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Experimentation

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The retreat had been an experience, to say the least. The kind of experience that Beca was almost positive she didn’t want to relive any time soon. Maybe ever. It’s been three days since the Bellas had bid goodbye to their former captain – and their more recent drill sergeant, which really, there was no better job for Aubrey except maybe that of an actual drill sergeant – and she is still cleaning mud out of areas where she would really prefer there be no mud at all. Jesse had laughed until she’d hung up on him when she had called to tell him how the weekend had gone, then he’d texted to ask her if he could come over and help her ‘clean up’. She had, predictably, called him an asshole and refused to comment further when he started in on the soap and loofahs.


The weird thing about their breakup was that it wasn’t actually weird. At all. They still behaved the same way around each other, he still called her his girl, and sometimes Beca would forget and give him a quick kiss, and it was weird. Because Beca wasn’t the type of person to give quick kisses to someone she wasn’t dating, but something about Jesse just kind of put her at ease. She felt comfortable with him and it was nice, that things didn’t have to drastically change just because they weren’t in a relationship anymore. She loved him, just wasn’t in love with him, and wow didn’t she just hate herself the first time she accidentally thought up that corny piece of crap. They could still be ‘them’ and Jesse definitely didn’t have a problem being himself. He was still the one she called when famous music producer dudes told her she sucked and he still texted her filthy emoticons to cheer her up.


Honestly, it was kind of awesome. Weirdly awesome. Sure, she was left with awkward sex flashes that hit her at the most inopportune moments – the signs of which Jesse had started to pick up on and tease her mercilessly over – but the PTSD aside, it was great. Plus, it gave her more time to freak out about internships and their set for Worlds.


“Awesome.” She mutters, clicking down furiously on the mouse pad in the hopes that doing so will magically make her laptop thaw its way back from freezing glitchiness. Maybe her dad would buy her a new one if she told him she needed it for school.


“If this is some new way you have of announcing my presence to the room,” red hair and a sly smile greet her as she looks up and finds Chloe lingering at the top of the staircase, “I like it.” Her nose crinkles as she says it, one hand pushing off of the banister to send her across the room, and Beca feels her lips starting to curve.


“Did you know that some people can become so deluded in regard to their appearance and how they believe others perceive them, that they literally can’t hear anything bad being said about them?” Beca says, as though informing her of the weather, and Chloe feigns a frown.


“Oh yeah?” She plops down onto the bed in front of Beca. The laptop bounces where it sits.


“Like even if they were this close,” she gestures between them, smile rapidly shifting into a grin, “nothing.”


“Nothing at all?”


“Nope, not even a whisper.” Chloe’s eyes narrow and she cocks her head to the side. Beca’s eyes absently follow the wave of red hair as it tumbles over a shoulder before returning to Chloe’s face, which is struggling to retain its serious expression.


“What are you saying?” Beca lets out a breathy chuckle and shakes her head, teeth shining from between her lips.


“Nothing. Nothing at all.” Chloe hums in a way that is both reproving and amused, and then reaches for the laptop sitting between them. A few years ago, back when the Bellas were nothing but a speck of dirt caught in the corner of her eye, Beca would have snatched her computer away. She would have shoved it into her bag and barked some snide remark, then stormed out of there with all the bluster of a miniature cyclone. As it is, Chloe hooks a finger around one corner and turns it so the screen is towards her.


“What are you working on?” Beca watches from over top of the lid as baby-blue eyes scan across the windows she has open. “Is this a Worlds thing or a top secret internship thing?” She’s teasing. Beca shoots her a withering glare.


“Well, right now it’s crap, so... neither?” Chloe rolls her eyes and holds her hand out in what has become her universal way of saying “Beca, give me your headphones”. For some reason it works every time and Beca lifts them from around her neck, then presses them into Chloe’s waiting hand. She beams like the sun, every single time, and slips them on. There’s the click of a button and then silence for a while, and Beca just watches and waits.


She can always tell how Chloe feels about a song, be it one she’s mixed or something on the radio. Her whole face transforms whenever she hears music. Most of the time her expression is fit to burst with excitement and joy as she belts out the words to some pop song that is so nineties it makes Beca’s teeth ache. If it’s something she doesn’t like though, her face will twist into a look that Beca likes to call her “disgruntled diva face”. Or “double d face”, if she’s lazy. Amy almost always refers to it as “boob face”. Chloe does not approve of any of them.


What does that even mean?”


Dude, you’re pissed at a radio DJ because he played a song you don’t like! Even though he has no way of knowing that, you’re personally offended by his taste in music.”


This isn’t music, Bec!”


Right now, Chloe looks happy. Content. Which is sort of her default face really.


“I like it.” She says once the track, presumably, has ended and she’s handing the headphones back. Beca settles them around her neck again, feeling distantly comforted by the weight, like a kid whose been sleeping with a blankie so long that they don’t realize they still need it until they don’t have it.


“You always like it.” Beca points out, turning the laptop around and clicking a few buttons before lowering the lid. Chloe regards her with eyebrows that are somewhat regally raised.


“That’s because I know good music when I hear it.” She gives a single, haughty sniff. “And I’m never wrong.” Beca scoffs, loud and obnoxious, and throws a pillow at the redhead. Chloe catches it with ease, letting herself fall back against the mattress, then indicates the empty bed across the room. “No Amy?” Beca offers a shrug, bringing a hand up to rub at her nose.


“I think she’s out celebrating with Bumper.”


“Without us?” For an instant, Chloe looks utterly crestfallen. Like someone just told her that her puppy died. Beca feels it like a miniature-sized punch to the gut and stumbles over her words in her rush to rectify the situation.


“Uh, I think it’s more of a…” she lets her head loll to the side and makes a vague sort of wiggling motion with the fingers of one hand, “sexy celebration.” After a heartbeat or two, once the clarity has really settled, Chloe nods a silent “oh” and idly muses about how strange it’ll be, Fat Amy being a one man woman. Beca agrees and then the room falls quiet.


Strangely quiet, because silence is something that doesn’t usually come between them. Right from the beginning Beca had found the other woman easy to talk to – okay so maybe not the very beginning – and Chloe could strike up a conversation with literally anyone. Beca had seen her laughing with one of the campus security guards once, which doesn’t sound like a big deal except that this particular guard, Beca was certain, was actually Satan incarnate. Or a chick on a really heady power trip. Either way, she’d watched the woman bodily take down students for no apparent reason. She had never seen her smile, let alone laugh, and she is still fairly certain that she hates college students. As a species. Which Beca had honestly felt a kind of kinship with her over, but then they’d made eye contact one day across the quad and Beca had felt her blood run cold. The kinship dissipated after that. But the woman had been laughing with Chloe, and it had blown Beca’s mind.


So yeah, Chloe was easy to talk to in general so they never had a problem, and even when there was quiet, it was comfortable. But right now Chloe’s fingers keep clenching at the edges of the pillow and she keeps chewing on her lip like something is on her mind. It’s a look Beca rarely sees, because Chloe likes to speak her mind, except for when it might hurt someone’s feelings. Cautiously, Beca stretches her leg out around the side of her laptop and jabs her toe into the redhead’s shoulder. Baby-blues slide to their corners and Beca feels her skin prickle.


“What’s up?” Chloe blinks, once, and then shrugs. Immediately, Beca frowns. Chloe doesn’t shrug in response to anything. She has passionate outbursts that leave you winded for days or she talks quietly so as not to startle someone into a puking fit. “Dude, you’re weirding me out.” She sees guilt flash across her face and something tugs at a low spot in Beca’s stomach. Like it’s trying to pull it out through her feet. “Is something wrong? It’s not the nodes, is it?” Chloe launches herself into a sitting position.


“No!” She leans over and reaches out to rest her hand on Beca’s knee. It’s clear from her expression that she regrets the turn this has taken. “No, nothing’s wrong. My voice is fine. Everything is good.” Beca smiles a little, relieved, and tries not to shift under Chloe’s touch. She doesn’t find it comfortable, not exactly. She’s never been a big fan of people touching her for any reason – getting her to go to a doctor was a three person process when she was little – but Chloe had barrelled through a bunch of those walls without even stopping to take a breath. Just like everything else, it was somehow easier with Chloe. It didn’t feel intrusive, hadn’t even felt like that in the beginning, but it felt something that was different to how it felt with anyone else. The Bellas were a touchy-feely bunch, so Beca had somewhat learned to adapt just like they had learned that she had boundaries when it came to that stuff. Well, except when it came to Chloe. Chloe’s touches kind of feel like pins and needles, but not in a bad way.


“Then why are you acting like you’ve forgotten how to be you?” Chloe sighs, long and deep, and sits up.


“I’ve been thinking-”


“Uh oh.” She glares at the interruption. Beca only smirks.


“-about the retreat.”


“If you’re seriously about to tell me that you want this to be an annual thing, then I’m sorry Chlo, but I would rather have Lilly practise her knife throwing skills on me.”


“Oh my god, will you stop talking for a second?” She does as she’s told, mimicking locking her lips with an invisible key. Chloe presses the pillow into her lap and looks down at it, running her fingers over the ruffled edges. “I’ve been thinking about what I said at the retreat.” Beca mutters something about Chloe talking “like, a lot,” and needing to be more specific. She throws the pillow back, aiming at the captain’s head. “That first night.” She hedges after a second and it’s so weird to Beca, seeing the usually bubbly, vibrant Bella acting almost shy. “About the thing I regretted?” Beca's eyes flit around inside her head as if their movement is an essential part of how she accesses her memory banks. She reaches that particular memory pretty quick but it takes a little longer to process, and the second it does Chloe sees the recognition slap itself across Beca’s face.


“About experimenting?” It comes out blunter than she’d like, though she’s never claimed finesse as one of her strong suits. Wouldn’t dream of it.


“Yeah.” Chloe lets the word out alongside a breathless exhale and even though Beca now gets where the nervousness is coming from, she doesn’t really understand it. Chloe’s confided in her before, granted not about this exact thing, but she’s never struggled over being open with Beca prior to this. She runs her fingers through her hair, pulling it free from her headphones as she thinks. She can feel Chloe’s eyes on her, even if her own are elsewhere. They’re watching her every movement, drinking in her reaction, judging it like –


Beca’s hand falls away. Her eyes drop back to Chloe’s like lead weights.


“Oh.” She says, dumbly. “Oh, like, you mean with me?” There’s that weird shrug again, only this time it’s accompanied by a half-smile that parts Chloe’s lips. She looks almost impish. Like a child that’s been caught concocting some sort of devious plot that they’re secretly proud of and are about to invite the person that discovered them to join in. “What…” Beca has suddenly forgotten how to blink. She stares at Chloe like a confused owl until her brain kicks her tongue into moving. “I don’t, um, I don’t…” she swallows, then leans her upper body forward as she goes in for clarification, “what? Me? Why?” Chloe chuckles at the way the questions rush from her.


“Well…” she brings her hands together, lacing and unlacing her fingers just to give herself something to do now that she doesn’t have a cushion to fiddle with, “we’re friends, right?” It isn’t as though Beca can argue that. The Bellas are the best friends Beca has ever had and Chloe pretty much takes the whole top tier of that cake. “Good friends. And I feel like that’s really super important with something like this. That it be with someone I’m already comfortable around, to begin with, it would make it easier, you know?” She does know and she indicates that by nodding, but she still isn’t ready for words yet.


Beca doesn’t know that her mind has ever really ‘raced’ before. She’s been overwhelmed, sure, unable to pin down a single thought and focus on it, yeah. But she’s being bombarded right now with a million different things and words, and thoughts and feelings, and it seems a little bit like her brain is about to shut down.


“And I’m comfortable with you.” A highly too-inappropriate-to-be-having-right-now thought flickers to life behind Beca’s eyes; a shower stall, killer acoustics, junk that refuses to be covered. She swallows again. “I mean, I’d never want you to do something you’re not comfortable with.” Chloe rushes to add a moment later, looking suddenly panic stricken by the idea that Beca might possibly think that she’s being pressured. “I’ve just… been thinking. And I thought I should tell you. You know, on the off chance that you might... want to, too.” And she smiles so sweetly at Beca then that the brunette thinks she actually feels her heart grow three sizes, which has to bring it close to almost normal human size by now. Maybe that’s why she’s finding it difficult to breathe. Or maybe it’s the worry she can see hovering around Chloe like a shadow.


“I mean, I’m flattered, Chloe.” She knows it’s the wrong thing to say the second the words leave her mouth, because even though the redhead tries to fight it, Beca sees the way her smile dims. Feels the shift in temperature like the sun just went out.


“It’s fine.” She’s quick to say and now her smile is too wide, the wrong kind of bright. “It’s totally fine. It never hurts to ask though, right?” Then she presses her hands into the mattress as if she’s about to get up and Beca is reaching out before she even thinks about it. Her fingers encircle a wrist and hold Chloe in place.


“I didn’t say no.” Which, you know, is a very good point. She didn’t. Hasn’t. Might not? What is happening?


“Oh.” She feels like that’s been said a lot in the last ten minutes. She retracts her hand slowly, making sure the redhead doesn’t bolt like a startled cat at the last second, then sits back. She brings her hands up and pushes her hair back behind her ears, licking her lips before parting them.


“I just…” she ducks her head and glances up at Chloe, forehead creased, “why me?” Her smile is bemused and unsure. “There are probably like, a thousand other chicks on campus that would give their left boob to make out with you.” Chloe pulls a face.


“Maybe, but then that’s one less for me to grope.” She argues and Beca rolls her eyes. “I’d rather an altogether, apathetic someone, so I can really get to grips with everything.” Purposeful innuendo, a borderline lascivious grin; by now Beca knows how to tell when Chloe is trying to rile her up. And while she’s happy to see the change, she’s too distracted to call her on it. Her thoughts keep skipping back a few beats to focus on ‘apathetic’ and for a moment she’s left wondering why she wants to protest the redhead’s choice of words so vehemently. “Plus, I think you’re hot and I’ve seen you naked. Both of which help.”


Chloe.” Beca flushes scarlet and drops her face, wide eyes and all, into her hands. She can hear Chloe laughing close by.


“Totes boneable? Lady jam material?” She wants the bed to swallow her. She blindly lashes out with her foot and feels a toe connect with something before fingers grip it and her kneejerk reaction forces her to pull her leg back in. “What? Don’t you find me attractive?”


“Oh my god, if I agree will you please stop talking?” She mutters into her hands. When no answer is forthcoming, she lifts her head and finds Chloe looking at her intently.


“You know you don’t have to do this, right? I didn’t expect you to say-”


“No, it’s cool.” Beca cuts her off, feeling the heat starting to recede from her cheeks. Her stomach is tying itself in knots and her heart is beating out what feels like the tune to Savage Garden’s ‘I Want You’ against her ribs. She tries for a reassuring smile, but feels her lips quiver. “What are friends for, right?”


And Chloe’s lights up the room.

 


So, with the first chapter out of the gate, I'd like to do some experimenting of my own. While I always love hearing what you guys think, whether you liked it or not, which bits etc, this time I'd like to hear what you guys want to read in the next chapter. Just the very next one mind, for now. ;) I'll see which, if any, similar requests I get the most of and then I'll write it into the next chapter! :)

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“Being tired from too much sex is not a good enough excuse to get out of cardio, Amy!” Beca brings a towel up towards her damp face and blots it dry. Her shirt is sticking to her and she thinks her heart might be tiredly tripping over itself inside her chest. Fat Amy is bent over at the waist, hands braced against her knees, and she’s dragging in one hoarse breath after another as tiny beads of sweat leap from her forehead.


“Seriously, if I can’t use that,” Stacie tilts the bottle at her lips and takes a drink before finishing her sentence, “then no one can.” Amy twists her head to look at her leggy friend and makes a face.


“But I don’t usually go for longer than a few hours without breaking to eat and I missed brunch! And it’s not exactly fair, comparing the two of us. I get a lot and everything, but you make sex look like a competitive sport.” Stacie raises her eyebrows and then, after a few seconds, nods in agreement.


“I would so rock a gold medal.” She says with a smirk, one that’s jarred out of place when Beca slaps her water bottle down onto a stool.


“Guys.” She barks, serious and stern. “This isn’t a joke. If we’re going to have any hope of beating Das Sound Machine at the Worlds, then we’ve got to give this our all.” Her eyes flit from face to face, taking in expressions that seem to be an equal split of apologetic and varying shades of ‘just let me lie down and die’. Yes, she’s working them hard. Yes, she feels like she’s channelling Aubrey. Yes, that makes her want to throw herself off of Barden’s roof, but Aubrey was right about one thing. A cappella was hard work and in order to be the best, worlds best, they had to kick it up a notch or five. Rediscovering their sound was all well and good, but unless they could back that up with a killer set, it didn’t mean jack shit. She so desperately wanted to show that German ‘roid-head douche and his amazon goddess – oh, jesus christ – partner that they weren’t losers. That they were, as Chloe had once described the Bellas, the tits.


They would show them, Beca was determined, and once she set her mind to something she was kind of like a tiny little terrier. Unable to leave it alone to the point of being destructive, also annoying. Whatever, she was captain. It was her job to be annoying. Aubrey had excelled at it.


“Beca, we know.” Cynthia Rose’s rasps from somewhere behind Stacie. “It’s just that we’re still all kinda burnt out from the retreat and all this added pressure is only adding extra weight.” She’s moved into Beca’s line of view now and even though Beca knows she’s doesn’t mean it the way it sounds, it still gets under her skin.


“You don’t think I’m feeling the pressure?” She bursts, words spewing out from the middle of a disbelieving smile. “I am busting my ass trying to put together a set list, help Chloe figure out the choreography, and keep my head above water at this stupid internship.” She watches Cynthia Rose roll her eyes and deflate a little, but the words keep coming anyway. “I’m sorry if you guys think I’m pushing you too hard, but this is what needs-”


“That isn’t what I’m saying.” She interrupts, slinging the towel in her hand over a shoulder while making a ‘down, girl’ gesture with the other. “You’re burnt out too. Don’t get me wrong, I know exactly what we need to do and I’m not saying we need to ease up-” At the edge of her periphery, Beca sees Amy slowly raising her hand into the air and hears her mutter “I am actually saying that though”, but ignores it. “I’m just letting you know that we know. You know?”


“No!” Beca barks, even though she does. She just sort of explodes like steam from a teapot or boiling water from a saucepan. She’s pissy and bitchy and tired, and she just wants to-


“She does.” Chloe’s voice drifts by right beside her ear and makes Beca jump. The hands that grip her upper arms more or less keep her on the ground though. “She totally does.” How does Chloe always manage to sound so god damn cheerful? Even when her hair is sticking to her face and she has sweat dripping out of every pore, which is saying something about Beca’s workout because she rarely broke a sweat during Aubrey’s. “Which is why she’s ending the practise. Like, nowish.” Beca immediately bristles and jerks away from the hands that feel like they’re burning her skin.


“Chloe!” She immediately finds herself caught by them again. This time Chloe turns her around so that they’re facing one another and there’s a tirade just waiting to tumble from Beca’s lips, but it sort of sputters and dies when she sees the way Chloe is looking at her.


There’s a small crease marring the usually smooth skin between her eyebrows and her cheeks are flushed and glittering with sweat. She looks concerned, worried even, and it’s the kind of expression that makes Beca feel like a jerk. Which, okay, maybe she is sometimes.


“Let it go.” She whispers, frown deepening just a bit, and she gives Beca’s shoulders a squeeze. “For now. For me. Please?” Beca counts to five before she nods and then shrugs out of Chloe’s grip. She strides towards her laptop, grabbing the bottle off the stool on her way, and slams the lid shut. She shoves it back into the bag, which she shoulders before grabbing her duffle, and then leaves without another word.

 


 

Having an actual sorority house is awesome. Which, coincidentally, used to be somewhere around fifth on a list of ‘ten things Beca Mitchell will probably never say’. That being said though, the bathroom situation at Casa de Bella leaves a lot to be desired. There just isn’t enough of it to go around with that many people all living in one house. So, every once in a while, she packs up her stuff and heads into the hallways of Barden in search of a solitary stall where she can wash away the thick layer of ‘unimpressive intern with nothing to say’ and the general grime of the a cappella world.


Today it’s the latter and she turns the water up hotter than it need be in the hopes that she might be able to steam some of the tension out of her body. Her skin just ends up red and blotchy though and it’s fogged up the mirrors bolted to the tiled walls so badly that a girl a few sinks over glares at her on her way out. Beca just stares her down and lets the door bang noisily shut behind her.


A miniature black cloud of misery follows her on the walk back to the house and the people milling around seem to sense her dark mood and steer clear. Which works just fine for her because she doesn’t have the security of her headphones to ward people off today. Not too far into her second year at Barden, she’d confessed to Chloe that she didn’t even have anything playing through them half the time and mostly kept them on to stop people from striking up sad attempts at friendly conversation. The redhead had assured her that Beca’s mascara and scowl probably made sure of that already and the headphones weren’t necessarily needed. She usually keeps them close anyway, just in case. It’s a comfort thing, they steady her in some weird way, and that is something Chloe understands.


It’s a lucky rabbit’s foot.”


Dude, it’s a foot. It’s the actual foot of like, a rabbit cadaver. I’m not touching that.”


It was my dad’s. My mom gave to it me after he died.”


Oh. Shit, I’m sorry, Chl-”


No, it’s okay. I just wanted to… we all have our things, okay? Stuff that grounds us, makes us feel safe. It isn’t dumb. That’s all I wanted to say.”


“… Thanks.”


There’s music playing somewhere in the house and the beat hits Beca the second she walks through the door. It’s Rihanna, which narrows the perpetrator down to either Cynthia Rose or Fat Amy, and she catches sight of Flo doing a handstand in the middle of the living room as she slips by unnoticed and ascends the stairs. She doesn’t really want to talk to anyone right now, because even though they know better than to expect an immediate explanation or apology – and she swears that it isn’t because she’s an asshole, just super awkward – Beca will still feel like she has to give one. All she wants to do is lie face down on her bed and sink into darkness for an hour.


