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“Thanks for meeting us here, everyone!”

Beca scoffed and rolled her eyes, and Aubrey sent her a dirty look before continuing to speak.

“I’ve asked for a meeting this morning, because I wanted to establish the understanding going forward as we finish this album and begin the next phase of The Bellas,” she said, glaring at Beca. “I have a few specifics regarding any additional recording time and some generalities regarding choreography, media representation, and rollout. Okay, Jessica, next slide!”

Everyone turned their attention to the projector wall, where the wall went black, then an insane, 20+ step flow-chart flew in from the right side of the screen. Fat Amy groaned.

“I thought we left lectures in college!”

“Shh!” Stacie chastised her, eyes never leaving Aubrey.

Chloe sighed. It was bad enough to see Beca again so soon - it’d literally only been, like, a day since they slept together - but now, she was going to have to sit across from the producer for one of Aubrey’s longer presentations.

(She timed it for her yesterday, when she was practicing. It was two hours, with thirty minutes for questions. She thought maybe the manager would cut it down, but apparently she’d just increased the meeting time.)

They were in Residual Heat’s conference room - the one down in the lobby, because apparently when you asked sixteen people to come to a meeting during the time of social distancing, there was really only one place that could accommodate everyone. The singers were there, of course, along with Aubrey, Jessica, Ashley, Flo, and Lilly. On the Residual side, Aubrey had requested Beca, Bumper, and Jesse, along with a handful of other personnel that Chloe figured represented marketing and touring departments. One was in a suit though, so Chloe wondered if he was from legal or artist management like Jesse.

Aubrey began her spiel about production, stating that Beca would be expected to be in-studio for all additional recording work, but from the corner of her eye, Chloe saw that Beca wasn’t listening. The producer had her phone out texting. Jesse had to nudge her into paying attention. Beca glanced up at Aubrey, squinting, then making a vaguely affirming gesture before looking at Chloe.

Chloe quickly turned her attention back up at Aubrey.

A second later, she could feel Beca’s gaze back on her, and her phone buzzed on the table. Chloe clicked the side, and the buzzing stopped.

She could tell Beca was still staring as Aubrey began to discuss deadline dates, including fully mastered tracks and the release party. She pointedly ignored the producer, staring at Aubrey. She wasn’t listening, but Beca didn’t know that.

Her phone buzzed again, and Chloe grabbed it, shooting Aubrey an apologetic look as she pulled the phone into her lap.

She unlocked it to silence it without thinking. Her message app was open on her screen, and before she realized it, she had clicked on the unread messages.

it’s good to see you

you look good

Chloe couldn’t help the look of disgust and shock that crossed her face as she began typing back.

Leave me alone.

She put the phone on silent and went to close it, but Beca had already responded.

I thought you were ignoring me, the message read, and Chloe debated not responding. She didn’t want to be a jerk to Aubrey while her friend was presenting.

But could she give up this opportunity, if Beca was talking to her? Writing to her, and it seemed like that was maybe a medium in which Beca allowed herself to be more honest.

Maybe she could actually get some answers.

Didn’t you already get what you wanted? she sent back.

She looked up at Aubrey, but her friend had fully entered presentation mode. If she had noticed Chloe texting, she didn’t let on as she discussed merch deliverables in relation to the timeline. One of the Residual Heat employees was scribbling furiously, and Chloe almost felt bad for them, because Aubrey was pretty demanding.

who said I got what I wanted

Chloe had left her phone in her lap, and when she glanced down again, she saw Beca’s reply. Her brow furrowed.

Though she’d been drinking on Saturday, she didn’t regret anything they’d done. She racked her brain, trying to think of what Beca could be referring to.

They had kissed - Beca, tentatively, at first. She remembered the way Beca looked, after giving her insanely good head: Beca, with her shirt over her chin, watching Chloe with shadows of dark emotion clouding her face. But then, after Chloe had gone down on her, Beca had immediately wanted to leave.

And they had talked, and Chloe asked why Beca brought her out there. And Beca had lied, and Chloe gave up and left.

That was the part that Chloe played over and over, that Beca had lied yet again. She didn’t cry on Saturday night, or Sunday. She was done crying over Beca. That wasn’t the emotion she was feeling anymore.

She didn’t know what had taken its place.

Anger was there, and frustration that Beca would lie to her again.

