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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.

Chapter Text

Just when production in LA is supposed to be winding down, the director throws them a curveball. He wants to film an additional song for Charlie in order to have options in the editing bay, so the schedule gets pushed back by a couple weeks.

Beca is of two minds about it. On the one hand, she’s disappointed that their hiatus is now delayed. But on the other, this buys her more time to steel herself to film the kissing scene.

Plus, Chloe needs to record the vocals for the new song and, now that Beca’s a music consultant, she’ll join her in the studio.

***

This recording studio is one of Beca’s favorites.

(Next to the one in her house, of course.)

It’s small and understated, with high ceilings and ambient lighting and oversized sofas that nearly swallow you whole. Some of it is scruffy, like the old minifridge in the corner, but the mixing board and microphones are state-of-the-art.

The studio is located in a nondescript building on an out-of-the-way street in Westlake. You’d never guess from the exterior what it’s like inside, and Beca appreciates that detail, too. She loves when things that appear mundane turn out to be spectacular.

Beca makes sure to get there first and is waiting in the front reception with a box of artisan donuts when the rest of the music production team arrives. It’s a tactic she’s developed over the years and, while it initially felt forced, it’s served her well. Showing up early tells any skeptics that she’s serious about the project, and handing out donuts helps to put the star-struck at ease. It’s hard to be nervous around Beca Mitchell after she tells you the first time she had a jelly donut from this bakery she wound up with a red stain down the front of her shirt.

The schtick works its magic today, and Beca has a good rapport going with the small group as they discuss their approach for the session. It’s so refreshing to talk music with likeminded people that Beca almost forgets the main goal of the day.

But then Chloe walks in five minutes before her scheduled arrival time, balancing two trays of iced coffees in her arms.

“I bribed a PA for everyone’s Coffee Bean orders,” she says. “Hope I got them right!”

She’s wearing ripped jeans and a cropped black tee and seems to be makeup-free, aside from a bold red lip. Her hair is piled on top of her head in a messy bun -- like she just twisted it up in the car -- and something about seeing her like this is incredibly endearing. Beca can just picture this Chloe getting groceries at Ralph’s and running into Sephora for an emergency lipstick.

She hangs back and watches as Chloe doles out the drinks, charming the pants off everyone. When Chloe hands her the last cup -- a cold brew with extra almond milk -- she leans in and presses her lips to Beca’s cheek.

“Hey you,” she says when she steps back. “Miss me?”

“It’s been 48 hours, Chloe,” Beca says (instead of ‘yes’).

When they finally get down to the business of recording, everything runs smoothly. Chloe had already warmed up on her drive over (what Beca wouldn’t give to see the faces of anyone who caught a glimpse of Chloe Beale running scales on the freeway) so she heads straight to the booth.

Beca thinks she’s prepared for hearing her voice live this time, after practicing that scene in her trailer, but the first few notes that fall from Chloe’s lips still give her goosebumps.

She gets that feeling again, like once-sleepy nerve endings are firing to life in her brain, and the producer in her takes over. She gives Chloe direction, suggesting variations she can try, or just singing them when she can’t find the words. They work together well, and soon Chloe’s bouncing ideas off Beca as they continue to experiment, layering her voice in some parts and playing with the tempo in others.

When Chloe comes out of the booth to take a break, Beca only flashes her a smile and a thumbs up before turning back to the board. She has an idea about how to transition from the chorus to the verse and she can’t stop until it sounds exactly as it does in her mind.

She’s not sure how long it takes -- she never does when she gets into a flow state like that -- but when she’s done she takes off her headphones and leans back in the chair with a satisfied sigh.

“You’re so different here, Becs.”

Beca whips her head to the side and finds Chloe in the chair next to her. She wants to ask her how long she’s been there or why she’s looking at her like that, but neither seems like a safe option right now.

“Different?”

“Yeah.”

“Like, different how?” (Wow. A true wordsmith.)

“Um... I don’t know how to describe it.”

Chloe glances at the mixing board and then at Beca’s hands, where they’re resting in her lap. There’s that dreamy look in her eyes again, and Beca wonders if Chloe had been watching her fingers earlier, as they moved across the board. The mere concept makes her stomach flip.

“You’re just so in your element, I guess,” Chloe continues. “Like, you know exactly what to do and how to do it.”

The compliment makes Beca feel all soft inside and she wrinkles her nose. “As opposed to what I’m like on set, you mean.”

“No,” Chloe says, shaking her head earnestly. She leans forward and grips Beca’s wrist. “That’s not what I mean at all.”

“I know. I was messing with you.”

But Chloe’s still looking at her intently, and Beca already knows her enough to tell that she feels she hasn’t fully communicated her point.

“You’re just…” She lets go of Beca’s wrist and trails her fingers down to her palm, tracing her lifeline. “I feel like I’m seeing a different part of you here. That’s all.”

Beca swallows thickly, reminding herself to breathe. She’s glad Chloe’s eyes are trained on their hands, because she’s sure her cheeks are flushed.

“Oh yeah?” She laughs. “A good part or a bad part?”

When Chloe meets her gaze again, her smile is nearly blinding.

“An awesome part.”

***

Even though the recording studio is in a nondescript building on an out-of-the-way street, a few paparazzi are mulling around outside when it’s time to leave.

Chloe sighs. It’s a quiet sound, but Beca hears it.

“I’ve got this,” she tells her, one hand already on the door. “Wait thirty seconds. I parked at the far end of the lot so I’ll draw them away.”

And Beca hates paparazzi -- they’re literally the scourge of the earth -- but today she smiles the whole way to her car, remembering the impressed look on Chloe’s face.

***

The day Beca has been dreading most has arrived.

Today she is contractually obligated to kiss Chloe Beale in front of 20-odd people.

Her life can be so fucking weird.

“Remember, it’s just like any other scene,” Chloe says as they go to their positions on set.

“Right, yeah.” Beca takes a deep breath as a sound guy fiddles with her mic pack. She exhales quietly so that he won’t hear. “Like any other scene.”

“That’s it,” Chloe says encouragingly. She turns away from the makeup girl who’s powdering her forehead and meets Beca’s eyes. “Old hat. Just like we practiced.”

It’s not one of her finer moments, but Beca nearly chokes.

Dude.”

She glances pointedly at the multiple crew members fussing over them, but Chloe just grins. Beca succumbs to another coughing fit, and when the sound guy asks if she’s alright Chloe answers for her.

“She’s fine,” she says, looking entirely too pleased with herself. “She’s gonna be great.”

***

It is fine, in the end.

In a sense, at least.

Because when the director calls ‘action’ and Chloe starts to mouth the words to the pre-recorded version of the song, it feels familiar. They had practiced the kiss three times that day in Beca’s trailer, each rehearsal helping them get closer to where their characters need to be.

Beca finds herself being able to move through this part of the scene on muscle memory, reacting, as Ella, to Charlie at just the right moments.

It’s when the song ends that things start to go sideways.

She silently counts to three, just like they had planned, before striding over to Chloe.

(Charlie.)

(Whatever.)

But when Beca cups her jaw and rests their foreheads together Chloe gasps softly, just like she did during their very first practice kiss, and Beca can’t shake the feeling that it isn’t meant for the camera.

It makes her mind go blank. Beca freezes for a fraction of a second until Chloe squeezes her waist, on the side the camera can’t see, prompting her to come back to the scene. And she does.

She presses forward, into Chloe’s space, into the solid warmth of her. Chloe squeezes her waist again right as Beca kisses her.

This is the fourth time they’ve kissed, but that doesn’t mean Beca’s any less dazed. There’s a spark that catches as their lips connect, just like when they practiced. Warmth flows through Beca’s body, thick and slow like honey, and she desperately wants to make Chloe feel it too.

Somehow, she still has enough self awareness to remember that she can’t.

They’re on a sound stage surrounded by a couple dozen teamsters who just want to take their lunch break.

They’re being filmed.

They’re at work.

So she gathers up what remains of her self control and focuses on the job in front of her.

(Or against her, as it were.)

She reminds herself that she’s Ella as Chloe rolls her hips forward.

She reminds herself that she’s Ella as her fingers push into Chloe’s hair.

She reminds herself that she’s Ella as Chloe opens her mouth to her, eagerly waiting for her tongue when Beca slips it past her lips.

And it works, for the most part. When the director calls ‘cut’ it feels like a small win; Beca didn’t tremble or moan or let Chloe take the lead. She didn’t massively embarrass herself.

She looks at Chloe, wanting to share the victory, but she’s taken aback by what she sees. Chloe’s cheeks are flushed and her hair is tousled, thanks to Beca’s hands, and her gaze is locked on Beca’s mouth.

It knocks the wind out of her, and now Beca’s questioning whether she isn’t in a similar state.

Her concern is interrupted by a burst of applause coming from the director. She and Chloe quickly step away from each other as he rushes over and praises them for their passion and ‘effortless authenticity.’

He goes on and on, and Beca knows she should be flattered, but she kind of wants to collapse in on herself, black hole-style. Annoyingly it appears Chloe has recovered from whatever she was feeling before, because when he lavishes praise on her she’s quick to deflect.

“Beca did all the work, honestly,” she tells him while glancing sideways at Beca. “She really disappears into the role.” She’s smirking now. “You never would’ve thought it was her first stage kiss, right?”

Beca levels Chloe with her most ferocious glare, though the blush creeping up her neck probably belies what’s going on inside her mind.

The director agrees and launches into another complimentary tirade, which Beca barely hears because Chloe’s slowly looking her up and down in a really unfair way. And Beca’s head is still a little cloudy, because she can’t tell if Chloe’s teasing or serious or something in between.

“Alright, so,” the director says, clapping his hands together and making Beca jump. “One more for safety?”

It’s a miracle that she doesn’t audibly groan.

“Sure!” Chloe takes Beca’s hand. “We’d be happy to.”

***

Beca intentionally doesn’t set many plans during the two-week break.

There are a few things she can’t get out of -- meetings about ongoing music projects, a walk-through with an architect to discuss renovations to her beach house in Malibu. But for the most part, she just wants to stay in sweats all day, watch a gross amount of TV, and catch up on sleep.

It had seemed like a great plan. She was really looking forward to it.

But then somewhere between days three and four, she finds herself lying in bed wide awake and thinking about Chloe.

Or, more specifically, missing Chloe.

It’s stupid because they haven’t even known each other for that long -- just a handful of weeks -- but Beca’s already having a hard time being away from her. Sure, it’s easier to sleep when Chloe is there, but it’s more than that. She misses her enthusiasm and dumb jokes and the way her smile lights up her whole face when Beca makes her laugh.

But it’s not a crush, Beca has decided.

Well okay, maybe it is. But still, she can’t indulge it. Because on the off chance Chloe is actually interested in her, too -- on the off chance something happens between them -- Beca knows, deep down, it would only end in pain.

She sucks at relationships, if how things ended with Jesse and, later, Harper are anything to go by. She’s too busy, too closed off, too ‘emotionally unavailable.’ Her career is always pulling her in a million different directions and after the glamor of red carpets and Hollywood parties wears off, no one is willing to put up with it for long.

It’s fine.

It’s whatever.

It’s better to just skip it.

Beca rolls over in bed and sighs into the pillow.

Two weeks away from Chloe is probably for the best.

***

Chloe [11:11 a.m.]: *photo attachment*

Chloe [11:11 a.m.]: did you get this at joan’s on third?

Beca [11:14]: why are you texting me a screenshot from my Insta story?

Chloe [11:15 a.m.]: bc you seem like the kind of person who wouldn’t check her replies

Beca [11:15 a.m.]: that’s valid

Beca [11:15 a.m.]: and yeah I was nearby so I stopped in for a bagel

Chloe [11:15 a.m.]: yum!

Chloe [11:15 a.m.]: i love that place

Beca [11:16 a.m.]: haha it is pretty good

Chloe [11:22 a.m.]: so how have you been?

Beca [11:25 a.m.]: I’m good

Beca [11:25 a.m.]: mostly just relaxing. Catching up on Love Island. generally living the dream

Beca [11:26 a.m.]: what about you?

Chloe [11:26 a.m.]: i’m just happy you replied to my text 😳

Beca [11:26 a.m.]: lol what

Chloe [11:26 a.m.]: i was worried you were giving me the silent treatment

Beca [11:26 a.m.]: Really? why??

Chloe [11:26 a.m.]: i dunno

Chloe [11:26 a.m.]: i guess bc we haven’t seen each other in a week

Chloe [11:26 a.m.]: and i haven’t heard from you

Beca [11:27 a.m.]: oh.

Beca [11:27 a.m.]: well to clarify, that is not what was happening at all

Chloe [11:28 a.m.]: i am happy to hear that :)

Beca [11:33 a.m.]: and I mean I haven't heard from you either

Chloe [11:34 a.m.]: maybe i was waiting to see if i’d hear from you first this time

Chloe [11:37 a.m.]: but no worries

Chloe [11:37 a.m.]: glad you’ve been able to take time to relax

Chloe [11:37 a.m.]: you deserve it 💛

Chloe [11:37 a.m.]: and i’m excited to head east with you soon!! ✈️🎥🎬👯♀️

Beca [11:40 a.m.]: lol

Beca [11:40 a.m.]: me too 😊

***

It’s embarrassing, really, how happy Beca is to see Chloe again.

They meet up at the AA Admirals Club lounge at LAX. Chloe had arranged for them to be on the same flight to Boston, and while Beca usually prefers to travel solo -- to hunker down with her hood up and and Airpods in, feigning sleep so no one talks to her -- she’s looking forward to spending five-odd hours in the air together.

Because, of course, Chloe made sure that they’re sitting side-by-side.

When they find each other in the airport Beca probably hugs Chloe a little too long, burying her nose into the collar of her t-shirt. But Chloe hugs her back just as tightly, so she kind of doesn’t care.

She was worried things might be weird between them, since Chloe had called Beca out on her radio silence, but they slip right back into their usual rhythm. They hole up in a quiet corner of the lounge and are only interrupted a few times by selfie-seeking fans.

Beca notes how cute Chloe is with the people who want photos with her, how she makes sure to ask them a question or bestow a compliment. Each one walks away absolutely glowing, like they’re the better for having talked to her.

The flight itself is one of the more pleasant trans-continental journeys of Beca’s life. Time passes quickly. They chat about dumb stuff (Real Housewives, celebrity blind items) and real stuff (industry misogyny, dealing with stalkers). Chloe playfully mocks Beca’s oversized athleisure (“This is your flying uniform, isn’t it?”), but she takes it back somewhere over the Rockies when her feet are freezing and Beca produces an extra pair of socks.

They watch a dumb movie together, pressing play at the same time on their entertainment consoles. They only use one earbud each so they can still talk.

***

Most of the cast and crew are staying at a hotel in downtown Boston, but the studio has put Beca and Chloe up in a brownstone on Beacon Street. They have their own apartments -- Beca on the second floor and Chloe on the third -- with views of the Charles River on one side and the Public Garden on the other.

The space is small but swanky, and practically dripping with heritage. There’s a hand-carved banister winding along the narrow staircase that Beca thinks must be over 100 years old.

It’s so different from LA, where a building constructed before 2010 is considered old.

Beca thinks she’s going to like it here.

***

The filming experience in Boston is completely different from LA, too.

They’ll be here for about three weeks, but Beca wouldn’t be mad if the shooting schedule winds up getting extended again. The city is quaint and walkable, with meandering streets that were once cowpaths, according to a local crewman.

Some streets are so narrow that production has to shut them down completely, creating a race against the clock to shoot all of the day’s scenes before the permits expire. Unlike in LA where their trailers were readily accessible, here they’re often parked several blocks away.

They film all over. They set up camp amongst the skyscrapers of downtown for New York City scenes, and head to the stately homes of Back Bay and cobblestone streets of Beacon Hill for scenes set in London.

There are no real paparazzi here, either. A couple newspaper photogs show up to the first few shoots, but quickly lose interest.

Most of the locals don’t pay them any mind -- if anything they’re annoyed the production setup is in their way -- but every so often a group of young girls gathers on the sidewalk, giggling nervously as they watch Beca and Chloe.

Beca usually spots them first, but Chloe is the one who grabs Beca’s hand and guides her over to say hi and take photos.

It’s surprising, at first, to see that their fanbases largey overlap. But once Beca thinks about it she supposes it tracks that they appeal to the same demographics.

She’s always enjoyed interacting with fans in person. It’s so much better than the sycophantic comments she gets on social media, which could be posted by Russian bots for all she knows. This way, she gets to see their smiles, wave off their emphatic praise, and thank them for supporting her.

Fan interactions are even better with Chloe by her side. Chloe turns a selfie and a quick hello into an experience. She tailors the quick exchange for each group, cracking jokes and asking everyone for their names. By the time the fans leave, cheeks rosy from laughing, Beca knows they’ll remember this day for a long time.

“What?” Beca asks one day after talking to a pair of high schoolers who skipped class just to meet them. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Chloe presses her lips together, like she didn’t realize she was smiling.

“You’re so sweet with your fans,” she says.

“What were you expecting? That’d I’d be a horrible monster? Don’t believe the blind items, Beale.”

“No, oh my god. Of course not.” Chloe laughs, swatting at Beca’s arm. “It’s just very cute to witness. That’s all.”

“Funny,” Beca mutters. “I was just thinking the same about you.”

***

There is one downside about filming in Boston.

With tight shooting schedules and far-off trailers, there’s less opportunity for napping.

Still, they manage to slip away together whenever they can. Even though they’re technically napping less than they did before, it feels more noticeable now since they have to walk past everyone on the street to get to their trailers.

One day Beca jokes that the crew probably thinks they’re having sex.

“Hmm,” Chloe says, raising her eyebrows. “Wouldn’t that be something.”

Beca doesn’t know what to think about that.

She also doesn’t know what to think about the way their napping routine has… evolved.

When it started, they’d sleep next to each other on the couch, only touching where necessary due to the small space. But, somewhere along the line, things have shifted.

Now, they’re not napping next to each other so much as on top of each other.

Entwined with each other.

Curled around each other.

Cuddling. They’re cuddling, okay?

And it’s confusing and disorienting and undeniably unprofessional.

But it also feels really, really, really good. So.

Sometimes Beca wonders what Chloe makes of it all. But even when they wake up twisted together like aux cords, neither of them mentions it.

And maybe it’s for the best.

***

There’s a surprising amount of similarities between the music and film industries, Beca has learned.

Everyone in both industries has a predilection for confusing jargon and acronyms that -- Beca would argue -- don’t actually save any time at all.

Nearly everyone has a personal brand. Even Alfie the boom guy has asked Beca to check out his Soundcloud.

And everyone seems to live by one motto: work hard, play harder.

That ethos is in full swing tonight. It’s the cast and crew’s first evening off since they got to town, and they’re taking full advantage at a trendy bar near Copley Square.

Production members are occupying a majority of the booths reserved for bottle service when Beca and Chloe walk in. Word must have gotten around that they’ve arranged to cover the tab, because their coworkers greet them with a raucous cheer.

Beca ducks her head, overwhelmed by the attention, but she can’t help but smile. She’s glad everyone is in a celebratory mood -- it’s been a long week of shooting and they deserve to let loose.

Incidentally, it appears that Beca is in need of some letting loose, herself.

Because the first drink goes right to her head and this DJ is actually pretty decent and Chloe looks offensively hot in her little gold dress.

That last thought should have tipped Beca off -- should have signalled her to slow down -- but Chloe’s smiling at her as she dances and, for the life of her, Beca can’t remember the last time she actually had fun.

So she throws back lemondrops with the makeup girls. She takes a few sips from the PAs’ unnaturally blue fish bowl. She orders a bottle of Patrón and makes Chloe do tequila shots.

“You know,” Chloe says, passing the salt shaker, “of all the Beca Mitchell tabloid rumors out there, I never would have guessed the one about you being a party girl was true.”

Beca bursts out laughing. “Please. It’s not. I’m very, very boring.”

Chloe cocks her head as her eyes drift down to Beca’s cleavage.

“Really? Your dress says otherwise.”

Beca’s eyes widen and she laughs again, feeling flushed and light. She’s halfway through crafting a witty retort when Chloe licks the salt off her hand, tips back the shot, and sucks on a lime wedge, holding Beca’s gaze the whole time. Even after she releases the lime from between her teeth, Beca’s still staring at her lips, wondering what she tastes like.

“Okay Becs -- now you.”

Chloe’s smirking like she caught her and that’s when Beca knows she’s drunk, because she doesn’t care.

Beca takes her shot efficiently -- salt, tequila, lime -- and then Chloe’s pulling her onto her feet before she’s done shivering at the taste.

“This song is my jam!”

“Excuse me, what?” Beca scoffs. “Your jam?”

If Chloe notices that she’s being mocked, she doesn’t let on. “Yeah!” she shouts over her shoulder, gripping Beca’s hand as she leads her to the dance floor.

The guy who produced this song is actually a massive dick, but Beca has to give it to him -- just this once -- because the way Chloe’s moving her hips to the beat is a sight to behold. She runs her fingers through her hair as she tips her face up to the mirrorball, flecks of light washing over her cheeks.

It’s not really a conscious decision when Beca steps in closer.

Chloe beams at her like she’s thrilled to see her, as if they haven’t been together this whole night. She puts her hand on Beca’s waist, first as a gentle touch and then, a few minutes later, as something more intentional. Chloe guides Beca’s movements -- or, perhaps more accurately -- Beca lets herself be guided. Her body responds to Chloe like she’s music personified, hips swaying under the rhythm of her hand.

The song transitions into another, then another, and the dance floor must be filling up, because there’s barely any space between their bodies anymore. Beca loops her arms around Chloe’s neck, for want of anywhere else to put them, and both of Chloe’s hands are on her waist, now, and fuck Beca wants to kiss her.

And maybe it’s the tequila -- or the fact that she can feel Chloe’s breath on the shell of her ear -- but she’s struck by how confusing this whole acting thing can be. It doesn’t make sense that it was okay to kiss Chloe a few weeks ago, under the guise of work, but it wouldn’t be okay now.

And maybe it’s the tequila -- or the fact that one of Chloe’s hands has moved to the small of her back, holding her closer -- but she doesn’t get what the difference is.

She just wishes she still had an excuse to kiss Chloe.

(She wonders why she needs one.)

“Becs,” Chloe says, just loud enough for her to hear. “Beca.”

Beca leans back so she can see her -- so her features come back into focus -- and, boy, is that a mistake. Chloe’s eyes are hooded and her cheeks are pink and dewy, and when Beca licks her lips her gaze follows.

(She wishes she still had an excuse.)

(She isn’t sure she needs one.)

“Yeah?” she asks, swallowing thickly.

Chloe furrows her brow. “What?”

There’s some sort of commotion happening behind them, but Beca barely registers it until the solid form of Sal from makeup is beside them. He puts a hand on each of their shoulders and widens his stance, taking up space like a human shield.

“A guy was recording a video,” he tells them. “I made him delete it, but…” he pauses, glancing between them “...maybe y’all should call it a night.”

***

By the time they stumble out of the bar a small crowd has gathered outside. At first Beca isn’t sure whether they’re club-goers or celebrity gawkers, but then cameras start flashing and she has her answer.

Chloe yelps and loops her arm through Beca’s as they hurry toward the street. There’s another flurry of flashes and Beca holds her arm up to block the light.

They clamber into the back seat of the Uber Black, collapsing against each other as the photogs continue snapping away through the windows.

“Go, go, go!” Beca tells the driver before dissolving into a fit of giggles.

Even after he speeds off they stay as they were, huddled against each other, laughing for no reason.

“Oh my god that was, like, so crazy,” Chloe says. “I thought there weren’t any paps in Boston.”

Beca muffles her laugh against Chloe’s shoulder.

“They must have flown out here just for you, Chlo.”

***

The car pulls to a stop a few minutes later. Either Beca’s lost all sense of time or the bar is way closer to their apartments than she realized.

Thankfully they haven’t been followed, and when they step onto the sidewalk it’s dark and quiet. They climb the 12 steps to the front door, Beca grumbling all the while.

“You sure this is the right stoop? I don’t remember it being this steep.”

When they walk into the foyer their heels clack noisily on the marble floor, and even though Beca knows no one else is staying here -- that the studio rented out the whole building -- she squeezes Chloe’s arm and shushes her.

Chloe giggles and shushes her back.

“Ugh, more stairs,” Beca groans as they traipse up to the second floor. “What’s with this town and stairs?”

“Look on the bright side,” Chloe says, bumping Beca’s hip with her own. “Your ass will be even more amazing in a few weeks.”

And Beca must be dangerously close to sober, because she blushes to the tips of her ears.

Once they reach the second floor, and the door to Beca’s apartment, they linger there in the hallway, stuck at a crossroads.

Beca’s still tipsy enough that she doesn’t want the night to end. The heat of Chloe’s body is still burning through her veins, the insistence of her touch still pulsing low in her stomach.

However, she’s sober enough to remember why she keeps her guard up; why indulging these feelings would be a bad idea.

But, then again, it’s 2 a.m. and the world is quiet and they’re thousands of miles from home, so maybe nothing even matters.

She leans back against the wall beside her door, undecided and stalling for time.

“So, um.” She looks down at her shoes and brushes her hair out of her face. “Tonight was really fun. Way more fun than I had anticipated, actually.”

She watches Chloe’s feet as she steps closer.

“Becs,” Chloe whispers. “Beca.”

When Beca looks up Chloe’s right there in front of her, almost as close as they were on the dance floor, not long ago. It’s different, though, because, this time, there’s no ostensible reason for them to be in each other’s space.

This time, they’re alone.

Chloe cradles Beca’s cheek in her hand and Beca forgets how to breathe. Her heart pounds in her chest as Chloe’s eyes roam her face before landing on her mouth.

And Beca’s lost all sense of time again, because it feels like it takes forever for Chloe to lean in and kiss her.

When their lips meet, it’s like the first time. And in a way, Beca guesses, it is.

This kiss isn’t like when they practiced, or the takes they did on set. Tonight, Chloe kisses her with her whole body. She leans into Beca as she sucks hungrily on her bottom lip, moving her hand from Beca’s cheek to curl around the back of her neck.

Beca gasps quietly when Chloe pulls away to change the angle of the kiss, and when Chloe’s lips find her again Beca’s mouth is open and ready for her tongue.

They both inhale sharply as they deepen the kiss, and the first clear thought Beca has is that Chloe tastes like lime.

Then Chloe’s backing away, just as quickly as she’d moved in.

“Sorry,” she breathes, biting the corner of her lip. “I just had to do that.”

Beca sags against the wall as Chloe turns away and walks to the staircase. She watches her climb the steps until she’s out of sight.

Chapter Text

Joshy [8:23 a.m.]: *photo attachment*

Joshy [8:23 a.m.]: *photo attachment*

Joshy [8:23 a.m.]: *photo attachment*

Joshy [8:23 a.m.]: *photo attachment*

Joshy [8:23 a.m.]: *photo attachment*

Joshy [8:24 a.m.]: Courtesy of your publicist. Looks like you had a fun time last night

Joshy [8:24 a.m.]: Very chummy with the costar, Beca...

Joshy [8:25 a.m.]: I have literally never seen you smile this big in my life

Joshy [8:26 a.m.]: Is your celebrity crush becoming a real crush??

Beca [8:50 a.m.]: oh god

Beca [8:55 a.m.]: also, fuck off

***

The photos are all over social media.

Even if Joshua hadn’t texted her, there’s no way Beca could’ve missed them, what with the way her mentions are blowing up.

At first Beca’s heart races as she scrolls through Instagram, remembering Sal’s comment last night about some guy recording a video and fearing the worst. But after a few minutes she feels fairly certain that the only evidence of what happened last night is in the form of paparazzi photos.

The relief she feels soon fades, though, as she realizes those are damning enough on their own.

There are five or six iterations floating around. Most show the same things: Beca and Chloe stumbling out of the club with linked arms, wide smiles, and flushed cheeks. Beca’s leaning into Chloe as she laughs, squinting against the flashbulbs. Chloe’s smiling too, mouth half-open, like the camera caught her mid-sentence. Both her and Beca’s clutches are tucked under her arm.

Those photos are whatever. They’re not images that Beca would prefer to be splashed all over the internet, but they’re innocuous enough. Her PR agency is probably brainstorming positive spin strategies at this very moment.

But there’s one photo that makes her stomach drop.

It’s dark and blurry, since it was shot through the tinted window of the Uber, but Beca can make out the scene clear as day; she and Chloe in the back seat, bent over each other with their heads pressed together. Beca’s turned away from the camera, but the flash illuminates half of Chloe’s face. She’s smirking at Beca, her one visible eye cast downard, in the direction of Beca’s lips.

But the focus of photo -- the center of the golden freaking triangle -- is Beca’s left hand, resting midway up Chloe’s bare leg, the tips of her fingers dangerously close to the inside of her thigh.

Beca feels feverish just from looking at it.

The only upside is the poor quality of the image. There’s no way the major publications would buy it, which is a small blessing.

But the fan accounts don’t care. It becomes glaringly obvious that they’re posting this particular shot more than any other.

They all caption it with variations of the same thing:

"I ship it."

***

Beca feels fairly nauseated as she walks downstairs, gripping the railing with white knuckles.

She and Chloe have a late call time today. The car that will bring them to set isn’t slated to arrive for another 10 minutes, but Beca couldn’t stand pacing around her apartment any longer.

She contemplates sitting outside on the top of the stoop, like she’s seen some of the neighbors do at night, but ultimately decides against it. She can’t deal with being recognized right now.

Instead she settles on the bottom step in the foyer and goes through the motions of scrolling through her phone, though her eyes don’t absorb anything on the screen.

All she can think about are the photos.

And the dancing.

And the fact that Chloe kissed her last night.

She brushes her fingers across her lips as her mind travels back to that moment, eight hours ago and one floor up. How Chloe took control, pressing their bodies together, pushing Beca back against the wainscoting.

How she kissed her, hard and frenzied, like she’d been wanting this just as much as Beca had; like she was insatiable.

How, in an instant, she was gone.

It’s ridiculous how much Beca had wanted to go after her, to finish what Chloe started. And she’d wondered, as she watched Chloe slowly ascend the stairs, if Chloe wanted that, too.

But now, sitting in the foyer in the light of day, Beca’s glad that she second-guessed herself last night. She reminds herself that it’s for the best. Distance is good.

Distance is safe.

In a few weeks they’ll finish shooting, and then she and Chloe will go back to their very separate lives.

(And if Beca feels queasy when that thought crosses her mind, it’s probably just a hangover.)

***

Beca doesn’t look up when Chloe sits next to her on the marble step.

She’d heard her coming but she acts as if she hadn’t, pretending to be engrossed in her phone. Beca’s pulse has been racing since she caught the echo of Chloe’s footsteps on the old staircase, and when she sees her in her peripheral vision -- when she gets a whiff of her perfume -- she feels like her heart is trying to jump out of her chest.

She just hopes things aren’t weird, now.

She hopes she doesn’t make them weird.

Chloe turns toward her, but Beca still doesn’t look up.

Shit.

Fuck.

She’s making it weird already.

“I think that one’s my favorite,” Chloe says.

Beca glances up at that. Chloe’s eyes are trained on Beca’s phone, which, Beca realizes with no small degree of horror, is displaying one of the photos from last night.

(Why the fuck was she even still scrolling through Instagram?)

Her only saving grace is that the image she’d paused on shows them on the sidewalk, when they’d just left the bar. They’re both looking in the direction of the camera with wide eyes and parted lips, surprised by the barrage of flashes. Chloe’s hand is just a couple inches south of Beca’s elbow, en route to link their arms together.

“Oh yeah?” Beca swallows thickly. “Why’s that?”

“It’s just such a real moment, you know? An honest reaction captured on film. Or an SD card or whatever.” Chloe runs her fingers through her hair before sweeping it over one shoulder, and this time Beca catches the scent of her shampoo. “I just feel like that’s kinda rare these days. In this business, anyway.”

“Hah, yeah. I guess that’s true.”

“Plus, we both look, like, super hot.”

If Beca’s mouth wasn’t so dry, she’d be worried about doing a spit-take. Instead she barks out a strained laugh.

“Funny, that isn’t what I was focused on.”

(Like, yeah, she noticed. She has a pulse.)

“Hey,” Chloe says softly. She knocks the side of her knee against Beca’s, getting her attention. “Are you freaking out?”

And Beca almost laughs again, because the only thing she is 100% certain of in this moment is that she is, without a doubt, fully and completely freaking out.

“No,” she says.

“You’re freaking out.”

“I’m not freaking out. I’m just not, like…” she lifts her hand, gesturing vaguely at Choe “...overly cavalier right now.”

Chloe eyes her for a few beats and Beca has to will herself not to look away. She wishes they weren’t sitting so close. It makes it hard to think straight.

“I’m sure you’ve had crazier photos published,” Chloe says, speaking slowly, like she’s being careful with her words. “We went to a club, we danced, we had a few drinks. And now people know about it. So what?”

Beca raises her eyebrows and shakes her head, truly at a loss. She knows Chloe must have received similar texts as Beca from her own team this morning. That she’s seen the other photo -- the one that Beca is actually freaking out about.

(Among other things. That they apparently aren’t discussing.)

There’s three soft raps on the door and they look up to see the silhouette of their driver through the stained glass window. They both stand, and Beca’s grateful to have an excuse to put a pin in this conversation.

Ideally forever.

“Besides,” Chloe says, as they cross the foyer, “we’ve all gotten handsy in the back of a car before, Becs. No big deal.”

