Actions

Work Header

Input

Chapter Text

This chapter is rated M for language and some suggestive situations.




Lights low, and bass reverberating through her, Chloe Beale let herself breathe.

She sucked in a deep, heavy breath as her eyes fell closed, and she felt the tension seep away from her shoulders. Her grip on her fancy cocktail loosened- not enough to drop it, but it did lower a few inches to the arm of the couch, as the alcohol took hold of her senses.

They made it.

They'd done it.

They'd gotten signed.

Chloe opened her eyes to take in the Residual Heat lobby. It was modern and urban in the daytime, with sparse, uncomfortable-looking couches and sterile lamps. But tonight, someone had taken away the lamps and accent tables, only to replace them with kegs and taps. And the biggest speakers that Chloe had ever seen.

Now, deep melodies and even deeper red hues filled the cracks between stiff, dark cushions, and everyone was liquor'd up enough to forget that the furniture was too firm. Chloe brushed her red curls over her shoulder, over the sheer fabric of the mesh top of her black dress, and tipped her drink to her mouth. She deserved it.

"I don't trust any of them."

Chloe looked up from her place on the couch to see her manager and best friend, Aubrey Posen, glaring at the party happening around her. The imposing blonde held a full Collins glass that bubbled threateningly, though Chloe guessed that it only held seltzer water.

"Just like you didn't trust Fat Amy? Or Stacie?" Chloe pestered, sliding over as she pulled on her friend's arm, yanking her onto the couch next to her. She came unwillingly, but eventually settled at the edge of the cushion, flattening her pencil skirt in a move that was completely unnecessary given the skirt's tightness.

"C'mon, Aubs," Chloe went on. "Admit it: they're the most reputable and talented production company The Bellas could sign with, and they've been nothing but professional. We did it! Live a little. This is supposed to be fun!"

The tall blonde sniffed dismissively, setting her glass on the floor and folding her arms.

"I just want to be absolutely positive that we're making the right move-"

"This is the right move," Chloe implored.

Aubrey shot a glare towards the redhead.

"You only think that because they promised you'd work with that little munchkin you like so much."

Chloe blushed, tucking a stray hair behind her ear in order to surreptitiously glance around the party. But the elusive Beca Mitchell was nowhere to be found.

Aubrey was right, to be fair. Residual Heat had been their number one choice solely because Chloe begged to work with prodigious producer. But so what? Even Aubrey knew that Beca Mitchell was talented - you don't get seven Grammys in two years without knowing what you're doing - and Chloe was adamant that the young deejay could elevate The Bellas sound.

And it didn't hurt that she wasn't so bad to look at. And openly gay.

So maybe Chloe had a crush. Okay, so the rest of her bandmates would probably say she's underselling it. CR would probably call it "an obsession," and Fat Amy would probably call it "a case of digderidoo-me eyes."

And Stacie actually did call it "a lusting so potent that I started ovulating when I heard you talk about her."

But Chloe would have to put all of that behind her. She couldn't get involved with their producer, it wouldn't be proper. No, she'd just have to suck it up and respect her professionally.

It was doable.

Probably.

Hopefully.

Chloe sighed, abandoning her drink to tuck an arm around Aubrey's waist, reaching down for the blonde's glass. She picked it up and took a sip, but winced when the taste hit her tongue.

"Gin and tonic? Aubrey, it's New Year's Eve - you should let out the Tequila Cowboy!"

Aubrey scowled, snatching the drink from Chloe, eyes darting around the room.

"Stacie wouldn't let me have seltzer," she whisper-shouted. "And I barely got away with this. If she hears you say tequila-"

"Tequila?! Is it time for body shots already?"

The pair shared a panicked look before Fat Amy leaned between them, interrupting their eye-line. The Australian pitched forward, almost falling over from the back of the couch as she swayed.

"Patricia, be professional!"

"Oh-uh, my government name," Amy grumbled, burping loudly into Chloe's lap. "I better get Cap'n Tightwad here a shot of something before she starts making me match pitch."

Chloe snickered, covering her smile with the edge of her glass. Aubrey sent her a pleading look, but the redhead just shrugged.

"When in Rome-" she offered with a saccharine sweetness.

"-drink the wine and fuck a stranger!" Amy finished as she hoisted Aubrey from her seat, then scooped her standing form into her arms. Their manager shrieked as Amy held her under her butt, as she was now three feet straight up in the air. Chloe gasped and stood to reach forward, but the Australian was already out of reach, waddling towards the back bar. All eyes turned to the blondes as Fat Amy called over her shoulder, "Don't wait up, ging!"

"Now you tell me," a sonorous voice purred in her ear, sending a jolt through Chloe's chest. "was that a joke, or a promise?"

Chloe felt her breath catch as she turned to see Beca Mitchell - the Beca fricking Mitchell! - watching Amy's (and Aubrey's) retreating form.

She was shorter in person, even in Docs, and thinner too - smaller in totality, really - but wow was she striking. Her eyes were lined in dark eyeliner, with little accent lines under the black wings. Her nose ring was red, or silver made red by the lights, and the ear closest to Chloe had a sparkling black spiral gauge and what looked to be a few red hoops. With the black flannel tied over a maroon tank top, and black distressed jeans, she looked like the party personified.

"With Fat Amy?" Chloe said slowly as she tried to catch her breath. "An unintentional promise, for sure."

Beca met her gaze, and any breath that Chloe had caught went right back out of her. Her eyes were dark, blue or grey, Chloe couldn't tell, and mischievous, like she knew the world's best secret and she wasn't afraid to tell.

"Fat Amy… huh. Can I get you a drink?"

In response, Chloe shook her watered-down Old Fashioned. The slivers of ice clinked against the glass.

"Right, I guess I'm a little late to the party," Beca grinned. She let the statement hang there, like a question, and Chloe couldn't help but bite.

"Why's that?"

Beca's grin spread into a truly Cheshire-like smile, and she glanced furtively over her shoulder before leaning in. Her curls tickled Chloe's barely-covered shoulder as her lips brushed her neck. Chloe suppressed a shiver as the lips moved away, and she bent down so they were cheek to cheek, with Beca looking behind her.

"Don't tell anyone," Beca breathed into her jaw. She smelled like lavender, but masculine. Chloe breathed it in. "I was with Taylor, doing final touches on one of her re-records. She's releasing another set at midnight."

Chloe couldn't help the squeal she let out, and Beca laughed - a beautiful, airy sound - as she stepped away.

"I only got to work on one - I'm sure you know how Jack is," she continued. "And T flew in today for that big show, so it was the only time I could get her in the studio. Most of the vocals were done out east, but still. Talk about a close call."

Chloe nodded so enthusiastically that she felt like her eyes were bouncing around in her sockets. She didn't know who Jack was, or what show Taylor Swift flew out for, but she wasn't about to let Beca know that. Not with those shiny, trickster eyes.

"And to be honest, I don't usually come to these things," the producer went on. "I'm more of a homebody."

Instinctively, Chloe snorted, then gasped as Beca's eyes widened in shock and amusement.

"Sorry," the redhead rushed. "It's just, you really expect me to believe that line? From you, of all people?"

With a small, defeated gesture, Beca gave her a sheepish smile and an appraising nod. Chloe saw the brunette's gaze drop, taking in her sleek mesh dress.

"My reputation precedes me, then," the smaller woman replied, then she sighed in a seemingly self-effacing way. She dragged her eyes back up to Chloe's and offered her hand for a shake.

"I'm Beca Mitchell, but you already know that. And you are?"

"Chloe. Uh, Chloe Beale," Chloe replied, taking Beca's hand. It was small, and so soft, with black nail polish chipped at the tips.

"I should probably get used to that. Saying my full name, I mean," she went on frantically, dropping the producer's hand and their eye contact at the same time. "Or maybe not. Maybe just Chloe. It'd be weird if I was at Starbucks and they were like, 'what's your name?' And I said 'Chloe Beale,' like I was at a musical audition or the DMV or… something…"

She trailed off as her gaze returned to Beca, who was smirking at her with raised brows.

"Well, Chloe Beale," the producer replied, letting the name flow out purposefully, playfully. "Do you want to see the studio?"

Chloe was about to say that she'd seen it, on the tour provided prior to signing the contracts, but Beca had already taken her arm and started pulling her towards the wide staircase that bisected the party. She felt tens of eyes on them as they made their way up, and she glanced down to see Stacie and her latest prey (a foppish young exec named Jesse that they'd met earlier today) were among those staring. The leggy brunette gave her a wink and pumped up her breasts, but Chloe shook her head.

As insanely attracted as she was to Beca, physically, she wasn't going to do anything with her. For the obvious reasons - they worked together now - but also, the Beca Mitchell from interviews was not the Beca currently leading her upstairs. This Beca felt… presumptuous, to say the least. Chloe knew the producer was rumored to be a huge flirt, but this was a little much.

If Chloe was interpreting this right, anyway. She might be reading too much into it.

Chloe knew that she was a flirt, and that people liked to flirt with her, that she was attractive to some people. Usually it was lines about her eyes first, then her hair, maybe her smile or her body. But Beca didn't even try to butter her up before pulling her away. Or ask her why she was at her closed, company NYE party. She didn't ask what she did, or anything about her.

But maybe she just wanted to do all that in a more intimate space?

Even then, she didn't give Chloe much of an option to say no.

And, she name-dropped in the first thirty seconds of meeting her.

And, she lied about being a homebody.

Chloe signed, resigned to the truth. Obviously, Beca was a smooth operator.

Beca pushed open the door of one of the biggest studio spaces - with the flashiest, most expensive equipment - and pulled Chloe inside. Chloe had been in here earlier, seen the beautiful oak wall that separated the rug-clad recording booth from the sweeping mixer bay. Behind, there was a gray couch that probably cost a year of Chloe's rent, and a coffee table with a rolling tray on top of it.

Clearly expecting a big response from Chloe, Beca stood back, hand carded into her hair in a self-conscious gesture that Chloe didn't quite believe.

"This is where I do most of my mixing," Beca said with a far-away look. "It's my sanctuary, and my temple to the music gods. You're a singer?"

"I dabble," Chloe replied, and Beca smirked.

"I could record you sometime, if you want."

Chloe had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. She had definitely read the vibe right. Beca was a womanizer, through and through.

But Beca's statement brought up another question - did Beca know that The Bellas had just signed with Residual, and that she was the producer assigned to their group?

Probably not.

"Maybe sometime," Chloe replied smoothly as she ran her hand over the dials of the main mixer. She felt her brow furrow. How disappointing, that Beca was such a shallow person. From everything she'd read and heard, Chloe thought that Beca's talent had to come with some emotional depth. She was such an awe-inspiring writer, too, on the songs she had helped write. Who was this person, that was trying to sleep with a woman she'd just met?

An idea popped into Chloe's head - if Beca wasn't gong to respect her, she'd mess with her, just a little bit.

Why not, right?

She cleared her throat, and Beca looked up.

God, she is gorgeous though.

"Can we use the other studio? With the giant bean bag chair and the popcorn machine?" Chloe asked, all doe-eyed and sweet. "I liked that one better."

Beca let out a rueful laugh.

"You've seen the studio," she replied. She ran her hand through her hair again, and this time, she did look a little nervous.

"Anything's better than The Broom Closet though, right?" Chloe pushed. "That's your least favorite."

Beca continued to laugh, though there wasn't any mirth in it. She flopped on the couch at the back, kicking her foot up on the incredibly expensive-looking table.

"So, what, you're a new intern or something?" Beca smirked, looking her up and down with new eyes. "Jesse told me I can't mess around with the interns anymore."

"And Jesse told me that you're not as bad as the tabloids write you," Chloe shot back, then she turned away, muttering to herself. "I wish he was right about that one."

"Don't believe everything you read," Beca spat. She stood, making a move to leave before turning back sharply to face Chloe. Her face fell back into that smirk, and Chloe didn't hold back the eye-roll this time.

"Say what you want, but I know how to read people. You're hot for me, Chloe Beale," the brunette said, slow and sultry. She began to cross the room towards Chloe, who backed herself into the mixing table.

She's giving you time to move, Beale! Chloe thought. Just walk away!

But her feet were glued to the floor under that predatory gaze. Chloe fought the urge to look into Beca's eyes, then, thinking better of it, stared directly into them. You couldn't back down from a challenge with people like Beca Mitchell. She was like a dog with a bone. You had to be stern, give her a clear "no," or she'd keep after it.

But instead of a "no," something else came out.

"You lied to me," she breathed, hating how her voice sounded.

Like she'd just gone for a long run.

Or just finished having, like, mind-blowing… leg-numbing… earth-shattering se-

No. Chloe. Focus.

"You lied to me, about not coming to these things."

"Can you blame me?" Beca asked as she stepped into Chloe's space, placing her hands on the mixer behind her. "I'd say anything to get you up here."

Chloe knew she should push Beca away, should leave- but she couldn't get her body to move.

I knew those eyes were tricky!

"You're hot for me," the small producer asserted again, with a condescending chuckle. They were nose to nose now, and Chloe could feel Beca's breath on her mouth. And maybe, just maybe, direct eye contact was the wrong move after all. Chloe saw that her nose ring was actually red, as were the wings under her black eyeliner. Red and black and smooth, so very smooth.

"Even if you are an intern, I'll wait," she smirked. "I bet you have the best input."

Chloe could feel her chest bumping Beca's as her breath sped up. She couldn't even register how cocky and disrespectful Beca was being. Her eyes were straining so hard to stay open that her vision was blurring. She knew she shouldn't, her body was betraying her, and Beca was leaning in to kiss her neck-

"Just smudge your lipgloss a little, before going back downstairs," Beca said against her cheek, then she stood up suddenly. Chloe couldn't help falling forward at her absence, and Beca kept that damned smirk up the whole time.

"It'll be good for my rep, thanks sweetheart."

"'Sweetheart'?!" Chloe yelled, and Beca started to laugh as she made her way towards the door.

"I'll show you who's sweet-"

"I'm sure you will," Beca called, hand on the knob, but the door opened without her help, swinging towards her so quickly that she had to jump out of the way. Stacie and the young guy - Jesse - stumbled in, giggling as they held onto each other.

"Oh, hey Be-caw, sorry, we'll-" he started, and then he saw Chloe further in the room.

"Oh good, you guys met already," he said. "Bec, this is one of The Bellas. I played you some of their tunes this afternoon, remember?"

At a glacial pace, Beca turned back to Chloe. Her face was beet red, from her chest up to her ears, but she looked… mad? Not embarrassed, but like actually angry. And without really thinking about it, Chloe knew she was sending the same expression back.

"What'd you think of the tunes, Bec?" Chloe barked.

Beca smirked, and Chloe knew she'd lost.

Damnit, this little producer is going to weasel her way under my skin!

"Not bad," Beca said, faux pensively. "But the lead singer was a little pitchy."

"'A little-' Hey! Get back here!"

Chloe heard Beca cackling as she chased her into the hall. She was about to follow when Beca took off further down the hall, away from the party, and into the dark.

"You coming, Beale?" the producer called, fully shadowed by the hallway.

"You wish, Mitchell!" Chloe shouted, but only the laugh returned, further now, further down where Chloe knew that the producers' offices were.

Great, Chloe thought as she made her way to the stairs. I thought it was bad enough when I liked her, but now?

Lusting and hate. Every moment would be charged. Every second would be torture for Chloe, and Beca knew it.

Well, at least there's one thing for certain: there's no way I'm sleeping with her now.

Chapter Text

“Let it be known that I’m here under duress.”

Chloe scoffed but quickly tried to cover it up as a cough when Stacie nudged her.

After leaving from the party on Friday, after she had filled Stacie in, they had decided she’d play it cool, act like Beca didn’t wind her up.

But “under duress”?

Really?

Chloe patted her curls self-consciously, then straightened her floral red top. She could do this. She didn’t even have to look at Beca.

Except…

Except the young producer was wearing a tight, dark grey jeans, and a deep purple flannel, with leather bracelets stacked on both wrists. Except she was wearing those Docs again, and her hair fell in simple cresting waves that broke over the headphones around her neck, over the planes of harsh, proud shoulders. Those shoulders were pulled back in defiance, regardless of her limited stature, and Chloe had to fight to stand tall across from her.

Except she looked so good.

As Chloe looked up to her face, Beca’s dark eyes met hers across the studio - the same studio from Friday, when she and Beca had almost…

Almost nothing, she told herself. Nothing “almost” happened. She was messing with you.

She schooled her face into a bored mask, meeting Beca’s raised brow with what she hoped was an impassive glare.

“Sorry,” Chloe said, careful not to let the spite coat her tone. “Allergies.”

“In January?” Aubrey piped up nervously. “Are you sure it’s not Covid? Should we be wearing masks?”

Chloe bit her cheek to keep from rolling her eyes.

Not one for subtlety, that Aubrey.

“Yeah, I can’t get sick,” Fat Amy chimed in, her Australian accent drawling over every word. “I’m expected to make an appearance at a Hemworth’s later.”

She turned to the group conspiratorially.

“Not all Australians know each other or anything, but I try to visit with every one I know,” she continued, leaving a pregnant pause.

“In the biblical sense, I mean.”

CR shook her head with a quiet, “mannn.” Their PR manager Jessica let out a little chirp of excitement, and her friend Ashley - who was the group’s vocal coach - outright laughed. The Bellas choreographer Flo crossed herself in silent prayer, and even their most reserved supporting member Lilly gave a small smile.

The studio was considerably more crowded than it had been on NYE. The four singers - CR, Fat Amy, Stacie, and Chloe - were up by the mixing board, and Aubrey had brought their supportive staff to sit in, to offer help where they could. But with those four on the couch, Aubrey, the four singers, and two from Residual by the door, the room felt stiflingly full to Chloe.

Or, maybe, that was just the new normal whenever Beca was around.

Chloe hoped not.

“Seriously, Chloe,” Aubrey said, stepping around Stacie now to stand in front of the redhead. “Are you feeling tired at all? Fever, cold sweats?”

She put her fingers to Chloe’s lymph nodes, pressing hard enough to make Chloe cough again.

“It’s not Covid!” Chloe replied sharply, and Aubrey took her hands away. The manager folded her arms over her chest as she eyed Chloe suspiciously, and the redhead sighed loudly.

“We all took tests this morning, and they were all negative. It’s… it’s nothing.”

Her fears assuaged for the moment, Aubrey stepped back behind her group, turning her attention back to the producer and the young executive.

“…right,” Jesse said after a beat. “Beca was just about to explain-"

“-that I don’t work with newbies,” Beca jumped over him. She pointed a smirk at Chloe, her eyebrow raising mockingly, before she added, “especially ones that are clearly inexperienced.”

They stared each other down, and Chloe swallowed the objection threatening to jump up her throat.

Childish, immature, insolent little-

“Hey, no disrespect here, chief-” CR jumped in, and Beca dragged her eyes away from Chloe’s.

The redhead breathed out suddenly, not even fully conscious that she had been holding it.

“-but we’re not exactly fresh off the boat.”

“Which is what I explained to Miss Mitchell,” Jesse spoke up again, condescension seeping through as he threw an elbow into his producer’s shoulder. Beca just rolled her eyes.

“We’re well aware that The Bellas have recorded in-studio before, and that your group already has an ample following online, on TikTok,” he went on. “And according to the contract, which was skillfully negotiated by Miss Posen here, we’re here to master the already-popular tracks, add five to ten new ones, and get you talented artists on tour by fall.”

“I don’t know,” Beca interrupted, her mirthful gaze settling back on Chloe. “Isn’t fall a pretty bad season for allergies?”

Chloe bit her tongue. Hard.

“We’ll be fine. We have been so far,” she ground out, and that temper that Beca had showed on Friday - that flare, when she found out that Chloe was a Bella - lit the producer’s features again.

“You think so?” she shot back. She stalked towards the mixing board, jamming a thumb drive into the computer. A few clicks, and The Bellas single began to hum through the speakers.

It was good, if not a little simple. Chloe hadn’t done much of the writing on this one - that was all Stacie and Fat Amy - but she stood by it. The vocals weren’t crazy harmonies, but they were distinct, and solid, sung over a modded piano and percussion that CR had written. Rhymes about selfish boys who only wanted clout, on a repetitive beat.

Beca gestured to the computer roughly.

“This?” she barked rhetorically, slamming the space bar on the keyboard. The song cut off, leaving a harsh silence.

“This is what you consider ‘fine’?”

Chloe felt her face flush indignantly, but it was Aubrey who spoke up first.

“I want someone else,” she said sharply, staring daggers at Jesse. “I want another producer assigned to this.”

“No!”

“Not a chance.”

Shocked, everyone in the room turned to one of the two women who had spoken up.

But Chloe and Beca only had glares for each other.

Beca sighed as she pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Everyone out,” she said quietly. Over her shoulder, Chloe could see Jesse bob his head, his mouth a tight line. She couldn’t tell if it was a grimace or a smile.

“Everyone out,” the producer repeated, looking up. “Except you four.”

The room stayed quiet as everyone filed out. Aubrey looked like she was going to pop a blood vessel as she turned back to her singers.

“Say the word, and we get a new producer,” she said, making eye contact with all of them before landing on Chloe.

“And miss this?” Amy laughed. “This is better than crocodile wrestling!”

“I love a good cat fight,” CR added with a wicked grin.

Only Stacie seemed to take their managers words to heart, reaching out to take the blonde’s hand.

“We’ll keep you posted,” she said. With a sharp breath, Aubrey plastered on a tentative smile, but her eyes remained angry.

“Mr. Swanson? A word?” she seethed as she followed the rest of the bystanders out and then, it was silence again.

In the ensuing awkwardness, Chloe held off as long as she could before she looked up at the young producer. Surprisingly - or, perhaps, unsurprisingly - Beca was already staring at her with an expression that Chloe couldn’t read.

Determined eyes, something like a smirk on her lips, heat in her eyes.

Heat- like anger, but also something else. Softer, but not pliant. Chloe couldn’t place it.

“Who wrote this?” Beca asked as she dropped into a rolling chair. It was made for a large man - way too big for the tiny woman - but she leaned forward, steepling her fingers, and suddenly the size of the chair didn’t matter. Amy cleared her throat.

“Well, Stacie wrote her verse, the first one, and I wrote mine,” she began. She looked between her bandmates and shrugged. “The beat came from CR, accompaniment extraordinaire. We all wrote the bridge, and, uh, Ginger Spice took the chorus.”

Beca let her eyes glance over each of them as Amy spoke, but when the Australian referred to Chloe, she looked away before meeting the redhead’s gaze. She turned her attention to the mixing board in front of her, staring into the middle distance.

“And the ad-libs?”

“No one ‘wrote’ those,” Stacie spat back venomously. Amy agreed when Stacie added, “we just added what sounded right, when it sounded right.”

Beca nodded slowly. Whether it was in response to Stacie’s comment or in regards to something else, Chloe couldn't tell. The producer was so deep in thought that Chloe could swear she saw hers turning, saw the melodies and meter shift in her mind.

Beca sighed and stood from her chair.

“Okay,” she said finally. “Let’s go in the booth.”

The Bellas followed Beca into the recording booth, moving to help as the producer grabbed mismatched wooden chairs. They sat as tension thrummed through them, only to be interrupted by Beca standing again.

“Amy-“

“Fat Amy, if you would be so kind.”

The producer rolled her eyes.

“Fat Amy,” she began again, met with a quiet word of thanks from the Australian. “Start your verse. Stacie, do the ad-libs as you remember them.”

They’d sang this a couple times since they had recorded it. No shows yet, but they put up a few performance TikToks when they needed the views. So Amy was okay to start the song, and Stacie jumped in when needed.

After about half of the first verse, Beca cut them off.

“Beat-master? Is that what they call you?”

CR huffed in response.

“CR is fine,” she clarified, and Chloe saw the corner of Beca’s mouth twitch up, just a smidge.

“They’re going to sing that again, and I want you to be here,” she said, and then she started to sing.

Chloe was not ready for the way her body reacted to the young producer’s voice. Like a siren’s song, her pitch- her control- everything was perfect, alluring, ideal. It was like she stepped into the song and pulled the heart out, perfectly matching the tone while also cranking it up, bringing it forward, taking it higher.

And this - this was why they couldn’t have anyone else.

Chloe knew it. And by the astonished looks on her bandmates’ faces, she knew they knew it too.

Beca finished the uncomplicated harmony under Amy’s second set of lines. They sang through, and Beca nodded before turning to Stacie.

“And Stacie? I’m guessing you can really belt.”

The brunette bombshell crossed her arms with an expectant glare. Chloe watched as Beca held her gaze- impressive, considering that not only were Stacie’s boobs almost up to her chin, but her icy stares rivaled Aubrey’s.

“At the end of the first stanza, I want you to take the run up, not down.” Beca said evenly.

Stacie began to protest, but Beca held a hand up.

“I’m still building to the bridge, and I want to ramp up as much as I can.”

You’re still building?!“

Beca’s nostrils flared at Stacie’s pushback. She closed her eyes as she let out a deep breath, once, before speaking again.

“Try it,” she reasoned through gritted teeth. “Just try it, once. Instead of here-"

She sang a perfect imitation of Stacie’s metered notes. It might have sounded better than when Stacie did it. Stacie bristled.

“Take it here.”

She reversed the notes, ending on the high instead of the low, her voice thrumming with powerful control. Stacie shifted uncomfortably, and Chloe instantly felt that the brunette felt a little intimidated.

“Can you sing it once?”

Stacie sat up straight, fighting a blush that threatened to bloom up her neck, and sang the run. It was shaky, and when Chloe thought Beca would tease Stacie, she merely nodded.

“Good. That was good,” Beca asserted.

“I can do better,” Stacie spat, and Beca smiled.

A real one, not the smarmy smirk she’d been giving Chloe.

So. Fucking. Beautiful.

Shut up, brain!

“All right, do it,” Beca challenged, and, without missing a beat, Stacie sang again. Stronger this time, but the notes weren’t what Beca sang originally. Beca tamped down her smile, nodding, and told her to take it again.

The pair went back and forth a few times before they got it right, and then the group put it all together.

Amy’s clear, distinct voice played wonderfully off CR’s sultry support, only to be capped by Stacie’s run. Better. So much better. Beca was watching them closely, eyes darting between each singer, but glowing. Smiling eyes. The rest of her expression betrayed nothing of the emotion, but Chloe could see in her eyes that she was excited.

They kept singing, finishing the verse with CR’s same harmony, but Stacie took it harder, pushing even further than what Beca had written for the first half of the verse. Chloe was so excited to add to it, taking a breath to sing, and-

Beca cut them off.

“Yeah, that’s good,” she said, and Chloe deflated, confused.

“Now do that, with all of these songs. Push them. Try other things. Think about singing, together, adding to each other. Don’t detract, don’t distract. Add. Elevate,” Beca said confidently. Chloe watched her friends nod, and she smiled in spite of her confusion.

“Take a couple days,” Beca added, checking her phone. She stood and moved her chair back to the corner. “You can use one of the other studios. No instruments, and no choreography. And definitely no social media.”

She shuddered.

“I’ll see how you’re doing on Thursday morning,” she said. “But right now, you dudes have to get out.”

Chloe balked as Beca held the door for them. This was ridiculous. Sure, her tips had helped, but now they were supposed to just leave, to not get any help for two days? After twenty minutes of help on a single verse?

And beyond that, she wasn’t going to let Chloe sing at all? She wasn’t going to give her any notes to improve?

Was she really that petty?

“Got a date with the blonde, Mitchell?”

Chloe cringed and felt her face flush, but Beca barely blinked. It was quite a shock, on Saturday morning, to wake up to tabloid articles about Beca and some other woman, just hours after Beca had left her in the studio. They were at a club, not at the Residual party, but they’d been photographed leaving. Beca had wild eyes, and the woman was flushed, and they were holding hands, leaning into each other, falling into an SUV together…

She told the girls not to bring it up, but maybe CR was as pissed off as she was at Beca’s sudden abandonment.

“I do, actually,” she said, flashing a smirking smile. This one didn’t reach her eyes. “Now leave.”

Why won’t she look at me?

The women filed out, with Beca slamming the door as soon as Chloe stepped into the hallway.

“Jerk,” Stacie growled, and Chloe shushed her. Amy sighed.

“So… what do we do now?” she asked.

CR, Stacie, and Amy all turned to Chloe. Pity, defeat, and frustration was etched into their features, and Chloe took a deep breath.

They needed this. They needed to rise to Beca’s challenge, to come out victorious on the other side.

So they could stick it to Beca, sure, but also for themselves. They deserved the chance to prove themselves.

And if Beca wouldn’t help them do it, Chloe would.

“We do what she said,” she said, determined. “We do our best.”

Three nods mirrored her own, and she let herself feel optimistic. Happy, determined, and more like herself than she had in days. But just there, under the unrelenting bubbly-ness, something darker simmered.

She’d prove to Beca that they could do better without her.

Just to wipe that smug look off her stupid, beautiful face.

Chapter Text

They spent all Tuesday and Wednesday in the studio.

(The one with the bean bag chair.)

Chloe fell back onto the couch, exhausted. They’d spent the two days reworking the six songs they came in with, using the tactics Beca prescribed. All a cappella, much to CR’s chagrin. Ashley helped with their pitch late Wednesday, but mostly it was just them. The five women (minus Aubrey) who had started all this.

Now it was Thursday, and Beca would be there any minute.

Chloe looked up at her friends, heart full. It seemed like only yesterday that she’d brought them all together, but it was nearly two years ago.

Chloe laughed when she remembered the look on Aubrey’s face when Chloe had told her that she didn’t want to pursue a solo career, but a group act, one that included one of the younger students for whom Aubrey was currently teaching. Only as a teacher’s assistant, but still - Chloe thought the blonde was going to nervous puke all over her. But Aubrey held it together, and, in a surprising move, was able to shift gears.

But only on the condition that she see these supposed “superstars” that Chloe had found in her elective choir course.

A few nights later, Chloe got them all together at the bar - the three of the others being only nineteen at the time, so they had to do a little coercion - and then she got them onstage with her for karaoke. Aubrey was skeptical but intrigued, so Chloe pushed. She had them start practicing, and Fat Amy was able to get them gigs all around campus.

It was CR who put them on the map with TikTok, as she already had a successful personal account.

(She wouldn’t let Chloe follow her, but Chloe was pretty sure it was a sexy account.)

One of their songs went viral when Flo had put together a dance routine for it. Then another. Then their single. All of the sudden, they were getting studio time to record, making merch, and recording video after video after video. They made some money off it, too. Not enough to support them 100%, but it was encouraging to say the least.

But still, they all had to have other sources of income.

They moved in together six months ago, but it was starting to become impossible to keep up with online demand and the three undergrads’ coursework while they were all working different jobs.

Chloe had finished school and was a vet tech, so she was able to work with Aubrey when she wasn’t busy with her last semester at the university’s law school. Stacie was ahead in classes and only had a semester left, but she had a part-time job that nobody could track. CR and Fat Amy were willing to drop out, but only if The Bellas really went for it; if they moved out of Georgia, moved to LA, went all in.

Chloe said yes.

Stacie said she’d do it at the end of the year, as long as there was a record deal on the line.

And to no one’s surprise, Aubrey said no.

They weren’t ready, they needed to finish school in case this didn’t work, et cetera, et cetera.

She sounded more like their mom than their manager.

However, not all of them were ready to give up.

So the rest of the women cleared out to let the law school student and her pre-law undergrad Stacie duke it out.

Stacie never told Chloe how she was able to convince Aubrey. When they left, the two were screaming at each other, nose to nose, gesticulating wildly. Chloe was sure Stacie wouldn’t get through to her.

But when the three of them snuck back into the apartment in the wee hours of the morning, the house was quiet. Eerily quiet, as if the two were sleeping soundly.

(And Chloe never told anyone that she slept in Stacie’s room that night, because the one that she and Aubrey shared had the door closed. That she put her headphones on around five because somebody, somewhere was rattling a bed against the wall. She loudly slammed the bathroom door, and the noises stopped, so she let it go. Somehow, it never came up.)

After that, it was a real plan. Aubrey set up the preliminary meetings with a few studios. Phone first, then visits between Christmas and New Years. Their leases started in December, so they were already moved in apartments, including all of their support personnel that they found over the last year.

Before the students got their final grades for the fall semester, they were fully moved to LA.

And, crazy enough, nobody even considered the other studios after they visited Residual Heat. Especially since Chloe had started everything and could not be convinced otherwise.

Which made it even more frustrating that Beca Mitchell was a total tool!

Chloe sighed heavily, pulling her notebook towards her navy blazer. She cracked it open for the umpteenth time that afternoon.

“Uhh, guys, I think the ginger is broken,” Amy said warily.

“She’s not broken, she’s breaking, slowly,” Stacie said sagely. “Chloe, write that one down.”

Chloe’s brows arched skeptically.

“You can write your own songs, you know. Or poems, whatever.”

“You're better at it,” Stacie replied, flopping next to her on the couch. She grabbed for Chloe’s notebook, but the redhead yanked it away.

“Let me see!”

“They’re not- hey! Stop! They’re not ready!”

She had been writing a lot in the last two days, and her friends had absolutely taken notice. The whole experience - the move, the career change, the friends she had by her side - all of it made Chloe want to write. She wanted to sort through everything that she was feeling, to try to make sense of it all. She was reflecting hard, on all that they’d been through and everything in front of them.

She was also trying to sort through her feelings about Beca.

She couldn’t help but bring the producer into her writing. She’d spent so long building her up in her head, so after meeting her, especially in light of how they met… it was a whirlwind. A tornado of torment.

Good torture.

Bad pleasure.

And Chloe wasn’t one to try to suppress a feeling that big.

Unfortunately, her friends knew that, and so they’d been trying to see her notebook ever since Chloe picked it up over the weekend.

“C’mon, red,” CR started to bargain. “We just want to help.”

“You can help by getting out your own lyrics,” Chloe shot back.

CR’s eyes dropped to the floor, and Stacie suddenly became preoccupied with her cuticles. Fat Amy let out a non-committal, high-pitched hum.

“Wait, did you guys not-”

But even if Chloe had the opportunity to finish her question - even if Beca Mitchell didn’t have impeccable musical and comedic timing, as she chose that moment to throw the door open - Chloe didn’t need to hear the answers to know what was happening.

They hadn’t written anything.

Please, Chloe pleaded to some unknown god.

Please don’t let her ask if we have anything new.

Beca was scowling as she came through the door. Chloe would’ve rolled her eyes if she wasn’t distracted, yet again, by the producer’s good looks. She had on an oversized band hoodie and ripped skinny jeans, with Chucks and huge aviator sunglasses. Her hair was pilled on top of her head in a messy bun. For the first time, Chloe thought she actually looked her age of 21.

(Chloe wasn’t obsessed enough to know her birthday, but she did see pictures from the 21st birthday blowout last year. There was bottle service, with the sparklers, and some crazy deejay in the booth. Kalina Val was there too, and the actress was hanging all over Beca. Six days ago, Chloe wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Now the thought made her blood boil.)

“You guys better have something for me,” the producer said, taking the glasses off and tucking them against her bun. She squinted against the dim light of the studio. “I woke up early for this.”

“It’s almost noon,” Chloe seethed. “You’re late.”

Beca met her eye.