Pity snuck in too. She felt bad for the young producer, which she didn’t like because she always thought pity was such a condescending emotion. But Beca was obviously struggling against something, and Chloe couldn’t help but be sympathetic to that.

Tenderness was one she actively sought to push down. Anything romantic was suppressed. Chloe wouldn’t let herself think of Beca romantically. She couldn’t. Not when Beca kept pushing her away.

But now that she felt like she knew Beca more, that she could see the “real” Beca, beyond the facade she put up...

She had to admit that all she wanted to do was know more. She wanted to hear every thought that Beca had, about everything. She wanted to help her with her feelings.

It wasn’t just physical- but, yes, Beca was sexy too. She knew exactly what worked, and Chloe couldn’t help the way her body responded when Beca turned that attention on her.

So when Beca did that, when she brought Chloe to her car on Saturday, why would Chloe think that Beca wanted anything else?

“I want to be with you, but I’m not gonna do this to you.”

Frustration bubbled back up when she remembered that Beca had told her that two weeks ago. Was it just sexual for Beca anymore? Chloe didn’t think so.

So why, why did Beca do that on Saturday?

Maybe jealousy was the excuse.

But how could she ask Beca to talk about feelings when the woman bolted every time they got close?

You weren’t just jealous then?

Chloe watched the screen. The dots came up, and this time, the message came through without pause.

they didn’t deserve you

And you do? Chloe shot back.

Again, the message came back quickly.

no

Chloe glowered at her phone. She clicked it off, turning her attention back to Aubrey.

The blonde had hit her stride, discussing the various different training that The Bellas would be required to complete prior to the release party. Chloe tried to focus on that instead - on the Residual Heat social media training, on Flo’s choreography schedule. Hell, Chloe even tried to listen to Aubrey as she explained the cardio training regime, even though Chloe had been doing the same routine for the last two years.

She glanced around the room - not specifically at Beca - but she saw it wouldn’t matter anyway. Beca had her eyes cast down in her lap, as she bit at her thumb. She moved her thumb away and grabbed something Chloe couldn’t see - presumably her phone - and she looked like she was typing, deeply concentrated, with her whole face drawn together in anguish.

Chloe’s phone lit up in her lap, and the first few words of Beca’s text were visible.

it killed me to see…

Chloe typed in her passcode to open the phone.

it killed me to see you with someone who didn’t know how amazing you are

Chloe started to respond as soon as she finished reading.

You said you didn’t want to be with me!

no I said I didn’t deserve to be with you

Chloe started to type, writing, So why did you fuck me in the back of your car?

But she erased it as she re-read the messages. Beca was conflicted, but she was trying to explain, or at least she was trying to understand it herself.

Chloe took a deep breath, taking stock of the room around her. Aubrey was talking about the release party, which was set for April, so Chloe knew only about halfway through her presentation.

Her attention was immediately split, though both items were Beca related. Aubrey had a part in the presentation where she planned to ask Beca what their new single would be, so the team could start planning the music video and rollout.

But there wasn’t much she could about that - except worry tremendously, of course - so she glanced over their messages again, deciding to respond to Beca instead.

She couldn’t ask Beca why she had pulled her to her car, because that wasn’t just Beca’s decision. Chloe had chosen to go. They had both decided to sleep together. Beca had been unduly possessive, and Chloe had probably pushed for things to get more physical when she knew Beca was conflicted.

Feelings, Chloe thought suddenly. She responds better when I tell her what I’m feeling.

I didn’t like seeing you with other people either, she sent back.

It was only a moment before Beca’s response appeared.

those weren’t real

But this is, isn’t it? Chloe typed out, and then she was writing, and erasing and writing again, trying desperately to find the words that wouldn’t scare Beca away but could push her, maybe, into seeing all of this from a different angle.

This is real to you, and you’re worried about pushing me away, into someone else.

And you don’t think we should be together, because you don’t think you’re the person I see, the Beca beyond the meanie you feel like you have to be.

But that’s you, too. You can be Beca Mitchell the Producer, demanding the best, never settling, and you can be the Beca who listens to her singers, who wants to encourage people to be their best, not bully them into it. You can make what you want to make, you can be Beca the Writer, too. You don’t have to choose between different versions of yourself. You can be all of them.

She bit her lip, glancing at the producer before she added one more message.