Beca makes a noise that is something between a scoff and a gasp. She freezes in place, but Chloe keeps walking. When she reaches for the doorknob she pauses and looks back over her shoulder.

“I mean, I’m just lucky there weren’t any paps in the hallway.”

She winks at Beca before she turns and opens the door.

***

Filming today is weird.

It’s overcast for the first time since they’ve arrived. Clouds loom in the distance, heavy and dark, but they’re shooting one of the final scenes, set in London, so the gloominess works.

There’s also the fact that they kissed last night and they’ve only half-acknowledged it. (Well, Chloe has, anyway.)

But perhaps the weirdest thing is that, after a little while, Beca forgets it’s supposed to be weird at all.

They still flirt and Chloe still teases her, but that’s become their status quo. It doesn’t feel awkward or stilted, no trace of the cringiness Beca would expect to experience after a drunken makeout with a coworker.

But there’s a new feeling there, too. It’s like they’re connected by something taut and dense and sparking. Something real and palpable, that gives Beca butterflies everytime their eyes meet; that pulls her and Chloe in, drawing them to each other like magnets.

It builds and builds over the course of the day, as the storm clouds loom nearer.

And Beca knows giving into this feeling would be a bad idea but, by the time the rain starts to fall, she doesn’t know how much longer she’ll be able to resist it.

***

The drizzle is supposed to be a passing shower, so the director halts production until it lets up.

Beca follows Chloe to her trailer to wait it out. It isn’t really a decision at this point -- it’s what they do. A break in filming has become synonymous with napping.

Except this time, as they lie facing one another on Chloe’s couch, Beca suspects that neither of them is thinking about sleeping.

They’re pressed up against one another, chest to chest, Chloe with her back to the couch and Beca on the outside, crowded in as if she might fall off. At first they lie still with their arms draped loosely around each other, sharing the same air with quiet, shallow breaths.

It feels like they’re in stasis, teetering at a tipping point, both waiting for the other to make a move.

She doesn’t mean to, but Beca’s the one to break first. She smooths her hand over Chloe’s hip and down the side of her thigh, and Chloe doesn’t make a sound, exactly, but Beca feels her exhale against her cheek.

Chloe rocks her hips forward ever so slightly; it’s a sliver of a movement that Beca wouldn’t have detected if they weren’t melded together, but they are, and it floods her body with heat. She squeezes the back of Chloe’s leg for purchase, fingers gripping just above her knee.

It’s like the wave that’s been building all day has crested, pulling them under, and they can’t stop their hands from moving. Chloe drags her hand down Beca’s spine, starting at the base of her neck and trailing lower. When she slips her fingers up under the hem of Beca’s shirt and touches the smooth skin of her lower back, just above the waistband of her jeans, Beca has to close her eyes at how it feels.

“Beca?”

Chloe’s voice is rough and needy and Beca feels it between her legs. She hates that there’s a question in her tone, like she’s not sure they’re both tumbling beneath the surf, even as Beca traces her fingers along the band of Chloe’s bra through the thin fabric of her blouse.

Beca never wants to be the reason Chloe second guesses herself. Not on set, not on hiatus, not when she can feel her breath against her mouth.

And so it’s the easiest thing in the world for her to lift her chin and kiss her.

Chloe moans softly when their lips meet and Beca feels like she could drift away. It’s a good thing Chloe’s there, seemingly intent on keeping her in place. The hand on Beca’s lower back climbs higher until she’s gripping her bare shoulder. Beca’s shirt hikes up in the process, bunching somewhere around her middle. She’ll have to get someone to steam out the wrinkles later but, in this moment, she really, really doesn’t care.

Chloe licks along the seam of her mouth and now Beca’s the one who’s moaning, a clipped cry escaping from the back of her throat. She parts her lips, letting Chloe into her mouth, shivering against her when Chloe sucks on her tongue.

The tiny fraction of Beca’s mind that can still form conscious thoughts is waiting for the dam to break, the tension to cut, the itch to be scratched. But as the minutes tick by she finds that the need coiled inside of her only grows and grows and grows.

It seems like Chloe’s right there with her. Somehow she eases Beca onto her back -- no small feat in the cramped space. She hovers above her, the ends of her hair tickling Beca’s collarbones, and when Beca doesn’t feel Chloe’s lips on hers after a few seconds she opens her eyes for the first time since they lied down.

Chloe’s face is in shadow, framed by her hair, but Beca can still make out the heat in her cheeks, the unfocused darkness in her eyes.

Beca’s hands find Chloe’s waist, pushing up her blouse so her greedy fingers can touch more of her. Her skin feels like it’s on fire.

“Don’t stop,” Beca whispers. “Don’t-- Chloe.”

Something in Chloe’s face changes, but Beca doesn’t have time to register what it means because Chloe ducks her head and kisses her again. It’s even better from this angle, now that Chloe has more room to work; to nip on Beca’s bottom lip, to mouth a wet trail down her neck, to snake her hand up the front of Beca’s shirt, fingers skating along her ribs.

Chloe’s everywhere and it’s overwhelming, but Beca still craves more. She hitches her knee over Chloe’s thigh, urging her closer and catching her off guard. Chloe collapses on top of her, one leg settling right between Beca’s, and they both have to break away to catch their breath.

Beca squeezes her eyes shut, wishing she could cool off. She thinks removing her clothes would be the best way to do that.

Her hips lift on their own volition at the thought, grinding up against Chloe’s thigh. Chloe mutters a quiet “fuck” under her breath -- driving Beca crazy because it’s something she almost never hears her do -- and squeezes her waist as if to still her.

“Beca, god.”

And it’s the exact wrong thing to say if she really wanted her to stop, because Beca pushes against Chloe’s hold and does it again.

The next time Chloe meets her halfway, rutting into her with her thigh, strong and solid right where Beca needs her. Beca presses her lips together, but it does nothing to stifle the moan the movement draws from her. She feels flushed and wild and painfully aware of just how wet she is right now.

The tiny fraction of her brain that continues to function registers that she should not be this turned on in the workplace, but Beca’s well past the point of caring. She’s sucking on Chloe’s earlobe, trying desperately to get her to do it again, when she hears the familiar static of a walkie on the other side of the door.

Chloe must have heard it too, because she whines and lifts her head. When three knocks rattle against the side of the trailer seconds later, it feels like they’ve been doused with a bucket of cold water.

“The rain’s stopped, Ms. Beale,” a PA calls from outside the door. “We’re picking up again in 20. They’re ready for you in makeup for touch-ups.”

“Okay!” Chloe says in this fake cheerful voice Beca has never heard before. “I’ll head over there, just-- Give me a minute.”

Once they hear the PA leave, Chloe buries her face in the crook of Beca’s neck and groans. Beca exhales heavily, looping her arms around Chloe’s back.

“Do you think $100K would be enough?” Chloe murmurs.

Maybe it’s because Chloe’s lips are still pressed against her skin, but Beca’s so not following. “Enough for what?”

Chloe rolls off of her and Beca scoots over to make room so Chloe can settle on her side against the back of the couch. She tugs on Beca’s shirt, gently pulling it back into place.

“Enough to get them to shut down production for the day,” she says, biting the corner of her lip and looking almost bashful. “Enough for no one to knock on this door again for 24 hours.”

“Oh my god, what?”

Beca bursts out laughing, covering her face with her hands. Chloe grabs her fingers and pulls them down so she can grin at her. She presses her forehead against Beca’s and they both dissolve into giggles, laughing so hard it feels like the couch is shaking.

By the time Beca leaves for the makeup trailer, two minutes ahead of Chloe, her clothes are hopelessly wrinkled and her cheeks ache from smiling.

***

(If distance is safe, why does the absence of distance feel so good?)

***

It’s dark outside when Beca finally trudges up the stairs to her apartment. She feels like several days have passed since she and Chloe sat on the bottom step in the foyer, just this morning.

Today has been long. Shooting went well past the scheduled end time, thanks to the rain. Beca’s mentally drained and her feet are achy and she thinks she’s more hungover than she realized. She’s also just plain tired since she didn’t get much sleep last night, and she and Chloe didn’t get their usual nap in.

Although, come to think of it, what they did instead of napping is probably the real reason today felt so tedious. Beca had to spend the rest of the day pretending she didn’t just have Chloe’s hands up her shirt and her leg between her thighs. She had to spend hours upon hours enduring Chloe’s suggestive comments and lewd (yet sexy) looks.

It took a lot out of her. She doesn’t know how she made it.

She should be just about ready to take a shower, throw on some pajamas, and collapse into bed.

She should be. But she’s not.

Because Chloe’s trailing behind her, hand clasped in hers, and Beca’s never felt more awake.

When they reach the second floor landing, by the door to Beca’s apartment, it feels a little like time travel. Because Chloe’s backing Beca against the wall and, as Beca’s eyes flutter closed, she feels just like she did last night, in the exact same spot.

She wonders, fleetingly, who’s to say this moment is any different from the other.

But then Chloe takes hold of Beca’s wrists and pins her arms to the wall, on either side of her head, and that flight of fancy is wiped from Beca’s mind.

This kiss is messy. It’s heated and charged and desperate. All Beca can feel is the scrape of Chloe’s teeth and the wetness of her tongue, and she’s thankful Chloe’s holding her against the wall because, otherwise, she might slide down it.

“God,” Chloe pants a few minutes later, resting her forehead against Beca’s. “I’ve been dying to do that all day.”

Beca’s trying to get it together -- trying to muster a response, to tell Chloe she’s been dying, too -- when Chloe drops her wrists and puts some space between them. And just like that Beca’s traveling back to last night again, when Chloe walked away; when Beca let her go.

(She knows it’s a bad idea.)

(She can’t let that happen again.)

Chloe’s still standing in front of her but Beca takes her hand, just like she wanted to last night. Chloe giggles as Beca drags her the short distance to her door, leaning into her side while she fumbles with the key.

Once they’re inside, there’s another kind of shift between them. It’s like the stolen kisses they’ve been sharing have more promise, here, now that they’re behind closed doors without the threat of interruption.

They don’t bother to turn the lights on. Chloe glances around, taking in the space as her eyes adjust to the darkness.

“My floor plan is the same,” she says, taking Beca’s hands and walking backwards, slowly leading her toward the couch in the middle of the room. “I think your ceilings are higher, though.”

“Oh?” is the best that Beca can manage, because her mind is miles away from architecture right now. But then the backs of Chloe’s calves hit the edge of the sofa and she lets out a soft yelp, like she wasn’t expecting to reach it just yet.

Chloe sits down and pulls Beca forward by her hands, eyebrows rising in invitation. Beca only hesitates for an instant -- heart thundering inside her chest as she stands in front of her -- before she kneels on the couch, straddling Chloe’s thighs and settling lightly in her lap.

Beca rests her hands on either side of Chloe’s neck and watches as she closes her eyes and takes a slow, deep breath. When Chloe opens her eyes again, the look she fixes Beca with makes her pulse speed up.

“Come m’ere,” Chloe says. She grips Beca’s waist roughly and pulls her closer until Beca’s hips are bracketing her stomach.

Beca gasps, swaying forward, nails digging into Chloe’s neck. “Shit.”

After taking a ragged gulp of air, she dips her head and captures Chloe’s lips. It’s a different experience, kissing her like this; feeling Chloe anchored beneath her, rocking in Chloe’s lap, leaning back just enough so that Chloe has to press forward to chase after her mouth.

Despite Beca technically having the upper hand, there’s no question about who’s in charge, here -- and it’s not her. Chloe’s the one setting the tempo and Beca’s all too happy to follow along. She’d been a little embarrassed after their first practice kiss in her trailer, when she realized she’d let Chloe do anything to her in that moment. But now that she’s had time to sit with that revelation, the prospect of ceding control -- of giving herself up to Chloe -- is kind of thrilling.

But when Chloe peels Beca’s shirt off her body and ducks her head to kiss the tops of her breasts, squeezing her ass and tugging her closer, Beca has to speak up.

“Chloe… Can we… mmmf… I, um… I have a bed, you know.”

Before Chloe looks up she runs her tongue over Beca’s nipple, through the thin fabric of her bra, and Beca has half a mind to tell her to just forget it, right here is fine, don’t stop, never stop.

“Oh yeah?” she asks when she finally meets her gaze, a playful smirk on her face. “You do?”

“Uh-huh.” Beca swallows, trying to remember how talking works. “A mattress, headboard, pillows, sheets -- got the whole shebang.”

“Hmm, intriguing,” Chloe says. She tucks a strand of Beca’s hair behind her ear and tilts her head, like she’s considering the prospect. “I guess I might be up for checking that out.”

Beca can’t help but roll her eyes. “You guess? I mean, if you’re not sure...”

She lets go of Chloe and shifts her weight to the side, as if she’s going to climb off of her. It’s an empty threat if there ever was one, as evidenced by her hard nipples, but it does the trick. Chloe wraps her arms around her and stands so abruptly that Beca nearly shrieks.

“Oh, I’m sure.”

Beca knows Chloe works out -- she’s a spokesmodel for one of the big athletic brands, and even if she wasn’t it’s hard to miss how toned she is -- but it’s still surprising how easily she carries her into the bedroom. That feat, combined with the smoldering look she gives Beca when she places her on the mattress, nearly does her in.

Beca reclines against the pillows and watches as Chloe shucks her own shirt and pants -- going slowly, just for show. Beca takes the opportunity to shove her jeans off, too, and when Chloe crawls over her in nothing but a bra and skimpy underwear, she looks like she’s going to devour her whole.

“Good call on the location change,” she says, using her knee to nudge Beca’s legs apart. “This is way better.”

She hovers over her for a couple seconds, eyes drifting down Beca’s body. When she licks her lips Beca feels like she might explode.

“Beca…” She trails off, throat working as she swallows. “You’re, like, heartbreakingly beautiful.”

And Beca didn’t know what she was expecting Chloe to say, but it certainly wasn’t that. She’s trying to think of a way to acknowledge the compliment when Chloe lowers herself onto her, settling right between Beca’s thighs, and any hope of responding goes out the window.

Instead she threads her fingers through Chloe’s hair and pulls her in for a heated kiss. Chloe moans into Beca’s mouth and it’s ridiculous -- they’re not even fully naked yet -- but Beca’s bordering on delirious. She hitches her knee over Chloe’s hip, digging her heel into the back of her thigh, urging her closer.

Chloe gasps against her lips and rolls her hips forward, tentatively, at first, then setting up a steady pace. Her lower stomach is hitting Beca right where she needs her, and when Chloe smothers a swear against the column of her throat Beca knows Chloe can feel just how wet she is.

It’s both too much and not enough, and she’s scrambling to find a way to let Chloe know, to help move things along. But Chloe seems content to continue doling out this slow torture, shimmying down Beca’s body so she can push the cup of her bra down and close her lips around her nipple.

Beca whimpers at the light suction, arching into her mouth.

“Hang on… Let me, just--” She reaches behind herself to unclasp the bra and then pushes Chloe off of her just enough to toss it to the side.

Chloe props herself up on an elbow, squeezing one of Beca’s breasts in her hand.

“You’re just full of good ideas tonight, Becs,” she says in a light tone, like Beca had suggested something innocent, like packing an umbrella in case it rains. Then she brushes her thumb over Beca’s nipple and watches it react. “Mm, you like that?”

“Shit,” Beca breathes. She closes her eyes as Chloe does it once more. “Yeah, that’s-- mmhm.”

Chloe chuckles softly and Beca can feel her breath on her skin. “Don’t know why, but I kinda had a feeling,” she says right before taking Beca’s breast in her mouth again.

The implication that Chloe had thought about this -- had contemplated what Beca might like in bed -- is almost as hot as what she’s currently doing with her tongue. She licks across Beca’s pebbled nipple before closing her lips around it and sucking, softly, at first, then harder. When Beca feels the blunt edges of Chloe’s teeth scrape against her sensitive flesh a shudder runs through her.

She squirms beneath Chloe, restless hands roaming across her back. When she finds the clasp of her bra she unhooks it and pushes it up and out of the way as much as she can. Chloe makes room for Beca to wedge her hands between their bodies and palm her breasts. Beca marvels at how hard her nipples are already, how Chloe hisses when she pinches one between two fingers.

Chloe rests her forehead on Beca’s sternum and exhales hotly while Beca continues to caress her breasts, finding as much pleasure in touching Chloe as being touched herself.

Part of Beca still can’t believe this is really happening. Since the moment they met, so much about Chloe has felt surreal. Even once they became friends -- once the Chloe Beale public persona faded away -- she seemed too shiny, too effervescent, too good to be true.

Too good for someone dark and grumpy and jaded.

Someone like Beca.

But now here she is, in Beca’s bed, letting Beca touch her as needy sounds rise in her throat.

The muffled cries Chloe’s making against Beca’s skin are nearly driving her out of her mind. She needs to touch more of her. One of her hands leaves Chloe’s breasts, fingernails scratching along her toned stomach before bumping against her hipbone. When Beca traces the edge of lacy underwear, Chloe’s hand suddenly closes around her wrist, holding her in place.

Beca’s eyes fly open as she feels Chloe sit up. She studies her face, searching for signs that she misread things, that she was moving too fast. But all she finds written across Chloe’s features is breathless bemusement.

“You’re very distracting,” Chloe says, sitting on the tops of Beca’s thighs. “Has anyone ever told you that?”

Beca blinks and looks to the side, playing coy. “Maybe,” she says. “Once or twice.”

Chloe shakes her head, like she’s at a loss for what to do with her. She releases Beca’s wrist so she can slip her bra completely off and, oh, Beca wasn’t ready for that. Her breasts are pert and her nipples are rosy and taut. Beca can just make out the faint shadow of a tan line, which shouldn’t be as tantalizing as it is.

Her hand on Chloe’s hip is on the move again, gripping her waist before drifting down her lower back. When Beca slips her fingers beneath Chloe’s underwear and squeezes her ass Chloe gasps, eyelids fluttering as her hips jutter forward. Beca presses her legs together but instantly regrets it, because it only calls attention to how painfully wet she is.

Chloe takes hold of Beca’s wrist again and circles her hips, grinding against Beca with a tormenting hint of pressure just north of where she needs her. Beca throws Chloe a pleading look and she just smirks, as if she knew exactly what she was doing.

“Like I said,” Chloe says, gaze roaming Beca’s chest before meeting her eyes. “Distracting.” She pulls Beca’s hand out of her underwear and takes Beca’s other wrist with her free hand. “The thing is, I kinda have plans…”

Chloe trails off as she shifts forward, leaning over Beca’s body and bringing her arms with her. When she presses Beca’s hands into the pillow above her head, Beca swears her heart stops beating.

“There.” Chloe makes a satisfied sound as she pins both of Beca’s wrists down with one hand. “Much better.”

Chloe ruts into Beca one more time before moving off of her, resting on her side. Keeping one hand tight on Beca’s wrists, Chloe uses the other to push her own underwear off. Then she brings her hand back to Beca, trailing it down her body, between her breasts, past her bellybutton, until she reaches the top of Beca’s underwear.

Beca’s hips rise of their own accord and Chloe chuckles quietly.

“I had a feeling about that too,” she murmurs, running her fingers lightly across Beca’s lower stomach.

Beca tries and fails to suppress a whimper. “About what?”

“That you’d be eager.” Chloe finally moves her hand down, fingers slipping over hot, sticky lace. Beca moans and arches up against her palm, and Chloe snickers. “Yeah, like that.”

Beca tries to glare, but Chloe presses her hand more firmly against her and Beca clamps her eyes shut.

“Fuck you, dude.”

“Mmm, that’s next,” Chloe says, and Beca doesn’t need to open her eyes to know she’s smirking. “You first.”

When Chloe finally peels Beca’s underwear down her legs, it hits Beca like an out of body experience. Soon she comes back to herself like a slingshot, suddenly hyper-aware of every inch of her skin; of the fact that she’s now completely naked and exposed.

There’s barely any space between them but, somehow, Chloe inches closer, pressing the length of her body along Beca’s side. She brushes her lips over Beca’s shoulder as her fingers meander up the inside of Beca’s leg, and even though Beca’s burning up it gives her goosebumps.

When Chloe reaches the tacky skin at the top of her thighs and keeps going, gliding ever higher, Beca holds her breath.

Soon Chloe’s fingers part her, dragging a slow, slick path from her entrance to her clit. She pauses there and exhales sharply against Beca’s shoulder. “Fuck, Becs, you’re so wet.”

The noise Beca makes in reply is more desperate than she cares for. She wants to tell Chloe that she’s been wet for her all day, that she thinks Chloe’s trying to kill her, that she might just succeed. But none of those thoughts find their way to Beca’s mouth and all she can do is try not to squirm too much as Chloe touches her.

If Beca had thought Chloe might be done toying with her, now that her underwear is off, she’d be wrong.

Chloe slides the tips of two fingers into her -- just a solitary, taunting inch -- before pulling out and returning to her clit, which she circles a few times with a too-light touch. She repeats the motion again, refusing to offer any more relief.

The third time Chloe’s fingers reach her center Beca’s ready for her; she lifts her hips up so that Chloe slips in up to her second knuckle, and it’s good -- it’s so fucking good -- but it’s still not nearly enough.

“Chloe, Jesus,” Beca pants, wrists straining against Chloe’s hand. “Please.”

Ever since she broke into the business Beca has maintained that manners will get you everywhere, and tonight, she’s proven right once again. Because that little word is all it takes for Chloe to push two fingers fully inside her.

She pulls out almost all of the way, and Beca’s about to protest when Chloe enters her again with three fingers this time. Beca clenches around her, letting out a guttural moan at the blissful tension of Chloe stretching her.

“Oh my god.” Chloe bites into Beca’s shoulder. “You’re so tight. God, you feel so good.”

She sets up a steady rhythm, pumping in and out of Beca, speeding up a bit when her cries start to build.

And Beca’s never been one to be overly vocal in bed, but here, she finds herself babbling. Maybe it’s because she can’t touch Chloe, with her hands secured above her. She can’t cling to Chloe’s neck, can’t grip her wrist, can’t feel the muscles of her forearm as she works her fingers inside her.

Instead, she has to use her words.

She swears. She swears a lot -- “fuck” and “Christ” and “ohmygod holy shit.” She tells Chloe that she feels so good, lets her know when she strokes her just right. She says “please,” over and over, because that worked once and maybe it will again.

And soon, when she’s teetering on the edge, the only word that can make it past her lips is “Chloe.” She repeats it like a prayer, like it’s something sacred, as Chloe curls her fingers inside her and sucks at the base of her neck.

When Chloe starts rubbing her thumb over Beca’s clit, firm and purposeful, Beca chokes out a medley of her greatest hits.

“Fuck, Chloe, right there, yes,” she pants, feet slipping across the sheets. “Oh my god, don’t stop, please, fu--”

Beca goes silent then, words caught in her throat as she shatters around Chloe’s fingers. Her back arches off the bed but Chloe’s there to ground her, holding Beca’s wrists down harder, and that just makes it better.

Beca gasps, pulling air into her aching lungs as the wave of her orgasm crashes over her. When she moans -- a throaty, keening sound she’s never made before -- it fills the breadth of the room. As she finally quiets, settling back on the mattress, she distantly wonders if the neighbors might’ve heard.

But that concern is quickly forgotten when there’s a flurry of movement beside her. Chloe gently pulls out of Beca, releases her wrists, and rolls on top of her. She holds herself up on her elbows and smiles down at her.

“That was awesome,” she says, brushing some of Beca’s hair out of her face. “God, Beca, like…”

She ducks her head to capture Beca’s lips, kissing her properly for the first time since she pinned her down. Beca feels like she’s moving underwater -- like her thoughts are in slow motion -- but eventually she kisses Chloe back and wraps her arms around her, like she’d wanted to minutes before.

When Beca scrapes her teeth along Chloe’s bottom lip Chloe groans and tilts her head to kiss her more deeply. She’s moving again, and Beca isn’t sure what’s happening until she feel’s Chloe’s knee between both of hers and, then, the hot, wet slide of her along Beca’s thigh.

“Fuck,” Beca gasps, her body going from 0-100 in the span of a second.

Chloe buries her face in the crook of Beca’s neck and moans softly as she grinds down. Beca’s hands go to her hips, pulling her closer and guiding her movements. Soon Chloe’s wetness is coating Beca’s thigh, and Beca digs her nails into her waist as she bites back a moan.

When Chloe’s hips speed up, when she starts making these little high-pitched cries beside Beca’s ear, Beca finally comes back to her senses.

“Wait wait, no, hold on,” Beca says, pushing on Chloe’s shoulders.

It takes Chloe a minute but eventually she catches on, lifting herself up so she can meet Beca’s eyes. She has the most adorably confounded look on her face, and if Beca wasn’t so turned on again she might have laughed.

“Beca, wha--” she starts, but before she can finish Beca shoves at her again, rolling her onto her back.

“Much better,” Beca murmurs, echoing Chloe’s words from earlier.

And Beca wants to take her time -- wants to lavish Chloe’s body with her hands and mouth -- but Chloe’s looking at her with dark, hooded eyes, and she can’t imagine making her wait any longer.

When Beca crawls backwards on the mattress Chloe catches on, parting her legs so Beca can lie between them. Once she’s on her stomach Beca lifts one of Chloe’s knees over her shoulder, so she can get closer, and Chloe lets out a shaky breath.

Beca gets lost for a moment as she takes in the scene in front of her, mesmerized by the sight of Chloe wet and swollen and spread open; by the knowledge that she did this to her. But then Chloe winds her fingers through her hair, getting her attention.

Beca.”

Her voice is needy and pleading, and Beca will never forget it.

She lifts her chin and licks through Chloe, parting her with her tongue, and she’ll never forget the sound Chloe makes at that, either.

Chloe must have been close before, based on the sounds she was making as she rode Beca’s thigh, and it doesn’t take Beca long to bring her back to the edge.

“Beca, shit.” Chloe whimpers and fists her hand in Beca’s hair, holding her in place. “Theretherethere.”

Beca moves her tongue steadily against Chloe’s clit, staying just where she needs her. She holds Chloe down with one arm, pressing it across her stomach, while she maneuvers the other between their bodies.

She doesn’t think Chloe has the wherewithal to realize what she’s doing, because when Beca pushes two fingers inside of her she yanks on Beca’s hair, moaning in surprise.

Beca groans against her when Chloe’s knuckles tighten their grip on her even further. She sucks on Chloe’s clit as she continues to lick her, fingers pistoning easily inside her.

“Becs, I’m gonna-- unh. Beca, Bec--.”

Chloe comes so hard Beca briefly worries she might have hurt her. Her body stiffens, lifting up off the bed and straining against Beca’s arm and mouth. Somehow Beca stays put, working her through it with her fingers and tongue as Chloe shudders and sobs up toward the ceiling.

When Chloe gently pushes her away Beca can’t make it very far. She wipes her mouth on Chloe’s hip before resting her cheek on her thigh.

She has no idea how much time has passed when she hears a giggle sound from somewhere above her.

“You okay down there?” Chloe asks, carding her fingers through Beca’s hair.

“Yep, I’m good,” Beca says, voice slow and drowsy. “Just, ya know, chilling.”

Chloe laughs and tugs on her shoulders. “Come here, sleepy.”

With no small amount of effort, Beca drags herself up the bed, slotting herself into Chloe’s side and laying her head on her shoulder. Chloe hums happily as she wraps her arms around Beca.

“That was nice,” Beca says quietly. It’s kind of a bland statement, but she hopes Chloe knows how she means it. She drapes her arm across Chloe’s waist as she snuggles in closer, trying to ignore her racing pulse.

Chloe presses her lips to the crown of Beca’s head, and Beca relaxes a little bit.

“Totes. Like, really nice,” Chloe replies. “So… you’re not freaking out, then?”

Beca can’t help but laugh at that. “Definitely not. Unless you snuck a camera in here that I don’t know about.”

“I didn’t. But there’s always next time.”

“Oh my god!” Beca laughs, twisting to hide her reddening face against Chloe’s neck. “You’re such a psycho.”

“Thank you.”

Beca hitches her knee over Chloe’s thigh, wanting to feel closer to her. It’s crazy, since they literally just had sex, but part of her still can’t process the fact that she’s naked in bed with Chloe Beale.

She smiles to herself, tracing a path up and down Chloe’s side. “I can’t believe we just did that.”

“No? I can.” Chloe takes Beca’s hand and laces their fingers together. “Been thinking about it since that day in the recording studio.” She pulls Beca’s hand up, pressing her fingertips to her lips as she speaks. “I watched you working on the mixing board and saw how talented you were with your fingers.”

She sucks Beca’s two fingers into her mouth, moaning softly at the taste of herself on her tongue, and Beca nearly chokes.

“Fuck,” she mutters when Chloe releases her with a soft pop. She clears her throat, trying to recover. “I wish I’d known. We could’ve been doing this for weeks.”

“Maybe if you’d texted me over the break you would’ve found out.”

Her voice is light and teasing, but it doesn’t stop Beca from feeling guilty.

“I wanted to…”

Beca curls her fingers around the back of Chloe’s neck and gently scratches up into her hair. She lets her half-finished sentence hang between them, remembering that all the reasons she wanted to keep her distance still exist.

“It’s okay,” Chloe says, and Beca’s relieved she isn't pushing her on this. “At least we know now, right?”

“Yeah.” Beca leans back so she can grin at her. “Totes.”

Chloe gasps, looking thoroughly offended. “You’re such a brat!”

She tickles Beca’s ribs, making her shriek and jerk away, before her strong hands roll Beca onto her. Beca steadies herself, gripping Chloe’s shoulders as she straddles her hips. She beams down at her as she laughs.

Her eyes fall to Chloe’s lips, red and swollen, and her laughter fades away. She leans down and kisses her, rocking forward at the feel of their bodies pressed together like this. Chloe pushes her tongue into Beca’s mouth, setting off a chain reaction that ends with Beca’s hips bearing down on Chloe’s stomach, making it known just how wet she still is.

And it’s truly absurd -- because it’s late and they have an early call time tomorrow and Beca just got the feeling back in her legs -- but she’s very much ready to go again. Chloe moans against her lips, squeezing Beca’s ass with both hands, and Beca knows she’s on the same page.

The distant buzzing of Beca’s phone sounds from the floor, likely a text notification vibrating in the back pocket of her jeans. She doesn’t make a move to get it -- even if it was a text from George Michael, back from the dead, it wouldn’t be worth moving away from Chloe, who’s reached around her and is trailing her hand up the inside of her thigh.

But the notification jogs her memory, bringing her back to how the day started with five alarming texts from Joshua and a million notifications on social media.

It’s enough for Beca to break away from Chloe’s lips, panting a little against her cheek.

“Oh nooo,” she groans.

“What? You wanna be on bottom?”

“No, I-- hey!” Beca scoffs as Chloe snickers. “No. I just realized that all those fan accounts are gonna be so smug that their so-called ‘shipping’ was right.”

Chloe’s fingers reach their destination, slipping through Beca’s folds from behind. Beca grunts and rocks back against them.

“Meh,” Chloe says casually, like she isn’t slowly pushing one finger inside her. “Not if they don’t find out.”

***

The next morning, after Chloe has collected her scattered clothing and gone upstairs to shower, Beca realizes four things.

The first is that Chloe, apparently, isn’t straight, after all.

The second is that she really, really, really wants to do that again.

The third is that, if she’s being honest with herself, she can no longer categorize her feelings for Chloe as a mere crush.

And the fourth is that she isn’t finding the third item nearly as alarming as she should.

Shit.

Chapter Text

The first time 18-year-old Beca saw her face splashed across tabloids and celebrity gossip sites, she wanted to crawl in a hole and die.

Okay, not literally. (Though that’s what she told anyone who would listen.)

What she really wanted to do, for a brief and tumultuous period, was quit the business.

She just wanted to make music. She was okay with performing as an entrée into the producing arena. But what she was not okay with was her private life being up for grabs, open to public consumption, used as revenue-driving clickbait.

Intellectually, she understood that some level of public scrutiny came hand-in-hand with fame. She’d just thought, naively, that it wouldn’t happen to her.

She’s boring. She likes sweatpants and staying in and going to bed at a reasonable hour.

Which is exactly what she wants to tell the assembled mass of paparazzi that has been camping out near the set ever since she and Chloe were photographed at that club.

It’s a different group from the local Boston media photogs who had snapped a few pics when they first started filming. The security detail says these guys are from New York, sent up here specifically to cover the Untitled Julliard Project and some DiCaprio film that is also shooting in town.

So that’s great.

Naturally, the fan accounts have been having a field day with all the Content™. Beca can’t go on Instagram without seeing some random shot of her and Chloe just standing around between takes, paired with flailing, emoji-riddled captions about “#bechloe.”

When Beca calls Joshua to complain, he’s not exactly sympathetic. He goes on and on about how he and the rest of her team are loving the publicity. The studio PR flacks are happy too, since it’s generating great buzz for the movie.

“Chill out, hun. I don’t see the problem, ” Joshua tells her when she tries to protest. “Just enjoy it.”

Beca almost hangs up on him.

Josh may not see a problem, but she does. Several problems, in fact.

Primarily, her problem is that none of this is anyone’s business.

It’s also embarrassing, since in the original photos in question she was clearly drunk.

And since it’s true.

It’d be one thing if it was some completely fabricated rumor. The fact that it’s real -- that the whole world knows about it while she hasn’t even grappled with how she feels -- makes her skin crawl.

And on a more practical level, there’s the problem of the laser focus directed at her and Chloe while on set.

Which means they have to start sneaking around.