She blinked at her owlishly.

“Oh, hi Chloe,” she replied, smiling. “Good to see you.”

Chloe’s jaw dropped, as did Stacie’s. The other two Bellas went uncharacteristically still.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize we were starting this early,” Beca said quickly. She scrubbed her hands over her face, wiping the smile away, then paused, putting an ankle up on her knee. She tapped an idle finger on the elevated thigh.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” the young producer snapped. “Sing.”

Chloe scoffed.

“Good to see you too,” she grumbled sarcastically as she stood. She pulled Stacie off the couch before the taller woman went for Beca’s throat, and the four singers stood with their backs against the mixer table.

Immediately, Chloe flashed back to the last time her back was against a mixing board. Her face flushed, and she tried to avoid looking at Beca. She swore she could see Beca’s mouth twitch into a smile, so she looked up. The producer was smirking already, staring straight at her. She scowled in response.

God, what was it with her?

“So, we re-worked all of them,” Fat Amy said slowly to break the long silence, and Chloe shook out of her stare down.

“Ginga ninja?”

“Right,” Chloe responded. She turned to look at her group exclusively, completely shutting Beca out, as she instructed them to start at the beginning of the EP and sing all the way through.

She counted them in, and they were off.

Besides the lyrics, and some of the melodies, they’d gutted pretty much everything. Chloe had to admit that Beca was right to instruct them to work a cappella - it put all of their vocals under a microscope, in a way that the producer probably expected. Once they got down to the basics, Chloe could hear that they weren’t taking advantage of their talents. The four amazing vocalists - that’s what they should be showcasing.

And they did, in the beginning.

Somewhere along the way, they lost that.

Chloe figured that was why she was in such a reflective mood this week. They were back to their roots. They weren’t posting or selling; they were just singing. It felt right. It felt good.

And they wrote it so they could just keep singing into the next song. Key changing, tempo changing - that’d been an exercise on Tuesday afternoon, when they were absolutely stuck. It got them moving and motivated again.

Plus, it was really fun.

As they made their way through the EP, Chloe watched Beca indirectly. The producer tried to keep her surly demeanor up, but Chloe saw through it. It was the eyes again. The way they glimmered when Stacie took the upper alternate in one of the last choruses, when Fat Amy matched her note for note in harmony.

The minute widening when CR added technically insane runs in the second repetition of a bridge.

The way they flashed to Chloe when she ran all the way up at the end of a bridge, instead of bailing out for a comedic pull.

She held the high note as the other women started the chorus, and Beca stared her down. Chloe could feel her eyes on her as she belted.

She refused to meet the producer’s eye.

She doesn’t deserve it.

They wrapped their rewrite with a vocal torrent that rivaled Mariah Carey’s best, with Chloe cutting them off. They were all breathing hard, after singing for nearly fifteen minutes straight, and Chloe finally looked at Beca straight on.

She was prepared for a scowl, or a smirk, or even an oft-absent smile.

But the producer’s face was completely blank.

Beca stood, stalking directly for Chloe across the room, looking pensive. Chloe jumped, as did the other girls, but Chloe was on the end, and there really wasn’t anywhere for her to go. She glanced around, trying to find some exit, but Beca was already there and-

-reaching past her.

Her body was close - really close - as she picked up the office phone that was on the desk next to the mixing board. She leaned closer to hit the intercom button, dropping the phone back to the receiver.

Chloe hoped that her gasp was concealed by the loud dial tone.

But judging by Beca’s smirk, it wasn’t.

She pressed an extension, and the phone rang for a moment before a male voice picked up.

“Yooooooo.”

“Allen. It’s Mitchell. We need a studio tomorrow,” the producer said hurriedly. She bit the edge of her thumbnail as the person on the other end clicked through something.

Was she nervous?

“Yeee-up,” the man replied. “I’ve got Popcorn for 2?”

Beca’s eyes shot to Chloe’s, asking her a silent question. But they were so close - Beca’s elbow was basically resting against Chloe’s stomach, and her arm, and she didn’t know-

“What?” Chloe asked, breathless. “Am I- what do you-”

Beca rolled her eyes with a harsh sigh.

“Book it,” she replied sharply. She picked up the phone and dropped it, stepping back to the couch.

Chloe felt her bandmates looking at her with varying degrees of amusement, but she ignored them.

It was easy to do, considering she was basically radioactive with embarrassment.

“Okay,” Beca said as she fell back into the couch. “What else do you have? New stuff, what’d you work on?”

And there it was, the question Chloe had been dreaded since Beca walked in. Her face was already burning, but she felt another wave of heat.

Her friends had stopped smirking at her, though.

Unfortunately, she knew why.

“Uh, I wrote some stuff,” she spoke up, and she watched Beca stare at the floor, worrying her thumb between her teeth again.

Better to rip off the bandaid, just get it over with.

“Anyone else?” the producer asked. The responses were, on the whole, negative, and the producer sighed loudly.

“Yeah, all right,” she said, sitting up and turning to Chloe with a bored expression. “Let’s hear it.”

“Right- right now?” Chloe stuttered.

“Yeah,” Beca replied impatiently. “What, do you want to hold hands and sing kumbaya first?”

Chloe was about to retort when there was a sharp rap at the door. The group turned to the large viewing window to see Jesse with a couple musicians holding instrument cases.

“Be-kaw!” came Jesse’s voice through the glass. “Shift change!”

Beca glanced at a clock mounted on the wall and rolled her eyes.

“All right,” she yelled back through the glass. She turned back to The Bellas with a shrug.

“2 PM, here, tomorrow,” she barked. “And you three-”

She assessed the everyone but Chloe with a sharp glare.

“Write something. Anything. One rhyme, for chrissakes,” she grumbled, then she settled her gaze back on Chloe.

“We’re unfortunately not finished,” the producer huffed, rubbing above her eyebrow. “We’ll jump in somewhere else and get through what we can.”

Chloe blanched.

Alone, with Beca, again?

So soon?

She looked to Stacie for help, but the busty brunette made a vulgar gesture when Beca moved to meet with Jesse in the hallway. Chloe flipped her off, and she could see the musicians still in the room, along with those in the hallway, struggling to cover their laughs.

“-Fancy has Doozie in there, and Toilet has that I-P-Vay client, remember?” Jesse was saying as The Bellas filed out.

“I’ve told you pig latin doesn’t work for acronyms,” Beca replied hotly, but she was distracted. “Get Sammy in here with these guys, tell him I need at least a half hour.”

Jesse nodded before excusing himself, and the other band went into the studio, leaving The Bellas standing awkwardly in the hallway.

“Go home, you three,” the producer said to CR, Amy, and Stacie.

An actually amused smile started to spread across her face, but she tamped it down so that only her twinkling eyes remained when she turned to Chloe.

Well, twinkling eyes and that smirk.

“And you, Chloe Beale,” she smirked. “You can come with me.”

Chapter Text

Beca led The Bellas around the corner to the elevators, walking swiftly past all of Residual Heat’s platinum albums, the other studios, and the stairwell down to the lobby. When they got to the building’s main elevators, she gestured for Chloe to follow her through the squared opening towards the producer offices. Still nervous, Chloe stopped with her friends in the second floor lobby (well, second for Residual, but tenth for the building).

Her phone blared Party In The USA for the fourth time in the last hour. With one look at the caller, she rolled her eyes and silenced it.

“Will somebody call Aubrey back? Please?”

“Yeah, red. We got you,” CR nodded at Chloe, then gestured to the producer still standing awkwardly in the next room’s opening. “You going to be all right?”

Chloe nodded with a confidence she neither felt nor convincingly portrayed.

“Don’t worry about it, seriously. Just-” she started, then dropped her voice to a stage whisper.

“-call the police if you haven’t heard from me in an hour,” she added with a wink.

“I heard that,” Beca grumbled from her corner.

“You were meant to!” the redhead called over her shoulder with a sigh. She could’ve sworn she heard a snicker.

“How about we call you in an hour,” Stacie said slowly, a glowing glint in her eye. “and if you haven’t relocated to the nearest hotel, we’ll come back and get you?”

The other two Bellas laughed, but Chloe just glared. Stacie’s eyes softened, shoulders falling, then she shrugged.

“We’ll go down the street, get some food,” she offered. “We’ll meet you in the building lobby later on. If you plan to stay longer, for any reason, we won’t judge-”

Fat Amy cleared her throat.

“Lesbihonest, we’ve all hooked up with a coworker slash boss slash equals-but-with-a-weird-power-dynamic.”

“Amy!”

Again, the other half of the group tried to hide their laughs, but thankfully this time they were cut off by a cough from behind Chloe.

“I don’t have all day, Beale,” the producer sighed, and Chloe felt her eyes roll up to the ceiling again.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have been late then!” she snapped back, but she gave her friends hurried goodbyes before following Beca.

Last week, Chloe had been into the large, open offices that made up the producer’s wing. Jesse had walked them around the long tables with multiple work stations and the lounge with the foosball table. Consistent with the studio’s theme, there was a dark red accent wall on the far side by the conference room, and on the adjacent wall, the finish was painted grey brick. The furnishings were all sleek black, ranging from the work stations to cubicles. There were even some huddle rooms where people could make phone calls without bothering anyone.

But Beca led Chloe away from all that, turning at the printers towards a hallway on the other side of the phone rooms. Past a room stuffed with IT equipment, to the end of the hall.

Chloe hadn’t come here during the tour, and, when Beca let her through the door, she understood why. It was a full office - big, with bronze albums on the walls, with names that Chloe hadn’t seen in the main hall.

Beca’s office, she realized with a start.

The back wall was brick, unpainted, without windows. The rest of the room had white walls, with a shelf tastefully displaying the Grammys and dozens of other framed pieces. Signed albums, glitzy pictures with artists, professionally framed magazine articles. The furnishings were all sharp, black, and expensive-looking. It was a monument to the producer Beca Mitchell’s success, but…

Chloe hummed distastefully.

The producer laughed as she fell into an oversized rolling chair behind a sleek, black desk that held a single Macbook. She looked like a little kid.

“What? Are you upset that there isn’t a popcorn machine?”

Chloe sighed.

“No, it’s… nice,” she said, then sighed. “But, I mean, do you even have speakers in here?”

Beca bristled at the comment, and Chloe felt a wave of embarrassment threaten her complexion.

“We listen in the formal lounge, in the studio wing,” Beca replied. “This is, like, an office. My office.”

Chloe knew she should let it go, but as she perched on the edge of a too-modern chair, she felt her the questions bubbling out of her.

“But where do you work? On the music, I mean,” she heard herself say. “Where do you listen back to your work? I don’t even see your music library - and I know you don’t get your samples from Spotify. Where’s the laboratory where you cook up that genius?”

Beca smirked as she leaned forward to the table - and even that! Chloe thought. The desk is too tall for her!

“You think I’m a genius?”

Chloe huffed, throwing her hair over her shoulder.

“I implied that your music was genius,” she shot back, but another sigh leaked out of her. “There isn’t a single window. I don’t know, this place gives me the creeps. It doesn’t feel like-”

You, she had been about to say. It doesn’t feel like your music.

Yet another piece of the Beca Mitchell puzzle that just doesn’t fit.

“It doesn’t feel right,” she said after a moment.

Beca’s face was a cold mask. Her eyes darted to her computer, then to the notebook under Chloe’s arm. The one that she hadn’t put away, because apparently she was going to share her writings with Beca.

A loud crash sounded in the other room, followed by a raucous bout of applause. Chloe stared at the door longly.

What am I even doing here?

“C’mon,” Beca said, breaking Chloe’s thoughts as she stood. The brunette rubbed at her cheek woefully. “We’ll go to the Broom Closet. At least it’s quiet down there.”

Another space I didn’t see on the tour, Chloe thought to herself. But didn’t Beca hate that one?

Beca seemed to read Chloe’s expression, and she sighed again as she opened another door Chloe hadn’t fully seen before. It opened directly into the building’s stairwell.

“It sucks, but only because-” the producer started to say, but then she cut herself off. “Whatever. Let’s just go.”

Chloe stepped into the stairwell, standing aside so Beca could lead the way. She followed the petite brunette downstairs, coming out another door on the floor below.

Unlike the second floor of their office, where they had the whole top floor of the building, Chloe was pretty sure Residual Heat only had the lobby space on the ninth floor. She did a mental run-through, thinking she had seen the whole space - tables, uncomfortable chairs and booths, bar, stairs, bathrooms, and a big conference room with huge windows that looked out into the city - but Beca led her through a small kitchen space. It made sense, Chloe supposed, that there was a back-of-house setup area for events like last Friday’s.

The tile flooring continued past a utility closet, and to the left was the hallway leading past the bathrooms up to the front lobby. Chloe was about to ask Beca where the heck they were going when the young producer stopped. She grabbed a key from the carabiner on her belt loop, unlocking an unmarked door next to the mop closet.

“Oh,” Chloe laughed softly. “Broom Closet. Because it’s next to the Mop Closet. Funny.”

“Well, that,” Beca smiled. “And also…”

Pushing the door away from her, Beca revealed what had to be the smallest studio that Chloe had ever seen. It was so small that she thought she and Beca would touch knees when they sat down on the decrepit couch and stool that served as the room’s only furniture. It looked even smaller because of the single warm lightbulb, and because every surface was black - walls, ceiling, carpet, even the acoustical panels on the walls. There wasn’t a separate booth, just a small keyboard next to an ancient mixing board, with an equally old acoustic guitar next to it.

“Oh,” was all Chloe managed to say. She sat on the farthest edge of the couch - as far away from the desk as possible. Beca stared at the wall behind Chloe for a second, and the redhead glanced behind her to see if something was there, but then Beca took the stool to the desk, hunching to fiddle with some knobs.

“Are we recording something?” Chloe asked, nervous again. She had almost forgot what they were going to do - what they were going to review. Most of the writing was chicken scratch, and Chloe only had partial melodies for a couple of them. If Beca wanted her to sing, wanted her to record something…

Chloe felt her heart rate speed up.

“No, I was just-” Beca spun away from the board. “Nothing. Okay. You wrote stuff. I hope it doesn’t suck.”

Even through her nerves, Chloe couldn’t help being annoyed at the producer’s condescending tone.

“Well, it’s not like I’ve won seven Grammy’s or anything,” she barked, but then she realized that she had inadvertently complimented the brunette.

Beca, mercifully, let the comment slide as she reached out for Chloe’s notebook.

“Give it.”

Chloe took a deep breath and, refusing to let go of the writings, made Beca pry the notebook from her hands. The brunette immediately flipped the notebook to a random page and started reading.

“I’m not, like, a poet,” Chloe started to explain. “It’s more musings on things that are happening around me. I only wrote Scared of Happy and Squeeze on the EP, and part of Tequila With Lime, and I guess I wrote most of Stupid Things, but that was more about how-”

Beca held up a hand, effectively silencing the rambling redhead. She read to the bottom of the page - one of the long ones, Chloe thought. It’s probably not about her, then, unless it’s the one with graphic depictions of her taking me against the mixing board.

Her ears began to burn as Beca flipped the page, checking to see if there was anything written on the back. Seeing it was empty, she glanced back up to Chloe.

“Do you play guitar? Or piano?” Beca asked, eyes scanning back over the page. Chloe shook her head, but Beca’s eyes were still down, so she verbalized her response.

Beca huffed, clearly in a frustrated mood, and handed the notebook back to Chloe.

“You have a melody for this one?”

Chloe read the first few lines. It was about Beca, but Chloe hadn’t written a date in the corner, so Beca didn’t know that she wrote it over the weekend.

It was also one that Chloe absolutely had a melody for.

Damnit.

“Yeah,” the redhead breathed.

Beca nodded, fidgeting on her stool. She kept her eyes down on the notebook in Chloe’s hands, steepling her fingers again as she waited for Chloe to start singing.

But Chloe couldn’t do it.

She didn’t trust this Beca Mitchell - this young, arrogant producer that was so duplicitous. Everything about her was so out-of-sorts, like a story with too many plot lines, and none of it made any sense. And if Chloe was going to sing to her - sing about her, to her…

She couldn’t do it.

Beca met her eye after Chloe didn’t start singing, and her face fell into further frustration.

“What?” she snapped. “I’m not going to be a dick.”

“Well I don’t know that!” Chloe snapped back. “It’s not like you’ve been sunshine and rainbows so far!”

Beca rolled her eyes.

“Unlike you, right?” she laughed. “So positive, so determined. All that naive optimism. Where does it come from, hm? Do you really think your Bellas earned it? Tell me, did you like being a big fish in a small pond?”

Chloe flushed, scoffing harshly.

“Don’t talk down to me, Mitchell!” she chastised loudly. “I know my girls are talented. I know what we have, and what we’ll become, and I think you do too!”

“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t,” Beca replied offhandedly, and Chloe scoffed again. She knew what she saw. She knew Beca saw their skill.

The producer gestured to the notebook in Chloe’s hands.

“Sing for me, or don’t,” she sighed, then checked the time on her phone. “I have other things I could be doing.”

And in that simmering indignation, Chloe found her voice.

On her own, the melody was nothing special, but it was something. Chloe couldn’t look at Beca as she sang the sultry lyrics - the dark notes that held references to beds and longing, to skin and imaginary tongues and what exactly those imaginary tongues would do on skin in beds and-

When she did look up, she saw Beca reaching for the guitar on the side of the mixing table. She listened for a few more beats, then she started plucking some rough notes - bass, with some interval notes and octaves - along to Chloe’s melody.

And oh, Chloe was not expecting that.

She wasn’t expecting it to be so good, playing and writing music with Beca. If she could’ve predicted what it would do to her, to watch Beca’s strong hands manipulate the steel strings of a faded guitar…

She probably wouldn’t have let herself be in such a small room with her, as a start.

Chloe’s body rolled forward out of it’s own volition, and she tripped over the words. Beca looked up as she continued to play, and Chloe jumped back into the bridge. Beca fumbled to get the right notes, finding them finally as Chloe moved into the chorus.

And, again, like magic, the notes and the rhythm, the melody and bass - it all fell into place as Chloe sang. Beca nodded along, focusing hard on listening to Chloe while also watching her hands, and as Chloe repeated the chorus the producer dropped off completely to watch Chloe sing.

They locked eyes, and Chloe had to fight to keep a moan from coming out.

Her gaze, it was…

Entranced.

Enticed.

Excited.

And on the very edges, at just the corners, Chloe could see something else, but she couldn’t quite see-

Beca’s phone buzzed loudly against the body of the guitar, and the producer swore loudly. Chloe stopped singing, dropping the notebook into her lap as she watched Beca fumble into her hoodie pocket for her phone.

When she finally got it out, Chloe could see the screen, and she felt herself start to shake with rage.

She’d recognize the face anywhere, but just in case she didn’t, the banner above bore the actress’s name.

Kalina Val.

The same Kalina Val that Beca was rumored to be dating months ago.

Beca saw that Chloe saw the screen and quickly declined the call.

“‘Other things to do’, hm?” Chloe laughed roughly. “Sure looks like it.”

Beca glared over the edge of her phone as she typed out a message. They sat in silence as the brunette finished the message, then she set it on the table behind her. Immediately, it buzzed with a response, but Beca didn’t so much as glance at it as she continued to stare at Chloe.

When the redhead didn’t break, Beca did, scoffing as she leaning the guitar against the table at her back.

“You don’t know the first thing about this- about me,” the producer sneered. Chloe was about to retort but Beca stopped her.

“Just… stick to singing, okay?” she huffed.

“I plan to!”

“I wasn’t-”

“No, I get it!” Chloe jumped in, shoving her notebook into her bag and standing. “That’s all I am. A good singer - or, good enough, right?”

She choked out a gasp of a laugh as she tried not to cry.

“I’m just some dumb transplant from the south. Good enough for Atlanta, but this is LA, and I’d be lucky to have someone like you take pity on me? What did you say earlier - that I’m a big fish, from a small pond? A naive optimist?”

“Wait-”

Chloe paused, hand on the knob of the small studio space. Even it was a deep, dark color - perfectly blending to the black walls around it. If Chloe didn’t know where it was, she probably wouldn’t have seen it at all.

Hidden, or hiding, like so many parts of Beca.

“What?” she huffed, turning back to look at the producer.

She had her head in her hands, fully folded in half on top of the stool.

For the second time that day, Chloe thought that she looked her age.

Young, Chloe thought suddenly, immediately repentant for her outburst. She’s so young. She’s basically a kid.

“I really wasn’t- I didn’t mean-” she started, then stopped. She let out a rough moan as she pulled her skin down her face. “I just meant that this industry is more than what happens in rooms like this, okay?”

Chloe was about to demand an explanation, or an apology, but Beca’s gaze dropped to her bag.

“Your notebook - can I keep it?” she asked quickly. Pleaded, really, as an hint of desperation entered her tone. “Just until tomorrow.”

“No,” Chloe responded, aghast. “Not now, or ever. I- no. I don’t let people read this. I shouldn’t have let you see it at all.”

Beca deflated, and just as Chloe was about to relent, her phone buzzed again. They both glanced at it as it continued to ring, but it was Chloe who spoke up first.

“Sounds like you’ve got places to be,” she seethed, finally turning the knob she’d been holding and walking out of the Broom Closet.

She paced through Residual’s lobby and out into the main hall, wiping frustrating, hot tears away from her cheeks. She felt so embarrassed and raw. Singing those words, and Beca adding to it, in such a small space, it was so intimate. Like they were creating something real - and not just the song, either.

And those looks, the way it almost seemed like Beca felt the same…

No, she thought. Beca’s just a player.

She probably did that to all of her artists, looked at them that way. Ripped their souls open so she could make her money or have sex or whatever. She probably made them all feel special so they’d give her what she wanted. It sure seemed to work for her so far.

But she’s so young.

Chloe jammed the elevator button.

Age has nothing to do with it, she told herself.

It’s not like Beca was a child. She’d been in LA for three years, and she’d spent two of those making more than a just a name for herself. She had a reputation, and she was proving it. Chloe was just a sucker for falling for it.

The cab arrived, and she stepped in, falling against the elevator wall.

She was right - Chloe knew that. She knew Beca was probably playing her.

That she should hate her.

But she thought of that young woman, in a huge chair at a too-tall table, in that cold, proud office that didn’t look anything like who she said she was, who she felt like.

She thought of that girl in a hoodie, hunched on her stool and head in her hands, silhouetted against a black wall in a tiny studio, with a worn guitar leaning against an ancient mixing board.

If I’m so right… Chloe thought savagely.

…then why does it all feel so wrong?

Chapter Text

If she was honest with herself, Chloe had made the decision to give Beca her notebook before she left Residual Heat on Thursday.

If she was honest, she would say that as soon as she got on that elevator, she knew she was going to go back.

She could be honest about a lot of other things, too.

Like the fact that she wanted Beca to be different. She didn’t want her to be a shallow womanizer, and she didn’t want her to have a boring office that was a mausoleum of music - not forgotten, but certainly dead.

She wanted her to be more than that.

She wanted Beca to be the virtuoso that continually inspired Chloe to create, one that could make Chloe move in ways that no one else could, just with her music.

And, in the spirit of honesty, maybe Chloe wouldn’t care about all of that stuff if Beca tried to come onto her just one more time.

Because just the thought that any of that was true was enough to get her riled up.

But Chloe wasn’t feeling particularly honest on Friday, so she lied about going to the bathroom before The Bellas’ 2 PM recording session. She sprinted across the building, around the corner of the producer’s space, and down towards the closed door. She stopped on a dime and caught her breath before knocking.

“Jesus, Swanson, I’ll be there in a minute! Calm your tits!”

Chloe rolled her eyes before pushing the door open. Beca was standing, leaning over her desk, with her hand holding a headphone over her ear. She was about to shout at her intrusive visitor but, realizing it was Chloe, she gave a little shocked smile instead. Her gaze narrowed as she took in Chloe’s form - accentuated in today’s patterned blue dress - and she dropped her headphones against her neck.

“Chloe Beale,” Beca sighed. “You couldn’t stay away?”

Heat bloomed in Chloe’s stomach, and she tried to shove it down.

Great. Now even Cocky Beca gets me going.

“Can it, Mitchell,” she replied. She walked over as casually as she could, then tossed her notebook on the desk. The producer raised her eyebrows and reached for it slowly. Chloe stepped back, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Keep it. Over the weekend.”

Eyes flashed between the book and Chloe’s stern demeanor. Chloe waited for Beca to say something, and she took the time to assess the young producer today.

She was back in her typical cool clothes. Flannel, Docs, skinny jeans.

But this time, Chloe noticed, she wore blue.

A blue tank-top, under a navy and white flannel. Blue jeans. Cerulean ear spike.

The end result being, they matched today.

Coincidence. Definitely a coincidence.

… except that spiral gauge looks exactly like my eyes.

“Why?” Beca asked suddenly, without preamble. “Why are you letting me have this?”

Honestly?

Chloe didn’t know.

She had been a mess all night, barking at the other Bellas whenever they asked her about the one-on-one writing session. She barely ate. She put her headphones on and sulked in her room until Aubrey turned off the main light, and then she fell into a fitful sleep.

At four, she was up and couldn’t fall back asleep.

So she got up and did the only thing she could think to.

She wrote.

She went back and read everything that she’d written since they arrived in LA, finishing off a few broken thoughts that she hadn’t completed the first time.

And then she wrote more.

It started slowly, like a leaky faucet. Simple words trickling out about her girls, and how far The Bellas had come in only a few days. She was proud of them, proud of herself, and intoxicated by their progress.

It morphed, then, to Beca. An authority figure to The Bellas, and one that Chloe found herself becoming addicted to pleasing. A shadowy Yes/No machine that gave out little pellets of approval when she worked hard.

Please, she wrote. Give me more.

Tell me yes.

Haven’t I been a good girl?

The words splintered from there. They followed Beca into a deep, dark blue bass that twisted tendrils through Chloe’s psyche.

But they also swirled in cornflower blue and white eddies - flashes of young and hurt and trying so hard, can’t anyone else see that? See how much you’ve given? What have you lost, and was it worth it?

Beca Mitchell, a dissonant mosaic.

Of blues, coincidentally enough.

And when it was time to head to the studio, all Chloe could tell herself was that she was going to give the notebook to Beca. She didn’t know why.

Because you wanted it.

The errant thought flew through her mind too fast for her to catch it.

Because you asked to see.

I want you to see it.

“Didn’t anybody ever tell you: ‘don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’?” Chloe said instead, then she shook her head. “Whatevs. Read it if you want.”

Beca was already flipping through the pages when her computer chimed. She glanced at it, then at her phone.

“We should head over,” she said tentatively, and Chloe could see that she was struggling against the idea of sitting down and diving into the notebook right then and there.

She felt a smirk of her own rising.

“C’mon, Becs,” she scoffed. “It’s just a notebook. You can read it later.”

“Oh, it’s ‘Becs’ now?”

Chloe didn’t deign her with a response beyond a scoff as the pair made their way over to the far studio. They found it already bustling with people - Bellas, another producer, Aubrey, Jessica - and immediately Chloe felt the young producer tense up next to her. A surge of protectiveness shot through her, but she tried to suppress it.

She’s a big girl, she can handle it. Get a grip.

Chloe shook off the thought and joined her friends across the room. Fat Amy munched loudly on bowl of popcorn as she addressed the approaching redhead.

“You found a hobbit on the way over, then?”

Chloe rolled her eyes as she reached for a handful from Amy’s bowl.

“I swear, she’s stalking me,” she replied as she threw a few pieces of popcorn into her mouth. “It’s, like, totes weird.”

Stacie narrowed her eyes in Beca’s direction, over Chloe’s shoulder, and then Chloe saw them widen to an almost comical openness.

“Uh, Chlo- does Beca have the same notebook as you?”

Chloe flushed with panic.

She brought it here?! her mind raced. She brought the notebook with her!?

“Okay, Chloe, let’s start with you in the booth,” Beca said sharply. Chloe’s notebook lay on the desk before her. “We’ll start with Scared of Happy, I already have a base track for that one. Are you warmed up?”

Chloe could barely nod before her friends were ushering her towards the door - towards the sound-proofed room where I won’t be able to hear them talking!! - and though she protested, they shut the door behind her.

Chloe glowered through the sound-proofed glass. She could still hear them, but it was muffled, and she could already tell this was going to be torture. Beca was barking orders at the other producer, who was a short, dark haired man with a big mouth, who Chloe only recognized as “Allen.” Her friends had split; Fat Amy was hovering around the male producer, and Jessica and CR were consulting Jessica’s phone, looking like they were getting ready to film something. Aubrey was on the phone, but Stacie…

Stacie was sitting right behind Beca, ready to pounce.

And Chloe could see it was only a matter of time before she struck.

Chloe watched for a painful twenty minutes as Allen got her set up. She couldn’t take her eyes off Beca as - much to her dismay - the young producer decided to forgo any kind of producer help and instead buried herself in Chloe’s notebook. She watched Stacie watch Beca, then the leggy brunette met her eyes with a perverse grin.

She watched CR nudge Jessica and explain, causing the bubbly woman to giggle.

She watched Fat Amy loudly ask something, and then CR pointed to Beca, and then Fat Amy said something else. Beca sat up, tearing her eyes away from the pages to glance directly into Chloe’s fiery gaze. She sighed, then she snapped the book shut.

She said something to everyone, and they all looked shocked and confused.

Chloe started to panic. Maybe she should just go out there, straighten it all out. Beca probably wasn’t saying it right, wasn’t telling them everything. She probably didn’t explain that she had asked for Chloe’s notebook yesterday, that they had worked on stuff together and so it made sense to give her the notebook.

Or maybe, she did explain that.

Chloe didn’t know which one was worse.

Beca met Chloe’s gaze again, and Chloe watched Beca’s face transform - shock, mirth, a smug grin with heated eyes - and then, a mask.

It was intense to watch, especially when she knew her friends couldn’t see it. That they could only see Chloe, as Beca was at the front of the room with no one but Chloe to witness the fleet of emotions. Chloe saw Beca bark something at the group, and she watched as their tempers flared, but none of them spoke up.

Then Aubrey was hanging up the phone and shouting something back, and Beca retorted.

God, this was worse than the root canal Chloe got when she was fifteen because she drank too many cokes. Watching this, and not being able to talk or hear, or defend herself, Chloe felt like she would do anything to make it stop.

So she started to move to the door to get out there, to go out there and explain, when a static-y voice cut through the speaker in the room.

“It’s okay, Beale,” Beca said into the mic. Her voice was intimate, but stern, and Chloe stopped before she got to the door.

Chloe looked up to see Allen escorting a furious Aubrey out of the room. The other women looked shaken, but they stayed put.

Again, Chloe flushed with anger. She felt like a helpless, caged animal. She began to move again, towards the door, and the voice came back.

“Put on the headphones, Chlo.”

Pleading.

Desparate.

Intimate.

Commanding.

Chloe flushed with a completely different type of heat. She eyed the brunette warily as she grabbed the headphones, settling them over her ears.

But she kept her eyes trained on the door.

“I’m sorry,” Beca said into the mic. “I’ve been unprofessional, and I’ve been disrespectful with your time. I’m ready to begin if you are.”

Without looking at Beca, Chloe felt herself reel under the emotional whiplash. Her body swayed, and she felt lightheaded. She took a deep, stuttering breath, wondering what the other Bellas had thought of Beca’s apology. But when she looked at them through the glass, they weren’t even paying attention. She quickly realized that none of them had heard what Beca had said.

Beca was speaking directly into a mic, one that went directly into Chloe’s ears.

She wondered what they would have seen, had they been looking at her.

What emotions she was wearing on her metaphorical sleeves today.

She took another stunted breath, and she felt her eyes flutter. And then - and only then - did she look at Beca.

No smirk, no glint of secrets. Beca looked at her earnestly, with an open expression that held no expectation in it. She stared straight on, as if she was asking for Chloe to hear her. And Chloe understood that she just heard a real, honest apology, and a promise to move forward.

So she nodded.

And they began.

Beca started the song and played it through, just letting Chloe run through her part before recording anything. It sounded pretty similar to their original track, so Chloe was able to pick up on it quickly enough. Beca took her headphones out of the board so that the rest of the room could hear as Chloe sang her part, and it took all of Chloe’s will to shut them out and focus on the singing.

She tried to control her breath as she pushed through the lines, but even behind closed eyes, she saw Beca’s face.

Studying her, appraising her.

She finally opened her eyes as the song finished, and all of her friends were all beaming at her. Fat Amy said something, and they all laughed - even Beca, Chloe saw out of the corner of her eye - and Jessica panned around the room as if she was filming a TikTok.

But then Beca slipped her headphones back into the jack and pressed a button, and suddenly her voice was back in Chloe’s head.

“They can’t hear you now. It’s just me,” she purred. Chloe rolled her tongue over her lips subconsciously, and she watched Beca track the movement.

“What did you think?”

Beca’s eyebrows shot into her hairline as her gaze darkened.

“Don’t ask me for my input,” she murmured. “What did you think?”

Chloe thought back through her performance.

“It could’ve been better,” she said softly. “I was nervous.”

One side of Beca’s mouth quirked up, and Chloe quelled a shudder as the producer smirked.

“Now, what could’ve made Chloe Beale nervous?” she asked slowly, fingers dancing towards the edge of Chloe’s notebook, which still sat on the counter.

Chloe felt her stomach flip over itself.

“You’ve written some naughty things in here, Chloe Beale,” Beca teased. A wave of pinpricks coursed through Chloe, and this time she couldn’t suppress the shudder. “I liked what we sang yesterday, but this?”

Beca ran the pad of a finger in small, purposeful circles in the center of the notebook’s cover. Chloe inhaled sharply, staring at the hand.

Nearly imperceptible but very, very specific circles, with her middle finger - barely any movement at all, as the producer’s hand undulated subtly, her other fingers floating in rhythm.

She could feel the movement on her body.

Well, on one very specific place on her body.

Chloe tried to squeeze her thighs together, to feel any kind of pressure in the place she needed it most, but there was no relief from her attempt.

Beca glanced back suddenly, and Chloe remembered with a start that they were not alone, no matter what it sounded like in her ears. CR had said something, and she saw Stacie scoff.

“This is hell,” Chloe whispered, and Beca’s eyes shot back to her.

“It’s certainly hot enough,” Beca teased again as she glanced down Chloe’s body again, dragging her eyes up slowly. That finger started up again, those maddeningly methodical circles, and Chloe snapped.

“Okay, seriously?” Chloe asked roughly. “I’m basically your captive in here. I can’t hear anybody else, and you kicked Aubrey out, and you’re- you- you’re in my head! You did it, okay? You got me. You won. I’m attracted to you, and you’re a pig. Is that what you want to hear?! God, if it’s going to be like this every time, I don’t even want to work with you!”

She was breathing hard into the mic, and she knew Beca could hear it. She didn’t care anymore. She was so distraught, so frustrated but also hot under the collar with the way that Beca kept winding her up.

She couldn’t deal with it anymore.

She didn’t know what to do.

Beca let out a breathless laugh into the mic.

“Damn,” she swore. “Wow. I, uh… I’m sorry, dude.”

Chloe felt tears prickle behind her eyes, and she turned away from the glass.