Which would be a totally achievable goal, if there wasn’t already a redhead sprawled across it.


The sight of her causes Beca’s step to falter and she stalls before she reaches the top step. Chloe’s eyes catch hers overtop of the magazine she’s holding open in front of her and the gravity in them pulls Beca the rest of the way up.


“Hi.” Chloe says, all cheerful smiles and full attention as she drops the magazine down beside her and watches Beca place her laptop bag on the desk opposite the bed. She eyes the other woman warily.


Okay, so maybe they haven’t talked about their tentative, would be foray into the world of collegiate experimenters and maybe they should have before now. Or immediately after they’d sort of-kind of agreed to it in the first place. Which Beca was pretty sure they had, though the longer they go without talking about it the more inclined she is to think she dreamt up the whole thing after overdosing on Red Bull during an all-night mixing binge. It wouldn’t be the first time.


“Hey…” she draws the greeting out like she’s testing the word on her tongue, seeing how each letter feels as it rolls off of it. Cautious, suspicious.


“Are you okay?” Chloe doesn’t seem to notice. Beca knows that she does. She moves to the closet and open the door, throwing her duffle somewhere towards the back so she can forget it exists for a while. She avoids looking at Chloe as she walks back across the room to unzip her bag.


“Well, I’m less sweaty, so that’s a plus.” She takes her computer out and nudges the bag aside to make room for it on the desk, then pretends to be looking for something else just to give herself time to breathe.


“Beca.” Chloe’s voice brings her eyes up and she hates it, hates it, when Chloe looks at her like this. Full of concern and worry, face drawn in an expression that quietly whispers “I know there's something wrong and I’m right here. You can talk to me.” She hates it because it slips right through the cracks it creates in Beca’s defences. Defences that she had spent years erecting and fortifying. Building back up whenever something chipped a layer away. Everything had been solid and stable, and then she’d rolled into Barden and been accosted in a shower stall. Dressed in a flight attendant outfit and urged into singing Miley freaking Cyrus songs. Her life is a joke, an actual joke.


She lives with a crocodile-wrestling Tasmanian for christ’s sake, Los Angeles would have less weirdos at this point.


“Does this have anything to do with what we talked about?” Now Chloe looks guilty, like she’s accidentally insulted Beca in the worst way possible. “Because if it does, then we don’t-” Beca cuts her off with a noise that she pushes from somewhere low in her throat and she stands, gesturing pointlessly with one hand.


“No, Chloe, it’s not-” her mouth keeps moving as she searches for words, “this doesn’t have anything to do with, ugh, I’m not... Okay.” She wrings her hands out by her sides and moves around the bed until she can sit down in front of Chloe’s outstretched legs. “I’m just…” she runs her fingers through her hair and lets out a humourless laugh, tilting her head towards the ceiling of the room. She can feel Chloe’s eyes on her, patient and intent. “I feel like Kermit the Frog.” There’s a moment of silence and then Chloe laughs. Beca lets her head fall back towards her chest and she twists around to shoot the redhead a glance, looking up at her through her lashes in a half-glare.


“What?” She asks, a little breathless, a lot bemused, and Beca rolls her eyes because of course this is the one time Chloe doesn’t know what she means.


“You know, Kermit, the fearless green leader of The Muppets?” Chloe laughs again and Beca feels her lips twitch.


“I know who Kermit is, Bec. I just don’t…” she pauses and Beca sees her smile shift towards mischievous. “Is it because you’re both short, cute and prone to aggressive outbursts?” The brunette leans over halfway through the question and starts slapping Chloe’s leg. She shrieks and pulls them back, crossing them beneath her and resting her elbows on her knees. She cradles her head in her palms and waits for Beca to continue. The captain lifts a hand and scratches at her head, face twisted into a grimace of reluctance.


“It’s like, Piggy and Gonzo and all those other weirdos were always looking to him for answers. They depended on him to get them through. To pick up the pieces and make something that would be good enough. Be the best yet. And they all helped, they did everything they could, but at the end of the day it was still all on him, and that’s a lot, you know?” She exhales deeply, blowing the breath out from between parted lips and then pursing them. “And he’s such a tiny frog. I mean, he’s bigger than most, but that’s still a lot of weight.” She risks another glance at Chloe and finds her frowning. “I’m not blaming you. You know that, right? I’m just saying-”


“That you’re stressed out.” Chloe interrupts, nodding, and Beca flashes an uncertain smile as she nods back.


“Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever been this stressed in my life and I know that’s a really crappy excuse.” She draws a breath in then. “I’m sorry I yelled. At you, at everyone.” Chloe shrugs, red hair shimmering as it catches the angle of the light coming in through the window.


“It’s not a big deal.” And the thing is, Chloe believes that.


“No, it is.” And Beca hates herself a little bit, because even though her spats with Aubrey are now more or less a thing lost to a cappella history, sometimes she randomly thinks about the way the former captain treated Chloe during Beca’s first year at Barden and ire races through her like fire and lightning. Because Chloe is nice and sweet – so long as you’re not essentially disqualifying them from a riff off – and she shouldn’t ever be yelled at unless the person doing the yelling wants an angry alt dwarf with ear spikes chomping at their ankles. She’s kind of prickly about that, for whatever reason – she doesn’t like bullies and honestly it’s something that all the Bellas are prickly about – and so to be reduced to something she so loathes just because she’s stressed? Beca feels like a jackass. “I’m sorry.” She says it more emphatically the second time, face so serious she’s afraid she might inadvertently strain an eye muscle. Chloe’s smile falters and for a moment Beca can’t read her. Has no idea what she might say or do and the uncertainty makes her freeze.


“Thanks.” Soft and sincere, like she might cry; Chloe pushes herself off of pillows that don’t belong to her and crawls towards Beca. Stormy blue eyes widen involuntarily and she sort of chokes a bit on her suddenly rapidly beating heart, because literally any number of things could be about to happen and Beca is prepared for exactly none of them.


But Chloe just grabs her in a hug, squeezing her tight as she kneels beside her and basically ends up hugging her head. She doesn’t seem to mind though and she only pulls back after planting a kiss against Beca’s crown. Even then though, she doesn’t move away, only around, and she’s settling herself between Beca and the wall before the brunette has time to process the movement.


“What are you doing?” She asks, sharp and skittish, but Chloe just laughs. Beca feels her curl her fingers around dark hair and sweep it aside, shifting it to rest across the front of one shoulder. A whisper of a shiver slithers along Beca’s spine as warm fingers brush the skin of her neck.


“I,” she starts, dramatically, and Beca feels the words drift over her, “am going to give you a backrub. Take away some of that tension.”


So, it isn’t a totally weird proposition. Chloe offers to give her backrubs all the time, Beca just usually declines. She has been on the receiving end though, once or twice, and she can’t lie; Chloe’s hands are kind of magical. When it comes to backrubs, because that’s the only thing she has experience with and who said anyone was expecting anything more than that right now, because it certainly wasn’t her.


“Oh.” A refusal is on the tip of Beca’s tongue, because she really thinks maybe they should talk a bit more before they get overly touchy, but then Chloe’s hands are at her shoulders and her thumbs are rubbing small little circles of magic along the muscles there. “Kay.” She squeaks out, giving in as her eyelids flutter and close. She doesn’t need to freak out, there’s no reason to. This is a perfectly friendly thing to do, even in light of their recent agreement, which they haven’t even talked about since anyway.


“I um, I’m glad.” Chloe says, voice close to Beca’s left ear. “That it wasn’t the other thing,” Beca’s eyes pop open, “freaking you out or something.” She’s about seventy-five percent sure that Chloe can read minds and this isn’t the first time she’s considered the percentage.


“What? No. That isn’t, of course no- no.” She rolls her eyes at herself, then closes them again as she clenches her teeth in frustration and silently prays for the ability to talk sense for like, a second. “We’re totally cool, Chlo. Like I said, what are friends for?”


“I know that’s what you said,” she says it in a way that lets Beca know there’s a ‘but’ coming, “but I don’t want things to get weird between us.” Her thumbs meet at the base of Beca’s neck and then Chloe’s moving her hands down, kneading the muscles as she finds them.


“It’ll only get weird if we let it.” Beca points out, vision darting in and out of focus. “So we won’t.” That seems to placate the redhead, for the moment at least, and she falls quiet as she works her way towards the middle of Beca’s back. “Since you brought it up though,” and then Beca’s speaking without realising it, “I was kind of wondering.” Chloe hums, but the sound is vague and distant, like she’s not completely focused on what Beca is saying. Which she isn’t, Beca can feel that she isn’t. Her fingers probe an area between her shoulder blades and Beca’s eyes roll up and towards the back of her skull.


“You have knots, like, everywhere.” There’s a frown making itself known in Chloe’s voice and Beca idly considers the idea that Chloe would probably make a really good nurse. She’s kind, caring, has proven herself to be perfectly capable of dealing with bodily fluids on multiple occasions, and she could probably just sing the patients back to full health. “Lie down.” She touches Beca’s shoulder, urging her to move. “On your stomach.” Then pats her back like it’s no big deal.


“Oh. Um, okay.” And maybe it isn’t. Because it’s Chloe, the girl who says hi with her hands as easily as she does with her mouth, and they’re friends. Really good friends. Isn’t that why Chloe came to her with her request in the first place? So Beca should really just take it all in stride when she’s ushered into lying face down on her bed and feels Chloe straddle her thighs like they do this every Sunday afternoon.


They do not.


“What were you wondering about?” She asks and Beca opens her mouth to speak just as nimble fingers start working out the tension in her shoulders, their new positioning allowing Chloe to press a little harder than before, and it isn’t exactly a dictionary defined word that leave Beca then. No, it’s more of a guttural groaning sound and she feels her face burn with embarrassment when Chloe’s hands stop and she hears the redhead giggle. An actual giggle. “Wow. I know I’m good, but I didn’t think I was this good.” This totally isn’t fair. This is why regular people don’t go to public masseurs, because they inevitably end up making porno noises against their will. She buries her face in her comforter, feeling Chloe shift a little above her and then continue on. She repeats her question and, after a few heartbeats, Beca turns her head until her cheek is pillowed against the bedspread and she can talk unhindered. She runs her tongue over her teeth and blinks.


“Our, you know, agreement.” She stares at her hand, the fingers of which are picking invisible lint from the comforter. Chloe mumbles a quiet little “oh”, but her hands don’t stop moving and something about that emboldens Beca. “I was just wondering about, like, when you want to, sort of, start? Or how?” Her voice goes up an octave at the end, making it sound like she isn’t sure that’s the question she wants to be asking. Chloe’s quiet for a minute.


“I want you to be comfortable.” She begins, tentatively. Her thumbs brush against the curve of a ribcage and Beca’s suddenly gripped by the urge to laugh.


“This is kind of your thing though, dude. I’m just lending a helping hand.” Chloe stills again and Beca can feel the way the redhead is smirking down at her. “Okay, bad choice of wording aside, I stand by it. I mean, I don’t even really know what you want from this.” Which was a very good point. She’d agreed without knowing the full scope of this thing and even though she knows Chloe would never push her on anything, she still wants in on the game plan. She wants to see the bullet points and what order they go in. “I’m not as good as you are at this stuff. I’m weird and awkward, but I want to be here for you.” Her pulse is hammering in her temple as she talks without really thinking about what she’s saying. She just knows it’s the truth and doesn’t question the why. Which she probably should. “I’m just kind of flying blind here, Chlo.”


“I’m sorry.” Beca doesn’t want an apology though, she wants clarification. “I didn’t want to push you.” She can see a red-haired blur in her periphery and throws a wry smile in that direction.


“I’ve already said yes. And I know you.” She finally flattens her hand against the duvet, forcing it to lie still. “You couldn’t push me, not like that, even if you wanted to. You wouldn’t.” Something in the words seems to strike Chloe, because she retracts her hands and Beca feels her sit back on her haunches. The seconds tick by and she wonders what Chloe’s thinking. Why she’s thinking it. What she’s going to do or say next.


This whole thing is super weird. It was never not going to be weird, Beca knows that. It isn’t every day you agree to basically being friends with benefits with your bestie. Not that she thinks it’ll go that far. Unless that’s what Chloe is aiming for?


All at once, Beca can’t breathe.


“Well, what about this.” Which is of course the exact moment that Chloe decides to make a move. She lifts herself from Beca and falls to the side, lying with her back towards the wall. She reaches out with one hand and gently touches Beca between her shoulder blades. “Onto your side?” And Beca moves on autopilot. She isn’t afraid – she doesn’t think she could ever be afraid of Chloe – but there’s a nest of snakes in the pit of her stomach balling themselves into a knot and it reminds her a bit of Jesse, and how she felt around him in the beginning.


And she really should be questioning this. Asking herself why.


As soon as she’s done as Chloe asks she feels the redhead scoot closer to her, until Beca is certain those are breasts she’s feeling against her back and she has no idea what to do with that information.


“Uh.” It slips out even though she’d forbade herself from speaking only milliseconds before. Chloe’s hand comes to lie tentatively at Beca’s hip, curves around the bone, and she thinks she manages to catch her sharp inhale before it’s too painfully obvious.


“Is this okay?” Beca tries to focus on her breathing, which her body has suddenly decided is something that she isn’t doing fast enough. In, out, slow and even.


“Yeah, it’s…” Slow. “This is fine.” And even. 


 

And once again, if there's anything you want to see in the next chapter (or you just want to tell me what you did/didn't like), drop me a comment!

Chapter Text


If Beca thinks about it, and she has, Chloe cuddling up to her hadn't been all that different from the way the redhead usually interacted with her. It was really just hugging. Horizontal hugging, as Amy might say, and after the initial awkward whatever it was that had gripped Beca started to fade, it became easy to lie there. Feeling the steady warmth of a solid presence at her back and the barely-there weight of a hand on her hip. They continued talking, voices hushed as though they were lying in the middle of a library, and Beca felt herself growing evermore comfortable with each passing minute.


Not that she'd really been all that uncomfortable to begin with. Which was probably something worth examining. Maybe. Later.


They talked a little about Beca's internship, what she'd been doing there so far - “Oh my god, Beca! You met Snoop?!”, “Well, no. I mean. I think we made eye contact?” - and Chloe had basically reaffirmed what Amy had told Beca word for word. And it had made Beca smile, because even if some hoity-toity, super successful music producer guy didn't think she had what it took, her friends at least believed in her. She hasn't been able to say that too many times in her life thus far, about anyone. The Bellas make up for it though. Amy would scream Beca's name via megaphone from the top of an open air bus if given half the chance and Chloe's belief in her is so vehement that it makes bright blue eyes shine whenever she's handed the opportunity to sing Beca's praises. Something she had done quite literally on a number of occasions over the years, much to Beca's chagrin.


They talked about Chloe and if there was any specific place she wanted to teach – there wasn't – and she'd told Beca that she would go wherever the music needed her. Beca had smiled into the pillow beneath her cheek and compared her to Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act 2. That had thrilled Chloe to no end. Then they'd laid there quietly while the redhead whispered Lauren Hill lyrics under her breath and the melody drifted over Beca's skin like silk.


The passage of time wasn't something either of them had been paying attention to, so neither was sure how long they'd been up there when Fat Amy bellowed something about “going out for ice cream. Or pizza. Or pizza and then ice cream” up at them. Beca had mentally questioned how Amy had even known she was there – no one had seen her come in – and Chloe, ever the mind reader, had told her that Fat Amy had been in the room when she had arrived at her stake out spot. So, Beca had sat up and pushed herself off of the mattress, Chloe following suit a few seconds behind. She'd felt strange, heavy and light all at once, and had rolled her head back as if trying to work out a crick in her neck. She'd retrieved a jacket from the closet and returned to find the redhead still perched on the end of the bed, a wide smile painting her lips.


Beca had freed her hair from beneath the collar of her coat and felt the heaviness receded a little.


And then they'd gone for ice cream. All of them walking along the street like a mismatched mob of new-adults, ready to unleash themselves upon the world. Or at least Amy upon the ice cream vendor. Chloe had looped her arm through Beca's and it had stayed there until they'd been forced to part for one reason or another.


And Beca hadn't minded one bit.


But then, she rarely did when it came to Chloe.

 


 

She's still thinking about that when her last class lets out at three-fifteen the next afternoon. Why there's a difference when it's Chloe. She's had years to figure out the answer though and if she hasn't by now, then the bubbly redhead who doesn't know the meaning of 'personal space' is probably going to remain a mystery to her. Beca isn't too bothered by that, she's never been one for puzzles and the idea of wanting to pick apart a person to figure out what makes them tick has never appealed to her. Which only adds to her confusion right now because she wants to see the inner workings of this thing between her and Chloe pretty badly. She wants to know exactly what it is that the older woman wants out of this, but Beca doesn't know quite how to ask that. She isn't good with words unless she's mashing them together over a base line.


She isn't good with being trapped inside her own head either and the idea of being alone with her thoughts right now is not at all appealing. That's how she ends up crossing campus and letting herself into one of the dorm buildings.


She can smell popcorn the second she enters the hallway leading to Jesse's room. It's impressive, because his dorm is at the other end and it isn't like he keeps it filled with the stuff. Maybe he just eats it that often? Or he's dropped enough butter onto the carpet that it's soaked in and penetrated so deeply that no steam vacuum in all the world would be enough to get the smell out. Honestly, she finds the smell kind of nauseating now. She supposes being in a relationship with someone who forced you, and she uses the term loosely, to endure an abundance of overexposure to the universal 'movie-food' might do that to a person. She pushes down against the mini wave of revulsion that rocks her stomach when she reaches his door though, and brings her hand up to knock.


She has no idea what he says when the door is opened, because his mouth is so full a piece of popcorn actually falls from it and hits the toe of her shoe. Slowly, she glances down at it, then back up at him. His grin only widens and he steps aside, a silent request for her to enter. Something she thinks twice about before agreeing to.


“So, I feel like I might need to stage some kind of intervention?” She says, nose crinkling in a regretful manner as she turns to watch him close the door.


“And why is that?” Only it doesn't actually sound like that when he says it and she stares at him for a few seconds before she's able to piece his question together.


“Because I'm pretty sure that your diet is like, ninety percent popcorn right now and that's... not cool.” He drops back down into his spot on the bed – identified by the laptop and popcorn bowl placement – and rolls his eyes. “Seriously, why don't you have scurvy?” He grins at her and tosses another piece into his mouth.


“Because I'm not a pirate?” Beca's tilts her head and glowers down at him. “Also, corn is a vegetable.”


“I'm pretty sure when you slather it in butter and enough salt to kill a cow, it sucks out any lingering nutrients.” She wanders over onto Benji's side of the room, side-stepping a huge wooden box that has rectangular slits carved out of it on all four sides and which she really hopes is part of one of his magic acts.


“Are you majoring in food studies now? Because I feel like such a dramatic shift should really have been done with my consult.” Beca's eyes travel over the incredibly elaborate, and oddly passionate, Star Wars display. She wonders what a person does with so many lightsabers.


“I don't know, are you majoring in being a pain in my ass?” She tosses the question carelessly over her shoulder, hears him crunch the popcorn between his teeth a few times before he replies.


“Maybe, but I've been majoring in that for a while now.” Truer words may never have been spoken. She pivots back around to face him and sees him closing the lid to his laptop.


“I can leave if you were in the middle of something.” Jesse shakes his head.


“I was just watching Jaws. What's up?” Hands clasped in front of her in an uncharacteristically unsure manner, she crosses the short distance between them and sits down on the end of his bed.


“How can you watch the same thing over and over again? The ending never changes, the big shark still gets blown up.” Because yes, that was one movie she had actually seen prior to having him force-feed her as many as she could stand while they were dating. Which hadn't accumulated to any great amount. His expression changes to one that is by now quite familiar; he's about to wax poetic about the struggles of a burgeoning director and studio pressure and what is one of the most iconic soundtracks of all time.


She might have heard this exact speech before. She might have heard it about fifteen times.


“You know what? Never mind.” And she doesn't want to be rude but she isn't sure she can stand hearing it, again, right now.


Because this is no mere social visit. Beca has come here with a purpose. Something that she really needs to talk about, but is entirely unsure how to broach.


She isn't even sure what she and Chloe are doing, so trying to explain it to someone is probably going to be difficult, but the walk over here has made her realize that she needs to say something. There are too many thoughts swirling around inside her head at any given moment, bumping into one another and throwing her off balance, and maybe if she can get a few of them out then those ones will leave her alone. Free up some room.


“Does Benji ever play with those things?” Is what she says instead, nodding to the lightsabers above the absent roommate's bed. Jesse eyes her suspiciously before answering.


“No. The sabers are strictly a hand-free zone. You can look at them and imagine yourself playing with it, but any actual touching is a no-go unless you have special gloves.” He lets the silence hang for all of five seconds before, “Beca, are you okay?” She turns her head to look at him, perhaps a little too quickly, and plasters on a smile.


“Yeah. Yeah, no, I’m totally cool.” But he just keeps looking at her. Through her. Like he knows she's full of shit. Any other day, she'd be able to roll her eyes and brush the look away with a sarcastic remark, but this was why she was here. What was the point in lying when she'd come here to tell the truth? Not that she's lying, she is fine. Just a bit confused. Overwhelmed, maybe.