(Which, actually, is kind of hot.)

***

If Chloe has any hangups about this whole thing, she doesn’t let it show.

“They’ve always said the craziest stuff about me,” she says with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I swear, no one believes half of what the gossip sites write anyway. Try not to worry about it so much, Becs.”

***

But Beca does worry about it.

She also worries about this thing between her and Chloe. Before they’d hooked up, she’d written it off as just a crush, but now…

Well, now she doesn’t know.

Beca can’t have a crush.

(Or feelings.)

(Or whatever).

That hasn’t changed.

But, she decides, what she can have is casual sex -- and the way she reacts to Chloe’s touch just proves how much she needs it.

***

The tension that was strung between Beca and Chloe that rainy day -- when Beca had succumbed to her feelings in Chloe’s trailer and then, later, in her own bed -- hasn’t abated.

If anything, it’s gotten worse.

Napping is, essentially, off the table. And they’re more sleep deprived than ever, but they can’t keep their hands off each other.

It’s harder, with the increased attention, but they still manage. When there’s downtime they head to one of their trailers with scripts prominently in hand, telling the PAs they’re going to run lines and to let them know if they’re needed.

Once they’re safely inside -- once they quietly click the lock into place and subtly draw the shades -- the outside world fades away.

At first they limit their alone time activities to making out. They are professionals, after all. This is a workplace. Their coworkers -- and the media -- are literally right outside the door.

It feels agonizingly young and sweet, those first few days, as they sit upright on the couch and kiss like teenagers. But, it turns out, they can only keep that up for so long. One day Beca, needing to get closer, climbs into Chloe’s lap and then, a few days later, Chloe pushes Beca onto her back against the cushions.

Not long after that, the unofficial rules they’ve set for themselves go out the window. They find they can no longer wait until shooting wraps for the night, when they can rush home to explore each other’s bodies in the privacy of their beds.

Instead, they become impatient and insatiable and downright risky.

They take risks in the cramped trailer bathroom, where Chloe sits Beca on the sink and makes her come with her hand beneath her skirt.

They take risks against the just-closed door, where Beca kneels before Chloe and pulls her jeans to her ankles, moaning when her tongue discovers how wet she is already.

They take risks on the poor, worn-out sofa, where Beca desperately rides Chloe’s fingers, so lost in the moment that Chloe has to clamp her hand over Beca’s mouth to muffle her rising cries.

Beca knows behaving like this is dumb and wrong and, like, objectively fucked up. And she does feel guilty -- she does -- but she begins to crave these illicit, heady moments when they get each other off as quickly and quietly as they can.

That’s not to say there aren’t downsides. Sometimes they’re interrupted by a knock on the door and have to rush to fix their clothing, wet and uncomfortable, before they’ve found release. And Beca has to send her laundry out more often, now that she needs to bring an extra pair of underwear to set each day.

Occasionally Beca worries they’re taking it too far. Like when they skip out on a cast and crew dinner, for example, because they’ve been riling each other up all day and they need to run home to relieve the tension.

Or when, every so often, Chloe calls her ‘baby’ right before she comes.

(Beca writes that last one off as just one of those Chloe Things.)

***

It pops into her head out of nowhere.

Beca’s leaning on the kitchenette counter at the far end of the trailer when it happens.

Just minutes before Chloe had pressed her back against the formica, slipped her hand down her pants, and made her come in record time. Beca was still catching her breath when Chloe took her wrist and guided her fingers where she needed them, rocking against Beca and nearly making a mess of her jeans.

Now Chloe’s in the bathroom freshening up and Beca’s suddenly awake and alert. In her mind, she can hear it clear as day: a melody, in a minor key.

A new melody.

This hasn’t happened in a while.

Her brain is firing on all cylinders as she imagines the beat that might accompany it, how the arrangement could come together. She hums the melody to herself, bringing it to life gently, like a flame that might flicker out. She stands up straight and sings it again, a little louder this time.

It’s good, Beca thinks, heart rate rising with excitement. Turning in a slow circle, she scans the room for her phone, only to spot it on the countertop right behind her. She opens her voice notes app, hits ‘record,’ and sings the tune again, smiling at how confident she sounds this time.

“That was beautiful.”

Beca startles and spins around to see Chloe standing by the bathroom door. She steels herself for some kind of joke -- ready for Chloe to ask how Beca could forget she was here when she was just moaning Chloe’s name a few minutes ago -- but it doesn’t come.

Instead Chloe just stands there, watching her with soft eyes that Beca can’t quite make sense of.

“What was that?” she asks, taking a step closer. “I don’t think I know it.”

“Oh I, um...” Beca stammers. She places her phone on the counter. “No, you wouldn’t. It’s new. It just, like, came to me I guess.”

Chloe raises her eyebrows and gapes at Beca like she just told her she found the cure for carpal tunnel. (Something Beca could actually use, these days, what with all the repetitive movem-- You know what, never mind.)

“It just... came to you? Like, it didn’t exist in the world until a few minutes ago?”

Chloe closes the distance between them and, as she takes Beca’s hands, Beca feels her cheeks heat up.

“I mean, I don’t want to claim that no one in the world has ever strung those notes together before. But yeah, it’s, like, new. As far as I know.”

Chloe shakes her head in amazement. “That’s unbelievable.”

Beca huffs out a laugh, looking down at their joined hands. “It’s really not a big deal.”

“It is to me,” Chloe says quietly. She smooths her thumb across Beca’s knuckles, giving her goosebumps. “You’re so talented, Becs.”

It’s not like Beca hasn’t been praised before. She has, a lot -- probably more than she deserves. But Chloe’s words resonate differently; maybe because they’re filled with something like reverence.

Beca’s mind travels back to that day in the LA recording studio, when Chloe sat beside her and said she was seeing a different side of her. She wonders if Chloe’s thinking that now, but it’s too overwhelming, so she makes herself stop.

“Thanks,” she mutters lamely.

Chloe cups her cheek, getting her to meet her eyes.

“Sing it again?”

Beca laughs. “Oh my god, dude no.”

But Chloe, unsurprisingly, is undeterred. She brushes her thumb over Beca’s cheekbone and makes this little pout that Beca can never resist.

“Please?”

Beca sighs, rolls her eyes as dramatically as she can, and starts to sing the melody again. When Chloe joins in, harmonizing note for note, Beca can’t help but smile.

It’s weird, singing with someone when they’re standing so close, but she can’t tear her gaze away from Chloe’s. It feels... intimate.

Vulnerable.

Intoxicating.

(Terrifying.)

Beca holds the last note for a few seconds to draw the moment out and Chloe matches her until the very end. When it’s over, the only thing Beca hears is the drum of her pulse in her ears.

“Wow,” she breathes. Both of their chests are heaving. “That was even better tha--”

But she doesn’t get to finish her sentence, because Chloe sways forward and kisses her.

***

It’s not until a PA summons them back to set a few minutes later that Beca realizes she never stopped recording on her phone.

***

Beca duplicates the file and sends an edited version to Joshua and the rest of her team.

Joshy [7:50 p.m.]: Wow! Absolutely loving this, Beca. Everyone’s super excited.

Joshy [7:51 p.m.]: Does this mean your music inspo might be making a comeback? 👀

***

They start spending the night at each other’s places so often that soon it feels less like two separate apartments and more like a multi-story townhouse.

Chloe was right in her initial read on Beca’s ceilings -- they are slightly higher than hers. But Chloe’s apartment has a lot going for it too. It’s big and bright and has an expansive kitchen island, which is topped with carrara marble that’s so high-end it’s almost soft to the touch.

There’s a balcony off the back, facing the river, just large enough for a table and a pair of chairs. Beca likes it when they get home early enough to sit out there at sunset, sharing a bottle of wine away from prying eyes.

It turns out that Beca has a better master bath, with a spacious glass-walled shower and a deep soaker tub. She isn’t really one for baths, on account that she gets bored. But Chloe absolutely loves them, apparently, and whenever she convinces Beca to get in with her she makes it worth her while.

When they have late call times Chloe makes them eggs for breakfast. They eat on barstools at her kitchen counter, sipping two mugs of French press that Beca insists on making herself. (She’s very particular about her coffee.)

It all starts to feel rather domestic.

And if Beca allowed herself to think about that too much, she’d freak out. So when those thoughts arise, she doesn’t let them linger.

***

While parts of their, like, tryst or whatever are becoming more routine, the riskiness of it all doesn’t diminish.

In fact, they’re racking up so many close calls that Beca fears they’re really pushing their luck.

The paparazzi continue to be up their ass. While Beca and Chloe have gotten skilled at keeping their distance from each other when in-view of the cameras, some dick with a long lens still manages to get a shot of them walking into Chloe’s trailer.

(The #bechloe mentions skyrocket once it’s released. A sick part of Beca can’t help but imagine how the anonymous masses would react if they knew what happened minutes later, when Chloe bunched Beca’s hair in her hand and guided her onto her knees.)

In addition to the ever-present paps, Beca worries their colleagues on set are beginning to get suspicious, too. It’s hard not to notice the pointed looks between Sal and the makeup girls whenever they have to cover up a hickey on Beca’s neck, collarbone, or -- one mortifying time -- cleavage.

(“I don’t mean to, Becs, I swear,” Chloe says when Beca calls her on it. “You just bruise easily! And it’s not like you ever try to stop me.”)

Then there’s the incident on Acorn Street, a cobblestone-lined lane in Beacon Hill. Both ends of the street are cordoned off, effectively keeping the paparazzi out of range. For the first time in ages, Beca and Chloe can let their guard down.

It’s getting colder out, as fall draws nearer. Even though the locals are still in shorts and flip flops, the cooler temps and steady breeze proves to be too much for LA girls and Beca and Chloe bundle up in long puffer coats between takes.

After two painstaking hours of shooting and resetting, Beca’s teeth start chattering. She tries her best to hide it, standing off to the side of the craft services table, but when a PA brings her a packet of hand warmers she knows she isn’t fooling anyone.

Beca’s icy fingers are struggling to open the plastic packaging when Chloe notices.

“Aww, poor baby.” Her face becomes the picture of sympathy, with sad eyes and an exaggerated pout. “Come here.”

Chloe unzips her jacket and holds it open, looking at Beca expectantly. And if they didn’t have hours of shooting ahead of them -- if Beca wasn’t so damn cold -- she’d probably be able to resist.

But she isn’t.

It’s almost embarrassing how quickly she shoves the hand warmers in her pocket and walks up to Chloe. She slips her hands under Chloe’s jacket, instantly drawn in by the heat of her. She wraps her arms around her waist and presses her nose to the side of her neck. Chloe hums happily and closes the jacket around her

“My poor tiny baby,” Chloe says, hugging her closer. “You’re shivering like a leaf.”

“It’s not my fault! I’m, like, gonna get hypothermia out here.”

Chloe chuckles. “It’s 60 degrees, Bec.”

“Ugh, whatever,” she grumbles. “Shut up.”

Beca’s mistake, in retrospect, is letting her eyelids flutter closed. But she’s finally warming up after being cold for hours, so she closes her eyes and breathes Chloe in. It’s all too easy, after that, to forget that they’re on set with dozens of crew members milling around nearby.

Maybe that’s why Beca dips her fingers under the hem of Chloe’s shirt, pressing her hands to the small of her back, soaking in the warmth of her skin. When Chloe shivers, Beca feels it down to her toes.

“Cold?” she asks, smirking against Chloe’s neck.

“Mmhm.”

Beca’s only trying to tease when she pushes her hands higher up Chloe’s spine. She wants to use her chilly fingertips against her, to make Chloe shiver and squirm away. What she doesn’t anticipate is that her hands have warmed, now, or that the action causes Chloe’s shirt to ride up her body.

She doesn’t anticipate the soft groan that Chloe breathes against her ear.

And she definitely doesn’t anticipate how that sound will flow through her, heating her up in earnest from the inside out.

She exhales sharply, nails digging into Chloe’s skin. “Chlo.”

“Excuse me, Ms. Mitchell? Is everything okay?”

Beca’s eyes fly open and land on the concerned face of the First AD, who’s about two feet in front of her. She stands up straight and slowly withdraws her hands from beneath Chloe’s shirt, hoping he can’t make out the movement beneath the bulky jacket.

“Oh, um, uh-huh.” Her voice is strained so she clears her throat. “I’m all good. Just got a bit chilly.”

“I was helping to warm her up,” Chloe says, making a show of rubbing her hands up and down Beca’s arms. “I run hot.”

He smiles and leaves, seemingly pacified, but Beca doesn’t think she’ll ever stop blushing.

“Tease,” Chloe whispers. She gently pushes Beca away and zips up her jacket. “Can’t take you anywhere.”

***

Two-thirds of the way through their time in Boston they finally get a proper day off.

It’s Beca’s idea to rent a car and drive up the coast. She was obsessed with witches as a kid -- thanks, in large part, to ‘Hocus Pocus’ -- and she just can’t miss the opportunity to visit Salem.

Chloe’s eyes had lit up when Beca floated the idea to her a few days earlier. She threw herself into research mode, looking up reviews on TripAdvisor and asking local extras for recommendations.

When the day off arrives, she proudly presents Beca with the fruits of her labor in the form of a typed-up paper itinerary.

“You’re, like, so ridiculous,” Beca tells her, fighting back a smile. “Where’d you even find a printer?”

Chloe grins. “I have my ways.”

***

Beca drives and Chloe navigates. It’s rough getting out of the city -- the traffic rivals LA’s and the people are fucking agressive -- but once they’re on the highway Chloe syncs her phone with the car’s sound system.

“I made us a custom roadtrip playlist,” she says, shimmying her shoulders.

“Of course you did.” Beca rolls her eyes, but her annoyance must not be very convincing because Chloe just giggles. “$20 says you have ‘Monster Mash’ or ‘Thriller’ on here.”

Chloe lifts her chin. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that. I happen to be renowned for my playlist skills. You’re not the only one with good taste in music, Becs.”

After a few songs Beca readily concedes that it is a good mix. Chloe selected classic karaoke favorites, top 40 hits from the early aughts, and some tracks from up-and-coming artists that Beca’s surprised (and impressed) she’s heard of.

It isn’t necessarily a scenic drive, but as they belt out song after song, Beca hardly notices. She can’t remember the last time she felt this carefree.

This happy.

She keeps sneaking glances toward the passenger seat. Chloe’s in a maxi dress and sandals, with big sunglasses over her eyes. And Beca knows she was going for a casual look, but even with no makeup and a messy bun Chloe’s still so beautiful.

“What?” she asks the third time she catches Beca looking.

Beca shrugs and turns back to the road, ignoring the butterflies in her stomach.

“Nothing.”

***

The first stop on their mini roadtrip is, of course, in Salem.

It’s a bit kitschy, with witch-themed shops on every corner, but it still has the charm of a coastal New England town. They park at a public lot and meander down the streets, window shopping and taking photos for their Finstas. Despite trying to keep a low profile -- Chloe in her sunglasses and Beca in a black baseball hat -- they occasionally get recognized, but no one stops them to take a selfie, so Beca considers that a win.

They visit the Salem Witch Museum, which is somehow both lame and creepy. Beca is particularly unsettled by the animatronic Puritans depicting various types of torture and death inflicted on the trials’ victims.

Of course the best part of any museum is the gift shop, and Beca buys an overpriced “crystal ball” to console herself. It’s a chintzy green-tinted glass orb, but her 10-year-old self would’ve loved it so she can’t resist. Maybe she’ll put it on the shelf in her living room, next to her MTV Moonman.

Her interior design plans are interrupted when she catches Chloe smirking as they leave the store.

Beca narrows her eyes. “Pipe down.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“But you were going to.”

“Wow.” Chloe arches an eyebrow. “That was fast.”

“What?”

“You only bought that crystal ball a minute ago and you already have the power of sight!”

Beca throws her head back and groans. “I hate you so much right now.”

Chloe snickers and links their arms together as they set off down the street.

“Please. No, you don’t.”

***

(No, she really doesn’t.)

***

Next they head to a swanky town called Marblehead. It used to be part of Salem, Chloe says, and there’s a 17th century seaside graveyard where some of the witches were buried.

(“Well that’s a relief,” Beca tells Chloe after she explains their next stop. “Not gonna lie, when I saw ‘graveyard’ on the itinerary I got kinda nervous.”)

First they stop at a high-end deli -- suggested by one of the extras -- and get sandwiches to go. It takes a little while to navigate the town’s narrow winding roads, but they eventually find their way and park on a quiet side street.

Chloe leads them up a hill, and Beca’s starting to wonder if they’re in the wrong place when they reach the top of the knoll. They’re looking down at a grassy slope, speckled with crooked gravestones. In the distance is a row of weathered colonial houses and, beyond that, the ocean.

“Woah,” Beca whispers, slowing to a stop.

They’re the only two people here, in this forgotten cemetery. The graves are so old they’re nearly smooth, the lettering almost lost to wind and water and time.

It’s quiet and breathtaking, with sunlight filtering down through the clouds, and it hits her that the corny displays they saw in the museum depicted real events that happened to real people -- some of whom are buried here.

Chloe stands beside her. “What are you thinking about?”

“I dunno. I just…” Beca sighs. “It’s kinda crazy that something so fucked up happened somewhere so beautiful. Like, those poor women -- and that one dude, I guess -- they were probably just like us, you know? It’s all just hitting me, I guess.”

Chloe rubs her back as they take in the landscape in silence. After a minute she mutters a quiet “oh” under her breath and walks off to the right.

Beca stays there, lost in thought, until Chloe reappears at her side. She’s holding a bunch of blue and yellow wildflowers.

“Come on," she says, taking Beca's hand. “Let’s pay them a visit.”

***

The gazebo at the top of the cemetery was practically made for picnics. They sit on the stone bench and eat their sandwiches while looking down at the view.

Beca’s thoroughly enjoying her lunch -- all this tourist shit really made her work up an appetite -- when she feels Chloe’s eyes on her.

“What?” she asks, turning toward her. “I can practically see your little gears turning in there.”

She takes a sip from her water bottle as Chloe rolls her eyes good naturedly.

“I was just thinking about how this is probably the longest amount of time we’ve spent together without having sex.”

Beca nearly does a spit-take. “Jesus, Chloe,” she hisses when she recovers. “And we’re not doing that here, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Calm down, even I’m not that depraved.” She glances around the gazebo. “Though I bet people have done it here before.”

“Oh my god.”

“But my point was, we spend a lot of time together but we haven’t talked a whole lot, you know?”

Beca furrows her brow. “We talk all the time. You’re, like, the main person I talk to.”

“I know,” Chloe says softly. “I just mean, we haven’t talked talked. Like, I don’t know… do you get along with your parents?”

Beca blows out a slow breath. “You sure that’s where you want to start? Because that’s a long and complicated story.”

Chloe smiles. “I don’t mind long and complicated.”

So Beca tells her. She explains how hard it was when her parents broke up, how she felt like she was being split in two.

She usually hates talking about this stuff, but Chloe’s listening intently -- like she genuinely cares -- and Beca finds the words keep coming. Soon she’s sharing details she’s only discussed with her therapist. She talks about the big and small ways her parents’ divorce impacted her life. That it’s why moved to LA straight after high school, why she struggles with trust, why she’s bad at maintaining serious relationships.

“Well, that and that no one I’ve dated seems willing to put up with my crazy schedule,” she says, chuckling half-heartedly.

Chloe takes Beca’s hand and runs her thumb across her knuckles. There’s a stitch between her eyebrows and she looks like she wants to say something, but there’s a lump forming in Beca’s throat and she can’t handle any sympathy right now.

“Anyway, that’s my deal,” she says in a rush. “Should I pretend I didn’t read your Vogue cover and ask if your perfect and supportive parents are still together?”

Chloe’s lips part and she falters for a second, like she didn’t want to move on just yet. Beca looks away, taking her hand back and reaching for the bag of chips. She’s relieved when she hears Chloe laugh.

“No, of course you don’t have to pretend. They’re still together and they’re, like, the best. But I wouldn’t say they’re perfect.”

“No?” Beca crosses her legs and angles herself toward Chloe, sensing an opportunity to tease. “If I remember correctly, they both quit their jobs to help their darling little girl achieve her dream of becoming an actress. Must have been tough -- all that undivided parental attention and all.”

Chloe laughs humorlessly. “It’s not as altruistic as it sounds. My mom was a waitress and my dad worked odd jobs here and there. Managing their 12-year-old’s career was the best way to actually put food on the table.”

Beca frowns, watching Chloe as she looks down at her feet. She remembers another article she read at some point about Chloe’s charity work; it said that many of the organizations address food insecurity for needy kids, many of whom only get a full meal at school.

“Shit, sorry I...” Beca swallows thickly, trying to ignore the ache in her chest. “I shouldn’t have made assumptions like that. I hate when people do that.”

Chloe looks over at her and shrugs dismissively. “Please, it’s fine. You couldn’t have known.”

“Still…” Beca bites the inside of her mouth, wondering how she can make this better. She reaches for Chloe’s hand and squeezes. “That must have been hard. Like, that’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid.”

Chloe turns her hand over and laces their fingers together.

“It wasn’t easy at first,” she admits. “But we got through it together. They really are the best, though. I think you’d like them.” She pulls Beca’s hand into her lap. “I know they’d love you.”

***

They pass most of the drive back to the city in contented silence. They’re sleepy and a little bit sunburnt, which Sal and the makeup girls are so not going to love.

Beca zones out on the highway, completely lost in thought. Her mind keeps going back to the moment in the gazebo when Chloe alluded to her tough childhood. She can’t stop kicking herself for making that glib comment. She, of all people, should know that no one’s life is perfect, no matter how it seems.

Once she tries to shake off the guilt (another thing she’s working on in therapy) the resounding feeling she’s left with is awe.

Chloe’s been through so much. She faced hardships growing up, began financially supporting her family, and navigated young fame -- all before Beca’s parents split up.

She’s already overcome more obstacles than most people face in a lifetime, and still turned out to be a humble, optimistic, big-hearted, amazing woman.

And, to Beca, that’s nothing short of miraculous.

***

The sun has just set when Beca and Chloe get back to their brownstone, but Beca is already longing for bed. She suppresses the urge to yawn as they walk up the stairs.

When they reach her floor they pause outside of Beca’s door. She notices that their hands are linked again -- she doesn’t remember when that happened.

Chloe sways their arms back and forth in the space between them. Beca doesn’t know why, but she feels slightly nervous.

“I had, like, the best time today,” Chloe says. “I should go shower...” Instead of turning to go up to her apartment, she steps closer. “But…”

She pulls their joined hands up to her chest, tugging Beca forward and closing the remaining gap between them. She cradles Beca’s face with her other hand, and Beca’s heart picks up when Chloe leans in.

She kisses her softly and tenderly in the middle of the dim hallway, with their arms wedged between them. It makes Beca feel delicate, being kissed like this -- carefully, like she’s something precious. She sighs when Chloe’s nose presses into her cheek, grasps Chloe’s waist when she sucks on Beca’s bottom lip.

But all too soon -- before Beca has a chance to deepen the kiss -- Chloe’s stepping away.

“There,” she says, pressing her lips together. Her smile is almost shy. “Had to kiss you goodnight at the door like a proper date.”

She slowly walks backwards toward the stairs. Beca holds onto her hand, letting her arm stretch out before her as Chloe moves away until only the tips of their fingers are touching.

Chloe hesitates and studies Beca’s face for a couple beats before letting her arm fall to her side.

“Blink the porch light three times once you get in, okay?” She winks, biting her bottom lip. “That way I’ll know you’re safe.”

Beca rolls her eyes at the cheesy high school line, even as her stomach flips.

“Uh-huh, sure. I’ll get right on that. Then I'll log on to AIM, put up a cryptic song lyric away message, and wait for you to IM me.”

Chloe grins. “I can’t wait.”

She gives Beca one last lingering look before heading upstairs.

***

Beca doesn’t flash the lights once she gets inside -- because they’re in an apartment building and that’s not a thing -- but she leans back against the door and sighs.

She’s off-kilter in a way she can’t quite place. She feels flushed and light from Chloe’s kiss, but there’s something else there, too. It takes her a moment to recognize it -- the familiar weight of anxiety sitting low in her stomach.

It takes her even longer to locate its source. She closes her eyes and plays back the last few minutes in her mind. When she finds it, she can practically hear alarm sirens blaring in her head.

***

A date.

Chloe called today a date.

Chapter Text

The end of filming is drawing near and it’s almost palpable among the cast and crew. Everyone is eager to go home to LA and reunite with their families.

Beca’s feeling torn about it all. She’s a homebody through and through -- a part of her can’t wait to sleep in her own bed and get back to all her stuff.

Despite that, she knows she’ll miss being on set. As skeptical as she was at first -- when Joshua was pushing it on her -- she’s taken a shine to this whole acting thing. It’s challenging and invigorating and rewarding. She’s actually pretty proud of herself.

And then there’s Chloe.

They’ve been working together for a few months at this point, but Beca’s still endlessly impressed by her talent. She’s learned so much from her. And, if she’s being honest, she doesn’t know if she could have done this without her.

Not the acting part or the being away from home or, well… any of it.

She’ll miss that -- she’ll miss her -- too.

***

(She’ll probably miss her the most.)

***

They don’t talk about it, but Beca knows Chloe’s affected by the looming wrap date as much as anyone.

She can feel it in Chloe’s touch when they fool around. Her hands are a little more rushed and frantic as they rove across Beca’s body. Some nights it seems like she’s everywhere at once, insistent and possessive, like she’s claiming her.

And Beca likes it. She tries to give Chloe what she wants; knows when to kiss her back harder and when to be pliable, to offer herself up completely.

It makes her feel crazy in the very best of ways. She doesn’t think she’s ever been wanted like this.

Sometimes she wants to ask Chloe what she’s thinking.

Or to tell her that it’s okay. That they’re only going home and, maybe, it doesn’t have to end.

But she doesn’t want to lie to her and, deep down, she doesn’t think either statement would be the truth.

***

They don’t talk about the whole “date” thing either.

Beca can’t say she’s not relieved.

Maybe Chloe was just being cutesy. Or it was just a slip of a tongue.

Yeah, that’s probably it.

That has to be it.

***

Sentimentality doesn’t come naturally to Beca.

Like with most things, she blames her parents.

But she’s always loved gift giving -- she’s pretty damn good at it -- so she volunteers to figure out the cast’s wrap presents for the crew.

Chloe pokes fun at her when she stays up late researching non-lame gift ideas on her laptop (“And you had the gall to call me ridiculous for my Salem research…”) but Beca’s undeterred.

After sifting through countless options, she finds just the thing -- a private tour of the Sam Adams Brewery, complete with custom hoodies, pint glasses, and year-long subscriptions of seasonal brews. She works with the production team to end filming early one evening, as a surprise, and she’ll never forget the looks on the crew members’ faces when luxury buses pull up to whisk them away to party.

The experience puts her in a generous mood. One afternoon when she’s bored -- because she’s done for the day but Chloe has more solo scenes to shoot -- she decides to explore Newbury Street.

It’s a small shopping street -- like Manhattan’s 5th Ave., except narrow and quaint -- a quick walk from their brownstone. The first few blocks are filled with high-end brands, from Valentino to Cartier, but she ignores those in favor of local shops. She goes a little nuts in Johnny Cupcakes, an apparel brand fashioned as a bakery, buying zany t-shirts for Josh and a few others on her team.

Beca’s getting kind of tired when Chloe texts that she’ll be home soon, so she starts making her way back. She’s about to turn off Newbury and cut down a side street when she spots an understated jewelry store she didn’t notice before.

It’s quiet inside, with no other customers, and she takes her time peeking in the cases. The pieces are tiny and delicate, with intricate details, and she’s instantly drawn in.

Maybe she’ll get a present for herself, she thinks. A little something to remember this trip by.

That would be nice.

But then her eyes land on a piece that is absolutely perfect -- just not for her.

She waves at the shopkeeper to get her attention. The woman’s eyes widen as she realizes that Beca Mitchell is in her store, but she schools her features back into places she approaches.

“Excuse me,” Beca says. She smiles to help put the woman at ease. “Is it possible to have this engraved?”

***

The last few days of filming pass in a blur.

They’re up against the clock so it’s busy and hectic as they rush to get every last shot in the proverbial can. The paparazzi have slithered back to whence they came, but Beca and Chloe’s schedules are so packed they can’t even enjoy being left in peace.

(And on the rare occasion that they actually have a decent amount of time to duck into someone’s trailer, they’re so tired that they’ve gone back to napping.)

Then one day, just like that, the director calls “cut!” for the very last time.

Beca feels a whirlwind of emotions as the entirety of the cast and crew breaks out into raucous applause. She’s exhilarated and relieved and filled with an overwhelming sense of comradery for those around her.

But when she looks over at Chloe -- who’s beaming and misty-eyed, turning in a slow circle as she claps and cheers for the crew -- Beca gets a lump in her throat.

She isn’t entirely sure why.

***

Tonight is Beca’s first wrap party. She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t excited.

She gets ready in her room. It’s a relatively formal affair at a rooftop bar in the Seaport, so she decides to go all out. She slips on a little black dress and her highest fuck-me pumps. She even takes the time to style her hair in loose curls, which she sweeps over one shoulder.

After doing her makeup and fixing her winged eyeliner for the third time, she appraises herself in the mirror. And yeah.

She looks fucking hot.

Needless to say, Beca’s feeling herself as she strides upstairs to Chloe’s apartment.

She doesn’t bother to knock before walking inside. They’re long past knocking at this point; long past locking their doors, even, except at night.

The open kitchen and living room are empty so she calls out to let Chloe know she’s here. She walks to the fridge, takes out the bottle of Moët they’ve been saving for tonight, and pours two glasses.

She’s holding the stem of her glass and swirling the wine, trying to look for the “legs” or whatever (she should really pay more attention to somaliers), when she hears the approaching click of Chloe’s heels on the hardwood.

She looks up just as Chloe walks into the room, and Beca knows it’s so fucking cliche, but Chloe literally takes her breath away.

She’s in a deep blue dress that brings out her eyes to the point where they’re practically sparkling, Disney Princess-style. The dress flares slightly at the waist and when she sees Beca looking she does a little twirl, making the skirt flutter around her thighs. Beca hardly notices that detail, though, because she’s too hung up on the reveal that the dress is completely backless.

“Oh good, you opened the wine.” Chloe rounds the kitchen island and stops a couple feet in front of Beca. Her gaze trails slowly down Beca’s body, taking the length of her in for the first time and making Beca feel warm and flushed. “Wow.”

Beca clears her throat and laughs. “I clean up okay, huh?”

Chloe arches an eyebrow and angles her head to the side. “Yeah… something like that.”

She steps forward until she’s close enough for Beca to smell her perfume, and Beca leans back against the countertop to steady herself. Chloe’s looking at her with a hungry glint in her eyes, and Beca isn’t sure how long she’ll be able to stand it.

And she knows they don’t have a ton of time -- the plan was to have a quick glass of wine before the car arrives -- but the force drawing her to Chloe is too strong to ignore.

She touches Chloe’s wrist and slides her hand up her arm, watching the goosebumps her fingers leave in their wake. Chloe stands stock-still, like she’s not even breathing. When Beca curls her hand around the back of her neck, Chloe moves in even closer and grasps her waist.

Beca squeezes her eyes shut from the heat of it. “Hey,” she whispers. She shifts forward and presses their foreheads together. “You look beautiful.”

Chloe exhales softly. She tilts her head, nose brushing over Beca’s. “So do you. Like, so beautiful, Becs.”

When Chloe kisses her Beca gets that feeling again -- like the wind’s been knocked out of her. She’s vaguely aware that this isn’t the best idea, given the time constraints -- there’ll be lipstick to reapply, eyeliner that might get smudged -- but she honestly couldn’t care less.

She lets Chloe press her back against the carrara marble as the kiss heats up with tongues and teeth and roaming hands. Chloe gropes Beca’s breasts before trailing her hands lower, making these needy sounds that always drive Beca wild. When Beca feels Chloe’s fingers toying with the hem of her dress she breaks the kiss long enough to nod and murmur a quiet “yeah” against her lips. An instant later Chloe’s hands are on the move, shoving the clingy fabric up past Beca’s hips.

Sensing what’s coming next, Beca loops her arms around Chloe’s neck just before Chloe grips her waist and helps her hop up onto the counter. Beca gasps twice in quick succession -- first at the coldness of the stone beneath her, and then again, when Chloe’s hands part her knees and tease up the inside of her thighs.

“Chlo, oh my god,” Beca hisses.

She runs her hands up and down Chloe’s bare back, caressing as much of her as she can reach. Chloe mouths her way down Beca’s neck as she inches her hands higher and higher. Beca’s thighs are practically quivering when Chloe’s fingers finally graze over her soaked underwear.

Chloe moans against her neck -- a sound that reverberates through Beca’s body and only serves to make her wetter. Her tight dress had mandated a skimpy black thong, and it’s all too easy for Chloe to hook her finger around the strip of fabric and move it to the side.

Beca’s panting heavily as she waits for Chloe’s next touch. After a few seconds, when it doesn’t come, she opens her eyes.

It’s like Chloe was waiting for her to do just that, because she pulls Beca’s hands off of her back and guides them to the countertop, on either side of her. She holds Beca’s gaze and presses her palms down, as if securing them in place, and Beca knows Chloe wants them to stay put.

Beca’s still desperate to touch her but she does as she’s told, holding herself up as Chloe takes half a step back to admire her handiwork. Beca can imagine the state she’s in, with flushed cheeks and swollen lips and a heaving chest; with a bunched-up skirt and parted legs, baring herself to Chloe right next to the untouched wine.

