Beca [10:06 p.m.]: I’ll prob be dicking around watching trashy reality shows for several more hours

Chloe [10:06 p.m.]: omg! that’s what i’m doing too

Beca [10:06 p.m.]: lol what. really?

Chloe [10:06 p.m.]: yeah!

Chloe [10:06 p.m.]: why?

Beca [10:07 p.m.]: idk

Beca [10:07 p.m.]: just figured your boyfriend would be wining and dining you at some Michelin star restaurant on your one night off

Chloe [10:07 p.m.]: lol @ “wining and dining.” are you 50?

Chloe [10:07 p.m.]: and what boyfriend would that be?

Beca [10:08 p.m.]: you know, that like guy with the hair and the abs

Beca [10:08 p.m.]: from that movie with the monsters

Beca [10:08 p.m.]: features heavily on your Instagram

Beca [10:08 p.m.]: I feel like you’re always papped with him and stuff?

Beca [10:09 p.m.]: wait, did I make this up

Beca [10:09 p.m.]: am I ringing any bells here??

Chloe [10:09 p.m.]: lol yes

Chloe [10:09 p.m.]: I just couldn’t resist 😁

Beca [10:09 p.m.]: 😑

Beca [10:09 p.m.]: bitch

Chloe [10:10 p.m.]: 😇 hehe

Chloe [10:10 p.m.]: that was zack

Chloe [10:10 p.m.]: but we’re not together anymore

***

So.

No boyfriend, then.

***

Chloe Beale can famously sleep anywhere.

It’s one of those recurring anecdotes her costars have told on various press tours -- a charming and innocuous glimpse behind the scenes. Interviewers and fans ate up the idea of Chloe napping between takes, falling asleep in her director’s chair or curled up under a folding table.

Stories like those are what Joshua calls “publicity alchemy” -- they’re catnip to the media, endearing to audiences, and give absolutely nothing away.

Half of the time they’re completely fabricated.

It doesn’t take Beca long to learn that, in Chloe’s case, this one is 100% legit.

If they’re given so much as a five minute break, odds are Chloe’s nodding off somewhere. It’s ridiculous, but also stupid cute -- especially when she tries to sleep standing up, resting her forehead on Beca’s shoulder.

But as the weeks wear on and night shoots mount, it starts to become annoying. Mainly because Beca’s increasingly sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated, and cranky. She’s never been a napper -- her brain just won’t turn off if she knows she’ll have to wake up soon -- and watching Chloe fall blissfully unconscious several times a day is beginning to get to her.

***

They’ve been running lines in Beca’s trailer for 10 minutes when Chloe starts to yawn.

Beca grips the arm of the couch, takes a deep breath through her nose, and wills herself not to lose it. She barely got four hours of sleep last night and has had so much espresso she can hardly blink. The scene they’re about to film -- a massive blow-out between Ella and Charlie, the pinnacle of their sexual tension -- is intense and emotional, and she could really use Chloe’s help right now.

If she falls asleep on her, she swears to god...

But then Chloe finishes yawning and blinks her eyes open, smiling sleepily, and Beca forgets to be mad.

Chloe’s gaze roams her face for a few seconds before she reaches out and traces the curve of Beca’s cheekbone. She bites the corner of her lip, and Beca knows she’s studying the black circles that are beneath her eyes. She’ll have to make sure Sal reapplies a liberal coat of concealer before the next take.

“Hey.” Chloe tugs on her arm. “C’mere.”

Beca furrows her brow. She watches Chloe as she kicks off her shoes and lies down on her side on the couch, slipping her legs through the space behind Beca’s back. She tugs on Beca’s arm again and Beca’s too tired to question it.

She mimics Chloe’s movements, taking off her shoes and reclining on the cushions. The sofa is so narrow that they have to lie facing one another. They’re so close that Beca’s eyes are struggling to bring Chloe’s features into focus, and the realization makes her breathing hitch.

Chloe drapes her arm around Beca, then, pressing her palm to the small of her back.

“Don’t worry,” she says, laughing softly. “I’ve got you.”

Beca swallows, distantly grateful Chloe thought she was worried about falling. She tucks one hand under her head and rests the other stiffly on her own thigh.

“I’m the worst napper,” she tells Chloe, whose eyes drift down toward her mouth. “In that I, like, can’t do it. At all. Ever.”

“Sure you can.” The corners of Chloe’s lips inch upward in a lazy smile, and that’s when Beca notices her gaze has strayed, too. “There’s nothing to it.”

Chloe shifts on the couch, like she’s getting comfortable, and the movement causes Beca to slide forward. They’re practically pressed flush against each other now, and Beca feels heat roll through her.

They’ve been close before -- during certain scenes and Chloe’s long hugs -- but never for an extended length of time. Never like this.

Beca moves her hand from her leg to rest on Chloe’s hip, because it’s more comfortable, because she’s right there, and Chloe lets out a happy little hum.

(Yeah, never like this.)

“Just close your eyes, Bec. I’ll wake us up in a half hour. I have a good internal clock.”