“Really? Because you're acting like someone slipped a teaspoon of crack into your coffee.” He's exaggerating, but she realizes that she is a bit twitchy. Awkward, more so than usual. “Look, if there's something you want to talk about, then I’m here for you.” He reaches over and puts his hand on her arm. It's warm and gentle, and huge against her small frame. “If there's something but you don't want to talk about, that's fine too.” He leans back against his pillows and pulls the popcorn bowl onto his lap. “We can just sit here and you can ridicule me over my dietary decisions some more.” He flashes her one of his mega-watt smiles, the kind of smile that had won her over in the first place, and she feels herself deflate. Her breath leaves her as a whoosh of air.


“You have to promise not to freak out.” She warns, glancing askance at him. Jesse raises his eyebrows but nods in agreement and Beca licks her lips as she searches for the right words. “Okay, so, back-story. When we were at that retreat thing, Chloe kinda of...” she stumbles there, muttering a series of exhales, “she made a comment about how she regretted not experimenting more in college.” It leaves her in a rush and she hopes he catches it, because she doesn't think she'll be able to convince herself to say it again. He pauses mid chew and this time only one eyebrow goes up. “But I mean, that's Chloe right? She's always saying and doing stuff like that, so I didn't really think anything of it. Until she sort of found me the other day and,” she reaches around to rub her neck with her hand, “asked... me?” A beat of silence follows, a rather long one, and it stretches out far enough that Beca eventually relents and looks over at Jesse.


He doesn't look like he's freaking out. He doesn't look much like anything, actually. His face has gone blank and his gaze has turned distant. Glazed, even. Her eyes narrow and she throws her body towards him, one fist landing heavy against his shoulder.


“Ow!” He yelps, bringing his hand up to rub at the abused area, though not before depositing more popcorn into his mouth. “What the hell?!”


“You know.” She settles back on the bed, shuffling around a bit so that her body is angled towards him. He opens his mouth, probably to protest, but she shoots him down with a very pointedly raised eyebrow of her own. “I kinda need you to be serious right now.” He nods, but his smile is still slanting towards a smirk.


“I can be serious.” She watches with a mix of caution and scepticism as he shuffles across the bed until he's sitting beside Beca, his back against the wall, opposite her shoulder. He brings the popcorn with him. “Okay. So, Chloe came to you and asked you to experiment. With her. Sexually.” Beca cringes and rolls her eyes.


“Well, she wasn't talking about science.” She brushes the end of her nose with the knuckle of her index finger. The motion is a little too quick, too jerky, it betrays her unease. Which is really annoying for someone like her. Someone who likes to play their cards close to their chest and reveal as little as possible about themselves. She doesn't like having ticks or tells or anything that can give anything about her away. It's infuriating, but it's also something she's had to get used to. Because Chloe is far too astute for her own good and Jesse is almost as bad.


“Which is good, because you'd be zero use there.” She throws him a sarcastic laugh and then the finger. “What are you looking to get out of me here, Becs? Did you want to just get this off your chest or are you actually asking me for advice?” He makes it sound like the latter would be the most touching, unexpected thing anyone has ever asked of him. It makes her want to punch him again.


“Dude I swear, if you're not going to-”


“I am being serious!” He cuts her off with a chuckle and bumps their shoulders together. “You've just got to give me some feedback.” The thing is, she doesn't really know why she's come to Jesse with this. He's her friend, yes, probably her best friend besides Chloe – but jesus, don't tell him that – and she knows he'll never judge her for anything, but what is she actually expecting him to say? What does she want him to say? He's watching her patiently as she chews away on her lower lip like she's digging there for the answer. “Are we talking hand-holding and a little bit of making out, or under the sweater, over the bra action?” She covers her face with her hands and groans loudly into them. “Or like... is she wanting all four bases covered?”


“I don't know.” It's muffled, but he catches it, and he rubs at the bridge of his nose while he thinks on which metaphor to use next. In a flurry of motion, Beca throws her hands down. “Am I insane for agreeing?” He blinks at her in surprise.


“You agreed?” And she stares right back, steely blue eyes wide.


“Well, yeah. I mean,” her brow creases slightly, “we're like, really good friends and it's not, it isn't like, oh my god, should I have said no?” Panic. Beca isn't as familiar as some with that particular feeling, she's pretty laid back when it comes to most things, but it grips her pretty fiercely in that second. Shakes her like a dog with a chew toy. “Oh my god.” She drags a deep breath in through parted lips and between clenched teeth. “Was that just a really dumb thing for me to do?” Jesse's eyes seem to have somehow gotten rounder the longer her looks at her and she's almost positive she sees him physically shake it off before he speaks.


“Beca, chill. I didn't say that, I was just surprised.” His gaze is imploring and she rolls her shoulders, forcing herself to try and relax. He takes a few seconds to gather his thoughts, looking around his room and letting his eyes land on everything that isn't Beca. She can tell by the way he's shifting that he's thinking something, something specific that he doesn't quite know how to say, and it makes her feel jittery. She brings her hands together and toys with her fingers to give herself something to do. She hates waiting. She hates silence, though more specifically the kind of empty silence that's spent waiting for someone to say something or something to happen. He parts his lips and she sees his brow furrow ever so slightly before he speaks. “Why?” The question, or maybe the way he says it, rubs her the wrong way and she feels her hackles rise along her spine. This wasn't what he was supposed to be doing.


“What do you mean, why? I just told you.” Her tone is biting and argumentative, which is really only a ninety-degree turn from the way she usually sounds, but he bristles against it regardless of whether or not he's used to it by now.


“That's not what I'm asking.” He glances sidelong at her and she doesn't know what to make of his expression. It's weirdly guarded or withdrawn, neither of which she's accustomed to seeing when it comes to Jesse. He's always so wildly open about how he feels about everything, even if he isn't actually talking about it, and she realizes that he's kind of like Chloe in that regard. He reaches around to the back of his head and rubs his palm over the short, prickly hair at the nape of his neck. “Did you agree just because Chloe asked you? Or because this is something you want to do?” Her face twists into a look of utterly frustrated confusion.


“What are you... dude, that's, that's like the exact same thing.”


“It really isn't.” She wants to throttle him.


“I want to because she asked me, jackass. Because we're friends.” Jesse seems to contemplate her words for all of three seconds before he shrugs his shoulders and dips his hand into the popcorn bowl for the millionth time.


“Alright, you're friends, that's cool. Benji and I are friends too though and if he asked me something like that out of the blue, I'd have to at least think about it for a few days. Then I'd probably say no-” She interrupts him with a guttural sound she brings up from low in her throat.


"You're a guy though.” He can tell by the way she says it that she means for that to be the end, like that says it all, and so he waits. With an exaggerated eye roll, she says, “It'd be different for you." He's strangely offended by the implication.


"Would it?" And he's got that damn eyebrow raised again. Beca glares at it, silently devising a plan to break into his room in the dead of night and shave it off while he's asleep. "Because Benji and I are really good friends too." Unable to hold herself still any longer, Beca lurches to her feet and throws an arm back out towards him.


"But guys are weird about this stuff." She says and she genuinely doesn't understand why he's being so difficult about this. All he had to do was tell her she hadn't made some stupidly huge mistake entering into this thing with Chloe. That once the redhead had it out of her system, things would revert back to their usual brand of normal and they'd always have something that bonded them outside of the Bellas. In addition to being 'a friend alongside whom she took the a cappella world by storm' Beca would also be 'that really awesome friend that did something pretty cool for her when they were in college'. She isn't sure why the distinction is important but knows, unequivocally, that it is.


"You're pretty weird about stuff too, Bec." Jesse points out gently. He shrugs his shoulders and she stops pacing back and forth in front of him. He looks almost guilty, but she doesn't get a chance to wonder about what he's going to say before it's leaving his mouth. "You were never really that into me." And it hits her like a slap, sharp and stinging against the side of her face. A familiar anger bubbles beneath the surface, rising high enough to turn her cheeks red and leak out into the room.


"Jesus Jesse!” Disbelief taints the words like a metallic tang on her tongue and she does her best to ignore the way his face has crumpled into an expression of remorse. Because of course he didn't mean it that way, but it's struck a nerve regardless. “You aren't God's gift to women!" At that he visibly recoils, but the movement is largely lost in her periphery as she stalks towards the door and throws it open. It slams with ease behind her and her legs may be shorter than the average, but they do a really good job of taking her away from places she doesn't want to be.


Usually.


She makes it halfway down the hallway before she stops dead, an anvil of guilt dropping right into her stomach and rooting her to the spot like a Looney Tunes' character. She tips her head back and stares up at the ceiling for a five count before she turns around. Her head drops down hard against the door and she winces at the thudding sound it makes. A heartbeat later it's being cracked open and she stares morosely up at Jesse.


“I'm sorry. I'm an asshole.” It's an ever-developing skill Beca has found, this whole 'people' thing. How to talk and act around them when you don't actually want them to just leave you the hell alone, which has been something she's had to get used to in and of itself. She's still prone to snapping, probably because of that. It's hard to un-train yourself of a lifelong habit, but these days she doesn't freeze up when he pulls her in for her hug and instead returns it, pressing her head into his chest. And then because he knows her like he does, knows that she's done talking for right now, he turns her around by the shoulders and sends her back down the hallway with a pat to her backside.


“You need to talk to Chloe.” He calls after her and Beca releases a breath she feels like she's been holding for days.


Yes. Yes she does.


 

Same again, dear readers. Thoughts and desires welcome. ;)

 

 

Chapter Text


 Chloe loves people. Well, most people. Chloe loves people who aren't inherently mean and who don't go out of their way to hurt people. People Chloe does not love include but are not limited to; murderers, drug dealers, those who are physically or mentally abusive, people who hurt animals, con artists who take money from old ladies that don't know any better, Simon Cowell, and those two dumb German front people for DSM. Because they're stuck up and mean and they stole their tour. And they gloat about it, which is a quality Chloe finds less than attractive in anybody. She's always maintained that modesty, when worn right, is endlessly endearing. Sexy.


So there are, in fact, people whom Chloe does not love, but she doesn't use the word 'hate' a whole lot. She's terrified of mimes, but she doesn't hate them and she has a strong, passionate dislike for the DSM goons, but she isn't certain she hates them either. She just wants to crush them beneath a spiky Bella-woman heel. Maybe it's her lack of familiarity with the emotion that makes it difficult for her to assign it to someone. It takes a lot to make Chloe hate anything.


It takes far less to convince her to love.


Aubrey says she loves too easily, but Chloe's never really understood what she means by that or why she says it like it's a bad thing. Chloe loves love, every strain of it. The one that makes her squeal when she sees a kitten and the one that fills her chest until it's ready to burst at the sight of her friends, smiling and happy. The potent kind that makes her cling to bed sheets and bite down to keep from crying out. The kind that leaves her breathless after an impromptu session of shower singing. All of it.


Loving Beca was inevitable. She knew, the second she saw the lost-looking girl across the activities fair, that no matter what she said when Chloe handed her – tried to – that flier, she'd be seeing her again. She isn't sure if she believes in fate or anything else that perpetuates the idea that people's lives aren't their own to lead, but she does think that some things are simply meant to be. She also thinks that people can miss those though, take a wrong turn somewhere and end up losing something amazing that they never got the chance to have. She doesn't like to wrap herself up in 'what ifs', which is why she throws herself into everything. She always has. Because what's the point in doing things halfheartedly? You never get anywhere, never get anything you want unless you give it your all. So, she'd latched onto that feeling. Hadn't given a second thought to pulling back that shower curtain. The music had called to her, like it always did, and it wouldn't be ignored. Chloe would be betraying something to even try and ignore it. So she had seen Beca again, quite a lot of her actually, and the whole thing had made her giddy because Beca had sang for her and they sounded awesome together. And Chloe had known that this was just the beginning. Of what, she wasn't sure, but that didn't matter.


Aubrey says she cares too much, but she says it with a fond smile that warms Chloe's insides. Maybe Aubrey is right, but she'd rather care too much than not at all.


Chloe loves people. She loves love, every single strain, every note of it and the way it sings to her in a different way every time.


Beca is a melody she hadn't heard before.


She loves Beca, loves everything about her. From the way she rolls her eyes to the way she leads the Bellas and everything in between. She's become one of Chloe's best friends, part of her family, and while Chloe thinks the same of the rest of her team mates, Beca is different. Not that that's news. Maybe it's because she's never met anyone quite as surly and sarcastic as Beca. Someone who, once you got beneath that, is still just as surly and sarcastic, but is also amazing and passionate and brilliant. Aubrey is all of those things too, but in a different way, and while Chloe loves them both, their rhythms are different. They each move to different beats and Chloe loves each and every note.


She misses Aubrey fiercely. They text every day and Skype when they can, but it isn't the same. Her life is a little bit more empty, a little less bright, but Beca makes it better. And it makes Chloe smile because Beca will insist that she darkens every doorway she stands in, with her eye makeup and should-be-patented withering glare, but Chloe knows better.


She'd gone to Beca with the idea of experimenting because there's no one else she trusts like that. No one else who she feels that kind of comfortable with. Aubrey is every aspect of wonderful imaginable, but Chloe would never have asked her to do this. It wouldn't have felt right and somehow, with Beca it does. It feels easier than she thinks it would have felt with anyone else. Even though she'd been nervous, she'd still felt safe. Because Beca's brash and honest and would never just say yes out of guilt or some misguided sense of obligation. If she had wanted to say no, she would have.


But she'd said yes.


And love had made Chloe feel giddy all over again.

 


 

Her mother tells her that she's always been this way. Full of life and love, willing to share it with anyone who'll let her. She tells her that, for a while, she'd been afraid for Chloe. That her baby girl would only end up getting hurt, again and again, because of it. That people – boys – would take advantage. Now, her mother worries less, but Chloe had endured her fair share hurt of course. It had been unavoidable.


Chloe falls in love too easily, too.


Head first, all in. Because why do it any differently and not experience it to the fullest?


As it turned out, not everyone feels the same way she does. She knows that now, she's had the time to figure it out, but back in eigth grade everything was fresh and new. Billy Preston had been her first love, after singing, and for three whole weeks they were the cutest couple at their school. But then Billy had left a note in her locker, his spidery handwriting telling her in two sentences that she was too clingy and he didn't want to go out with her any more. Chloe had cried until there were no more tears – what did 'too clingy' even mean? - while her mother held her and kissed the top of her head and promised her that it would get better.


It had. Eventually. High school had given her some painful bumps and bruises, one or two had even scarred, but she'd survived. She'd learned. So even though she still falls in love too easily, and probably always will, she's learned how to feel it without letting it consume her. She's learned how to manage it. She's had to. Not everyone is like her, they don't feel like she does. Some people are scared by it and while she can't ever really understand that, she can respect it.


Over the years Chloe has met people who bring out everything inside of her. Who cut the ropes that tether those feelings, often without meaning to, and set them free. Aubrey had, with her bright eyes and blinding smile, and a love for music that rivalled Chloe's own. Beca had severed them with her sharp wit and biting sarcasm, and the ability to bend music to her will.


She wonders where the difference lies, between loving someone and being in love with them. She feels things so passionately that the distinction isn't always clear. Not that it's ever needed to be. Maybe she had been in love with Aubrey, but she'd never wanted to push any part of their relationship in any direction other than where it sat. She'd loved Tom, his lopsided smile and carefree attitude. She'd loved how he made her feel and the way he laughed, but she hadn't been in love with him. She loves Beca. Her attitude and snark, the way she cares but doesn't want people to know that she does. She loves the way she gets flustered and says un-Beca-like things and she loves, loves the way she sings. The way she works music and makes the music work for her.


She loves the way Beca's smile makes her chest hurt.


And maybe she is in love with Beca, but it never occurs to Chloe that she should ask herself.

 


 

The Bellas mean more to Chloe than almost anything else in the world at this point. Though she's decided that she will actually, finally, graduate this year – and boy, her Russian Lit. professor is going to be so happy to see the back of her – it is still imperative that they win at Worlds. Not only to rub DSM's smug German faces into the mud, but to get the Bellas reinstated too. Teaching DSM how to speak loser will be an added bonus. A large one, but still. This was always about the Bellas. Chloe wants to win at Worlds for tradition, for Legacy, for every woman who has ever been a Bella and every woman who could someday become one. Being a Bella has made Chloe who she is, she has so much to thank it for and this is probably as close as she's ever going to be able to get to repaying the debt. It's hard when there isn't a physical someone she can hug and squeeze and cry on.


Their chances were looking pretty grim for a while there, even she can admit that and Chloe isn't one for admitting defeat. She never would have asked Aubrey for help if she'd thought there was another way, but it had become clear that the Bellas had lost something as a group and there was only one way to find it again.


Stacie had argued that they probably could have arrived at the same destination had they all gone shopping on Black Friday rather than subject themselves to the horrors of the retreat and who knows, maybe they would have. But in the midst of exhaustion, bear traps and mosquito bites, they'd found their sound again. And Chloe is sure that this is how it was supposed to work out. That they'd needed Aubrey in her element and the raw fatigue of what was basically a boot camp in order to reset. They were closer, all of them. Once more knitted into the fabric of the Bellas, adding a new piece to a quilt that wasn't quite finished yet. That hopefully wouldn't be finished for a long time.


“I need you,” Beca says without looking up, striding into the room with her laptop balanced on her forearm and the fingers of her other hand clicking away, “to listen to this.”


Beca Mitchell is hugely important to that whole 'quilt not going unfinished' thing. And also hugely important to Chloe. She watches Beca make her way across the room, never once looking up from the screen obscuring her face, and take a seat next to Chloe on her bed.


“Do I have to?” Beca's shoulders stiffen at the whine in Chloe's voice and the redhead has a hard time keeping her face twisted towards inconvenienced when the other woman looks up and over at her. There's a beat where they just stare at one another and then Beca's eyes narrow.


“Shut up.” And she practically drops her beloved computer into Chloe's lap. The façade cracks and breaks and Chloe's laugh is bold and uninhibited. Beca lifts her headphones from around her neck and leans over to secure them over Chloe's ears. Her lips are curled into a small but rueful smile and Chloe can't look away from them even as Beca leans back. For someone who insists on being so broody, she brings a lot of light into Chloe's life.


“Yes, ma'am.” There's a mock salute just waiting to be delivered, but Beca is plugging the headphones into the jack and she's reaching over Chloe to hit play.


Music, Chloe thinks, is a lot like sex.


It can be good, bad, and everywhere in between. It can fill you with emotion or leave you feeling empty and unfulfilled. It can capture you, make you feel so alive that you think you might die. It can be perfect, and it can be painful. It's always different.


When she listens to Beca's mixes, the idea that music is like sex is never more readily apparent. What Beca does is magic and it makes Chloe's insides writhe like they want to get out. It's good, more than good, it's amazing. It's everything music should be and more. It's sex and passion and fighting and harmony. It's perfect. And every time, Beca looks at Chloe with uncertainty shining in her eyes as she unconsciously chews the tip of her thumb, like she's waiting for the redhead's approval. Like it matters to Beca what Chloe thinks.


Chloe feels too much, it's true. So much so that she can't always find the words to match, which makes telling someone how she feels all the more difficult. If she's trying to explain how she feels about a person then it's easier, she can show them. But music is something else.


And what Beca does with music is another kind of different altogether.


Part way through the track it becomes too much for Chloe and she lifts her hands to hold the headphones in place as she falls back against the mattress, wide smile parting her lips. Her body thrums with the rhythm, blood singing to the tune, and every muscle in her body screams for more when it ends. Her eyes pop open to find Beca, upper body twisted, looking down at her, bemused.


“This is amazing.” Chloe speaks with the kind of soft reverence that's reserved for church, an awestruck quality that belongs at the peak of a mountain. Beca predictably shies away from it with her usual half shrug and head bob.


“It stills needs some work, there's a bit at the minute forty-seven mark that-” And while Chloe finds modesty sexy and all, sometimes she needs to make sure that person knows that they have every reason not to be modest.


“Bec.” She can reach the other girl's arm now, where it's bracing her weight against the bed, and her palm covers Beca's hand as her fingers gently grip a slim wrist. The rest of the brunette's sentences vanishes and she blinks owlishly at Chloe, who levels her with an unwavering stare. “It's amazing.” She says again, in that same tone of voice. “You're amazing.” She says it because it's true. Knows that it is, feels that it is with every fibre of her being. The words to explain that though, a true and fully realized explanation, aren't there. She wants to scream it from the Bella house rooftop, how amazing Beca is, but 'amazing' doesn't do it justice. So, Chloe grips Beca's wrist a little tighter and smiles, and hopes that comes somewhere close.


Beca's never been very good at this though, the whole 'accepting compliments' and 'sincerity' thing, and for five solid seconds she sort of just gapes open-mouthed at Chloe, like a goldfish. Until she rubs the pad of her thumb over the soft skin on the inside of Beca's wrist and then she's snapping her jaw closed and swallowing. Chloe sees the movement in her throat and her eyes trail back up over the curve of Beca's neck and she wonders what the skin there would feel like under her lips.


“Thanks.” Beca breathes through a tight-lipped smile and Chloe is struck, not for the first time, how adorable the Bella captain is. All awkward and verbally stunted. Although it isn't that Beca doesn't have a wide vocabulary, she's just easily flustered by certain things and then her mouth doesn't work properly.


Something suddenly occurs to Chloe and she sits, releasing Beca's wrist in order to push herself up. Surprised by the sudden motion, Beca jerks back wide-eyed.


“You totally have a thing for that German woman.” Somehow, Beca's eyes widen even further at the accusation and her mouth is right back to doing that goldfish thing.


“Oh my god, I do not!” It's the way she almost shrieks her protest that gives Beca away and Chloe her smirk. She seems to realize and consciously lowers her voice. “I so don't.” Chloe can't help giggling, just a little. Because Beca has literally said that the woman makes her sexually confused – though Chloe wonders if Beca remembers even half of what she says in her presence – but Chloe hasn't really thought to tease her about it until now. Her brain was always busy with something else.


“Except you totally do. You get all goo-goo eyed whenever she's within ten feet of you.” With every additional word that leaves Chloe's mouth, Beca becomes all the more outraged.