She thinks it might be the most erotic moment of her life. But then Chloe lowers herself to her knees and kisses the inside of Beca’s thigh, and wait, no, this moment is the clear winner.

Chloe kisses, nips, and noses her way higher and Beca feels like she might lose it. She tips her head back and presses her fingertips into the marble, waiting for Chloe to lick through her just how she likes.

Chloe moans when her mouth reaches the wet skin near the apex of Beca’s legs. “God, baby, you’re so wet for me.”

She sucks hard at a sensitive spot on the inside of Beca’s thigh, just south of where she needs her, and Beca cries out. Chloe sucks harder and Beca knows she’s making sure she leaves a mark.

Fuck, Chloe. Please, please, please.”

But instead of pressing forward, Chloe moves back slightly. She taps the side of Beca’s knee. “How are we on time?”

Beca furrows her brow. She looks down at Chloe and seeing her crouched between her legs doesn’t shed any light on the matter. “Huh?”

“Would I have time to do my makeup again?”

Beca takes a deep breath and rouses herself enough to look past Chloe to the clock on the microwave. If her math is right -- which, at present, is a pretty big ‘if’ -- their car is supposed to arrive in 15 minutes.

“I mean....” She frowns at the clock and sighs. “No. Probably not.”

She’s silently debating the merits of convincing Chloe that they should just show up late when Chloe suddenly stands. In a rush, she steps between Beca’s legs, grips her hip, and buries three fingers inside her.

Beca makes a sound halfway between a gasp and a moan at the satisfying shock of it. Her hands instinctively fly to Chloe’s shoulders as she circles her legs around her waist, digging her heels into the backs of her thighs to urge her closer.

Chloe puts the weight of her body behind her hand as she drives into Beca. As hot as it was when Chloe was on her knees, this is even better. Now Beca can cling to Chloe’s shoulders and rake her nails down her bare back; she can kiss her neck and bite her earlobe and moan against her cheek.

She knows that all of these things are major turn-ons for Chloe, too. And even if Beca hadn’t picked up on that insight over the past few weeks, she can hear it in Chloe’s voice -- how raspy it is when she whispers encouragements in Beca’s ear, telling her that she feels so good, so tight, so wet; that she’s wet, too.

The last one -- the admission that Chloe’s just as far gone as Beca -- is the beginning of the end.

The tendrils of an orgasm wind their way through Beca until she’s nearly there, almost there, so close, so close.

“Chloe, I’m-- fuck,” Beca wines, inspiring Chloe to pound into her even harder. “Don’t stop, don’t stop. Baby, please.”

In the next instant Chloe rubs her thumb over Beca’s clit with just the right amount of pressure, and it tips Beca over the edge. Her whole body shakes as she comes. She cries out, moaning uncontrollably as she clenches around Chloe’s fingers.

Chloe works her through it, continuing to push into her as much as she can. When Beca comes back to herself she takes several gulps of air, willing her heart rate to go back to normal. She rests her cheek on Chloe’s shoulder and whimpers when she starts to pull out of her.

“Wait wait not yet.” Beca holds her tighter and kisses the side of her neck. “Stay. Just-- just for a minute.”

Chloe laughs softly. She presses her lips to Beca’s temple, running her free hand up and down her back. “Okay,” she says. “Just for a minute.”

***

Beca’s back in her room, stepping into a clean pair of underwear when she remembers what she said -- what she called Chloe right before she came.

She tries to tell herself it doesn’t mean anything.

***

It’s just casual sex.

That’s all.

That’s all.

That’s all.

***

(Even she doesn’t believe it anymore.)

***

At first, the wrap party is a lot.

Beca’s head is still foggy when they step off of the elevator and onto the roof. They’re not late, exactly, but they’re among the last to arrive and the party is in full swing. Soon she and Chloe are separated as they’re pulled into different conversations, swept up in the sea of revelers.

It feels like forever before they find each other again.

After toasts and speeches the crowd starts thinning out as people head to an after party at a nearby bar. Beca hangs back, scanning the vast space for Chloe. She finally sees her sitting at a high-top table in the corner, grinning at Beca like she was waiting for her to spot her.

And it’s silly, because it’s such a small moment, but it gives Beca butterflies.

She shakes her head and smiles back at Chloe as she walks over to her. The table is at the front of the roof, overlooking the harbor and the skyline just behind it. Chloe looks stunning, sitting there in her blue dress. She’s under a canopy of strung edison bulbs and backlit by the city lights, and Beca’s tempted to take her photo.

And it turns out she’s just tipsy enough to do it. She pauses to take out her phone and snap a few pics of Chloe, who poses like the ham she is.

“You been hiding from me, Beale?” Beca asks when she gets close enough.

“Nuh-uh. The opposite.” Chloe slowly looks her up and down. “Was trying to find you so we could sneak off somewhere...”

Beca sits across from her, wincing slightly as the hickey on her thigh makes contact with the seat. Chloe smirks, like she knows exactly what just happened, and Beca almost doesn’t feel sorry that Chloe didn’t get off earlier.

Almost.

“Sorry. I was…” She gestures vaguely behind her. “...I don’t even know. How are you, um, holding up?”

Chloe meets Beca’s stare with eyes so dark Beca starts to blush.

“I’ll survive a little longer,” she says, gaze dropping briefly to Beca’s cleavage. “But first, I wanted to give you something.”

It’s only then that Beca registers the small box in the middle of the table. It’s covered in bright pink wrapping paper with a gold bow stuck on top. She doesn’t know how she missed it.

(Or maybe she does.)

(Maybe that’s why her heart’s beating so fast right now.)

“Oh shit! Wait, hang on.”

She unzips her clutch and pulls out Chloe’s present. Her box -- which is just as small -- is unwrapped, aside from the purple ribbon the jeweler had tied around it. But when Beca places it on the table Chloe’s eyes light up, as if it’s adorned in diamonds. She shimmies her shoulders and Beca has to laugh.

“Do you want to go first, Chlo?” Beca grins as Chloe presses her lips together and nods emphatically. “Okay then, please.” Beca pushes it closer to her. “Have at it.”

She holds her breath as Chloe pulls the ribbon free and takes the lid off the box.

Chloe’s eyes soften as she sees what’s inside: a gold necklace with a tiny pendant in the shape of a cassette tape.

“Becs…” she whispers, tracing the edge of the charm with her finger.

Beca wrings her hands under the table. She doesn’t know why she’s so nervous.

“Turn it over.”

It’s like time slows down as Chloe gently flips the cassette around. Beca forces herself to take a breath as Chloe reads what’s engraved on the back:

renowned for her playlist skills

It’s just an inside joke -- Beca’s quoting Chloe’s own words back to her, from when they drove to Salem -- but somehow the inscription makes Chloe tear up.

“Beca I… When did you…” she blinks her eyes rapidly and shakes her head like she’s clearing her thoughts. She reaches across the table and takes Beca’s hand. “I love it. Really, I--”

She wets her lips as her eyes drop to Beca’s mouth, and Beca thinks if Chloe were to lean over to kiss her, she wouldn’t exactly mind.

Chloe’s better judgement seems to win out and she squeezes Beca’s hand. (Beca tells herself she isn’t disappointed.)

“Thank you. Truly -- it means a lot.”

Beca lets out a shaky laugh and shrugs one shoulder. “Meh. Don’t mention it.”

“Oh, I’m gonna mention it. I’m gonna send you a selfie every time I wear it.”

Beca groans and rolls her eyes, trying to ignore that nervous weight that settles in her stomach every time Chloe references sometime in the future.

(Like a time when she’ll have to send Beca a selfie, because they won’t be together every day.)

Beca swallows thickly, wishing she’d thought to bring a drink with her to the table.

“Uh-huh sure, you do that.” She traps the bright pink box between her index fingers and slides it toward herself. “Sooo…. my turn now?”

Chloe sits up straight and beams at her. “Yes!” She bounces excitedly in her chair. “You go!”

Beca narrows her eyes. “I’m gonna need you to calm down first.”

“Nope! No chance.”

“Ugh, fine,” Beca says. She presses her lips together to hide how much she’s smiling.

She takes the bow off the box before turning it over and carefully removing the tape. She isn’t sure why -- as previously mentioned, she doesn’t do sentimental -- but she thinks she’d like to save the wrapping paper, just this once.

Underneath it is a heather gray jewelry box. And inside that box is a ring with an impossibly thin band holding a small, round jade stone.

Beca’s mouth falls open as she picks up the ring to look at the stone more closely. She’s never seen this tone of jade before; the green is soft and almost milky, like seafoam.

“It reminded me of your crystal ball,” Chloe says.

And wow, okay, Beca has no idea where this is coming from, but the backs of her eyes start to sting. She glances up at Chloe and blinks a few times to hopefully mask the tears.

“Hah, oh yeah,” she says, smiling. “It’s beautiful, Chlo.”

She clears her throat and looks down, focusing on slipping the ring onto her finger. For once in her life, she wishes that feelings came easily to her; that she could find the words to express what it means that Chloe saw this and thought of her; or that there’s an almost-painful happiness blooming warmly in her chest.

She can sense the words there, on the tip of her tongue, but she can’t make them come out.

“It’s a perfect fit,” she says instead, eyes still trained on her hand. “Seriously, thank you. I... I love it.”

Chloe takes Beca’s hand once more and runs her thumb along the edge of the stone’s setting. Some of their coworkers are still milling around in the background, and they’re probably in plain view, but when Chloe bring’s Beca’s fingers to her lips Beca can’t find it in herself to care.

Chloe kisses her knuckles and, for an instant, Beca forgets how to breathe.

“So, Becs, tell me…” Chloe says once she’s lowered their joined hands to the table. Her lips creep up into a half-smirk as she glances at the ring. “Can you see the future?”

***

Yes. She can.

Two futures, in fact, stretching out before her clear as day.

One that goes according to her plan.

And one that makes her stomach drop; that she can’t allow herself to dwell on.

***

Beca rests her forearms on the cold metal railing and gazes out at the view. She holds her newly filled wine glass over the edge and keeps a tight grip on it, even though there’s a terrace one floor down and, even if it slipped, it wouldn’t fall that far.

Chloe moves in beside her and mirrors her position, standing so close that their elbows touch. Beca smiles and watches as Chloe sips her own fresh glass of chardonnay.

They’re pretty much the last ones up here at this point, save for the bar staff and a rowdy table of grips on the far side of the roof. They’ve made countless promises to various departing coworkers that they’ll join them at the after party soon, and yet they can’t bring themselves to leave.

She isn’t sure about Chloe, but Beca knows why she’s stalling; the longer they’re here, the farther away she feels from her half-packed suitcases and her morning flight.

(From Chloe’s fully packed suitcases and her afternoon flight.)

As long as they’re here, she can pretend that they have more than a few hours left together.

But then Chloe looks at her sideways, fingers absentmindedly adjusting the pendant around her neck, and Beca has a feeling the time for pretending is almost up.

“I can’t believe filming is over,” Chloe says softly. “That it’s our last night.”

Beca drops her gaze to the glass in her hands. “I know. I feel like it went by so fast.”

She can feel Chloe’s eyes on her, and for some reason it makes her nervous. She takes a gulp of wine in an attempt to take the edge off.

“Yeah…” Chloe says. In Beca’s peripheral vision, she sees Chloe turn to face her. “Becs, listen,” she continues. “I know you hate when I’m mushy and stuff, but you’re going to have to deal for a second, okay?”

Chloe touches her wrist and Beca finally looks up at her.

“Sure, fine.” She narrows her eyes, belying the way her pulse is racing. “But just for a second.”

Chloe sighs goodnaturedly, like she just doesn’t know how she puts up with her.

“Well, I just wanted to tell you how amazing these past few months have been. Like, working together and getting to know you. And the sex, obviously.” She winks as Beca blushes, right on cue. “I’m just… I…”

She trails off, eyes searching Beca’s face. When she presses her lips together after a few seconds, Beca wonders what she was looking for and whether she’d found it.

“I’m so glad I met you,” Chloe says softly. She squeezes Beca’s wrist. “That’s all.”

And Beca knows they’re wading into dangerous territory -- that she had very clear boundaries in mind when they started this, for very good reasons, and that nothing has changed.

But at the same time Chloe has meant something to her. And even though Beca’s the literal worst at all of this emotional crap, she has to let her know.

She at least has to try.

“I’m glad I met you too,” she says, taking Chloe’s hand. “I know you get told this once a minute on social media, but you’re, like, actually the best, Chlo.”

Chloe pouts and makes this sappy little whine, and even after all this time it makes Beca’s stomach flip. Beca must really be on edge tonight, because when Chloe leans in and presses a gentle kiss to her cheek, her stomach flips again.

“I’m happy it’s mutual,” she says when she pulls back. She’s still so close that Beca can’t quite bring her features into focus. “So, um…” Her fingers play with the ends of Beca’s hair. “I know we haven’t really, like, talked about it. Going home, I mean.”

Beca’s glad Chloe can’t properly see her, because she feels herself blanch. She was hoping to avoid this conversation. She guesses she should have known better.

“Oh yeah, that’s gonna be so weird.” The words come out strained and foreign, like it’s someone else saying these things instead of her. She clears her throat. “Like, going back to our normal lives after being away for so long. God, I don’t want to think about all the work I have to catch upon…”

It’s subtle, but Beca feels Chloe inch away.

“Right... “ Chloe drops her hand from Beca’s hair. “Back to normal.”

Her voice sounds flat and Beca hates that she’s the reason why.

But it has to be done.

It will hurt now, but it’s for the best. She’s found it’s easier this way -- when she doesn’t let these things linger.

Really, she’s doing Chloe a favor, too. In the long run.

She pushes off the railing to face Chloe and wraps an arm around her waist like nothing’s wrong.

“Don’t worry, you can’t get rid of me that easily,” she says, forcing a smile. “I’m sending you that Nespresso machine I told you about. We’ll do FaceTime lessons until you get it right.”

Chloe laughs, but there’s no humor in it. She sighs as she presses their foreheads together.

“Becs…”

Beca takes a slow breath. She wishes she wasn’t holding this damn wine so she could better hug Chloe to her. She wishes the scent of her perfume didn’t bring her mind back to a few hours earlier, when she clung to Chloe atop the kitchen island; when she got so lost in her that she called her ‘baby.’

“Yeah?”

But Chloe doesn’t answer. Beca feels her shake her head, and the sadness in it nearly breaks her.

Then Chloe lifts her chin and covers Beca’s mouth with her own. Beca kisses her back with all the truth she can’t allow herself to say and hopes that, on some level, it’s enough.

***

(It’s not enough.)

(She knows that.)

***

They never do make it to the after party.

Instead they go home and spend their last night in Chloe’s bed. It’s sweet and tender and it feels like goodbye.

When it’s over, when they’re curled up together sweaty and spent, Beca fights sleep for as long as she can. Because maybe if she stays awake the morning will never come, and she won’t have to leave this place.

But she must nod off eventually, because the next thing she knows she’s being awoken by sunlight streaming in through the curtains.

And she feels even worse than she did the night before, because Chloe’s sleeping peacefully on her stomach with the sheets pooled around her waist. The morning sun is playing across her bare skin, lighting her hair up like amber, and it strikes Beca that this is the last time she’ll see her like this.

An ache forms right in the center of her chest, and for a minute it’s so intense she contemplates slipping out the door without waking her.

It just feels easier.

She uses the bathroom and dresses in the sweats she keeps up here, and by the time she’s done the ache has subsided, just a bit. Or maybe she’s just getting used to it.

She sits on the side of the bed and rubs slow circles over Chloe’s back until she stirs. Chloe rolls over and smiles up at her, and Beca’s ache makes itself known again.

Chloe reaches up and cradles Beca’s jaw. “Time to go?”

Beca leans into her touch. “Yeah.”

“Okay,” she says, smiling sadly. She brushes her thumb along Beca’s cheek. “I’ll see you out there.”

Beca laughs softly, fighting back tears. “Yeah,” she whispers. “See you out there.”

She bends down and kisses Chloe, long and slow. By the time she brings herself to pull away her bottom lip is trembling. Both of their cheeks are wet.

And then she goes.

***

LAX is an absolute mob scene.

Beca’s following the driver to the towncar when the throng of paparazzi and fans descend on her. Even though she really isn’t in the mood, she stops to take selfies and sign photos, cell phone cases, and one girl’s arm.

She can only stand it for so long, though, because everyone wants to know the same thing:

Where’s Chloe?

***

Beca’s mind asks that same question on repeat over the next few weeks.

(Her mind can be such a fucking nag.)

Everything reminds her of Chloe, now. Scrambled eggs and red lipstick and half of the songs on the radio -- it all makes Beca think of her.

She tries to focus on the positive. She’s excited to be home and get back to the studio. She doesn’t know why or how, but her inspiration has come back -- maybe even stronger than before.

She throws herself into work. It’s her safe space, and when she really gets into a flow state it occupies 100% of her mind. And that’s exactly what she needs right now.

She finalizes some outstanding songs for a few artists she’s working with before launching into brand new tracks. Eventually, she remembers the melody she came up with that day in Chloe’s trailer.

Beca scrolls through her voice notes to find the recording. When she locates it, her thumb hovers over the two versions -- the clipped one she sent to Joshua et al., and the original that’s almost six minutes long.

In the end, she’s too much of a masochist not to click the latter.

It hurts, hearing her and Chloe’s conversation back for the first time. She’s instantly transported back to that day; how Chloe looked at her when she found out Beca conjured the tune from her mind; how she made her feel like she was something special.

When she gets to the end -- the part where she and Chloe sing the notes together -- a lump forms at the base of her throat.

Then she transfers the file to her mixing system, sits down, and gets to work.

***

As soon as three of her new tracks are in decent enough shape, Beca sends them to Josh for his thoughts. She likes to send him what she’s been working on before showing other producers or industry insiders -- she’s always trusted his honest feedback above all else.

Even though she emails him after 3 a.m., Josh calls her back right away.

“These are different, Beca,” he says. “A totally new vibe from you.”

“Hey -- don’t be cagey. Good or bad?”

“Good. Amazing, actually. But, I have to ask…”

”Oh my god, dude, out with it.”

”It’s just… Why are they all so sad?”

***

Beca wishes she could forget the reason why.

She winds up deleting Instagram off her phone in an attempt to do just that.

Because the question the fans were asking her at the airport was just a preview of the onslaught of social media posts she’d be tagged in over the coming days, weeks, and months.

"where’s #bechloe?!”

"dying without regular #bechloe content 😭"

"#bringbackbechloe"

***

When the bite mark on the inside of her thigh finally fades away to nothing, Beca thinks she might feel better.

(She doesn’t.)

***

Five weeks pass before Beca hears from Chloe.

She’s in downtown LA, standing in line at a coffee shop after meeting with her publicist, when the texts come in.

The first is a photo of Chloe.

A selfie, actually.

It looks like she’s on the beach, maybe in Santa Monica. She’s smiling softly at the camera with freckled cheeks. Her sunglasses are pushed onto her head, keeping her hair out of her face. It must be windy there, wherever she is, because a few strands are fluttering up beside her ears.

If she weren’t in public, Beca thinks she would collapse in on herself with longing.

She just looks so beautiful.

These are the details that Beca notices first. In fact, she doesn’t notice the main thing -- the reason Chloe sent the photo -- until she reads the texts that follow.

Chloe [2:02 p.m.]: i said i’d text you a pic every time i wore it

Chloe [2:02 p.m.]: i guess i lied tho. bc this isn’t the first time i wore it. or took a photo

Chloe [2:02 p.m.]: but it’s the first time i could bring myself to send it

Chloe [2:03 p.m.]: hope you’re well 💛

***

Chloe [9:51 p.m.]: i miss you

***

Beca [11:19 p.m.]: it looks great on you

Beca [11:22 p.m.]: and I miss you too

***

Beca saves the photo of Chloe and her cassette tape pendant to her camera roll.

Then she turns off her phone before she’s tempted to say anything else.

***

When she turns her phone back on the next morning, she finds a message that makes her heart race -- but it isn’t from Chloe.

It’s an email from her publicist.

***

FW: Re: Re: Confirming Dates for Julliard Proj Press Tour

Chapter Text

For all Beca’s talk about getting back to her normal life, after Boston, it sure doesn’t feel that way.

Ostensibly, yeah, things are as they were before. She’s back home in LA, back to her routine, back to making music.

It just doesn’t feel normal to her. Not like it used to.

Not anymore.

She finds herself longing for her old normal; for waking up to body-warmed sheets, for quiet conversations at the end of the day, for the soft comfort of sharing her life with someone.

Not just someone -- with Chloe.

She still tells herself it’s for the best.

She’s less and less convinced she believes it.

***

Somehow days turn into weeks turn into months.

Time’s funny like that.

Beca reinstalls Instagram and it seems like Chloe’s getting back to normal too. She’s published a few feed posts since Beca’s social media hiatus -- a boomerang at a friend’s birthday party, a step-and-repeat pic from a fashion line launch, and a silly selfie where she’s standing in front of a pool, squinting into the sun.

It makes Beca happy to see her happy.

They text, sometimes.

A couple weeks after Chloe initially broke their unspoken silence, Beca sees a corgi wearing a sweater and has to send her a pic.

That message sparks a tentative correspondence where they text whenever something makes one think of the other. Chloe sends Beca photos of latte art and memes of grumpy puppies (“i swear this is literally you bec”) and, one time, a video of herself in the car dancing to one of Beca’s songs on the radio.

It gets to a point that whenever Beca’s phone vibrates her pulse speeds up in the hopes that it’s from Chloe.

(She doesn’t bother trying to convince herself that that isn’t pathetic.)

***

Beca’s body misses her old normal, too.

She misses touching Chloe and being touched by her. She misses the anticipation that would build between them throughout the day; how, even when the waiting felt like torture, she knew she’d be completely satisfied before they called it a night.

Satisfaction is hard to come by, these days. She can take the edge off, but that’s about it.

She tries not to think of Chloe when she touches herself, but in the end it’s unavoidable. It’s her face she sees, when she gets close; her voice she hears urging her on, telling her what to do, how she looks, how she sounds.

It’s her name on Beca’s lips when she comes.

In her weaker moments -- when, try as she might, Beca just can’t get there -- she thinks of calling her. She knows if she could just hear her voice…

But that would be stupid.

And unfair.

(And, sometimes, just thinking about making that call is enough.)

***

A couple months after shooting wraps the Untitled Julliard Project gets an official name.

Beca doesn’t find ‘The Last Note’ to be particularly inspired, as far as titles go, but she guesses it works thematically. And it probably tested well or whatever.

Besides, there isn’t much time for second-guessing. Post-production is expedited because studio execs want the movie in theaters this spring, ahead of summer action flicks and superhero blockbusters.

The shortened timeline means Beca’s already-busy schedule gets even busier. She winds up putting some other projects on hold so she can pitch in to help the film’s music team with finishing touches.

It’s late in the game when she’s asked to produce and record a song to play over the closing credits.

Luckily, she already has the beginnings of a track that might be just the thing.

***

A few weeks later, they hit a snag.

The director doesn’t like the way Charlie’s first solo “lays out” in the edit bay. He thinks the audio is slightly off when paired with his preferred take, and the only solution is to have Chloe come back in to record it again.

That’s how Beca finds herself in the lobby of a Hollywood ADR studio, making small talk with Mac, the music supervisor, and gearing herself up for seeing Chloe for the first time in months.

Beca’s anxiety rises as the lobby grows more crowded with the arrival of the sound editor, some middle-aged guy, and a pair of giggling teenagers. She soon finds out the old guy is the studio owner, who’s trying to earn parenting points by bringing his daughters to meet their music idol.

Beca dutifully takes photos with the girls and is halfway through signing a poster from her first tour that one of them brought in when a hush falls over the room.

She smiles to herself, even as her heart thuds inside her chest. Her back is to the door, but she knows only one thing can be responsible for bringing every conversation to a halt like this.

She can just imagine the looks on everyone’s faces as they watch Chloe approach through the glass doors; the slack-jawed smiles and lightly flushed cheeks caused by the anticipation of her presence.

Only when the door sweeps open does Beca turn around.

One of the girls beside her gasps and, boy, does Beca know how she feels. Because Chloe’s there, not ten feet in front of them, and it’s enough to make anyone feel lightheaded.

Or maybe that’s just Beca.

Chloe’s in leggings and an oversized sweater -- one that she wore a couple times in Boston, when they sat out on her deck at night -- and it hits Beca on a visceral level. She gets a pit in her stomach, almost like she’s homesick.

Chloe’s eyes find hers right away, but only for an instant, because then Mac is hugging her and introducing her to the sound editor and the studio guy, and then the girls are being called over.

Beca stands there as nonchalantly as she can, taking steady breaths and worrying the ring on her finger (the one she wears practically every day, now).

Soon the middle-aged guy announces that he’ll show everyone to the studio. He opens a door to a hallway, motioning for Chloe to go first.

“Oh, um, you go ahead,” she tells him. “I’ll be right behind you.”

His brows rise in confusion as Chloe turns and walks the other way. Beca thinks Mac is trying to usher the group out of the lobby, but she really can’t be sure, because Chloe’s right there, standing in front of her.

She bites her bottom lip and smiles softly, looking at Beca with sad, vulnerable eyes.

“Hey,” Chloe says. One eyebrow lifts a bit as she says it, like she’s not quite sure, and Beca feels it like a punch to the gut.

It’s not really a conscious decision when Beca steps forward and closes her arms around her waist. Chloe’s still for an instant but then she wraps her arms around her too, hugging her back, and Beca lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding.

“Hey,” she breathes.

Beca presses her nose to the collar of Chloe’s sweater and closes her eyes. She feels Chloe exhale and hug her closer, and wonders if she’s doing the exact same thing. When she feels the ghost of Chloe’s lips on the side of her neck, she has her answer.

“They’re still waiting for us in the hall,” Chloe says after a minute. “I can hear them.”

“I know.” Beca presses her mouth to Chloe’s shoulder. “We should go.”

“Yeah. We should.”

If the girls didn’t start their giggling again 30 seconds later, Beca doesn’t know if she ever would’ve pulled away.

***

The actual recording process goes smoothly, once the studio owner and his kids finally leave them in peace.

It’s cool to see how the ADR booth differs from the music studios Beca is used to. It seems like it’s old hat to Chloe, based on how easily she slips on her headphones and watches the footage of herself on screen, timing her voice with Charlie’s mouth.

The studio portion of the, er, studio is pretty much the same as Beca’s setup at home, with a few odd additions. The familiarity of it is a relief because there's a thumb drive in her pocket... and something she needs to run by Chloe.

***

The session finishes earlier than expected, thanks to Chloe being such a pro. Beca had asked Mac if they could have the room for a few minutes, once they were done, so it’s just her sitting at the board when Chloe steps out of the booth.

Beca thought she had acclimated to being around Chloe again, but now that they’re alone she suddenly feels nervous.

Chloe glances around. “Where’s the guys?”

“Oh, I, uh-- They’re just outside. I asked them to-- I wanted to…”

She trails off and runs her hand through her hair. There are so many ways she could finish that sentence, and Chloe’s watching her with this stoic look on her face that almost tempts Beca to deviate from the plan.

Almost.

“I wanted to play you something,” she says.

“Play me something?”

“Yeah. Um, here.” Beca pulls out the chair next to hers. “Sit.”

As soon as Chloe’s seated beside her Beca realizes it’s probably a mistake. It’s too close to the last time they were in the studio together, before Boston, back when they were still dancing around this thing that was building between them.

It’s too close, yet at the same time too different. Because in the brief silence that follows Beca’s acutely aware of all the things left unsaid bearing down on them like a bolder; things that, if she were to linger too long, might crush her.

So she soldiers on.

She explains that the studio asked her to record a song for the end credits, that she’d already been tinkering with a melody and worked with a songwriter to flesh it out from there.

That she was hoping to get Chloe’s permission.

Chloe tilts her head. “Why would you need my permission?”

”Well…” Beca swallows thickly. “It’s probably easier if I just play it.”

Chloe nods, so she turns to the mixing board, clicks a few buttons, and presses play.

It’s just Beca’s voice at first. She glances over at Chloe long enough to see that she’s looking down at her hands as she listens. Beca watches the levels on the screen to distract herself from the lyrics, which cycle through pining and love to loss and regret.

When they reach the bridge, Chloe lifts her head. Beca knows she recognizes it right away -- the melody they sang together that afternoon in the trailer.

The audio isn’t great -- it’s a little faint and a little tinny -- but Beca loves the authenticity it brings to the song. Joshua had suggested she and Chloe re-record it on proper equipment, but she dismissed the idea out of hand.

It’s better like this.

It’s flawed and perfect.

“What… How did you…” Chloe reaches across her and stops the song. “How do you even have that?”

Beca bites the inside of her cheek. She always knew this was a possibility -- that she’d be angry.

“I was making a voice note that day, when you were, um, in the bathroom.” Their eyes meet and Beca knows they’re both remembering that time in Chloe’s trailer; why she was in the bathroom, and what they were doing right before. “I didn’t realize it was still recording ‘til we went back to set.”

Chloe looks away. She nods shallowly. “Oh.”

“Look, I don’t have to use that part.”

“No, it’s not that. I’m just… I don’t know. Processing.”

“Oh. Um, okay.”

Chloe tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and turns back to Beca. “Can I hear the rest?”

As they listen to the remainder of the song in silence, Beca can’t get a read on her. She’s looking down again and a curtain of hair is hiding most of her face.

When the track finishes, she doesn’t move for a few beats and Beca’s overcome with anxiety. She’s fidgeting with her ring when Chloe takes her hand. Chloe runs her thumb along the edge of the band, eyes trained on the jade stone, before meeting Beca’s gaze.

“I love it,” she says. There are tears in her eyes. “It’s beautiful, Becs.”

***

The valet brings Beca’s car around first. After taking the keys from him she lingers beside the open driver’s-side door, facing Chloe and not quite ready to say goodbye.

“So, uh.” She nods at her car. “This is me.”

Chloe laughs. “Yeah. I know.”

Beca wants to drag this out, to continue making lame jokes so long as it keeps her here. But she knows time’s running out -- that Chloe’s car will pull up any minute now -- so she decides to be brave, in her own small way.

She steps forward and pulls Chloe to her. It’s quicker than their last hug -- they’re out in the open with their colleagues standing off to the side, and who knows if paparazzi are lurking somewhere, just out of view. But, fleeting as it may be, Beca still sinks into the sensation of being in her arms. Chloe squeezes her even tighter, and Beca’s muscles relax.

“It was so good to see you, Chlo,” she says as they begin to step back. Then, with a final burst of courage, she turns her head and kisses Chloe’s cheek.

Chloe studies her face for a second, eyes briefly falling to Beca’s lips. She clears her throat and adjusts the bag on her shoulder.

“You too, Becs.” She glances to the right at the sound of her car approaching. “Guess I’ll see you in New York?”

“Ah yeah, New York. I’ve gotta, like, mentally prepare for all that.”

The valet is walking over with Chloe’s keys, but Beca still has her full attention. “You’ll be great,” she tells her, smiling. “As always.”

Beca rolls her eyes, even as her chest fills with warmth. “Whatever. You’re biased.”

“Yeah. Guess I am.” Chloe takes her keys from the valet and subtly passes him a tip. Then she turns back for one last look. “Bye, Beca.”

Beca swallows around the lump in her throat. “Bye.”

***

New York. The main event of the press tour -- and the only one where she and Chloe will be together.

Due to scheduling conflicts, the studio's PR team has them dividing and conquering before then. They’ve split the California talk show circuit between them, each making appearances on their own. Beca has a couple days earmarked for satellite interviews with press in major markets, and she’s sure Chloe does as well.

The media blitz will culminate in New York, where they’ll come together to woo east coast audiences from the city where the film takes place. Beca and Chloe are slated to do a marathon day-long press junket in addition to making the NYC talk show rounds, some together, most not.

When all is said and done, they’ll head back to LA for the official premiere.

While Chloe’s faith in her is reassuring, Beca does need to prepare herself for what’s ahead. She’s no stranger to press, but she knows this will be different.

She works with Josh and her publicist, Priya, to come up with answers to new questions that are likely to be asked:

Why did you decide to try your hand at acting?

How is making a movie different from making an album?

What was it like working with Chloe Beale?

***

Beca can tell Joshua has been frustrated with her lately.

Ever since she saw Chloe at the ADR studio, she hasn’t quite been herself.

(Although she doesn’t think she was herself before then, either.)

After a few cocktails at Bar Marmont Josh finally broaches the subject.

“Honey, listen. I can tell you’re going through some things. I wasn’t going to say anything, and then it seemed like you were snapping out of it, but now you’re all angsty again. What is going on?”

As much as Beca doesn’t really want to talk about it, she has to laugh. She’s sure it’s been killing him to hold his tongue for this long.

“I dunno man. What do you think is going on?”

“I think I have a pretty good idea. But I was hoping you would tell me.”

Beca arches an eyebrow. “In a crowded bar?”

Josh looks around, like he’s just noticing where they are. “Alright so my timing isn’t great.”

She considers him for a minute. He knows her better than anyone in this town. He cares about her and he’s trying. And… maybe she’s not hating the idea of talking about it as much as she anticipated. So she decides to throw him a bone.

“Let’s assume that your ‘pretty good idea’ is right. How would you counsel me, oh wise agent?”

Josh leans forward and rests his arms on the table. “As your wise friend,” he says pointedly, “I’d remind you that the past isn’t an accurate predictor of the future.”