Chloe rubs slow circles on her back, and no one is more surprised than Beca when she feels her eyes grow heavy. It’s probably no use, but she goes with it and lets her eyelids flutter closed. Chloe makes that pleased sound again.

“Night, Becs,” she whispers, sounding closer than before.

Beca means to answer, but she nods off before the words make it out.

***

Their time at the studio in Burbank is almost over.

After a two week break they’ll head to Boston, where they’ll shoot exteriors for scenes set in New York City and London. (With the right angles and a little set dressing, the city can pass for both locations, apparently.)

Chloe is excited.

She’s excited for a couple weeks off, to get out of LA, to see what Beca’s like on a plane.

Chloe probably gets excited about most things, Beca thinks.

Beca is not excited.

Sure, it’ll be nice to have a break from filming and to get out of town. But there’s a huge, looming roadblock standing in the way:

The kissing scene.

It’s the very last thing they’ll film in California, and Beca’s never been more nervous.

***

Chloe picks up on Beca’s nervousness.

She’s annoyingly perceptive like that, sometimes.

“It’s just like any other scene,” she tells her over salads at lunch. “I mean, it can be a little awkward, I guess. But you just have to try not to think about it. And kissing a girl is much better than having to kiss a guy, so we have that going for us.”

Chloe winks and for once it has no effect on Beca, because her face has been red since they first broached the subject. She has so many questions -- and would love for Chloe to clarify what she meant in that last sentence -- but she doesn’t know where to start.

It doesn’t help that Beca’s having trouble parsing out the source of her anxiety. Because sure, she’s nervous about the mechanics of filming the scene. She’s worried she’ll look dumb or mess up or embarass herself in front of the crew.

But she also has a sinking suspicion she’s just nervous about kissing Chloe.

And that isn’t something she’s prepared to grapple with right now.

“I dunno, dude. Like, what if I’ve been kissing wrong my whole life and no one has had the heart to tell me? Filming this scene would be a really awkward way to find out.”

“I highly doubt that,” Chloe says, laughing. “Have you never seen a video of yourself kissing someone?”

Beca blinks. “What?”

“Like in a music video or something.”

She smiles innocently, like she has no idea how her words could have been interpreted, but Beca isn’t sure if she buys it.

“Oh. Uh, nope. No on-screen kissing of any kind.”

Chloe hums and tilts her head, looking at Beca like she’s appraising her. She twists her lips to the side, and when she meets Beca’s gaze again her eyes are shining in a dangerous sort of way.

“I have an idea,” she says in this low voice that doesn’t make Beca feel any better. She takes a sip of water and Beca finds that she’s holding her breath.

“Are you gonna let me in on it, or…”

Chloe presses her lips together, giving Beca the feeling she’s somehow played right into her hand.

“Why don’t we practice?”

Beca laughs so loudly a cluster of nearby PAs turn to stare. “Yeah, okay. That sounds like a normal thing to do.”

“No, I think this could work.” Chloe leans across the table and lowers her voice. “We’ll run through the scene on our own so that the awkward first time won’t be in front of everyone. This way, when we shoot it it’ll be, like, old hat. Easy peasy.” She smiles softly, eyebrows lifting in question. “So, what do you think?”

***

They’d usually be napping right about now.

It’s a routine that started after Beca was first able to fall asleep next to Chloe on the couch. It became a kind of unspoken ritual; whenever the director announced a longer-than-average break, they’d meet in Beca’s trailer and curl up beside one another.

If Beca let herself dwell on it, she’d say it was one of the best parts of her day.

(But she’s not one for dwelling.)

(Much.)

Tonight’s break will be at least an hour, so they retreat to Beca’s trailer, as per usual.

But, as not per usual, the sleeping will be replaced with kissing.

Beca doesn’t know how she agreed to this. In fact, she barely remembers the part where she agreed. The only piece of that moment she can recall with any clarity is the way Chloe’s face lit up after the (presumptive) agreeing occurred.

Chloe’s face looks different, now, as she closes the door behind her and slides the flimsy lock into place. Beca can’t quite read it, but her mind isn’t really in top form at the moment. There are too many warring thoughts swirling around up there, creating a meaningless white noise.

“So, um.” She shifts on her feet in the middle of the small space, wringing her hands. “Should we sit, or…”

Chloe walks closer, going slowly like she’s trying not to startle her.

“Well in the script we’re standing,” she says. “We’re Ella and Charlie now, okay?”

She comes to a stop in front of Beca, about a pace and a half away. Beca sees the distance and the reminder about their characters for the offer of comfort that it is, and her heart warms at Chloe’s kindness. It isn’t Beca and Chloe who are about to kiss, but their characters. And Beca would never admit it, because it sounds like hippy-dippy actor nonsense, but that shift in mindset takes the pressure off, just a little bit.

“Yeah, okay.” She shakes out her hands and takes a deep breath, putting herself in Ella’s shoes. “Why don’t you do the last few bars of the song, and then I’ll like…”

She trails off, gesturing awkwardly between them. She’s half expecting Chloe to laugh, but she just nods.