I want to be with the Beca who’s all of them.

“Beca?”

Chloe’s eyes shot back to the producer across the table as Aubrey said Beca’s name. Beca looked up too, but she didn’t look at Chloe as she turned fully to Aubrey.

Her eyes were shining with tears, and she blinked against them.

“Oh,” Aubrey said suddenly. “Is- is everything all right?”

“Yeah,” Beca chuckled as she sniffed. She wiped unshed tears from her eyes. “What’s up? What are we talking about?”

Everyone was looking at her - except Aubrey, who was bouncing her attention from the producer to Chloe.

“The new single,” Aubrey said slowly. “We could do Tequila with Lime or Clout Chaser again, or-”

Something in the Water,” Beca said quickly. She pressed her index fingers into the inner corners of her eyes as she sniffed again, laughing through a cough. “Chloe did a fantastic job with it.”

She glanced across the table to the redhead and took a deep breath.

“Just like I knew you would,” she said quickly, but not quick enough to hide the raw emotion in her voice. Chloe felt her own tears pricking the corners of her eyes.

The room was quiet as the pair stared at each other. Chloe blinked rapidly, willing her tears to be re-absorbed, and Beca was smiling as tears began to spill down her cheeks. She laughed as she wiped them away, muttering apologies under her breath as she dropped her eyes again to her lap.

“Okay, great,” Aubrey said with a small cough. It was an attempt to diffuse the tension, or distract away from Beca, and Chloe shot her what she hoped was a grateful look. But Aubrey consulted her quickly - probably seeing that Chloe was almost in the same state as Beca was - and she let out a short, quick breath.

She checked her watch then turned to address the group.

“Why don’t we take a quick break, and then we’ll come back to discuss the tour. We’ll need to meet with Billie’s team-”

“Wait, who!?”

Diversion apparently successful, Aubrey grinned as she turned to the Fat Amy.

“Right, I hadn’t told you,” she said, faux-reticent. “You’re touring with-”

“Does this mean we’re playing Coachella!” Stacie squealed as she cut her off.

“-Billie Eilish, and you’re not performing at any Coachella main stage, no,” Aubrey said seriously, but her smiling kept peeking through at the ends of her sentences. “But-”

The full Bellas crew reacted before Aubrey could even explain. Stacie was on her feet, running up to hug Aubrey, along with Ashley and Jessica. Fat Amy began to dictate artist rider requirements to one of the Residual people, who actually started to write things down as Bumper mocked her. CR turned to Flo to explain Coachella, and Lilly eyes began darting around the room before she turned to Chloe.

“I’m not going to bring my knives,” she said, but Chloe ignored her.

She was excited, of course. This was news to her too.

But she was watching Beca.

The producer was talking to Jesse, then she walked out of the room behind Jesse as he approached Aubrey. She consulted her notes, and, after looking at Chloe for a beat, she turned back to Jesse and nodded. He glanced through the glass wall at Beca and repeated the nod, and she took off down the back hallway towards the Broom Closet studio.

Chloe jumped up and approached the group at the front of the room.

“-so no, we shouldn’t need anything else from her, or from production in general for that matter, if Bumper needs to leave too,” Aubrey was saying as Chloe got within earshot.

“Bathroom,” Chloe mumbled as she passed Aubrey, reaching down to squeeze her arm. She felt Stacie reach for her, but she shook it off. “Feel free to start back up without me?”

Aubrey rolled her eyes and huffed.

“You have ten minutes,” she scolded, but her eyes were soft. “Anything else can be done after the meeting. I know you’ve already seen it, but-”

Chloe sighed but nodded.

“I get it,” she replied. “I’m sorry, of course I’ll be right back.”

She gave her a quick hug, talking low in her friend’s ear.

“You’re killing it, by the way. Billie Eilish? How’d you manage that?”

Aubrey pulled back from the hug but kept her hands on Chloe’s forearms. She was positively beaming.

“She’s a fan, I guess! And Beca knows Finneas through-”

Chloe laughed, patting Aubrey’s arm.

“Yeah, okay,” she cut in. “That makes sense. Okay, I’ll be right back.”

Chloe walked the length of the conference room’s glass wall, around the corner, and down the hall towards the small studio. She cast a furtive look over her shoulder before passing the women’s restroom and slipping into the studio instead. The door to Beca’s office was already propped open, spilling light into the dark space.