“Look, I’m going to come in there in a second to give you some notes,” Beca said to Chloe’s back. “And I’m going to… yeah. I’ll try to get you out of there soon. Yeah.”

Chloe turned back to see Beca throw her headphones onto the desk. As the producer stood, her bandmates turned to see what was going on, and then they looked at Chloe through the glass. Stacie and CR lurched forward to follow Beca, but she barked something at them to call them off. She crossed the studio to the booth door, and Chloe saw her take a deep breath before she opened the door.

It wasn’t a big space, and Chloe bet Beca knew that. But the producer stayed at the door when she entered, her back pressed against it as she kept her distance from the redhead.

“You don’t need to change a single thing,” Beca said, her face a cold mask. “I’m going to pretend to give you notes for a minute or so, and then I want you to do it exactly how you already did.”

“Bullshit,” Chloe brushed off the compliment.

Beca shot a frustrated glance at her.

“Look, I’m as pissed off as you are,” she grumbled. “Do you know what it’s like to have no notes? Your pitch is perfect, your tone is full - you don’t need me.”

She gave a little laugh as she shook her head, pulling her thumbnail up to her teeth.

“I don’t know how to do this with someone that doesn’t need me,” she said, seemingly to herself. “Even your writing is good, Chloe. I couldn’t have written ‘me’ better, and I’ve tried.”

Chloe scoffed.

“Well, then you haven’t gotten to the bad parts.”

Beca’s eyes flashed with a hint of mischief, but she quickly shook it off as shame shadowed her features.

“I am sorry, for what it’s worth,” the young producer went on. “I thought you were in on it.”

Chloe blinked in confusion, wrapping her headphone cord around her fingers.

“In on what?” she asked, and Beca gaped at her.

“Uh… nothing.”

“Tell me.”

“I will,” Beca nodded, but the movement slowed as her expression became pensive. “I just… I don’t really know what to do with you, Chloe Beale.”

Chloe’s temper flared again, and she rolled her eyes.

“Just make us a good group or whatever!” she growled. “Keep it in your goddamn pants and teach me stuff!”

Beca giggled, and that teasing glint re-appeared.

“I could say the same to you, Beale. Some of those entries are quite graphic.”

Chloe went to defend herself, but Beca waved her off.

“And like I said, you don’t need any help. Thankfully the rest of your group sucks.”

“Hey!”

The muffled shout pulled Beca and Chloe out of their booth bubble, and they found themselves staring at four sets of eyes, varying from shocked to indignant. Stacie swung the unplugged input cord for Beca’s headphones menacingly, and Fat Amy threw a handful of popcorn against the glass.

At least Jessica isn’t recording, Chloe thought.

Oh, but CR is.

Damn.

Beca had the audacity to look embarrassed as she shuffled out of the booth, back to the studio side of the room. Chloe could see her starting to say something, but she was met with more airborne popcorn from the Australian, and a particularly seething look from CR. Stacie said something, and Beca glanced through the glass to Chloe before she turned and nodded to the taller brunette.

Stacie shrugged, seemingly satisfied, but as she set down the input cord, she went to pick up Chloe’s notebook as well.

Beca slammed a hand down on the cover, and the two had a stare-off before Chloe spoke up.

“Stacie, I gave it to her,” she rushed. Again, all of the eyes shot through the glass, and Chloe swallowed hard before continuing.

“She wanted to read it, and I gave it to her. We worked on some of it yesterday, a new song. She’s supposed to be working with us, and she knows better than anyone about, you know, what might work and what might not. I don’t want to make it a big deal, okay?”

Chloe could tell Stacie was angry, but she looked to be at least somewhat understanding of Chloe’s reasoning. She leaned into the mic and began to speak, and Chloe lifted the headphones to her ears, but no sound came through. Beca rolled her eyes and leaned down, pressing the button next to the microphone, and Stacie glared at her before turning back to Chloe.

“If she’s mean to you, we kill her,” she solemnly promised. Chloe saw Beca scoff, and then the button was unpressed as the two started bickering again.

Nearly silently, from Chloe’s perspective.

“Hey!” Chloe shouted into the mic, and the two reluctantly turned to look at her.

“Can we please just work on music?”

With one more heated glare, the brunettes agreed, resuming their seats and turning their attention back to Chloe.

“Okay,” Beca said as she jumped back on the mic, sliding the headphones over her ears and plugging them in. “Are you ready?”

Chloe would’ve laughed if she had the emotional wherewithal.

As I’ll ever be, she thought grimly.

The rest of the session went as well as it could. Chloe was done with the majority of the vocals for the song within twenty minutes, and then Stacie went into the booth to record her sections. Besides telling her that she was done for now, Beca barely paid her any mind as Chloe finished up, settling back on the couch with CR and Jessica as Stacie got into the hot-seat.

“I bet Doogie Howser over here is much nicer to us now that you’re here,” Amy lamented as Chloe passed her. “She was being a real ass while you were in the booth.”

“I’ll probably still be an ass, thanks,” Beca shouted over her shoulder, and Amy groaned loudly. Chloe stifled a giggle as Amy went on.

“You’re, like, a really shit substitute teacher. Or a mean babysitter.”

“Which means you’re a child, Fat Amy. Is that right? Am I tracking that right?” Beca shot back, still not looking away from Stacie, who was practicing her vocals into Beca’s headphones, one of which was still in position over her ear.

Amy grumbled in response, and Beca reset her headphones, clicking on the mic to ask Stacie to change something.

They continued like that for the remainder of the afternoon. Jessica left, so it was just the singers, and one after another, the women went into the booth to record their vocals. By 6:30, they had pretty much completed their parts of the song, barring some additional vocals Beca said she would consider once she got it mixed down.

“Great, you can come out now CR,” Beca said into the mic before spinning around in her chair. It was smaller, but it was still too big for the tiny deejay.

“Okay, so we got through the first song. I’ll punch it up tonight and send something over. It’s a decent start.”

“‘Decent’?” CR gasped as she stepped out of the booth. She ran a hand through her short red hair. “That’s the best we’ve sounded in a while.”

“Well we’re not going for your best, we’re going for my best,” Beca countered. The singers groaned while Beca just smirked.

“I don’t know, shortstack,” Amy jumped in. “I’ve heard some of your stuff. Pretty sure we’re on the upper end of that catalogue.”

“Watch it,” the producer warned, but then Stacie jumped in too.

"And how many of them had singers that have ‘perfect pitch’ and ‘didn’t need any notes’? Hm?”

Chloe blushed, and so did Beca, and they steadfastly ignored each other in favor of the surrounding walls.

They hadn’t talked at all for the rest of the afternoon, but Beca had gotten much more comfortable around the rest of The Bellas. They were all teasing each other in a way that Chloe was almost envious of - from both sides.

But really, she was just happy to see that they were all getting along. It was like, with every joke, a weight was being lifted off her shoulders, bit by bit.

But now that Stacie had recalled Beca’s comments earlier, Chloe took time to dismiss them.

“Beca was just being nice,” she sighed, refusing to meet Beca’s affronted expression as she pressed on.

“Is it time for food?”

“Yessss,” Stacie moaned. “Pizza?”

The women agreed and began to file out, but CR stopped in the doorway and turned back.

“You wanna come, boss-man?”

Chloe snuck a glance at Beca as the producer considered CR’s offer. She looked interested - excited, even - but her face fell when she checked her phone. She ran a hand through her hair and shook her head.

“I can’t, actually,” she replied. “I, uh… I already have plans.”

Of course you do, Chloe thought sullenly. What’s her name this time? Kalina again, or Danielle? Or Sara? Or just another nameless, boring, hot-

“Chloe?”

Chloe blinked out of her jealous thoughts to see Stacie regarding her carefully. Chloe moved quickly, stepping in front of the busty brunette, up with Fat Amy, not even saying goodbye to Beca before taking off to the elevators.

But through dinner, and at the bar after, Chloe couldn’t get her out of her head.

Where was she? Who was she with? Was she working on their song, or did she put it off? Was it important enough to her to get done right away, or did The Bellas end up in a stack of To-Dos?

Was she reading her notebook?

Was she thinking about her?

She ended up leaving her bandmates and Aubrey early, claiming she needed a good night’s sleep. She took an Uber back to the empty apartment, not even bothering with the overhead light in her room as she collapsed face-first onto her bed.

Okay, there’s only two ways out of this, she thought to herself, head still spinning from alcohol, exhaustion, and frustrating preoccupations with dark blue eyes.

I can find some scratch paper, try to write my way out of this.

It’d worked before, with modest success.

Or…

Her lower abs clenched, rolling, and she felt her hips tilt against the bed.

She’d been good, so far. She hadn’t - ahem - done a solo performance while thinking about Beca. Even while she was writing, she had held off. It would be impossible to look at Beca without blushing if she had touched herself to thoughts of them together.

But now that Beca was reading her notebook, the producer would clearly know that Chloe had imagined them together, and that was enough to make Chloe blush, too.

So, if she was going to blush either way…

Chloe groaned, turning over and pushing herself up to the pillows at the head of the bed. She grabbed her phone, scrolling to Spotify, and clicked through her playlists until she found one titled Lady Jams. She picked a song at random and set the phone next to her.

(Yes, it was one that Beca produced.)

(No, not every song on the playlist had Beca’s talent on it.)

(How many of them did? … Chloe didn’t want to check.)

Chloe stripped off her dress, sliding between the floral sheets and under her offensively pink comforter. She closed her eyes, listened to the music, and finally gave in.

And, of course, the first thought she had was of Beca’s hands.

Her own hands moved across her body as she thought about Beca behind her board. She was in the booth, again, and Beca was at the mixing table, adjusting some dial.

Thumb, and the side of her pointer, wrapping around a knob to turn it - up, down, it didn’t matter.

In her bed, with one hand, Chloe palmed her breast through her bra before holding her nipple between the two fingers herself, tweaking something.

Turning it.

Like Beca did.

Tonight, she was the mixing board, and Beca was compiling an orchestra of touch.

Chloe’s other hand slid down her stomach as Beca slid down one of the sliders, turning down the backing track, and then she was talking.

“You have to tell me what works,” she growled in Chloe’s imagination. “Tell me what makes you sound good.”

Beca twisted another knob as Chloe twisted her other nipple, and she moaned into the microphone.

“There, perfect, keep going,” Beca told her, pressing two fingers against a slider, and Chloe felt it against her pubic bone, under the thin fabric.

She flipped a switch at the top, and Chloe groaned at the nearly glancing touch.

Another slide, this one meeting no resistance as Chloe slipped a finger through her arousal. Beca was humming into the microphone, right into Chloe’s ears, as she conducted the show.

“Now, what could’ve made Chloe Beale nervous?” she chuckled darkly, and Chloe watched as Beca’s fingers traced small, strong circles on the edge of the board.

Gasping, Chloe brought a finger to clit with the same motion, doing a perfect imitation of the producer’s movements from earlier that afternoon. Beca’s wrist rose and fell as she continued moving her middle finger forward, her fingers flicking around the purposefully light pressure.

“More,” Chloe keened, and Beca slid the backing track back up. Chloe felt fingers push through her arousal, and she took them inside herself, clenching. The heel of her hand landed on her clit, and she ground against it.

“Tell me what you want,” Beca demanded.

“You know what I want,” Chloe shot back, and the hand stilled. Chloe cried out desperately.

“Tell me, or I stop.”

“I want you,” Chloe gasped. “Please.”

She was pleading - a captive to the rhythm.

“Don’t stop, please.”

Up, and down; in, and out; and maddening circles, curling inside. Chloe thrust against her hand recklessly, pushing herself, eyes locked on the producer through the glass. Beca smirked as she watched Chloe build up, like a song rising to climax.

“Put the headphones on, Chlo,” Beca demanded. “I want you to hear yourself come.”

Chloe shattered against her hand, curling into herself as she groaned loudly in the empty apartment. She tried to catch her breath as it rushed out of her.

The world came back to her.

Her sheets were tangled, and her phone was muffled under the blanket.

And she was alone.

And Beca has your notebook.

“Fuck,” she gasped between harsh, quick breaths.

Fuck, she heard Beca echo in her head.

Chapter Text

Monday came slowly.

(For no reason.)

Chloe figured that it was because The Bellas were back on their social media game. They spent all Saturday getting dressed up in different outfits just so they could film multiple trends that Jessica would release on TikTok over the next week.

(It didn’t have anything to do with the paparazzi photos that came out.)

They took google quizzes on each other, picked out who was “funniest” or “smartest” or “most likely to confuse a Diva cup for a shot glass.”

(The ones with Kalina Val hanging all over Beca, at some fancy sushi place that Chloe couldn’t even dream about going to.)

They did the most recent Taylor Swift/Celine Dion/OOTD trends.

(They arrived together, left together. Had “amazing chemistry.” Giggled as they held hands across the table.)

They all pretended to be singing so people could guess who was singing.

That one would probably be the easiest for their actual fans, considering each woman had a distinct voice.

(And Beca was wearing a suit - like a custom, fully-tailored suit. And Kalina looked really hot too.)

Lots of smiles, and posturing, and sucking in guts for Instagram selfies.

(They were rumored to be the “hot new couple of 2022.”)

By the end of the day, Chloe wasn’t the only one feeling emotionally drained. All of them went to their own apartments and rooms, choosing a quiet night alone where they didn’t have to think about each other for a while.

(Or anyone else, for that matter.)

Sunday wasn’t supposed to get any better; they’d spend the whole day with Ashley and Aubrey, getting ready for recording next week.

That, at least, kept Chloe away from the gossip sites.

They were scheduled to be in the studio every day, and Chloe didn’t know if she was going to be able to handle it. She was already dreading seeing Beca after- well, after everything. It’d be one thing if it was just a crush, but with the insane attraction, professional respect, personal distaste, jealousy, and career dependency, Chloe was about to pull her hair out.

And Beca still had her notebook.

That was what Chloe was hyper-fixated on Monday morning, as she aimlessly scrolled through Instagram while they waited for Beca. She wasn’t even seeing the posts as she held a soft focus on the screen. She wasn’t listening, either, as The Bellas and their support crew chatted excitedly.

All of Chloe’s attention was on the door of the Popcorn studio.

Had she read the whole notebook? Probably not. She said she was going to work on their song. And she had other clients besides The Bellas.

She probably didn’t even open it.

I bet she doesn’t even bring it up.

The door opened, and Chloe put an immense amount of effort into focusing on her phone. It was an ad for some indie shoe company. They weren’t even cute.

But that didn’t stop Chloe from looking at them like they were the second coming of Madonna.

“Hey, shortstack! You look like shit!”

“Fat Amy,” Beca cooed back sarcastically. “Always the charmer.”

Chloe glanced up then, seeing that Amy was right. With a smile that was more grimace than glad, Beca was back in the hoodie from last week, and the big glasses. The bun had been traded for a banana clip, and she wore athletic leggings in lieu of jeans.

And Beca wasn’t alone. The other producer - Allen - was there with her.

Aubrey barked out a laugh at the intensely casual version of their producer before she said, “Mondays aren’t your thing, are they, Miss Deejay?”

Chloe swallowed against the urge to protect Beca, to defend her. It wasn’t her job to make sure her friends weren’t mean to her.

Beca pushed the glasses up to rub the corner of her eye.

“Astute observation,” she deadpanned before taking a deep breath. “Right, so I’m not staying long. I didn’t work on Scared of Happy-”

“Too busy this weekend?” CR joked, and Amy made a series of wet kissing noises.

Beca’s eyes darted to Chloe - too fast for Chloe to make any expression beyond a general look of discomfort - and then she went on.

“I was busy, yes. I’m going to go finish it now. But I do have tracks for you guys, and I’ve got Bumper in here to help you out.”

“What is up, ladies?” the smarmy producer said, waggling his eyebrows. “Now, which of you are single again?”

“Ugh, anyone but him,” Amy groaned. “He’s worse than you are.”

“Uhhhh, no, I think-”

“Yeah,” Beca sighed as she ambled across the room. Bumper let out a noise of shock, but Beca continued.

“I know. He’s actually one of the shittiest people in the entire building. But I don’t have time, and I know better than to leave you dumbasses unattended.”

Shouts and shrieks of dismay went up around the room. Bumper and Amy immediately got in a strangely physical stand-off, and Aubrey and Stacie were attempting to quote contract over an indignant CR.

In the chaos, Chloe felt something fall into her lap. Discreetly, it seemed, Beca had carved a path to pass in front of her so she could quietly give Chloe her notebook back.

She’s just giving it back to me? Chloe thought. Already?

With no teasing, or back-handed comments?

Or compliments?

“Anyway, children,” Beca said loudly, crossing quickly to call attention back by the door, away from Chloe. Taking the hint, Chloe shoved her notebook into her bag without opening it. If Beca was being secretive, she’d go along with it.

Even if she didn’t know why.

“Get the vocals done,” Beca ordered, but it didn’t have the normal bite. The producer was obviously haggard. “Focus on building off each other, and don’t be afraid to take some risks. Try. Please. I know it’s hard to do this for days in a row, but do what you need to stay fresh. Raid our food in the lounge. Talk to Jesse if you want more - Stacie, I think you have his number? Good. - and feel free to bring in, like, movies or whatever normal people like. We’re not too busy this week, so the room shouldn’t be locked down at all. Do social media, if you have to, for some dopamine. Oh, and don’t kill each other, because it costs too much to get this room cleaned.”

She was already out of the studio by the time she finished talking.

And Chloe was more confused than ever.

She had been expecting a full week of heated glares and meaningful looks. Or, at the very least, she expected Beca to corner her to talk about what she’d written.

It was almost worse, then. Seeing Beca for thirty seconds without any actual talking.

And why had she been so secretive, giving Chloe her notebook back?

Maybe she hated it all, Chloe thought. Maybe she didn’t want to embarrass you.

But that didn’t work with everything that Beca had said before.

Beca had said she was going to go work on their song. Maybe she’d still be in the building, and she’d come find Chloe later. She was probably just hungover this morning.

Any more considerations were swiftly wiped from Chloe’s mind as Fat Amy loudly proclaimed something about doing crystal meth.

“-and then I think, mmm, better not,” she said, and the other women laughed.

“Yeah, well, I’m in charge,” Bumper asserted, being every bit the douche-b that Chloe thought he was. Fat Amy let out a loud, high-pitched non-committal noise, and Bumper doubled down.

“I want everyone here to listen to me!” he shouted. “I have very important things to say, and I’m not afraid to slap a hoe.”

“Well you damn well should be!” Aubrey responded sharply. “And do not call my performers hoes!”

Bumper only wavered for a moment before he cleared his throat.

“Beca-” he started but his voice cracked, and Fat Amy laughed loudly as he tried to go on.

“Beca put me in charge, and I’m kicking out all non-performers!” he commanded. “She did it, so I can too!”

Amy tutted condescendingly.

“Yeah, that’s not going to work,” she said. “We aren’t scared of you. You’re like a big, squishy baby.”

“I am not!”

“You are though.”

“I’m a man!”

“A boy, at best.”

“…noooo…”

Chloe sighed.

It was going to be a very long day.

**************

Days, it turned out.

Days of Bumper offering gross, disrespectful feedback as Ashley tried to give them actual, actionable advice.

Days of Jessica saying that her footage was unusable due to the unsavory comments from both sides of the mixing table.

Days of warm-ups over cold coffee.

Days without Beca.

On Thursday, Chloe finally broke with a frustrated huff.

“What is she playing at?”

Stacie raised her eyebrows from further down the expensive grey couch.

“Amy?” she asked slowly, a grin ghosting her features. “She’s planning on sleeping with him.”

CR cursed, shaking her head as Chloe shivered. She glanced into the booth of the fancy studio to see Amy laying on her side, gyrating slightly as she pursed her lips. Bumper was shouting into the mic, but Chloe had been able to tune that out since Monday afternoon.

“Can we go somewhere else?”

Stacie nodded, and the pair turned to CR to see if the buxom woman would join them. She sighed, tousling her bright red hair.

“I can’t leave Jessica alone with Prince Dickwad and the Australian equivalent of Little Mermaid,” she said, resigned. Jessica shot her a grateful look from her position up by the booth window, not even bothering to look at her screen as she recorded the loud bickering.

“I’ll make sure they don’t fuck in the booth.”

Chloe whispered a word of thanks before she and Stacie ducked out, following Stacie down the hall. They’d finished their vocals this morning - she, Stacie, and CR - but Amy hadn’t stepped into the Popcorn studio booth during the last few days.

She had demanded somewhere with “better acoustics” to accommodate her “full timbre.”

Bumper had pulled some strings to get them into the Fancy studio today, the one Beca had brought Chloe into almost two weeks ago. Chloe couldn’t tell if Bumper was trying to impress Amy, or if he had actually forgotten that she had already recorded in the other studio and it had sounded just fine.

Beca had indeed finished working on Scared of Happy on Monday, and the whole team listened as they munched on popcorn. Chloe let a smile bloom across her face as she thought back to when she heard it for the first time.

What had been a good, solid song, with trap-style hi-hats and blown out bass, was now something so much more.

Some kind of modded vocal opened the song, and a clap/snare combo started up under that, with round, sonorous keyboard. Like a kalimba, almost. It sounded like summer - clean and open, and happy. It was a great juxtaposition to the troubled lyrics. Then, on the chorus, which Beca had made into something of a pre-chorus instead, the backing became muted until it broke open into wobbling, heavy dubstep beat.

And the vocals!

Chloe wondered if they had been recording on tin cans with string before, because they sounded good on the studio equipment. Better than she expected. Better than she actually thought they would in person.

Usually, Chloe listened to their tracks dutifully, putting them on playlists with other popular songs and letting them play at least thirty seconds before skipping back to Doja Cat. She loved their songs, but she wasn’t going out of her way to listen to them.

But this one - this version… it had Chloe entranced. She listened for every ounce of sound that made it onto the final cut. She played it nonstop. She fell asleep to it, ran to it, made toast as it played through a small bluetooth speaker.

She’d probably heard it 500 times in the last three days.

Too bad it wasn’t on Spotify - although, Chloe thought suddenly, I’d rather Beca not see the metrics, lest her ego gets any bigger.

But that was part of it, too; this song was the only real glimpse of the producer that Chloe had seen in days. As far as she could tell, Beca wasn’t even in the building most of the time. Or, at least, the producer wasn’t anywhere near the studio spaces. The Bellas had taken over almost every communal space on that section of the floor, and everybody said they hadn’t seen Beca once.

Except for the interview.

It had been late last night, when Stacie sent her the clip. It was a TMZ-style video, where Chloe could see Beca walking to her car in the dark, late at night. A bright light was shining at her, probably mounted to the camera, and she squinted at it as she walked.

(In the studio parking lot, so she was here!)

“Beca Mitchell! Tell us what you’re working on!”

“Well, right now, I’m definitely firing our night security guard,” she bit sarcastically.

The guy behind the camera laughed.

“Wild horses couldn’t keep me away,” he said back, equally deadpanned, and Beca’s tense, sarcastic smile melted into a real one as she rolled her eyes.

“Besides the usual… I’ve got a new group,” Beca replied. “Bellas. They’re big on social media, I guess. I can never keep up with those things.”

“The Bellas?” the cameraman asked. “Aren’t they pretty green?”

“You can say that again,” Beca grumbled in response, and the cameraman laughed again.

“Are you whipping them into shape?”

Beca threw a devilish grin over her shoulder as she approached her SUV, pressing a button on the handle to unlock it.

“They’re putty in my hands.”

That cocky persona was back, the one Chloe despised so much, but the cameraman was eating it up. Beca opened her door and climbed into the front seat, leaving it open as she kept talking.

“They’re new to LA, and let’s just say you can tell,” she laughed. “They believe anything you feel like telling them.”

Beca shut the door, started the car, and took off as the video faded to an end.

Stacie cleared her throat, bringing Chloe back to the present.

“So I’m guessing this is about Beca.”

Chloe closed the door of the formal green room/lounge. It was a holding space for anyone whose studio wasn’t ready for them, but with Residual Heat so quiet this week, The Bellas and some of their people had set up camp. The recording studio kept it stocked with food, drink, and a plethora of media to consume.

Secluded, sound-proof, and sparsely populated with comfortably-furniture and a huge TV/sound system, it was the perfect place for them to warm up, chill, or even nap.

“Yeah,” Chloe sighed as she lowered herself onto the edge of a seat cushion.

No use denying it.

“When I see her again, I’ll kick her ass,” Stacie said as she settled into an armchair. She crossed one leg over the other delicately before leveling a stare at Chloe.

“Was it the video?”

Chloe squinted toward the corner, mouth gaping open before she shut it, then spoke.

“I mean that’s part of it,” she sighed. “Yeah, I guess that’s mostly it. She’s just so… ugh!”

Undeterred, Stacie narrowed her eyes.

“She’s a conniving, selfish, talented little hottie,” Stacie drawled. “If she wasn’t so important to you- I mean, to us-”

“Important isn’t the right word,” Chloe replied, then she laughed helplessly. “I feel her absence. I miss her. Is that stupid? We’ve known her for two weeks, and she’s been such a pig, but I’m sitting here obsessing about where she is, what she’s doing, who she’s doing… It’s driving me crazy, Stace.”

Stacie’s face fell, but she tried to hide the expression as she rolled her lips into a tight line.

“Chloe, she said it herself, in the interview,” she hummed. “She’s manipulating us.”

Chloe blew out a big breath. She knew what Stacie was saying, of course. That Beca was lying to her, to keep Chloe unsettled, to get her to perform how she needed her to. That’s what she’d said in the interview. She’d admitted it.

And yet…

Could Chloe believe everything the producer had ever said to her?

Absolutely not.

But there was something there, a kernel of truth. Some sliver of Beca that was real. Chloe knew it when Beca apologized to her last week, both in the studio and in the booth. She saw it when they had worked together on that song, when Beca watched her sing.

Whatever she was thinking must have been written all over her face, because Stacie sighed impatiently.

“Maybe you could try writing about it?” she tried instead. “I know Beca still has your notebook, but you could-”

“Actually,” Chloe started, then stopped. It’d been days since Beca had given her the notebook back, and Chloe had been too tired to write, so she forgot about the book she’d shoved into her bag on Monday.

But Beca had been so weird about giving it back, and if Stacie didn’t even notice…

Maybe she was supposed to keep it a secret?

“-that’s a really good idea,” Chloe finished, standing up suddenly. “I’m going to go… somewhere. Maybe down the street or something. I’m just going to try find somewhere I can work some of this out. Alone.”

Chloe shouldered her bag and started out of the room, stopping in the doorway to turn back to Stacie.

“I know I sound like a lunatic,” she said. “I love you. Thank you for listening to me when I can’t even make sense of all this craziness in my head.”

Stacie rolled her eyes as she pulled a nail file out of her pocket.

“Duh,” she replied, starting in on her nails. “I’m, like, your best friend. Just let me know when you bed the egomaniac, and be ready to tell me all the deets. I bet she’s incredible with her-”

Chloe didn’t wait for Stacie to finish, slamming her hands over her ears and humming loudly as she walked out of the lounge. As she closed the door, she looked both ways down the hall.

Where should I go?

Her mind racing, jaw tight, she started off towards the lobby stairs. She wanted to be alone, not sitting in some LA coffee shop like a wannabe. Without thinking, she turned, at the bottom of the stairs, going behind the lobby.

This is stupid, it’s going to be locked.

But when she tried the handle, the Broom Closet studio was open. And empty, which was relief.

A relief… right. I wasn’t expecting her to be here or anything.

She turned on the overhead light, choosing to sit at the stool at the desk in lieu of the couch for the moment. She threw her bag on the couch, though, after pulling her notebook out and setting it on the mixing board in front of her.

She flipped towards the back, words already brimming off the top of her conscious, but something caught her eye.

Red ink.

She turned back slowly.

Lots of red ink.

Around her words, scribbled in the margins in concise, messy scrawl.

“Reminds me of early Lady Gaga.”

She turned another page back.

“Too repetitive, but I’m willing to hear it if you have a melody. Guessing you do, since it’s the same thing over and over.”

Back, again.

“I like this one, but it’s not enough. Maybe we can get a feature? We could get Bieber to help. He owes me a favor.”

All over her notebook, Beca had made little notes. Compliments, comments, fixes, concerns. Like a complete map of her thought process as a producer. Every page had something, that careful red tucked into a corner, or up in the header by the date. She had edited the words in some sections, and had even completed some of the stanzas that Chloe had written, adding new verses to half-finished songs.

Even the sexy ones had notes, but they weren’t gross like Chloe expected. They were purely asexual comments on structure, word choice, or production ideas.

Heat burst over Chloe’s neck and chest.

Beca must have spent hours pouring over her notebook, over her words. Every comment was like a window into the producer’s mind. Chloe started from the beginning, where her earliest works were - works that pre-dated Beca, and LA, back when The Bellas first met - and even those had notes.

She was reading before she could decide if she was upset or not.

Two hours later, Chloe arrived at the last passage she’d written and turned to the next page. Beca had taken the liberty of writing a full note on this page. Chloe took a deep breath before she started reading it.

“Hey Chloe Beale,

I’m sorry. I really couldn’t help myself. I was just reading them when I started, I swear. I was making my notes somewhere else, to talk to you about later. But then I got to the song we worked on together, and I just had to tell you what I’d been thinking about. And then the next one, I knew exactly what you were going for, so I added some stuff and then… man. I really hope you aren’t mad at me, but I basically ruined this notebook haha. That’s so screwed up. Shit. I shouldn’t even give this back to you. Maybe I’ll tell you I spilled coffee on it. Or burned it. I’ll just keep it and never tell you the truth.

Only problem, we wouldn’t get to make these songs then. Or we could, but I’d have to explain how I have every line memorized. That might be just as embarrassing as giving this back to you.

I’ll give you the notebook back. This stuff is too good to hide.

Come find me if you don’t hate me. I’ll be in my office til Wednesday at least.

- BM”

“Oh my gosh!”

Chloe jumped up from her chair, throwing her notebook into her bag.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” she shouted, throwing open the door to the Broom Closet door as she sprinted down the hall, up the back staircase. She flew up the stairs, two at a time, and burst in through the side door of Beca’s office.

It was empty.

Chloe was panicking. She didn’t know what she was feeling, she just knew she needed to see Beca.

Now.

She ran out the other door of the office, into the hallway, and directly into Jesse.

“Chloe!” he said quizzically. “Fancy seeing you here, so far away from the studio… can I help you with something?”

“Where’s Beca?”

Jesse looked behind Chloe, towards the open door behind her, and sighed.

“Well, it looks like we’re both out of luck,” he replied, pushing a hand through his short hair. “She must’ve left town already.”

Chloe inhaled sharply.

“She’s gone?”

“For a week, yeah,” Jesse explained reluctantly.

Chloe felt pressure building up behind her eyes, and her face flushed. She didn’t know, she didn’t read it in time, and now Beca was gone-

“Her number,” Chloe exclaimed, and Jesse jumped. “I need her phone number. I need to talk to her.”

“I don’t think-”

“Ask her, then, if you can give me her number.”

He sighed again.

“She’s on the plane until late tonight,” he said. But one look at Chloe’s puppy-dog eyes, and the man was nodding.

“I’ll shoot her a message, and I’ll let you know tomorrow,” he said, head bobbing. “I just- she’s so scary. Once I gave her number to Ye and she got mad at me, ya know?”

Chloe laughed breathlessly. Yeah, that sounds like Beca.

“Is there anything else?”

Chloe shook her head, saying goodbye before she made her way back through the producer’s wing in a zombified state. She stopped in the lounge, finding it empty, and finally thought to check her phone.

It was already after four. They were probably wrapping up for the day. She went into her messages, finding a recent one from Stacie saying that they were all in the Fancy studio, packing up. She went that way, hearing Bumper before she opened the door.

I thought these things were supposed to be sound-proof.

“-so we basically just have some more ad-libs and Amy’s other dumb vocals tomorrow,” he was saying. Amy, for once, let the comment go. “So it should be a pretty chill day. Good shit, slutbags!”

“Hey, Chlo,” Stacie greeted her as everyone moved towards the door. “How’d writing go? And why are you so pale?”

Chloe took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

“I need a drink.”

It was later, when all nine girls were packed around a table at the bar near their apartments, that Chloe threw her notebook on the table.

“Ladies, this is a crisis,” she chirped. She downed half of her drink and put her head in her hands.

“Beca gave it back?” Stacie asked. “When?”

“On Monday,” Chloe said as she pushed the book across the table. CR picked it up slowly, shooting a questioning look at Chloe before opening it. Flo leaned to read over her shoulder, as did Aubrey, briefly, before resuming focus on Chloe.

“Wait, since when do you let anyone read your notebook?” Aubrey asked skeptically.

Amy laughed as she took a large swig of her drink.

“Since she decided she wanted some of that surly twat.”

Aubrey sniffled disapprovingly while the other women laughed.

“Shiiiiit, Red,” CR cursed as she read. Flo’s eyes were wide next to her. “These lyrics are hot.”

Chloe blushed as Jessica and Ashley jumped up from their stools, moving around to stand behind CR. Lilly didn’t move, and neither did Stacie as the tall brunette regarded Chloe severely.

“Bree, I gave it to her last week, after our writing session,” the redhead explained hurriedly. “She wanted to see what else I’d written, so I gave it to her.”

“And you didn’t think to tell me?”

Chloe inhaled to speak but stopped short. She’d let Aubrey read some of her stuff, early on, but she hadn’t let her read anything recently. She could tell her friend was hurt.

“She’s the expert,” Chloe said softly. “I trusted her- her professional opinion.”

“Who added the red notes?” Flo asked. “They are also a very good writer.”

Chloe went to answer, but Stacie got there first.

“Give me that,” she pulled the book from CR’s hands, and the group cried out in protest.

“It was just getting good!” Ashley whined.

“Did you see the note in extra lines?”

“No! What did it say?”

The other women went on as Stacie opened the notebook on the table, laying it out for everyone to see. Everyone leaned in to read as Stacie read it aloud.

“’This gave me chills, literally so, so, good,’” she said incredulously. “'If we don’t use it, I’ll buy it for Halsey.’”

The table went silent as realization set in. Chloe stared at her glass as she moved her little straw around the drink.

Nobody spoke up, so Chloe did.

“I didn’t open it until today,” she said. “There’s hundreds of notes in there. Some of them are like that. There’s some extra lyrics, too. Revisions and questions. And an apology for ruining my writings with her comments.”

“Pretty ballsy of shortstack,” Amy offered, sucking at the ice around where her drink used to be.

“Anything in there about her wanting to rock your world, non-platonically?”

Chloe shook her head.

Silence resumed as Stacie continued to turn pages, and in that silence, Chloe took stock of her emotional well-being.

Or, lack there-of.

She was so confused. The comments that Beca had left- sure, they were a little braggy, with all the name-drops. But the lyrics, and the revisions… even without hearing them, Chloe knew they were perfect. Like, billboard-topping perfect. The ideal blend between real and catchy, alluring but predictably coy. They were the type of lyrics that she’d come to expect from a Beca Mitchell song.

And some of them, she could swear they were about her.

Like the one she finished, about Chloe following her down the hall, where Beca had continued the motif. A teasing line about coming to the dark side, and a promise to be good that could be playful or sexy, but then the lyrics shut it down, saying “I don’t expect you to see / I’m trying to protect you from me.”