“Dude, they are the enemy.” She says it like she's scandalized by the very idea that Chloe would suggest such a thing and she glowers as she takes back her headphones and laptop. Chloe's teeth peak out from between her lips.


“Jesse.” She sing-songs and Beca shoots her a glare that might unnerve someone else. Maybe. An easily startled child perhaps.


“He was never the enemy, I don't care what that dumb oath said.” Chloe shrugs as if conceding to that at least and Beca clicks a few buttons before closing the lid of the laptop.


“You think she's hot.” She lets out a wildly 'unladylike' belly laugh at the way Beca throws her head back and groans. “You do! You're so crushing on her!”


“I'm not crushing! I don't crush!” But she's almost at shrieking level again and all Chloe can do is grin at the way she's looking at her. “There's no thing, no one has any kind of thing and I don't think anyone is hot. Okay?”


“No.” Chloe beams.


“Okay.” And Beca barrels right over that like she doesn't hear it. Chloe can't stop smiling.


“You do think she's physically flawless, though?” Beca is up and out of the room almost before the redhead can start laughing again.

 


 

She doesn't see Beca again until early the next evening, which wouldn't be weird except Chloe kind of knows her timetable back to front and Beca's last class should have ended at around three, bringing her home somewhere close to three-thirty usually. Chloe's almost always home by then because her last class is always at two that day, so it strikes her as a little bit strange when Beca doesn't roll in until closer to five.


She's in the second floor bathroom when she hears the door open and close in the hallway downstairs. She knows it's Beca, can hear that it is in the jingling of keys and the clink of their metal against the glass bowl that sits on a small round table down there.


“Hello?” She calls out and her voice carries through the house and finds Chloe with ease. “Any of you aca-bitches home?”


“Upstairs!” Chloe shouts back, smile teasing her lips as she listens to the sound of Beca's footfalls on the stairs and her eventual halting on the landing.


“Marco.” Chloe chuckles and calls back the obligatory “Polo!”, and Beca follows the sound of her voice. She catches sight of the would-be music producer in her periphery as she appears in the doorway. “Oh my god, dude.” Chloe glances over at her, eyebrow raised. She's sat in her underwear on the edge of the bathtub with one leg extended along the side, smoothing a piece of wax paper out over her calf. Her hair is damp, gathered on top of her head in a messy bun, and the mirror is still a little fogged from her shower. She's about eighty percent sure Beca is blushing and it's adorable. Chloe's smile stretches wide.


“You know you've seen me naked right?” She reminds her and yes, definitely blushing. Beca's eyes dart around, looking for something other than Chloe to focus on.


“That doesn't mean,” they end up back on Chloe anyway and Beca sighs, “whatever. I've seen so much boob living here, it's hardly worth fighting anymore.” Chloe smirks at her.


“That's the spirit.” Then she grips the edge of the paper, draws in a deep breath and pulls.


The sound that leaves her isn't one she usually reserves for public performances. It's half-breathless, half-dying cat and it makes Beca flinch and take an instinctive step forward. As though to save Chloe from the evil she's inflicting upon herself. After a few seconds, Chloe lets out the breath she's been holding and drops the paper into the trash can beside the toilet before reaching into the box for a new one.


“Why do you do this to yourself?” Beca's disbelief is palpable. “What can possibly be worth this amount of pain?”


“The legs of a Greek Goddess?” Chloe suggests without missing a beat, peeling back one side of the paper and throwing the unessential piece aside. Beca's eyebrows reach for her hairline and her lips curve into a small, wry smile.


“Someone has a high opinion of herself.” She carefully smooths the paper out over her leg again, shooting Beca a sidelong glance.


“I'm pretty confident about all this.” Eyes that are a few shades darker than her own roll in their sockets. “You're home late.” Chloe mercifully steers the conversation in a different direction in order to give Beca's cheeks time to cool. The brunette looks away, reaching up to tuck her hair behind her ear as her eyes trace patterns in the condensation coating the mirror.


“Yeah, I um, I stopped by Jesse's.” Chloe's movements stutter and stall for a heartbeat or two, but Beca isn't looking at her.


See, Chloe is a good person. She knows this because she tries hard to maintain that. It's good for her spirit, being nice and honest and just generally not behaving like an asshole. She stays away from pettiness and argumentative impulses as best she can. She likes how being a good person makes her feel, how it can make a difference with others, but she's always been kind of jealous of Jesse. The way he'd worked himself into Beca's life, Beca's heart, like he'd been born to be an expert in all things Beca. It's strange for her because Chloe doesn't do jealous, but something about the way that they interact makes her stomach clench. Because as much as she and Beca might have something special, Jesse has something special with her too. It's all very middle school and every time her green-eyed monster rears it ugly head she mentally chastises herself for it. It's very unlike her. Aubrey would be concerned. Luckily for Chloe, her best friend had been far too preoccupied during her final year to notice the beginnings of her jealous issue and now Chloe was quite happy to just, sort of, not mention it.


“Oh yeah? How's he doing?” But Chloe is a master of cheer, she really should have been an actual cheerleader in high school, and her face naturally shifts into a look that's made up of rainbows and sunshine without any effort at all. She's mastered it so well in fact, that people who know her better than anyone are fooled by it.


“He's good. Still cracking the whip.” Another painful squeak pulls Beca's attention back to her as Chloe's leg muscles tense and the flesh screams in agony. She can hear Aubrey's voice in her head, telling her to push through the pain, and it makes her smile because she's probably going to associate the former captain with this kind of excruciating bettering of one's self for the rest of her life. “Look, if you're getting off on this,” her smiling, Chloe realizes, might look exactly like that right now, “then maybe I should just...” Beca starts backing away like she's going to leave and Chloe reaches out even though she knows she's too far away to grab.


“Don't be a dweeb.” Beca raises her eyebrows again, indignant this time, but she moves back to the exact spot where she had been standing moments before and Chloe lets her hand fall away with an appreciative grin. Eyes still locked on Beca, she turns her head so that she can rest her cheek against her kneecap. “Maybe that could be part of the experimenting though.” She flashes the other woman a wink and Beca's neck turns pink. She looks away again and Chloe stifles a laugh against her skin.


“I actually wanted to talk to you about that,” Beca makes a random gesture with her hands, the point of which is lost on the redhead, “but you're busy. And that's cool because this can totally wait until you're, you know,” she parts her lips and bites her teeth together – a look Chloe has dubbed Beca's 'yikes face', a name Beca approves of in no sense of the word and isn't it funny how a tune can change when the shoe is on the other foot? - “wearing clothes again.”


“Beca Mitchell, are you uncomfortable with the way I look?” Okay, so Chloe is a flirt. A shameless, unapologetic flirt. She never leads people on, but the banter and innuendo is something she loves. How it feels, the words on her tongue and the language of her body, and the way people respond to it. So when an opportunity presents itself, she can't look a gift horse in the mouth. And Beca is fun to flirt with on a multitude of levels. Because her discomfort is never enough that Chloe feels guilty or like she's pushed too far – Beca would tell her if that was ever the case anyway – and her embarrassment is adorable. The times that she indulges Chloe and flirts back though? They make Chloe's insides feel like Christmas.


“The entirety of the female population should be uncomfortable with the way you look, Chloe.” Even though Beca is standing she somehow finds a way to look up at Chloe, fixing her with a coy expression through dark lashes. “Kinda makes us feel like slipping into sweatpants that are two sizes too big and sitting down with a family sized bag of Cheetos because 'why bother', you know?” Chloe's lips curl back in a surprised but obviously pleased smile.


“Too hot for you to handle?” The corners of Beca's mouth twitch.


“I think I can hold my own.” And it's too perfect to pass up, Chloe is helpless against the urge.


“I'll let you hold something else if you're really good,” she promises and Beca's bravado finally slips. She turns her gaze skyward with a shake of her head and Chloe lets out a giggle.


And this is why she loves Beca. Because Beca plays back, she gets Chloe.


“Maybe you need another shower. Cool off.”


“Maybe.” She reaches for a final strip of paper, glancing away and then back, gaze riveted on Beca's profile. “Wanna join me?” She sees Beca mouth a very obvious “Jesus” and then Chloe relents with a verbal vow to uphold an innuendo-free conversation for the sake of Beca's burning cheeks. Then she tells her to go ahead with her previous line of conversation.


“I don't think I can talk to you about this now, dude.” But Beca's smiling, which lets Chloe know that she can and will, despite what she's saying. Chloe motions for her to take a seat on the closed lid of the toilet and Beca does after a moment's hesitation, immediately after which she nudges the bathroom door closed with the side of her foot. The seating arrangements bring them close enough that they're almost touching and Chloe has to look over her shoulder in order to actually see Beca. There's silence while Chloe peels the backing off of the wax paper and applies it, and she can practically hear the cogs turning in the mind of the woman behind her. She turns her head to look at her and the eye contact seems to jolt Beca into beginning. “I think we should talk. I mean, obviously I’m one hundred cool with, you know, the whole,” she makes a broad waving motion with the flat of her hand, “general idea of this.” Chloe nods. “But I was thinking that maybe we should,” her face scrunches up, nose wrinkling, “sort of, talk about what it is you... want.” She finishes awkwardly, uselessly twisting her open palms around in front of her like she's manipulating some sort of machine that directly affects how she speaks. Chloe nods again, slowly this time, and snares her lower lip between her teeth as she turns away long enough to rip back the last slip of wax paper with a subdued whimper.


“You're right.” The way she nods her head moves all of her upper body and she runs her hands over her legs to check for any stragglers she may have missed. But Aubrey had given her lessons on waxing her legs and learning from a consummate professional often ensures against that kind of thing. “We're probably doing this a bit backwards.” She swivels around on the edge of the bathtub until her feet are planted on the ground and her knees bump against Beca's, who throws her a sheepish smile.


“I think so.” Chloe stands and moves over to the vanity, opening up one of the doors and pulling out a bottle of lotion. She takes her seat and pops open the lid, squeezing out a small amount as she speaks.


“Is it okay if I don't know exactly? That I know that I want to do this, that I want to do this with you, but not...” she trails off, momentarily frustrated by her inability to explain, and uses the break to rub the lotion over her newly smoothed skin. It smells like passion fruit. “I don't have an endgame, I guess?”


“No, and that's totally fine.” Beca gives a quick few shakes of her head to let Chloe know that that isn't what she was expecting Chloe to have ready for her and then rubs at the tip of her nose. “Are there things that you do know you want to, um-” she's doing that awkward thing with her hands again, searching for a word that doesn't make her want the ground to open up and swallow her whole, but all she's getting are half-vowel, immeasurably ineffectual sounds that explain nothing.


“Kissing.” Chloe interrupts, both to save Beca from further sputtering and because she's pretty certain about this one. The brunette's mouth snaps shut and her gaze takes on something akin to, but not quite, a 'deer in the headlights' quality. Chloe places the closed lotion bottle beside her, deliberately slowly to give Beca a few seconds to digest that, and when she looks back she finds her friend looking contemplative. It worries Chloe a little, because she'd figured kissing would be an obvious one. Like, of course she'd want to kiss Beca. That wouldn't even be a question. “Is that not-” The other woman slips abruptly back into reality and cuts Chloe off with a high-pitched noise of disagreement.


“That's, no, that's good. That's fine. I can do kissing.” Chloe cocks an eyebrow.


“I'll be the judge of that.” Beca rolls her eyes and gets to her feet. Chloe watches her move until she's standing with her back to the sink. It's been interesting for her to watch, Beca evolving from the 'touch me and die' person she was when Chloe met her to the 'you get one friendly touch a day and then I’m cutting you off'. Many tiny baby steps that have culminated into one oversized clown shoe print. “I meant what I said though, about wanting you to be comfortable. I’m not going to jump you one day out of the blue and serenade your tonsils without warning.” Beca makes a face.


“Visual. And really, Chlo, I'm not worried.” She lifts her shoulders in a shrug. “I just think we should talk this stuff through before it happens. Make sure we're both on the same page.” Chloe agrees, silent but emphatic.


“Have you ever kissed a girl before?” Beca blinks, momentarily thrown by the question, and has to clear her throat before answering. It's kind of cute.


“I,” she manages to draw out the single letter, as though she isn't quite sure what her answer is supposed to be, “have not.” But she isn't lying, Chloe can tell. “You?” Chloe hums her answer, a quiet “nuh uh” that comes from the back of her throat. “Well,” Beca breathes, lifting a hand to scratch her forehead, “should be interesting then.”


Chloe is inclined to agree. 

Chapter Text


Beca Mitchell's first kiss had been with a boy called Kevin when she was twelve. She'd been sitting with a friend having lunch in the cafeteria when he'd tapped her on shoulder and then planted one on her as soon as she'd turned her head. The hall had erupted and her friend had sat there wide-eyed, mouth agape. Beca had been mortified. Frozen like a piece of petrified wood, she hadn't been able to so much as blink at him as he flashed her a smile, stuck his hands into the pockets of his track jacket and speed-walked out of there. Later, once she'd regained her senses and the ability to move her limbs, she'd hunted him down and punched him in the stomach. She hadn't even liked him. What right had he had to swan in and just take her first kiss like that? She'd been so mad, furious, and he'd gone to the Principal like a baby and Beca's parents had been called in. All in all, Beca's first kiss was a rather unpleasant experience. Also bewildering, because she hadn't been able to fathom what would possess a person to do that. Randomly kiss someone else without that person's express permission. And yes, she'd kissed Jesse out of the blue at the ICCA's, but that had been developing over months and he'd already dropped anvil-sized hints that he'd be cool with something like that. So that was different. She is not a hypocrite. The point of this little trip down memory lane though, was that first kisses usually sucked and were not things that needed to be re-visited.


“I was ten and out of school for summer break.” They're all scattered around the living room, rehearsal clothes having been changed out for yoga pants and sweats, and Stacie recites her tale in a manner that suggests that their tiny minds are about to be blown. “His name was Levi and he was in my grade. Cutest guy, he had this thick dark hair that I just wanted to run my fingers through.”


“Stacie.” Beca intones from her place splayed sideways across the armchair, legs slung over one arm and head resting against the other. “Please remember that you're talking about a ten-year-old.”


“He was eleven, actually.” Which couldn't be further from Beca's point, but that seems to go right over her buxom friend's head. Chloe has settled herself down in front of Beca's chair and her head tilts back until she can catch Beca's eye, who just shrugs at Chloe's 'what were you expecting?' smile.


“Ooh, an older boy.” Flo coos. She's perched on the arm of the couch, her legs pressed against Jessica's side, who in turn is pressed against Ashley. Or, maybe it's the other way around. Beca isn't sure. Stacie is on the end, gesturing with perfectly manicured hands as she tells her story, and Cynthia Rose and Emily sit opposite them on the love seat. Fat Amy had made the mistake of settling down into the beanbag chair she'd dragged out of the corner and hasn't been able to move for over an hour. Lilly sits Indian-style at the head of the coffee table and no one had been able to make out the details of her first kiss, although Amy swears she'd heard the word 'chloroform' in there somewhere. Which isn't too much of a stretch for any of them to believe; Lilly, they're pretty sure, is capable of anything.


“We'd been at the park all afternoon and my friend kept telling me that he was looking over in our direction like, constantly. I waited for a while to see if he'd come over, but eventually got tired of waiting and just went to him and asked if he wanted to kiss me.”


“Was there ever a point where you actually had shame? Humility?” Amy ponders out loud and Stacie's brow furrows.


“What are you talking about?” The other Bellas laugh quietly and Stacie rolls her eyes. “Whatever. He was too flustered by all this,” she gestures along the length of her body, “so I kissed him first.”


They've been doing this for almost an hour, recounting the stories of their first kiss. Chloe had been the one to bring it up, to suggest they share as a bonding exercise, and Beca had whined and complained because “haven't we already bonded enough?” but everyone else had thought it was genius. Chloe had volunteered to go first, as well she should, and they've been jumping from one Bella to another ever since. Beca had even been coerced into giving up her own experience, which they'd all had a good giggle over, and by the time Stacie has finished her turn only Cynthia Rose and Amy were left.


“Ronnie Wallace.” Says the former of the two, gaze far off and sigh wistful. Fat Amy looks at Emily and loudly whispers her question of whether or not that's a girl's name. “He was a guy.” Cynthia Rose informs her, gravely voice terse, and Amy manages to simultaneously look chastised as well as curious about the size of the stick her fellow Bella obviously has stuck up her backside. “It was in my dad's garage and it was sweet. All of my friends were so jealous.”


“In your father's garage?” Flo asks with a furrowed brow.


“Yeah. We used to hang out in there and help my dad fix his car.” Amy's “woomp, there it is” isn't quiet enough and Cynthia Rose shoots her a suspicious glance that is very pointedly ignored.


“So, you didn't always know?” Beca cuts in, using the question to sever the tension, and then everyone is looking at her again. Expectantly. “That you're gay, I mean.” Cynthia Rose seems genuinely surprised by the question, as if she's never been asked that before, and Beca wonders if people were always just assuming assholes with her about that.


“No, not always.” Her words are careful, calculated, and her expression is one of deep consideration. Beca wonders if she has ever really thought about it. “I kind of just thought I liked guys, until I realised I was into chicks.” She wiggles her eyebrows at Emily. “Really into chicks.” And Emily smiles in that way that lights up her whole face, like a kid on Christmas morning, and she giggles. An honest to god giggle.


“All right! Enough of you dusting the room with your lezzie pheromones.” Normally, Amy would stand in order to cut someone off so grandly, but she's still sat in the beanbag chair and Beca's not sure if she's imagining the Tasmanian slowly sink down further into it. She has a feeling it's going to take at least four of them to pull her free. “Now, as you know, I'm not really one for purposefully upstaging anyone,” out of the corner of her eye, Beca sees Chloe's shoulders shift in a silent laugh and she has to twist her mouth down to stop herself from smiling in response. “But all of your stories are crap, so mine is going to blow them out of the water. Sorry.”


She goes on to tell what Chloe later assures Beca is a rehashing of a scene from some movie called 'The Notebook', only Amy's version had been tweaked with a few crocodiles and koalas for good measure. Beca has no way of truly knowing which woman is telling the truth, though and she's inclined to go with Fat Amy's rendition just because it had sounded so epic. Eventually, Stacie calls for pizza and an impromptu movie night is declared. To Beca's immense relief, it isn't 'The Notebook' that Chloe slips into the DVD player, but rather 'Singing In The Rain'.


“It's my favourite.” She says in response to Beca's inscrutable expression and takes a seat beside her on the couch. After filling up on their preferred slices, they'd settled back down in the living room by way of an unofficial game of musical chairs. Amy had led the way, placing a paper plate with her final slice of pizza on one half of the love seat as a way to save herself the spot, before going off in search of blankets – a necessary accessory of any movie night, as Beca had come to learn – with a refusal to be put back in “that ball bag of doom”. Emily had happily taken up residence in it because “I always wanted an entire room filled with these in my house. Wouldn't that be awesome?”. Cynthia Rose brackets one side of Chloe, Beca the other, and Jessica and Ashley are comfortably squished into the armchair that their captain had previously occupied. Stacie is filing her nails beside Amy's slice of pizza and Flo is, once again, quite happily perched on the arm next to her.


“Right, who wants a cuddle cover then?” Fat Amy announces when she returns to the room with an armful of blankets. She throws one over to Stacie, after checking on the status of her pizza, then one to Ashley and Jessica. Emily politely asks for one too and Beca raises an arm, snapping her fingers to try and get Amy's attention. “Do you want a blanket,” she pauses for dramatic effect after lowing her head to glare menacingly at the brunette, “or a smack?”


“I'd like to not be watching this.” Beca flashes an overly cheery smile that's immediately displaced when a blanket hits her in the face and she can hear Chloe chuckling beside her. “No blanket for you.” She chides, but lets the redhead take half when she unfolds it anyway.


“I love this movie.” Flo sighs and Stacie bobs her head as she continues filing away at a particularly stubborn nail.


“Gene Kelly is so hot.” Beca makes a face.


“Probably not anymore.” Cynthia Rose tuts loudly and waves a dismissive hand towards Stacie as Chloe navigates the DVD menu.


“Nah, I'm all about the Debbie.” She makes a sound of approval that Beca is pretty positive has become the universal verbal equivalent of “damn!” and Emily nods from across the room.


“I actually have to agree. Princess Leia's mom was smoking hot.”


“Debbie Reynolds is Princess Leia's mom?” Chloe almost shrieks and Beca makes a show of flinching away, but doesn't manage to avoid the redhead's bony elbow as it jabs her in the ribs. Emily tilts her head and stares at Chloe like she just grew a second head.


“Are you- what? Yes! You didn't know that?” Chloe throws her a playfully ashamed smile and shrugs.


“I'm not really a movie buff per say, not in the sense that I-”


“Know anything about any of the actors?” Beca gets another elbow for the interruption and she backhands Chloe's upper arm before raising her eyebrows at Emily. “Benji know you've seen Star Wars?” The newest Bella frowns a bit, thrown by the odd-seeming question, and then admits that Benji does in fact not know. When she asks why, Beca just laughs and shakes her head.


Eventually the room falls quiet enough for Chloe to hit play and Jessica gets up to flick the lights off. Truth be told, Beca doesn't actually mind this. Movie nights had never been her thing but between the Bellas and Jesse, it had been somewhat inevitable that she at least learn how to tolerate them. She'd never go quite so far as to say that she enjoys them, but none of them have caused her to spontaneously burst into flames as of yet so that's something, right? She usually uses the hour or two to run through mixes in her head or rearrange set lists and choreography. So they're never total losses.