Chloe entered slowly, moving things loudly to make sure to her entrance readily apparent as she stepped into the producer’s space. Dimly, she was aware that the conference room must be just on the other side of the piano wall.

That was where Beca was now, at the piano. She had pulled the bench over, and she was leaning over it. The lid was closed, and her arms were propped up on the lid, cradling her forehead.

“This place is soundproofed like an interrogation room, but I’m not risking it. I’ll just have to remember what I’m feeling,” she said softly, then chuckled.

“And if you’re going to yell, just do it really quietly.”

Chloe didn’t say anything as she sat on the edge of the armchair across the room. They sat there in the quiet - Chloe, watching Beca, and Beca staring at the closed piano lid. Chloe started pulling on her earring nervously.

“I only have a few minutes before I have to go back in, but I wanted to make sure you were all right,” Chloe said, breaking the silence. “Are you? All right?”

Beca sighed as she swiveled around on the piano bench.

“Not really,” she replied. One of her eyes was covered as she rubbed her eyebrow, but the other one was red and a little puffy.

“I meant it, you know,” Beca went on. “Something in The Water is really good.”

“I know,” Chloe agreed with a small smile. She saw Beca recognize the pride in her eyes, and the producer’s face broke into a big smile as she rolled her eyes.

“I leave you alone for one week, and all the sudden you’re- you-”

She didn’t finish her thought as she chuckled.

“Is it lame to say I’m proud of you? That I knew you had it in you, to take charge or whatever?”

Chloe shook her head as she fought the urge to shy away from the compliment. Beca’s face got serious again, and she continued.

“I’m sorry I had to push you like that, like a jerk,” she said, carding a hand through her hair. “I’m sure that didn’t make any of this easier.”

“It didn’t,” Chloe agreed again. “It was pretty confusing.”

“I know,” Beca sighed. “But I’m glad you took the bait, when I yelled at you back then. As fucked up as that is. If you didn’t, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.”

Chloe nodded, letting her own grin spread across her face.

“If it wasn’t working last week, you probably would’ve written me a long note about your feelings,” she teased. “You might have even talked to me, like a human being.”

Beca laughed.

“Apparently I’m not a 'meanie',” she grinned. “Or, I'm not, for you.”

They lapsed into silence again, as Chloe didn’t really know what to say. She didn’t know if Beca was going to go on, and when she didn’t, she got nervous again. She checked her phone; she had to be back in the conference room in a few minutes, but she couldn’t leave. Not without saying-

“It’s real for me too,” Chloe blurted out suddenly. “I’m sorry about Saturday. It isn’t just about sex. I want to be with you too.”

Beca sighed as she scrubbed a hand over her face.

“Yeah, I got that,” she said gloomily.

“You’re upset by that?” Chloe asked hesitantly. The tone, and Beca’s expression of pain, and sorrow. Was she screwing this up? What was happening? Why was this going badly?

“Well, the situation hasn’t changed, Chlo,” Beca said softly. “I’m still Residual’s PR bitch. They already have someone lined up for me to date next, and-”

“And you’re going to?” Chloe stood, and Beca glanced behind her quickly as Chloe’s voice started to raise in volume.

“I don’t know yet,” Beca said quietly. “But even if I didn’t, I-”

She leaned her head back, closing her eyes as she collected her thoughts, then leaned forward again, setting dark eyes on Chloe.

“I can’t be with you. Yet.”

Chloe opened her mouth to protest, but Beca kept going.

“I’m not going to let whatever we have overshadow The Bellas,” she said quickly, quietly. Her eyes were desperate in their need for Chloe to listen to her, so she did as Beca went on.

“I’ve seen it happen a hundred times. An artist comes out, and their stuff is decent, but then the media finds out their so-and-so’s boyfriend or sister or their dad owns the studio or something.”

She dropped her eyes, focusing on her nails instead of Chloe.

“And yeah, sometimes that nepotism is why they’re doing so well out of the gate, or they actually are an industry plant, but sometimes it’s just a coincidence or whatever,” Beca said. “And the internet just destroys them. It rips them apart, just because they’re tied to someone. And I’m already that person, Chloe. I get people trending just by having lunch with them. They literally pay me to do it.”