It was like Beca was speaking to her.

“‘Can’t wait to hear this,’” Ashley read aloud.

“‘Like Taylor, but better,’” Jessica added, reaching a hand over CR to point to the next comment.

Aubrey silenced them with a harsh hand movement, and, gesturing to Stacie, motioned for her to shut the book. After a moment, the brunette obliged, folding the book closed.

“Okay,” Aubrey said carefully. “Chloe, put the book away for now. Amy, Stacie, more drinks. Shots. Tequila.”

Multiple sets of brows went up, but Aubrey ignored them as she stared at Chloe.

“You’re going to tell us everything,” she threatened. “And we’re going to figure this out.”

Chapter Text

“Chloe!”

Chloe looked up from the floor outside of the Fancy studio. She couldn’t go far, because of the ad-libbing she might have to do, but she couldn’t spend another second inside.

And she wasn’t alone. Even Jessica had taken to filming TikToks from the other side of the “sound-proofed” glass.

Jesse was the one who had called to her, as he came across the hall, with a full-gait and open arms. Chloe saw her friends stiffen around her as she stood up.

“I have that phone number for you,” he said, glancing around. “Why are you all out here? Is there something wrong with the studio?”

CR scoffed.

“Yeah, there’s two crazy narcissists in there,” she groaned, and the other women laughed sullenly.

Jesse looked through the window to see that Bumper and Fat Amy were engaged in a pillow fight, using couch cushions as shields as they squared off across the room. They were also screaming at each other.

“If I had a burrito, I’d throw it at you!” Bumper’s muffled voice came through the glass.

“That doesn’t even make any sense!” Amy roared as she charged.

“But now I’m hungry AND angry!”

“We should really get better glass, huh?” Jesse said to the group, most of whom hadn’t even gotten up from their spots on the hallway floor.

Murmurs of assent were his only response.

“A phone number?” Chloe asked impatiently. She rolled up onto her tiptoes to look at Jesse’s phone in his hand.

Jesse tore his gaze away from the studio.

“Yeah,” he replied, scrolling through his phone. He pulled up the right number and handed it to Chloe so that she could copy it into her own phone. “She said, and I quote, ‘whatever’.”

“Thanks,” Chloe said, saving the contact. She worried a lip between her teeth, avoiding pointed stares from every other person in the hallway.

“Can I get you all anything else?” Jesse asking, ever the host. He looked between them expectantly. “Food’s good?”

“We’re good, cutie,” Stacie said with a wink. “I’ll text you if we need anything.”

With a coy smile, Jesse made his exit, and Chloe felt her friends still staring at her.

“It happened,” Jessica said excitedly.

“We knew it would,” CR replied, rolling her eyes. “You read the same ‘producer’ notes I did, didn’t you?”

The remaining women nodded, except for Stacie, who was watching Chloe warily. The redhead’s gaze was fixed on the phone, on the contact that was still pulled up.

“You have to text her,” Stacie started to say, then stopped, adopting a gentler tone instead.

“Remember, we talked about this: it’s about controlling the situation. You can’t change her behavior, but you can change how you react to it. It’s not going to go away, this thing between you two. Communication is key. Don’t forget to tell her what you’re feeling, because she seems to respond to that in a way that’s almost human instead of her goblin-like, nasty little-”

“Legs,” CR warned her, and Stacie cut off. The brunette shook her hair off her shoulders before she squared them.

“Slow, and communicative,” she said with an air of finality. “That’s what Aubrey said. That’s the only way you could come out of this thing without extensive emotional scarring.”

“I know,” Chloe said quickly, too quickly, and she clicked on the message icon.

Hi, she wrote. It’s Chloe.

Without thinking, she hit send.

Her friends heard the text-sending sound, and Chloe could’ve sworn she felt their collective inhale. Immediately, she was on edge.

Beale, she typed out and sent.

At the second whoosh, the whole group groaned.

“You double-texted?! On the first text?” Stacie groaned. “Chloe Beale you are down bad!”

“It’s a joke!” Chloe pleaded. “It’s, like, an inside joke between us!”

“That doesn’t matter!” CR jumped in.

“It’s a cardinal sin!” Ashley added.

“Even I am aware of the implications,” Flo said softly, placing a hand on Chloe’s elbow. “You have made a grave mistake.”

“Grave is a relative term,” Lilly whispered over Chloe’s shoulder, and the redhead jumped at the quiet woman’s apparent nearness.

The way they were acting, after everything they’d discussed last night - not to mention the lingering hangover - made Chloe nervous. What if they were right? What if Beca thought that this was some kind of-

Her phone buzzed in her hand.

lol, the message read. hey chlo

She heaved a sigh of relief as the women crowded around her to read over her shoulder.

“No no,” Chloe shouted, moving across the hall, away from their prying eyes. “I’m going away. Call me if you need me.”

Amongst various cries of disappointment, Chloe moved down the hallway. Past the bathroom, and around the corner, trying to figure out where to go.

I was going to go write, she wrote into the message with Beca. Where should I go?

The three dots popped up, signifying Beca’s typing, and Chloe felt her breath catch. She was talking to Beca. One on one. She could text her anything, and the producer would see it. Respond, maybe, even.

The dots disappeared.

The dots reappeared for a long moment.

you can go in my office

Chloe flushed.

That’s not weird, is it? she typed back, even as she was walking towards the producer’s office. She nodded towards a few of the people she recognized before ducking down the hallway, stepping into Beca’s space and pulling the door closed behind her.

idk, you tell me, the producer responded. I heard you were snooping yesterday

Snooping is a cruel word, Chloe sent back. …where should I sit?

in my chair

duh

Chloe stepped behind the desk, surveying the room from the new angle, before settling into the barely-worn leather. From this angle, Chloe realized, she couldn’t see any of the awards behind her, or the fancy photos. All she could see was the empty furniture in front of her, where the artist would presumably be sitting. That felt better, at least, but it didn’t completely absolve the nagging feeling that this space didn’t feel like Beca.

She was about to text the producer her sentiments, but she changed her mind.

I read your notes, she typed out.

The dots appeared and disappeared again.

all of them?

Mmhm.

Dots, then no dots, then dots. Then nothing. For almost a minute, Chloe stared at the screen, willing something to appear but nothing did. She held back as long as she could before she added.

I’m not mad.

Dots again, and then a simple ok message popped up.

And Chloe couldn’t help but be frustrated by the short response.

Especially after the producer had been so expressive in writing before.

I mean, you did ruin my notebook, she sent over, then added, There’s a whole page I can’t use now.

did you have any specific plans for page 53

Chloe bit back a laugh. Of course, of course the producer would not only know the specifics of the notebook, but also be kind of a jerk when teasing her about it.

I did, actually, she snapped back. It was intended to house my magnum opus.

Beca sent back a shocked face emoji, and this time Chloe let the laugh flow freely. This version of Beca - the one that was playful, without being demeaning - this was one that she liked.

Or, at least, that was how she was reading these.

Beca could’ve be behaving exactly the same, with the same amount of disrespect. Through texting, though, it was just more… something. What, Chloe didn’t know.

Palatable?

Understood?

Cute?

She settled on palatable.

what were you doing in my office anyway? Beca asked. stealing industry secrets?

Chloe huffed and began typing back.

Conceited much? she replied. I was looking for you. I didn’t read the notebook until yesterday afternoon, so I didn’t see the last note.

I know

The message came quickly, and Chloe was puzzled. She was about to ask how the producer knew that when Beca responded again.

I figured you’d find me either way - to yell at me, or to talk about it

you seem like the type to *always* want to talk about it

so when you didn’t show up, I guessed you hadn’t read it yet

now I know that you were going to talk, not yell

… right?

Chloe giggled as the slew of texts came through. She knew she shouldn’t - that she wasn’t guarded enough, that she needed to be on alert, on defense. But she couldn’t. She hadn’t been with Beca since the beginning, and she was having trouble starting now.

She wondered if the producer had her thumb between her teeth, like she did when she was nervous. She wondered if she was tugging at the tough skin by her thumbnail, if her leg was bobbing up and down as she stared at her phone.

And then she thought about Beca’s question, about how she was going to respond to Beca’s notes.

What was she going to do yesterday, had she found Beca?

Yell? Demand an explanation?

I don’t know what I was feeling, she answered honestly. I still don’t.

but you’re not mad

Chloe thought about it.

Was she mad, that Beca had made notes all over her notebook?

No, she replied. I’m not mad.

And before she let that thread pull any further, Chloe changed the subject.

Don’t you have things that you’re supposed to be doing? Are you being a jerk in a meeting?

Or are you on vacation?

Chloe watched as the dots appeared and disappeared again, and she wondered what Beca was actually up to.

It seemed the producer had a lot to say but loved to change her mind.

business, came the response. but the boat drives itself at this point

Chloe rolled her eyes, the snarky response flowing out of her before she could stopper it.

But not with The Bellas, right? We’re “pretty green”? We need all the help that you so graciously give?

No dots this time, and Chloe wondered if she had hit a sore spot. Well, good, she thought sullenly. She deserves a taste of her own medicine.

I’m sorry, the message blipped onto her screen. that was rude to say about your friends

Chloe stared at the message for a full twenty seconds before responding.

Not me?

no

The response was instantaneous, as was the follow-up message.

not you

Chloe could feel both of them staring at their screens. She was rereading the messages, and she could feel Beca holding, waiting to see what Chloe would ask or say or push. Waiting for Chloe’s response, letting the redhead control what happened next.

But Chloe bailed out.

I really should get to writing, she sent.

Beca was typing, and then stopped again, and Chloe was about to blow up at her. Just say what you want to say! she thought. Just… ugh! Just talk like a normal human being!

we could talk about notes, if you want?

So Beca didn’t want this conversation to end.

That was new.

Chloe thought about it for a moment. What was she going to write about, anyway? Did she have anything new to write? Maybe some, about her friends, but she knew that was getting repetitive. Maybe about how they helped her last night, but that would end up being about Beca again.

She’d end up writing about Beca in general.

And why should she do that when she could just talk to the producer instead?

Sure, she replied. Wanna explain why you ruined a perfect good metaphor with overtly sexual lyrics?

which time

The smile came back to Chloe’s face, and it didn’t leave for the rest of the day.

Nobody in-studio called her - either because they didn’t need her, or because they wanted to give her privacy. Beca continued to text her, and, when Chloe started sending voice memos, the producer’s notes got even more involved. Then Beca started sending some voice memos of her own, and Chloe was responding with voice memos where she defended herself or elucidated a point, and Beca was starting to talk on hers instead of just singing.

Eventually it got to the point where they couldn’t work as fast as their messages allowed, but Beca said that she couldn’t talk right then, so they decided to set up a call for later that evening.

A call for which Chloe was now incredibly nervous.

They had finished at the studio, and the other women wanted to go out to celebrate, but Chloe told them that she had planned to call Beca that evening and wouldn’t be able to attend. Aubrey openly gasped, and CR just shook her head as Flo and Ashley ducked together, whispering fervently.

“We’re just going to talk about music,” Chloe explained, but she was met with a chorus of guffaws.

“And hell is just a sauna!” Aubrey shot back.

“They’ve been texting all day, babe,” Stacie said softly, laying a hand on Aubrey’s arm.

Aubrey’s brow furrowed as she regarded Chloe.

“You’re going to be upfront? You’re going to establish boundaries, both professionally and personally?”

Chloe nodded, feeling an immense glowing of fondness for her best friend. Aubrey wasn’t always the most approachable, or the most lovable or funny. But she was loyal, and that loyalty was unwavering. She was fierce, and defensive, and she wouldn’t allow anything but top-notch respect for the people in her life that she held in high esteem. And to be considered among those few, from someone as discerning as Aubrey Posen, Chloe considered herself lucky. Very lucky, and at times, undeserving of the attention.

“I promise,” Chloe replied solemnly. “I won’t let you down.”

Aubrey gave a true, open smile, followed by a determined nod as she turned down their street to drop Chloe off at their apartments.

And then Chloe was alone.

She climbed the stairs slowly, knowing that time was the only determinant in easing her anxiety.

Would Beca call, or should she? It was only ten til, but what time was it where Beca was? Was it later there, or earlier?

She read back through the end of their text messages. They had circled back around to talking about the song that started all of this, the one that they worked on in the Broom Closet studio. Beca had wanted to hear the bridge again, as she was already moving forward with some ideas, but Chloe said there were much better pieces they should explore first. So they had set up the call, idea being that Chloe could sing the ones that she liked better.

With the knowledge that she was going to sing, Chloe headed towards the kitchen and began pouring herself some water.

But she had barely pulled the Brita filter from the fridge when her phone started ringing.

She fumbled with the water jug, setting it on the counter next to her glass as she grabbed for her phone. She brushed a few strands of hair off her forward and clicked the green button.

“You’re early,” Chloe said, then cringed. Why was she so awkward when it came to Beca?

“By four minutes?” Beca’s amused tone lilted through the phone. “I didn’t realize your schedule was so tight.”

Chloe cradled the phone between her shoulder and her ear, reaching out for the pitcher of water to continue her task.

“I didn’t realize you were capable of being on-time,” she teased, and Beca scoffed in response.

“I’ll have you know, I am known for my perfect timing,” the producer replied, affronted. Chloe could hear that smirk re-entering the conversation, though, when Beca added, “Just, not in the mornings.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” Chloe said, bringing her glass up to her lips. The water was nice and cold, but it did nothing to soothe her nerves.

It was going to be excruciating, she realized, talking to Beca on the phone. They had such a weird amount of history already - and so much of it was heavy with subtext and outright sexual text - and she was just supposed to be normal? Just talk on the phone, with that husky yet mellifluous voice purring right into her ear?

Even though they were miles away, Chloe knew that Beca could make it feel like she was right there, if she wanted to, right up against the shell of Chloe’s ear.

She took in a breath suddenly, and Beca started to say something, but Chloe cut her off.

“So music?”

Beca faltered, pulling her words back harshly, then let out a deep breath.

“Sure,” she replied, and Chloe couldn’t place the tone. Maybe there was a sigh, maybe of relief? If she could only see the brunette-

“So obviously we’re doing Flex, and then I was thinking-”

“Hold on,” Chloe cut her off, her frustration overwhelming her empathy for a moment. “That’s not the name of the song. And since when are you naming my songs?”

She heard the producer give a frustrated huff.

“I’m guessing you want to name it All in My Head?”

Chloe gave her own huff back before saying, “Only because it’s the real name of the song.

Something shifted over the phone’s microphone, and Chloe could hear Beca adjusting something. Then pencil on paper, as Beca started writing something down.

“And I still don’t think it’s the best one,” Chloe went on. “What about the one about moving? Or the one that’s like Wannabe by Spice Girls, you said you loved that one.”

Girlfriends? Yeah, the lyrics were good,” Beca agreed. “But the melody needs work.”

“Stop naming my songs! And I only sang a tiny piece earlier!”

“Well then sing more!”

So Chloe started going through the melody which, to Beca’s credit, was a bit monotonous. But with Beca’s help, they were able to bring out some cool octave intervals in the first verse. By the end, Chloe was sure that Beca could be convinced to keep the song in rotation.

“We need a song about us. About The Bellas,” Chloe insisted as they came to an end, and Beca hummed noncommittally.

“They don’t sell as well,” she pushed back. Chloe could hear papers shuffling around as Beca added, “Consumers like drama. They want passion.”

Chloe huffed.

“Well, our fans like that we’re all actually friends,” she replied. “They like that we sing about that kind of thing.”

“Fine,” Beca relented. “You can have Girlfriends. But I want to hear Eating Me Up.

Chloe pushed her tongue against her cheek as she flipped to the song. The song that Beca was referring to - the one that didn’t have a name yet - was one of the more obvious Beca songs. One for which she had only had a single verse, and one that Beca had added a second verse to.

There were homages to the helplessness Chloe felt in regards to Beca, especially physically. Beca had doubled down on the imagery, placing the singer (presumably Chloe) on her knees like she “prayed” to the object of her affections.

But there were also outright accusations that the producer was lying to her, which Beca had conveniently ignored in her verse.

“I only have the melody for my part,” she hedged, and she heard Beca breathing evenly on the other end of the line. But she could hear it, which meant that maybe Beca was breathing harder than normal.

“That’s fine,” Beca said carefully. “I kept the same meter, we’ll see if it works.”

Chloe ran a finger through the condensation on her glass, then pressed the liquid into her notebook page.

"But there isn’t a bridge.”

“So we’ll write one,” Beca gritted out impatiently. “I want to hear the song, Beale.”

“Okay, okay,” Chloe sighed. She tested a few notes to see what key she liked best. Beca sighed into the phone.

“Quit stalling.”

“I’m not stalling,” Chloe shot back defensively, even though she totally was. “Why do you want to hear it so bad anyway?”

She waited for an answer, but Beca didn’t give it, so Chloe took a deep breath and began to sing. She sang through a trial type of melody; nothing fancy, as she stayed high for most of the verse, lifting up at some of the phrases and falling down on the others. When she got to the pre-chorus, she dropped low, then popped back up as she flew into the chorus.

She got to Beca’s words and stopped. Neither of them said anything until Beca broke the silence with a cough.

“Can you sing the verse again? Slower?”

Chloe fought the urge to bite through her lip as she started again. Again, she rounded out the words and stopped, waiting for Beca to say something.

“Now the whole thing?”

Chloe thought about stopping her, about pushing back, but she held her tongue. It was hard to sing anything to Beca - much less songs about her - but at least this was better than having to do it in person.

And it was a normal, professional conversation.

Even if it wasn’t.

She sang through the verse again, and through to the chorus, only dimly aware that Beca had started humming underneath. Tonal, low notes - like an upright bass - and the way the phone was positioned, the way the humming shot straight through her…

Maybe this isn’t better than in-person.

Just as Chloe was finishing the chorus, Beca started singing the next verse.

About being on her knees.

About ending up in her hands.

A full-body shiver shook through Chloe as she realized they would never have a normal, healthy working relationship. That even if Beca stopped flirting - or doing whatever she was doing - Chloe was never going to react to her in a way that could be construed as professional.

She gripped the countertop, tilting forward on the stool underneath her. She hoped she didn’t make a noise.

Beca finished her rendition of the pre-chorus on a ragged breath.

“-and then we’d just go back to the chorus,” she said, her voice quieter, almost a whisper. Chloe forced her fingers to relax, her arms thrumming with potential energy.

“I don’t know if I can sing that one,” she said softly, more-so to herself than to the producer on the phone. It was too much. All in My Head was about implication, and it was playful. But this one was explicit in the imagery. Incredibly potent imagery, when Beca was singing it to her, deep in her ear, when she was in her apartment alone.

She didn’t think she’d ever hear it without thinking of the little break in Beca’s voice, over the third line.

No music, no audience.

Just Beca.

Beca, singing Beca’s words, about being on her knees…

“Hey- Chloe, are you there?”

Chloe blinked rapidly, coming back to the present moment.

“If it’s too much, if you don’t want to sing it - we won’t do it,” Beca said gently. “I’m serious. You’re the one who calls the shots around here, not me. I’m just trying to- to help you. Help the Bellas. I’m trying to give you guys the best chance for success. Because that is a good ass song.”

The coil of arousal that had spiraled tight in her gut blossomed into butterflies as the producer spoke.

“I knew you were a good person under all that snark,” she giggled before she could stop herself.

Beca guffawed, but Chloe wasn’t having it. She pushed away from the counter, abandoning the instability of a stool in favor of the worn, college couch that came from their old apartment.

“No, really,” she claimed. “You’re patient, and attentive, and smart. It’s… refreshing. To see this side of you.”

That sweet laugh came back down the line, and Chloe felt herself smiling again as her stomach flipped over itself.

“Oh, so you don’t just want me for my body?” Beca teased, and Chloe returned her laugh.

“Because I read those lyrics, Beale. I knew you were hot for me.”

Chloe rolled her eyes, but her stomach wasn’t done somersaulting. It could probably compete in the summer Olympics, if it kept up the way it was going.

“Well, when we met the way we did…”

Chloe trailed off as Beca inhaled sharply. Even over the phone, Chloe could tell the tone shifted. Her stomach dropped, lower, sitting deep in her abdomen, against sensitive parts of herself that had been on high alert all day.

She sat up a little straighter on the couch, bracing herself.

“You mean when I pinned you against that sound board?”

It was Chloe’s turn to inhale sharply, replaying the moment in her head. Beca, pressed up against her. Her breath on her neck.

From the corner of her conscious, she remembered that this was a professional call, but she banished the thought away as her core pulsed.

“Yeah,” she breathed, and she knew what it sounded like. She knew Beca could hear the bated anticipation, the breathless excitement.

“When I held my body against yours,” Beca hummed. Her voice had dropped so low that it rumbled through Chloe through the small phone speaker, like she was humming directly into her ear.

“When I dropped my head to your neck, like I was going to taste you.”

Stop, a little voice that sounded like Aubrey said to her. Turn it off.

But things had been turned on for a while now.

She laid back against the couch, keenly aware of every nerve on her body where it connected to something else. She switched her phone to her off hand as ran her dominant hand over her stomach.

What did Beca say earlier, that the boat drove itself at this point?

Her hand passed a particularly sensitive spot at the bottom of her ribs, and Chloe gave Beca an affirmative noise, a cross between a hum and a moan, and Beca chuckled.

“I wanted to, you know,” she continued. “I wanted to capture your pulse, under my lips. I wanted to suck my mark into your skin.”

The flirting, the innuendos, the singing... Chloe let herself succumb. Like a current, it took Chloe under, and she let herself tell Beca the truth.

“I wanted you to,” she whispered, hand skipping up her side, over her shirt.

“What else did you want me to do?”

An out, just like before. Beca’s breaths were coming out in subtle pants, but Chloe could hear it.

Take the out!

She laughed - a dark, low noise, one she swore she’d never made before - and then she sighed.

“I wanted you to take me,” she admitted quietly. “I wanted to know what gave all those other women, what made them want to come back.”

Beca groaned at Chloe’s confession before she asked, “And now?”

Now?

Chloe wanted everything.

“I still want to know,” she said. “I want to hear the noises you make when you’re turned on, and I want- I want to feel your fingers on my skin.”

Another dark chuckle from Beca, and she let out a tortured, short moan.

“Well I can only help with one of those right now,” she groaned. She sucked in a breath, like she was going to add something else, and Chloe waited.

And waited.

Suspended on the crisp edge of her arousal, finger against her breast bone, tracing a delicate, familiar circle into the sensitive skin.

And just when she was about to break the tension, to cut off this god-awful suspension, Beca blew out her breath.

“But you can use your own fingers.”

“I could,” Chloe breathed in relief, even though her body ratcheted up three more gears. A momentary lapse, but like a manual transmission, it lurched forward - higher, faster, harder.

More more more.

“You could,” Beca sighed, and Chloe could hear the smirk in Beca’s voice. For once, she didn’t care.

“And I could,” the brunette added. “I’d like to, I mean. I plan to, unless…?”

Chloe answered Beca’s plea with a breathy, gasping moan as she slipped her hand down her front, releasing the button on her jeans. She groaned out a “yes” as she pushed further, past her pubic bone, crowded against her the fabric of her pants.

“I thought of you that night, when I was with her,” Beca sighed, her voice hitching as she did something on the other end of the line, and as Chloe finally pushed a finger down onto her clit, she stopped. Suddenly she needed to know what was happening, what Beca was doing. What they were doing, together.

“I don’t care about her,” she grunted. “Where are you hands?”

Beca laughed breathlessly.

“You first, Chloe Beale.”

At the sound of her name, Chloe rolled her hips against her stagnant finger.

“You’re such a brat,” she jeered somewhat playfully. She wriggled uncomfortably, attempting to push her jeans down just a little, just beyond her hips, barely succeeding in creating just a little bit of space at the apex of her thighs.

“Tell me,” Beca pleaded desperately, a far cry away from where she was just a moment ago. Maybe she was as turned on as Chloe was.

“Please.”

Finally, Chloe had maneuvered her pants off of her hips, keeping them wrapped around her thighs as she laid out long-ways on the old couch. She giggled triumphantly, at last feeling the slightest bit of power as Beca groaned down the phone connection. She repeated her plea, and Chloe smiled broadly as she brought fingers back to herself, over her soaked underwear.

“Such good manners,” she teased, but her voice broke as she pressed harder, faster.

More more more.

“Where’s this version of Beca when we’re in the studio?”

“She clutching the edge of the table, trying not to come at the sound of your voice,” Beca moaned, and Chloe reached up, pushed her fingers into her panties instead as a fresh wave of arousal coated her fingers.

“Fuck, Beale, I can’t- I can’t-”

“I’m laying on the couch,” Chloe stated hurriedly, feeling her own climax building rapidly now that she had cleared the obstacles. “My jeans are pushed down, and the only thing keeping my panties from sticking to me is the fact that I have my fingers in the way.”

Beca moaned loudly into the phone.

“You’re wet?” she asked, and Chloe barked out a laugh in response.

“Incredibly,” she answered, even though Beca could probably hear how wet she was. Chloe dipped a finger into her opening and felt the way her hips chased the sensation. It wouldn’t be long now, and yet-

“I wish I was there,” Beca panted. If Chloe could, she’d try to listen harder, to hear Beca pleasure herself, but she couldn’t focus on anything other than the way her body began to tense.

“I’d have two fingers pressed deep, deep inside-”

Chloe pressed two fingers into herself, moaning at the sensation.

“And I’d have my mouth against your neck, like I did that first night, like I’ve wanted to do every day since,” Beca went on. Through the groans and moans, Chloe could hear Beca smiling, and she tried to savor it as she ground up against her hand, seeking friction, seeking more.

“You’re so- fucking- precious when you smile,” Beca groaned, and her voice - Chloe knew Beca was about to come, that she was at the precipice, that it wouldn’t take much for the brunette to follow her over, if she could just-

“I bet you smile when you come,” she whined. “I bet you- fuck - I bet you moan- in key. I bet you-”

But Beca didn’t have to bet anymore.

Because Chloe broke apart roughly, loudly, groaning out a rough curse.

The idea that Beca had thought about her, was currently and possibly often thinking about the way she came, picturing Chloe breaking apart under her…

Yeah.

That was enough to send her over.

Chloe’s release had Beca breaking too, as her moan trailing up- up, higher than Chloe’s, and she gasped at the top before swearing back down.

“Fuck, I mean fuck Chloe,” Beca breathed, and Chloe rasped out a breathless laugh.

“I didn’t think you’d be so vocal,” she sighed as she sucked in a deep breath, holding her fingers against herself as her clit thudded rapidly.

“My mouth is usually occupied,” Beca groaned. Chloe flushed at the thought as she heard Beca sit back, adjusting something around her.

They sat in silence together, listening to each other breath for a minute as they both came down from their highs. Chloe began to move her fingers slowly, carefully - just enough to keep the good feeling, and she melted into the touch.

“So I didn’t get the full treatment?” Chloe asked playfully, and she heard Beca laugh.

“No, not yet,” she warned, and Chloe heated at the suggestion in her tone. “In fact, I’d say you got shafted. You didn’t even get the part you lust after - this smokin’ hot bod.”

Chloe giggled, and she heard Beca laugh too. Their post-coital bliss held a shared vulnerability, and Chloe felt herself leaning into it.

“It’s not about that,” she said seriously. “Not really. It’s about the power you have over me. The respect I have for your work. Even in the songs about sex, it’s not really about sex. It’s the pull. It’s magnetic. It’s the way I can’t help myself.”

Beca was quiet for a few seconds, and Chloe let her eyes close as she pulled her fingers off of herself. She was content to just lay there, listening to Beca breath.

“Yeah,” Beca said finally. There was an edge to her voice, something darker, but not in the way Chloe had heard before. Chloe’s eyes flew open.

“What’s-”

“It’s not fair,” Beca said quickly, and that tone - Chloe could recognize it now.

Regret.

“Beca-”

“I gotta go, Chlo,” she said sharply, her voice distant, wavering. “I’m sorry, we shouldn’t-”

“Beca, wait!”

“I’m sorry,” the producer cut her off. “I’m really sorry.”

Chloe continued to shout at her phone, but when she finally looked at it, she saw that Beca had ended the call.

They’d been on the phone for nearly two hours.

Two hours, with the best connection she’d had in years.

She lay there, on the couch, the apartment’s cold air finally permeating her blanket of arousal. She felt it against her exposed stomach, against her underwear and the cooling wetness that was pooled there.

Cold, and alone.

She stared at her phone.

And a terrible, vast loneliness swept over her, so much so that she curled into herself, tugging her knees against her chest as she turned on her side. She laid there for an hour before she finally got up, peeled off her soiled clothes, and went to bed.

**************

“Well somebody has to wake her up and tell her!”

Chloe blinked against harsh light streaming in from her open window. Why didn’t she close the blinds last night? And why did she feel so hungover? Her eyes were heavy as she forced them closed, then open, struggling against dreams of dark hair and sly smirks and-

Oh.

Right.

A soft knock came at her door, and she mumbled something at it.

Stacie came in first, followed by Aubrey. The brunette perched on the edge of Chloe’s bed as Aubrey moved to stand by the window.

“Hey,” Stacie said gently. “We think you need to see something.”

Chloe flashed back to yesterday - to her phone call with Beca, to the phone sex - and she sat up.

“What happened? Did I do something?”

“It’s not you, it’s…”

Aubrey thrust a phone in front of Chloe’s face as Stacie protested.

“Bree-”

But Chloe was already reading.

Rumored Oscar-nom Kalina Val and superstar producer girlfriend take on the surf at private beach - see exclusive photos!

Chloe didn’t have to click the photos. The one that they had on the article - of Kalina and Beca, embracing in the shallow waves - that was enough.

She was on vacation.

With Kalina Val.

Chloe felt a sadness so potent that she wretched forward. But instead of throwing up, the woman let out a single, broken sob as she dropped her head between her knees.

And her friends tried to help, but she didn’t tell them what had happened.

She couldn’t do it.

Not this time.

Chapter Text

Beca didn’t come back to Residual Heat until Wednesday.

By then, Chloe felt pretty numb. She’d already been sad, and her anger was gone too. When she thought back on what they had done, on the phone, all she felt was embarrassed. She wasn’t a cheater - but apparently, Beca was - and she couldn’t believe she had gotten swept up in the producer’s games yet again.

Beca was probably gloating over it, that she gotten Chloe off with just her voice. She probably added Chloe to the list of conquests and moved on.

(Chloe didn’t think about the other things that she had said - about getting turned on by Chloe’s voice, or about how she thought of Chloe when she was with another woman. “I’d say anything to get you up here,” hadn’t Beca said that before too?)

So when The Bellas got called in for a meeting with Beca on Wednesday, Chloe dressed robotically and followed her friends without any thought as to how Beca would act. It didn’t matter. She had won.

That was all it was about for Beca.

All of the Residual team was already in the formal lounge when they showed up. Beca was there sprawled over an armchair, her ripped grey jean-clad legs thrown over one of the arms and flannel crumpled around her waist. She looked the slightest bit tanner as she laughed at something Jesse had said, teeth bright against a nude lip. But when the singers started filing in, she sat up quickly, swinging her legs to the floor to stand as her mouth fell into a tight line.

She stared at Chloe.

Chloe didn’t look back.

Because even though news had broken that she and Kalina had apparently ended the vacation on bad terms - that maybe the whirlwind romance was over before it even really started - Chloe didn’t care. She wasn’t Beca’s plaything to mess around with, to use when she wanted. She didn’t need that. She needed to move on.

When Beca didn’t say anything, choosing instead to stare blindly at Chloe, Jesse cleared his throat.

“All right!” he said cheerfully, clapping once. Beca broke her gaze on Chloe to glance at him, but her eyes shortly returned to the redhead.

“Let’s listen to these tracks! Beca hasn’t heard anything yet-”

“I’m sorry,” Beca said quickly, loudly, and Chloe’s eyes snapped to hers furiously.

Not now, she glowered. Hell, not ever.

She hoped that her expression conveyed the unspoken command to shut up, and when Beca swallowed and turned to the other women, Chloe thought she was in the clear.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t around,” she added, meeting Stacie’s eyes, then CR. The latter only crossed her arms with a disapproving hum.

“I had some- uh, some other work to attend to,” she winced, and Fat Amy laughed loudly.

“Is that what we’re calling it now?” she mocked. “Bumpa, want to have a business meeting later?”

Bumper rolled his eyes and went to speak, but she cut him off.

“I’m joking,” Amy said seriously. “I would never show you my spreadsheets.”

“Okay!” Jesse cut in, but Chloe saw Amy wink at Bumper, and the producer gaped like a hungry fish. Chloe’s grin tugged at the corner of her mouth, and she felt her eyes involuntary slide to Beca’s.

The brunette was grinning at her, clearly happy to be included in the joke. But Chloe dropped her smile, closing her expression like an iron door as she looked away.

They moved to get comfortable as Jesse pulled Bumper towards the stereo. Chloe purposefully chose to sit far from Beca, pointed away so that she wouldn’t have to avoid the producer’s gaze. But even sitting in a far chair that faced Stacie and Aubrey on the couch, she could feel Beca watching her.

She was about to tell her to buzz off when the songs started up, claiming everyone’s attention.

They listened all the way through, including the fully mastered version of Scared of Happy. Though they had only recorded over Beca’s initial backing tracks on all the other ones, Chloe knew they sounded good, and she struggled against singing along at certain parts. She could see Stacie squirming in her seat too, Aubrey’s hand on her knee doing nothing to keep the tall brunette shifting around.

“I wanna sing so bad,” she whispered across the room, and Stacie giggled softly.

“It’s, like, actual torture,” she agreed. “Couldn’t they have listened without us?”

“No kidding,” Amy leaned over to add. “Besides, I’m much better in a live performance.”

“Shh!”

All of the women looked up to see Bumper with his finger to his lips.

“Bite me, sound boy,” Amy hissed, but then Aubrey shh’d them to, and they fell silent again.

The tracks came to a close, and Chloe felt everyone tittering nervously. She chanced a look over her shoulder, seeing Beca concentrating hard on her notebook in front of her. She stared for a second, glancing out in front of her, squinted, then added one more note before shutting it. She looked directly at Chloe first, and before she looked away, Chloe saw her face was nearly broken in two by a huge smile.

“Really good, dudes,” she said, and Chloe felt the collective sigh of relief from her bandmates and manager. “Seriously, you guys killed it. I have a few notes, and a few things I want to add, but we can do that after I work on these more. I’ll go through them this week and- ah. Yeah, over the weekend too. I’ll call you guys in if I need anything before that, but… yeah. These are great. Really, really good, dudes.”

Amy whooped loudly, and CR laughed but gave the Australian an excited high five. Stacie leaned forward, putting a hand on Chloe’s knee, and Chloe reached for it, squeezing happily.

But the excitement was short lived, because Beca just had to ask-

“So which of the new songs have you guys learned already?”

Chloe blanched. She hadn’t talked to anyone about the songs that she’d written. They’d read them, sure, but she hadn’t sang them for the group to learn.

No one had heard them but Beca.

“Well,” Stacie spoke up, clearing her throat. “We wrote some stuff, like you asked…”

“What?” Beca laughed. “No, which of Chloe’s songs have you started on? We picked out three or four of them last week.”