“Meaning...?”

“You can’t run from your feelings forever, sweetie.”

***

She knows that.

Seriously, like, she knows.

It’s something she’s been working with her therapist on: embracing vulnerability, leaving the past in the past, yada yada yada.

She understands it on an intellectual level. It all makes sense, in theory.

But in practice? That’s where she gets stuck.

***

The studio puts them up at the Four Seasons in midtown. It’s swanky, but Beca gets into town so late the night before the first day of press that all she cares about is the bed.

She tries to enjoy it the next morning while she gets ready for the day. Her room is on the 47th floor, looking uptown, and she takes in the sunrise over Central Park while her hair and makeup people work their magic.

Beca loves New York -- it’s one of her favorite places -- so she’s disappointed she’ll be stuck inside hotel suites and TV studios during her short time here.

That disappointment fades away a little while later when she follows Priya out the door and nearly walks smack into Chloe.

Who, apparently, is staying in the room directly across the hall.

They had exchanged a few texts during the lead-up to this trip, but mostly talked about trivial stuff, like how they should pack for the weather. The fact that Chloe’s staying right across from her and Beca didn’t even know hurts a little bit.

But, at the same time, it makes a thrill run through her.

Chloe’s people seem to be as highly strung as Beca’s, so they barely have a chance to say hello before they’re being ushered down the hall. Priya decides to give the group a rundown of the day -- listing off the journalists they’ll speak to and the outlets they’re with -- but Beca tunes her out in favor of sneaking glances at Chloe.

She’s wearing a black mini skirt paired with a neutral camisole under a dusty rose blazer. It’s one of those stylist-curated outfits that exhibits Chloe’s public persona, portraying her as trendy yet approachable.

For her part, Beca is in a public-facing ensemble of her own. She’s in black dress shorts and a long-sleeved print blouse that’s sheer enough to ensure she’ll be freezing in the air conditioned room.

Chloe catches her eye as Priya drones on and they share a weary look.

Beca smiles, realizing it’s the first time they’re seeing each other in this particular setting, all done up like this.

It’s almost like they’re back in costume, except this time they’re playing versions of themselves.

***

They all manage to cram into one elevator to travel the 40-odd floors down to the function room where the junket will take place.

Beca winds up right next to Chloe. They’re standing with their backs to the wood-paneled wall, so close that their forearms touch.

The connection, however slight, rouses something in Beca. It takes all her will power to fight the urge to turn her wrist and link their fingers together.

When the elevator doors open onto the mezzanine and everyone shuffles out, Beca hangs back. She just needs a minute; needs to breathe some air that isn’t laced with Chloe’s perfume.

Chloe’s just about to cross the threshold when she pauses and looks over her shoulder.

“You coming?” When Beca doesn’t immediately respond Chloe faces her and holds out her hand. “Come on, we’ll make it fun.”

Beca has to chuckle at that. She wishes the threat of an un-fun day was her biggest problem right now.

“Fiiine,” she groans, slipping her fingers into Chloe’s.

Chloe beams at her and, as she turns to pull her forward, Beca notices the tiny gold cassette tape dangling from her neck.

***

Seeing Chloe’s necklace makes Beca think about many things.

She thinks about how touched Chloe was when she gave it to her, that night on the rooftop overlooking the harbor.

She thinks about the quote etched into the gold on the back, on the side now pressed to Chloe’s sternum. She remembers the day she said it, when they drove together up the Massachusetts coast, happy and carefree.

She thinks about the selfie Chloe texted her.

And she thinks about the others that she took but couldn’t bring herself to send. She tries not to think about whether they’re still there, saved somewhere on Chloe’s phone.

More than anything, she thinks about all this history that’s grown between them in a relatively short span of time. She wonders if she can find a way to be a part of Chloe’s life without hurting her; without getting hurt herself. (She knows, deep down, it might be too late for that.)

She thinks about what Josh said and her therapist’s advice and all the fucked up shit her mind tells her on a daily basis.

In this moment, she can’t make sense of it all.

All she knows is that Chloe brought the necklace 3,000 miles across the country; that this morning she put it on, knowing she’d soon see Beca.

And Beca doesn’t know what it means. But, on some level, it gives her hope.

Chapter Text

At this point in her career, Beca’s lost track of how many times she’s been interviewed. Despite that, it’s immediately clear that today’s press junket is different from anything she’s done in the past.

There’s basically a mini TV studio set up in the corner of the hotel function room. She and Chloe are seated in director’s chairs in front of a backdrop that has “The Last Note” printed across it in bold letters. Opposite them is the hub of the operation -- a bevy of lights, cameras, and serious-looking crew workers.

Their PR teams have joined forces with studio flacks to split into two groups: one hovering just off-camera and the other, armed with clipboards, gatekeeping at the door.

Beca closes her eyes and takes a deep breath as the sound guy threads the mic wire underneath the front of her blouse.

“Gee, I love getting felt up this early in the morning,” she mutters, voice as flat as she can make it.

She knows it’s rude, but she’s overwhelmed and, whatever, they’re in New York City. They invented ‘rude.’

The sound guy says he’s almost done and Beca opens her eyes, planning to apologize, when she senses Chloe looking at her. She glances up and, sure enough, Chloe’s watching with this wry expression, lips pressed together like she’s trying not to laugh.

In the split second their eyes meet, Beca’s mind flashes back to a morning in Boston when Chloe woke them up before the alarm; when she spooned Beca from behind and slipped her hand beneath her t-shirt, teasing her nipples until Beca whined and pressed back against her, needing more.

Chloe holds her stare for a long beat before looking away. A trace of a smirk lingers on her lips.

Beca takes another breath and tries to will the redness from her cheeks.

It’s gonna be a long day.

***

It is a long day, but not in the way Beca feared.

They’re booked solid from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with just a short break penciled in for lunch. Chloe does the heavy lifting in the first few interviews, but after that Beca finds her groove. Most of the journos ask variations of the same few questions and Beca feels like she’s learning her lines as she goes. After the first half-dozen reporters, she’s able to rattle off responses without much thought.

It’s plain to see that Chloe is a pro at this sort of thing. She delivers the same rote responses, too, interview after interview, but they never sound scripted or stale. Beca tries to follow her lead, to leave room for spontaneity, to look for opportunities to have fun.

At some point, without even realizing, it becomes more fun than not.

She and Chloe play off each other. When they’re asked a tired, boring question for the 30th time, they start making up answers.

“What was it like kissing another woman on camera?”

“Difficult,” Beca says somberly. “And I mean that literally. Our boobs kept getting in the way, so it was physically hard to get our mouths to touch.”

Chloe’s lips parts in surprise just for a second before she lifts her chin and nods. “It’s true,” she says. “That was, like, a whole thing. We had to hire an intimacy coach.”

Sometimes Beca jumps in to answer for Chloe, just to try to get a rise out of her.

“Chloe, what was it like working with Beca Mitchell?”

“Oh it was awful, she hated it,” Beca tells them. “I’m a monster. All the cute smiling and giggling that’s happening over here--” she points her thumb in Chloe’s direction “--yeah, that’s all for show.”

“Shut up!” Chloe says, swatting her arm. Then she recovers and throws Beca a bone-chilling glare. “You know I can’t comment on that.” She turns to the interviewer. “You’ll read all about it in the restraining order.”

Eventually, as payback, Chloe starts answering for Beca.

“Beca, what music did you listen to in order to find inspiration to play Ella?”

“She loooves Rebecca Black,” Chloe chimes in.

Beca scoffs and slaps Chloe’s thigh. “Seriously?!”

“Remember that song ‘Friday?’ Beca’s obsessed. She’d play it in her trailer on a loop. It was concerning.”

“Oh my god, you bitch.”

By the time the final interviewer takes her seat, Beca’s cheeks ache from smiling.

She can’t remember when she last had this much fun.

***

In addition to being fun, it’s also… kind of flirty.

They keep touching each other. It’s not intentional, at first. It’s simply second nature for Beca to grab Chloe’s wrist when she’s making a point, for Chloe to close her fingers around Beca’s as she laughs.

But, at some point, Beca starts looking for opportunities to make contact. And maybe Chloe does, too, because the subtle touches seem to happen more frequently throughout the day. The interviewers change so often, it’s not like anyone would notice. (Not anyone who would report on it, anyway.)

Plus, they play it off like it’s nothing.

Like they aren’t even noticing they’re doing it.

Soon Beca gets that feeling again -- like it’s all leading somewhere. And she knows she should put an end to it -- that there’s nowhere for it to lead anymore -- but her heart races each time she feels Chloe’s hand on her skin, and she can’t bring herself to stop.

***

Beca and Chloe are switching seats with each other for the third time -- a suggestion from Chloe that has definitely saved Beca from a debilitatingly stiff neck -- when Harlow is brought over.

She’s with E! or possibly EW -- Beca’s too tired to remember. Or maybe she was just too distracted by how tall she is, how her dress hugs her curves, and how Chloe was definitely noticing.

Of course Chloe is now seated closest to the interviewer’s chair, which, Beca soon learns, is within touching distance. Because Harlow keeps touching Chloe’s arm and laughing at her jokes (even when they aren’t that funny) and flipping her hair and angling herself toward Chloe and, like -- there’s just way too much touching, okay?

It doesn’t help that Chloe actually seems charmed by this blatant attempt at flirting. She lights up any time Harlow compliments her and practically blushes when Harlow says some cheesy line about being distracted by how “insanely blue” Chloe’s eyes are. (Gag.)

Beca feels herself withdrawing from the whole thing. Her jaw clenches and she has to fight the urge to cross her arms over her chest. She might have done it, too, if Priya hadn’t caught her eye and fixed her with a warning look.

So she tries to check back in -- tries to smile at the right times and adequately answer any questions thrown her way. She thinks she might just get through the interview alive when Harlow makes some disparaging comment about herself (clearly fishing) and Chloe rushes to reassure her.

“Please, you’re crazy. I mean, have you seen you? You’re totes hot. Your body is, like, bangin’.”

Beca’s surprised she doesn’t give herself an aneurysm from the effort it takes to stop her eyes from rolling back into her skull.

The feeling that follows is so overwhelming she has to dig her nails into her palms to keep it under wraps. She just can’t believe that this chick is shamelessly flirting with Chloe right in front of her. Or that Chloe is actually flirting back.

It’s bullshit. And it especially sucks because she and Chloe were just having so much fun together, and now she’s all tense and annoyed with heat rising up the back of her neck.

She fully tunes out for a minute or so, until one question yanks her back to the here and now.

“The two of you seem to have formed a unique bond,” Harlow is saying. “I think it’s safe to say that pretty much everyone watching this interview has seen the photos of you coming out of that club in Boston where you looked… quite close. Then there were the paparazzi photos of you on set -- which were adorable, by the way. But sometimes the way you looked at each other… it was like you were sharing a secret.”

Chloe tips her head back and laughs. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Boston, Harlow, but that city parties hard.” She smiles at Beca, who takes the hint and follows suit. “We were just having fun,” Chloe says. Her tone is still light and friendly, but there’s a note of finality there, too.

Unfortunately, it does nothing to deter Harlow.

“I’m sure, I’m sure,” she says. “But still, I have to ask: Were the rumors true?”

***

Beca and her team had prepped for this one, even though Priya had assured her that it was highly unlikely to come up. That no outlet would want to risk burning bridges with her and Chloe and, by extension, the studio.

So much for that theory.

Chloe must have been ready for this question, too. In fact, as Chloe calmly answers, Beca wonders if their teams had conspired on the messaging, because Chloe’s response is nearly identical to what Beca had memorized. Almost word for word.

“First off, I’m not in the habit of addressing tabloid rumors, and I’m sure Beca isn’t, either. Otherwise, we’d spend so much time denying alien pregnancies and made-up celebrity feuds that there wouldn’t be any time left to actually do our jobs.”

“Of course,” Harlow says. “I completely understand. But you have to admit this is different from alien babies. Your chemistry is undeniable. And I mean, the photos are--”

“Completely out of context,” Beca says, cutting her off. “We had just taken the cast and crew out for some much needed fun after a crazy week. Chloe and I were just trying to go home when the paparazzi, like, ambushed us out of nowhere.”

Harlow taps her pen against her bottom lip. “Home?”

Only when Chloe laughs and touches the side of Beca’s wrist does she realize the slip. Chloe rushes to cover for her.

“Honestly, it’s flattering that people think we’re together. I mean, I could do far worse than Beca Mitchell.” She smiles at her and it feels so genuine Beca’s stomach drops. “But it’s just another example of people confusing fiction and reality. The good news is, if anyone wants to watch our characters get together they can go see the movie in a couple weeks!”

***

Beca’s standing with Priya, drinking some water stretching her legs as the team wraps up, when she sees Harlow approach Chloe on the other side of the room.

She’s too far away to hear what she’s saying, but after the stunt she just pulled Beca can’t believe the gall of it. The unbelievable occurrences keep coming, because soon Chloe’s smiling, then she’s laughing, and then Harlow’s cupping Chloe’s elbow as she laughs, too.

Beca gets that heated feeling again, creeping up her spine. She blindly hands Priya her water and stalks across the room before she can think better of it.

When Beca comes to a stop next to Chloe both she and Harlow look at her in surprise. She must have walked over here quickly -- she does feel a little short of breath.

“Hey, Chlo, can I talk to you for a sec?”

Chloe furrows her brow. “Um…” She glances at Harlow. “We were just--”

Beca decides she doesn’t want to hear the end of that sentence. She grabs Chloe’s hand and pulls her backwards. “Just a second, I promise.”

Beca turns and walks off, tugging Chloe behind her. Her heart is beating alarmingly fast and she doesn’t really have a plan, here, so she just leads Chloe to the refreshment table in the corner.

She drops Chloe’s hand and sees, over her shoulder, that Harlow is being escorted out the door.

“Oh good, she’s leaving.”

Chloe tilts her head, eyeing Beca coldly. “Um. What was that?”

“That was me, like, saving you.” Beca frowns. “I guess I could’ve been more tactful or whatever, but I couldn’t just leave you alone with her after that.”

Chloe takes a long breath, like she’s going to need a lot of oxygen for what she’s about to say. But before she can get a word out a camera guy appears beside them and starts making a cup of coffee.

Chloe signals to her team that they’ll just be a minute. Then she takes Beca’s wrist and practically drags her down the hall and into the nearest bathroom.

There are three stalls and the doors are all ajar, but Chloe bends to look beneath them, like she wants to be certain they’re alone.

That heat Beca had felt on her neck earlier has traveled inward and is now burning hotly under her ribs.

“Uhh what the fuck are we doing in here?”

Chloe rounds on her, eyes blazing, and a sick part of Beca actually likes it. After watching Chloe flirt with someone else for 20 minutes it feels good to rouse such a strong reaction from her, even if it's anger.

“What the fuck were you doing out there?”

She’s mad enough to swear, and Beca can’t resist fanning the flames. She plays dumb and lifts her hands, palms facing up toward the ceiling. “I was sav--”

Chloe moves closer. “Don’t say you were saving me.”

Beca sighs. “I don’t know what you want me to say, then.” She lets her arms fall to her sides. “That girl was too fucking aggressive. I didn’t want you to have to, like, fend for yourself with her.”

“We knew that question might come up,” Chloe says, eyes narrowing. “And we handled it. It wasn’t personal -- she was actually apologizing for asking it. She said her boss insisted.”

“Yeah, okay.” Beca huffs and crosses her arms. She can’t believe Chloe is defending her. “Did her boss insist that she throw herself at you, too?”

It’s not until Chloe’s mouth falls open that Beca registers what she just said. Well, it’s out there now. She squares her shoulders, deciding the only way out is through.

“Are you serious right now?” Chloe inches closer. Her chest is rising and falling rapidly and Beca gulps. “That’s what’s going on here? You were jealous?”

Beca chokes out a shaky laugh and glances away. “I-- I was-- I wasn’t--”

Chloe’s still advancing on her and Beca retreats until she feels the doorknob pressing into her spine. “Jesus, Beca. As if you have any right, especially after--”

She stops short and Beca can almost hear her clenching her teeth. When Chloe takes a steadying breath, she steels herself for whatever is about to come.

“You wanted to go back to normal, Beca,” Chloe whispers. She looks her dead in the eye and Beca realizes she’s on the verge of tears. “I guess this is what normal feels like.”

Chloe’s voice breaks at the end of her sentence, and the anger Beca had been holding onto vanishes in an instant.

“Chloe, I...” She reaches for her hand, but is batted away. “Chlo, listen--”

She won’t even meet her eyes. “Can you move, please? You’re in front of the door.”

Beca’s bottom lip starts trembling as she steps aside. “Chloe, hang on, just--”

Chloe doesn’t look up as she slips past Beca and walks out into the hall.

***

After Beca collects herself and heads back to the function room to find Priya and the rest of her team, Chloe’s already gone.

She only gets a short break and a quick bite to eat before they have to hit the road. She feels off her game while filming back-to-back segments with Fallon and Seth Meyers. It doesn’t help that they both want to talk about Chloe -- how it was to work together, if she’s really as nice as she seems.

She smiles and answers the questions, saying all the right things, but it feels like someone else is doing the talking for her; like she’s witnessing it all from afar, watching a stranger chat with each late night host.

Beca wonders how they’d react if she told them Chloe just made her cry in a hotel bathroom.

Maybe they’d be sympathetic if she left out the part about it being all her fault.

***

Beca [8:58 p.m.]: I’m sorry

***

When Beca’s finally back in her hotel room, alone for the first time since she got out of bed, she almost bursts into tears.

She’s so drained, emotionally and physically, that crying seems like the only thing to do.

She lets herself break down in the shower. When she stands under the steaming-hot spray her tears are indistinguishable from drops of water, and that makes her feel better, somehow.

Today has given her whiplash. She doesn’t know how to begin to process it; how to begin to fix it.

She knows the solitary text to Chloe won’t cut it, not by a long shot, but in the moment it was the best she could do.

She’s just so tired.

After getting out of the shower she puts on pajamas, brushes her hair, and crawls into bed.

Tomorrow.

She’ll figure it out tomorrow.

***

Beca’s about to turn off the bedside lamp when there’s a soft knock on the door.

Her heart races as she freezes, suddenly on high alert. It’s sad, but an unexpected visitor makes her mind jump to ‘stalker,’ now. There’s been a few close calls -- one guy even got into her beach house in the off-season a couple years ago -- so it’s not outside the realm of possibilities.

She’s debating whether she should call Priya or hotel security when her phone buzzes in her hand.

Chloe [11:05 p.m.]: it’s just me

***

Chloe’s standing in the hallway in a little pajama shorts set and fuzzy pink slippers that Beca hasn’t seen before.

Beca doesn’t spot the bottle of wine until she holds it up.

“They put this in my room -- it’s that Sancerre we like.” She bites her bottom lip, eyebrows lifting. “I don’t like fighting with you,” she says softly. She shrugs one shoulder, like it’s an admission. “Can I come in?”

***

Ending the night with Chloe in her room only adds to Beca’s sense of whiplash. It’s disorienting, but she’s here and they’re talking and it gives Beca hope.

There’s a seating area in the suite but those have always grossed Beca out -- there’s no telling when the upholstery has last been cleaned -- so they settle on either side of her bed. They sit with their backs against the headboard and legs stretched out in front of them as they sip from glasses of wine.

They’ve just been making painful small talk, so far; reminiscing about the first time they tried this vintage at a sushi place in Harvard Square, complaining about how much their feet hurt after a day spent in heels. And Beca knows Chloe didn’t come in here just to chat, but she can’t work out how to bridge the gap to a more meaningful conversation.

She also doesn’t know what she’ll say once they eventually get there.

A silence settles over them and Beca holds her breath. She studies the wine glass in her hand.

“Beca…”

She looks over at Chloe, on the other side of the California king, and in some ways it’s like there’s never been so much space between them. She tries to breathe evenly as she waits for Chloe to choose her words.

“I’m sorry about earlier,” Chloe says after a moment. “For what I said. That I yelled. I just…”

She drops Beca’s gaze, throat working as she swallows. It’s almost physically painful, seeing Chloe get upset again, and even though she’s too far to touch, Beca instinctually reaches toward her.

“Chloe. Hey.” She rests her hand on the duvet, halfway between them. “It’s okay. I’m the one who should apologize. I acted like a total psycho dick earlier.”

Chloe snickers and glances over at her. Her eyes are glossy, but she’s smiling.

“I’ve never seen you like that.”

“I know. I--”

She flounders for a moment, searching for a way to explain without revealing. Chloe was right before -- she was jealous. And she had no right to be. But she doesn’t know how to admit that to Chloe.

She decides to listen to her therapist for once and cut herself some slack -- just admitting it to herself is big for her.

“I just really did not like that chick,” she says.

Chloe bursts out laughing. She tips her face up toward the ceiling, like she’s praying for strength.

“Yeah, no shit.”

That makes Beca laugh, too. She bends knees and shifts onto her side, propping her elbow on a pillow. In this new position she’s facing Chloe and can inch her arm out even further.

“That’s, like, three curse words today, Beale,” she says, arching an eyebrow. “Are you feeling okay?”

Chloe laughs louder. She mirrors Beca’s position and shakes her head.

“No, I guess not.” Her eyes fall to Beca’s outstretched hand and, after a second’s hesitation, she links their fingers together. She looks up at Beca through her lashes. “Maybe a little better now.”

***

Chloe doesn’t bring up the other thing she’d said in the bathroom.

The part about “back to normal.”

The part where she acknowledged that ending things, after Boston, was Beca’s doing.

That it’s what Beca wanted.

Beca doesn’t know what to make of that omission; isn’t sure if she’s relieved or disappointed.

She adds it to the long list of things she isn’t sure of, of things she doesn’t know.

***

(Is this really what she wanted?)

***

They finish the Sancerre, open a new bottle from Beca’s welcome basket, and raid the mini bar.

It’s probably a bad idea -- it’s getting late and they both have an early start tomorrow -- but this is the lightest Beca’s felt in literal months, so she keeps quiet.

The TV is on in the background (some reality show that Chloe chose and Beca graciously allowed, even though she thinks it might be on that Harlow’s network…) but they’re not paying attention to what’s on the screen.

There’s too much to catch up on -- so much to tell each other from the past several months; so much that’s been left out of their tempered exchange of texts.

So much fun to make up for.

It almost feels like it used to; like no time has passed since the last time they lounged together and talked like this. Over the past hour they’ve drifted closer and now they’re lying down on their sides in the middle of the bed.

Beca’s tipsy and, like, stupid happy.

It’s enough just being close to her.

“No she did not!” She gapes in disbelief at the anecdote Chloe just told her.

“Swear to god. Ellen told me I looked -- and I quote -- ‘very hetero.’”

Beca presses her face to the pillow as she laughs. “Did you correct her?”

“Nah.” Chloe shrugs. “Maybe if it was during the interview, but it was after, backstage. Didn’t seem worth it.”

“The things you could’ve told her…” Beca giggles. It hits her that she's on the drunk side of tipsy.

Chloe smirks. “The thing I could’ve showed her.”

Beca gasps and grabs her wrist. “You still have that?!”

“Relax. I took it off my phone.”

“And moved it to…?”

“A thumb drive. With a password. That’s in a lockbox.”

“Oh my god, Chloe…” Beca groans, even as she flushes at the memory.

“You want me to get rid of it?”

She twists her lips to the side. “Um… I mean...”

“Yeah. Didn’t think so.”

Beca’s jaw drops in faux indignation and Chloe just laughs. She arches an eyebrow and throws Beca a suggestive look, like she’s caught her out, before her eyes drop to Beca’s lips.

Heat passes between them, just like it used to, and when Beca tugs on Chloe’s wrist, pulling her closer, she goes willingly.

Chloe pauses mere inches from Beca’s face, like she’s giving her an out, but there’s nothing in the world that could stop Beca from kissing her. She presses forward, keeping her eyes open until the last second -- until she feels Chloe’s lips beneath her own.

Chloe makes a little sound from somewhere deep in her throat, and Beca chases after it with her tongue. There’s too much pent-up longing to go slow, too many nights spent alone and left wanting to hold anything back.

Beca rocks her hips forward when Chloe squeezes her waist. She whimpers into her mouth because that’s how desperate she feels; because she knows Chloe likes it.

When Chloe eases Beca onto her back and slips a leg between her thighs, arching up into her, Beca’s nearly out of her mind with lust. She pushes her hands beneath Chloe’s shirt and runs her fingers from her lower back up to her shoulders, meeting nothing but skin. When she drags her hands back down she glides her thumbs along the sides of Chloe’s breasts.

Chloe moans into Beca’s mouth before breaking away. She stills, panting ragged breaths against Beca’s lips.

“God, Chloe.”

Beca smooths her hands up and down her sides, bunching her shirt up higher each time. The only clear thought in her head is that she needs Chloe’s lips on her again. She wants Chloe everywhere; wants to be consumed by her.

“I need you,” she breathes. She cranes her neck and kisses the side of her jaw. “Chloe. Baby.”

Chloe exhales sharply and Beca waits, ready for her mouth. Instead she feels the mattress shift.

Her mind feels sluggish as she opens her eyes to find Chloe sitting back on her knees.

“I can’t…” she whispers, as if she’s talking to herself.

Beca sits up and rests her hands on the tops of Chloe’s thighs. “Hey.” Chloe doesn’t look at her. “Are you okay?”

She shakes her head and moves off of her. Beca reaches for her again but thinks better of it. Instead she grips the sides of her own legs, wishing she didn’t know what question to ask next.

“You... You can’t what?”

Chloe meets her gaze once more, and the pain Beca sees written across her features makes tears spring to her eyes.

“I can’t do this again,” she says. “This… Us…” She gestures between them. “This isn’t casual for me, Beca. I-- I can’t just be with you and then walk away like it’s nothing.”

“Chlo, I--” She tries to swallow, but it’s hard with the lump in her throat. “It’s not nothing.” Her voice is cracking, but she doesn’t care. “Chloe, it’s not.”

Chloe takes a slow breath as a tear slides down her cheek. “What is it, then?”

Beca’s lips move as she tries to find the right answer, to construct the magic combination of words that will make Chloe stop crying. But it’s like her mind is tying itself in knots.

She exhales in frustration, coming up short.

Chloe looks at her sadly, like she wasn’t expecting any different. And that makes it worse.

She gets off the bed and walks a few paces. She runs her hands through her hair before stopping and turning back.

“Beca…” Her voice is quiet, but there’s an edge to it Beca’s never heard before. “What are you so afraid of?”

Beca’s laugh is rough and bitter. “I don’t know.” She wipes her fingers beneath her eyes, hating how pathetic she sounds. “Everything? All of it.”

Chloe lets out a harsh breath, eyebrows knitting together. She takes a small step toward the bed and Beca finds she’s watching her every movement. She admitted that she’s afraid -- that there’s something she’s afraid of -- and it makes her feel so exposed.

“Beca…” Chloe says again. The edge is gone from her voice. She takes another step toward her, going slow like Beca’s a wounded animal and she’s trying not to startle her. “I know you’ve been hurt in the past. Your shitty exes and all that stuff with your parents. And I know it’s hard. Trust me, I know.”

She blinks rapidly, bottom lip trembling, and Beca’s never felt more out of her depths but she can’t just sit there and watch. She climbs off the bed and crosses the short distance between them.

When she moves to wrap Chloe in her arms, Chloe takes her hands and gently holds her back. She bites her bottom lip, and Beca knows there’s more she has to say.

“Listen…” she starts, and Beca’s heart is already racing. “In case it wasn’t already, like, abundantly clear, I-- I really like you.” She brushes her thumbs across Beca’s knuckles. “And I think we’re great together. And... And I think we could really have something here. If you let us try.”

When Beca was in the first grade she did a penny-drop off the monkey bars because it wasn’t allowed. She landed on her hands and knees on the playground gravel, stunned and unable to take a breath. Later, in time out, the teacher said she’d had the wind knocked out of her.

That’s exactly how she feels right now, standing in front of her favorite person, who’s asking her to try.

(Standing in front of her favorite person, and knowing she’ll disappoint her.)

“I…” Beca squeezes Chloe’s fingers as if they’ll save her; as if they’ll stop the words from coming out. She shakes her head, completely helpless. “I don’t know how.”

Chloe drops Beca’s hands. She steps back, defeated and resigned.

“Then I can’t.” She’s crying again. “I’m sorry.”

Beca can only watch in wretched silence as Chloe collects her things and walks out the door.

***

Beca loves New York, but she’d give anything to be home right now.

The rest of the trip absolutely drags. It’s particularly exhausting to have to pretend to be up on talk show after talk show when, in reality, she’s never felt lower.

She only sees Chloe once more -- at Julliard, of all places. They tour the school for a Today Show segment and do a brief interview with Hoda in one of the rehearsal rooms. They’re civil and professional and, to the unpracticed eye, nothing seems off between them.

But to Beca, the differences in their demeanors are night and day. During the interview she holds herself still and straight. Chloe keeps her hands folded in her lap.

When it’s over, after Hoda is rushed back to 30 Rock, they stand in silence and unclip their mics. The ache in Beca’s chest is threatening to split her in two when Priya jogs over and thrusts her phone in their faces.

“Your fans are glad to see you two back together. Look at all these mentions!” She scrolls down with her thumb and Beca sees photo after photo of her and Chloe. Priya could not be more thrilled. “Hashtag Bechloe lives!”

***

Somewhere over Illinois, Beca caves and opens Instagram.

She literally couldn't feel worse than she does already, so why not?

Most of the posts she’s tagged in are screenshots from the press junket. Every so often she comes across a video clip. She watches them without unmuting.

She scans the comments:

omggg could #bechloe be any more flirty???

they’re literally SO cute im gonna die

get urself someone who looks at u the way beca looks at chloe

***

It turns out Beca was wrong, earlier.

She could feel worse.

***

Beca orders a couple glasses of wine for the second half of the flight home, but it does nothing to calm her down.

It just makes her think of Chloe.

It just lets her mind wander.

She lambasts herself and forgives herself and lambasts herself again.

She tries to remember why she’s doing this.

She tries to see the point in protecting her heart if that hurts, too.

If that hurts just as much.

***

Beca’s town car is stuck in traffic on the 101 when she gets a text from her stylist.

Nisha [5:07 p.m.]: I know you’re swamped babe but check your email. Sent you options for the premiere.

Nisha [5:07 p.m.]: Been coordinating with Chloe Beale’s people. We like #3. xx

Chapter Text

Going to therapy is, like, such an LA thing to do.

At least, that’s what Beca thought when she first moved out here. Everyone and their mother had a therapist. It seemed like such pretentious, navel-gazing nonsense.

Jesse, of all people, is the one who finally convinced her to go. He said it might help her deal with the stress of her growing fame, to come to terms with the lack of control that accompanied it.

She agreed begrudgingly. She was still in love, back then, and she thought he might see something she did not. And it turned out he was right.

The love didn’t stick, but the therapist did.

During Beca’s first session after the New York press trip, she has a minor breakdown.

Okay, maybe not so minor.

Her therapist listens calmly as Beca tells her how angry she is with herself. Why is she her own worst enemy? Why is she still like this? After all these years of therapy, why isn’t she better?

Her therapist reminds her to go easy on herself. To focus, instead, on how far she’s come; the progress she’s made.

“What advice would you give a friend who was in a similar situation?”

(She’s asked this question before. Beca kind of hates when she asks it.)

“I know the exact advice I’d give. That’s not the problem.”

“What is the problem?”

“I… I just don’t know how to follow it.”

“That’s okay. Let’s start there.”

***

Afterwards, Beca drives home, drinks a glass of water, and takes a three hour nap.

When she wakes up she’s still exhausted and her eyes are insanely puffy, but she feels a little better.

She’s not there yet, but now she has a plan.

She has a goal. A destination.

She just hopes that when she gets there, it isn’t too late.

***

Beca squeezes in three more therapy sessions before the final dress fitting, ahead of the premiere.

Both she and Chloe are being dressed by Rodarte -- the fashion house that designed costumes for the film. Their looks are meant to be a pair, so the designer insists that they do their last fitting together. It’s the only way to ensure that they’re ‘cohesively aligned from an aesthetic standpoint.’

But Beca doesn’t care about that.

She cares about seeing Chloe.

Who she hasn’t heard from in nine days.

Who she’s written 100 texts to, but never hit send.

***

Beca’s feeling slightly lightheaded when she walks into the building where the fitting will take place.

Her stylist, Nisha, and her two assistants are all business. They steer Beca past reception and into a cozy lounge that’s part living room, part design studio. There are sofas and mirrors on one side and sewing machines and bolts of fabric on the other.

Beca doesn’t know what to make of the duality of the space. She doesn’t spare much time to consider it as she scans the room, looking for Chloe. Her search is interrupted by the principal designer, who pulls Beca in for an angular, awkward hug.

After they exchange pleasantries, Nisha waves enthusiastically to a woman over by the windows. She places a hand on the small of Becas back and guides her over.

“Beca, this is Raquel. Chloe’s stylist.”

Beca’s heart thuds in her chest. Her fingers anxiously twist the everpresent ring on her hand. “Oh, Chloe’s here?” she asks, turning to look for her before she even finishes the question.

Nisha’s talking again -- something about how great it’s been collaborating with Raquel -- but Beca isn’t really listening. Because Chloe is here, over on one of the sofas, and Beca’s mind doesn’t have the bandwidth for anything else.

“Sorry, I’m just gonna go say hi.”