“Sure, sounds good.”

Chloe inhales slowly and closes her eyes. When she opens them again she’s not Chloe anymore, but Charlie. Beca’s seen her do it a hundred times before, but she’ll never stop being in awe of how good she is at this.

She tries to put herself in the scene, like Chloe has just done.

Ella and Charlie are alone in a dance studio at Julliard, working on their audition solos. Ella is starting to soften toward Charlie. In this scene, she lets her guard down and asks Charlie to sing for her so she can give her advice on the arrangement. Over the course of the song the camera focuses on Ella’s face as her expression changes from indifference to longing. When the ballad ends, Ella kisses Charlie.

As Chloe starts to sing the last few lines of the song, Beca feels the world tilt on its axis.

She’d listened to Chloe’s voice for hours that one day in the studio, before they’d even met, but that didn’t prepare her for the real thing; for hearing the purity of Chloe’s voice not two feet in front of her; for Chloe singing to her with this vulnerable look in her eyes.

In the script, Ella waits a few beats after Charlie has finished before kissing her. But here, in this trailer, Beca doesn’t wait.

She can’t wait.

She closes the space between them while Chloe is singing the last note. And she knows she’s supposed to be Ella -- that that’s the whole point -- but there’s something about Chloe pulling her in that can’t be scripted or staged or faked. It’s as real as the curve of Chloe’s jaw beneath her thumb, or the sharp intake of breath Chloe makes when Beca’s nose nudges the apple of her cheek.

Chloe lifts her chin and finds Beca’s lips, and that’s not in the script either. The realization makes Beca’s stomach swoop, and when she kisses Chloe back she feels weightless. Maybe that’s why she slides her fingers into Chloe’s hair, why she fists the fabric of Chloe’s shirt in her other hand. She clings to Chloe, tethers herself to her so she won’t float away.

In the movie, Ella is an angsty force of nature. She sets the pace, incites action, commands the room.

But Beca doesn’t remember any of that. All she can do is hold on and give herself up to Chloe’s mouth.

And she’s new to the whole acting thing, but she has an inkling it doesn’t usually feel like this. She wonders what it feels like to Chloe. If she’s just acting when she sucks on Beca’s bottom lip or when she licks along the seam of Beca’s mouth.

Is acting supposed to make you see stars behind your eyes, to send streams of heat pooling low in your stomach?

These are the questions bouncing around the static of Beca’s mind as Chloe crowds in closer, pressing their bodies together. There’s a whimper building in Beca’s throat and it takes everything in her to suppress it. She parts her lips, taking a shaky breath, and Chloe’s right there, slipping her tongue into Beca’s mouth.

Beca moans then -- this quiet, pathetic sound -- and meets Chloe’s tongue with her own. Chloe’s nails dig into her waist, blunt yet biting, and Beca feels it all over.

Even though she can’t think straight, Beca knows she’d let Chloe do anything to her right now. It’s like they’re the only ones who exist, like they’ve slipped onto another plane where all there is is Chloe and her lips and her hands that feel like fire.

And so when Chloe pulls away, when she rests her forehead against Beca’s and lets out a ragged breath, it feels like a loss.

The world starts to fall back around them, piece by piece, and when Beca finally catches her breath she’s slightly mortified and a little afraid of what comes next. The beginnings of an apology are forming on her lips when Chloe drops her hands from Beca and steps back.

She can feel Chloe’s eyes on her, but it takes her a few seconds to meet them. Her face is burning and if Beca had the power to disappear, to make the ground open up and swallow her whole, she would happily use it.

Unfortunately that’s not an option, so she sets her jaw and meets Chloe’s gaze.

Beca doesn’t know what she was expecting to see written on Chloe’s features. Maybe a grimace or a cringe, traces of discomfort or even pity.

What she doesn’t expect to find is Chloe breathing heavily with flushed cheeks and dark eyes, looking just as tossed about as Beca feels.

Beca’s dizzy all over again.

Chloe clears her throat and shakes her head subtly, like she’s coming back to her senses.

“Wow,” she says. She looks Beca up and down, her usual teasing smirk back on her face. “Well I can confirm you definitely haven’t been kissing wrong your whole life, Becs.”

Her voice is steady and playful but her pupils are still blown wide, and Beca’s feeling more confident by the second.

She arches an eyebrow. “Well that’s a relief.”

Chloe huffs out a laugh and shakes her head. “You are full of surprises, Beca Mitchell.”

And yeah, Chloe just had her tongue in her mouth, but that line is what gives Beca butterflies.

“Um. Thanks?”

Chloe steps back, taking Beca in like she’s seeing her in a whole new light. A smile spreads across her face and Beca is struck by how sexy she looks with kiss-swollen lips.

“We definitely need to work on our characterization, though,” Chloe says. “One more time from the top?”

***

When Beca returns to set a half hour later, she can’t say she’s any less nervous about filming the kissing scene.

What she can say, she realizes in a flash of panic, is that she might have a crush on her co-star.

So there’s that.

***

Fuck.