The room fell quiet, and Chloe took a deep breath and held it.

Maybe Beca would-

“Chloe, what the fuck? You didn’t teach them anything?”

Or maybe she wouldn’t.

Stacie and Aubrey were the only two that she could see, but Chloe could feel everyone staring at her, waiting for her to say something.

She didn’t say anything - couldn’t, really - and she let her breath out in a rough sigh before turning around to face Beca.

“No, I didn’t tell them anything from our convo last week,” she said, her voice stronger than she was expecting it to be. She raised an eyebrow at Beca, and the producer gave a short huff before she looked away.

“Great,” Beca said sarcastically. She reached for something behind her chair, something Chloe couldn’t see, and added, “Okay, let’s sing Flex, I already have most of a track for that one.”

She pulled out the guitar from the Broom Closet studio.

“What? No.”

Chloe jumped to her feet. She glanced around the room, but if anyone did meet her eye, they looked away.

“I don’t want to sing right now.”

Beca blinked at her before resuming her focus on tuning the guitar in her hands. Chloe felt a hand on her arm, and she looked to see Stacie had gotten up, too.

“We should probably hear it,” she whispered. “We haven’t heard any of the new stuff, and if we’re going to be recording them-“

“Who said we’re recording them?” Chloe snapped back. She resumed her glare at Beca. “I’m not singing right now.”

Tuning completed, Beca looked up, meeting Chloe’s glare with one of her own.

“Don’t be a diva,” she spat at Chloe. “Just sing the song.”

“Ha! That’s rich, coming from you!” Chloe replied sharply.

Aubrey was up then, too, pushing Stacie away and stepping up next to Chloe.

“If my client says that she isn’t singing right now, then that’s that,” she said briskly. “It’s not the time.”

“Actually, it’s been the time,” Beca replied. “Bellas should’ve been working on these for weeks. These songs should be ready by the end of the month, and that only leaves me a week and a half to get them ready. And that’s after recording. I don’t have time to teach lyrics too.”

She spat out of the last line like it was beneath her, to train these women. Chloe felt heat raising through her chest.

“And who’s fault is that?” Aubrey demanded. “Who’s been MIA since day one? Just because you can’t deal with your obvious-”

“Jesse? Get her out of here. In fact, everybody out except the band.”

Aubrey was about to blow her lid when Stacie grabbed her, whispering something to her. She looked to CR and Amy pointedly, and when Chloe and Aubrey followed her eye-line, they saw the other two nod reluctantly. Amy turned to Chloe.

“We kinda need to hear some stuff,” she hedged, squinting into the middle distance as she sighed. “I know it’s hard, what with all the pinin’ and lustin’, but…”

Chloe blushed fiercely and looked away. Aubrey came back to her side, tugging on her arm until the redhead looked up.

“Say the word,” Aubrey said, voice low.

But Chloe just shook her head.

“If it’s the right thing for the group, I’ll make it work,” she whispered, and Aubrey nodded before pulling her friend into a tight hug.

Then she left, with the boys, and it was just Beca and The Bellas again.

Chloe moved slowly, pulling her notebook out of her bag and setting in the back of her chair as she stood beside it. She turned each page as slowly as she could, hoping to delay the inevitable.

“It’s page 37,” Beca grumbled. “Quit stalling.”

Chloe glared at her before flipping a few more pages to get to the song.

Beca started to play the guitar like a bass again, offbeat, sounding individual notes twice through before counting Chloe in.

Chloe took a breath, squeezed her eyes shut, and started on the verse. Beca guided her through with the tempo, and then, when she got to the pre-chorus, the producer began to sing a long, low harmony, holding under Chloe as she sang.

At the chorus, Chloe could tell Beca was following her note for note, traipsing a soft harmony around Chloe’s melody.

And it hurt.

It hurt that Beca had obviously been working on the song, had been thinking about Chloe and The Bellas and she still did what she did to Chloe.

It hurt that she respected the music more than she respected her.

Chloe turned away, wiping the tears before they spilled down her face. She kept singing, but she tried not to hear Beca as the producer added a few ad libs. Thankfully, the other women understood the gist of the song enough to sing along too. Chloe lost herself in her friends’ voices.

Beca stopped playing, letting the women finish the song without her. There were cheers and tight hugs as they finished, and Chloe tried her best to put on a happy face.

“Red! That was awesome!” CR gasped, punching her in the arm. “It’s even better than just the words.” Stacie was wrapped around her, but she pulled back to bring a thumb to the corner of Chloe’s eye.

Probably wiping away smeared eyeliner.

“It’s really good,” she grinned, and Chloe felt herself start to grin too.

“And I think shortstack was right, in the notebook, about the feature,” Fat Amy added. “Can you get Fetty Wap?”

Chloe heard Beca laugh, and she tensed in Stacie’s arms. She’d have to turn around, eventually, but maybe she would give herself a few more seconds to try to recover.

“Fetty Wap is a little 2016. If Chloe thinks we need it, we can get someone. How about Post Malone?” Beca replied.

Stacie squealed, and CR whistled a long note.

But Chloe rounded on the producer.

“If I think we need it?” she barked. “Last week, you wouldn’t even let me name it. Now it’s my choice?”

Beca had been smiling when Chloe turned around, but she wasn’t smiling anymore. She returned Chloe’s frustrated sentiments with an eye-roll.

“Well duh,” she said condescendingly. “It’s your song. I told you that.”

“What’s your problem, anyway?” Chloe growled.

“My ‘problem’ is that you refuse to take ownership for your skill. You’re constantly asking everyone else for their input, and you don’t need it. My problem is that you don’t see how fucking talented you are. You’re the leader of this group - and rightfully so - and my problem is that you need to start acting like it.”

Chloe let out a hollow laugh.

“The Bellas don’t have a leader,” she scoffed, but when the rest of the room stayed quiet, she turned to her friends warily.

“We’re all equal,” she said, but it came out more as a question than a statement.

Stacie’s hand returned to her arm, and Chloe knew what was coming.

“No-”

“Chloe,” Stacie hummed. “I don’t want to say it, but-”

“You’re definitely in charge,” Amy cut in. “You’re, like, the best writer after me, but I can’t always turn out the volume that you do.”

“You’re the best writer, period,” CR aded, leveling Amy with an incredulous look. “And we wouldn’t even be here without you.”

“That was all of us,” Chloe persisted, shaking her head slowly. “We did that together.”

Beca spoke up again.

“The group is everyone, you’re right,” she began. “It wouldn’t be the same without each of you. But you, Chloe, you’re the linchpin. You’re the one that makes this group work.”

Beca was looking at her with that earnest pleading, that real and open look. The one when she was telling the truth, when she wasn’t hiding behind her sarcasm. Her eyes were wide, and her lip was nearly quivering, and it reminded Chloe of groaned confessions and the opposite of a smirk.

Chloe hated it.

“Yeah, well,” Chloe started quietly, turning away from that look. “I obviously can’t make everything work.”

She knew the producer had heard her when Beca sighed.

“Can I- can we talk? I want to show you something. Will you come with me?”

Stacie’s grip tightened on her arm, but Chloe shook her off. She was staring daggers into the side of her face, and Chloe knew they were probably well earned, but she met her eye gently.

“It’s probably for the best,” Chloe sighed to her friend. She straightened her back, pulling her shoulders straight, and squeezed Stacie back comfortingly.

She stepped away from Stacie, and she watched Beca bite the side of her thumb as she picked up her guitar, walking towards the door.

They opened the door into the hallway to see Jesse, Aubrey, and Bumper all waiting for them.

“Chloe!”

“It’s fine, Bree,” she said hurriedly, casting a look behind her. “Can you talk with these guys, figure out what the next move is? When we should come back to the studio? Also Stacie said she wanted to see you.”

It was a dirty move, but an effective one, as Aubrey took a half step past Chloe towards the room before turning back to Chloe and Beca. She narrowed her eyes harshly at the young producer.

“You’ll be back soon?”

“Totes,” Chloe replied, trying her best to fake enthusiasm. Aubrey was still skeptical, but she got distracted when Stacie called her from the other room.

Beca didn’t waste any time taking advantage of the distraction, pulling Chloe towards the corner of the hall. There was a door there that Chloe hadn’t seen before; one that apparently opened into the stairwell on the other side of Beca’s office. Beca led the way, and Chloe followed closely.

“I’m not just trying to get you in the Broom Closet,” Beca said as she descended the stairs quickly. They got to the floor below, and Beca continued to move briskly down the hall.

“It’s going to look like that, but-”

“It’s fine,” Chloe said quietly. “Let’s just get this over with.”

Beca unlocked the Broom Closet studio, throwing her guitar on the couch as she continued to move across the dark space. She didn’t even bother with the overhead light, so Chloe stayed in the doorway to the hall, holding it open to allow for some light.

“Is this place always locked?”

Beca nodded as she turned, and, seeing that Chloe still had the door propped, she reached up to pull the string for the light.

“You gotta close that first,” she said impatiently.

But Chloe didn’t move. She really, really did not want to be in a tiny space with Beca right now.

And at Chloe’s resistance, the producer sighed.

“I know I’m like the biggest dick on the planet, but just trust me for a second. Please.”

Chloe stepped in and let the door close behind her, and as soon as it closed, Beca pushed. The wall beside her gave way, letting in far more light than the single bulb overhead.

“What-”

“It’s my real office,” Beca said, stepping inside and holding the door on the other side for Chloe to come through. Two walls were full floor-to-ceiling glass, like the hallway upstairs, and there was a sweeping view of downtown LA laid out at the foot of a wide but short desk. It was cluttered with a turntable, a midi pad, and two computer monitors with a keyboard hanging halfway off the desk’s surface.

In front of the cluttered desk was a worn piano bench that belonged to the upright piano on the wall to her left. The wall was a deep red, with framed artist and band posters all over it.

And behind her, on the white wall that was shared with the studio, there was a deep bookshelf that housed what must have been almost a thousand records. Some books, too, but no awards. The bookshelf ended just before it got to the doorframe and continued to the exterior back wall. There was a small patch of brick before the window started, and as Beca kept talking, she caught Chloe staring at it.

“And I don’t even know if Jesse knows about this place, so let’s not tell anyone- oh. Yeah. I, uh…”

It was a signed EP from The Bellas. And one of their old t-shirts.

That merch, and those signed EPs… they had done them nearly a year ago, as part of a promotion for the debut tracks. They probably hadn’t signed more than a hundred of them.

“I tracked one down online, as soon as I heard your demo tracks,” Beca sighed. “I had to promise the seller that I would send them a signed first edition of the album. And even then, I’m pretty sure she resented me for offering her so much for them. I’ll probably send them back after we get something new. Maybe. I haven’t decided.”

There was a worn armchair in front of the bookcase, and Beca offered it to Chloe as she stepped up behind the desk. As Chloe sat, Beca rested a knee on the piano bench, leaning over and clicking the computer out of sleep mode. The screen came to life, one side showing some project open on mixing software, and as Chloe leaned over to look, she saw that the other showed surveillance camera footage of-

“Is that the Broom Closet? And your office?”

Beca sighed again, running a hand through her hair.

“I have to pay attention in case anyone comes looking for me,” she mumbled, minimizing the software. “The good thing is that I can just pretend to be a surly prick when people call me, pretend I’m not around, and then I can actually stay down here and get things done. They pretty much let me do what I want, because I bring in the big bucks.”

She laughed mirthlessly.

“No one’s even walked in the Broom Closet for months, except-”

“Except me,” Chloe cut in. “I was in here last week.”

Beca nodded, bringing her thumb up to her mouth as she avoided Chloe’s eye.

“The door was unlocked,” Chloe continued slowly, and Beca nodded again.

“You were in here.”

“I almost missed my flight,” Beca smiled fondly at the memory, pulling her thumb away from her mouth. “I couldn’t leave without telling you about this place.”

“And that’s how you knew I didn’t read it until then,” Chloe said slowly, letting out a small laugh.

“Yeah,” Beca whispered. Her expression morphed into one of contemplation, but she started up again before Chloe could ask about it.

“I almost told you about it, on Friday,” Beca went on as she saved her work in the mixing program, closing that window too. The screen was just her background now - a bright stage, with greens and blues, but Chloe couldn’t make out the details.

“I almost told you to come write down here, when we were texting, but you would’ve had to ask someone for keys, to get in, and I didn’t know- god, this is going to sound so stupid. I, uh, I didn’t know if you would like it.”

Chloe looked around the bright, urban space. At the piano, at the cluttered desk that had too much stuff on it, and then back, at the albums behind her.

And without overthinking it, she giggled.

“It’s much more you,” she confirmed, and Beca smiled broadly. She rolled her lips in an attempt to cover the smile as she dropped down to sit on the piano bench.

“It feels good, to tell someone about this place.” Beca stubbornly tried to hid her grin, but her eyes were shining brightly, and Chloe watched them - watched Beca relax into herself.

It felt so good to see her this way.

And it felt so, so bad.

Because who did this to someone? Who built them up, broke them down, pushed them hard and told them they thought they smiled when they orgasmed when they couldn’t even treat them with common respect? When they had someone else?

“What, you never brought Kalina up here?” Chloe asked.

Beca rolled her eyes playfully, smirking in a way that looked more happy than teasing.

“No, Jealous McJealousy-pants,” she grinned. “I did not bring my fake PR girlfriend to my incredibly secret producer studio.”

Chloe gasped, and Beca’s grin dropped quickly.

“You’re what?”

“Fuck,” Beca swore. “You didn’t know.”

Chloe stood suddenly, beginning to pace around the small room.

“I just assumed - I figured you knew, with the way I was- with the things I said. With the things you said,” Beca rushed. “Chloe I wouldn’t have done any of that on Friday if I was in a real relationship.”

“Then why did you hang up on me?”

Beca sighed, carding her fingers through her hair again as she leaned back.

“You were talking about the power I had over you - that you felt like you had to be with me - and I knew I was letting my personal judgement cloud what should be a professional relationship.”

She toyed with one of her bracelets, twisting it around her wrist nervously.

“It wasn’t fair, what I did,” she said quietly. “It isn’t fair, and all this time, I thought- I thought you were in on it, the whole flirting-with-fire thing. I think of us as partners, working towards the same goal but, ya know, having a good time along the way. But then I read your notebook, and then, what you said after we-”

She cut herself off, shaking her head.

“I thought you gave me that notebook as, like, part of the game. I thought you realized that all the relationships were fake, that you were feeding into the whole ‘will they/won’t they’ teasing thing that we had going on. And then, in the booth, and on the call, I just-”

Beca stopped on a huff, and Chloe flushed with embarrassment. She could feel herself turning red. Beca had been playing with her feelings because she thought Chloe was playing along. She thought that Chloe was just, what, pretending to go through all these feelings? Pretending to be so worked up over her?

“Yeah, well I guess I’m just a gullible Southern girl,” she said quietly as she fell back into the armchair, and she heard Beca chuckle half-heartedly.

“No, Chloe, you’re not,” she gritted. “You’re just honest. You’re real. You were telling me the truth the whole time, and I just didn’t believe it. Because I’ve been lying about almost everything for the past three years. This town is just like that; I have to keep my name in their mouths so they keep giving me Grammys, or Vogue interviews, or those fucking TMZ walks. You know Jesse pays that guy to show up and stick a camera in my face, when I’m just walking to my car? That he encourages me to say mean shit about people, just so they get clicks? Tell me, do you get that my reputation is more important than the music I put out? Than who I really am?”

Beca groaned roughly, dropping her head into her hands.

“I don’t know how I got here,” Beca mumbled into her palms, but she looked up, pulling her hands down her face.

“I don’t know how I got here,” she repeated. “But I won’t let you stoop to this level. I want you, Chloe - beyond all the games and the lies, and the fake relationships. I want to be with you. But I’m not gonna do that to you. You deserve to be with someone who knows who they actually are.”

Beca was breathing hard as she finished speaking, and Chloe watched her. After weeks of back and forth, she felt like the real Beca was finally here, speaking to her clearly for the first time. In the space that was her own, in a way that wasn’t manipulative or snarky.

This was Beca - not Beca Mitchell, womanizing Grammy-winning producer - but Beca, the young, talented artist. The one that she had lost somewhere along the way, that only glanced daylight in incorrectly performed interviews, or in her music.

Beca.

Just Beca.

And that Beca had just begged Chloe to stay away.

Not in so many words - not explicitly. But Chloe knew that was what Beca was doing when she told Chloe that she “wasn’t going to do that to her.” She was asking Chloe to leave her alone, to move on without her.

And Chloe didn’t want to.

This is the real you! she wanted to scream. Be her, and be with me.

But Chloe knew that Beca wouldn’t hear that. That she wasn’t in the right space to let her reputation go. She had someone to be, someone that needed to be out late and photographed.

And for whatever reason, she thought that Chloe didn't fit in that picture.

Chloe wondered what it would be like, to be out with Beca. To be in the tabloids and papped, before their first album was even released. She knew Beca was probably right - that Chloe didn’t belong there.

She wanted to be there. For herself, and for Beca.

But it wasn’t right. It never was, even from the beginning.

She knew that they couldn’t be together, that the work came first, and maybe Beca finally knew that too.

So against her better judgement, Chloe let her go.

“Okay, Becs,” she said softly. She got up, picked up her bag, and moved to the door, not even bothering to turn around as she sighed.

“You won’t have to worry about me anymore.”

Chapter Text

It turned out, there was a reason that Beca wanted the songs so quickly.

With how easily the women had recorded the original tracks, Jesse and the Residual Heat team wanted to move up the tour to summer. They had someone they wanted The Bellas to perform with; Aubrey wouldn’t tell them who, but she told them it was worth the extra effort.

So Chloe tried to put her emotions aside so she could sing them the songs that she and Beca had been working on. They were already sold on All in My Head (Flex), but Aubrey told them they needed to pick out at least four more to start recording next week.

In the comfort of her and Aubrey’s apartment, away from the studio and a certain pair of stormy, tricky eyes, Chloe found a rhythm that she had forgotten. When she wrote with her girls, it felt better. It still hurt, when she thought about Beca, but her friends made it hurt less.

By singing and writing and laughing, the way they always did.

Aubrey had convinced Residual to let them borrow one of their keyboards, so Ashley plucked out simple chords and melodies as they worked through the new songs. They didn’t make any real changes to All in My Head (Flex), but Stacie immediately latched onto Girlfriends. She and Chloe sat down to tweak some lyrics, so Stacie could sing lead with her whole heart.

And CR took the other half of Eating Me Up - the part that Beca had written - while Chloe scribbled down a bridge for Fat Amy to sing.

CR was also the one who dove into Chloe’s journal, so Chloe didn’t have to. She read through song after song (and Beca note after Beca note) before asking Chloe to sing the ones she liked. They decided on two more - We’re Not Gonna Be Friends and Something in The Water - and even though they were about Beca, Chloe didn’t have it in her to fight for different picks.

Thankfully, the other women re-wrote some parts before The Bellas spent Friday learning them. With Ashley’s help, they had decent compositions by Friday afternoon, so they all crammed into the bathroom to record a cappella versions of the songs. Aubrey sent them off, and within the hour, Jesse told her that Beca approved.

Was she in the studio? Was she in her office? Chloe wanted to ask. Did she just approve them, or did she like them?

But she didn’t ask, and nobody else did either.

She spent the days rotating between different pieces of furniture to mope on. Bed, couch, stool, Stacie’s bed, Stacie’s couch, Ashley’s couch, Aubrey’s bed. Even when they worked on the new songs, Chloe was always half-reclined, singing soulfully but bailing on the high notes as she played with the frayed hem of her pajama bottoms.

She knew she needed to get it together so she could be there for her friends as they entered what was promised to be an incredibly grueling couple of months.

But when she finally broke down on Saturday night, crying after a day of singing about Beca, and explained everything to her friends, they didn’t push. They didn’t ask her to change out of her PJs or contribute more. They just drew her a bath, and got her a glass of wine and a cheap romance novel. CR put on a playlist of ambient beats, and Chloe tried to cry quieter behind the closed bathroom door.

They spent two more days at the apartment trying out new arrangements and harder harmonies, before Jesse called them back to the studio. Some of the background tracks were ready, so they were going to go in to start recording again.

It’d been a week since she’d seen Beca-

Or, more appropriately, it’d been a week since Beca had seen her.

Because Beca was everywhere.

That night, after they’d talked? She went out to the club that had professional photographers inside. There were pictures of her with seemingly every single woman in VIP.

Thursday, she’d been in the deejay booth at the same club. Kalina showed up to the set, and the two left together.

Friday, she was alone again, leaning closer into conversations that she didn’t even stop as the cameras flashed. Eyelids drooping, pupils blown, and sloppy, coy smiles.

Saturday, she left with another actress.

Sunday, she was back behind the mixing table.

And on Monday and Tuesday, Beca was photographed “taking meetings” with multiple celebrity-adjacent women. A new-to-the-scene singer, and an older model. She even had lunch with a daytime TV actress who was starting to get some bigger roles.

It felt like she was auditioning a new girlfriend.

Chloe released sullenly that she probably was.

It seemed Beca was catapulting herself back into her old life, and the media was loving it. They’d shout questions at her as she walked to the car waiting for her. They posted the best worst pictures of her. They asked about Kalina and the other names that had been linked with hers.

They didn’t ask about The Bellas.

Beca didn’t say anything about them, either.

So on Wednesday, when Bellas were supposed to get back in the studio with only a few days left in January, Chloe felt conflicted.

What would she say, when she saw Beca? What would Beca say? The last time they talked, it seemed like Beca had… well, like she’d been herself, for once. Been the real her. But then she went full PR mode, hard, and Chloe had to admit that Beca was putting effort into being that person that she despised so much.

She wanted to talk to her.

Tell her that she could just say ‘screw it’ and be who she wanted to be.

She’d tell Beca that she didn’t have to be, like, part of the equation. That they didn’t have to be together, but she couldn’t just stand by and watch Beca destroy herself. That Beca could just be herself, for her own sake. Jesse would understand; he already let Beca do whatever she wanted.

But was she only allowed that freedom because she played the game?

It didn’t matter at this point, Chloe realized. Beca could do whatever she wanted, period. She wondered if Beca knew. Or cared.

Either way, Chloe was going to try to talk to her. She couldn’t be happy like this. And if Chloe was the only one that Beca talked to about all this - about being a PR puppet for Residual - then Chloe would try to help her see a way out of it. Beca deserved someone in her corner, even if it was a wannabe singer who was hopelessly smitten over her.

But, of course, Beca wasn’t there.

“Ladies!” Bumper greeted them as they stepped into the Popcorn studio. CR swore, and Stacie rolled her eyes.

“Where’s shortstack?” Fat Amy sighed.

“Not here!” Bumper responded sharply. “You’ve got the A-team producer today!”

“We’ve got a team, I guess,” Stacie groaned. “Beca’s not coming?”

“Stop asking about Beca!” Bumper shot back, flailing as he gestured with the paper in his hands. “We have her tracks and her notes, and we’re doing this without her.”

Aubrey snatched the sheet from Bumper’s hands - to which he loudly and adamantly protested - but she was already scanning the page quickly.

Stacie tried to read the notes over her shoulder, but Aubrey pulled it away. She read to the bottom, scanned back up to the top to re-read something, then put on a thin-lipped smile.

“Bumper, play the tracks,” she said as she handed the paper to Chloe. “I’m going to go get to the bottom of this.”

With that, she turned heel, leaving the producer as well as The Bellas, Jessica, and Ashley in her wake.

Bumper grumbled as the women all crowded around Chloe to read the notes. Chloe had thought it was a typed list, but Beca had actually handwritten the notes on a sheet of copy paper. Chloe smiled as she recognized the thoughtless scrawl, but then she started reading.

Master tracks - Squeeze, Stupid Things

-have them listen

-have Chloe approve/make notes

-will have Tequila w Lime today, Be A Bro and Clout Chaser sometime this week

Back Tracks - Flex, Girlfriends, Eating Me Up

-Flex, tell Chloe to listen for Fat Amy’s entrance on chorus harmonies. Tell her to fix it

-EMU, tell Chloe to talk the upper alternate in the 1st chorus, then the low in the 2nd

-EMU, tell Chloe the bridge is good

-Girlfriends, tell Stacie to watch her vowels, she’s getting lazy

-don’t give them any notes that I didn’t write down, let Chloe do it

-send everything to me PRONTO, don’t sit on it like you usually do

-make Chloe start in the booth, they behave better when Chloe sets the example

-should have WNGBF by the end of Tuesday

-Something in The Water by the end of the week

Stacie huffed next to her.

“It’s not like we were really recording,” she grunted, sitting down on the couch. “I wasn’t, like, trying to sing.”

“Bree must’ve sent her everything,” CR muttered, scanning the notes again. “From when we were practicing over the weekend.”

“Love that,” Ashley said sarcastically. “Looove being recorded when we’re not prepared.”

“I’m assuming she didn’t have any notes for me?” Fat Amy asked from her sprawled-out position on the bean bag chair. “Sometimes, it’s a blessing and a curse to be this talented.”

“Actually-”

“No, no, CR,” the Australian cut her off. “Don’t make something up just to feel better about yourself. It’s not worth it.”

Chloe stopped listening as the women continued to ramble. She re-read the notes over and over again.

Beca was… trusting her. A lot. She wondered if she was supposed to see these notes, if Beca meant for her to see them, or if Bumper was just supposed to say them. Maybe he was supposed to pass off the ideas as his own, so Chloe didn’t know the specific, Chloe-centered direction was coming from Beca. Why wasn’t she here? Why didn’t she just come in and do this herself?

Some part of the back of her mind told her that she knew why Beca wasn’t here.

That the producer didn’t want to be in the same room as her.

The thought ignited something mean and spiteful inside of Chloe. Beca was the one who said she wanted to keep this relationship professional.

Or, had she said that she couldn’t keep this relationship professional?

God, this was all so confusing! She’d been ready to talk to Beca, to try to help her be herself, but she hadn’t been ready for Beca to put all of this on her. To ask so much from Chloe, after what they’d talked about last time they saw each other.

But then Chloe thought back a little farther, to earlier last week.

She’s trying to make me be the leader.

Chloe folded the paper absentmindedly in her hands. Beca was trying to put Chloe on the spot. She was trying to get Chloe to step up, command more, demand better.

Am I ready for that?

Chloe took a deep breath. When they moved out to LA, she had been ready to let Beca be the ultimate authority, because of her experience and success.

And now Beca was telling her to do it.

So she would.

Well, wait, that sounded bad.

She wouldn’t do it because Beca was telling her to do it. She would just… trust her instincts. She’d been relying on other people for too long. It was time to stop pretending that she didn’t have an important say in this group. It wasn’t all about what Aubrey could get them on paper, or what Beca could do for them in the studio. Or what Flo could choreograph, or what the group could write.

At times like this, when somebody needed to be the singers’ advocate? Chloe could do that. She knew what worked for them. She knew what they had, and what they could be.

“Bumper? Let’s hear Stupid Things first, okay?”

“Sure, since I guess you’re in charge now,” Bumper drawled bitterly, but Chloe didn’t respond. She walked up to the main desk tentatively, setting the folded paper next to the mixer before pulling a pen out of her bag.

“Can I at least have the notes back?” Bumper sighed, reaching for the paper in front of her.

“Oh! I mean, sure, let me just-”

She pulled her phone from her pocket to snap a picture.

“I mean it’s mostly directed to me,” Chloe said slowly, and Bumper sighed again.

“Yeah, but it’s mine!”

Chloe let him have it as she chuckled.

The song started playing, and already Chloe was in love with the metal drums, with the way their vocals were stacked over each other. Stacie’s verse was slow to start, and right when Chloe was about to make a note in her notebook about it, Beca had layered in a faster percussion, which broke open into a funky pop chorus that had CR and Amy up on their feet dancing.

Chloe tried her hardest to listen for things that she would change. But it was so exciting to hear the song for the first time that she realized she wouldn’t be able to be critical until at least the tenth listen. So, instead, she jumped up to dance with her friends.

Especially when CR’s rap started up.

They were all scream-singing by the end of the track, and Chloe leaned out of her hug with Amy.

“Tell her it sucked!” she laughed, and everyone but Bumper broke into hysterical laughter. Chloe had to shout over them to add, in a serious tone, “No, I’m kidding. Tell her I need some time to review it.”

“Ya gotta hand it to her,” Stacie grinned. “that shrimp can really make us sound good!”

“Play the next one, sound bitch!” Fat Amy bellowed, to which all of the other women cheered.

Squeeze was the same; Beca had once again elevated their sound beyond what Chloe had thought possible. She would try really hard to provide more informed feedback than “YES!” but it was going to take some serious effort.

Then they started on the songs, and Chloe felt like she would be slightly better providing feedback for that. Bumper did indeed make her go into the booth first, but with only a few corrections from Ashley, Chloe was able to record her parts and finish the bulk of it on Wednesday. She thought it would be hard to sing about Beca, but once she was back in the booth, looking at how pumped her friends were, she just powered through it.

She stepped out at the end of the day tired, but invigorated, and she carried that spirit through the next three days of recording. With all of Chloe’s parts practically done, they switched to changing up the singers every track so that they didn’t end up with the Bumper-Amy fiasco again. Even still, they had to come in on Saturday to finish, but they had plenty to do in the mean time.

Chloe was listening to the two master tracks incessantly, writing notes that she then folded up and gave to Bumper to give to Beca.

(I think you could boost Stacie’s ad-libs on Stupid Things, she wrote, but then she sighed, ripping the page out and crumpling it up.

Stupid Things - boost Stacie’s ad-libs, and maybe carry more percussion into the second verse. The last chorus could be more… explosive? I don’t know if I like the talking ad-libs. Maybe that double-time percussion comes back and we do more runs.

Squeeze - needs more bass. Maybe a long, low note. Like “Look What You Made Me Do,” you worked on that didn’t you? I want them to feel like they’re being hugged but a sad/empty hug? Also I want to re-do my verse, I have a better idea. I like your piano playing.)

And then they got the master tracks for Tequila with Lime and Clout Chaser too, so Chloe was did the same with those.

(Chlo- just gonna write these to you now. Bumper’s notes just tell him to not fuck up your flow.

Master Tracks - Tequila with Lime

-beginning/post-bridge, is the guitar enough? It feels percussive enough to me.

-I modded the shit out of Fat Amy’s post-chorus… thoughts?

Clout Chaser

-major re-records needed for the new vibe, sorry, I got inspired

-bridge?

———

Beca - I don’t think you’re wrong about Clout Chaser, but that’s okay! I think the fans will go crazy for a different sound, especially from one they already know so well. But we might need to do two versions - dare I say, Bellas Versions, From The (EP) Vault?!

I think the bridge/pre-chorus/last chorus are salvageable, but we might as well strip it down. I’ll break the news to these girls today, and we can start on it next week.

Tequila with Lime - wow! Not sure if you’ll like this, but I don’t think we need to change anything. This is 100% banger. Like Party in the USA or Kiss Me More.)

If she wasn’t in the studio helping, getting ready for the next songs, or recording something for social media, Chloe had her headphones on. Usually Jessica would find her, eyes closed, in deep concentration as she listened for any kind of change she could suggest.

She was a woman possessed by the urge to do well.

And she was pretty sure it was working.

More than once, she’d seen Stacie or Aubrey smiling at her when she leaned forward to give notes through the studio microphone, singing out lines for the woman in the booth to repeat. And even though she wasn’t big on social media, she saw some of the comments on the videos that Jessica took.

“new Chloe just dropped”

“wow that confidence is INFECTIOUS *sick emoji*”

“can’t believe my thing for competent redheads is back, thanks Miss Frizzle”

It was encouraging, to say the least, to see that she seemed to be doing okay.

Beca left her more notes on things to fix in what they had recorded so far, and Chloe would send back questions or thoughts. The producer was still going out every night, according to the internet, but Chloe ignored what she could.

It was easy because she was so busy.

And Beca was still getting their tracks done. The Bellas got the backing track for We’re Not Gonna Be Friends on Friday morning, with the promise that the mastered Be A Bro and Something in the Water back track would show up on Saturday.

But when the songs came on Saturday, there was no note with it.

It felt like a test somehow; one that Chloe was determined to pass. So she took the whole group into the Fancy studio booth, sat them down and made them sing Something in the Water a cappella. When they were warm and ready to push their voices, she had Bumper play the backing tracking for them, and instead of asking them what they thought, Chloe told them.

She told them what order they were going to record in and why.

She told them what they needed to be conscious of, individually, on their sections.

And she told them she’d be listening every step of the way.

“Don’t forget, deep breath before the chorus,” she was saying to Stacie as they made their way out of the booth. The busty brunette nodded pensively. “It’s okay if you come at it too strong. The song will be powerful enough to support it, okay?”

Again, Stacie nodded, and Chloe looked to Bumper.

“Okay. Let’s start.”

The day flew by as they cycled in and out of the booth. Each of them went in at least three or four times as Chloe found another spot where she could include their impressive vocals. Even the less melodic parts sounded better than they had on other songs, and by the time they were finished, Chloe knew she had helped create something great.

“Oh my gosh,” she laughed as they were packing up. “We never even listened to Be A Bro.”

“Well I’m going home,” Bumper groaned, and Fat Amy laughed.

“We’ll listen to it on the way to the clerb!” she shouted. “I was gonna invite you, Bumper, but…”

“Well, I was going to go there anyway,” he retorted. “But just in case, you know, which one were you going to?”

“Too late now,” Amy sighed. “You coulda had all of this, and you gave it up. Because you were a wimp.”

Chloe tuned them out as she turned to Stacie.

“We’re going out?”

“I mean I think we have reason to celebrate,” Stacie grinned. “Don’t you?”

And right then, Chloe absolutely agreed.

They made their way back to the apartment to change and get freshened up, and Chloe only forced the women to listen to Be A Bro fifteen times before switching to all of their tracks. She cycled through their apartments, bringing shots and stealing eyeliner and curling iron time, getting ready on the fly, before throwing on a low-cut, sparkly top with some jeans.

“Uh, no!” Stacie yelled as she came into Chloe and Aubrey’s place. She was one of the last ones - they were only waiting for Fat Amy now - and Chloe wondered if she had tapped into her own alcohol reserves between Chloe’s visits.

“Chloe Beale, you’re wearing a god damn skirt. The black one, from Halloween.”

“The one from the bee costume?” Chloe laughed, shaking her head. “No way. I’ll end up flashing someone.”

“All the better,” CR agreed, waggling her eyebrows. “It’s about time you got some.”

“Excuse me!” Chloe objected as the rest of the women laughed.

“C’mon, Beaaale,” Stacie giggled. “Come with me!”

Chloe shrugged, downed another shot, and followed Stacie into her room. Stacie wrangled her into the skirt and an insane pair of heels, and Chloe shivered with excitement.

But she still threw on a coat for good measure.

She hadn’t been out in so long, and after the hard week they’d had, she was happy to spend a night unwinding with her friends.

And she wasn’t thinking of Beca at all.

Until they got to the club.

“I know this place,” she pondered aloud as they pulled up. Cameras flashed as they got out of the rideshare SUV, but, seeing that they were nobodies, the paparazzi stopped almost immediately.

“Really?” Stacie asked as she pulled Chloe to the line.