Nisha, never one to be phased by Beca’s aloofness, lights up. “Ooh, I’ll come with!”

Beca almost forgets to move until she feels the gentle pressure of Nisha’s hand on her back.

(Some days, Nisha’s habit of guiding Beca around like she’s a prized pony is kind of annoying. Today is not one of those days.)

She knows it’s, like, incredibly cliche, but as they approach Chloe the rest of the room dims. She’s in a floral silk dressing gown with her hair in loose curls and swept to one side. Her legs are crossed at the ankle and, while her eyes are trained on her phone, Beca can tell she’s aware of her presence.

She’s so still.

Chloe looks up at the last second, when Beca’s just two feet in front of her, and when their eyes meet Beca feels like glass -- fragile and at risk of shattering.

“Hi,” she says, because the silence has been stretching on and she can’t think of anything better.

Chloe’s smile doesn’t reach her eyes. “Hi.”

More silence, until Nisha clears her throat.

“Um, also hi! I’m Beca’s stylist, by the way.”

Beca watches Chloe’s eyes travel from Nisha’s face to her hand, still on Beca’s back. Beca takes half a step forward, away from Nisha’s grasp.

“Oh, right, you two haven’t met,” she says in a rush. “Chloe, Nisha.” She gestures between them. “Nisha, Chloe.”

Chloe stands and shakes Nisha’s hand. “It’s lovely to meet you.” When she smiles this time, it’s genuine.

“Likewise! I’m a massive fan -- I owned literally all of your films when I was a kid.”

“Aw thank you, that’s so sweet.”

“Anyway, I was just telling Beca how lovely it’s been working with Raquel. We’ve been absolutely dying to see these looks on you together.”

“Oh yes.” Chloe nods. “Very exciting.”

Beca’s about to ask if they can have a moment alone, but Nisha -- always one step ahead -- glances between them and connects the dots herself.

“Well I’m sure you two would love to catch up, so I’ll just…” She mimes walking away with her fingers before turning and doing just that.

Chloe watches her go. “She seems fun.”

“Hah, yeah. You have to be a total character to work for me. It’s in the fine print on all the contracts.”

Chloe giggles softly and it gives Beca the courage to keep going.

“Chloe. I, um...” They’re finally together -- finally alone(ish) -- and she doesn’t know where to start. She thinks back to what she’s learned in therapy, about being more open about how she feels, and figures that’s as good a jumping off point as any. “I don’t know where to start.”

“Beca, it’s fine,” Chloe says in this quiet, tired voice. “Let’s just get through today, okay?”

“No.” Beca shakes her head and steps closer. “No, I don’t want to just--”

Suddenly the designer appears by their sides and Beca cuts herself off.

“Ladies, I’m so sorry to interrupt,” the woman says, “but we’re ready to get started.”

***

Beca’s always hated dress fittings. It’s no fun getting poked and prodded by practical strangers, feeling exposed while standing on a literal pedestal, praying no one accidentally sticks you with a pin.

It’s even less fun when you’re doing the fitting with the woman you’d been sleeping with... until you got scared and fucked it all up; who you don’t know how to fix things with, but you desperately want to try.

Add to that the partial state of undress. Beca had been given a silk robe, too, but she’s beyond feigning modesty at this point in her career, so she barely uses it. The whole ordeal is just more efficient that way.

Chloe must be of the same school of thought because her robe is forgotten for a good part of the next hour. And Beca gets it -- she’s literally doing the same thing -- but it still pains her to stand a few feet from Chloe while they’re both in nothing but a bra and underwear.

It’s a fine line, trying not to look at each other while also making sure it doesn’t get awkward for everyone else. Beca’s just so aware of Chloe that it’s almost worse than if she just faced her head-on, let her eyes go where they pleased.

Though, the little glimpses she gets of her are bad enough. She gleans small, tantalizing details. Like how Chloe’s stomach is a shade lighter than it was last summer, but there’s still a faint bikini line at the top of her thigh. Beca wishes she could trace it like she used to, when they’d lie in bed at the end of the day and soak each other in.

Chloe catches her a half-dozen times. Each time Beca flushes and looks down, guilty with longing.

She catches Chloe looking only once. It’s when the seamstress kneeling in front of Beca adjusts her position by pulling on her hips. Beca goes willingly -- she’s used to this kind of thing, and the woman is holding pins between her lips so she can’t exactly direct her with words.

While she’s turning Beca feels the weight of Chloe’s attention, and she looks up to find her watching. When their eyes meet Chloe doesn’t blush and glance away -- she holds Beca’s gaze, just for an instant, with an expression that Beca can’t read.

***

The assembled group of designers, stylists, and various assistants seem very pleased by the nearly completed looks. A photographer is brought in to take photos of Beca and Chloe, together and apart, trying different poses and accessories; testing how the looks will appear on the red carpet from every angle, under flashing lights.

It’s afterwards, when everyone is gathered around the photog’s laptop monitor as he cycles through hundreds of shots, that Beca sees her chance. The group’s focus is still honed on them, as it has been all day -- but this time they’re consumed by their digital rendering. It’s one of those rare instances that Beca Mitchell and Chloe Beale -- the actual living, breathing people -- are forgotten altogether.

They take the opportunity to slip their robes back on, having served their purpose as animated mannequins for the day. Once Beca secures the tie around her waist, she approaches Chloe where she’s standing by the sofas.

She takes her elbow. “Come with me, for a sec?”

Chloe looks at Beca, then down at her hand on her arm. Beca releases her, heat rising up her throat as she remembers the last time she grabbed Chloe (and subsequently dragged her away).

“If you want,” she clarifies. She motions to the dressing room in the corner of the studio -- the one they used to change out of their street clothes. “I was hoping we could talk.”

***

The dressing room is basically a retrofitted closet, with a clothes rack, a full-length mirror, and two small chairs placed side by side.

They settle on the chairs, both sitting on the edge as if they’ll need to make a break for it. In the cramped space, they have to be very conscious of their movements in order to keep from touching.

It occurs to Beca that being half-naked with Chloe in this tiny room may not be the best place to have this conversation. But they’re here now, and the time they’ll be left alone is steadily ticking away, so she forges ahead.

“I wrote you, like, a million texts.” She fiddles with her robe’s silk tie. “I didn’t send them. Obviously. But I’ve been thinking of you, I mean. Thinking a lot in general.”

She ventures a glance at Chloe. She’s doing that thing where she’s sitting very still, like she doesn’t trust herself to move, or like she might give herself away.

“Okay.” She nods vaguely. “Thinking is good.”

Beca digs her nails into her fists as she struggles to take the helm of this conversation. Chloe doesn’t owe her anything -- she shouldn’t have to be the one who makes it easier. She’s the one who put herself out there, the last time they spoke. Now it’s Beca’s turn to take a stab at it.

She silently repeats one of her therapist’s favorite mantras: vulnerability is not weakness, but courage.

“I just,” she starts, angling herself toward her. Their knees touch and while Chloe’s gaze tracks the connection, she doesn’t move away. “I hate how we left things. I don’t want you to think I don’t-- that what we had didn’t mean something to me.”

Chloe’s eyes flick up to hers and Beca gets the sense that she said something wrong. God, why is she so bad at this?

Beca reaches out and covers Chloe’s hand. “Chloe, it did.”

Her jaw tightens. “Did.”

“Shit, no, that’s not…” Beca pinches the bridge of her nose as she realizes the mistake. “It does. That’s what I meant to say. I think I skipped English class the day they covered tenses.” Chloe’s face remains impassive and Beca’s heart sinks. She squeezes her eyes closed. “Jesus, how am I’m fucking this up so much?”

A few seconds pass before she feels Chloe’s hand move underneath her own. She releases her hold, thinking Chloe wants her to move away, but then Chloe’s palm is warm and solid against hers. Beca opens her eyes just as Chloe is lacing their fingers together.

“Beca, it’s okay.” She’s smiling, but she still looks sad. She still sounds so tired. “Thanks for saying that -- I know it wasn’t easy. But, Becs…” Chloe takes a shaky breath as tears well in her eyes. “It shouldn’t be this hard.”

Beca opens her mouth to protest -- to explain that it’s only hard because she’s an idiot who’s incapable of doing anything the easy way -- but Chloe shakes her head.

“It’s okay, though. I promise.” She squeezes Beca’s hand. “We’re okay.”

“We are?” Beca asks, blinking back her own tears.

“Yeah. Always.” Chloe’s gaze drops to Beca’s fingers as her thumb brushes over the jade stone on her ring. “Can’t you see that in here?”

***

When Beca’s driving home -- alone for the first time in hours -- she’s awash with melancholy.

She thought she’d feel better after they talked. She guesses she does, a little. At least they’re actually talking. They even hugged goodbye.

Still, something’s nagging at her. She mulls it over on the 405 -- goes through everything she said, how Chloe reacted, how she replied.

By the time she drives through the gates to her neighborhood, she’s left with the distinct feeling that Chloe had let her off the hook.

A few weeks ago, this may have filled her with relief.

It doesn’t, now.

It doesn’t at all.

***

(She’s not there, yet.)

(She thinks she’s getting closer.)

***

Joshua calls that night, when Beca’s in sweats and wallowing with a glass of wine.

He says he wants to touch base ahead of the premiere, but Beca can tell it’s all a ruse. He’s beating around the bush.

She just sits back and sips her wine as she waits for him to get to it.

“Sooo…” He draws out the vowel and Beca rolls her eyes at how obvious he is. “...what was it like seeing Chloe?”

They still haven’t discussed what went on between them -- not directly -- but Beca knows he’s pretty much worked out the main points. And she couldn’t talk about it before, at the bustling Chateau bar, but here, she’s safe. With Josh, she’s safe.

So she fills him in. She tells him, in broad strokes, what happened in Boston; what went down in New York and how shitty she feels about it.

“I talked to her at the fitting,” says, trying to keep her voice even. “I tried to make it better, but I think I screwed that up, too.’

Josh is quiet for a moment, and Beca can just imagine him making his dumb sympathetic face.

“Maybe because you’re still holding back.”

She laughs bitterly. “I mean, can you blame me?”

“You’re not your parents, Beca,” he says gently. “And Chloe isn’t Jesse. Or that psycho Harper, for that matter.”

One of the best things about her relationship with Josh is their shared history. He knows all about her issues with her parents and he was there for both heartbreaks. It’s nice that she doesn’t have to explain the toll they took on her, because he witnessed it firsthand.

“It might be different this time,” he continues. “It might be amazing.”

Beca sniffs. “You can’t know that.”

”Well duh -- no one can. No one ever does. You’ve got to take a chance. Sometimes it’s worth it. And, to be totally honest with you Bec, Chloe seems worth it. I know I wasn’t with you in Boston, but you seemed absurdly happy. It was kinda annoying.”

Beca smiles to herself before tears build in her eyes.

“I just don’t want to hurt her,” she whispers. “But I don’t want to lose her, either.”

“Oh, sweetie.” Josh lets out a long breath. “If you do nothing, then you’ve lost her already.”

***

Beca and Chloe start texting again.

It’s nothing serious -- nothing like the agonizing messages Beca had previously drafted and deleted.

They keep it casual. Playful, even. It reminds Beca of how they talked when they were just becoming friends, before there was this smoldering angst between them.

They send each other little notes throughout the day -- checking in, sharing memes, sending photos of coffee and food, of flowers and cute dogs.

Saying goodnight.

Good morning.

It feels normal and safe and good.

It feels like they’re okay. Just like Chloe said.

But it’s not enough.

***

(How does she get to enough?)

***

It would be nearly impossible for Beca to describe the experience of walking a red carpet to the uninitiated.

The experience is so overstimulating that it works to dull the senses. The din of shouting photographers, screaming fans, eager journalists, and vigilant publicists swirls together into a frenetic white noise.

You know, if white noise triggered your fight or flight reflex.

Tonight, as Beca steps out of the limo and onto the pavement at the private staging area, she steels herself -- and for once it isn’t because of the imminent onslaught.

Tonight, it’s because of Chloe… who is in the limo behind her.

Beca watches said limo roll to a stop as Nisha fusses over her, giving her a final check before she rounds the partitions and heads out on display. Beca has to hand it to the Rodarte designer -- her suit is tailored like a dream.

It’s a textured gray with high-waisted pants, complete with actual working pockets. There’s a thin strip of skin showing before the black lace bustier begins. She and Nisha made a last minute decision to keep the blazer open -- the detail on the bustier is just too beautiful to hide.

Plus, they don’t want to obscure the delicate pink beadwork -- the symbolic glimmer of softness in an otherwise austere look; one that is the antithesis to Chloe’s.

There’s a flurry of movement by the passenger door of the following limo. Time seems to slow as the door opens and Chloe steps out.

She must be visible to a portion of the crowd gathered in bleachers just beyond the staging area, because a chorus of shouts sounds from a distance. But who knows, maybe it’s all in Beca’s head, because she feels like she can’t breathe.

It’s absurd, because she’s seen Chloe in this dress before, but she’s still taken aback by the sight of her.

She’s absolutely stunning.

While Beca’s dress is crisp and stoic, Chloe’s is flowing and light. The tailors have outdone themselves once again. The petal-pink dress hugs her curves from the knees up. It works to draw the eye to the sweetheart neckline, which shows the slightest hint of cleavage, demuring where Beca’s corset flaunts. The dress is shoulderless, with sleeves hanging loosely around Chloe’s upper arms, giving the impression that they slipped down in a moment of passion.

Only when Chloe shifts to face her publicist does Beca see the sliver of black lace running down the side, a stark contrast against the pink.

Chloe turns her head, scanning the nearby crowd, and Beca’s heart starts racing because she knows she’s looking for her.

When she spots Beca her lips part before she rakes her gaze down her body. By the time Chloe’s eyes return to hers, Beca’s chest feels flushed.

She swallows thickly as Chloe walks up to her, leaving stylists and publicists in her wake.

“Well, well, well,” she says, eyes dropping to Beca’s cleavage. “Someone’s bringing it tonight.”

She follows the statement with a wink and a smile, like she’s trying very hard to keep it light. Beca’s hit with deja vu, her mind flashing back to when she was first on set in Burbank, when she didn’t know her lines. It takes her a couple seconds to find her place in her and Chloe’s figurative script -- to roll her eyes and play along.

“You’re one to talk,” she replies, letting her gaze linger on Chloe’s body. “There someone here you’re trying to impress?”

Chloe purses her lips and glances to the side. “Mm, I dunno.” She looks back at Beca through her lashes. “Maybe.”

***

They walk the red carpet together.

It was the studio’s idea and, when they first suggested it, Beca happily agreed. It meant she wouldn’t have to find a date or suffer through seeing Chloe on someone else’s arm.

But now that the moment is here -- now that Chloe is taking her hand and leading her out into the fray -- she’s struck with uncertainty.

Maybe it’s because she’s never been more confused about where they stand. Back at the fitting, when Chloe let her off the hook, she’d said it shouldn’t be this hard. The thing is, nothing about tonight feels hard as they talk, as they flirt; as Chloe links their fingers together when they step onto the carpet, sending a deafening cheer rippling through the mass of fans.

In fact, it feels remarkably easy when they answer reporters’ questions, bantering back and forth. When they pose for the cameras side-by-side, trying not to smile at the occasional feral cry of “Bechloe!”

When, at the behest of the head studio flack, they pose with their arms around each other.

It’s all too natural for the two of them to crowd in close, for Chloe to drape her arm around Beca’s waist, for Beca to tuck herself into Chloe’s side and rest her hand where her shoulder meets her neck.

The paparazzi cameras start flashing at a frenzied pace, and Beca absently wonders if they look too comfortable, too familiar, embracing each other like this. But Chloe is soft and warm against her, with her fingers squeezing her hip, and Beca decides she can’t be bothered to care.

***

Beca loathes watching footage of herself.

She’s never watched her music videos back -- at least not more than was absolutely necessary -- and she avoids clips of her talk show appearances like the plague.

But tonight, there’s no way around it. She has to sit in this seat and watch herself on the big screen for 120 excruciating minutes.

Not just watch herself -- she has to watch herself act.

For the first time.

In a packed movie theater.

(Where everyone will be doing their very best to pretend their attention isn’t at least partially honed on her and Chloe the whole time.)

Like, what if she’s awful? What if she’s awful and everyone knows it? What if when the movie ends and everyone claps, they’ll secretly be thinking, wow that Beca Mitchell should’ve stuck to music.

She bounces her leg and fiddles with the base of her middle finger, where her ring usually is. (Nisha said it didn’t go.)

They really should serve alcohol at these things.

Or sedatives.

“You’re gonna be great, you know.”

Beca looks up as Chloe finally settles down beside her. They’ve been placed next to each other (of course they were) but Chloe hadn’t taken her seat yet since everyone and their mother wanted to chat with her (of course they did).

“Actually, I don’t know that. In fact, I have a sinking suspicion that the opposite is true.”

“It’s not.” Chloe smiles. “Trust me.”

“Welp, I’m gonna know one way or another momentarily,” Beca says, gesturing toward the screen. “No point in mollifying me now.”

Chloe sighs softly. The lights dim and, as the crowd quiets, she takes Beca’s hand.

“Not mollifying,” she whispers. “I know you’ll be great -- I was there, remember?” She runs her thumb along Beca’s knuckles. “You’re really talented, Beca. Everyone who sees this is going to fall in love with you all over again.”

Beca glances over at Chloe as the opening credits begin to play. Her heart is thundering inside her chest and she doesn’t know if it’s from nerves, what Chloe just said, or the way she’s looking at her.

She lets out a slow breath. It’s weird -- she actually believes her.

“Thank you.” She hopes Chloe can’t see her blushing in the dark. (She hopes she also misses when her eyes fall to her lips.) “Honestly if I’m even halfway decent, it’s because of you.”

Chloe winks and leans in close. “You can thank me in your Oscar speech.”

***

With all her trepidation about watching herself on screen, Beca had lost sight of another thing she should’ve been stressing over: watching Chloe.

Chloe, as Charlie, is bright and shiny and utterly captivating. Even when she isn’t the focus of a scene, it’s hard to look away. She’s just mesmerizing.

Not only that, but her comedic timing is on point. She effortlessly delivers little quips and one-liners, bringing much-needed bursts of levity to an otherwise serious film.

What Chloe does on screen is beautiful. It’s subtle, layered, and nuanced.

It’s art.

And as if seeing Chloe on screen wasn’t enough for Beca, watching Chloe and herself together is… something else.

It’s almost like an out of body experience. She supposes it is an out of body experience, in a sense, because her mind brings her back to the times they filmed these scenes, while she’s physically looking on as an observer.

Their chemistry is palpable, emanating from the screen and projecting out over the audience. It’s intense, and every time their characters’ eyes meet, every time they touch, it makes her feel exposed. Like they’re letting the world in on what they are to each other.

It’s weirder, still, experiencing this while sitting next to Chloe. They aren’t holding hands anymore, but she feels incredibly aware of her. She’s close enough to hear her breathing, to sense her body language, to glimpse her expressions out of the corner of her eye.

And this sensation only builds as a particular scene approaches.

The kiss.

It’s both the tipping point of the story and the catalyst that sent Beca down this path with Chloe. There’s a certain dramatic irony to it -- that when the writers crafted this connection between the characters, they unknowingly laid the groundwork for it to happen in real life.

When Charlie’s and Ella’s lips finally connect on screen Beca hears her pulse thudding in her ears. She remembers the practice kisses in her trailer; the real kisses filmed on set; the incessant desire to keep kissing Chloe long after the footage was in the can.

She remembers giving into that desire, pressed up against the hallway outside of her apartment door.

She remembers everything that came after.

Beca doesn’t realize she’s been holding her breath until the scene ends, when Ella breaks the kiss but can’t bring herself to back away.

Maybe Chloe had been doing the same thing, because she lets out a long, slow breath -- almost like a sigh -- and it’s soft, but Beca hears it over the thematic music of the film.

Beca exhales quietly, too, but otherwise stays stock still. She and Chloe are facing straight ahead, but even that feels loaded, somehow.

The moment harkens back to the dress fitting, when they stood on pedestals and avoided each other’s gaze. But there’s something else here, too -- amorphous and raw -- reverberating between them.

It’s starting to get painful, the way they’re pointedly not looking at one another.

The way it’s clearly worse than if they just looked.

Beca makes it three more breaths before she caves. She sneaks a glance at Chloe just as Chloe’s risking it too, eyes meeting for the first time in an hour.

Chloe’s gaze locks on hers, serious and dark, and even if Beca wanted to, she couldn’t look away.

She doesn’t want to, though. She looks into Chloe’s eyes and lets herself live only in this moment. She lets herself be open -- vulnerable -- as an unnamed emotion passes between them.

She lets herself get pulled in -- pulled under -- and only then does she take another breath.

In the flickering light from the movie screen, Beca sees Chloe’s eyes drift down to her lips.

She feels like she’s underwater, totally submerged, and yet she fights against the instinct to kick to the surface.

She licks her lips as warmth pools behind her ribs and enjoys this moment in the depths.

***

Beca knows she doesn’t have a frame of reference for this kind of thing, but when the movie ends the audience response seems... positive.

Truth be told, the crowd fucking errupts.

And sure, the vast majority of attendees are connected to the movie in some way, but still, based on their enthusiasm it seems like they genuinely liked it.

Even after the lights come up and everyone stands, no one moves. Beca glances around, perplexed, as familiar notes begin to play.

It’s her song. The one she made to play over the end credits; the one with the sampled voice note of her and Chloe singing together in her trailer.

With everything going on, she’d almost forgotten about it.

She turns to Chloe, who’s smiling at her with glossy eyes and rosy cheeks. She squeezes Beca’s elbow just as the first verse transitions to the bridge, to the crackling recording of their soft harmony.

The surge of emotion that follows is so strong Beca wishes they were alone. She doesn’t know what she’d say or what she’d do if they were, but maybe she’d figure it out; maybe she could think straight, away from all these people.

Beca’s still reeling when another round of applause begins. Chloe releases her arm so she can join in. She must sense Beca’s confusion, because she nudges her and nods toward the screen.

The credits have started rolling and, apparently, at a movie premiere they serve as a kind of curtain call.

The audience claps when the director’s name appears.

They clap even louder for Chloe.

And then, when Beca’s name flashes on the screen, they clap just as loudly for her.

There are even a handful of hoots and hollers, half of which come from Chloe. Beca grins at her, feeling an overwhelming mix of pride and embarrassment. Chloe’s bouncing on her toes, flushed and buoyant, as if she’s hardly able to contain herself.

People are cheering for other actors now, but Chloe’s eyes stay glued on hers. After a moment she subtly shakes her head -- like she’s giving up on the whole containing herself thing -- and throws her arms around Beca.

Chloe presses their cheeks together and, when she speaks, her breath is hot on Beca’s ear.

“Told you.”

As she pulls away, their gaze meeting once again, Beca’s stomach swoops.

She so desperately wants to kiss her.

Chloe turns back to the screen to continue clapping for their colleagues, but Beca can’t tear her eyes away.

She can’t stop watching her.

She can’t stop wanting.

She wants and wants and wants.

***

(It shouldn’t be this hard.)

(Why is she making it so hard?)

***

The reception immediately following the premiere quickly reveals itself to be a press junket in disguise.

Beca tries to play her part -- posing for photos and chatting with journalists -- but Chloe’s always somewhere in her periphery, and pretending she’s unaffected by that becomes increasingly difficult.

She’s uneasy and restless, almost like she wants to run -- which only serves to make her more uneasy, because she literally never wants to run.

She notes that it feels different from the times she’s wanted to run away. It’s more like she wants to move, to expel this antsy energy, to swipe left on the current situation.

She just needs some time alone to process… all of this.

This entire night.

These last few weeks.

This whole year.

Her eyes follow the sound of Chloe’s laughter to where she’s talking with a producer, a little ways off. Beca can’t hear their conversation but it appears to be a lively one, based on Chloe’s animated expressions and the way she’s gesturing with her hands.

It’s pretty cute. Beca smiles to herself.

Maybe she doesn't need to be alone alone.

Maybe it would be okay if Chloe’s there.

Someone taps her on the shoulder and she flinches and spins around. She exhales when she sees Josh standing with his arms spread wide and a huge grin on his face. After one look at her, however, his smile fades.

“Oh, honey,” he says, drawing her in for a near-suffocating hug. “First, you were a fucking rev-el-a-tion, I can’t. Second -- you sure you’re up to the after party?”

“Thank you. But even revelations need to breathe, so can you...” Beca frowns as she pushes him away. “And yeah man, I’m up for the party. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Josh pouts, like it’s sad she even has to ask. “To be completely honest with you, you looked like a lovesick puppy just now.”

Beca tenses her jaw and rolls her eyes. “Oh my god…”

“Just saying, it might be a lot,” he continues, glancing meaningfully at Chloe. “Especially since it’s at her house.”

Chapter Text

Back in their shared brownstone, Beca had learned a lot about Chloe’s domestic tendencies.

Chloe lines up her lotions and serums in a neat row on the bathroom vanity.

She folds her clothes into tidy little bundles, just like Marie Kondo, before carefully arranging them in her dresser drawers.

She always kicks her shoes off right when she gets in the door because she thinks it’s weird to walk around in shoes in your own place.

Beca had absorbed these and countless other insights into how Chloe keeps her home. But as her limo comes to a stop at Chloe’s house -- a sleek, modern building nestled in the Pacific Palisades -- she realizes there’s so much more that she doesn’t know.

What style of furniture does she like? Is she a minimalist or a pack-rat? What color are her bathroom towels? What brand of hand soap does she use? Does she prefer her mattress soft or firm? Memory foam or pillow top? Does she always sleep on the right side of the bed, or was that just with her?

The questions swirl in Beca’s mind as she makes her way to the front door. When Joshua had asked if going to Chloe’s after party might be too much for her to handle, Beca had dismissed it out of hand. But now that she’s here -- now that she’s faced with the enormity of all she doesn’t know, of all she’ll soon find out -- she can’t deny the validity of his question.

She slows her pace and takes stock of her emotions. She’s nervous, yes, but she’s excited too. Because while there’s a lot she doesn’t know about Chloe, she wants to know it all -- every little thing, down to the last detail. And that realization sparks an ember in the center of her chest.

Beca’s still riding high from the success of the night, coupled with how good things felt with Chloe. She hasn’t yet come to terms with the moments they shared in the movie theater or the wave of emotions that followed, but she thinks she’s on the right track.

She has a goal, and now she has momentum.

Maybe this is the night she figures it out; the night she finally fits the puzzle pieces together.

***

Chloe’s party is smaller than the post-premiere reception. Gone are the press and friends of friends, the interns and the studio staff. This party is just for the cast and crew, an opportunity to gather and celebrate their months of hard work.

Still, it’s a lot of people -- enough to require event staff. Beca is greeted at the front door by an attendant who takes her blazer, which is a relief because the fabric was getting scratchy. This leaves her in only the lace bustier on top, but whatever -- the lights are dim and she’s among friends.

The party fills the whole space, spanning from the entryway through the living room and back to the kitchen. It’s easy to get lost among the throng and, while Beca normally hates crowds, just this once she’s kind of grateful. She takes her time weaving her way through her colleagues -- stopping occasionally to chat or to be pointed in the direction of the bar -- while taking it all in.

Chloe’s house is light and airy, with large windows, high ceilings, and exposed wood beams. A sweeping staircase draws the eye upward when you first walk in, but otherwise the furnishings work to keep the first floor grounded; Beca notes the mix of earth tones and splashes of color -- a cream sofa with sunshine-yellow throw pillows, a craftsman coffee table on a brightly patterned rug.

She runs her hand along the studded back of an upholstered chair and smiles to herself. It’s all just so Chloe.

Who, as far as Beca can tell, is nowhere to be seen.

She gets a vodka soda at the bar and then is called over by Mac and a couple of other guys from the music team. She joins them in the kitchen and endures their praise for her new song (“that was Chloe singing too, right?”) before guiding the conversation in a more low-key direction.

After a few minutes, a cool spring breeze flutters the ends of her hair. Beca looks up, trying to locate the source, and sees that the kitchen’s french doors are open wide. The party, it seems, has spilled out onto the back deck and, with it, is Chloe.

Beca’s pulse picks up when she sees her. She hands her empty glass to a passing server, mutters an excuse to the guys, and heads outside.

The back deck is dotted with people -- some standing in groups, some huddled together on outdoor couches. Fairy lights are strung along the patio trellis, but the main light comes from the open fireplace in the center. Beyond the deck, Beca can just make out a neatly manicured lawn and a shimmering pool.

Chloe’s standing by the fire, laughing with Sal and the girls from makeup. She’s still in her pink dress, with the addition a black leather jacket draped across her shoulders. When Beca gets closer she notices that her heels have been traded for slides.

Chloe clocks her as soon as she crosses the threshold into the backyard. She excuses herself from Sal and the others and walks to meet Beca halfway.

“Hey, you,” she says, smiling. She places a hand on Beca’s bare shoulder and leans in to kiss her cheek. “You made it.”

“Of course -- wouldn’t miss it.” Beca clears her throat, but it does nothing to suppress the butterflies in her stomach. For the second time tonight she’s struck by an overwhelming urge to kiss her. “It’s, uh, a really nice place you’ve got, here.”

She cringes inwardly -- because who even says that? -- but Chloe’s brows lift hopefully.

“Yeah? You like it?”

“I do. It’s very you,” Beca says, smiling softly. Chloe pouts, like that means a lot to her, and Beca’s butterflies do loop-de-loops. She arches an eyebrow, needing to steer them back to safer ground. “I assume the wait staff is employed full time?”

Chloe laughs and smacks her arm. “Oh my god, please.”

“No? You’re telling me that Hollywood darling Chloe Beale makes her own bed and does her own dishes?”

“She sure does,” Chloe says, shrugging. “Sorry to disappoint.”

“Damn.” Beca bites her lip as she grins at her. “All my preconceived notions have been shattered.”

“What other preconceived notions did you have about me, Ms. Mitchell?”

Beca tilts her head, considering her. “You’re pretty much exactly what I thought you’d be like, to be honest.”

“What? Seriously?”

“Uh-huh. You were my celebrity crush, actually.”

Okay, wow, she didn’t mean to say that. The drink she had must’ve been stronger than she thought.

Chloe’s eyes widen, just for an instant, before she arches a teasing eyebrow. “Really?”

“That’s how Josh lured me into the world of film to begin with. He sent me the script with a post-it note saying you’d already signed on, knowing that it would, like, entice me or whatever. That brat...”

Interesting...”

“Hey,” Beca says, holding up a warning finger. “You can’t use this information against me at a later date, okay?”

“I can’t make any promises.”

Beca huffs. “Bitch.”

Chloe gasps and brings her hand to her chest. “Is that any way to talk to your celebrity crush?”

Oh my god...”

Chloe tosses her head back as she laughs. Beca’s glad that it’s less crowded out here, that their voices get lost among the ambient sounds of the party. For the first time tonight they aren’t being observed, and it’s nice to slip back into their old, flirty banter.

It’s been a while since they talked like this, just the two of them. Too long -- not since New York, when they raided the hotel minibar and hung out on Beca’s bed.

(Before they made out on Beca’s bed.)

(Before Chloe told her how she feels.)

(Before she asked her to try.)

“Hey -- where’d you just go?”

Beca blinks and focuses on Chloe, who’s eyeing her with a furrowed brow.

“Oh, sorry.” A gust of wind blows through the yard and Beca wraps her arms around herself. “I just zoned out for a sec.”

Chloe doesn’t look convinced. She opens her mouth to speak but then pauses as her gaze drifts to Beca’s bare arms. “Where’s your blazer?”

“I checked it when I came in -- it was ridiculously itchy.”

“Do you want to get it? I mean, you look super hot without it,” she says, eyes briefly dropping to Beca’s chest, “but you’re getting goosebumps.”

Beca’s feeling warmer already. “Really, I’m okay, I’ll just...”

She trails off when she notices the bartender approaching at a brisk pace. He whispers something to Chloe, who assures him she’ll be right there.

She frowns. “Sorry, I just have to deal with-”

“Yeah, no, it’s fine. Go -- I’ll find you later.”

Chloe smiles appreciatively. She takes one step toward the house before turning back.

“Grab a cardie in my room, okay? Please?” She touches the inside of Beca’s wrist. “Upstairs, third door on the left.”

***

The party’s actually fairly warm back inside the house. But Chloe offered, and Beca’s curious -- and okay, fine, she likes the idea of wearing something of hers -- so she takes the stairs to the second floor.

Beca’s heart is racing again when she gets to the bedroom door. It’s silly, because she’d been in Chloe’s room countless times in their brownstone, but somehow this feels different.

“Oh my god, dude, chill the fuck out,” she mutters to herself. “You’re just getting a goddamn sweater.”

And with that, she opens the door.

A lamp in the corner provides just enough light to see. Beca spots what likely is the walk-in closet pretty quickly, but she takes her time getting there.

She pauses at Chloe’s dresser, where everything is lined up in a neat little row. She can’t help but smile as her eyes land on a bottle of Chanel perfume and a hairbrush she recognizes from Boston.

She traces the edge of a porcelain jewelry dish, containing just a few items: a bracelet, some earrings, and a gold necklace with a tiny pendant in the shape of a cassette tape.

The clasp is undone, like Chloe had taken it off in a rush. Beca wonders if she’d wanted to wear it tonight; if her stylist had told her it didn’t go, too.