She's going over their 'in progress' choreo for Beyonce's 'Run The World' for the millionth time when she feels it. A gentle touch so earth-shattering it jars her right out of her thoughts. It takes her a second longer than it should for Beca to realise that it's Chloe's hand on her arm beneath the blanket and by that time her body has done its auto-pilot jerking motion and she's pulling away again.


“Sorry.” She whispers, catching dark blue eyes with an apologetic smile.


Now, Beca had learned a long time ago not to let people's reactions to her reactions to them bother her. She's quite happy with her unapproachable attitude thank you very much and if people think that she's weird just because hugs make her feel awkward, then whatever. She couldn't care less.


Except for when she actually doesn't feel awkward, but her brain forgets to send her body the memo and it results in Chloe looking exactly like she does right now. Like Beca just told her to get lost. And it isn't Beca's fault, especially since this is sparkly new territory and she doesn't know – usually doesn't care – how to act in a way that isn't so emotionally stunted, but she really wishes that wasn't the case. Because she wants to do this for Chloe and it would be so much easier if she weren't so 'Beca' about everything. But without the aid of a lobotomy, that isn't likely to be achievable any time soon, so she settles for the next option.


Mentally slapping herself and powering through.


Because Chloe doesn't care how awkward she is or how dumb the words that leave Beca's mouth are. In fact, Chloe wouldn't think they were dumb at all. Chloe's always had this weird effect on her, the ability to both even out Beca's thoughts – if not her body – and cause them to practically implode in on themselves. It had driven her crazy in the beginning, now she thinks it's pretty damn impressive.


With a quick glance around the room, Beca reaches out beneath the blanket and the slow breath she's taking catches painfully in her throat when her hand brushes what she assumes is Chloe's thigh. She doesn't get the chance to ask for clarification though; the second she makes contact red curls swing around and bright blue eyes are boring into her own. She remembers to smile, urges her lips into shifting just so as her heart feels like it gives way inside her chest, and her fingers stumble until her palm curves over the top of Chloe's hand. And stills.


And Chloe's face is slack with shock in a way she doesn't think she's witnessed before. It makes her want to laugh, but she doesn't want to disturb the others. Instead, she bends her thumb back until she can slip it under Chloe's hand and turn it over. With a slight adjustment, Beca laces their fingers together and now her smile comes a little easier. Without the need for a reminder. It's hard not to smile with Chloe looking at her like she's a puppy or duckling or something. Though Chloe's the one with the puppy-eyes currently and they're melting Beca's insides – she can feel them turning to goo – enough that she looks away, back to the television screen. She can still feel Chloe's gaze on her though, like the sun through a magnifying glass, and after a few somewhat more rapid than usual heartbeats, she feels the weight of Chloe's head against her shoulder. Beca gives the hand in hers a squeeze and hears Chloe's sigh slip free.


On screen, Debbie Reynolds is dancing up a storm and Beca forgets to think about Beyonce or the Worlds, or anything at all.


When the film is done, a good two thirds of the room spends the post-ending glow mooning over old Hollywood and its stars, some of which “still shine brightly today and will far into future tomorrows” if a strangely passionate Ashley is to be believed. Beca has never really given that era of film making – or any era, come to think of it – much thought, but she'd paid more attention to this film than she usually would and can kind of see the appeal. She wonders how much of it has been romanticised by the nostalgics though, if any of the more famous tales to come out of that time period are even half true.


“I think it's the glitz and glamour.” Chloe explains later, after most of the Bellas have retired for the evening. Beca had just kind of followed Chloe into her room on their way up and asked what it was about it that interested her. “Everyone was so beautiful back then, you know?” She's sitting cross-legged in the middle of her bed, watching as Beca ambles around the room like a lazy tiger. She likes Chloe's room. It hadn't been at all what she'd been expecting prior to moving in – a lot of pastels and shades of bubble-gum, N*Sync and Backstreet Boys posters lining the walls; basically the bedroom of a fourteen year old – and she'd been surprised how, well, normal it was when she did finally catch a glimpse.


The walls are a startlingly subdued tan colour, the curtains and bedspread the same kind of burnt orange as the patterned accents that boarder the walls where they meet the ceiling. Pretty swirls that she can imagine Chloe – spattered with paint and totally focused on the task at hand – applying with an array of those paint stamp things and an unnerving precision. There's a vanity in one corner, paint peeling away from the wood beneath that's nicked in various places, but Chloe loves it because she bought it at a flea market from any elderly woman who'd had it when she was a girl. A handful of picture frames scatter the top of low a dresser that sits beneath the window and the door to the built in closet is wide open as usual. Beca firmly believes that Chloe is actually unable to close it due to the abundance of clothes stuffed in there, but the redhead repeatedly shoots the accusation down with the claim that “you never know when a speedy dress change will be needed.” A full length mirror hangs on the back of it though, giving it some purpose. Chloe's bed is against the only other wall, pressed against it to make it accessible from the front only, and once she's taken the mini tour for the millionth time Beca makes her way over.


“Your average photograph looked like a head shot.”


“Exactly!” Chloe laughs and Beca sits down next to her, hands pressed into the comforter behind her as she leans back a little. “Everyone seems so fake today. Fame didn't seem so photoshopped back then.” Beca's grandmother had accumulated stacks of photo albums over the years and when she passed away Beca's mother had taken possession of them. She remembers looking through them and marvelling at the seemingly natural beauty of people back then. Maybe it's the black and white or maybe people were just generally better looking then, she doesn't know. But Chloe has a point. “Did you like the movie?” Her tone is teasing and she's looking at Beca with the kind of overly exuberant anticipation that a kindergartner might exhibit when presenting a hand-drawn picture to a parent.


“I didn't hate it.” Beca's lips twist into a reluctant smile. “I liked some of the songs.” She lifts her hand to tap a finger against her temple and throws the other girl a knowing wink. “Might even be working on a mix.” Chloe's eyes light up, but it's in the same way that an exploding star creates a supernova. Brilliant and blinding, outshining everything else, and for a second Beca can only blink against the brightness. “From your reaction, I’m thinking I should have kept this as some kind of surprise graduation gift.”


“No!” Chloe bursts, grabbing Beca by the shoulders in a way that turns her eyes wide. “I need to hear it the second you're ready to let me! The second!” She gives Beca's shoulders a shake for emphasis and they're both grinning when she finally bats Chloe's hands away.


“Keep shaking me like that and I won't be able to mix milk into my cereal, let alone music.” She rubs at her neck and levels Chloe with a look that tells her she's about to be insulted with no small amount of feigned reluctance. “Anyone ever told you that you're kind of a spaz?” Chloe opens her mouth to retort but then bites her lip and instead lifts her hand to flick the frown line between Beca's eyebrows. “Ow!” Chloe laughs like a Disney Princess and leans forward to brace her forearms on her knee so she that she can see Beca's face in all its outraged glory. “You flicked me!”


You shouldn't call people names.” She pokes her tongue out at Beca, who's rubbing her index finger over the abused area and pouting like someone just grounded her and confiscated her laptop.


“It was supposed to be a compliment.” She mutters, then looks away from Chloe's lone and accusingly raised eyebrow. “Like a term of endearment.” The redhead is less than convinced and her hum sounds like agreement but really only serves to prove how unconvinced she is by Beca's words. But Beca can feel Chloe smiling at her, teasing the hair on the back of her neck, and she knows that she isn't actually in any kind of trouble over the comment. “I probably won't get to it for a while though. I was thinking about sneaking Legacy into the recording studio at work this week. I'm hoping that we can make something awesome I can show my boss.” She changes subjects about as subtly as a sledgehammer, but she isn't surprised to find Chloe hopping back to their previous conversation without complaint. She is wearing a rather suspiciously amused smile though.


“That'll be fun.” One that only gets bigger the longer Beca looks at it. She narrows her eyes and yep, there it goes. The corners of her mouth stretching for her eyes.


“What?” Chloe just laughs. “You can't just laugh at me and then not tell me why. Do I have something on my face?” Chloe shakes her head and bites her lip again. Beca's eyes flick downwards.


“Right now, no. If you're not careful, maybe.” She's being purposefully coy and her smirk slithers under Beca's skin like a professional skin-invading serpent.


“What the hell does that mean?” She explodes, all bluster and bravado but on a miniature scale.


“You know she's totally mushing on you, right?” Beca blinks at her. Chloe's amusement never wavers.


“What?” She over annunciates the word, making it crisp and clear, and now she's smiling too, only it isn't in the same way.


“A musical crush?” The way she says it makes Beca feel dumb for not knowing what the word means, which is insane.


“Okay, you are literally making stuff up just to mess with me now.” Chloe laughs again and reaches out, grabbing Beca's forearm and holding tight.


“I'm not! I swear.” Bright blue eyes are beseeching but Beca remains stoically unconvinced. “I say that all the time!” Chloe can flash her baby-blues and sway an obscene amount of people around to her way of thinking – Beca has witnessed it on numerous occasions, had even tried to, futilely, get Chloe to promise to use her powers for only good – and even Beca herself had fallen prey to the trick, but not tonight.


“Dude, I would remember something that crazy.” She wags a disapproving 'oh no you didn't' finger that Chloe turns her nose up at.


“Whatever.” She says airily and actually tosses her hair over her shoulder with a shake of her head. It's every teen romance flick Jesse's made her watch brought to life right it front of her and something about the motion knocks whatever sarcastic remark she was readying clean out of her head. “Doesn't make it any less true. Emily has a giant crush on you.”


“She does not!” It's far too loud, but Beca's volume control goes the same way as her insult impulse when stressed. Or strangely aroused. Not that she gets, well, that around DSM's front woman. That would be grossly inappropriate. No, that is strictly stress, no matter what anyone – Chloe – says. The older Bella ducks her head to follow Beca's gaze as it conveniently wanders away.


“It isn't a big deal, Bec.” And for half a heartbeat, Beca actually believes she's being genuine. “You can just see it from space is all.”


“Why do you this to me?” Her question is sincere and delivered in what she believes is a manner that accurately portrays that, so why Chloe is laughing is beyond her. “Is it, do you like seeing me in pain?”


“You're so dramatic.” Chloe groans through her giggling. “You really haven't noticed?” Beca's wild shaking of her head indicates, quite clearly, that no. She has not.


Not that Beca ever really notices that kind of thing. It isn't that she's oblivious, she knows when someone is flirting with her, it's just that she doesn't really care? Jesse had been somewhat of a fluke in that he'd ended up somehow endearing himself to her, when usually that kind of persistence would have driven her in the opposite direction. Much the same could be said for Chloe though, and here she was sitting on the girl's bed after following her into her bedroom of her own free will. Beca continues to shock herself on a daily basis; she's grown so much.


“Even when she practically went into cardiac arrest at the retreat when you asked if she wanted to collaborate with you?” She tilts her head at that and thinks on that, because yes. The reaction Emily had given her had been a little on the intense side. She wrinkles her nose and twists her mouth to the side, and Chloe lets out a whoop of triumph. “I'm never wrong about this stuff.” Beca rolls her eyes and lets her body sway with the momentum as the redhead bumps their shoulders together.


“I still think you're wrong,” she insists, but Chloe walks right over that with a matter-of-fact “no you don't”.


“Cute, sexy and crazy talented. Pretty soon you're going to have a line of girls wanting to experiment with you.” She catches sight of Chloe's wide grin as she lets her head loll backwards in a rueful laugh that she aims at the ceiling. Her face feels warm and her stomach does a weird tripping thing over the redhead's words. She pokes her tongue into the side of her cheek and takes two deep breaths before she tips her head back down.


Chloe is staring at her. Head cocked to one side, cheek resting against her fisted hands, staring and smiling like just being with Beca – tormenting aside – makes her happy. The notion strikes her like a mallet and it's only when she opens her mouth to say something that she realises she's smiling back. Right at Chloe, who's face is starting to swim out of focus and for a second, Beca's confused by that.


Then the mallet swings back around and turns that earlier stomach flip into a full on belly roll. One that Beca doesn't even have time to register.


Because Chloe has closed the distance and is kissing her.


All of that heat at Beca's face seems to multiply until it can't be contained in such a small space and it trickles down her neck, into her arms and fingers and all the way down to her toes. And it's barely anything, just closed lips pressed against her own, but it sends a shock through her entire body, like she's grabbed hold of a live wire and can't let go. Her breathing spikes and she hears herself gasp quietly, uncontrollably. It makes Chloe pull back – something Beca immediately regrets for whatever reason – and she watches as the redhead's eyelids open halfway.


There's a heartbeat hovering between them that lasts an eternity, one in which Beca can't breathe or speak, can only stare, immobile. The only part of her capable of moving in any capacity is her brain. It races at a mile a minute, too many thoughts rushing her too quickly. And her heart, which she's sure is ready to beat right out of her body. And they're still so close, Beca can see every shade of blue in Chloe's hooded gaze, can feel her breaths ghosting over her lips. Can feel the inexplicable pull like a gravitational force. She's so fixated on those things that she doesn't notice Chloe's hand moving until it's resting atop her knee, the motion easing Chloe across the remaining distance, and Beca's body gives another involuntary jerk.


Only this time, it doesn't move her away.


She's tilting her head before she can think about what she's doing and Chloe meets her halfway with an ease that might feel eager, if Beca were to think about it.


But she doesn't.


Can't.


She's too hyper aware of the woman across from her, every place they're touching and the way Chloe's mouth slants against her own. It's soft and steady, innocent in a way, and Beca can actually feel the way Chloe is holding back. Taking it slow. Trying so hard not to scare Beca away, like a startled stray cat, and a fondness swells inside her chest because only Chloe. Only she would be this careful, this attentive to someone else's needs. And Beca isn't usually moved by that kind of thing, but Chloe's becoming the exception to another one of her rules every other day. She always tries so hard, in everything that she does, and Beca's never failed to appreciate that side of her. She doesn't think about that now though, she's too focused on the way Chloe's thumb is brushing back and forth over the material of her jeans and how the pressure against her mouth is beginning to ease.


And Beca's always been kind of impulsive when it comes to certain things, usually ones that are, arguably, more reckless. She tends to grab the bull by the horns and while she does spare a thought towards being gored, she forgets to consider that she could, potentially, be killed in the blink of an eye.


So when she mindlessly parts her lips and swipes a tentative tongue across the seam of Chloe's mouth, she can't know to anticipate and therefore isn't ready for the sound that leaves the redhead. A quiet, gasping half-moan of surprise that sends a shock wave of a pleasant version of pins and needles crashing over her whole body. Her skin prickles and she shivers in a way that she can't be sure Chloe doesn't feel, and the hand at her knee tightens to pull what feels like a lead weight down into the pit of Beca's stomach. Then Chloe's opening up under Beca's auto-pilot persistence and now there's fire there too, liquefying the weight and letting it pool low in her gut like molten fire. At the first brush of their tongues Beca hears herself exhale noisily through her nose and the sound brings Chloe to life. Then she's leaning into Beca without pushing and taking control of the kiss in a way that can only be instinctual for her, but that doesn't feel overbearing.


Doesn't feel any kind of negative at all.


Actually, it feels pretty great and Beca has enough brain power left to register that particular thought, but Chloe's soft, sure strokes keep pulling her away and so she sets it aside for later. Lets Chloe lead her. Beca's stomach drops every time the redhead's lips leave her own, but they quickly return, again and again, until Beca's spine feels numb and her lungs feel like they're going to explode, and she has to pull back. Stop. Put some space between them so that she can catch her breath. The distance she gains isn't much but it's enough, and she sees Chloe's eyes pop open dazedly after a moment. Beca takes in her reddened lips and flushed complexion and something in her gut twists almost painfully.


She pulls in a deep, ragged breath. One that stutters on its way back out as Chloe's lips start to curve into a pleased, albeit slightly sheepish, smile that Beca can't help but note is kind of beautiful.


“I guess you can do kissing.” And she watches Chloe lift her hand to press the first two fingers against her lips. Like she's marvelling at something and Beca's brain is caught somewhere between mush and semi-solid. So when Chloe chuckles and asks if she's all right, Beca honestly doesn't know what to say. 

Chapter Text


After regaining the power of speech, and a short while later, movement, Beca assures Chloe that she is, in fact,quite fine and no. Chloe did not render her “mute and immobile with the power of my tongue”.


Which isn't the total truth, but no one needs to know that.


The aftermath of the kiss is strange. The air around them lies in layers, stifling and thick, and they press in on Beca from all sides. Yet she doesn't feel crowded, even though Chloe remains close. Beca lips still tingle with the taste of her. There are a thousand questions that she doesn't have a single answer to and she's left feeling bewildered, out of her element. A little wild around the edges.


Because she hadn't been expecting that. Any of it. The surprise had tried to choke her with a mix of exhilaration and adrenaline, and the slow dissipation of that leaves her feeling drained. Buzzed. A little lost.


She hadn't anticipated liking it. Which was really kind of poor planning on her part, because there had been no prior evidence to suggest that Chloe would be anything other than 'good' when it came to kissing at the very least. Tom had certainly seemed to enjoy his time attached to her face. Nevertheless, her reaction leaves tiny tendrils of static shock behind to mess with her nervous system and her fingers twitch to twist the comforter between them. She feels weird, wired, and she knows that Chloe has already started to notice.


“You're pretty good at that.” It's the first thing she thinks of and she throws it out to break the silence without double checking the words. Chloe raises her eyebrows and positively beams at Beca. It does nothing to alleviate any of the things she's feeling.


“Thanks.” It leaves her as an airy laugh and she drops her gaze to the bedspread in a way that suggests such a blatant shyness, Beca is certain she's misreading the situation. Because Chloe is many things, but she's never shy. The sight makes something inside her squirm uncomfortably.


“Are you okay?” She ignores it and knocks her knee against Chloe's bent leg, then watches her grin slip into a more subdued smile, but she still doesn't look up. That earlier feeling of suffocation suddenly reverses and now Beca finds she can't breathe, because this is weird and something must be wrong.


“I'm fine.” Only she's smiling like she is actually fine and Beca is just really, super confused until Chloe glances up at her through her lashes and says, “I just,” with an emphatic nod, “I liked that.” And an embarrassed laugh. “A lot.” Beca huffs and feels her cheeks warm, but clings to her bravado lest her relief carry her away.


“Wow, remind me to mark my calendar.” At Chloe's questioning look, Beca flashes her a wink. “It isn't every day I get you all hot and bothered.”


“That you know of.” Chloe quips without missing a beat and Beca rolls her eyes, but she knows she's beat this time. Her retort reservoir is dry for the minute. “You're a good kisser.” Beca brushes her hair behind her ear to give her hands something to do and glances sidelong at the redhead. “Like, really good.” She tries to ignore the way the back of her neck prickles at the compliment.


“You know, you don't need to sound so surprised.” Her dry comment is laughed away and Chloe spends the next few seconds insisting that's not what she meant, but Beca has learned how to play wounded pretty well over the years. When her vehemently proclaimed retractions continue to go unheard, Chloe reaches for Beca's hand and tugs at her wrist until the brunette sits up. She lets Chloe take the desired appendage and she stays silent as the redhead takes it in both of hers and lets her eyes trace the lines that pattern her palm.


“I always thought you would be.” She muses quietly after a few seconds and Beca's already unmoving body stills even further.


“You've thought about it before?” She manages, just before Chloe brings a hand around so that she can traces the lines with a finger instead. The redhead nods, but doesn't look up.


“Yeah. I mean, not like creepily or anything.” She hurries to amend and Beca smiles even though Chloe won't see it. Her skin is tingling pleasantly where Chloe touches her and the feeling travels up along the length of her arm, sinks tiny teeth into the base of her neck. She shifts on the bed. “Just a few times.” And Beca can't help herself at that. Her eyebrows rise in surprise and she forgets all earlier unease.


“As in more than once?” She's being handed a very rare opportunity, to tease Chloe in the same way the redhead so loves to torment her, and she isn't about to squander it. What had started out as an amused smile is rapidly shifting into a thrilled grin, because Chloe is actually blushing. It's like a Christmas miracle. A really early one, but still.


“Maybe.” It's a total non-answer, but it means Chloe isn't backing down and she finally lifts her head to met Beca's gaze head on. The brunette's face is actually starting to hurt from smiling so wide.


“Oh my god!” She shrieks in a scandalized whisper that Chloe rolls her eyes at. “How many times?” She's suddenly desperate to know.


“A few.” Chloe repeats, defiantly and with a familiar glitter to her gaze, and Beca can already feel the tables turning beneath her but she doesn't care. “Why are you so interested in all the sordid details?” Beca gasps loud enough that the other occupants of the house probably hear her, but she can't help it. Her eyes are huge, like she's trying to draw the answers out of Chloe with them, and she swivels around on the bed until their knees are touching.


“There are sordid details?!” And she isn't sure why she's so filled with glee by the idea, beyond amused by it, but it is, in that instant, the single greatest thing she has ever heard and she wants to know everything. It's what she imagines high school gossip hounds feel whenever they have a new tidbit to gush over. She's too busy trying to wrestle her own grin into submission, if for no other reason than to save her aching face, that she doesn't realise Chloe's entire demeanour has shifted until she's leaning towards her. Beca's stomach flips heavily when she does finally notice and by then it's too late, because Chloe is smirking.


“Oh yeah.” She says, with a husky confidence and conspiratorial certainty that shoves Beca so close to the edge of something – aggravation or affectionate annoyance or another equally incorrect suggestion – that it very nearly tosses her over. “The daydreams I've had about you, Mitchell?” And she pauses just long enough to bite her lip and let her eyelids flutter closed for a heartbeat and Beca is suddenly on fire. “They'd make Stacie blush.”


There are words inside Beca. She's confident enough in her vocabulary to say that there are a decent amount of them, though she can't always remember which one is the right one to use and when or how. They're all there though, she has access to them.


Usually.