“Yeah, but I… I’m not sure what from.”

The redhead blinked. Why did she recognize this place?

They waited in line for a few minutes before Aubrey declared the whole situation “ridiculous,” went to make a few calls, and then she returned with a bouncer to tell the women they were free to go inside.

And when they got inside, and Chloe surveyed the dance floor and bars, Chloe realized that this was the club.

Beca’s club.

Her eyes trailed to the VIP section slowly, reluctantly. It was up on the second floor, and shrouded for privacy with tall gates, but this was definitely the place. She could even see the flashes of cameras lighting up the dark area.

“Everyone out there having a good time?”

The whole Bellas group froze as the voice came over the loudspeaker, but the crowd erupted in cheers. Stacie and Jessica fully turned around to look for Chloe.

“Hah, yeah, I thought so,” Beca went on. “I’ll be back in twenty, and then I’m gonna crank this bitch up to eleven.”

Cheers again, and she poo-poo’d them.

“Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it,” she teased. “Tip your bartenders if they’re hot.”

The mic clicked off, and a trap remix of Ed Sheeran’s Bad Habits poured in through the speakers.

“We can go somewhere else,” Aubrey said in her ear. “I asked Jesse for recommendations, and I didn’t think- I would’ve thought he’d be-”

“It’s fine,” Chloe said loudly, so everyone could hear. “We’re hear for a good time, right?”

Fat Amy whooped loudly, but CR smacked her on the arm.

“Seriously?” she chastised.

“What?” Amy asked, looking around. “You heard the ginger, she said we’re good.”

“She didn’t mean it, Amy,” Stacie replied.

“Actually I did,” Chloe asserted. “Really. She probably won’t even notice. We’ll have a good night. We’re allowed to have a good night!”

Tentatively, the group resumed their direction towards the bar. Chloe was just about to tell everyone to stop looking at her when Aubrey cleared her throat.

“I actually got us a table, if we’re going to stay,” she said. “It’s not VIP, but it’s- we don’t have to wait for drinks, we have bottle service.”

“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Fat Amy cheered, pulling Aubrey up to her so they could lead the way across the dance floor to a more secluded area on the opposite side of the floor.

Aubrey gave another bouncer their name, and he checked a list on his phone before showing the women to their table. It was definitely less crowded at the table service section, more open, and - Chloe noticed ruefully - directly visible from the deejay booth.

“Tequila!” Aubrey called out, and a few of them cheered. Chloe could tell that they were still wary about her mood, so when the bottle arrived, she claimed it first, pouring a generous serving into her glass and downing all of it.

“Who’s dancing with me!?” she asked, shucking her coat and tossing it over a chair. Immediately Flo was by her side, as was Ashley. Fat Amy stole the bottle next, following Chloe’s lead and shooting a shot before letting out a feral yell.

“Let’s turn this bitch up!”

Chloe lead some of them - she didn’t turn around to see who - out to the floor. Kid LAROI was just finishing, and Chloe didn’t recognize the next song that came on, but that didn’t stop her from dancing in tight circles as the alcohol hit her.

The anonymity of the dance floor helped Chloe lose herself in the music for a few minutes until Beca came back over the speakers.

“Now this is a good-looking crowd,” she hummed into the mic, and the crowd yelled back. Chloe let herself cheer as well as she blended in to the crowd.

“Yeah, well, let’s do it, then,” Beca sighed mockingly, and the crowd went nuts. A heavy bass kicked on, with some sliding notes, and Chloe felt herself moving to the beat. She didn’t think anything of it until the thudding base fell off as the song started to build to it’s first drop.

“But I got smarter, I got harder in the knick of time…”

A remix of Look What You Made Me Do.

A great song, if not a little dated.

A fantastic remix that had women screaming from all corners of the dance floor.

And, coincidentally, a song she had referenced to Beca through their notes this week.

Coincidentally, Chloe told herself as she twisted to the beat.

Beca transitioned out of that into a mash up with 212, which Chloe loved, and then she went into something that Chloe didn’t recognize. She was trying to keep her mind off the fact that Beca was the one spinning the tunes, but it was like her body knew, because it she could feel the beat in her chest and lower, through her abdomen.

It’s hot, she admitted to herself. To be down here, dancing to Beca playing.

And I missed her.

She hadn’t let herself think it this week, but here, on a dark dance floor, with Beca unconsciously orchestrating her body, she let go.

And apparently the movement didn’t go unnoticed, because a cute guy with sandy brown hair caught her eye as she twirled around. He raised an eyebrow at her, and Chloe smiled, so he moved around to sidle up behind her.

“Hi,” he hummed in her ear, and his voice was deliciously low, a rich timber that rumbled through Chloe’s chest where his body connected with hers.

Solid, and tall, and warm and not terribly uncoordinated.

“Hi,” she smiled back as she continued to swivel her hips.

He wrapped an strong hand over her hip as he matched her, close enough to make contact but not so much that Chloe felt trapped.

She was about to spin around to attempt to talk to the guy, but then the song changed semi-abruptly as a remix of Act Up over Party in the USA came on.

The woo that emitted from the dance floor was ear-splitting, and Chloe winced as she was pulled away from her mysterious stranger and into the arms of her friends as they began to sing.

“Sorry!” she shouted as she was sandwiched between Flo and Stacie who weren’t dancing so much as emphatically posing in time, and she laughed as she joined them.

The song ended as Diplo and Dua Lipa took its place, and Chloe glanced around for the guy she had been dancing with, but he was nowhere to be seen. So Chloe danced with her friends for a couple songs before she felt the alcohol wearing off, and she gestured off the dance floor. Stacie went with her, and when they got back to the table where Aubrey and Lilly were sitting, they were laughing breathlessly.

“Now I know why she was always so tired on Monday,” Aubrey smirked with a shake of her head.

“Who, Beca? No kidding,” Stacie replied. “And this is just her blowing off steam. She told me she does this for fun, she doesn’t even get paid.”

Chloe looked at where Beca was spinning tracks quickly, then back to her friend.

“Seriously?”

“I mean, I don’t think she pays for drinks, but yeah,” Stacie confirmed. She poured herself a new shot, and one for Chloe as well. They cheers’d, dropping the glasses to the table before bringing them to their lips.

“You looked pretty cozy out there, Chloe,” Aubrey teased, knocking her shoulder into the redhead. “Who was the hunk?”

“I didn’t find out, the song changed and I lost him,” Chloe lamented. “I’ll find him though!”

“If you don’t, I will,” Stacie growled. “What was he, like, 6’4”?”

“Mmhm,” Chloe moaned, giggling.

A modded version of Kiss Me More started playing through the speakers, and Chloe gasped.

“What?” Aubrey asked. “Do you see him?”

But Chloe wasn’t thinking about the tall guy anymore.

She was thinking about a specific, short woman.

Because one song was a coincidence, and the Party in the USA remix could’ve been anything.

But three was a trend.

She dragged her eyes up to the deejay booth, and from this angle, she could almost see-

She was almost certain-

And then she felt her phone vibrate against her chest.

She pulled her phone out, clicking the side button so the screen flashed on.

don’t bother looking for him

Then, another.

I had him kicked out

Chloe gasped indignantly, flashing angry eyes up towards Beca, then reached for the tequila. She poured herself another shot and took it.

“Chlo are you-”

She typed out a quick screw you before she grabbed Stacie’s arm.

“C’mon,” she said angrily. “We’re going to go find some dance partners.”

“Are you sure-”

But Chloe was already pulling Stacie onto the floor, setting out in a different area from the rest of The Bellas crew, so that she could still look up and see Beca in the booth.

And, just to be safe, she went to an area where she knew Beca could see her.

It didn’t take long before a couple guys approached them, as Stacie must’ve been scouting the place and making eyes at a number of eligible bachelors. Chloe felt her phone buzz against her chest, but she didn’t check it. It went off again, and she turned in her dance partner’s arms so they were chest to chest.

He was handsome, with dark hair and eyebrows. Shorter, but his hips twisted with incredible precision.

“I’m Luis,” he said with a wide smile and a raised brow. “You’re a really good dancer.”

Chloe’s phone buzzed. She ignored it.

“Chloe,” she replied, smiling shyly. “And I’m following your lead.”

He smirked at that, wrapping an arm tightly around her waist as he pulled her flush with his body.

The phone buzzed again, and they were close enough that Chloe knew Luis felt it. He glanced down - basically, right down Chloe’s top, and she had to suppress her eye-roll as he looked back up at her.

“You gonna get that?”

“I don’t think so, no,” she shot back, but she spun back around in his arms, wrapping an arm up the side of Luis’s neck, tangling it in his short hair.

The phone went off again, and Luis laughed.

“Someone’s trying to get a hold of you,” he purred in her ear. “You should check it. Someone might be in trouble.”

Chloe huffed impatiently as she pulled her phone out of her top, giving Luis an ample eyeful from his viewpoint over her shoulder.

you look too good to spend the night with him

he wasn’t even that hot

chloe

chloe beale

back door, 5 min

It was the last one that almost made her drop her phone.

“Sorry,” she said to Luis over her shoulder. “It’s my friend, I gotta-”

She made eye-contact with Stacie, who shot her a questioning look, but she just pointed somewhere in the direction of their table or the bathrooms, and Stacie seemed fine to accept the excuse.

And then she moved towards an exit sign.

“All right, that’s it for me!” Beca said over the mic, and the crowd groaned.

“Oh shut up,” she shot back. “Tip your whatever.”

She cued up You Right, and the crowd seemed partially sated as the sultry beat worked them over.

Chloe stepped off the dance floor towards the back of the building. There were a few booths, and the lines to the bathroom, and another bar, but she didn’t see any door. She stepped up to the bar to get the attention of the woman behind it.

“Back door?”

“Around the corner,” she gestured with a shrug as she shook a metal shaker.

“Thanks,” Chloe replied as she made her way around the bar, around the corner, and-

Beca was there.

She had her arms crossed as she glanced up to her left where Chloe could see stairs, and down the bar behind Chloe.

She was wearing jeans and an oversized leather jacket, which she took off as Chloe approached, exposing a black t-shirt with some logo on it.

She wrapped the jacket over Chloe’s shoulders and pushed her outside.

“What-”

“Whatever anyone says, keep moving,” Beca whispered quickly. “There won’t be cameras, but there might be people. It’s still early, but you never know.”

Chloe let Beca’s hand on the small of her back guide her out the door, along the edge of the building, down a mercifully abandoned alley before they stepped into a small parking lot.

Beca lead Chloe to what Chloe recognized as her SUV, pressed the button on the handle, then opened the back door for her.

“Get in,” Beca growled.

“Why should I?”

Beca exhaled sharply, slamming the door and then crowding Chloe against it. Warm breath hit the bottom of Chloe’s ear.

“Get in the car,” Beca purred, her hand curling under the jacket, at Chloe’s hip, in the scrap of fabric that technically constituted a skirt. “Or we can do this in the parking lot.”

Chloe shivered, reaching behind her for the door handle and pushing her and Beca forward just enough to allow the door to open. She slid around it, feeling the plush leather of the seat behind her. She couldn’t break contact with Beca though, so she hoisted herself up and attempted to scoot across the bench seat.

Beca crawled in after her, holding Chloe close to her as the redhead made room. When she finally tucked her feet in, Beca let the door close behind her. They sat there, staring at each other for a moment as the light faded overhead.

And then Beca kissed her.

She leaned down slowly, as if she didn’t want to do it, and Chloe couldn’t blame her. As soon as their lips met, Chloe knew she wouldn’t think about kissing anyone else for a long while. Beca’s lips were soft, small and delicate in the way they met hers with imperfect force, and Chloe could tell she was holding back. It was tentative, and careful, and not at all what Chloe needed right now.

So she changed it.

She looped a hand around Beca’s neck, pulling her down firmly and fully on top of her, rolling her hips up as she parted her lips against Beca’s, and she felt Beca inhale sharply through her nose. Chloe smirked angrily as she wrapped teeth around Beca’s bottom lip, pulling it, and Beca groaned.

Chloe released the lip and leaned back.

“If you’re going to ruin my night, at least make it fucking worth it,” she said, voice low and dark.

Beca groaned again and leaned forward to capture her lips again.

And this time, she didn’t hold back.

She met Chloe’s lips fully, pressing the redhead into the seat below her as she rolled her hips against her. Chloe moaned, and Beca took the opportunity to slide her tongue into her mouth, which Chloe quickly capture with a twist of her own. She surged up against her, pressing Beca up, and the producer drove her tongue into her again, reaching a hand up to tangle in the redhead’s curls.

She tightened her hand at the base of Chloe’s skull, pulling back, and Chloe leaned into the touch with a rough moan. Beca continued her assault, placing warm, open kisses down Chloe’s neck and across her collar bone.

“You should burn this shirt,” Beca grumbled as she dipped lower, dragging her lips against Chloe’s exposed sternum. “It should be illegal for you to wear this.”

“And the skirt?” Chloe challenged with a smirk.

Beca quirked an eyebrow from her position in the valley of Chloe’s breasts.

“The skirt can stay,” she mocked. “But you can’t wear it in public anymore.”

Chloe laughed roughly.

“You can’t tell me what to do,” she tried to say, but her voice was already shaking, her breath coming in short, sharp gasps, and Beca heard it.

“Of course not,” she teased, placing an open-mouthed kiss on the inside of Chloe’s breast. Her hand traced a dangerous path up the inside of Chloe’s exposed thigh, and she had to clench her entire body to stop the shiver that threatened her.

Beca nudged Chloe’s top open with the side of her nose and placed kiss right above her nipple, and Chloe groaned. Beca stilled the hand under Chloe’s skirt, mere centimeters away from where Chloe needed it.

Too much, not enough, but too much.

“Hot,” Chloe moaned, and Beca let out a low laugh.

“Yeah, I know.”

“No, I mean - shut up,” she grumbled, and Beca chuckled again. “I need to take this jacket off.”

“Keep it on,” Beca commanded darkly. “You look good in my clothes.”

“Then get up,” Chloe responded, pushing Beca up and back, against the other car door. The producer grunted in surprise, but Chloe climbed on top of her, pressing a strong thigh in between Beca’s, and the brunette rolled against her.

She rolled again, seeking intimate friction as Beca raised a jean-clad thigh to meet Chloe’s core. Chloe ground down against it, keening as she swiveled her hips against Beca.

But it wasn’t enough, and she couldn’t get the right angle, and Beca was too far away, if she could just-

“Jeans, off,” Chloe snapped as she leaned back, ripping the jacket from her shoulders. She peeled her top off too, and she watched Beca’s eyes widen as she lifted her skirt up off her hips, around her stomach, exposing her thong enough so she could strip it off.

“I forgot that you get bossy when you’re like this,” Beca smirked. “Am I not moving fast enough for you?”

Chloe laughed sharply.

“You’re really not,” she said seriously. She pulled the thong over her heels and ran a finger through her wetness, moaning as she glanced her clit.

That got Beca’s attention real quick, and the producer immediately started working her tight jeans off her body. Chloe watched with heavily-lidded eyes as Beca, flushed even in the darkness of the car, greedily took her in as she wrestled with her clothes.

“Just so you know, I fully intend to stop talking soon,” she grinned. “If you were wondering.”

“Mmkay, Becs, anytime now,” Chloe groaned as her fingers slipped against herself. She split her pointer finger and her middle finger over his clit in an attempt to tamp down the tension, but her hips raised involuntarily as she inadvertently spread herself open for Beca.

“Fuck, Chlo,” Beca whispered as she stared at Chloe’s sex. She was finally still, and Chloe saw that her pants were around her calves, which she considered enough.

“Is that from me, or from those douchebags you were dancing with?”

Chloe groaned sharply as she sat up, leaning forward to capture Beca’s lips in a rough kiss.

“You,” she spat angrily. “It’s all you. Now do something about it.”

Beca moaned as she kissed Chloe fully, sucking Chloe’s tongue when the redhead pressed it into her mouth. Chloe could feel her teasing a hand up her thigh again, and this time she wasn’t having it. She broke the kiss, leaning back against the car door and pulling Beca with her. She pressed a thigh up into Beca and swore loudly when she was met with hot, wet arousal. Beca rubbed herself down the length of Chloe’s thigh as she moved back, leaning down to kiss between the redhead’s breast before leaning lower.

“I love when you curse,” Beca whispered. “It’s so fucking hot, to hear you lose control.”

But Chloe didn’t want to talk anymore. She didn’t want to hear what Beca loved about her, or explain why she was so turned on by the producer. She didn’t want to think at all. So she just moaned, pushing Beca’s head down as she raised her hips up, and Beca took the hint.

She placed a kiss on Chloe’s pubic bone, then, without any more teasing, she wrapped her lips around Chloe’s clit.

Stars exploded behind Chloe’s eyes as she slammed them shut. The hand tightened in Beca’s hair as she nearly screamed her moan, pushing her hips further into Beca’s mouth before the brunette trapped them under her arm. Chloe whimpered as Beca thoroughly traced a tongue through her folds, lapping at the pooled arousal, then returned to her clit as she coaxed the orgasm from her. Beca began licking short, hard licks against Chloe’s clit, and she knew she was a goner.

“Fucking hell, Beca Mitchell, you eat pussy like you’re dying,” she swore, and she felt Beca speed up, pressing harder, and her felt her hips stall at their peak.

Hand pressed against the back of Beca’s head, and Beca sucking hard at her clit, Chloe tipped over the edge of her climax violently. She thrust her hips into Beca’s steadfast mouth, felt herself coating the brunette’s chin as wave after wave of arousal poured out of her. Beca held there, waiting for Chloe to still again, switching the hard pressure for a gentler one, then an cautious lick as Chloe shivered.

Chloe felt her muscles relax as the final wave of her orgasm subsided, and she let out a long breath.

“Well,” she sighed, closing her eyes and leaning back.

“‘Well’? That’s all you have to say?”

She peeked one eye open to see Beca sitting back on her haunches. She had her t-shirt pulled up around her chin, over her bottom lip, and she was watching Chloe with a sort of cautious reverence.

Chloe rolled her eyes and grunted as she sat up, leaning over to pull the shirt away from Beca’s mouth and replacing it with her lips instead. She tasted herself there and moaned.

“Well… I’m sorry if I ruined your seats.”

Beca gave a small grin but leaned back when Chloe tried to kiss her again. Chloe regarded her skeptically.

“Beca,” Chloe said, narrowing her eyes. “Becs. What are you doing?”

Beca’s expression turned to one of genuine concern, and she took a deep breath to speak, but Chloe cut her off.

“No, to whatever you’re going to say,” she barked, bringing a hand up quickly to Beca’s sex. The producer released her breath in broken, stuttered gasps.

“But I-”

“Don’t speak - hell, don’t even think until I’ve had you,” Chloe growled possessively. She stroked Beca softly, and Beca’s hips began to roll in time with the barely-there touches.

“Lean back,” Chloe said gently, and Beca obliged, shifting her legs where they were still trapped in her jeans so they were in front of her instead, her back against the opposite car door.

Chloe moved away from her, and the younger woman whimpered in protest as Chloe leaned down, undoing her shoes and pulling them off so that she could take off her jeans.

Beca was quiet the whole time, watching her with an expression that Chloe couldn’t read. It was pensive - deep in whatever thought she’d chosen (wisely) not to vocalize - but Chloe couldn’t tell what else the expression held. It was like an oil painting, if oil paintings were incredibly dirty and hot.

Chloe finally finished her task, hunching to lean over Beca as she kissed her way up her thighs. She brought her mouth to the fold of Beca’s hip, and the brunette gripped the leather next to Chloe’s head so hard that seat actually dipped beneath her.

“Beca Mitchell,” she warned, putting on her best firm voice. It was weak, but effective, as Beca finally broke her contemplative stare to look at Chloe fully.

“Put your hands-”

She grabbed Beca’s hands and broke their contact with the seat.

“-in my hair-”

She raised both of Beca’s hands into her short curls and relished the feel as Beca tightened instinctively.

“-and let me fuck you like I want to,” she said, and then she brought her mouth down onto the brunette beneath her.

Beca groaned loudly as Chloe licked up the length of her, pausing only briefly at the top before dropping down to continue exploring her. She brought her hand up to Beca’s sex, spreading the brunette open as she speared her tongue deep into Beca’s opening, curling it slightly as she pulled it out and delighting in tension she felt against her scalp. Beca was rolling her hips against her, cursing and moaning in near constant intervals, and Chloe knew she wouldn’t last very long. She slipped a finger inside of Beca as she tilted her head, bringing her mouth up to Beca’s clit.

“-swear it’s torture, every day, I miss you, it’s insane,” Beca was saying, and Chloe only picked up on part of it. She wondered if Beca even realized she was talking at all, and she picked up the pace.

“You do smile when you come and it’s so hot,” she tripped over the words as they spilled out of her mouth in rapid succession. “I want to see it every day, I want to put that smile there, I want to-”

A particularly good curl, combined with a particularly hard press of her tongue, and Beca moaned loudly, nearly crushing Chloe as her thighs slammed together, leaving Chloe trapped in arguably the best way. She held herself to Beca as the orgasm rocked through the producer’s body, and when Chloe thought she was done, Beca shuddered and tightened again before finally falling limp.

“You’re really, really good at that,” Beca sighed, and Chloe giggled against her thigh.

“That makes two of us,” she said, placing a kiss on Beca’s clit before sitting up and removed her finger from inside of her.

“Yeah?”

Chloe laughed and rolled her eyes as she brought her own finger to her mouth. Her lids fluttered closed as she sucked Beca’s arousal off of it, and Beca swore again.

“Yeah, Becs,” she sighed faux-exasperatedly. “That was like the best orgasm I’ve ever had, and it was in the back of a car with a wonderful woman who - I’m guessing, anyway - is already planning her escape route?”

Beca tore her eyes away from the jeans in the footwell that Chloe was half sitting in.

Chloe rolled her eyes and reached down, picking up Beca’s jeans and handing them to her.

“Why’d you do this?” Chloe asked seriously, and Beca grunted as she tried to lay flat so she could pull her jeans on. Chloe watched her, not moving to reset her skirt yet, or to find her top.

She had to know what was going on in Beca’s head.

When Beca saw that Chloe wasn’t going to let it go, she finished pulling her pants on then leaned back, carding a hand through her hair.

“I don’t know why I did it. Maybe I was jealous,” Beca replied, but Chloe knew by the look in her eyes, in the way she wouldn’t look at Chloe dead-on, that she was lying.

She just didn’t know what the truth was.

Chloe pulled her skirt back down over her hips, reached down to grab her top, and pulled it over her head.

“I can drive you home?”

“Forget it, Mitchell,” Chloe said. “I’ll call an uber.”

“I can call you a car-”

“I said forget it!”

She opened the door, straightening her heels before stepping onto the pavement, and Beca leaned over, picking up the oversized leather jacket from the floor of the SUV and handing it to Chloe.

Normally, she would’ve turned it down, but she wasn’t about to go back inside and get her own coat. Not now, not like this.

“Thanks,” she said, taking the coat from Beca’s hands and wrapping it around her shoulders before pulling out her phone to start the rideshare app.

She could feel Beca staring at her, like she was going to say something, but in the end, she just sighed, pulling the door shut behind Chloe. A second later, Chloe heard the engine start, and she didn’t turn around until she didn’t feel the presence of Beca’s SUV behind her anymore.

And then she turned just in time to see Beca’s taillights as she turned the corner and disappeared from view.

Chapter Text

“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.

Chapter Text

Chloe straightened her sparkly dress as her friends tittered beside her in their dressing room.

“At least we don’t have to eat bull testicles,” CR sighed.

“Or do the crosswalk thing,” Stacie agreed. She pulled her strapless top up, then, thinking better of it, pulled it back down the half inch that she had sought to correct.

Aubrey shot her a withering look, reaching over the pull the top up again as she assessed the group.

“I’m just glad you’re getting the interview done first,” she said with an encouraging smile. “Because the performance will be phenom.”

Chloe returned the smile.

“He said he’d take it easy on us,” Chloe replied. “And we already approved the topics last week. We’re going to do great.”

Someone gave them a two minute call through the door, and the group moved into position. She knew they had a recorded intro first - a virtual interview with Jason Sudeikis who was still filming in England - and then they would introduce The Bellas.

“I mean, Corden can’t be worse than Hoda, right?” Fat Amy said suddenly. “I was just glad she let me have some of her brekkie wine.”

The group turned to her slowly. They were waiting for the knock on the door, when they would get introduced, but they couldn’t help but gawk at their friend.

“You were on the Today Show?” Stacie asked. “When? Why?”

The Australian attempted to stall with a careful hum.

“It wasn’t a big deal,” she hedged. “My one-woman act went slightly viral, before university. You probably watched it - ‘Australian singer flashes her fanny at president’?”

“Your what?” CR exclaimed.

“We’ve done everything we can to bury it,” Aubrey said, confirming Chloe’s worst fear: that the story was actually true and not a Fat Amy fabrication. “But we have a plan if it ever comes up.”

Aubrey nodded at Fat Amy, and the heavyset blonde returned the gesture with a pained expression.

“What’s the plan?” Chloe asked hurriedly.

“We let Amy say whatever she wants,” Aubrey replied sadly, and Amy nodded again. “It was the only thing we could think of.”

“Twenty seconds!” the voice called through the door again.

Dumbfounded, Chloe glanced between Aubrey and Fat Amy, but before she could say anything, there was a knock at their door.

She plastered on a smile as CR answered it. The film crew was there, along with a PA, and Chloe blinked rapidly in the bright light, hoping that she didn’t look absolutely crazy for her first national TV performance.

TikTok was one thing, but this?

This was the big time.

“Bellas! Good to see you! You all look fantastic!”

James’s voice rang out in their ears, and Chloe had to keep her hands plastered to her sides to not fiddle with the ear piece. Thankfully, the women had chosen CR to talk first, not her, so all Chloe had to do was smile as she stared into the camera. She heard her friend laugh - a beautiful, lilting sound - before she responded.

“We’re excited to be here,” CR said gracefully, and Chloe nodded adamantly.

“Well we’re excited to have you,” James replied. “Now let’s see, we’ve got CR, and Stacie, and Chloe, and - now, Fat Amy, what are you wearing?”

CR stepped back as the Australian moved to the center of the door’s opening. She extended a leg out seductively, showing every inch of her leopard print skit. She had a bustier red plaid top and a black beehive wig, and her skin was covered in temporary tattoos, resulting in what they fondly referred to as-

“Yeah, I’m Fat Amy Winehouse,” she replied, dropping a shoulder towards the camera as she began to sing. “I’m a sexy star with a dirty secret.”

Chloe heard the audience laugh through James’s audio, and she rolled her eyes playfully.

“Well, legally, we’re going to label this parody, okay?” James replied. “I’m not sure we can represent persons, living or dead, so let’s just call you Fat Amy for the evening.”

“Right, okay,” Amy agreed. “I’m doing the Bellas thing mostly for exposure anyway. It’s good to use my stage name.”

Again, the audience laughed. The PA next to the camera gave them a signal for ten seconds left, and Chloe assumed that James was getting the same.

“Well, we’re going to talk about exposure later,” James teased, and immediately Chloe knew they had found whatever clip Amy had just told them about. “We’re going to sit down with Bellas, and we’re going to get a live performance too, right?”

CR elbowed Amy off to the side as the Australian tried to respond. But she was too far away from CR’s mic now, so it barely picked her up as CR began to speak.

“That’s correct,” she said.

“Fantastic,” the host replied. “We’ll see you soon!”

The group waved as the crew shut off the camera, and then a PA was approaching to tell them to take twenty minutes, that they’d call them backstage. They watched James cover the news and interview Jason while they desperately tried to figure out what Amy should say about the flashing clip. Eventually, the Australian said she would just “wing it” as they were ushered backstage, and then they were being introduced.

The stage was bigger than Chloe expected - maybe because of Covid, they were more spread out - but thankfully Amy immediately took focus away from the group as she did the sprinkler towards James Corden. Chloe was grateful; as much as she liked to take charge in the studio, these staged interviews still felt pretty foreign.

They’d only done a few radio interviews so far, and even that was almost too much.

“Bellas! Bless you for being here, look at us!”

The audience applauded as James fell into host mode easily, and Amy - who sat in the middle of the couch with Chloe, with Stacie closest to Corden and CR on the far end - followed the host’s lead all too easily as she gestured to both sides of the couch.

“I hate to say it, James, but this is probably the sexiest couch of performers you’ll ever have,” she said, and the audience laughed. “Though, I suppose you’ve had them 1D boys quite often, haven’t ya?”

“Oh, I think they’d agree with you,” James laughed. “I don’t think anyone would doubt that you Bellas are hot!”

The crowd cheered, and James glanced down at his cards as he moved into his first question.

“Now, while most of us had a rather terrible year or so - myself especially, because you try to host a TV show alone - you girls sort of- owe your success to this pandemic, yeah? Explain this, explain who you are and how you kind of got started.”

Stacie leaned forward, flashing an ample amount of cleavage towards the camera as she addressed the question.

“Well, we’re The Bellas, we’re a singing group, and yeah, like you said, we started during the quarantine-”

“On TikTok,” James cut in excitedly.

“On TikTok, yes,” Stacie confirmed.

“And we actually showed you on this show before, I believe it was one of those videos where you react to something, like, really excitedly, and-”

“And you used the duet to show us the grossest, worst things in the world,” Stacie finished for him, turning to the audience. “I believe one of them specifically had toe hair?”

The audience started to laugh, and James joined them. Chloe chuckled too, but it was mostly out of nerves. Amy blew out a rough raspberry.

“You put the feet pics online, Corden,” the Australian scolded. “People would pay good money for that, and you just put it out there for free.”

“No!” James objected, turning to the crowd, and the audience laughed as they agreed. “No, they might pay for your feet, but I’m not sure-”

“You never know what’s going to go viral…”

“Speaking of which-”

Chloe tensed as James flipped to his next card.

“We actually have one video of The Bellas that was going viral a couple of months ago, can we show that?”

Chloe and the rest of the group turned to the monitor to see they had cued up a TikTok of them in the Popcorn studio. And it must’ve been early - maybe one of the first days they were recording, because Beca was there, and Chloe was in the booth. She was singing Scared of Happy, and Chloe quickly realized this was her first time in the booth, that very first day, the first time she had sang for Beca.

She stopped singing, and the track ended.

After a beat, Amy shouted, “I wonder what it’s like being God’s favorite.”

Jessica caught Beca spinning around, sending Fat Amy a toothy smiling before resuming her focus on Chloe in the booth.

The audience applauded cordially, and Chloe watched as James set his attention on her.

“Now, the caption for that was ‘First Bella in the booth’ - Chloe, are we to assume that was your first time recording professionally?” he asked incredulously.

“Well, we did the EP a while ago, but- well, yes, that was the first, like, real recording,” she replied, flustered. They had said they were going to do a segment on TikTok, but Chloe figured they were going to show their goofy, trendy ones. She should’ve known that they’d pull some of the recording ones too, especially because Beca was in them.

And with the way Beca had been acting recently…

“Wow, just wow,” James said, and the audience applauded again. “And that was Beca Mitchell, you Bellas got to work with her?”

He was still looking at Chloe, so she swallowed and nodded.

“We did, yeah,” she said. “She’s incredibly talented.”

“Did you get to party with her at all? Because from what we’ve seen-”

Chloe was shaking her head, but it didn’t deter the host.

“No? Oh man, I would’ve loved to hear some Mitchell party stories,” he sighed. “We tried to get her here, to come on with you girls, but she declined. She looks like she’s having a good time though!”

Chloe bit the inside of her cheek to keep from frowning.

It’d been no secret that the producer had been partying nonstop since they had last spoke in January. She wasn’t even deejaying at the club anymore, just bringing dates there so they could “get caught” sneaking out together. There must’ve been five of them in as many weeks, and Beca was always seen with them for a week or two, maybe sharing a sweet kiss or a walk down the other woman’s block.

But by the same time the next week, she was out with someone else.

As hard as Chloe tried to avoid any mention of Beca’s name online, she inevitably caught a paparazzi photo on Twitter or Instagram. And it hurt, to see Beca chasing drinks with women and vice versa, even though she knew it wasn’t real.

And as hard as she tried to act like it didn’t affect her, her friends knew. They did everything they could to keep her preoccupied, and no one said Beca’s name unless they absolutely had to.

Chloe knew they knew, and so she let them coddle her.

Just for now.

Except right now, apparently, because Chloe saw James was still looking at her, and Chloe’s mouth opened with a stray vowel - she would say something, surely, she’d think of something by the time she finished stalling - until she suddenly didn’t have to, because Stacie cleared her throat beside him.

“We haven’t seen shortstack since, like, six weeks ago, so…”

“‘Shortstack’, is that what you called her?” James jumped at the bait. “Oh, I can’t wait to call her that when she comes back here.”

“She’ll love it,” Stacie beamed, and the audience laughed.

“Sensational, I love it,” James replied, and, catching the eye of his producer, he turned to address the crowd fully. “We’re going to take a quick break, and when we come back, The Bellas will perform their hit new single Something in The Water. I caught the rehearsal earlier, you will NOT want to miss it, stay tuned!”

Thankfully, the rest of the show went fine - except when James came over at the end of their stellar performance and quickly introduced Fat Amy’s mishap before closing the show, playing the most palatable frames of the inappropriate video.

They were all laughing hard as they came offstage, and Aubrey met them, saying they were definitely going to have to address the video now, but she was laughing too. The group fell into a huge hug as adrenaline pumped through them from their first real performance - even though it wasn’t full out, like they would have to do over the summer, it was exhilarating to put it on in front of a real crowd.

They had a few other things that they had to do before they could leave. They took a picture for The Late Late Show’s picture wall, and they signed a few things for a few people who had kids on TikTok who recognized the group.

Then, finally, they were allowed to go home.

Stacie and Amy wanted to go out, but they were overruled by the rest of the group - namely Aubrey, who insisted that the next day’s photoshoot was too important to be hungover for. Eventually Chloe appealed to the vanity of the two wannabe partiers, and they relented.

After the brief respite of being dolled up and posed for the majority of a day - along with an actual night out, with good food and even better drinks - they were back in the rehearsal space, putting together the pieces of their forty minute set.

The few weeks leading up to the release party were some that Chloe hoped she never forgot. They’d wake up early and do their workouts - even Amy, who finally realized that a live performance would warrant some level of cardiovascular training - and then they’d get warmed up and sing through the sticky points of a song before rehearsing the full number.

Sometimes they’d spend a full day on one number - Tequila with Lime took two days, even after they’d learned all of the choreography in February. And then they started building out segments of the full show. The first twenty minutes were a doozy, but then they would slow down, with Scared of Happy and the new version of Clout Chaser, before they ramped back up for the last third of the show.

By the end, they were even practicing covers they would sing a cappella if they got a chance, because they wouldn’t start rehearsing with a full band until after the release party.

And unfortunately, as they got closer to April - as they started getting more and more followers, and their single started climbing the charts - Chloe found herself online a lot more.

The first few days after Corden, she’d been so curious about whether Beca had seen the show, or if she was watching anything they were putting up, so she started to lightly stalk the producer.

But Beca had gone dark.