A lump forms in her throat as she runs her finger along the charm, below the delicate engraving.

renowned for her playlist skills

She remembers the moment Chloe said it clear as day. How pretty she looked in the passenger seat as they drove up the Atlantic coast. How Chloe scoffed when Beca poked fun at her taste in music. How Beca kept sneaking glances at her every chance she got.

God, how did they get here?

(A pang in her chest tells her she knows the answer to that.)

Better yet, how can she get things back to the way they were that day? When it felt like they were the only two who existed.

When Beca’s heart felt light.

Cared for.

Safe.

She takes a few unsteady steps backwards until her calves bump against the bed. The pang in her chest expands as she sits and tips her head back, blinking rapidly to stop the tears from coming.

On that horrible night in New York when Chloe asked her to try, Beca told her she didn’t know how. She’s been striving to figure it out ever since. She’s been to countless therapy sessions. She’s talked with Josh. Hell, she even called her mom, once.

But no matter what she does, there’s still this resistance. She’s starting to think something is irreparably wrong with her -- that a valve in her heart is permanently blocked; that nothing will ever get through.

She stands abruptly and begins pacing alongside Chloe’s bed. She was so stupid to think that, tonight, she might figure everything out. She’s a lost cause.

And besides, it’s probably too late. Chloe’s been so kind and patient with her, because that’s just who she is.

But Beca knows, if she were Chloe, she wouldn’t want to put up with this.

With her.

If she were Chloe, she’d have already moved on.

Her shoulders slump as she lets out a defeated sigh.

Yeah.

Chloe probably has already moved on.

Beca lifts her chin in a last-ditch attempt to stop her tears from spilling over, and that’s when she sees it -- a familiar splash of color on the wall beside the headboard.

She steps closer and turns on the bedside lamp to get a better look.

When she puts it together -- when she realizes what it is -- her breath catches in her lungs.

The wind is knocked out of her, like a penny-drop.

There, in a frame between two sheets of glass, is an arrangement of pressed flowers.

Wildflowers.

They’re blue and yellow, picked from a forgotten cemetary that overlooks the sea -- where witches lie beneath graves so old the lettering has nearly faded away to nothing.

The petals are faded now, too, but in Beca’s mind they’re as bright as the day Chloe picked them. Her bottom lip quivers, tears finally spilling down her cheeks, as she remembers how it felt to hold Chloe’s hand and pay each woman a visit, laying cheerful blooms against the slate-gray stones.

She remembers the heart-aching kindness of it; the way Chloe understood how Beca was feeling and knew just what to do to make it better.

She had no idea that Chloe had brought any flowers back with her, that day. She wonders where she hid them for the rest of their time in Massachusetts. She wonders how she flew them home; how she decided to frame them, to hang them beside her bed from a purple ribbon.

A ribbon -- Beca notes with a choked sob -- that was once tied around a box from an understated jewelry store on Newbury Street.

“Oh god,” she whispers. She pushes her fingers into her hair and balls her hands into fists. “Oh god, oh god, oh god.”

The next realization hits her so fast and hard it’s like a wallop, or a punch to the gut. It’s physical, the way she hurts. Visceral. She squeezes her eyes shut and clutches her ribs, trying to take deep breaths and avoid being torn into pieces.

Or maybe she’s been in pieces all along. She just didn’t know it, yet.

She gets it, now.

She--

“Beca?”

She turns to find Chloe standing in the doorway. Even though she’s in shadow, Beca can see the concern written on her face. The jacket is gone from her shoulders and when she takes a couple tentative steps forward Beca notices she’s barefoot.

As wretched as she feels right now, she can’t help but smile to herself. Chloe never did like wearing shoes inside.

“Beca,” Chloe says again. She takes another step. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

Beca looks down at her hand, where she’s subconsciously twisting the base of her finger, where her ring usually is; where it’s been pretty much every day since it was given to her.

It hits her, then, that she’s carried Chloe with her all along. Even when her mind was fighting it, she’s held her close all this time.

She takes a shuddering breath, and when she meets Chloe’s eyes again she’s overcome with a calmness that only comes with clarity.

Time slows as once-inscrutable puzzle pieces slide into place.

(She gets it, now.)

“I’m sorry,” she says.

The furrow on Chloe’s brow deepens as she crosses the distance between them.

“I don’t understand.” She frowns and takes Beca’s shaky hands. “Why are you sorry?”

“Because I’m an idiot,” Beca says. She smiles, even as another tear slides down her cheek. She squeezes Chloe’s fingers. “And I’m in love with you.”

Chloe exhales sharply. Her eyes search Beca’s face like she isn’t following, or like she’s waiting for the catch.

“What?”

Beca nods and crowds in closer. “I’m sorry it took me so long to realize. God, I’m so fucking dumb.” More tears wet her face. ”But I mean it, Chlo. I love you.” She brushes her thumbs over Chloe’s knuckles. “I’m in love with you.”

She waits for Chloe’s reaction, but for a moment she doesn’t move. In the low light Beca can make out that her eyes are shiny -- brimming with tears -- and when she blinks a single drop escapes. Beca releases one of her hands to gently smooth it away.

“Chloe, I…” she whispers. “I know it’s probably too late. That I took too long. But I just-”

Chloe shakes her head, effectively cutting Beca off. She pulls their joined hands up to her chest, tugging Beca forward until there’s hardly any space between them. She presses her cheek to Beca’s other hand -- the one she lifted to wipe Chloe’s tears and apparently never dropped -- before swaying forward and kissing her.

Beca’s heart stutters when their mouths connect. It’s as if she passed the last few minutes in freefall, plummeting from a great height only to be saved mere seconds before she hit the ground.

At least it feels like she was saved, as Chloe kisses her softly and tenderly in the middle of her bedroom, with their arms wedged between them. Their cheeks are wet and their lips are trembling and, to Beca, it tastes like salvation.

But when Chloe pulls away -- when she rests their foreheads together and takes a few shallow breaths -- Beca remembers that she’s not in the clear; that Chloe hasn’t actually spoken yet.

“You’re right,” Chloe says simply, and Beca’s heart sinks.

She knew it.

It’s too late.

She took too long.

She shifts, aiming to move away, but Chloe tightens her grasp on their linked hands, keeping her close.

“You are an idiot. But I guess you’re in good company.”

Beca gets that feeling again -- like she’s lost her place in the script.

“Wait, what?”

Chloe giggles quietly, and although she’s confused it’s the best sound Beca has ever heard.

“Becs…” She nuzzles Beca’s cheek like she’s something delicate. “I’m in love with you, too.”

“Oh.” Beca’s lashes flutter from the shock of it. She swears that, for a single, incredulous second, her heart stops in her chest. “Y-you are?”

“Mhm.” Chloe leans back just enough to meet her eyes. When she speaks her voice is so soft. “I love you, Beca. I, like, have for a while now.”

A brilliant warmth floods Beca’s body, starting in her belly and flowing outwards. She smiles so widely her cheeks ache.

“Yeah?” she asks, blinking back a fresh wave of tears. “Even though I’m an idiot?”

Chloe grins. She drops their joined hands and closes her arms around Beca’s waist, pulling her flush against her. “Yep -- afraid so.”

Beca loops her arms over Chloe’s neck. Chloe’s eyes fall to her lips, and even after everything it makes Beca’s stomach swoop.

Beca arches an eyebrow, feigning cockiness. “Well that’s a relief,” she says.

Chloe huffs out a laugh but it’s cut short, because Beca’s kissing her again.

This kiss is different from the last. The tentative tenderness is gone, replaced by awestruck happiness and pent-up longing. There’s hunger in the blunt edge of Chloe’s teeth when she nips and sucks on Beca’s bottom lip, desperation on Beca’s tongue when she slips it into Chloe’s mouth.

Their hands are frenzied, too. Greedy fingers roam each other’s bodies like they’re making up for lost time. Beca pushes her fingers into Chloe’s hair as Chloe squeezes her waist, rough and needy, and Beca has to break away to gasp.

Her mind is reeling, and while there’s hardly any space for thinking she can’t shake the sensation of whiplash. She felt it once before, that day in New York, but this time it’s the opposite -- this time she’s gone from certain despair to unbelievable bliss. While a distant part of her wonders if they both should take time to process this --- what they told each other, what it all means -- a louder, more insistent part just wants Chloe.

So she keeps kissing her.

When Chloe’s legs bump against the side of her bed she sits on the mattress, hauling Beca with her until she’s in her lap, knees astride her hips. Chloe grips Beca’s ass and pulls her closer as she changes the angle of the kiss. Beca goes willingly, and when she rocks forward into Chloe a tendril of heat tugs low in her stomach before pooling between her legs.

“Fuck,” she gasps into Chloe’s lips. Chloe hums against her, taking the opportunity to suck on Beca’s neck, right over her pulsepoint, and Beca ruts forward again. “Chloe, I-- I need--”

Chloe kisses the underside of Beca’s jaw before pulling back enough to meet her gaze. Her eyes are lidded and her cheeks are flushed, and Beca’s mouth slackens at the sight of her.

“Yeah?” Chloe cups her cheek and rubs her thumb along her bottom lip. “What do you need?”

“I…” Beca blinks slowly, trying to find the words.

She lifts her chin, and when the motion causes Chloe’s thumb to tug her lip down she can’t help but close her mouth around it. Chloe exhales hotly as Beca swirls her tongue around the tip.

She releases her finger with a soft pop, still holding Chloe’s stare. “You,” she says. “I need you.”

Chloe’s gaze rakes down Beca’s body, from her swollen lips to her heaving chest to her hips, sloppily grinding down on her lap. When she drags her eyes back to Beca’s face, it’s as if she’s going to devour her whole.

But whatever Chloe is planning is interrupted by the sound of shattering glass coming from the floor below. They still, listening, and after a brief silence the partygoers clap and cheer.

“Someone probably just dropped their drink,” Beca murmurs. She moves in for another kiss, but Chloe stills her with a hand on her shoulder.

“Wait,” she says, glancing at the open bedroom door. “Everyone we know is downstairs. I think, for once in our lives, we shouldn’t risk getting caught.”

Or...” Beca pouts and looks at Chloe through her lashes “...one could argue we should just risk it. Ya know, for old time’s sake.”

Chloe rolls her eyes, smiling fondly. “It’s my party -- people will come looking for me. Besides…” She bites her bottom lip, gaze dropping to Beca’s mouth. “There are things I want to do to you, and I don’t want you to be quiet.”

Beca’s breath catches in her throat as heat overwhelms her senses. “If you’re trying to get me off your lap, you should probably stop saying things like that.”

Chloe laughs, resting their temples together. She guides a reluctant Beca to her feet before standing from the bed.

“Come on.” She takes Beca’s hand and leads her to the closet. “Let’s find you that cardigan.”

***

The cardie Chloe lends her is a soft merino wool. Beca wraps it around herself even though her skin still feels like it’s on fire.

As she follows Chloe down the hallway -- back toward the staircase -- she tries to make sense of what just happened. It’s no easy task, considering a year’s worth of progress took place in the span of 20 minutes.

She tries to tally it all up.

She’s in love with Chloe.

She told Chloe she’s in love with her.

And Chloe said it back.

Chloe’s in love with her, too.

And Beca’s still here. She’s still standing.

She opened up -- made herself really and truly vulnerable -- and the world didn’t come to an end.

Quite the contrary, in fact. The logjam in her heart has been broken up; swept away for good.

And Chloe loves her.

(Chloe loves her.)

Beca covers her mouth to hide her smile, but when Chloe looks at her over her shoulder, Beca drops her hand.

She grins at Chloe, and Chloe smiles back, and Beca feels like she’s floating.

She doesn’t have to hide anymore.

***

As much as Beca did not want to leave Chloe’s bedroom, going back downstairs among the cast and crew does stir up a certain brand of nostalgia.

It brings her back to those times on set when her and Chloe’s trailer sessions would be interrupted and they’d have to return to work. When they’d taunt and tease each other, making a contest out of riling one another up, trying to make them desperate; make them break.

The game is back on as they reenter the party and mingle with their friends and colleagues.

Beca tries to get a jump-start on Chloe. She leaves her cardigan open and folds her arms across her chest, pushing her breasts up even more than the bustier alone. She leans forward when she laughs to ensure her cleavage is on full display. Her efforts don’t go unnoticed, based on the sultry looks Chloe gives her.

When the group they’re talking to heads to the bar for another round, Chloe turns to her and Beca steels herself for her revenge.

Angling herself to obscure them from view, Chloe slips her hand beneath the open cardigan and palms Beca’s waist. “You were one good laugh away from flashing the camera guys, Becs,” she whispers, pressing her fingertips into the bustier’s fine lace. “While I’m sure that would be the highlight of their evening, you know I’d get too jealous.”

They’re off to the races from there on out. It’s lucky that the lights are dim and the liquor is flowing, because everywhere is inbounds and everything is fair game.

On the living room sofa, where they’re holding court with a large group, sitting side by side.

When a server arrives with glasses crowded on a precarious tray, Beca leans over Chloe, resting her hand atop her bare thigh. As she reaches up to take her drink, her anchoring hand slips down between the gap in Chloe’s legs. And when she rights herself and retracts her hand, her pinky snags on the hem of Chloe’s dress, earning her a whispered curse and a glare.

In the kitchen, where they’re talking with the director and his wife, nibbling on hors d'oeuvres.

Beca leans back against the marble island and when Chloe tracks the movement that’s when she knows she’s in for it. Minutes pass as she lays in wait, and anticipation winds tightly in the pit of Beca’s stomach. When the First AD approaches, distracting the director, Chloe makes her move. She touches her own bare wrists, like she’s looking for something.

“Hey Beca, do you have a hair tie?” she asks, but she doesn’t wait for a response.

Instead she steps forward, trapping Beca against the counter. Beca can only hold her breath as Chloe slips her hand into her front pocket, fishing around for the item that they both know isn’t there. Through the thin pocket lining her fingers graze Beca’s underwear, where her thigh meets her hip.

Chloe,” she hisses, grasping the marble slab behind her.

Chloe just winks as she steps back. “Huh. Guess not.”

And on and on it goes, just like that, until the guests, finally, finally, begin to trickle out.

***

It’s a little while longer before it’s just the two of them.

Chloe confers with the party planner as the caterers clean up and pack their things. Beca briefly tries to help tidy before realizing she’s probably just getting in the way. So she collects her jacket from the coat check (an easy task for the attendant since it’s the last one) and wanders up to Chloe’s room.

She returns the borrowed cardigan to the closet and slips her jacket onto a spare hanger for want of something else to do. Then she paces back and forth at the foot of Chloe’s bed for a few minutes before settling in an armchair by the windows.

Her eyes are drawn to the framed pressed flowers, still illuminated by the bedside table lamp, which she never turned off. Beca can’t imagine what Chloe’s state of mind was when she hung them on her wall. She wonders if she put them up right when they got back from Boston, when Chloe was taking selfies with her necklace that she couldn’t bring herself to send.

And Beca’s not a narcissist. Try as she might to project an aloof persona, she’s a pretty caring person. It’s always been easy for her to empathize with others; to put herself in someone else’s shoes.

But, despite all of that, she’s never let herself fully consider how hard these past several months must have been on Chloe. Maybe she’d been too focused on her own self-inflicted anguish. Maybe she didn’t want to reckon with the fact that it was her fault.

She sits with that feeling now, across from Chloe’s blue and yellow keepsakes.

She sits with it and thinks of how she can make it better; make it right.

Chapter Text

The house is finally empty.

It’s quiet enough that Beca can hear Chloe coming up the stairs. Her pulse speeds up with each soft footstep and she bounces her knee as she sits in the armchair by the windows.

“Whew,” Chloe sighs when she reaches the bedroom door. She leans against the doorframe. “Remind me to never host anything ever again.”

Beca’s smiles and rolls her eyes, belying the way stomach swoops at the sight of her. She stands and makes her way across the room.

“Please — I could tell you love it.”

Chloe pushes off the doorway and meets Beca halfway.

“Yeah, I kinda do.” She grins sheepishly, taking Beca’s hands. “But I feel like I should retire from parties now,” she says, running her thumbs along Beca’s knuckles. “I don’t think anything will top this one.”

Chloe looks at her with a soft smile, eyebrows lifting, and Beca realizes Chloe’s still a bit uncertain. She can’t blame her after all the ups and downs, the mixed messages and false-starts.

“I don’t either,” she tells her, as earnestly as she can.

Beca moves in to kiss her but at the last second she turns, pressing her lips to Chloe’s cheek instead. If she kisses her now she knows she’ll never stop. And there are things she needs to say.

“Hey,” she continues, reluctantly pulling away. “Can we talk?”

Chloe blinks a couple times before responding.

“Um, yeah. Totes.” She clears her throat and tears her eyes away from Beca’s lips. “But first I’ve got to get out of this dress.”

***

Having spent weeks essentially living together, Beca really should’ve known that, to Chloe, taking off a dress is not a simple, one-step task. Yet she’s kind of surprised to find herself in the ensuite bathroom as piping hot water fills the soaker tub.

When Chloe had suggested it just moments ago she readily agreed, because Chloe loves baths, and even back in Boston Beca never could say no. Besides, it’s probably a good idea — it’s been a long day and parts of her feel like they’re practically adhered to her suit.

Chloe futzes around the bathroom, dropping a small bath bomb in the tub and lighting a few of candles. She grabs a couple hair ties from the vanity and hands one to Beca so they can pile their hair into messy buns. Then they begin to get undressed.

Beca’s glad it’s dimly lit in here because she doesn’t think she’d survive if she had to watch Chloe shimmy out of her dress in direct light. It’s hard enough as it is, so she steps out of her heels and takes off her trousers in an attempt to distract herself.

The next time she looks up Chloe’s in underwear and a strapless bra — both lacy and a near match to the color of her skin. She’s watching Beca with hooded eyes, and Beca knows she’s waiting for her.

There’s only one problem.

Beca reaches behind herself to remove the bustier, but her fingers can’t find purchase. The back is fastened with dozens of hook-and-eye closures that took Nisha, like, an hour to do up this morning.

“Jesus,” she mutters, blindly trying to locate the top hook. “Who did they make this for? Houdini?”

Chloe giggles and tilts her head, seemingly enjoying watching her struggle.

“How were you planning to take it off at home?”

“I wasn’t really thinking that far ahead. Probably would’ve slept in it.”

Chloe rakes her gaze down her body. “That would’ve been a sight.”

Heat ripples through Beca from her toes up. She was having a hard enough time before Chloe started looking at her like that. Her efforts are definitely hopeless now.

“Ugh, screw it, I’m tapping out,” she says, letting her arms fall by her sides. She glances at the tub. “Lace can get wet, right?”

Chloe sighs and shakes her head. “Would you like some help?”

Beca purses her lips like she’s thinking about it. “I mean, if you’re offering.”

Her heart flutters in anticipation as Chloe saunters over to her, looking like the cat who got the cream. Chloe places her hands on Beca’s hips — on the bare strip of skin beneath the corset but above her underwear. When Chloe turns her around with a firm touch — pushing on one side, pulling on the other — Beca has to fight back a shiver.

Once she’s facing the other way, Chloe steps in close behind her.

“You know, Becs,” she murmurs, lips moving against the shell of her ear. “All you have to do is ask.”

Beca can’t hold off the shiver after that. Chloe chuckles, like it was her desired effect.

Beca swallows thickly. “Are you really gonna make me ask?”

“Mm, I guess not,” Chloe says in this raspy voice. “But don’t get used to it.”

Chloe kisses her earlobe, and it’s ridiculous — because it’s such a small touch and they’ve had sex, like, a hundred times — but it goes straight to Beca’s core. She instinctively presses her legs together, searching for relief but coming up short.

Chloe steps back and for a few seconds Beca feels like she can actually breathe. She waits for Chloe to touch her — to finally take the damn constrictive thing off — but it doesn’t happen. Instead she hears the soft click of another clasp followed by the sound of fabric dropping on the floor. She turns her head toward the mirror and watches in the reflection as a now-topless Chloe bends to push her underwear down her legs.

Beca clamps her eyes shut and faces forward, swearing under her breath. She really needs to get this bustier off now, because her chest is heaving and it’s getting hard to breathe.

After a small eternity Chloe’s fingertips land lightly on the sides of Beca’s neck, making her jump.

“You look so sexy in this, by the way,” she says. “I couldn’t stop staring all night.”

Beca lets out an airy laugh. “Yeah, I kind of noticed.”

“Good.” Chloe trails a fingertip along her spine. “You were meant to.”

Beca tries to hold still as Chloe’s touch ghosts over her shoulders and down her back. When Chloe eases her fingers beneath the top of the corset, pulling it even tighter, Beca can’t help the clipped moan that escapes from the back of her throat.

Chloe hums, clearly pleased, and Beca grits her teeth.

“I thought you were gonna help me, Beale — not torment me.”

“Funny.” Chloe undoes the top hook with a satisfying snap. “I thought we were gonna talk.”

“Can’t talk if I’m not getting any oxygen to my brain.”

Chloe snickers and Beca’s tempted to say something snarky, but Chloe’s making progress now, unfastening hook after hook, and Beca doesn’t want to distract her. She takes a single, lung-filling breath before Chloe’s fingers reach her lower back.

“Aaand done,” Chloe says, releasing the final clasp. She slips her hands inside the gaping fabric, fingers skating over the sensitive skin of Beca’s waist toward her stomach. The motion causes the bustier to fall away, its boning clattering against the tiled floor.

Chloe rests her chin on Beca’s shoulder, arms closing around her middle. “Better?”

Beca still can’t breathe — and she can’t blame the designer torture device anymore. “Mhm. Yeah, better.”

Chloe crowds in close and Beca becomes extremely aware of her breasts pressing softly into her back. All Beca can do is take shallow breaths as fire crackles through her, burning along her veins.

She’s considering turning around — to hell with the whole talking thing — when Chloe’s fingers glide down the flat plane of her stomach. Her thumbs circle Beca’s hip bones before dipping inside the top of her underwear, just a quarter of an inch. Beca exhales roughly.

“Can I?” Chloe asks, inching her thumbs down further.

And Beca’s grateful that Chloe isn’t following through on her request for Beca to ask for what she needs — at least not tonight — because her brain is barely functioning.

“Yeah,” she breathes. “Yes.”

Chloe presses her lips to the side of Beca’s neck as she slowly drags her underwear down her thighs. She stops when she’s reached as far as she can without moving away and Beca takes over, pushing them the rest of the way off.

They stand like that for a moment, skin to skin, as Chloe caresses Beca’s bare hips. The intimacy in her touch is intoxicating, and Beca’s sure Chloe can feel the rush of her pulse beneath her mouth.

Chloe nuzzles the spot where Beca’s neck meets her shoulder. “Wanna get in?”

***

In the past when Chloe would cajole Beca into taking a bath, it would always end up with Beca lying back against her, letting Chloe sift the soapy water over her body. And while Beca maintains that she’s a shower person, it had felt nice to relax against Chloe; to be taken care of in that way.

But tonight, that isn’t what she wants.

Tonight, she needs to care for Chloe.

(She has a lot of caring to make up for.)

So she gets in first, lowering herself into the milky water. Once she’s settled, muscles already soothed by the heat, she reaches for Chloe. She looks a little surprised but she takes Beca’s hand and steps into the tub. Beca parts her legs, cradling Chloe between her hips as she reclines against her.

The sensation causes an unexpected lump to rise in Beca’s throat. After all this time -- all this heartache -- Chloe’s here in her arms, solid and soft and warm. Beca can feel each breath she takes against her chest, and soon her own breathing falls into sync.

(Beca knows this should be relaxing — and it is, in a sense — but it also sends a steady current of arousal through her, turning her nerve endings into live wires.)

Chloe’s legs slip over Beca’s as she gets settled. When she rests her head back on Beca’s shoulder, Beca hums happily. “This is nice.”

“Mmm. Like really, really nice,” Chloe says. She pokes Beca’s thigh. “I knew you secretly loved baths.”

Beca scoffs. “Only if you’re in there with me.”

She runs her hands up and down Chloe’s arms, letting warm water trickle down the parts of her that are above the surface. Chloe sighs and grips Beca’s thigh, just above her knee.

“Despite your tone, that’s actually very sweet,” she says. “You’re saying all the right things tonight, Becs.”

The reference to what they had told each other a couple hours earlier, however indirect, makes Beca’s stomach flip. Her hands are on the move again. She brushes her knuckles over Chloe’s ribs before laying her palms flat on her toned abs. Chloe lets out a quick breath, like she was holding it, and arches back against Beca ever so slightly.

“I meant it, though. All of it.” Beca closes her eyes, trying to concentrate. It’s no easy feat — with a naked Chloe lying against her, so responsive to her touch — but she tries to remember the main points of what she needs to say. “I love you,” she murmurs, voice barely above a whisper. “And I want to try. I don’t think I said that part earlier. I guess I was distracted by the whole realization of being insanely in love with you. But, yeah. I just wanted to, like, be super clear about that.”

For a moment Chloe goes very still. It reminds Beca of the Rodarte fitting, when Chloe sat, unmoving, in the dressing room, like she didn’t trust herself; like she was holding back.

Beca doesn’t want her to have to hold back anymore. She trails her fingers up between Chloe’s breasts and presses her hand right over her heart. It’s beating very fast.

Chloe takes a deep breath, and Beca’s hand rises and falls with it.

“That’s what you want?”

Beca replies without hesitation.

“Yeah, it is. That’s what I want.”

Water sloshes over the sides of the tub as Chloe abruptly turns around. She rests her hands on Beca’s collarbones and lets her legs float out behind her, pressing the length of their bodies together. She looks into Beca’s eyes so deeply that Beca’s world narrows to the blue of Chloe’s irises, shimmering in the candlelight.

“God, you have no idea how good it feels to hear you say that,” Chloe says, voice cracking. She traces the curve of Beca’s cheekbone with her fingers, eyes brimming with tears, before biting her bottom lip. “And, ‘insanely’?”

Beca raises her eyebrows. “What?”

“That’s what you said.” The side of Chloe’s smile creeps up into a half smirk. “You realized that you were insanely in love with me.”

Beca twists her mouth to the side. “Hm, did I?” She slides her hands down Chloe’s back until she reaches the dimples at the base of her spine. “I dunno — that doesn’t sound like me.”

Chloe snickers. “You’re right, it doesn’t.” The smirk fades from her face as she moves her hands to either side of Beca’s neck. She leans in, gaze never wavering from Beca’s. “Good thing I’m insanely in love with you, too.”

It’s not the first time she’s said it, but the words still make Beca’s breath catch in her chest. She wonders if she’ll ever get used to hearing it. She hopes she doesn’t.

“Yeah? You are?”

Chloe nods, nose brushing over Beca’s. “Mhm.”

Beca’s smiling as she lifts her chin and captures Chloe’s lips. She’s overflowing with happiness, and it almost makes her feel guilty to have so much of it.

Chloe must be feeling it too, based on the way her mouth is moving over Beca’s. She uses her hold on Beca’s neck to pull herself forward, positioning herself higher on Beca’s body. The motion causes the water to swell and a small wave splashes between them where their breasts press and sway together.

Beca’s vaguely aware that her whole goal was to talk — to take care of Chloe — but Chloe’s lying over her, rocking into her like the tide, and she feels spectacularly desperate. It’s like her body is remembering all those unsatisfying nights spent alone, trying to conjure up a fantasy that was as half as good as this one.

Now that she’s here — that she has the real thing — she can’t control herself. Her pulse is racing and her breathing is shallow and she’s absolutely aching between her legs. Chloe has always known how to set off the tripwire in her body, and there’s no coming back from that.

So Beca finds other ways to take care of her.

She takes care of her with her hands, grasping her ass and the backs of her thighs, threading her fingers through her hair and tugging, just a bit.

She takes care of her with her voice, breathing out encouraging moans and needy little whimpers. Then she remembers that she can still talk, if not in the way that she initially envisioned.

“Fuck, Chlo, I missed you so much,” she murmurs when Chloe releases her lips to kiss a line down her jaw. “I would think about this…” She lifts her chin as Chloe ducks her head to suck on her pulsepoint. “Think about you… But it wasn’t enough.” She gasps when Chloe sucks harder, sure to leave a bruise. “It was never enough.”

Chloe grazes her teeth over Beca’s skin before pulling away so she can meet her gaze. Beca watches her with hooded eyes. She curls her fingers around the back of Chloe’s neck — an insistent touch without clear intention. She doesn’t know where she wants her, she just wants more.

“Me too,” Chloe says, cradling Beca’s face. “I thought about you all the time. I remembered all these little things — the way you felt, the sounds you made... It was so clear in my mind, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t anywhere close.” Chloe bites her bottom lip, eyebrow arching slightly, and Beca’s center pulses. “But now I can do this…”

She lowers one of her hands, holding eye contact with Beca as her fingers dip beneath the water to squeeze Beca’s breast. Beca’s breath catches in her throat and she pushes forward into Chloe’s palm.

Chloe smirks and Beca’s too far gone to find it even the slightest bit annoying. Besides, her hand is on the move again, slipping over Beca’s ribs.

“And this,” Chloe whispers, dropping her shoulder so she can reach between them and cup Beca’s pussy. Beca hisses as white-hot lightning singes every part of her. She digs her nails into Chloe’s neck and plants her feet on the bottom of the tub, instinctually lifting her hips to rut into her.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” she whimpers, words sounding foreign and raspy.

Chloe chuckles. “Wow Beca, I know we’re in the bath, but…” She traces Beca’s slit, where she’s so wet that Chloe doesn’t have to finish her sentence to make her meaning clear.

Before Beca can rock forward again to draw her closer, draw her inside, Chloe moves her hand away. Beca pouts and opens her eyes (which she had closed, apparently) to glare at Chloe only to find her looking almost as put out as she feels.

“Bec…” Chloe glances down at the soapy water. “When you thought about this before, were we–”

Beca cuts her off. “Not sitting in lukewarm water getting pruney fingers? Because yes. Or no? Whichever answer gets us out of this bath.”

Chloe grins, rolling her eyes as she sits up and shifts back. Beca instantly misses the connection and for a brief second she regrets saying anything that would cause Chloe to move away from her. But then Chloe stands, sudsy water dripping down the curves of her body, and in the glow of the candlelight it’s the most beautiful thing Beca has ever seen.

That is, until Chloe smiles and holds her hand out for Beca to take, and oh, wait, that is the most beautiful thing.

***

They barely bother with towels.

Once they’re back on dry land the urgency — the desperation — comes rushing back to them. Beca leads the way, stepping over her discarded bustier and Chloe’s rumpled dress as they leave the bathroom. It’s a straight shot from there to the foot of Chloe’s bed, and when Beca reaches it she gets an idea.

She turns and locks eyes with Chloe, just a couple paces away, before she sits and slowly pushes herself backwards over the mattress. Chloe watches her with dark eyes, gaze roaming over Beca’s body as she makes her way toward the headboard.

With other partners, on the rare occasion that Beca would go out on a limb like this and try something new — something performative — she’d invariably wind up feeling dumb. But now, as she slinks across the duvet, commanding Chloe’s full attention, she doesn’t feel anything but sexy.

Only once Beca reaches her destination, sitting up against the pillows, does Chloe follow. A predatory smirk graces her lips as she crawls toward Beca, moving just as slowly. Heady anticipation buzzes in Beca’s stomach as she gets closer.

Chloe widens the stance of her arms and legs when she reaches Beca’s feet. She crawls over her body, never touching her, and by the time Chloe’s hands are bracketing her hips Beca’s chest is heaving.

“Hey,” Chloe says in this sweet, soft voice. Her eyes fall to Beca’s lips, and even though they just had a naked make-out session in the tub, Beca still gets butterflies.

“Hi.” Beca smiles and swallows around a lump in her throat that wasn’t there a minute ago. There’s a perfect red ringlet by Chloe’s temple, thanks to the steam of the bath, and she can’t resist tugging on the end of it. “Why are you so far?”

Chloe blinks rapidly, like she’s warding off tears. “I’m right here, baby.”

She leans forward and when her lips find Beca’s they both let out quiet moans. After a few chaste kisses Chloe pushes up onto her knees, mouth somehow never leaving Beca’s as she drapes her arms over her shoulders and settles on her thighs.

They’re skin to skin again, and Beca’s body burns from the feel of it. The kiss is heating up, too, as Chloe slips her tongue into Beca’s mouth. Beca’s hands fly to Chloe’s hips, where she pulls her forward until she rocks slickly against Beca’s lower stomach.

They break away to gasp at that, but before either of them can recover Beca urges her forward once more and this time Chloe presses down, sliding against her with more purpose.

“Shit,” Chloe whispers, resting their foreheads together. Beca can only gasp raggedly in response as she slouches lower and pulls Chloe toward her over and over, until she sets up a steady rhythm.

When Chloe’s mouth finds Beca’s again it’s wet and messy and needy, and it tugs a low moan from Beca’s throat. The sound must set something off inside Chloe, because she makes enough room between their bodies so she can bring her hands to Beca’s breasts.

Beca whimpers into Chloe’s mouth as she teasingly circles her thumbs around her nipples. After a few torturous seconds (that feel like torturous hours) Chloe brushes her thumbs over the stiffened peaks before pinching both between two fingers, and Beca arches forward with such force it pushes Chloe back.

“Chloe, fuck.”

Beca circles her arms around Chloe’s waist, trying to pull her closer, but Chloe seems to have other plans in mind. She kneels over Beca, wedges her hand between her thighs, and pushes outward, spreading Beca’s legs. Beca’s mind is sluggish with lust when Chloe kisses her again.