Right now, every single one of them has shrivelled up and evaporated, wilted away to literally nothing under the heat of Chole's scorching gaze. There isn't so much as a solitary “okay” left, not even an “uh” - which is just two letters thrown together, but Beca can't even manage sounds – and all she can do is gape at Chloe, lips slightly parted in shock, and every other likewise synonym that Beca can't recall at the minute. Her face, she's sure, is the same colour as Chloe's hair. Another one of the multiple ways she's betrayed by the awkwardness that apparently makes up about seventy-five percent of her character. Because she flushes like that even when she's not embarrassed, but it's like her body doesn't take that into consideration and just jumps on the chance to make her feel even more like an idiot. Not that she's really thinking about that now, she's more concerned with other things.


Like the way Chloe is looking at Beca like she wants to swallow her whole.


And the way Beca's body and brain have simultaneously started firing on all cylinders.


And what, exactly, she's supposed to do with all of... that.


She's halfway through taking a breath and trying not to hyperventilate when Chloe lurches forward and pecks Beca on the lips. Her sultry dissolving into sweet in the blink of an eye that is so rapid, it almost gives Beca whiplash.


“You are so easy.” She gives Beca's cheek a fond pat and shuffles back towards the head of her bed, the only indication that anything out of the ordinary has transpired being the sly slant to Chloe's smile. Then she picks up the magazine lying on the night stand and actually starts reading. “How do you feel about Ariana Grande?” Like nothing has happened.


Dude.” And finally, Beca regains a word.



 

So, it's not as if Beca is the only person Chloe flirts with. The redhead is the first to admit that she's unabashedly shameless when it comes to that kind of thing and Beca has personally had to peel Cynthia Rose off the floor more than once after Chloe had flattened her with a look or a line. It's like she doesn't even try, like it comes to her as naturally as breathing.


Beca doesn't get that of course. Largely because she couldn't flirt her way out of a paper bag – an analogy that she had once spent so much time mulling over, she'd ended up attempting to do exactly that in her sleep. Only the bag wouldn't let her out because she was terrible and she eventually suffocated and died – and partly because there are bits of Chloe that cannot be explained, which she's had to resign herself to. Like how she can roll out of bed or, you know, a mud hole, and have her hair still look perfect even if it's slathered in muck. Or how she's the only living person capable of calming down a wild Aubrey Posen – the less lively person being Dusty Springfield. Or how she can look at a person, someone she's maybe never met before, and just know them. Intrinsically. Before they can utter so much as a sentence.


Chloe is one of a kind, unique, and Beca wonders if that isn't because the world can't possibly be capable of handling more than one of her walking the planet at any given time. God knows she couldn't. One is enough, too much at times.


It's not like Chloe's flirtations are new, but there's a different kind of undertow flowing beneath it now. A fresh set of connotations that Beca is unfamiliar with. Before, she'd always brushed Chloe's bedroom eyes away with a roll of her own or indulged the redhead – something Beca had always been more inclined to do if there was a drink in her hand to loosen her up, which usually led to dancing and other embarrassing instances – with one or two awkwardly delivered lines that somehow never failed to make to other woman, well, bounce. For lack of a better word.


She doesn't even know why she's thinking about this, except that she's lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling instead of sleeping and if she doesn't think about something then Amy's off-key snoring is going to drive her crazy. The Tasmanian makes every sound imaginable when she sleeps, from whimpers to that trumpeting sound that happens when a person presses their lips together and blows. Usually it doesn't bother her, she's gotten used to it, but tonight her body is wired like some gaudy shrine to the world's greatest electrician and every noise sets her on edge.


And she can't stop thinking about Chloe and that kiss and how she probably shouldn't be thinking about it this much and that she'd really like to stop thinking about it altogether. Only, not really. Because whenever Beca remembers the way Chloe's lips had parted and the sound she'd made the instant the kiss had deepened, her chest feels like it expands and contracts at the same time. And she swallows, because the feeling isn't unpleasant in the slightest. Which is only one out of about a thousand confusing thing she's juggling right now.


It had been similar and yet so unlike kissing Jesse, not that Beca would ever dream of comparing them – not that she has any reason to – but she can't help but note the differences. Jesse's kisses had always been brazen and bold, even ones shared in more tender moments had always had an edge of strength to them. He's a good kisser, not sloppy, although his exuberance did tend to get the better of him at times, but all in all Jesse was solid in that area. Pretty solid all around actually. If he ever needed, God forbid, some kind of relationship reference from Beca for whatever reason, she'd be able to give him an awesome one. In theory. In actuality, she might die of mortification, but the chances of him ever needing to ask that of her were slim to none.


Briefly, she wonders if Aubrey demands such a thing from prospective boyfriends and makes a mental note to ask Chloe in the morning.


Kissing Chloe had been something else altogether. Fundamentally, all the same things were involved. Chloe still used her lips and tongue just like anyone else would. The way she had used them though?


Beca lets out a frustrated breath and rolls over onto her side.


She had been soft where Jesse was strong, but beneath every sweep and stroke lay a very firm certainty that she knew exactly how to dance to this particular song. Knew every lyric, every high note and down beat. She can kiss like Beca can mix. Chloe's sure of herself, knows that she's good, and it had showed in the same way that a magician shows he's good at coin and card tricks. All slight of hand and non-threatening manipulation, all designed to take a person's breath away.


And maybe it had been Chloe's incredibly innate or well-practised ability – though Beca is inclined to believe it's more the former since Chloe, she's sure, has magic unicorn blood trickling through her instead of the boring generic red stuff – that had thrown her so completely for a loop. Stolen every last one of her words and turned her ribcage into the temporary home of the Barden University marching band. Maybe it had been that which had poured gasoline over her and set her body alight. Maybe it's just a sign that she and Jesse were really never meant to last – and a sign of nothing more, not at all – that she hadn't felt that with him.


She lifts a hand and rubs at her eyes hard enough to make herself see spots in the darkness, then in one swift and angry motion, she throws herself around onto her stomach and presses her face into the pillow. She tries to focus on the sound of Amy's mercifully evened-out breathing and repeats a mantra of “oh my god, go to sleep” over and over inside her head.


And tries not to think about the way Chloe had asked Beca, before the captain had left for her room, if they could do that again sometime.


Or how easily she'd agreed.



 

Jesseeeeeee


sup beCAW?


Stacie's car has a flat...


I'm starting 2 think u only love me 4 my wheelz


Well it's not your propensity for using complete words


Yeah, my car is actually in the shop right now


Jesse!


Prob not gonna be out 4 a few weeks


Pretty please? I'll buy you a six pack.


. damn my weakness 4 doughnuts. Same time?


You're my hero. Yeah.


I know. Gimme 5, gotta make sure my stead is damsel-clean.


You're such a weirdo.



 

“Your chariot awaits.” Jesse's dumb boyish grin takes up over half of his face when Beca opens the front door and exits out onto the porch. She furrows her brow a little and flashes him a pitying smile.


“I don't think chariots should backfire as much as yours does.”


“At least mine doesn't have a flat.” He points out, following her as she takes off down the steps, heading for his parked car. “This is usually where you'd thank me for taking time out of my day to come get you and I'd brush it off and say that it's no big deal, but you'd tell me how grateful you are anyway and that you owe me one.” He rests his chin on top of the car roof and gives her one long, expectant blink. She stares back at him wearing the same blank expression of absolute apathy that he'd so often found being directed at him over stacks of CDs.


“Yeah, that's not going to happen, so...” she glances down at the door she's standing in front of, then back up at him, “I'm just going to get in anyway?” And she does, with an awkward and unnecessary slowness, and he just admits defeat with a laugh before sliding into the driver's seat. “Besides, aren't doughnuts like the universal thank you or something?” He turns the key in the ignition and brings the car to life, signalling before pulling away from the curb.


“I think that's just an American, Krispy Kreme kind of deal.” She wrinkles her nose.


“Really?” He shrugs.


“I feel like the Europeans would say it with a wicker basket full of wine and cheeses.” He looks over at her in time to watch her eyebrow rise.


“Is the wicker basket an essential part of this imagine you're created?” His expression turns serious.


“Beca, the wicker basket completes the image. It's what makes it European.” Her chuckle toes the line of incredulity and she lets her head fall back against the headrest.


“Oh yeah? What about Canadians?”


“Beaver skin basket filled with maple syrup and moose jerky.” It's the sheer lack of time he requires to come up with the answer that astounds her most.


“Have you thought about this before?” He nods, smiles, and she shakes her head. “Why?”


“International Food Studies is where I do most of my philosophical thinking.” There's a novella of witty retorts all jumping and waving their arms in the air, begging to be the one she picks, but she bites her tongue. Jesse does actually have feelings and she can only call him weird so many times in one day. She's done very intense studies on this specific topic.


He reaches over to turn the radio on and an old rock tune filters out through the speakers to fill the lull in conversation.


“So,” he starts again, after short stop at one red light and a quick turn through a very dubious yellow, “did you ever talk to Chloe?” Beca's fingers still against the ledge of her door, the one that's home to the window controls, where they'd been tapping out a rhythm. She can see him sneaking glances at her in her periphery.


“Yes.” It's spoken with too much caution, too much care, but she can't make herself say it any other way. She doesn't see his brow lift, but she can feel the way the sudden jerking shifts the air.


“And?” He drawls, forever prompting her in one way or another. She breathes a heavy sigh and brushes the tip of her nose with the underside of her palm, keeping her gaze trained on the road ahead. They're about halfway to Residual Heat's H.Q. and if she can stall long enough then there's a good chance she'll escape a thorough grilling. Until the next time he corners her.


“You know you're not getting any sordid details out of me, right?” She throws him a narrow-eyed glance and he gasps, obviously – not really – offended by even the suggestion.


“You know, Bec, words hurt. That you think I'd be asking for any reason other than because I'm your bestest best guy friend then,” he lifts one hands from the steering wheel and gestures towards the windscreen. For a second his mouth just opens and closes, hand teetering in mid air, then he drops it back to the wheel with a look of chagrined defeat. “Are there sordid details?” She rolls her eyes.


And tries not to think about Chloe's answer to a similarly phrased question the night before.


“Dude, you're such a guy.” He grins winningly, even in the face of her scorn. “And no. No sordid details, you perv.”


“No, like, really no? Or no like, there totally are but you aren't going to tell me?” Beca lets out a groan when Jesse slows to a stop at another red light and turns his head to look at her. “Because you can talk to me. That's why I'm here.” She bares her teeth in a strained smile, the likes of which he's seen a thousand times.


“No, you're here to drive me to work. Why can't we just do that quietly?”


“Because we're an impressive statistical anomaly.” Beca blinks owlishly at him and his smile only grows more winsome. He really is cute, she'll give him that. “Exes who have managed to stay friends!” He says it like it's one of mankind's greatest accomplishments. Which, okay, maybe.


“That doesn't mean we have to share feelings.” He slowly eases up on the break and depresses the gas pedal.


“There are feelings now?” She blows out an exasperated sigh and stage whispers a very unsubtle “oh my god”. “Miss Mitchell, what have you not been telling me?” He sounds perilously close to gloating or something that is similarly obnoxious. She swipes her tongue along her top row of teeth.


Nothing. There's nothing to tell. Chloe and I, we're not even, there isn't, she just-” she cuts herself off with a mumbled string of nonesense and then takes a breath to gather her thoughts. “We talked. We're cool. Everything's good.”


“But you guys are still...” he bops his head lazily from side to side, “you know.” Beca huffs and pulls her computer bag onto her lap. She's reminded, with a sudden, painful clarity, that she went to him with this. That his dogged desire to be involved – and what she knows is his concern for her well being – is totally her fault, and as much as she hates talking about herself in any capacity, there is a part of her that wants to discuss this.


“Well, I mean yeah.” She gives him a slow nod and unzips the bag. “I asked her if she knew what she wanted out of this arrangement,” she pauses and glances back up at the road ahead, discontentment pulling at the corners of her eyes, “which wow, totally makes me sound like a prostitute.” Beside her, Jesse grins.


“Does that make me your pimp?” His mouth opens around a laugh and for a heartbeat Beca is back in the radio station at Barden, glaring at him through the stacks. It makes her lips twitch. “Can I get one of those big hats with the huge feathers in them?”


“Not if you want to continue being seen in public with me.” Her fingers flip through the few thin paper folders she has stuffed into the bag along with her laptop, but she's going back and forth between them mindlessly, having completely forgotten what she opened the bag for in the first place. She leans back in the seat and lets the bag fall against her chest. “She said she isn't sure, which I mean, I totally get that, you know? She's just feeling things out,” she catches him trying not to snicker and throws a punch against his arm, “see, this is why I don't want to talk to you.”


“I'm sorry!” But he isn't smiling like he's sorry. Actually, he's smiling like an idiot. “I'm just trying to ease the tension. You're wound tighter than Aubrey was during her last year.” Beca gasps, incensed by the accusation, and backhands his bicep.


“Dick! Take that back!” She keeps slapping him and he half-heartedly tries to fend her off as they pull up alongside Residual Heat's building. He kills the engine and unclasps his seatbelt, turning so he can grab her. She's belting him with both of her tiny fists, lips pursed, trying not to laugh because that would compromise the air of outrage she's got going on. He catches her left hand first, then her right, and brings them together between their bodies. She stills and for a heartbeat, they're just looking at each other.


“No.” She throws all her weight back towards the passenger door and feels a small sense of triumph wash over her at the way he has to scramble to keep his hold. “But only because it's kind of true and that's weird, so I’m worried.” She rolls her eyes and gives up the struggle, and when he's sure she isn't going to pick up where she left off with the slapping, he lets her go.


“Dude, don't be dumb. There is literally nothing for you to be worried about.” She settles back against the door, ignoring the way the handle digs into her shoulder blade, and starts to fiddle with the ring on her thumb.


“Then why are you being so weird about this?” Now he sounds hurt and she tries to fight the instinctual rush of annoyance that catapults itself to the forefront of her mind.


Beca has never been one for talking. Not about feelings, not about life goals, and there had been a point where she'd struggled talking about something as innocuous as the weather. She hadn't enjoyed talking, had never understood the girls at her school who just yammered on and on until the ears of unfortunate recipient at the other end of the conversation started to bleed. She couldn't – still can't, not really – fathom wanting that amount of attention on you. That's why she wants to be a producer, the mastermind behind the scenes, rather than some famous disc jockey being admired from all sides.


It isn't that she's opposed to all attention, all of the time. When it comes to certain things, of course it's nice to be noticed, admired. She was the captain of a three time championship winning a cappella group so, yeah. Attention. And that she was more or less fine with – though she could have done without Muffgate – it's the more intimate settings that make her skin crawl.


When she'd had to read out loud during class or give a book report in English. Both of which she had finally, in her last year of high school, refused to continue doing. She'd do the book report, but if the teacher wanted it read out loud then she could do it herself. She never took part in any talent show – one, lame, and two, super lame – and never volunteered any answers by raising her hand. She just didn't want any of that. And dear god, boyfriends? Not that she'd had that many, but the two short stints she'd made into the realm of dating before departing for Barden had been about eighty percent non-verbal and never lasted beyond a month or two. Because the guys she'd known back then hadn't spoken, like, at all. Not to girls anyway. Which, if they didn't want any in depth conversations, then that was fine with her. More than fine.


Barden had kind of thrown a wrench into all that though. Mixed it up in a way that left her discombobulated and turned around. If it wasn't redheads harbouring an intense dislike for personal space parameters, then it was persistent boy band-wannabe rejects with charming smiles. Bit by bit, they all chipped their way in, Chloe, Jesse, the rest of the Bellas. And she hated admitting that her dad was right about anything, but he'd been right about college. It had been good for her, in more ways than one. The attention thing was still uncomfortable, but it's a mine field that she navigates with relative ease now, and the talking has gotten easier. Actual, meaningful talking.


Jesse had done a lot to help with that. There had been a few things she'd struggled with during the time they'd dated and he'd helped her to open up, lift some of that weight from her shoulders. He taught her that it was okay to show vulnerability, to cry even, that she didn't always have to keep it together. All things reiterated time and time again by Chloe, Amy, Cynthia Rose, all of them. She and Jesse had talked a lot while they were together, about everything.


And now he's looking at her like she's slammed the door to that chapter of their lives right in his face.


She slides the ring over the knuckle of her thumb and then back down to the base.


“We kissed.” She whispers. It echoes in the quiet of the car and she practically hears him swallow his surprise. His expression doesn't really change though, maybe softens around the edges.


“You... kissed?” He says it like she's Jane trying to teach her Tarzan how to talk. She sucks her bottom lip between her teeth and bites at the corner, nodding. He blinks at her, the hand he has resting atop the steering wheel tensing and twisting as though revving a motorbike. “And?” She shrugs, automatically. “Bec.” She pushes out a sigh and licks at one corner of her mouth. She catches sight of him tensing, readying himself.


“It didn't suck?” He rolls his eyes. “I don't know what you want me to say, dude. Are you looking for like, a detailed analysis of skill? Technique ratings from one to five that you can mark down in a book?” She's overreacting again and she knows it, but she honestly doesn't understand why he's so fixated on this and his obsession is starting to bother her. “Chloe's a good kisser. An awesome kisser.” She gestures dramatically with her hand, tossing something invisible to the side before sarcastically announcing, “I'd give her an aca-a plus.”


“That's great.” He barks, but there isn't a lot of bite to it. “Now can you pull the cactus out of your ass and stop being so bitchy to me?” Her teeth clack as she snaps her jaw shut and, okay, fine. Maybe she deserved that. “You're acting like I'm attacking you when I'm just asking a question.”


“Why are you so interested?!”


“Because you're my friend, Beca!” He explodes without warning and seems to surprise even himself. “And I feel like this is a bigger deal to you than you're admitting. You came to talk to me about this and now you won't let me in, and you wouldn't have done that if it didn't matter.”


“I never said it didn't matter.” She lifts a hand to brush her hair back. She knows what he's getting at and it's weird. He needs to take off his rose-tinted movie glasses. “Look, I’m not having some kind of sexual identity crisis, okay? I'm doing this for Chloe and only Chloe.”


“And I never meant to imply that you were doing it for any other reason.” And he says it with a breathless intensity that lets her know he means it. “All I want, is for you to know that you can talk to me about it. If it gets weird or confusing, or if you just want to say 'hey, Chloe and I made out today and I think she was into it', that's all.” His eyes are bright, imploring, and he looks like he might throw up if she doesn't understand what he's getting at. “That's it.” He looks a bit scared. She purses her lips.


“She was into it.” There's a beat. And a breath. And then he's grinning at her again.


“Well, who wouldn't be? Have you seen you?” She cocks her head to the side and lets her lips curve into a fond smile.


“You're an idiot.” He doesn't argue.


“You love me.”


And yeah, fine, whatever. So what if she kinda does.


She zips her bag back up and turns to open the car door, stepping out as Jesse lowers her window using the master controls on his side. She drapes the strap over her shoulder and bends until she can see him again, hand resting over the gap where the window had retracted. She's frowning thoughtfully and he absently taps his thumb against the wheel as he waits for whatever she's readying herself to say.


“Is it like, totally weird if I enjoyed it?” It isn't what he's expecting, she can tell by the way his face slackens, and she finds herself holding her breath in the space between her question and his answer. Eventually, he flashes a smile and shrugs.


“Kissing Chloe? I think it'd be weird if you didn't.” She doesn't know why – why it matters, why it's important – but his words reassure her. “If I were a chick, I definitely would have volunteered to be her guinea pig.” She rolls her eyes and pushes away from the car with a slap to its side. “Have fun at work. Try not to be too awesome!” She waves him off with a dry “thanks for the ride” and heads into the building, ready for another shift of bringing people coffee and avoiding her boss like the plague. Just until she has something important to say.

 

Chapter Text


Chloe doesn't believe that she thinks about sex any more or less than anyone else. With the exception of maybe Stacie and the very old, very catholic lady that lives next to her parents back home, she thinks people are probably all fairly evenly balanced, with one or two dips to the extreme every now and then.

 

She likes sex. Enjoys it. And she doesn't just mean sex as in the act of it, but everything that's included in the lead up. The kissing, touching, licking. With the right person it can be fun and moving and mind-blowing. It isn't as if she sleeps with every guy who gives her libido a little kick though – not that there's anything wrong with doing that, Chloe is all very 'woman power' when it comes to that stuff – despite what people might have said about her in the past.

 

Beca had probably thought she was some kind of sex maniac when Chloe had barged into her shower, naked as the day she was born, talking about her lady jam and demanding that the startled brunette sing it for her. She remembers Beca's, rightfully justified, horror and outrage and the how that had inexplicably melted away as their voices intermingled. She smiles whenever she thinks about that; it's definitely one of her favourite stories to tell.

 

“Hey, Beca?” Chloe glances up when she hears the captain's name and spies Emily approaching the couch on which Beca is sitting. Her legs are crossed beneath her, hair gathered into a messy bun near the top of crown, and she'swearing a curiously intrigued expression. The older brunette tilts her head back until she catches Emily's eye and then swivels it slowly around to follow the newest Bella until she drops down into the empty spot beside her. Chloe notes the way Emily is anxiously clutching at the cup in her hands.

 

“Legacy.” Beca addresses her with dry suspicion, eyebrow raised. Chloe allows herself a private smile at the way Emily's brow creases. Whenever she smiles like that, Chloe thinks she always looks so forlorn. Like she's remorseful about the undeniable happiness she can't help but feel.Emily clears her throat and Chloe catches a blur of motion out in the hallway that moves too fast for her to make out.