Since the night The Bellas went on The Late Late Show, Chloe hadn’t seen one paparazzi photo of her. Not even at the studio, or at restaurants that she knew Beca liked. It was like the producer fell off the face of the earth.

She asked Aubrey about it one day, and the manager sighed before turning to Chloe.

“I don’t think it’s healthy for you to obsess over her,” she scolded, and Chloe scowled.

“I’m not obsessing! I noticed that she completely disappeared, and I’m asking if something happened.”

Aubrey huffed.

“All I know is that Residual is pretty upset with her,” she sighed. “She refuses to hold up some contractural obligations, and she’s apparently working from home almost exclusively. They said they don’t even know if she’ll come to the release party.”

Chloe swallowed and nodded, turning away from Aubrey. Was Beca was trying to fight back against Residual Heat’s stupid PR team?

And even though it’d only been a few weeks, they were already mad?

She didn’t think about it before taking out her phone and beginning to text.

Hi, she wrote. I hope you’re okay. I miss you.

She erased the last sentence, then she erased the whole thing.

Thinking about you, she typed.

She erased it.

How’s the hangover?

Erased.

I miss seeing your face, even if it’s in sickly sweet staged PR photos.

She tapped the screen like she might actually send that one, then she erased that one too.

Finally, she straightened out her shoulders and decided to write a real message.

I heard you might not come to the release party, she wrote, and then she sent it without giving herself time to doubt herself.

I hope you come, she added.

She stared at the messages, hoping that the little dots would pop up again, showing that Beca was typing, but they never did. And then she was getting called back into the rehearsal space with her friends.

When she checked her phone later, she saw that the messages had been read, but there was no response.

And so Chloe continued on, trying her hardest to focus on the task at hand. She wrote a little, but lyrically, she felt like she was in somewhat of a stagnant state. So she tried to learn piano - and then she asked Ashley to help her learn piano - and she was making some progress on that while the words eluded her.

Well, ‘eluded’ was probably the wrong word.

She had the lyrics.

Months ago, she only had a chorus, and then Beca took her notebook. And when Chloe had gotten her notebook back, it was a full song.

Beca’s song.

She didn’t know what melody the producer had applied to it - didn’t even know if Beca had thought of it as a song or a poem, but as Chloe had read the words, the song had materialized around her.

Now, she was trying to learn piano so she could play what she heard in her head when she read Beca’s words. The producer would likely have a hundred different ideas, from a production standpoint, but Chloe just wanted to make it a little more real.

Just like everything around her was becoming a little more real.

It was weird, to have all of her music dreams coming true, only for Chloe to feel like she had a producer-shaped hole in her picturesque landscape. Whenever she thought about it - that she didn’t really know Beca, that this had been The Bellas dream for some time before working with Beca was even a possibility - she knew it didn’t make sense.

But to her, Beca was integral to this success. It was her fingerprints all over the tracks, and she was the inspiration for most of the new songs.

Residual Heat - and Beca, first and foremost - was one of the main reasons that they were kicking butt and taking names the way they were.

So in that respect, it didn’t make sense that Beca wasn’t there.

She thought about it as she sat in the Residual Heat lobby, at another party (more pinks and blues this time, less reds), on the same couch that she’d been sitting on four months ago.

It was their release party for their album.

There were people from the press there, and almost everyone from the studio, along with a few plus-ones. Thankfully, most of the formal interviews had already taken place, and now, they were just killing time until seven, when the songs would go online - and when they would perform a few of the new songs for Jessica to put up as promo.

Chloe tugged at the sleeves of her flowing red sleeves, then she began to pull together the material suspiciously missing at her chest.

“You better stop messing with that. You know you look too hot to cover up,” CR said as she leaned over the back of the couch, handing her a new drink. Chloe smiled gratefully as she grabbed it, pulling the small straw to her lips as she took a drink.

“You think she’ll show up?”

Chloe craned her neck back to look at CR fully.

“Who, Beca?” she asked, and the other woman nodded. She sighed before she said, “I hope so. She deserves all of this as much as we do.”

“Ehhh, I don’t know,” CR replied, scrunching her face. “Don’t get me wrong, she’s crazy talented, but I think she knows how much we brought to the table. One of us in particular, if our new single is any indication.”

Chloe felt a flush of heat as she hummed around her straw. CR huffed as she squinted around the room.

“Have you talked to her?”

Chloe shook her head.

“Not since January,” she sighed. “I tried to text her, but…”

She let the conjunction hang there, open-ended. She didn’t really know what the end of the sentence was.

-but she couldn’t even agree to come here, to her work, for a work thing?

-but she’s too busy sulking somewhere? Or fighting her own battles?

-but she ignored me?

She dashed the thoughts away.

“C’mon,” she said, setting her drink on the table before she stood, pulling CR towards her. “Let’s go warm up.”

Chloe collected all of The Bellas, along with all of their support staff and Aubrey for good measure, and dragged them down, around the corner towards the back of the building. She spared a look at the Broom Closet studio door, but she passed it, choosing instead to weave them through catering staff and into the back stairwell.

“Awh yeah,” Amy cried out as they stepped into the concrete well. “These acoustics! Chloe always finds the good spots.”

Her voice echoed up and down the stairs, and the rest of the group laughed.

“Yeah,” Stacie said suspiciously. “How do you know this was here, Captain?”

“Okay!” Chloe jumped in, ignoring Stacie’s questions. “So I just want to say something before we start.”

She paused, glancing around the group to make eye contact with everyone before offering them a watery smile.

“This is a huge deal, and we wouldn’t be here without each and every one of you. We have something really special, and we deserve every good thing that they write about us tonight!”

The group cheered, with Amy’s whooping echoing loudly all around them.

“I am just so proud of each of you,” Chloe went on. “And I could go into specific detail, but I need my make-up to stay together, so I’m not going to do that.”

The group laughed, and at the edge of her hearing, Chloe swore she heard a door open. She paused again, glancing up the stairs and down between them, then waited to hear footsteps. Hearing none, she continued.

“So much has changed already, and this is just the beginning,” she said, and she had to blink against the tears forming in her eyes. “I can’t wait to get started on all of it. You ladies, this team… you mean everything to me. You’re my family.”

The group crooned lovingly, and Stacie wrapped an arm around her.

“We actually got you something-”

“No!” Chloe cut her off sharply. “Do not make me cry right now, seriously, I’m so close to sobbing.”

The group laughed again, a real laugh, and the noise felt rounder, louder somehow. It made Chloe feel happier than she ever had.

“Okay, well let me just say,” Stacie continued. “On behalf of all of us, thank you, Chloe. You made this happen. You made all of us better, in our own ways-”

“Yeah, I barely even black out anymore,” Fat Amy said.

“And I’ve got my gambling under control,” CR added.

“Wait, you’re a gambler?” Jessica asked.

CR gave a sheepish look.

“Not since last year, when Chloe found me watching the Falcons game, curled in a ball, bawling my eyes out because I was broke,” she admitted. She met Chloe’s eye and winked.

“I owe you everything, Red.”

“Okay seriously, we need to stop!”

Everyone laughed at Chloe’s plea, but Stacie put her hands up in defeat.

“Okay, are we ready to warm up then?”

They didn’t do much - they were only going to sing Something in The Water, Eating Me Up, and All in My Head - and besides Something in The Water, they weren’t that vocally challenging songs. And with all of the rehearsals they’d been doing, it was easy to fall into their voices - easier than it ever had been, and Chloe felt herself smiling as she sang.

Until she realized they weren’t alone.

Fat Amy saw the person first, with the way they were all standing on the stairs, and the Australian trailed off her note with a quiet “ohhh noooo.” CR turned then, to look down the next flight of stairs, eyes flashing up to Chloe before she and Jessica stepped aside to let the person through.

And suddenly Stacie and Chloe were staring down the flight of stairs at Beca Mitchell.

She was wearing almost all black, with a black blazer over bright red blouse, and her eyes had far less make-up than they usually did. Even from their distance, Chloe could see she looked tired.

Tired, and sad.

“Sorry, I had to-” she started to say as she made her way up the stairs between them. She cut off her own sentence as she approached the landing, where Stacie and Chloe had stepped aside. “You sound amazing, seriously.”

She was talking to all of them, but she wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone as she slipped into the kitchen at the back of the lobby.

The stairwell was quiet as the door shut, its slam echoing loudly.

“Aca-awkward,” Fat Amy sang, and Ashley elbowed her sharply.

“What?” The Australian protested. “We were all thinking it.”

“Okay,” Aubrey cut in, and Chloe released a harsh breath. Bree would handle it. She could always handle it. “You guys are warmed up, head back inside. No shots until after the performance- I’m looking at you Amy.”

Amy went to protest but seemed to see the truth in Aubrey’s statement before she verbalized anything, instead opting to shrug and mumble something affirmative.

“Chloe? You want to stay?”

Chloe hung back as the rest of the women filed out until just her and Bree were left in the quiet stairwell. Immediately, the blonde wrapped her in a hug.

“I know this is hard, and I swear I’m not trying to make you cry,” Aubrey said softly into her hair. “But you’re so strong, and you’ve been such a tentpole for this group. I’m amazed by you every day.”

Chloe squeezed tighter.

“This is you trying not to make me cry?” she rasped against her friend’s neck, and Aubrey huffed out a laugh, leaning out from the hug.

“Get through your performance, then go talk to her, okay?” Aubrey asked as she held her shoulders. “You need to talk to her, for both of your sakes.”

“Yeah?” Chloe asked.

Aubrey sighed.

“If what I hear is true, she’s miserable, and not in the normal way,” she said. “She could probably use some sunshine.”

An alarm went off on Aubrey’s phone, and the pair glanced down to see that they only had a few minutes before The Bellas were performing.

“Okay,” Chloe nodded. “Yeah. Let’s go kill this.”

Aubrey squeezed Chloe’s shoulders once before sweeping an arm around her, ushering her through the door and back into the kitchen.

They made their way back out into the main room, and Chloe ambled towards The Bellas where they stood at the edge of the small, raised platform. Usually, there was a table or two up there, but the space had been cleared of everything except the four stools topped with handheld mics, where the singers would perform.

Her eyes scanned the room, quickly finding Beca on the other side of the reception desk. She was in a heated discussion with Jesse, who kept gesturing towards The Bellas. Beca finally followed his gesture once, meeting Chloe’s eye and turning away quickly.

Aubrey approached the pair slowly, and Jesse made a final comment to Beca before turning his full attention to Aubrey. He ran a hand through his short hair, straightened his tie, and moved towards the dais.

“Everyone, if I could have your attention!” he shouted, but it wasn’t abrasive, just commanding. Immediately, the music dropped, and Jesse clapped his hands together once.

“Welcome, everyone, to The Bellas self-titled album release party!”

The crowd clapped politely, and Jesse nodded along with them.

“Yeah, it’s pretty sweet, right?” he said. “We are so excited to have them on board with us here at Residual Heat. I don’t think there’s a better group out there - on either side of the mixing table!”

The crowd seemingly agreed, as they started clapping again.

“Now I’d like to ask if anyone has anything to say, prior to turning this over to our new favorite girl group…?” He pointedly looked at Beca, but Chloe saw the producer kept herself tucked away in the back, eyes downcast, and Jesse barely disguised his curse as a cough before he looked up and smiled again.

“Great, then without further ado, I give you - The Bellas!”

They picked up their mics as they took their seats to slightly more enthusiastic applause, and in spite of her own mixed emotions at seeing Beca, Chloe smiled broadly. Then, all three of the other women onstage turned to face her.

“Oh, I guess I’m going to introduce us,” she said, and the room echoed with laughter.

“That part already happened, Strawberry Tart,” Fat Amy said into her mic. “You just always count us in.”

Again, the crowd laughed, and Chloe blushed a little as she rolled her eyes.

“Right. Totes,” she said in her mic, and she glanced towards Beca. She found the producer’s eye and saw that she was smiling. Maybe grimacing a little, but definitely smiling.

“Okay, one, two, three, four, one, two, three-”

The four women broke into a beautiful, four-part harmony version of the All in My Head chorus, and Chloe saw Beca’s grimace give way to a real, relieved smile.

She tried not to focus her attention fully on Beca as they sang, but she found the task difficult to say the least. She found herself trying to use the producer as a barometer for her performance, like she had when they recorded. But with how far away Beca was, and the way the producer kept biting her thumbnail and covering her face, Chloe couldn’t see everything that she wanted to.

So she looked to Aubrey, and to the other Bella crew, who all bobbed and smiled so sincerely that Chloe had to look away so she didn’t cry.

And then, before she knew it, they were done.

They had performed the songs as a medley again, like they had for Beca. So when they finally stopped, the crowd burst into applause. There were a few hollers from the crew corner, and Chloe even saw Bumper wiping a corner of his eye surreptitiously. As they stepped off the stage, they were forced to pose for pictures and give a few sound-clip type comments about how excited they were.

When Chloe finally got out of the throng of people, she’d lost sight of Beca.

But it turned out that didn’t matter, because she wasn’t quite done being a Bella just yet.

“Chlo! We’re doing shots!”

Chloe laughed as she pushed her way through the group, joining her friends at the bar.

“To beginnings!” Fat Amy cheers’d.

Chloe laughed, raising her glass to her friends, and then-

Found her.

Beca looked frustrated and trapped in a very one-sided conversation with one of the journalists, but when she caught Chloe’s eye, she smiled broadly.

Chloe tipped her glass towards the producer.

“To beginnings,” she repeated, then she shot the drink back. “I’ll be right back.”

“I said shots, not shot!” Fat Amy called after her, but Chloe was already gone, darting through the crowd in a way she hoped Beca recognized, and she smiled graciously at everyone as she moved past them, past the dais, and down the hall towards the bathroom.

She waited there, in the hallway, until Beca came around the corner.

She was smiling, but it didn’t meet her eyes. Chloe noticed she looked nervous, more than usual, and Chloe could see that her under-eyes were puffy.

She looked like she needed a hug.

Chloe clenched her fists to hold back from pulling Beca into her arms. She had a mission. She had something more valuable than a hug, hopefully.

“Can we…?”

She cast her eyes down the hall, and Beca fiddled with her sleeve for a moment before she nodded.

“I just- there’s something I want to show you. To play, for you.”

Beca gave her a curious smirk as she passed her, using her keys to unlock the Broom Closet studio and holding the door open as she let Chloe go inside first.

“Play for me?” the producer asked as she pulled the door closed, and Chloe gasped at the sudden darkness.

“Okay, I don’t actually know where anything is in here,” Chloe giggled, and Beca huffed out a laugh too.

“Sorry, let me just-”

Chloe tried to flatten herself against the mixing table to let Beca by, but the producer opted for the overhead light instead, groping in the dark for the pull string.

And that just happened to be where Chloe was standing, so when Beca waved her hand through the air, she connected with Chloe’s face instead of her intended target.

“Ow,” Chloe sputtered, and Beca gasped.

“Oh my gosh, I’m so-”

“It’s fine, it didn’t-”

“-sorry, I can’t find the-”

The hand came up again, gentler this time, and Chloe felt it against her temple, and then it slid down her cheek, and Chloe felt her pulse quicken.

Beca’s hand was still on her cheek when Chloe raised her hand to hold it there, leaning into the soft fingers. She heard Beca inhale sharply, and she was so close, if Chloe just-

There was a click, and then the light turned on.

Chloe blinked against it for a second before her eyes adjusted, and then she started giggling again.

Beca’s left hand was on her face, and she had used her right to pull the light’s pull string. But the string was up, and further away from Chloe, across from her, and so Beca had her right arm crossed over left, and she also had eyes so wide that they were basically saucers.

And they were close, but not, like, really close.

“-string. I found the string,” Beca quipped quietly, and Chloe had to fight to get her laughter under control.

She kept her hand on Beca’s, and their hands on her face, but the producer dropped her other hand away from the pull string.

And those huge eyes just watched her, and Chloe was struck with how she looked so nervous, so afraid of how Chloe would react, to their current position.

So Chloe took a deep breath and put on her most open, honest expression.

“Hi,” she breathed.

Beca’s whole body sagged in relief, and another honest smile graced the brunette’s features. Chloe felt herself mimicking it automatically.

It was so good to see her.

It hit her hard. It’d been weeks since she saw Beca in person, and the producer looked so stressed and sad that Chloe felt herself viscerally responding to the pain she saw in Beca’s eyes. All she wanted to do was help take it away.

“Hey,” the brunette sighed.

Chloe closed her eyes tight, squeezing Beca’s hand in hers before letting it go.

The song would help.

She knew it would.

“In there?” she asked, barely hiding her enthusiasm as she pointed towards Beca’s office. “It’s on piano.”

Beca bit her lip as she nodded, and Chloe moved back to let Beca by. The producer moved across the space, grabbing the concealed handle that allowed the wall to give way.

Chloe walked over to the piano slowly, taking in the beautiful cityscape below her before settling at the edge of the piano bench. She could feel Beca behind her, watching her, but she was suddenly too nervous to pay attention to the producer. Her fingers twitched, reaching for the keys once, but then she resettled her hands in her lap. She spun around on the bench to look at Beca, who she found leaning against the desk.

“I’m not good,” she said.

Beca raised her eyebrows with a small laugh. She reached behind her for a pen and started carelessly spinning it between her fingers.

“I didn’t even think you could play,” the brunette said. “So I’m already impressed.”

“I, uh, I kinda learned, just for this,” Chloe replied, fighting her blush. “Just, don’t make fun of me.”

Beca stopped spinning the pen and dropped her smirk as she considered Chloe seriously.

“I would never,” she swore, and Chloe swallowed around the knot in her throat.

“Okay, let me just- okay.”

Chloe turned her back to the producer, facing the keys. She took a deep breath and let herself start playing.

It wasn’t Mozart - it was barely even chords, and it was only one hand - but it was really hard to play and sing at the same time, so she kept her chords on the main beat as she sang. She stumbled a little as she closed her eyes, so she popped them back open. Her gaze was fixed on the keys as she focused - G, and D, and B, probably, she thought so, anyway.

She wondered if Beca even recognized the words, considering she’d written them so long ago.

But then, as she finished Beca’s pre-chorus, she felt a weight drop onto the bench next to her.

Beca was sitting at the higher end of the piano, and she started playing a simple melody on top of Chloe’s. Chloe couldn’t look up, though, because she knew she’d mess up more than she already had, so she kept her eyes down.

And her chorus - one about shining a little bit brighter and singer a little bit louder when no one was there to hold them back - gave way to Beca’s words that she sang.

“Why do we do this, why do we let them make every decision that ain’t really theirs to make,” Chloe sang again, repeating the first verse. “Why are we still here? Why are we working late? We ain’t the people that they can manipulate.

And Beca picked up enough to hum underneath her as Chloe sang the pre-chorus again, and when they got to the end of the chorus, Beca was singing with her.

“It’s our life; we are the writers.”

Beca reached around Chloe to play a few low octave notes, and Chloe leaned into her arm as the notes faded.

She heard Beca sniff beside her as her hands fell away from the keys.

“I really missed you,” Beca hummed quietly, her voice shaking, voice thick with emotion. “Is that stupid?”

Chloe chuckled as she reached down, pulling Beca’s arms around her. They came willing, and she felt Beca lean into her as she took a deep, gasping breath.

“No,” Chloe replied. “Because I missed you too.”

And as Beca let out a watery laugh against her shoulder, Chloe finally let herself cry.

Chapter Text

Chloe was still crying when she felt Beca squeeze her.

“You’re crying for a good reason, right?” she mumbled into Chloe’s shoulder. “Like, you’re not upset?”

Chloe laughed as she tucked her head against Beca’s. She felt the producer press a kiss into the stiff fabric of her dress.

“I’m crying for a lot of reasons,” Chloe sighed as she released Beca’s hands so she could wipe under her eyes. “I don’t know if you realized, but there was, like, a lot going on tonight. For a while, actually, not just tonight”

She felt Beca nod before she pulled away. Chloe finally turned to face her, and - oh.

Beca was mid-laugh, blinking at the ceiling as she wiped at her cheeks. She wore less make-up, but that didn’t stop the limited eyeliner from smearing where the tears had spilled. Her eyes were still glistening, still a little pink, but the rich, dark colors were amplified tenfold with the recent tears. Chloe felt another wave of tears flood her eyes as she looked at her.

Beca cast a glance her way, rolling her eyes as she brought a thumb to Chloe’s eyes.

“We’re going to have to go back out there,” she gasped out. “I’m sorry. You were trying so hard to keep your make-up in tact.”

Chloe caught Beca’s hand, turning it so she could press a kiss into the brunette’s palm.

“Worth it,” she whispered, and Beca laughed as she curled her hand so she could squeeze Chloe’s fingers.

“Yeah,” Beca replied, slowly, with awe and something like sadness. She sighed, and Chloe couldn’t help but giggle in return.

“Seriously?” the redhead teased. “How are you already sad? Are we, like, not doing this? Because I don’t think-”

Beca didn’t let her finish.

She leaned forward quickly, pressing hard lips against Chloe’s but pulling away before Chloe could respond. She pulled her thumbnail to her mouth and smiled around it as Chloe blinked in surprise, opening her mouth to speak, then closing it as she fought against a smile.

Chloe shook her head, distinctly under the impression that the kiss was meant to be stolen, not given.

Beca huffed, swinging a leg over the piano bench and straddling it so she was facing Chloe completely.

“We’re doing this,” Beca said, then faltered.

“If you want to, I mean. I want to,” she followed up quickly, and Chloe was already nodding as she went on.

“But there’s a difference between, like, doing this, and, ya know, coming out of the closet at your album release party.”

Chloe adopted a serious face, and she saw Beca’s face fall.

“Beca… you’ve been out for years,” she said, but she was already laughing by the end of her joke. Beca shook her head.

“You’re a dork,” she teased, diving forward to steal another kiss from Chloe, but the redhead was ready this time.

She shot a hand up her neck, holding the back of the producer’s head as Beca tried to pull away. She relaxed into the kiss, and Chloe hummed happily.

Neither tried to deepen the kiss or change the angle. They just sat there, holding their lips together, and Chloe felt her smile mirrored on Beca’s lips.

She kept her eyes closed as she leaned out of the kiss. She felt Beca’s thumb on the corner of her mouth, and she opened her eyes. Beca’s eyes were twinkling as she regraded Chloe with a fair amount of concentration.

“Your lipgloss was smudged,” she said. Chloe laughed - a big, full belly laugh - and Beca cocked her head.

“Not so good for your rep now?” Chloe teased, and she saw Beca flush, rolling her eyes playfully.

“I’m sorry,” she chuckled. “I was such an ass. But to be fair, you’re really fun to tease.”

Chloe gasped, reaching out to smack Beca across the arm. But her would-be target caught the limb instead, grinning madly as she pulled Chloe towards her again. Her eyes dropped to Chloe’s lips, and Chloe’s tongue darted out to wet them before they kissed again.

Beca was the one humming this time, letting out a low, content noise that rumbled through Chloe’s chest, and Chloe felt herself turning to face her fully, pushing forward, opening her mouth to try to-

Beca groaned as she pressed Chloe back, laying a hand against Chloe’s bare sternum.

“I can’t-” she started, then she huffed out a laugh as Chloe swung her leg over the bench. Chloe reached for her, and Beca smacked her hands away.

Seriously,” she warned, and Chloe sighed. “With you in that dress, in this room… I’ll get us both in trouble.”

“It’s sound-proofed, we’ll be fine,” Chloe tried, leaning forward again, but Beca only laughed as she held Chloe at arm’s length.

“Let me take you out this week, like a date,” the producer said, and Chloe finally sat up. Immediately, her face fell, and she chewed on her lip as Beca watched her.

“I have rehearsals tomorrow and, like, all next week,” she sighed. “And normally it wouldn’t be a big deal, but next weekend is the start of Coachella, and the band’s coming, so they’re not letting us leave, like, at all. Residual’s even bringing us food, for lunches and dinners, I guess, and-”

Beca brought a knuckle up to the corner Chloe’s mouth again, and Chloe took a deep breath as she leaned into where the rest of Beca’s fingers rested against her chin.

“I’ll come by,” Beca promised. “Tomorrow. We’ll find time. We’ll make it work.”

Chloe smiled and nodded, only forcing one more kiss on the brunette before Beca hoisted her up, off the piano bench. Beca told Chloe she’d wait, so Chloe stepped out first, stopping by the bathroom to touch up her make-up before returning to the party.

If anyone noticed that she had disappeared, they didn’t say anything when she returned. Well, except Fat Amy, who supplied the redhead with two more shots, demanding that she “skull a beer” with her after. Chloe laughed and took the shots, waving off the beer when Amy produced two comically large drafts.

Beca came back out to the party too, and Chloe watched, shocked, as she pulled some journalists aside to give them a comment. Chloe tried to celebrate with her team, but she found herself watching Beca as the producer laughed as she answered whatever questions she was asked.

And it didn’t hurt that, every time Beca would glance over and catch Chloe watching, she’d smile bigger.

The Bellas took over in the main seating area, holding court on both couches and all of the chairs as Fat Amy set up a game of quarters that Chloe would absolutely not be playing. She leaned into Stacie, giggling drunkenly as the party happened around her.

“Well, Bellas, I have to head out.”

Chloe opened her eyes to see Beca standing on the periphery of their group, at the end of the couch by Aubrey and Jessica.

“You’re leaving?” Chloe pouted, and she got up to stand, but Stacie held her still when Beca shot the taller brunette a look.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Chlo,” she murmured, glancing around to see if anyone was listening. No one who mattered was listening, but The Bellas were, and the group burst into teasing coo’s and aw’s at the gentle tone.

Aubrey glanced down the couch at Chloe, who was watching Beca with heart eyes and her lip tucked between her teeth, and she stood up next to the producer. Even with Beca in boots, Aubrey had considerable height on her. Beca stood up straighter as she steadfastly looked up into Aubrey’s eyes.

The blonde offered her a hand, and Beca took it.

“Thank you for your service,” Aubrey said.

“Uh- yeah,” Beca stuttered in reply. “Sure, dude, of course.”

The blonde pulled her closer, leaning down and whispering something in Beca’s ear, and the producer’s eyes widened. Aubrey leaned back, and Beca coughed awkwardly.

“Right,” she said, then she turned to Chloe again, but the redhead was already shouting across the room.

“Did you threaten her?” she asked loudly, and Stacie clamped down on her arm harder, giggling. She reached for Chloe’s drink and tried to shove it towards her mouth, but Chloe brushed it away.

“Don’t worry about it, Becs, she does that to all of my-”

“So we’ll see you tomorrow?” Fat Amy cut in loudly. “Good, okay, bye!”

The group laughed, and Beca shot a wink towards Amy before smiling at Chloe once more.

Then, she turned to make a hasty retreat towards the back stairs.

“Wait, I wanna go say bye,” Chloe pouted to Stacie. The leggy brunette just laughed, offering Chloe her drink again, and she actually took it this time.

“Yeah, that’s not the story we want out tonight,” Stacie replied. Chloe huffed petulantly.

“Buuuut, if you’re finally drunk and happy enough to tell me about the car sex...”

Chloe giggled around her straw, taking a big drink before leaning forward, whisper-screaming, “Well first of all, thank you for making me wear that skirt, because-”

Aubrey cut her off with a shrill hum, and the pair dissolved into giggles.

And Chloe knew that tomorrow’s rehearsal would be awful, that she’d probably be hungover and tired, but right then, she didn’t care.

And she’d be fine anyway.

Because Beca would be there.

*****

Hungover Chloe was actively trying out-drink the rehearsal space’s water supply when she heard the main door open. She turned quickly, ready to yell at them to get out, but Fat Amy beat her to it.

“If that isn’t a man selling churros, you’re going to have to leave,” she called across the room, laying flat on the ground. She lifted her head, cracked one eye, and added, “at least to get some churros, then you can come back.”

“I brought donuts,” Beca replied back. “Does that count for anything?”

The women swarmed the producer, who let out a small grunt as she tried to fend them off. She looked like her regular old badass Beca self, with a black plaid flannel over ripped skinny jeans. She had a low-cut tank top on, and her hair was down, with the pieces that typically hung around her face tucked behind her ears.

Chloe would’ve felt embarrassed in her neon workout top and matching shorts, if Beca wasn’t so blatantly checking her out.

Although that wasn’t what Chloe heard CR teasing her about as she walked up slowly.

“You know it’s almost noon,” the buxom woman said as she pulled the box away, opening it for the group, and Beca scoffed.

You’re welcome,” she said sarcastically, rolling her eyes. “It’s early for me, okay?”

“We’re going to have to work on that,” Chloe said with a wink as she plucked a sugar-covered donut from the box.

“Oh, we will, will we?” Beca shot back, and Chloe hummed affirmatively as she went to suck the sugar off of her thumb. She watched Beca watch as her lips wrapped around the top digit, and the producer rolled her tongue over her lips.

“Yeah, okay,” she said breathlessly. “I can get up early.”

“Okay, Bellas, break’s over,” Aubrey shouted, stepping between Chloe and Beca, interrupting their eye-line. Chloe darted her head around the blonde, but Aubrey stepped back in the way. “Finish the donuts, then back to the front of the room. Thank you, Beca, but-”

“I’d like to stay,” Beca cut her off. “I think that’s, like, fair? Right? I can help?”

Chloe watched as Aubrey squinted, turning to look at Beca’s open, encouraging expression, then sighed as she turned back to the singers.

“Fine,” she agreed, and Chloe saw Beca grin widely. She bit her lip as she smiled, and Beca winked at her as Aubrey kept talking.

The room got quiet, and suddenly Beca looked away.

“What?” she asked.

Chloe bit into her donut as she looked around the room too, seeing half of the eyes on her, and half on Beca. Stacie started laughing, and Chloe shot her a quizzical look. Then Jessica and Ashley joined, and Chloe saw CR shake her head.

Aubrey huffed loudly.

“I said, ‘you can stay as long as you aren’t a distraction’,” she sighed. Beca went to speak, but no words came out as she looked at the other women, most of whom were quietly giggling now.

But when her eyes landed on Chloe, she just melted into a smile again.

Chloe smiled back, then held up a finger. She forced the large bite of donut down before turning to Aubrey.

“We’ll be on our best behavior,” she said faux-solemnly. “I promise, I won’t even picture her naked that much.”

“Chloe!”

The room erupted in laughter at Beca’s outburst, and Chloe giggled as she pushed the last bit of donut into her mouth.

And for some reason, she didn’t feel hung over anymore.

The headache stayed away all afternoon as Chloe watched Beca watch them rehearse. She didn’t mess up any vocals too bad, but she did take a few extra beats to throw more hip into a few of the sexier dance moves, and Beca definitely noticed. Aubrey tried to get Beca to contribute some input a few times, but after Beca refused the third time, the manager gave up.

Chloe figured if Beca had something to say, she would.

But that was before she flipped her hair, running a hand between her breasts and tossing a wink at the producer as Beca leaned forward in her chair, hands on her knees and lip caught between her teeth.

And then, Chloe figured that if Beca had something to say, she’d probably save it for later.

It was after seven when they wrapped with the band, and the tour team told them that they could be done for the night. They’d meet the next day, take Sunday off, then rehearse all next week too.

Residual’s people would need to be at Coachella all day Friday through Sunday, but they still wanted The Bellas to rehearse for the acoustic set they’d perform on Saturday, including the covers and a few extra songs in case they needed a fill-in at the small bar venue off to the side of the main stages.

The women wanted to go to the shows, but when they asked, Residual’s tour coordinator said they only had enough extra passes for everyone for the second weekend.

And then they’d go on tour.

So in the mean time, they would practice and practice and practice.

“They’re working you guys hard,” Beca said as Chloe walked with her out to her car. “That’s good. I’m glad some of these guys work as hard as I do.”

Chloe nodded as she chewed on her lip. She had Beca’s leather jacket thrown around her shoulders, but she still shivered nervously. She wanted to ask something kind of serious, but they were in, like, a semi-public place, and she didn’t know if Beca would be upset.

But she was never able to keep a thought to herself - especially the important ones - so she heard herself asking anyway.

“And you don’t care, that they know? About us?” Chloe blurted. Quietly, but still, the words tumbled out as a hushed shout.

Beca chuckled, wrapping an arm around her as she pulled her against the side of the car. Chloe’s back met the hard surface as Beca fell into her, and she squeaked in surprise.

“No,” she hummed. “I don’t care.”

She leaned, capturing Chloe’s lips soundly, and Chloe smiled into the kiss.

And then a flash went off.

They both turned, shielding their eyes and blinking as another bright light clicked on.

“Beca! Who’s the new girl?” someone shouted, and Chloe kept her hand up as she tried to see anything besides the light that was shining from around the back corner of Beca’s car.

Where she had expected Beca to tense up in her arms, or get upset and try to explain herself, Chloe was shocked when she saw Beca looking at her.

Her expression was exasperated - frustrated, for sure - but when Chloe met her eye, she smiled, pulling the lapels of the jacket she’d lent Chloe and pressing a kiss against Chloe’s nose.

“No comment,” she said, but she never took her eyes off Chloe.

Chloe smiled a small, secret smile, and she leaned forward to whisper against Beca’s cheek.

“Can we get out of here?”

Beca nodded, and Chloe felt it against her cheek, and she giggled. Beca led her around the car, and the light followed them the whole time. The guy behind the camera kept asking questions, but Beca ignored them all as she opened the door for Chloe and ushered her in.

Then, she walked around the car and got in herself.

“Where to?”

Chloe looked up from her phone, where she had sent a quick I’ll see you guys tomorrow text and was now receiving a slew of inappropriate gifs and emojis, and she found Beca grinning at her. She hummed noncommittally.

“We could go to the club,” she said, and Beca laughed loudly.

“Or, we could go to your place?” she asked hopefully (or, at least, “hopefully,” as in, “hopefully not too desperately”.)

Beca rolled her lips in an attempt to hide her smile as she nodded, pushing the start button as the SUV roared to life.

The light was still in her window, meaning the camera was still on them, but, after shifting into reverse, Beca reached over, pulling Chloe’s hand to her mouth and kissing it.

And Chloe knew that, eventually, as they drove away from the light, the glow would fade, but she swore Beca’s eyes never stopped shining as they drove all the way across town, up to the fancy houses that were tucked into the side of the hill. But Chloe gaped as passed the mansions, driving further away, up into the dark as they wound their way up a hill.

“I, uh, I haven’t had company in a while,” Beca hedged as she slowed down, turning off the hill into one of the side roads. It looped down, and around, and Chloe couldn’t see the any of the houses through the dark.

“What, no one since Kalina?” Chloe teased, but she heard the way her tone was just a little clipped, her words slightly pointed and jagged.

“Aha, no,” Beca replied. She hit a button on the roof of the car, and the whole driveway lit up in front of Chloe as a private gate rolled away. She saw a modest, two-car garage that was opening in time with the gate, and - on the edge of the light pool - she could see a light blue wall of what looked like a one-story house.

“I haven’t brought a girl here in - god - years,” Beca laughed, and Chloe frowned. “Jesse came over last week, but I’m pretty sure that was to make sure I didn’t accidentally kill myself.”

“Did I overstep?” Chloe asked. “I shouldn’t have asked to come here, that was too much, wasn’t it?”

Beca pulled into the garage and killed the engine. She lolled her head to the side and gave Chloe a skeptical look.