This kiss is even hungrier than the last. Chloe’s teeth graze Beca’s bottom lip before biting down hard, and it’s so distracting that Beca barely registers Chloe’s hand gliding up the inside of her leg until it reaches the throbbing apex of her thighs.

Chloe parts her with two fingers, spreading Beca’s wetness from her center to her clit — something that is definitely unnecessary since Beca’s been soaked since their bath, but she’s not complaining because it feels so damn good.

It’s been so long since Chloe touched her like this — too long — and she wants to savor it. She cradles Chloe’s face in her hands and kisses her slowly, sweeping her thumbs across her cheeks. Chloe hums happily as she plays with Beca’s clit, rubbing her just the way she likes, but never long or hard or fast enough to get her there.

And Beca’s still not complaining. She lets the warm pressure coil in her stomach unhurriedly as she loops her arms around Chloe’s neck and pants against her lips. She could stay like this forever, she thinks, as long as Chloe’s touching her with the tender familiarity she’s been missing all this time.

“I love you,” Beca whispers.

She’s a little taken aback by it when she registers her own words. She always found it kind of cheesy, making love proclamations during sex, but with Chloe it feels so right.

(With Chloe everything feels so right.)

So she kisses the corner of Chloe’s mouth and says it again, just as Chloe’s dragging her hand lower, lower.

“I love you,” Chloe breathes, right as her two fingers reach Beca’s entrance.

She dips them inside, pulsing into her just a taunting fraction of an inch, until Beca presses her nails into Chloe’s neck and whines a soft “baby” against her cheek. Only then does Chloe relent. She exhales shakily as she pushes her fingers in as far as she can, filling Beca in every possible sense.

“God, Chloe.”

“I know,” Chloe whispers before kissing her deeply.

When she starts to pull out the sensation pulls a guttural cry from Beca, too, and then they’re both done with going slow. Chloe starts moving faster, working Beca up with a practiced rhythm.

Beca clings to her as the coil in her stomach winds tighter and tighter. She can’t control the sounds she’s making — moans and whimpers and breathy little grunts — but based on Chloe’s answering cries Beca knows she likes it.

Chloe talks to her, too. She murmurs in Beca’s ear, telling her how good she is, how wet she feels, how she loves when she clenches around her fingers. Her words drive Beca wild, and she swears into the column of Chloe’s throat as she tries to spread her legs wider.

She’s vaguely aware of Chloe shifting over her, but Beca doesn’t pay it much mind until she feels the wet slide of Chloe on her right thigh as she straddles it. The change in position allows Beca to bend her left leg up and out, opening herself wide so that Chloe can thrust into her even more deeply.

It’s all so erotic — the feeling of Chloe grinding down on her leg, the sounds she’s making in her ear, their mingled scents overwhelming her senses — that when Chloe starts to crook her fingers as she pulls out — applying blissful pressure just there — it’s almost enough to make Beca come undone.

She doesn’t want to, though — not yet.

Not on her own.

Beca blindly skates her fingers up the inside of Chloe’s thigh, over her flexing muscles, until she reaches the slick, tacky skin at the top. It takes a couple seconds for Chloe to understand her intention, but once she does she stills and lifts her hips just enough for Beca to wedge her hand into the small space and position her fingers just so.

When Chloe sinks down on her she moans lowly, almost in relief, and Beca feels even more wetness flood between her own legs. Beca leans forward, away from the pillows, and wraps her free arm around Chloe’s back. They begin to move together as one, bodies entwined as they drive one another closer to release.

Beca’s thumb finds Chloe’s clit just as Chloe adds a third finger, and they both quake and cry out.

“Chlo, I’m– I’m gonna–” Beca swallows thickly, trying her best to hold off the inevitable. “Are you close?”

“Yeah, I– baby, fuck.” Chloe bites down on Beca’s earlobe as she swivels her hips to take her in deeper. “Come with me, Becs, now now n–”

Chloe,” Beca gasps, right as she trips over the edge.

She clings to Chloe as she falls, down and down and down, into one of the strongest orgasms of her life. It feels like it will never end, her body going rigid as wave after wave washes over her. The sensation is only intensified by Chloe peaking, too, coming hard on Beca’s fingers and sobbing out shattering moans into her hair.

Beca doesn’t know how long they hang there, suspended in ecstasy, but at some point it tapers off slowly, like the tide receding to the sea. They rest their heads on each other’s shoulders as they catch their breath, fingers still buried deep inside.

After a little while, when Beca’s brain kicks into gear again, she smothers a laugh against the side of Chloe’s neck.

“That was… wow. I mean, I haven’t had a satisfying orgasm in months so maybe I’m not the best judge, but I think we really hit that one out of the park.”

Chloe nuzzles the soft skin behind Beca’s ear. “Mmm, I think so too. If I could move I’d, like, totally high-five you.”

“Meh, it’s okay — I’m never moving.” Beca tightens her arm around Chloe. “And neither are you.”

Chloe pulls back just enough to kiss Beca’s temple. “Sounds like heaven.”

***

The next morning Beca is awoken by sunlight streaming in through the curtains.

She sighs happily when she sees that Chloe’s right there, sleeping peacefully on her stomach with the sheets pooled around her waist. The morning sun is playing across her bare skin, lighting her hair up like amber.

Beca’s suddenly struck by a disorientating sense of deja vu — one that’s a little like time travel. Because this moment is so similar to their last morning in Boston, before she said goodbye.

Beca had thought it was the last time she’d ever see Chloe like this, back then.

She’s never been so glad to be proved wrong.

She props herself up on her elbow and rubs slow circles over Chloe’s back until she stirs. Chloe rolls over and smiles sleepily, filling the room with more sunshine.

“Good morning.” She reaches up and cradles Beca’s jaw. “Sleep okay?”

Beca cards her fingers through Chloe’s hair, brushing it away from her face. “God yeah. Better than I have in ages. Probably since…” She trails off out of habit, before remembering she doesn’t have to filter her thoughts anymore. “Well… since the last time I was with you.”

Chloe pouts and Beca rolls her eyes, even as happiness cartwheels inside her. When Chloe curls her fingers around the back of her neck and pulls her in, Beca goes readily, bending to press a few soft kisses to Chloe’s lips.

“So…” Chloe says when Beca moves back. “Does Hollywood’s newest acting sensation have any plans she needs to rush off to?”

Beca lies down on her side and rests her head on Chloe’s pillow. Chloe purrs happily and drapes an arm across her waist.

“Nope,” Beca replies. “She is very much free. Ya know, in case there are any pretty future Oscar winners who want to hang out or whatever.”

Chloe beams like she just told her she’d solved world peace.

“Well in that case, Ms. Mitchell, what do you want to do today?”

Beca opens her mouth to answer, but ultimately comes up short. It’s such a simple question, but now that she’s finally come clean — that she’s been honest with herself and with Chloe — there are endless possibilities.

It’s all just so freeing.

Beca doesn’t notice that she’s welling up until Chloe wipes a tear from the corner of her eye.

“I don’t care,” she says, turning to kiss Chloe’s fingertips. “I’ll do anything — as long as it’s with you.”

***

They wind up going to brunch.

It isn’t one of Beca’s favorite activities, if she’s being honest, but she did say anything, and the only food in Chloe’s kitchen is leftover party hors d'oeuvres, so there’s really no other choice.

She borrows Chloe’s clothes (you couldn’t pay her to put yesterday’s outfit back on) and they drive to a cute little breakfast place off of Sunset.

“Ugh, 10 o’clock,” Chloe says as they get out of the car.

Beca glances in that direction and, sure enough, there’s a paparazzo with a long lens pointed right at them.

Chapter Text

Beca’s always turned her nose up at the concept of brunch.

She’s wary of the ambiguousness of it — the way it’s half breakfast, half lunch. Like, is there a need for that? Just pick one or the other!

Even though she’s not a ‘brunch person’ she’s learning that, like with baths, she’ll happily make an exception for Chloe.

It helps that the diner Chloe drove them to is really cute and private. The tables are spaced out and the windows are dressed with sheer curtains that let in the light while obscuring customers from passersby. It’s a popular spot among public figures.

Which, evidently, is something that at least one paparazzo has caught on to.

When Chloe asks her if she’s freaking out about it, once they’re seated in a secluded corner, Beca just shrugs.

“I mean, they’ll know we went to breakfast together. Who cares?”

Chloe’s eyebrows lift. “You’re handling this better than that other paparazzi incident…”

Beca leans forward, resting her forearm on the table. “Uh, you mean the one where they got a shot of me with my hand up your skirt?” she asks, voice low and incredulous. “Yeah, no shit I’m handling it better.”

Chloe grins as Beca sits back in her chair and crosses her arms.

“You were pretty handsy that night,” she says, biting her bottom lip. “And we hadn’t even kissed yet. Like, in a non-acting capacity.”

“Please, you rectified that about 15 minutes later — don’t act like I jumped the gun.”

Chloe twists her lips to the side and Beca prepares herself for whatever little bomb she’s about to drop.

“You know, Becs,” she starts, eyes briefly falling to Beca’s mouth. “When I suggested we practice kissing, I can’t in all honesty say I was strictly thinking about the scene…”

And sure, Beca kind of had a feeling, and they’ve come so far since then, but hearing Chloe put it out there so directly gives her butterflies.

Of course, the waiter decides that this is the right time to make an appearance. Beca orders a coffee and Chloe orders a pitcher of mimosas, and Beca wants to roll her eyes because it’s just so damn brunchy, but whatever, she’ll allow it.

They are celebrating, after all.

(That thought gives her butterflies, too.)

Once he’s gone Chloe leans in. She reaches beneath the table and places her hand on Beca’s knee.

“It was just an excuse. I was already dying to kiss you.” She squeezes Beca’s thigh. “Did you know?”

Beca’s face warms. She bites the inside of her cheek in an attempt to tamp down the giddy happiness bubbling up inside her.

“I mean, no…” she says, glancing away coyly. “But it could’ve been because I was distracted by how much I wanted to kiss you.”

Chloe smiles softly. “Did you really?”

“I did. You know, underneath my default reaction to all new emotions.”

“Which is?”

“Blood-curdling fear.”

Chloe tips her head back as she laughs. “Poor baby.” She rubs her thumb over Beca’s leg before pulling back. “You definitely hid it well.”

“Hah, yeah right. Maybe at first… which reminds me — we still should, like, actually talk.”

“We should,” Chloe says, clocking the waiter as he approaches with their drinks. “But not here.”

***

They order food (Beca chooses from the lunch menu) and stick to lighter topics, rehashing yesterday’s big premiere and gossiping about the party’s drunken antics.

“Good thing everyone was wasted,” Beca says after they finish laughing about how sloppy the sound guys got. “You and I weren’t exactly being subtle.”

Chloe juts out her bottom lip, like she does whenever Beca’s being ‘stupid cute.’

“Aww, Becs. I think they all kind of know.”

Beca blinks. “About us?!”

“Yeah,” Chloe says sweetly (and a bit condescendingly, if you ask Beca). “For a while, now.”

Beca’s still trying to come to terms with that revelation when she gets a flurry of texts from Josh — one of the few people who she’s exempted from her Do Not Disturb setting.

“Oh, woah,” she says, quickly scrolling through her messages. “My phone’s been blowing up.”

“Yeah? Mine too.” Chloe shrugs. “Anything urgent?”

“No, I don’t think so. The general gist is we should check our mentions.”

Chloe’s eyes light up at that. “Oh my god, the photos of us!” She scoots her chair closer to Beca’s and taps her wrist. “Let’s look, let’s look!”

Beca sighs and rolls her eyes, but she’s kind of excited too. With everything that’s happened, she’d forgotten that they had posed together on the red carpet.

She angles her phone toward Chloe and opens Instagram. And Beca knows people hate The Algorithm, but in this instance the Silicon Valley nerds have got it right, because a carousel post of her and Chloe is the first to pop up on her feed.

Chloe grips her arm as she advances through photo after photo taken in front of the step-and-repeat. It’s like she’s reliving the night — seeing her and Chloe walk onto the carpet hand-in-hand, then posing side-by-side.

But the majority of the photos in this post — and in the rest of her mentions — show the two of them standing pressed up against one another. There are so many little details that Beca hadn’t noticed in the moment — like how much she tucked herself into Chloe’s side, or how low Chloe’s hand was resting on her hip, or how intimately she placed her fingers on the side of Chloe’s neck.

“Wow,” she breathes.

“I know. We look hot.”

“Yes, that. And also like we’re definitely fucking.”

“Or like we’re in love.”

Beca glances up to find Chloe watching her with a soft expression. Beca smiles at her before her eyes drop to her mouth, following the movement of Chloe’s tongue as she wets her lips.

She’s about a half-second away from leaning in when she remembers where they are, and that any number of phones could be pointed at them right now. And while she mostly doesn’t care, it’d be a shame to come all this way only to have their relationship outed on a blind item site.

(She doesn’t even want to think about how Josh would react. It just might kill him.)

It takes practically all of her willpower to turn back to her phone. She expands the comment section, hoping they’ll be a good distraction, and boy they do not disappoint.

*SCREAMS* these pics turned me gay #bechloelives

wtf like they’re both so hot individually but together they’re exponentially hotter???!? like it’s insane??? (also their hands omg. harold…)

and with a single pose #bechloe decided to break the internet #blessed #bechloeisreal #becatops

oh wow um k. im definitely not having impure thoughts rn 👀 #chloetopsbtw #becawishes

omggg 1) i cannot WAIT to see this film and 2) they’ve had sex bYE. #sorrynotsorry #yeahchloetops #lol #obviously

***

Usually Beca avoids serious conversations like the plague. Experience has taught her that they’re awkward and forced and never lead anywhere good.

But, as with so many other things, Beca’s learning that her previous rules do not apply with Chloe.

She knows they still need to talk, and that she should be the one to initiate it. And she isn’t scared anymore — or at least, not in the way she used to be. Maybe it’s because she knows she’s safe with Chloe.

No, yeah, that’s definitely it.

There’s no other explanation as to why Beca’s actually looking forward to finally having this conversation. As soon as they get back to Chloe’s place they settle in on a loveseat on the patio, tucking their legs up on the cushion as they face one another.

It’s a perfect spring day, with sunlight filtering through the leaves of a nearby tree, and Beca briefly tips her face up toward the warmth. Chloe covers Beca’s hand where it’s resting on her leg — a patient, comforting touch — and the gesture reminds her of another sunny day when Chloe knew just what to do. And that’s where she starts.

“It was the flowers that pushed me over the edge, you know,” she says, eyes finding Chloe’s. “The ones in the frame by your bed. I was already kinda spiraling, alone in your room, and then I saw the flowers and remembered that day and everything just, like, clicked.”

Chloe wraps her fingers around Beca’s. “That’s why you were crying?”

“Yeah. Well, kinda. That was the start of it.” She bites her lip, warding off the tremble that runs through her at the memory of that dismal moment. She squeezes Chloe’s hand. “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, I guess. It made me finally realize how I felt about you, and how I fucked so much up by resisting it for so long.”

She blinks rapidly as tears sting the corners of her eyes. She’s still so angry at herself.

Chloe lifts Beca’s hand and kisses her knuckles. “You didn’t fuck anything up, Becs.”

Beca huffs. “Only because you have the patience of a saint.” She smiles at Chloe before letting her gaze drop to their joined hands, now resting between them. “But I kinda did, though. When I think of what I put you through…” Her voice cracks, but she keeps going. “God, I’m so sorry, Chlo. I meant what I said last night — I’m such a fucking idiot.”

“I know I agreed with you before, but now I’m going to tell you to stop being so hard on yourself,” Chloe says, tears threatening to spill over her lashes. “I could tell you were battling with something. Sometimes there’s no rushing that.”

“Yeah, that’s for sure.” Beca laughs humorlessly. “It already seems dumb now, but I was just so scared. It was, like, crippling — a metal block I couldn’t shake. But after everything in New York, and how we left things, I knew I couldn’t just keep going like that. So I started racking up a crazy amount of therapy bills, talking about my shitty exes and my shitty parents and my shitty coping skills… And about how much I missed you.” She takes a long, shaky breath. “I was slowly making progress, but it was like walking through quicksand. It felt like I would never get there. Right up until I saw the flowers.”

Beca doesn’t realize that she’s crying until Chloe reaches out to wipe her cheek with the pad of her thumb.

“I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that,” Chloe tells her. “I wish I could’ve been there for you. I know that doesn’t super make sense, but still… I hate to think of you dealing with that on your own, you know?”

“Yeah,” Beca says. She catches Chloe’s hand and presses a gentle kiss to her palm. “I get what you mean. You’re so sweet, Chlo.”

Chloe blushes, even as she wrinkles her nose in disagreement. “I don’t know about that…” Beca opens her mouth to protest, but before she can say anything Chloe continues. “And before you go calling me a ‘saint’ again, you should know this isn’t all on you — I definitely could’ve handled things better myself, in retrospect.”

“Please, you were perfect. Short of forcibly upping the frequency of my therapy sooner, I don’t know what else you could’ve done.”

Chloe rolls her eyes good naturedly. “I could’ve been more honest about how I felt,” she says. “I think I got swept up in the fantasy of us, like, playing house when we were on location. It just felt like we were a couple for a while there, and I let myself believe it.” She smiles to herself. “I should’ve known better after Salem, actually. I don’t know if you remember, but I called our daytrip a date at the end of the night and you were kind of… tense… for the next couple days.”

Beca raises her eyebrows. “Oh, I remember. You kissed me goodnight like ‘a proper date.’ It was a good kiss…” She trails off, remembering the way Chloe kissed her softly and tenderly in the middle of the hallway. The way she made her feel delicate — like something precious. “So good, in fact, that I didn’t register that you’d called it a date until you went upstairs. I did freak out a little bit, though, once I realized your, uh, choice of words.”

“Yeah, I may have figured that out,” Chloe says, chuckling. “And I decided not to press it. I didn’t want to risk shattering the illusion, I guess. Especially since I was already falling for you…”

“You were?” Beca presses her lips together to hide her grin. She scoots in closer on the sofa and pulls both of Chloe’s hands into her lap. “Even then?”

Before then. I always fall hard and fast, but with you it was, like, light speed.” Chloe laughs sheepishly, looking at Beca through her lashes. “There was just always something between us, you know?”

“I do know. I was a moron in denial, but I felt it too. From, like, day one.”

“Me too,” Chloe says, her cheeks adorably pink. “I don’t think I fully realized just how intense my feelings were until the wrap party. I guess I just assumed we’d go home and, like, figure it out — be together. But then you said you wanted things to go back to normal and it was like a wall came down. Like part of you shut off.” She swallows thickly and Beca’s heart hurts. “I still should’ve said something that night. I should’ve told you…”

“It wouldn’t have made a difference,” Beca says quietly. “You’re right — I shut down. I was so afraid of my own feelings that even if you said something it wouldn’t have gotten through. My therapist calls it a ‘fear-based defense mechanism’ and it’s pretty fucking impenatrable. Besides, you put it all out there in New York and I still couldn’t get past my own mental bullshit.” More tears spring to her eyes as remembers Chloe standing beside her bed in the Park Plaza and asking her to try. “So you can’t blame yourself, okay?”

Chloe shrugs one shoulder as her bottom lip quivers. “I don’t really want to blame anyone. I’m just glad we’re on the other side of it now.”

Beca leans forward and kisses Chloe’s cheek, then the corner of her mouth.

“I am, too,” she whispers, lips ghosting over Chloe’s. “I’m so lucky to have you, Chlo. You’re probably sick of hearing it already, but I kinda love you, like, an absurd amount.”

“I love you, too. And I’ll never get sick of hearing it,” Chloe says before lifting her chin and kissing her.

***

They can’t stop kissing.

They never were very good at that.

They intend to head upstairs but get hung up in the kitchen, where Chloe presses Beca back against the island. It’s the same spot that she’d cornered her in the night before, when she slipped her hand in Beca’s pocket in search of an imaginary hair tie.

Beca grips the countertop to steady herself, just like she did last night, as she tries to keep up with Chloe (and keep from sinking to the floor). She’s grateful when Chloe lifts her onto the cold marble, because her knees were starting to wobble, and when Chloe tugs her pants and underwear off Beca watches her with hooded eyes.

Chloe holds her stare as she parts her legs and kneels to kiss a trail up the inside of her thigh. She pauses near the top to suck a bruise into her skin and Beca gasps and scratches her fingers into Chloe’s hair. She follows the sensation from Chloe’s mouth back to another countertop, in another city, in another time.

“I hated when the mark faded,” she breathes, bunching Chloe’s hair in her fist. “The last one. Before.”

Chloe hums and sucks even harder before releasing her with a soft pop, then grazing her teeth over the sensitive skin. She grasps Beca’s bare hips and pulls her to the counter’s edge.

“I had plans,” she says from her spot between Beca’s thighs. “Before.” Her eyes flick down to Beca’s center before meeting her gaze again. “But we ran out of time.”

With that she leans forward and parts Beca with her tongue, going slowly like they have all the time in the world.

And they do, now.

When her tongue circles Beca’s clit it’s unhurried and torturous and divine. Beca places both hands flat on the marble — just where Chloe put them on that other countertop, on that other night — and tilts her head back as she moans.

Time seems to slip away as Chloe licks and sucks and nips at her. Later, when she finally lets her come, Beca’s hands press down so hard she swears she leaves fingerprints in the stone.

***

The sun is starting to set when it occurs to Beca that she should check her messages again.

She and Chloe had spent the afternoon alternating between talking, dozing, and having sleep-soft sex until they could no longer ignore their empty stomachs. Chloe’s going through the fridge, checking if she can turn any of last night’s appetizers into some kind of meal, when Beca fishes her phone out of her bag.

She didn’t really consider the fact that post-movie premiere days might be as busy as post-album release days, but judging by the volume of notifications that seems to be the case. There are so many texts, missed calls, and voicemails that she can’t even begin to deal. She has 19 texts from Josh — an alarming number, even for him — so she slips into the other room to call him for a quick run-down.

“There you are!” he says as soon as he picks up. “I wanted to be the first to congratulate you, but that’s kinda hard when you aren’t answering your phone.”

“Sorry, I was just, um…” She trails off, pacing the carpet in Chloe’s living room. “Wait, congratulate me? You already did that last night, dude.”

“That was before the reviews came in. Have you seriously not seen any of my texts?”

“Alright, alright, hang on.” Beca takes the phone down from her ear — not bothering to put Josh on speaker, even as he continues to talk — and navigates to his messages. “Oh… wow,” she murmurs when she sees screenshot after screenshot of article headlines.

Triple Threat Alert: Singer and Producer Beca Mitchell Stuns in Acting Debut

In ‘The Last Note,’ Beca Mitchell and Chloe Beale’s Chemistry Is the Star

10 Sizzling Bechloe Scenes that Prove the Gays Always Win

“Holy shit,” she says, bringing the phone back to her ear. “I just saw the first few. Are they all like that?”

“Yes, honey, that’s why I’ve been so desperately trying to get ahold of you — you’re a sensation,” Josh replies, exasperation fading into affection.

Beca smiles as her cheeks warm. She wants to pinch herself to make sure this — all of this — is real. It seems too good to be true — to have everything that filled her with anguish and self-doubt vanish, one by one.

“That’s insane. And thank you. I um, god. I’m like speechless, this is so crazy. Good thing you were a pest and sent me that script, right?”

“I think so. Hopefully in more ways than one…”

He goes quiet, but Beca hears the unasked question clear as day.

“Yeah, about that. I, uh…” Beca’s heart flutters in anticipation of what she’s about to tell him. “I actually have more good news.”

Josh snickers. “You really haven’t seen my texts, huh?”

“What?”

“Nothing,” he mutters. “Please go on.”

“So, um. Chloe and I — we talked,” she says, voice low and breathless. “I told her, like, everything. We worked it out. We’re gonna do the whole couple thing. I’m all in. And she isn’t running for the hills for some reason.”

Josh sighs dreamily. Beca can just imagine him getting all sappy and pressing his hand to his chest.

“Oh, sweetie, I’m over the moon for you.” It’s the most sincere she’s ever heard him and it makes her eyes sting. “But also,” he continues, “I pretty much knew already. And… so might everybody else.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“Well… you were papped outside that diner this morning. With Chloe.”

“Oh yeah, I know. They caught us getting breakfast together — so what? I mean, I guess I can see how you might’ve jumped to conclusions, but why would anyone else?”

Josh is silent for a few beats — never a good sign.

“Maybe because the shirt you’re wearing is one Chloe was photographed in before.”

“Oh my god.” Beca pinches the bridge of her nose. “Who even notices things like that?!”

“Your fanatical hoard of Bechloe shippers, that’s who. They started posting side-by-side photos online this morning, and now I have emails from every entertainment publication asking for comment.”

***

yooo does anyone else think the shirt beca wore this morning looks *mighty* familiar?? 🤔🤔🤔 #justgalsbeingpals

ok not to be a creep but i zoomed in on beca’s neck on the one where she’s flipping the paparazzi guy off and uhhh that’s a hickey my dudes #bechloeconfirmed #bottombecaconfirmed #imgoingFERAL

i hate to say it but this is 100% a publicity stunt to sell movie tickets. there’s like no chance this is real - we never get good things. don’t get ur hopes up :\

AHHHHHH I”M GOING TO FUCKNG ALKJF:LSDJHFGLSJD

***

Beca and Chloe decide not to comment.

The studio and each of their publicists implore them to let the rumor slide — at least for now — and are elated that they both agree. When the movie opens nationwide it’s a huge box office success, selling out theaters and surpassing even the loftiest projections.

And it’s good. Great, even — especially when critics begin including them in their award season predictions. But even if the film had flopped, or if Beca’s performance was universally panned, she wouldn’t have cared.

The next few weeks are some of the happiest of Beca’s life, and nothing could diminish that.

She and Chloe are between projects, and while they initially agree to take things slow, that was never quite their speed. They hole up at Beca’s place in Malibu for a little while, hardly ever leaving the property or looking at their phones.

They stay in pajamas all day and lounge together on the couch, cuddling and half paying attention to reality TV.

They take relaxing baths and steamy showers that leave Beca with tile-shaped indentations on her skin.

They walk along the beach at sunset, holding hands as they let the waves wash over their feet.

They spend hours in the kitchen, cooking together or for one another, sipping wine and talking softly as they chop carrots and sauté onions.

(In fact, they only ever leave for runs to the Malibu Country Mart, donning sunglasses and baseball hats as they stealthily stock up on ingredients.)

Every morning Beca makes French press coffee and Chloe makes eggs and it all feels very domestic.

Because it is.

***

“I swear I’m gonna get laugh lines early,” Beca says one afternoon. “From smiling so much.”

“Me too.” Chloe grins and bites her bottom lip. “I kind of can’t wait. It’ll be, like, physical evidence that we’re happy.”

“I love that.” Beca traces the smooth skin beside Chloe’s eyes, knowing she’ll love her just as much when she has wrinkles. “I kind of can’t wait, either.”

They both smile even wider.

***

As time passes — and professional commitments loom — they begin to talk about the future.

They decide to live at Beca’s, primarily because of her studio, but also because the first time Chloe came over she proclaimed it “just felt like home.” And Beca has always loved her house — it’s her own little haven, her safe space — but when Chloe moves in everything becomes just that much brighter.

Beca’s work resumes first (it’s kind of insane how much she has to catch up on) but it’s nothing she can’t do from home.

Initially she thought it’d be hard to be productive knowing Chloe’s on the other side of the door, but the first time she sits down at the mixing console she feels inspired. The music part of her brain lights up and her mind shifts into a flow state, producing track after track without coming up for air.

On days like these, when she hyper-focuses, Chloe will slip in every few hours to bring her a glass of water or a piece of fruit. Sometimes she stays for a couple minutes to rub Beca’s shoulders and watch her fingers move across the board. Sometimes Beca gets distracted and leans back for an upside-down kiss before spinning her chair around and pulling Chloe into her lap.

(She goes into another kind of flow state, after that.)

When Chloe starts work on her next film, which is thankfully shooting in town, Beca misses the constant comfort of her presence. She checks in with her throughout the day, texting selfies and memes and thoughts that are so sappy she prays her iCloud is never hacked because she’d have to disappear.

She also distracts herself by working on music to play for Chloe later — recording melodies, layering harmonies, and building beats.

Soon what started off as a pet project begins to take shape, thanks in large part to Chloe’s encouragement, and Beca works with a songwriter to finesse ideas for lyrics.

She doesn’t mention it to Josh.

It isn’t easy, especially since they’re in contact nearly every day as new scripts flood in. (She guesses she’s caught the acting bug, because there are a handful she’s seriously considering.) While she doesn’t usually keep work things from him, she thinks it’ll be a nice surprise — a kind of thank you for dealing with her shit this past year.

Once the song is done she texts him a Dropbox link with no context or explanation.

She anxiously twists the ring on her finger until he FaceTimes her a few minutes later.

“It’s different, Beca,” he says. “A totally new vibe from you.”

“Being cagey again, I see. Come on — good or bad?”

Amazing.” His eyes are red, like he’s on the verge of tears. “It’s just so happy.”

***

The rumors don’t die down.

It’s kind of annoying since they’ve largely stayed out of the public eye, but “Bechloe” articles must drive a shitload of clicks because they just keep coming.

While these last couple of months have been so wonderful, being together in their own little bubble, Beca’s actually excited about announcing their relationship to the world. It’s, like, disgustingly cheesy, but she just loves Chloe so much and she wants everyone else to know it, too.

Their publicity teams basically lose their minds when they ask their advice on how to go public. (For a minute there Beca thinks Priya's head might actually explode.)

They float all the usual options — a joint statement, a high-profile TV interview, a cover story in Vanity Fair — but none of it feels right.

None of it feels like them.

***

“What are we gonna do?” Chloe asks, lips brushing the shell of Beca’s ear. “We can’t put it off much longer.”

They’re lying together on a chaise by Beca’s (well, their) pool, drying off after a swim in the late summer sun. They’ll have to move to the shade soon — Chloe can’t get tan lines because she’s still filming, and Beca’s probably about 90 seconds away from burning — but for now it just feels so good, all sun-warm and cozied up together.

“I think we’ve been overthinking it. Here, why don’t we… hang on.”

Beca grabs her phone from the table beside them and opens her camera. Chloe’s brow knits in confusion for a second, but when Beca holds the phone out above them she grins, getting the idea.

“Hey,” Beca murmurs, pulling Chloe’s attention back to her. She skates her fingers along the edge of her jaw and Chloe leans into the touch, turning to face her.

“Hi,” she says, eyes falling to Beca’s lips.

When Chloe kisses her, Beca forgets everything except for her. Chloe sucks gently on her bottom lip, humming happily as if she’s the lucky one. Beca smiles into the kiss, drinking Chloe in, wishing she could commit every detail of this perfect moment to memory.

And only then does she remember to snap the photo.

The first take is a keeper.

Chloe rests her head against Beca’s as they study it. “It looks like we’re in love,” she says, sighing.

“Yeah.” Beca presses her lips to her temple. “Yeah, it does.”

Chloe watches as Beca opens Instagram and types out a brief message. When she’s done Beca angles the screen toward Chloe to give it a final look. Then, with a deep breath, she hits ‘share.’

“Wow,” Beca breathes. “We did it. It’s out there.”

“I almost can’t believe it.” Chloe turns into Beca, draping an arm across her waist as notifications start coming in. “How do you feel?”

“Honestly? Kind of dreading how smug all those fan accounts are gonna be that their so-called ‘shipping’ was right.”

Chloe smothers a laugh against Beca’s neck, giving her goosebumps.

“You’re ridiculous.”

“Um, yeah. This is well established, Beale.”

“You’re also kind of the best.”

“Meh. Jury’s still out on that.” Beca playfully squeezes Chloe’s hip. “I must be doing something right, though. I nabbed the hottest actress in Hollywood. And now everyone knows.”

Chloe giggles. “It’s gonna be so weird not keeping it a secret,” she says, toying with the tie of Beca’s bikini string. “What if, like, the fire goes out of our relationship now that it’s out in the open?”

“Oh no, you’re right.” Beca leans back, frowning. “I can feel the spark leaving my body as we speak.” She shrugs. “Welp, it’s been real…”

She sits up and swings one leg onto the deck before Chloe catches her. They’re both laughing as Chloe grips her arms and pushes her back onto the chaise. She rolls on top of her, holding Beca down as if she’s a flight risk.

“You can’t escape that easily,” Chloe says.

“No? Why not?”

“I have way too much blackmail material, for starters.”

“Oh yeah? Tell me one.”

Chloe closes her fingers around Beca’s wrists before pinning her hands above her head. Beca’s lips part as she goes boneless under Chloe’s touch. Her breathing shallows and Chloe’s eyes grow dark.

“Why don’t I show you...”

***

The photo gets 17 million likes in three days.

It shows Beca and Chloe embracing on an oversized chaise lounge on a sunny pool deck.

Beca’s cheeks are pink and a few flyaways have slipped free from Chloe’s bun, forming loose curls beside her ear. The pendant of Chloe’s necklace is askew and Beca’s fingers, cradling Chloe’s jaw, are a little blurry.

Drops of water speckle Beca’s shoulder and a thin rivulet trickles down the back of Chloe’s neck.

Those are the details. But it’s not what people notice.

Because they’re kissing.

Because they’re lost in each other.

Because the light is hitting them just right, showing the peaceful softness of Beca’s features and the content curve of Chloe’s lips, smiling in a way that’s almost shy.

Because they’re so clearly — beautifully — in love.

***

The caption is simple.

#bechloelives