She shrugged, but it was an empty gesture. Chloe could see the situation weighed heavily on the producer, and that she wasn’t taking her influence lightly.

“I can’t be with you in secret; we almost blew this all up on Saturday, and we aren’t even together. I won’t be able to hide you - I don’t want to,” Beca said ruefully. “But I can’t steal your spotlight. I won’t let The Bellas become ‘that band that’s good, but didn’t Beca Mitchell fuck around with the lead singer?’ You guys are going places, if I can stay out of the way.”

Beca was right, of course. Everything outside of Beca’s career was perfectly planned relationships, Chloe saw that now. And not only did those other women benefit from it, but Beca did too. If they came out together as a couple, the gossip channels would all think that the studio had set it up to sell more records.

But that didn’t stop her from feeling the way she did.

“I don’t want you to stay out of the way,” Chloe said quietly.

“I don’t want it either,” Beca replied. Chloe waited for her to go on, but she didn’t say anything else.

Chloe checked her phone. Aubrey had texted her.

Are you headed back?

In a sec, she typed back.

She looked back up at Beca, turning the phone and gesturing with it helplessly.

“Time’s up,” she said, and Beca laughed.

“Better you than me,” she sniffled. “She’s more drill sergeant than manager.”

“That’s my friend you’re talking about,” Chloe warned and, again, silence fell over them. This time, Chloe didn’t wait for Beca to say something.

“Well…”

“‘Well’? That’s what you have to say, Chloe Beale?” Beca laughed darkly, in a knowing tone, and Chloe instantly blushed. The last time she had said that, they had said that-

Well I think… if you’re want to fake date or whatever, you should,” Chloe pushed through. “I know that keeping Residual happy is important to you. But you’re not the new kid anymore, Becs. You don’t have to do everything they tell you. You can be your own person; you’ve already made a name for yourself, and it’s not just because of those relationships. You’re the most valuable producer Residual has because of what you do in here, not what you do out there, okay?”

Beca had looked away, blinking back tears again, but she nodded as she wiped her nose with the back of her hand.

“You should go,” she said. “I don’t want that woman to hate me any more than she already does.”

Chloe smiled softly.

“Okay,” she agreed.

She walked out slowly, giving Beca time to call her back, to say something - anything that might suggest that the producer really heard what Chloe was trying to say, but Beca was quiet as Chloe left.

It was only later - when a Residual employee was helping Aubrey with some technical difficulties as they tried to show The Bellas their tour promo video, when the presentation was paused and it was just a bit quieter - that Chloe heard a pensive piano melody crawling through the cracks in the drywall.

*****

February came and went in a bustling flurry.

After they re-recorded what they needed to (with Beca deferring to Chloe on every note, and they did everything they could to stay away from each other), they weren’t going to the studio anymore, since the songs were done. Flo had rented a dance studio where they learned brand new routines for all ten songs. They filmed TikToks in their workout gear, drenched in sweat and smiling in spite of their aching appendages. They were singing too, as they geared up for a summer full of live performances.

They met Billie, Finneas, and their whole team. Chloe couldn’t keep the grin off her face when they realized they’d be touring with Billie’s mom - a real mom, instead of their stand-in mom-ager, Fat Amy pointed out - and Aubrey blushed a deep scarlet as the other women laughed.

They did the music video for Something in The Water. They didn’t do anything too crazy, just some dancing and cute shots of all of them together, but they were dressed in pajamas like it was a slumber party. Residual and the director they hired wanted to stay in the brand that The Bellas had already established, so it the whole thing was pretty low-key and only took a few nights to shoot.

They were barely trained in actual interview procedure before Something in The Water was released as a single. It hit the radio, and suddenly all of their training was happening on the fly. TMZ showed up to their rehearsal space one day, and Billie was asked about them, and then they were booked to go on James Cordon in March and Something in The Water hit five hundred thousand views and their follower count tripled and-

And Chloe stopped one night, toothbrush hanging out of her mouth as she looked at herself in the mirror.

She was so excited for her team. She was so proud of them. It was all happening so fast, like everyone had promised it would, and she was absolutely, one-hundred percent lost in it.

She went over to Ashley’s apartment and asked to borrow the keyboard that they had borrowed from Residual.

She took it into her room, closed the door, plugged her headphones into the board, and turned it on.

And she started to write.