 

“I was, I mean, we were talking,” she jabs her thumb in the direction of the doorway. There's another blur of colour and this time Chloe is about ninety percent sure sees Amy and Cynthia Rose almost butt heads in their attempt to vacate the line of sight. “We were talking about everyone's auditions and, well, Amy and C.R.'s are the same as Jessica and Ashley's. I guess Stacie's had a bit more, um, groping?” She says it like she's five seconds away from bursting into laughter and Chloe smiles. Emily is nice, more than nice. Nice enough that she's made Chloe regret not immediately agreeing with Beca when she'd told the girl that they didn't want her going off to crawl under a rock and die pretty much every day since the riff off. “But theirs are all kind of the same.” Emily falls quiet and Chloe watches from her place in the arm chair across the room, amusement steadily rising as Beca just blinks in response. “Which I told them.” She continues after a moment, uncertain. “And they sort of mentioned that, well that yours,” Emily rolls the cup between her hands and Beca finally notices it, glancing quickly down and then back up, “was kind of different. And I was wondering....” She trails off, then smiles expectantly – hopefully – at Beca and Chloe almost laughs at the way stormy blue eyes bulge when it finally clicks.

 

And Chloe loves this. Love being given the opportunity to sit back and take in moments like these. Her best friends interacting around her, the enormous sense of family and comfort that they give her.

 

“Oh.” Chloe watches Beca blink a few times in rapid succession as that final piece slipping into place and then she shakes her head with almost comically wide eyes. “Oh, dude, no.” In a movement that's nothing but flailing limbs – quite a feat, given the length of them, or lack thereof – and appears far more difficult than it needs to be, Beca uncrosses her legs and swings them around so that she can stand. “I'm retired.” Chloe's already smirking as Beca stalks towards the doorway, presumably to leave. Only to find the way blocked by Fat Amy and Cynthia Rose.

 

“Consider this a brief and impromptu return to the game?” Amy suggests, only it comes out sounding more like a q threat. She's got an intimidating, Australian mob boss thing going on and Cynthia Rose looks like her body guard, hovering menacingly behind her. Beca's back is to her and so Chloe can't see the look on her face, but she can picture it well enough. Emily catches her eye and throws her an adorably sheepish little half smile that Chloe can't help but return.

 

“This is,” they each grab an arm and bodily turn a sputtering Beca back in the direction she had just attempted fleeing, “this is like, like some serious-”

 

“Aca-abuse?” Chloe offers, without an ounce of sincere helpfulness, from her spot. Beca glares at her and lets her body to go limp in her friend's arms. She makes them work for it; they have to practically drag her across the room, her feet catching on the carpet, and then manhandle her back onto the couch.

 

“Is this you? Did you do this?” Beca's eyes narrow in her direction and for once Chloe can claim complete innocence.

 

“I've been here the whole time!” She holds up her hands to show how utterly devoid they are of a magic wand. “It isn't my fault that your reputation precedes you.” Beca just huffs as Amy moves around to the back of the couch and rests her hands on her captain's shoulders to hold her there.

 

“Is she going to do it?” Chloe's eyes flick up to find Stacie peering around the doorway. Well. Stacie and Stacie's boobs. Lilly's head appears below her, them, an instant later and Chloe sees her lips move but she doesn't hear anything.

 

“I'm not letting her up until she does.” Amy singsongs without looking back, fingers kneading the muscles beneath them in a way that makes Beca try to struggle away. “She's feisty, but I've wrestled bigger crocs in my bathroom back home.” Stacie bounces, giggling, into the living room with Lilly shuffling closely behind her and then suddenly Flo is there with Jessica and Ashley, and Chloe is half expecting the Trebles to arrive any second now. They all convene around the coffee table at the front of the couch, kneeling or sitting on the floor like kids waiting for a puppet show. Beca's gaze is dubious as it travels over each of them, finally landing and lingering on Chloe.

 

“You guys know what Youtube is, right? Like you can literally watch a cat wearing a top hat do this now.” Chloe just shrugs as if to say yeah, she knows, but there's nothing better than the real thing.

 

“That could be some C.G. shit.” Cynthia Rose intones from where she's sprawled out on the floor beside Stacie, legs stretched out, leaning back on her hands. “This here's the real deal.” Beca finds Chloe's eyes again and the redhead quirks an eyebrows and presses her lips together. Beca glowers and holds out her hand to Emily, who happily offers up the cup before clapping so exuberantly that it reminds Chloe of Andre.

 

Beca leans forward and pushes the empty fruit bowl – which, seriously, is never full unless it's with Doritos during a movie night – out of her way before placing the cup rim side down on the top of the table. She rests her forearms on her knees, lets her hands hang loosely in the air, and makes one last ditch attempt.

 

“Are you seriously going to make me-” Even Chloe joins in on the unified, near-deafening “yes!” that cuts her off. She watches as Beca presses the flat of her tongue against the front of her teeth before taking a breath. “I hate all of you.” Then, after slapping Amy's hands off of her, she reaches forward, shaking out her wrist in a way that makes the bracelet dangling from it jingle, and begins with the familiar, but never tired, “I've got my ticket for the long way round.”

 

And it reminds Chloe of camp fires and hood nights. Reminds her of empty pools and how awesome the acoustics are in the dorm showers. It reminds her of how adorably awkward Beca was and is, and how she'd looked at Chloe that night at the retreat. Bathed in the glow from the flames. When Chloe had sang those words, to her, for once.

 

And no, Chloe really doesn't think about sex, the whole of it, all that often. Especially not in public, because that's actually gotten her into a bit of trouble before – in her defence, she'd been a terribly hormonal person in her late teens and who in their right mind leaves erotic fiction just lying around on the shelves in a library when you have an assistant as hot as Tom working the late shift – but sometimes her thoughts kind of get away from her.

 

And suddenly she isn't just 'watching Beca do the cup thing' anymore. She's watching slim hands and nimble fingers manipulate what could be a magic tennis shoe for all she knows, she's not paying attention to that, while a voice so astoundingly lovely washes over her and swells to a crescendo inside her chest. She watches Beca's mouth curl around the words, watches the way she moves the cup with such effortless ease and the way every one of the Bellas hangs on her every note.

 

Beca finishes with a final 'pop' of the cup and as she places it back down on the table, she gives it a slap with the back of her hand and a satisfied smirk. She sends it flying towards Cynthia Rose, who isn't quick enough, and the cup bounces right off the end of her nose. The room erupts in applause, which is led by Emily and book-ended by a piercingly high-pitched whistle delivered by Lilly.

 

“That was so cool!” Emily is grinning from ear to ear and Chloe watches as Beca smiles, pulling in a breath between her teeth and reaching up to scratch her head. Her nose crinkles as Emily continues to gush and she pulls her legs up to her chest. Chloe's cheeks hurt from smiling.

 

And she's struck with an abruptly unexpected need to kiss Beca.

 

It fills her chest so completely that she's sure she should feel like she's suffocating, but she doesn't. She feels warm and fuzzy, and like she really, really wants to kiss Beca. Which is right when Beca decides to look over at her again. And Chloe has to bite her lip to keep herself from saying something, doing something.

 

Because for all of her calm co-ordination and thoroughly thought out master plans, Chloe can be dangerously impulsive when she feels like it. Something Aubrey knows only too well.

 

That impulsiveness is the reason Beca is sitting in the Bellas house right now.

 


 

 

That same impulsiveness had given Chloe the final push she'd needed to kiss Beca that first time too. Without it she might have stopped to maybe ask herself, or Beca, if that was the right moment. If it was okay. And, yes, she knows that Beca would have just told her yes and the end result would have been more or less the same, but her impulsiveness had been the thing to tip the scale.

 

She likes the feeling she gets from it too, giving in. It's euphoric in a way, freeing, handing over the reins of control to something that is essentially uncontrollable in the moment. It's exciting.

 

Kissing Beca had been exciting. Unexpected and thrilling in a way that had made her head buzz. Made her giddy.

 

Honestly? It had turned her on. She's only human and Beca really is a fantastic kisser. Chloe had sort of hit the jackpot there. She hadn't meant to sound so surprised and it certainly hadn't been anything to do with Beca's skill, she just hadn't expected to enjoy it as much as she had. Or no, that isn't it. There's a reason Chloe's been thinking about this, wanting this, for a while now and that isn't because she didn't think she'd like it. It's more that she didn't realise how much she would. Which, as it turns out, is a lot.

 

After her surprise had worn off, Beca hadn't hesitated in the slightest, and Chloe had been taken aback by her boldness. Pleasantly though, like someone having a fantasy unexpectedly materialise in front of them. Which is, she supposes, sort of what happened. Because she hadn't been saying it just to get a rise out of Beca; she really has thought about this before. What it would be like to kiss her, be close to her like that. She can admit that's part of the reason she initially went to Beca with this. She's attracted to her, but who wouldn't be? She'd been drawn in by that surly demeanour and raccoon eyes, and every new layer of Beca revealed since then has been an incredible, added bonus. She's beautiful and brave and she cares. She's passionate and she loves her friends. She's cocky but not obnoxiously, and the way she downplays her talent makes Chloe was to slap or squeeze the belief into her tiny little body.

 

Chloe always feels. She feels a lot.

 

Beca makes her feel more.

 

That kiss had scrambled her nervous system.

 

Once Beca had left, Chloe had simply lay with her back against the mattress and her fingers resting against her lips, just feeling. Remembering and memorising the way her body had come alive. How Beca had tasted. The sound she'd pulled from Chloe, how she'd made Chloe want to touch her, everywhere, presumably without even trying. Chloe's done her fair share of kissing, but she's never felt anything quite like that. And she'd been thankful that she was already lying down, because thinking about it made her dizzy.

 

Had made her want to do it again.

 

And this was good, this was the point of it all. This was why Chloe had wanted to experiment in the first place, to see if there was something she was missing out on. To explore a new avenue that might lead to new desires. To have fun, but also to feel safe. And she'd known before entering into this that she'd have all of that with Beca.

 

Only, there's a little more here than she'd been expecting. Which in hindsight, was sort of dumb on her part. Because this is Beca.

 

And with her, everything is always more.

 


 

 

“You could have at least pretended to try and rescue me, you know.” Beca's doing that thing where she glares with her whole face, not just her eyes, and Chloe's mouth curves at the corners.

 

“What good would that have done?” She asks, tipping herself forward in the armchair until she gets her legs out from under her and can plant her feet flat against the floor. She pads over to the couch where Beca is still sitting and drops down into the recently vacated spot beside her. Emily and the rest of the Bellas had dispersed almost as quickly as they'd assembled once Beca had finished playing the part of their trained monkey – her words, not theirs – leaving her and Chloe alone again.

 

“Uh, it would have made me feel better.” Chloe hears the 'duh' that isn't being said and Beca makes a show of feigning sympathy. Her face relaxes and she puts on a ridiculously Valley Girl accent. “Guys, no. Beca's like, our captain. We should totes respect that and everything she's done for us. We shouldn't force her do something she obviously doesn't want to.” Chloe's laughing by the time she finishes, but quickly sobers when she remembers she should be peeved.

 

“I don't sound like that.” And she tilts her head to point her nose at the ceiling in an effort to add an extra air of snobbery. Beca grimaces dramatically and nods her head.

 

“You kinda do. Like, for a second there I actually forgot that it was me talking.” Chloe bends her legs at the knees and pulls them up, tucking them close to her body. She rests her elbow against the back of the couch and props her head against her hand.

 

“Sorry, what? I tuned you out.” She grins easily and ignores the way Beca rubs at the corner of her eye with her middle finger.

 

She likes Beca's eyes. Likes looking at them, enjoys having them on her. They're expressive and warm, despite their stormy colour, and sure they can deliver a mean glare as well as an exceptionally disgusted dirty look, but they can also grab your attention from across the room – or a packed courtyard – and just, hold you.

 

When Aubrey, only minutes after Beca had shot down her invitation to try out for the Bellas, had demanded to know why Chloe had even bothered trying, she had shrugged and told her best friend that she'd just needed to. That Beca had “kind eyes” and they'd called to her. Aubrey had barked something about a manic depressive hooker and cats in heat, and Chloe had just shaken her head and let it go.

 

Beca's eyes are soulful, as corny as she thinks that sounds, and they give away a lot of what Beca is feeling, even if she doesn't want them to. They're her ultimate betrayer when it comes to her emotions and Chloe's spent enough time looking that she feels she has a pretty good handle on how to read them. She's always been big into eye contact though. It makes her feel closer to people, like she's really seeing them. No fronts, no filters, no bullshit.

 

And Beca's eyes are really pretty.

 

“And please, no one can make you do something you don't want to do.” Beca's nose crinkles.

 

“I am kind of badass.” Her eyes wrinkle at their corners as she smiles and Chloe's body feels lighter for seeing the shift.

 

“Oh, totes.” Beca lets her head fall against the curve of the back of the couch, tilting it to the side so that she can still see Chloe. “Beca 'Badass' Mitchell.” A thought occurs to her and her mouth drops open. “That is so your stripper name!” Beca's eyebrows jump up a few inches.

 

“Um, you're the one with the exotic dancing aspirations, remember?” Chloe lifts a shoulder in a shrug.

 

“Maybe we could be a double act.” Beca laughs. “Think about it!”

 

“Dude, I'm trying really hard not to.” Chloe waves her nay-saying away with a wildly flapping hand.

 

“We'd be so rich though!” She hears Beca's scoff and knows she's readying herself to deliver another snarky remark. “We could call ourselves The Lady Jammers.” Only to choke on another laugh. Chloe beams at the sight. “And they could make up the stage to look like a wall of shower stalls on a space ship or something, but one of them has real running water that we can incorporate into the act.”

 

“Oh my god,” Beca gasps, “what are you on?” Chloe leans in a little and feels warmth blossom inside her at the way Beca doesn't move a muscle.

 

“I'm high on this idea.” She admits, vehemently. “And the money we're going to make.”

 

“Okay but like, you know this isn't happening right?” Beca lifts a hand to tuck an errant lock of dark hair behind her ear and the motion distracts Chloe enough that she forgets to answer. “And seriously? We have like a built-in name with 'The Bellas'.”

 

“And if we turned that into something seedy, Aubrey would hunt us both down and save the wolves a job.” Beca brings a hand to her throat and rubs her fingers over it.

 

“Okay, point taken.” She taps her fingers thoughtfully against her mouth, mulling something over, and Chloe unconsciously counts the beats. They stop abruptly and Chloe watches the way her fingers jerk and stutter as the lips beneath them start to curl. They part in a laugh that it looks like Beca is trying to hold in.

 

“What?” She smiles, bewildered, and Beca shakes her head.

 

“No, I can't.” She shoves the brunette in the shoulder with one hand and it rattles another laugh free. “I'm serious, dude. You don't, you don't want to hear this one.” Chloe's eyes widen and she almost trips over her words in her excitement.

 

“Now I really do!”

 

“I shouldn't have even thought it, oh my god, I’m so gross.” She utters a noise of disgust. “What is wrong with me?”

 

“Okay no, now you have to say. The suspense is killing me.” Beca's unwillingness to divulge is coming off of her in waves, but Chloe knows she's going to cave.

 

“Two girls, one cup.” It leaves her in a rush and she covers her face with her hands the second she's finished saying it. Chloe's mouth actually falls open.

 

“That's disgusting.” She gasps after a moment, sounding thoroughly appalled.

 

“I know.” Beca sounds so forlorn and defeated, like she's committed some heinous, ignominious offence. Chloe thinks it might be the most adorable thing she's ever witnessed.

 

“What is wrong with you?” Beca lets her hands fall away and looks over at the redhead.

 

“I'm so sorry.” Her eyes are huge and shame-filled. Chloe is powerless against the giggle that bubbles up and bursts free. She'd planned on teasing a little longer but whatever, there will always be another time.

 

“What about The Shower Sisters?” She offers, once Beca looks a little less horrified with herself and the captain pulls a face.

 

“Mm, no. Veto. That one sounds creepy.” She straightens and pulls her legs up, wrapping her arms around them and holding them close to her chest. “We could just use Fat Amy's and call ourselves Bloe. Guys would think it was funny.”

 

“But we need an angle for the ladies, too!” Chloe presses and Beca shoots her a look that she can't quite get gauge. It causes her to falter. “Right?” But Beca nods like nothing is amiss, like “obviously”, and so maybe it isn't.

 

“What about 'The X-Files', but spelt 'p','h','i','l','e','s' and we sing while we strip. Oh, and we could add an extra 'x' at the front so it's like female chromosomes?” Chloe is a blur of motion that never moves from her spot, and the sound she makes is some mutant hybrid-offspring of a squeak and a shriek. She lunges forward, unable to stop herself, and grabs Beca, who flinches in surprise but doesn't pull away, by her shoulders.

 

“Yes!” She squeals, giving Beca a shake for good measure. “Yes, yes, yes!” Dark blue eyes blink at her dazedly and Chloe lifts her hands to cup Beca's cheeks. Tightly though, so that her lips are forced to pucker and her cheeks look kind of like a hamster's do after a food binge. “You are a genius.” And Chloe believes that, truly. Without a flicker of doubt.

 

Because Beca is a genius. She's bright and brilliant, the sky isn't even her limit. It goes beyond that into the stars and past galaxies. Chloe knows it does, she can feel it. Beca can conquer any obstacle thrown her way. Sure, she's had a few slip ups, walked away before the fight was over, but she always came back. She always sees things through to the end.

 

The thought makes Chloe's stomach twist.

 

“If you guys are doing it on the couch, you're paying to get it cleaned!” Fat Amy calls from somewhere deep within the bowels of the Bella house and Chloe feels the somewhat unfamiliar warming of her cheeks as she releases Beca's face and looks away.

 

She isn't embarrassed, not really. But for a second there Amy's words had stirred something, an image, inside her head and it was probably best for everyone that she not touch Beca while she's thinking, however inadvertently, about doing some more serious touching. But then Beca is rolling her eyes at Amy and finding Chloe's and smiling.

 

And Chloe is right back to thinking about the kiss and the cup performance, and everything they'd made her feel.

 

“Can we, um,” her words come out shakier than she expects and she knows Beca notices because a tiny crease forms in the space between her eyebrows. “Can I talk to you about something?” The other woman's surprise at being asked, rather than simply being talked at, is evident and Chloe even feels weird asking it.

 

“Yeah, of course.” Beca nods, suddenly serious, and Chloe's gaze darts around the room. Beca takes the hint and her mouth forms an 'o' long before the sound leaves her. “Oh, like, you mean,” she gestures between them and then starts to get up, before she second guesses herself and ends up sort of hovering in place, “you mean, like, us. Talking. Somewhere that isn't here.” Chloe's smile, which appears despite her uncharacteristic unease, brightens her face.

 

And there are a lot of people that make Chloe happy. People that she likes being with and talking to.

 

But she's pretty sure Beca's the only one who can make her smile like this. Like there's nothing but sunlight inside of her.

 


 

 

Chloe leads them into her bedroom, opting for it over Beca's because she has an actual door she can close. Which she does, as soon as Beca is inside, and then she leans back against it, pinning her arms behind her and clutching at the door knob that's digging into her side. Her eyes follow Beca as she takes her usual slow tour of the room, trailing a finger along the edge of Chloe's dresser and tapping the brim of the hat that her teddy bear wears. His name is George and he's a horse trainer. No, not a cowboy, a trainer and his adorable little faux-leather Weston is not to be removed. Not under any circumstance, because Chloe's best friend in third grade had taken it off once and it was missing for a week. They had been devastated. Her and George, that is. The hat shifts a little, but retains what Chloe likes to call it's 'rakish tilt'. His canvas coloured shirt has definitely seen better days, the cuffs are frayed and it's missing a button. The fur around his face is a little more faded than the rest, because Chloe had liked to sleep with him pressed against her cheek. To her, he looks sharp as ever.

 

Beca circles around until she realises Chloe is still standing by the door and she jerks to a standstill beside her bed.

 

“Why are you staring at me like that?” To anyone else, if directed at anyone else, the question might sound rude. Chloe only chuckles quietly.

 

“I'm not staring at you like anything.” Only she knows that she is, but doesn't think 'just because' will really fly as an answer. She likes looking at Beca, she makes Chloe smile. Even when she's looking at her through slanted eyes.

 

“You totally are though. You're staring at me like,” Beca pauses, searching for a word, “well, like, like something.” Chloe chuckles again and squeezes the doorknob a little tighter. Beca folds her arms over her chest and lifts an eyebrow, jutting her head forward. “Are you going to try and recruit me into a cult? Again?” Chloe's hair shifts over her shoulder as she tilts her head at the shorter woman.

 

“Well, it worked out so well the first time.” Beca can't really argue with that. “But that isn't what I wanted to talk to you about.”

 

“But there is another cult?” When Chloe only looks at her, Beca lets out a resigned sigh. “Okay, but I’m not drinking anyone's blood this time.” Chloe's lips shift into a smirk and she gives an affirmative nod of her head.

 

“Deal.” But then silence starts to creep in, because Chloe isn't sure what to say next. She knows why she brought Beca here, knows what she wants to say, but her stomach is in knots and her palms are sweaty. And she realises that she's nervous. Which has, she's pretty sure, never happened around Beca outside of this experiment and it's a weird new feeling that she isn't sure she likes. It makes her insides feel twisted and clammy, and she knows she needs to say something because Beca's smiling with all of her teeth like she does when she's feeling awkward and her fingers are clutching too tightly where they rest against her upper arms. “Sorry.” She ducks her head and clears her throat. “I feel kind of weird doing this.” When she glances back up she finds that Beca's awkwardness has eased and she's smiling at Chloe, bemused.

 

“Dude, you haven't done anything yet.” And it's the 'yet' that gets Chloe. Tugs at her in a way she isn't used to, not with Beca, and sucks all of the moisture from her mouth. It makes her inhale a bit too sharply and she's sure her knuckles are white where they're gripping the knob behind her. Beca seems to realises that something she's said has had an effect her expression is slipping back towards uncertain.