“If you didn’t ask, I would’ve invited you,” she said. “Just because I never had Cara or Taylor over - Cara Delevingne, obviously, or Taylor Swi-”

Chloe leaned over the center console and cut Beca off with a kiss. She swiped her tongue against Beca’s lip, and Beca canted forward, but Chloe pulled away.

She nuzzled Beca’s cheek as she giggled.

“You already got me, Becs. You don’t need to name-drop.”

“I wasn’t-”

Chloe laughed, fully leaning back and opening her car door as she nearly stumbled out of the car. She felt drunk, or like a little kid. Free and happy and careless, and light, like she could float away if she wasn’t tethered to this moment of happiness.

Beca came grumbling around the car, and even that made Chloe smile wider.

“I wasn’t name-dropping. They’re, like, my friends,” the producer mumbled as she passed Chloe, and Chloe threw her arms around her.

“I know,” Chloe replied, even though it didn’t seem like Beca was really talking to her. “I’m sorry for teasing you.”

Beca leaned back into Chloe’s embrace, and Chloe closed her eyes, savoring the feel of Beca’s body against hers.

It was funny, looking back, that either of them tried to stop this from happening.

On this side of things, it felt inevitable that they’d be together.

Beca sighed, stepping forward, and Chloe went with her, clinging like a koala.

“I’m going to go in,” Beca said over her shoulder, and Chloe shrugged against her.

“Yeah, let’s go,” she replied, and she felt laughter bubble up through Beca’s chest. They waddled up the few steps, and they leaned down together so Beca could open the door.

“It’s messy,” Beca said as she pushed the door open. She used what limited section of arm she was allowed to flip the switch next to the cabinet, and warm light flooded the space around them.

Beca continued into the space, but Chloe stopped into the doorway.

Immediately, the whole space just felt so Beca.

They were standing in the kitchen, which had dark, dark grey cabinets with marbled countertops. The counter wrapped around and separated the kitchen from the adjoining living room, decorated with black furniture. A worn wooden floor - skinny planks, and Chloe wondered idly if they were original - gave way to plush white carpet, which was offset by mid grey walls.

And Beca wasn’t really lying - the kitchen counters had takeout containers and dirty dishes, along with a smattering of mail - but that wasn’t where Chloe’s eye went.

No, that went to the windows.

There were huge windows, along the wall of the kitchen and stretching around the corner, to the end of the room. Windows that opened out over a short deck, then further, over the valley that sparkled with the lights of the city.

They weren’t all the way up the hill, but they were high enough that Los Angeles lay out below them. It wasn’t close, but with the night around them, the twinkling lights were unmistakable.

“It was, like, the first house I looked at when I decided to buy,” Beca explained as she began gathering containers and shoving them in the trash. “There’s another bedroom downstairs, but I made that into a studio at the start of quarantine, so I’m just glad I don’t have anyone in my life that I like enough to invite out here…”

Chloe put a hand on Beca’s shoulder, stilling her movements, and the producer glanced over her shoulder at the redhead.

And Chloe knew what expression she was wearing.

It was the awe-inspired, teary-eyed, wide-smile one.

“It’s the most Beca-filled place I’ve ever seen,” she whispered, and Beca dropped her mug back on the counter as she turned in Chloe’s arms.

Chloe crowded her against the counter, pressing a hard kiss against Beca’s lips, opening slightly when the producer whined into her mouth. Corners still turned up in a slight smile, Chloe slanted her mouth over Beca’s, humming as Beca followed, tilting her head to meet Chloe’s every move.

Chloe let her tongue sneak through her lips, and she knew Beca felt it when the brunette’s lips parted. Liquid heat seared a line through Chloe’s chest as she surged into Beca’s mouth, claiming it with a curled tongue and a vibrating, strangled moan. Her hands tightened on Beca’s hips, and she felt Beca roll against them.

Beca pulled her head back, and Chloe allowed them to part, albeit unwillingly. She opened her eyes to see Beca still had hers closed.

“So do you want the tour now, or…?”

Chloe smiled as she leaned back in, lifting one of her hands to curl up Beca’s neck, under her curtain of dark locks, so she could pull Beca back to her.

“I’m okay,” Chloe murmured against her lips, and Beca hummed contentedly. “Although there is one room I’d like to see.”

“Is that so?” Beca giggled against her lips.

But then Chloe was the one who leaned back.

“Oh my gosh,” she sighed, dropping her head to Beca’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, we should, like, talk. You just get me so-”

She moaned roughly, tightening the hand on Beca’s hip, and she felt Beca laugh beneath her.

“We could talk-” Beca said, pushing Chloe back and grabbing her hand as she led her through her space.

“-about how Something in the Water is already a gold single, and it’s expected to go platinum or better,” she continued, reaching behind herself blindly for the door.

“Or about how you’re going to be Beca Mitchell’s newest conquest tomorrow.”

“Or about how I’m leaving in two weeks,” Chloe said, and Beca had turned, but now she stopped with hand on the door, stopped herself from pushing it open.

She turned around as she sucked in a deep breath. Chloe saw Beca’s pupils were blown out, almost black with lust, but she had her eyebrows pulled up with sadness.

“Yeah,” she blew out. “We could talk about that. Or-”

She pushed behind her, opening the door into the room behind her.

“-we could not.”

And Chloe wasn’t really sure what she was expecting out of Beca’s room, but as she stepped into what was basically a modified version of her real office at Residual, she wasn’t surprised.

The windows wrapped Beca’s room too, somehow showing even more of the LA skyline across another section of deck. The green headboard of the bed was interrupted by an insanely plush white comforter that was bundled like Beca had left it when she got out of bed that morning, and Chloe guessed that she probably had. There were dark grey sheets under it, with purple and grey striped pillows everywhere.

Off to the side, Chloe could see a record player and a smaller collection of albums, and a couple of doors that she could assume were a closet and a bathroom, but for the second time tonight, that wasn’t where she was looking.

But this time, it was because that it wasn’t where Beca was leading her.

Chloe let herself be pulled towards the bed, because it was easier than thinking about how she was going to leave.

She followed Beca across the room, because she’d follow Beca anywhere.

And when the brunette stopped at the edge of the bed, standing with her legs against it, and paused, just long enough that Chloe noticed that - again, and hopefully for the last time - Beca was giving her an out, Chloe decided that she was okay with talking later.

Because she had something more exciting to do right now.

Chapter Text

Beca hugged the shadows as she walked out of the lobby’s back hallway.

It was easy to do, in the deep red mood lighting. Jesse and the team had really outdone themselves this year - but, then again, when they had someone like her there to bring in millions of dollars, the least they could was splurge for one measly New Year’s Eve party.

Especially if they weren’t even hosting it somewhere cool.

Still, Beca had to make an appearance, kiss some ass for their parent company. And at least there wouldn’t be any media inside. It’d be nice to take a night off.

She nodded to Jesse, who spotted her almost immediately. Some hot broad was curling her fingers at the bottom of his tie, though, so he didn’t pay attention to Beca any longer than he had to.

Beca slipped towards the front of the room, trying desperately to avoid Bumper and his dude-bro associates as they plowed through a game of flip cup on the reception desk. Bumper turned at the exact wrong moment and caught sight of her, but just as he was about to call her over, there was a shriek across the way.

A rail-thin blonde that Beca didn’t recognize was being hoisted into the air by another, heftier blonde, and Beca felt her eyebrows raise skeptically as the skinny one flailed towards the vaulted ceiling.

Someone else shot up, next to them, and Beca inhaled sharply.

She could only see the side of the redhead’s face - could only see the side of her expression, which was a jumbled juxtaposition of worry and warmth. Her eyes were shining brightly though, even in the dim party. Beca had to force out her uneven breath through her nostrils.

A girl like that could ruin me.

And I’d let her.

Her feet moved of their own volition, and she stepped up behind the beautiful woman just in time to hear the heavier of the blondes call over her shoulder, “Don’t wait up, ging!”

“Now you tell me, was that a joke, or a promise?” Beca heard herself saying, and for once, she wasn’t embarrassed by the cocky, sultry tone. For once, she hoped it she could harness that persona for real, personal reasons, if only so that she could get a little closer, and-

And then the redhead turned around.

And Beca knew that her life was about to change.

*****

“Yeah, that’s good,” Beca said, cutting them off. She tried to ignore Chloe’s crestfallen but hopeful expression, like a puppy caught in a rainstorm.

Beca didn’t want to put those emotions there.

But she couldn’t avoid it.

She started rambling, telling Chloe’s bandmates about the basics of harmonious song-building. They had to strip down and get away from the pop bullshit if they were ever going to get off TikTok, like she was convinced they could do. But it should come from them, not her. She didn’t want to take their opportunity for growth away from them.

Away from Chloe.

She had it confirmed today, that Chloe was the one that they all turned to when they needed direction, and Beca was already under the impression that that was the right move. Not only was she the most talented, but she was the kind of leader that the band needed, if only she’d take the captain role.

(And Chloe had turned her down, so the redhead had taste, too.)

Because yesterday, Beca had done her research. She’d found the old songs on YouTube, from when The Bellas really sang, and then she listened to the demo again.

It all culminated to confirm what she already knew; Chloe was absolutely the leader, and she had let herself and the group get complacent.

She’d let their personalities override the music - the beginning of the end, for a lot of groups Beca had seen.

And she’d let that drill sergeant manager baby them until their talents were nearly unrecognizable.

It was infuriating.

It made her blood boil - even more than getting shot down the redhead. It pissed her off so much so that she couldn’t even let Chloe sing today - couldn’t stand to hear that crystalline perfection that had gotten distilled down to cheap sugar pop. She couldn’t let Chloe let herself be one of many instead of the one to make a difference, the one that could take their music up to where it deserved to be.

She clenched her jaw tightly.

How could someone as talented as Chloe pretend like she didn’t have a say in this group?

And was it really Beca’s place to force that responsibility on her?

“Take a couple days,” Beca was saying as she checked her phone.

Time first, and fuck, Doozie was supposed to be there in a half hour, and she still needed to mix everything down.

Then the messages, but Beca barely even registered that she had a dinner invitation from Anna - the blonde from after NYE, because Chloe Beale was NYE in her mind.

A new start, a new project.

A resolution to be… something.

Different, maybe.

It was the same, but Chloe made it different.

And Anna had been the easy kind of fun, but Residual would never sign off on a relationship with a relative nobody. But Beca wasn’t really thinking about pursuing Anna anyway.

Even with blonde locks between her thighs, Beca saw red.

Beca stood up to distract herself, moving chairs around even though nobody would be in the studio for the rest of the day. She had to do something to get her mind out of the gutter.

“You can use one of the other studios,” she told the group. “No instruments, and no choreography. And definitely no social media.”

Don’t let it control you, she thought as she shuddered. Don’t let it change you any more than it already has.

“I’ll see how you’re doing on Thursday morning,” she said. “But right now, you dudes have to get out.”

She knew they’d be pissed about her bailing on them, but a little heat under the collar was good sometimes, to help motivate. She’d made herself a common enemy, and that was fine. They’d be united against her, and that competitive spirit would drive them further.

A little heat under the collar was great, actually, if it meant Chloe would look at her like that. All hot, fiery passion that settled in Beca’s stomach like flowing lava.

But then CR brought up Anna, and she saw Chloe’s face fall.

Was she not in on the game?

Nah, she had to be.

Nobody plays this good without consciously participating.

Still, she didn’t look at Chloe again as The Bellas left. She shut the door, leaving herself inside, and pulled up Anna’s messages.

She grimaced as she typed out a message she’d perfected over the years.

hey, I had a great time with you the other night, it’s just that work is so crazy right now…

*****

“Oh, hi Chloe. Good to see you.”

She meant it, too. It was good to see Chloe. She was still learning Chloe’s moods, and her expressions. She liked to see the competitive one, and the lustful one, and the smiling, hopeful one that she got when she watched her friends sing, and the-

Oh, that one was new.

Her jaw was dropped in jarring disbelief, eyes wide.

Right. I’m supposed to play the game.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize we were starting this early,” she scrambled. She re-situated, wiping away all the good thoughts so she could assume her dickish persona.

It was hard to remember sometimes, that she couldn’t be herself and just say things that came to her mind.

Especially when she was sleepy.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Sing.”

*****

Beca was buzzing.

She fiddled with some knobs on her ancient mixing board, resetting them to zero in then cranking them all the way up. Anything to keep from looking at Chloe Beale across from her in the Broom Closet.

She desperately wanted to show her the office. How Chloe had read her so quickly, knew her ins and outs, Beca didn’t know, but Chloe did - and correctly, too. And so Beca wanted to prove that she wasn’t that stale, corporate office upstairs. She was more than that, and she wanted Chloe to know that too, but she wasn’t about to ruin her second-best-kept secret to a relative stranger.

Was she?

Chloe wouldn’t tell.

You don’t know that, she argued back.

You trust her.

That was probably the scariest part of all of this, that she trusted Chloe implicitly. Quickly. After not trusting anyone for so long.

Beca thought it was Chloe’s face.

So far, Chloe had worn all of her thoughts across her brow, and in the shallows of her cheeks. Her eyes betrayed every emotion, in their creased corners, in conjunction with an upturned brow. She was an honest person, Beca could tell just by looking at her. She was real.

Yeah, unlike you.

Beca wondered how Chloe was so good at playing this devilish, sexy game they were playing when she was such an honest person, but Beca figured that was just because the redhead was a natural flirt.

She could tell that too.

“Are we recording something?” Chloe broke off her thinking, and Beca quickly spun around to face her.

“No, I was just-”

-thinking about telling you everything about myself because I’m inexplicably drawn to you.

“Nothing. Okay. You wrote stuff. I hope it doesn’t suck.”

Chloe said something, but Beca didn’t even hear it over the onslaught of mental cursing. Chloe was a great writer - she’d looked up writing credits for the songs, watched some TikToks where The Bellas talked about writing, and it always came back to Chloe - and Beca knew that she was good, that she had written the best songs on the album.

But that idle fear, the one that said those were a fluke and she’d have to tell Chloe that her songs weren’t good, that part of her had controlled her mouth for two terrible seconds.

And it stayed now, as Beca eyed the notebook in Chloe’s hands.

“Give it.”

Rip off the bandaid.

Beca grabbed the notebook and started reading.

And oh, thank god Chloe wasn’t a one (or six) hit wonder.

Her words painted a picture of desire, with dark metaphors of curtains and waves and rose-covered beds. Beca swallowed thickly at the raw sexuality imbued into the lyrics, though she scolded herself for being surprised. She knew now that Chloe was a sexual person, but the songs she’d written before… they weren’t like this.

Chloe was talking, explaining something, but Beca held up her hand to stop her. The song was repetitive, thankfully, so even though Chloe had written to the bottom of the page, Beca didn’t have much more to vet.

Nothing on the back, either.

“Do you play guitar? Or piano?” she asked aloud. She couldn’t look up, so she kept her eyes down as the words swam in front of her.

If I have to focus on something while she sings…

Chloe confirmed that she didn’t play an instrument, and Beca got nervous again. She couldn’t play while Chloe was singing! She couldn’t even think while Chloe was singing! The medley this afternoon had proven that.

She felt a wave of arousal rock through her core.

Chloe’s voice was sexy.

She shook her head. Maybe she could still get out of this, if the song wasn’t finished.

“You have a melody for this one?” she asked, handing Chloe her notebook back.

“Yeah,” the redhead breathed.

Fuck.

She felt herself nodding, and she kept her eyes trained down. She didn’t want Chloe to see what was in them - hope, and fear, and nerves. She was focusing so hard on just trying to be a professional that she didn’t even notice that Chloe hadn’t started singing yet.

So Beca looked up, and she saw Chloe was nervous too.

Fuck, she thought. I’m fucking all of this up.

The least she should be doing was making the artist feel comfortable, Beca knew that. Had known it for years.

But that had never been her forte. Beca wasn’t good at coddling or comforting.

So, she made a split-second decision.

She fell back on ol’ reliable: Be A Gaslighting, Manipulative Dick.

I hope I don’t regret this.

“What?” Beca barked at Chloe. “I’m not going to be a dick.”

“Well I don’t know that!” Chloe snapped back, and Beca watched the intensity flare up in the redhead’s eye.

Good.

“It’s not like you’ve been sunshine and rainbows so far!”

It was like riding a bike, rolling her eyes condescendingly. Some part of her was screaming that it shouldn’t come this easily, being a dick to someone - especially someone who was looking at her like Chloe was just now, like she was about to cry.

She gritted her teeth.

Do your job, Mitchell.

Make her pain worth it.

“Unlike you, right?” Beca laughed mirthlessly. “So positive, so determined. All that naive optimism. Where does it come from, hm? Do you really think your Bellas earned it? Tell me, did you like being a big fish in a small pond?”

“Don’t talk down to me, Mitchell!” Chloe screamed back. She was so close, Beca knew it.

“I know my girls are talented. I know what we have, and what we’ll become, and I think you do too!”

That one hit Beca.

Because - and not to stereotype - but lead singers weren’t necessarily the most observant type to anyone besides themselves. Some of the good songwriters were, like Taylor or Jack, but the ones that Beca spent most of her time with were - on the whole - stupid, vapid narcissists.

And Chloe wasn’t that.

“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t,” Beca tried to cover, but she heard Chloe scoff. She had to get her back on track, get her back to the music, so they could move forward with the goldmine that lay in her hands.

C’mon Chloe, give up the game for a minute.

“Sing for me, or don’t,” Beca sighed, clicking on her phone and not seeing any information on it. She could feel Chloe’s glare on her, so she added, “I have other things I could be doing."

C’mon, Chlo.

Take the bait.

She was shoving her phone back in her hoodie pocket when Chloe started to sing.

Beca let out a quiet sigh of relief, holding back from wiping the sweat from her upper lip.

She’d never come that close to breaking before, to dropping the character and just asking like a normal person.

She wondered what Chloe would think, if she saw that.

If she saw her real office and heard her real thoughts. Away from the cameras and their expectations.

She wondered what Chloe expression she’d learn that day.

*****

“The ginga’s gonna kill you for stealing her shit, shortstack,” Fat Amy called across the Popcorn studio.

Oh.

They’re talking to me.

Beca dragged her eyes off the notebook up to Chloe in the booth. The redhead was glaring at her so potently, Beca could almost feel heat coming off the glass.

Oh, so you’re allowed to play games by giving me a super sexy notebook that basically serves as a window into your passionate, fiery soul, but I’m not allowed to read it? Beca thought.

Begrudgingly, she closed the notebook and turned to the other Bellas behind her.

“She gave it to me, weirdo,” Beca said in response. “I wouldn’t steal her shit.”

Beca didn’t know what she was expecting to see, but the shock and confusion on the singers’ faces was not it. They looked like Beca had just told them the president was coming by, not something as banal as the truth, that Chloe had let her read her notebook.

Unless-

She looked up at Chloe again.

Oh, she thought, and she felt her own confusion transform into glee and cockiness.

They don’t know, do they? she mentally asked the talented singer. They don’t know what you wrote in here, and they don’t know why you gave it to me. They don’t know this game that we’re playing. Chloe Beale, you little minx.

She let her true emotions fall away and put on hard mask instead.

“Looks like I get to see a different side of her, eh?” she asked the group, letting a smidgen of lusty spite flavor her tone. Chloe was good at this game, and Beca would have to step up her moves to keep up.

And she would.

Because if this notebook was any indication, things were seriously heating up.

*****

Beca could barely stop shaking long enough to hang up the phone.

She shuddered as she re-wrapped the plush resort robe that she’d thrown over her bathing suit, yanking the belt and relishing in the sharp pain in her ribs.

Her clit was still throbbing.

“BM? You done with your call?”

Kalina paced in off the balcony, pulling one of her headphones out.

“Did you see that text from Ronnie? She said we can tease the break-up on the plane back,” the actress said to her phone.

But then she glanced up.

“Oh, honey,” Kalina soothed as she rushed to her side. Beca’s breathing was erratic as Kalina joined her on their bed, and she kept trying to take deep breaths, but they kept breaking on impact with the back of her throat, with her soft palette.

Kalina wrapped an arm around her shoulders, but Beca shook it off.

“Is this about the new girl?”

She didn’t trust her voice, so Beca nodded.

“It’s going to work out,” the actress hummed, but Beca cut her off.

“I really fucked up, Kal,” she huffed out. She wasn’t crying - she wouldn’t cry, not like that, she was so mad - but her voice still broke as she went on. “I pushed too hard, and the whole producer-client relationship, it’s so fucked up-”

“Hey,” Kalina cut in. “You said she’s smart, right?”

Beca nodded, dropping her head to her friend’s bare shoulder. It was warm from the sun, and it felt good against Beca’s cheek.

“Then tell her what you told me about Residual. It sounds like she already likes you for you - can see past all that bullshit you put out there - so just be upfront, dude,” the actress sighed. “Let her make her own choice when you put it all out there. She sounds like she’s worth it.”

Beca nodded again, keeping her head burrowed so she could wipe tears against Kalina’s skin.

She wasn’t crying.

“Yeah,” she said quietly. “Maybe.”

“It’ll work,” Kalina asserted, and Beca let herself believe her. She’d been right so far - about the press, about the places to eat, about how they would actually get along - so why couldn’t she be right about this?

“Okay,” Kalina bookended the conversation as she threw her arm back around Beca. “Now let’s go run up a huge room service bill on Ronnie’s card.”

Beca laughed in spite of the tears she wasn’t crying.

“Okay, but I get first dibs on the mini-bar,” the producer replied, and Kalina giggled.

“Of course,” she agreed as Beca trotted out of the room.

“Save me a shooter of rum though!”

*****

So Beca did tell Chloe the truth.

And Chloe let her go.

It was what Beca wanted.

And it wasn’t.

She tried to go back to distractions - women, booze, music - and only Kalina tried to stop her.

And then they started writing to each other again, and Beca had to lock herself in her office to keep from running upstairs to see her, to talk to her.

But she had to hold back.

Because the thing was, Chloe was helping The Bellas put together some incredible music in Beca’s absence. And Beca was able to get their tracks mastered. Professionally, everything was perfectly functional between them, in a way it hadn’t been before and likely wouldn’t be if they were in the same room.

So Beca had gotten what she wanted.

This is what you wanted, right?

She convinced herself it was, until she saw Chloe on the dance floor at the club.

She saw Fat Amy first, when the woman yelled for a second time. She wasn’t in the booth just then - she was out at the railing, looking over the club patrons with a sort of ignorant wistfulness, because it was always easier to assume that strangers were happy, wasn’t it? - and when she heard Amy shout something to Aubrey, the manager, she knew.

She traced Chloe’s movement over the dance floor, towards the lower tier table service. She watched her drink, and then she watched her dance.

And then she watched her dance.

And while she consciously put on her Miley/City Girls mix, she didn’t even think about it when she lied to the bouncer, telling him that she saw the first guy put something in someone’s drink.

She couldn’t help it.

It’s jealousy, she told herself, but she knew that wasn’t it.

They didn’t deserve to stand so close to Chloe, to know what it was like to feel her body undulating beneath theirs. They didn’t even know what she looked like when Stacie threw a flawless run at the end of the Tequila with Lime chorus, or how she laughed when Fat Amy cracked an unintelligible Australian joke. They didn’t know what she sounded like when she sang a new song, all nerves but hopeful and excited.

They didn’t know that she didn’t know she was perfectly imperfect.

And Beca was just going to talk to her, she was.

But then she pushed her against the car, and Chloe was wearing her jacket, and then Beca kissed her, and then Chloe was naked, and then Beca was naked and so turned on, and Chloe was taking her shoes and jeans off with the utmost care and-

And she was fucking it up again.

She splintered it into a thousand pieces and let it stay that way - leaning harder into her dark nights with beautiful strangers. The Bellas were rising and she was spiraling down, letting every bit of herself fall away as she got swallowed into the world she had accepted for herself.

This is what you wanted, right? her mind mocked when she was sober, so she wasn’t sober.

Wasn’t, until she watched The Bellas on James Corden.

She cried that night.

Big, heavy tears that she knew were due in part to the insane chemical drop from whatever she’d done the night before.

But she watched Chloe Beale call her “incredibly talented” on national TV, and she cried.

She swore she’d never been this broken.

*****

And then - somehow, on one of the most important nights of her life - Chloe Beale was magnanimous when she put Beca back together again.

And she knew, no matter what she tried to tell herself, this was what she wanted.

This, in this case, being Chloe Beale.

*****

****

***

**

*

Chloe let gravity do most of the work as she tumbled into Beca.

She fell over the brunette, throwing a hand out across the comforter just in time to catch herself from landing completely on top of her. She pushed herself up just slightly, just enough to see Beca laid out underneath her, but the brunette had already surged upwards to kiss her again. Chloe giggled into the kiss, and she felt Beca smile in return.

The mood had shifted; the frenetic lust had given way to something intimate as they moved into the dark bedroom, and Chloe let herself be taken under the slowed, cresting wave.

Languidly they kissed, like they had all of the time in the world to explore each other’s mouths. Chloe didn’t think about how she was leaving in two weeks because she couldn’t think about anything at all when Beca ran a careful hand up the side of her neck. Couldn’t maintain a single cogent thought when Beca’s fingers curled into the stray hair she found at the nape of her neck, twisting idly in a way that felt more grounding than passionate.

She licked into Beca’s mouth with imperfect precision, drinking in every taste and moan and sharp inhale that Beca offered to her. And she let herself be heard as her chest rumbled with growing want, curling a leg between the brunette’s legs beneath her.

Chloe hummed as she pulled back, out of the kiss, and she watched Beca’s eyes blink open slowly. She ran her thumb over the producer’s eyebrow as she looked through the darkness, taking at her every feature.

Beca closed her eyes slowly, then blinked them open again.

Chloe ran her thumb over Beca’s temple, and over the sharp jut of her cheekbone. She leaned down and kissed Beca again.

Beca’s mouth was open as her lips met Chloe’s, and Chloe hummed against her lips, against her tongue, into her waiting mouth. Her hands framed the brunette’s face, thumbs tucked against where her jaw ran up in front of her ears and fingers wrapped under. Dark brown hair tickled her fingers as she met Beca’s tongue over and over again.

Minutes or hours or eons passed, and Chloe eventually sat back, straddling Beca so she could rid herself of the brunette’s jacket. Beca settled herself up on one of her elbows so she could help push the fabric off Chloe’s shoulders, and the garment fell back against Beca’s legs. She kicked it away as awkwardly and gracefully as she could.

They sat there, watching each other for a moment before Chloe broke the silence.

“This is okay, right?” she asked. “It’s okay if I stay here, if we do this?”

Beca leaned forward to press a kiss into the collar of Chloe’s workout top.

“Yeah,” she exhaled against the thin fabric, and Chloe sucked in a deep breath. “I want this. You want this too, right?”

“More than anything,” Chloe replied without missing a beat. She pushed Beca back so she could kiss her, and while it was still slow, there was some deliberateness in it now that was missing before. She knew Beca felt it too, because the brunette inhaled sharply, sending cool air across Chloe’s tongue where it probed into Beca’s mouth.

She felt Beca’s hands at the hem of her shirt, and she leaned back enough to let Beca pull it away from her body, up, and over her head. The fabric protested as it stalled at Chloe’s face, and Chloe heard Beca huff from the other side of her temporary prison.

“Hey, don’t get mad at me,” Chloe laughed breathlessly. “I didn’t dress to be undressed today.”

She heard Beca huff again, and her hands fell away from the tricky fabric.

“It was deceivingly loose. I thought it’d be stretchy,” Beca said, and Chloe giggled as she pulled the top of the rest of the way off. She could see Beca again now, and the brunette was - adorably - pouting.

Chloe leaned forward to kiss Beca on the cheek, and as she started to lean back, and Beca used her hands to redirect the redhead to her mouth. Chloe began to slide her arms across her body, slipping her hands under her sports bra, then lifting, and Beca broke the kiss to allow for the movement and to watch as Chloe shed the bra over her head. Then, she leaned in, pressing a kiss against Chloe’s sternum before kissing her way over to one of the stiff peaks.

She took the nipple into her mouth as her hand came up to Chloe’s other breast, and Chloe let out a shaky groan as her body rolled forward. She tangled her hands in Beca’s hair as Beca laved Chloe’s nipple with reverent passes of her hot mouth, with only the sharp glide of her teeth providing any respite from the torturous heat. Just when Chloe was about to break, to pull Beca’s head away from her sensitive nipple, the brunette switched sides. She brought a hand up to the already pampered and now neglected breast, massaging it gently as she pressed her mouth across the way.

Chloe’s hands tightened in the brunette’s hair, and Beca returned to the middle of Chloe’s chest, placing a kiss between her breasts before leaning back.

Chloe dropped her head to kiss her, capturing her lips between her own. Her tongue pressed deep into Beca’s mouth, and she felt Beca moan roughly. She rolled her hips against Beca’s waist, and Beca pulled back, eyes blinking open lazily.

“Is it okay if I-”

“Yes,” Chloe replied, voice raspy and rough and thick all at the same time. “Whatever it is, yes, I’m on board.”

Beca exhaled a laugh. She pressed on Chloe’s shoulder, and the redhead rotated, laying down and letting Beca move over her, but the brunette stayed off to the side. She reached for the waistband of Chloe’s shorts, curling fingers around them before tugging gently. Chloe lifted her hips, and Beca pulled everything down in one fell swoop.

Beca moved down to remove Chloe’s shorts from her legs, then stepped off the bed completely to shed her own clothes. Chloe sat up, willing her body to be patient as it rolled against nothing, watching Beca undress for her. Beca was flushed, with blown pupils and swollen lips, her hair disheveled from where Chloe had been pulling at it.

But what Chloe focused on was the minute tension that pulled at the corner of Beca’s mouth.

A smirk, but not the one Chloe was used to seeing.

This one was accompanied by wide, happy eyes, and two raised brows. Excitement, and joy, and a sort of breathless wonder that had Chloe thinking that Beca was looking at something that she really, really liked.

Something that she maybe loved.

Beca removed every stitch of clothing on her body before sidling back up beside Chloe, crawling next to her and pulling her in for a deep kiss. She let her fingers trace over Chloe’s hipbone slowly, methodically, like she was writing sonnets on her skin. Chloe clutched at the skin stretched taut over Beca’s ribs. She felt delirious with lust and desire, eyes closing and mouth falling into a blissful smile as she let Beca claim her mouth, then her neck, then the top of her breast.

And the touches got firmer as Beca traced off Chloe’s hipbone, into the fold of her hip. Then those fingers slid along the bone between. Chloe tried to keep stay down, but her body turned and rolled, chasing Beca’s hand as it stilled against her, mere centimeters from where Chloe needed her most.

Beca’s mouth had stilled its movements as well, and Chloe opened her eyes.

Beca was smiling softly as she watched her, and as soon as Chloe met her gaze, her hand pressed forward.

Chloe’s hips surged forward as Beca pressed against Chloe’s clit, passing it to drag her fingers through Chloe’s arousal, then further, barely pausing before sliding two fingers into the redhead. Chloe gasped as her eyes squeezed shut, mouth open in a wide smile.

Fuck,” she moaned, and the fingers inside her curled sharply. They slid out slowly, then back in to the same spot, curling the same way, and Chloe’s eyes shot open.

“I’m not- fuck Beca - I’m not going to last long,” she groaned, her body contorting to meet Beca’s movements. Beca’s eyes flashed down her body - to the taut lines of her contracting abs, and the solid muscle of her arm where it bent to grasp Beca wherever she could - then her eyes resumed their gaze on her face. Her fingers continued to pump in and out of Chloe at an almost maddeningly slow pace, but Chloe wouldn’t change it. Not when Chloe could feel every twitch of movement that the brunette made. She bucked into Beca’s hand wantonly, and her eyes fell closed again as she made high, keening sounds.

“Yeah, that’s okay,” Beca chuckled. “I don’t think this is the only time we’ll be doing this.”

She leaned down, nudging Chloe back onto her back, and Chloe felt her press a kiss under her ear. Chloe wasn’t even sure she was making audible noise anymore as she gasped for breath.

Close, so close, if she could-

Beca curled her fingers just right, and the heel of her hand brushed against Chloe’s clit, and Chloe burst apart.

Sound rushed out of her as she felt the whole world narrow sharply, pleasure exploding in bright swirls of blue and white and yellow, and her body sang of exquisite rightness, of here and now and yes. The coiling gave way, the dam burst, and her chest cracked open with a lack of breath and a surplus of heartbeats. Her hips peaked in their movement, staying suspended high above the plane of the bed as she clenched around Beca’s fingers, heels driving down, thighs taut as she squeezed with her hands and her body. She probably made some kind of noise, but she couldn’t hear it over the rush of blood in her ears. Then her body was falling back, back down onto the mortal plane, but her mind stayed suspended above it, waiting for her pulse to stop thudding, just for a moment.

“I could do that forever,” Beca whispered against her neck, and Chloe’s body clenched involuntarily. She wasn’t even sure Beca had said anything at all or if she had just imagined it, but then she felt Beca let out a small laugh.

“Yeah, I could do that forever.”

Chloe felt the words etch themselves into the sleek, sweat-drenched skin of her neck where Beca had forced her head. Beca pressed a kiss there, as if to seal the words in place, and Chloe smiled as she tried to catch her breath.

“Yeah,” Chloe agreed a few moments later, turning to press a kiss to the side of Beca’s face. “I’m cool with forever, as long as you let me return the favor.”

Beca wriggled her head out from under Chloe’s and kissed her soundly, stealing the breath that Chloe had so recently caught. But she was smiling, and as Chloe tried and failed to keep up with the kiss - her body still boneless and spent - Beca started to chuckle.

“Deal,” she agreed against her lips.

“Do you wanna come with us? On tour?” Chloe asked suddenly.

“What?” Beca asked, leaning back so she could look into Chloe’s eyes.

“I think you should come,” Chloe said quietly, looking from one of Beca’s dark eyes to the other, skirting her gaze across the brunette’s face, looking for any sign of hesitancy. “It’s only a couple weeks. I think you could use a real vacation instead of all those fake ones.”

And it was wonderful, to watch Beca’s look of consternation break into one of absolute elation. It was like someone uncovered a whole library of unheard music, or someone stumbled upon fresh baked cookies on a cold afternoon. An unbridled joy overwhelmed Beca’s every feature, and it filled Chloe with light. Her body immediately thrummed with renewed gusto.

Chloe watched as Beca tried to downplay her happiness with a small eye roll.

“I mean there’s no way I’m going to Coachella, but-”

Chloe squealed, rolling over and pinning Beca beneath her, kissing her fully but quickly, pulling back.

“You’ll come?”

Beca smiled warmly.

“Yeah, Chlo,” she smirked, but it was that happy one again. “I mean, you’d be nothing without my input.”

And the scoffs and the laughter became squeals and shouts, which became moans and whimpers and groans and curses. Then there were whispered confessions and soft giggles. And finally, there were steady breaths and gentle snores.

Singing and cheering and acceptance speeches with their too-short thank yous.

Questions would come later, and there might be whispers, but they wouldn’t hear those.

Right now, they wouldn’t hear anything except the music they made together.

And Chloe thought that maybe, it was the best song she’d ever heard.