 

“I want to though.” Chloe blurts, unashamed of the desire but still hesitant to see how it'll be received. She wants so badly to avoid scaring Beca off and even though the woman herself has assured her that that won't happen, Chloe is still afraid that it might. To her credit, Beca hardly reacts. She barely even blinks actually and when she eventually utters an “oh”, she stutters over the first letter and croaks out the second. She isn't saying no though. Isn't leaving.

 

So, Chloe pushes herself away from the door – her fingers are stiff as they let go of the handle – and slowly walks over to where she's standing.

 

“I just...” she brings her hands up to tuck her curls back behind her ears, out of the way, and licks her lips before forcing herself to focus. To look Beca in the eye, take a breath, and focus. She reaches out to take hold of Beca's arms, just below the bend of her elbows, and grows more confident at the unanticipated touch of fingertips against the underside of her own. “I would really like to kiss you again.” Inwardly, she cringes, because it comes out sounding like she's some kind of business woman telling Beca that she'd like to collaborate with her again some time in the future. Which, she supposes, is a really sterile way of saying what she's trying to. Her mouth opens and closes a few times before something in her brain manages to stick and Beca is looking at her like she might be holding her breath. Chloe gives her arms an apologetic squeeze. “Sorry. I've just been thinking about it a lot and,” her head starts nodding of its own accord, “I want to kiss you again.” And she only stops the motion when it hits her that she's probably doing a spot-on imitation of a bobble head. “Properly.” Beca's palms flatten, fingers curling into a gentle grip around Chloe's elbow, and she looks up at her from beneath the shadow of a raised brow.

 

“Say what?” Then she huffs a laugh that Chloe thinks sounds a little offended. “I'm not sure who you were with last night, but the kiss I had?” She wrinkles her nose and gives a very self-assured nod of her head. “Felt pretty 'proper' to me.” She flashes Chloe a wink and Chloe's heart beats heavily but it feels so much lighter, because everything is fine. Beca's still being Beca and it's fine.

 

“I'm not saying it was bad.” She speaks slowly, as though Beca can only comprehend things said at half speed. “In fact, I told you exactly how not bad it was.” Beca hums and all at once, she is looking immensely pleased with herself.

 

“Yeah, about that. Can you like, go over that one more time for me?” Chloe laughs.

 

“I'll grade you later.” Beca pouts and Chloe's eyes flit down automatically. “Right now it sounds like you need to be educated on what constitutes as 'proper'. So,” and she slips into Beca's personal bubble with the exact same ease as always, hands skimming up along Beca's arms as she brings them as close together as they can stand without touching. She sees Beca's expression flicker and feels her hands drop away, and it reminds her of documentaries she's seen on Animal Planet. Where lion cubs play at being big and fearless until something startles them and they scatter like frightened house cats. It makes her stomach clench. “Say if something isn't okay.” It isn't a question but Beca nods unevenly anyway. Chloe's hands move up towards her shoulders, touching purposefully now, and only slow when her fingers brush along the edge of the brunette's loose-fitting t-shirt where material meets skin. They hover there for a moment, while Chloe tries to keep her breathing level and struggles with where she should let her gaze rest.

 

The problem is, she wants to see everything. The way her hands move against Beca and how or if the touch changes her expression. She wants to see what her hands look like on her, not just feel what she's touching but witness the act. But she wants to see Beca's face, watch the colour shifting in her eyes as Chloe curves one hand around her neck and brings the other up to where her hair is gathered. Beca's breaths feels unusually quick against her face and Chloe's has to bite her lip to concentrate as she eases out the yellow pencil that's holding the bun together.

 

Her hair falls free, bouncing to lie against her shoulders, and Chloe brings her hand back down and around. Slides it beyond the curtain of hair so that she can slip her fingers into dark tresses at the base of Beca's skull. She hears Beca's breath hitch and watches her eyelids flutter closed, and that's it.

 

The exact point at which Chloe loses herself.

 

There's an intense rush of longing and desire, then she's easing Beca forward with the hand cradling her head. This time she doesn't so much press her lips to Beca's as she does capture them with her own and Chloe can't see anything but bright lights and embers.

 

Beca lips are soft, just like they had been the night before. But this time Chloe is the one leading – more like being blindly led, but that's irrelevant – and so it's different too. This time, Beca is the one making sounds; a sharp, noisy hiss of breath that leaves her right as Chloe convinces her lips to part like magic and then she licks lazily into Beca's mouth. Hands fly to her hips, clutching, fingertips digging into the material of her jeans, and Chloe smothers her smile against Beca's tongue as it meets hers stroke for steady stroke.

 

Her chest feels like someone is sitting on it and her head is buzzing like it's filled with bees. Every inch of her is warm, tingling, and she feels Beca shiver as she brings her hand out from where it's buried in her hair and rests it against her cheek.

 

Chloe knows she's a good kisser. It isn't an ego thing, she's been told. A lot. There's a difference though, between knowing it and having someone else confirm it as truth. Feeling them confirm it.

 

She breaks away for a heartbeat, just long enough to change the angle her head is tilted at, and hears Beca's laboured breaths. They sound like music notes. She holds back a second longer, brushing their noses together and can't help smiling at the way she feels right now. Apparently, it's a second too long, because the hands at her hips grip tight enough to give a single, firm tug and Chloe's tumbling into Beca and the kiss, and her smile is shattered beneath the weight of it all. The pull of Beca's mouth and the notion, the very idea that she'd wanted more.

 

That Beca hadn't wanted to stop just yet.

 

Chloe prides herself in her control over these types of situations, never quite letting her libido get the better of her, which means she's never had all that much to regret about her sex life. She might not remain calm exactly, knows very well that her penchant for impulsiveness can get the better of her at times, but she maintains a sense of collectedness that hasn't steered her wrong yet. It allows her to enjoy all the pleasures, comfortably. She's pretty confident about what she has, after all. So, she doesn't do anything she isn't comfortable with or the repercussions of which she hasn't yet considered. Even her impulses, she's usually considered before. It's weirdly methodical, but it's how she works. She is a master of her own control. Most of the time anyway.

 

Her kiss is smooth and unrelenting as she brushes her thumb along the ridge of a smooth cheekbone and snares Beca's lower lip between her teeth, then bites down ever so slightly.

 

And she feels the groan like a tangible thing. Rocketing free and smashing every molecule of air in its path until it slips into Chloe's mouth and reverberates through her entire body. Beca presses closer and her hands breeze beneath the cotton of Chloe's shirt like it isn't any kind of barrier at all.

 

Three things happen simultaneously.

 

The hand Chloe has had resting against Beca's shoulder this whole time bunches the t-shirt in a grip so tight, she has no idea how she doesn't tear a hole right through it.

 

Slender fingers skim up towards the middle of her back as thumbs brush the underside of her ribs, setting her on fire.

 

And she feels an urge to surge forward and press Beca into the wall behind her rise so desperately, so overwhelmingly inside of her that for one heart-stopping second, Chloe is terrified.

 

Panic, white hot and blinding, fills her so quickly that she can't be sure it doesn't hurt.She has to use both of her hands, pressed against Beca's shoulders, to push herself away. The instant their lips are no longer touching, Beca's eyes fly open and she wrenches her hands out from under Chloe's shirt. She brings them together and cups them around her mouth.

 

“Oh my god.” She mumbles into them and Chloe barely hears it over the pounding in her ears. She runs her fingers through her curls and looks down at the floor, eyes scouring the carpet as though she just dropped a contact lens. “I don't-” She focuses on her breathing. Taking one breath after another, not rushing, just taking her time. “God, that was so horny-teen of me. I'm so sorry, Chlo.” Her head snaps up and she stares at Beca.

 

“No, don't.” Beca's eyes are so wide they're making her look like she's only just starting to come down from a week long bender and a wave of guilt hits Chloe. “You didn't do anything wrong.” She smiles in a way that's supposed to be reassuring but her lips are quivering and it ends up crooked and off kilter. “Please don't be sorry.” Because if Beca's sorry then that means she's regretful, and Chloe can't stand the idea of her regretting anything that's transpired between them so far.

 

“But...” Chloe can see that Beca's struggling, confused, hears it in the way she clears her throat. “But you stopped.” The way she says it, she sounds disappointed.

 

Chloe's stomach somersaults.

 

“Yeah, no, that was,” she props her hands up on her hips and tries to believe what she's saying, “that was me. Conserving.” Beca hikes a brow. “Well, I don't want to use my best play on the season opener, you know?”

 

“Not at all.” She doesn't miss a beat. Her voice is a little more husky, now the panic has fizzled out of it. Chloe likes how it sounds.

 

She likes the way Beca's hair is tousled and how her shirt is rumpled. She likes how she looks dazed and the way her lips are swollen. She likes that it's because of her.

 

“So, um,” Beca starts again, twisting her mouth slyly to the side and looking up at Chloe through her lashes in a way that makes something flare to life behind the redhead's ribs, “was that what you meant by 'properly'?” It's the way Beca is looking at her that makes her feel okay again. Chases the lingering shadows of panic away and allows her heart to beat a little easier.

 

She smirks, sees it mirrored on Beca's face.

 

“Kind of.”

 

Chapter Text


So, Beca doesn't actually have all that much experience with kissing. Variety-wise. She's obviously no late-nineties Drew Barrymore; she's engaged in the act of, has in fact made out with boys, and there had even been a supremely embarrassing parking incident when she was sixteen that she refuses to talk about. Has emphatically erased the incident from the sprawling green banks of memory. In high school, her friends – because yes, she did have them – had all jumped onto the boy bandwagon simultaneously and Beca had been left trailing behind, waiting for the obsession to hit. It never did. Not with boys, anyway. Music had been her first love, but that was a different story.


So rather than having a string of boyfriends she didn't want, she spent a large portion of her high school years getting to listen to her friends blather on and on about their own and what he was or wasn't doing right that week. She got to hear all about what making out was like and how the first session of heavy petting had gone down, and whatever. Beca would listen and nod in all the right places and, well, not really care all that much. It wasn't something she'd yearned for in the way her friends had.


All of that did eventually happen for her of course. A little necking here, a little groping there, an uneventful first time with a boy whom she had actually liked, maybe loved, but looking back, none of it had been anything to write home about. Gush about, like her friends had. And Beca's a private person when it comes to those things, intimate things, but she doesn't think that had anything to do with it.


Jesse had been different. She'd loved him, still does, and he had been the first boy she'd ever actually wanted to talk about. To be like “hey, I have this super cute, awesome boyfriend who's a total nerd and sings to me from outside of the bathroom door while I’m trying to shower”. Kissing him had been fun and uncomplicated. He'd made her feel something other than boredom and she wasn't with him because she thought she should be. She'd wanted him, wanted to be with him, intimately too. Which was new, because she's always been a little squicked out by sex in general. It's messy and sometimes confusing and sure it feels good, but is all the fumbling really worth it? Jesse had been sweet and gentle, and being with him and been a thousand times better than her one and only other experience. But, and she feels bad whenever she thinks about it, he had always seemed more into it than she was. More present. More invested.


She'd been in love with him, she had, there's no doubting that. But she's sure that he'd felt more for her than she had for him. Which was part of the reason their romantic relationship hadn't survived long-term, she knows, but it had been nice while it lasted.


So really, this is only the second person with whom Beca has actually enjoyed being physical, in any capacity.


And that person is Chloe.


And it's not that it's weird, but it's kind of weird. Largely because she could never have expected it, yet here she is, still feeling the aftershocks.


Chloe's kiss had rattled around her like shutters during a storm, swinging and banging, opening and closing different parts of her without giving Beca time to catch her breath. Waterlogged her brain and muffled her senses until all she could taste and touch and hear, was Chloe. She had been surrounded by her in that kiss, saturated with her to the point of being overwhelmed. Yet, she'd still wanted more. Had reached out for it, consciously. She remembers doing it, impatiently pulling at the redhead's hips because she was taking too long to come back to her. To come back to kissing Beca. So yes, it's kind of weird for her.


But she had sort of expected it to feel more weird. Less comfortable. Granted she does feel a few thousand feet out of her element, but not in the way she'd anticipated. Chloe's always been able to sneak by Beca's defences - “Our very own ginger ninja,” as Amy had once put it, though that had been in reference to Chloe's graceful and entirely undetected break in to the Trebles house, which had been required for the purposes of what had been dubbed 'The Prank War' – with far less effort than anyone else. Even Jesse. She wonders how much of an impact the shower incident had made on that. If seeing Chloe buck naked and like, a foot from her face, had ripped down all of Beca's walls before she'd had time to get them fully raised. And if, afterwards, she just hadn't bothered putting them back up.


Because she doesn't even know herself, what it is that makes Chloe different or why. She just is.


Beca's never really thought to think about it too deeply before, not that she's thinking about it now either. She's too busy reeling.


Chloe has this affect on her, relatively new and super confusing if she accidentally starts considering what it is. It feels like sticky summer heat and lazy skydiving, like the ground is jogging up to meet her as every inch of her skin prickles. And it's there whenever Chloe steps into her personal space, like she had however many minutes ago – because no, Beca hadn't been keeping track – and it lingers like humidity after a rainstorm once she's gone.


Is still with her now, even though the kiss is over.


She'd felt her stomach drop through the floor when Chloe had confessed to wanting to kiss her again, then slingshot up into her throat when the redhead had stepped into her bubble. Chloe's hands were so soft and gentle and they brought out goosebumps along Beca's skin wherever they touched. The kiss itself had been blistering. Instantly, scorching like the midday sun and when Chloe had pulled away the first time Beca had felt like she was slowly being waterboarded. Suffocated. Like she'd needed Chloe, needed that kiss, to breath easily.


It's a terribly confusing, terrifying thought. So she puts it away for later.


She doesn't know when her hands made it to Chloe's hips, but she remembers the second they slipped beneath her shirt. Pressed against warm skin for the first time and all but burned her palms. She remembers the feeling of Chloe's teeth sinking into her skin and the way her body had pushed and pressed, tried to get closer. She remembers the sound Chloe had pulled from her, how good it had felt.


She also remembers, quite acutely, not thinking to pull away even once. To not touch Chloe like that.


And it had been Chloe to pull away first, the aftermath of which she's still she's still dazedly swimming through.


“That's still not 'properly'?” Her voice sounds strange to her ears and she clears her throat, embarrassed by the odd edge of roughness clinging to it. “What kind of kissing school did you graduate from?” And she's still anxious beneath her humour. Even though Chloe has assured her otherwise, Beca's still not sure she hadn't done something wrong back there. Maybe Chloe hadn't liked that thing she did with her tongue or maybe wasn't ready for physical contact yet and of course, of course Beca could manage to mess this up too. She tugs a little too angrily at her t-shirt to smooth out the creases Chloe has made in the material, looking away from her.


“I didn't graduate.” Chloe says and it's so matter-of-fact that it makes Beca look back up. The redhead wiggles her eyebrows. “I was kicked out for being too good.”


“Oh, wow.” Beca breathes with a wild roll of her eyes that starts Chloe laughing.


“Admit it.” She sing-songs, taking a step back towards Beca. Dark eyes flicker down to catch Chloe toying with her fingers, wringing her hands out in front of her body. It makes her wonder what's going on inside her head. “I'm good.” She meets Chloe's gaze again and holds it for a moment before lifting her shoulders in an exaggeratedly nonchalant shrug.


“You're okay, I guess.” And it's like that thing kids do with mentos and a bottle of Coke; Chloe just kind of blows up right in front of her.


“Okay?!” It's almost a full on scream and it's definitely loud enough for the rest of the house to hear. “Okay?!” Beca's eyes snap wide and she tries so desperately to clamp down on the urge to smile because that's really only going to make this worse. Of course, she fails miserably and her lips start rising at the corners as she continues trying to twist them to the side. Chloe is all fiery eyes and outrage and she thrusts a finger into Beca's chest hard enough to actually push Beca back a bit. “Beca Mitchell,” the eyebrows belonging to the woman in question hike high enough that she can't be sure they don't fall right off her face, “you can call my outfit ugly, you can even tell me I’m flat, but don't you ever,” she presses her finger harder into Beca's chest and the captain winces a little, “ever,” and okay, so maybe she's a tiny bit scared now, “say that I'm an 'okay' kisser.” The automatic impulse to ask “or what?” jumps to the forefront of her mind but she manages to catch it before it can leave her. She doesn't think pushing Chloe on this is a good idea. It makes her nervous to think of how Chloe might try proving just how accomplished a kisser she is.


Not that she needs to. Beca's full of crap on this one and purposefully so.


“Yes ma'am.” She does risk a mock-salute though and Chloe's glare is searing.


“What do we say?” Beca blinks hard and swallows, trying not to smirk.


“You're a fantastic kisser, Chlo.” She admits, because it is an admission, with a nod of her head and Chloe harrumphs, moodily. She finally retracts her finger and drops her arm back down to her side.


“For the record,” she drawls after a moment, turning away from Beca and heading for the drawers on which George the bear is sitting, “I feel like a full, 'proper' experience would require us to be horizontal.” Beca's heart rate spikes at the word and Chloe shoots her a look over her shoulder. It's sly and knowing and it makes Beca's blood itch. “Maybe next time we can try it on the bed.”

 


 

It hits her as she's descending the stairs from her and Amy's shared room, laptop bag in hand and attire changed to one of the few practise-designated outfits that she alternates between. Hits her hard enough to make her stop short on the middle step, which in turn causes Amy to almost walk right into her and push her the rest of the way down. Thankfully, the Tasmanian catches herself in time.


“I thought hobbits liked walking.” Beca doesn't even try to think of a come back, she just mumbles an apology and continues on, slinging the bag strap over a shoulder. Trying to move even though her blood has turned treacle and her legs feel wobbly and unsteady.


Chloe had said that she'd been thinking about kissing Beca. A lot. She can hear her saying it still, inside her molasses-filled mind, genuine and yet breezing over it like it was no big deal. Which makes Beca wonder; how much 'a lot' is. Because she'd thought about it too after that first kiss, hadn't quite been able to convince herself to stop thinking about it, and she would probably admit to thinking about it 'a lot' if she was asked in a way that suggested some kind of torture might transpire if she didn't answer truthfully.


But the idea of Chloe thinking about it that much makes the gears in her brain grind to a halt. Blinks a bright neon sign that reads 'why?' on and off behind her eyes. It makes her stomach do an obnoxious fluttering thing that has her feeling a bit sick.


“If your captain is the reason you're late for practise, does that give a person a valid excuse, thereby excluding them from all imagined punishments?” Amy asks, tone light but careful, from behind her. Beca shoots her a glance and a distracted shake of her head before.


“Sorry, you go ahead.” She reaches the bottom and swings herself around to the other side of the banister, out of Amy's way. They usually all walk to practise together now, living in one place means they leave for the auditorium at basically the same time. Amy gives her a look but doesn't say anything more, just heads for the front door, through which the rest of the Bellas are exiting. As Amy tries to leave, Stacie dances around her and back into the hallway.


“Beca?” The woman in question looks up, releasing the lip she'd been gnawing at. “Can you grab Chloe? She said something about finding notes or sheet music. I wasn't really listening.” Beca waves her away with a wry smile and Stacie blows her a thank you kiss before her long legs walk her over the threshold and out of the house. There's a shuffling sound coming from the living room and Beca figures that's probably the best place to start. Or, the ghost from the basement is relocating, making it the worst. She doesn't hesitate that long before entering. Chloe's on her hands and knees at the back of the couch, head bent low to the ground and backside in the air and Beca's eyes widen to about three times their usual size.


Chloe's wearing a cute pair of bright purple shorts that have a line of a lighter shade running down one side that's the same colour as her tank top. Which has sort of shimmied up her body, what with the angle she's bent at and gravity being a thing. Beca stands frozen in the doorway, mouth open and abruptly devoid of saliva. Her eyes move of their own volition, drifting up and over every curve, lingering at the small of her back where skin is visible. She flashes back to the kiss, how her hands had felt scorched. Then they're back on the shorts, the cut off and curve of them, and Beca is going to feel like such a confused creeper when she comes to.


“Ah ha!” Chloe's exclamation lifts Beca's whole body off the floor and her eyes jerk away so quickly that she's afraid she's strained a muscle back there. She throws her gaze into the furthest corner of the room and leaves it there while the redhead bounces to her feet. She turns on the spot like a dancer and smiles her surprise when she finds Beca standing – lurking – behind her. “Oh. Hey.”


“Hi. Sorry, I was just, I was about on my way out but,” she pauses, swallows, then tries to keep her eyes on Chloe, “Stacie said you were missing sheet music or something?” Chloe's brows knit together and she holds up a hand, waving the thing she'd just reclaimed from under the couch.


“I was looking for my phone?” Beca grimaces, flashing teeth.


“Oh wow, she really wasn't listening.” Chloe's laugh is both unsurprised and unperturbed. She drops her hand back to her side and lets her eyes flicker up and down Beca's frame. When they find her face again, Chloe's grin is bordering on sly.


“Did everyone else leave already?” Wordlessly, Beca nods. “Aww, did you wait just for me?” She starts closing the distance between them, first one step and then another, and another until they're almost toe to toe. Beca doesn't budge an inch, just tries to keep her breathing steady and looks up into Chloe's baby-blues.


“I wanted to talk to you about something.” One of Chloe's eyebrows begins a slow crawl towards her hairline and Beca rolls her eyes. “Not like that. Although, it is actually about that.” Chloe looks intrigued now and Beca tries to summon every ounce of self-assured, cocky arrogance she has into one place so that she can harness it into this moment. This question. “So, um,” excellent start, “when you said that,” and her on and off eye contact is in top form today, “that thing about wanting to kiss me?” Chloe's eyes start to sparkle and Beca's hand clenches around the strap of her laptop bag. “That you'd been thinking about it? A lot?” She's given an affirmative hum in lieu of a proper answer and manages to pull off a somewhat subdued smirk. “How much is a lot?” A new strain of adrenaline flares to life inside of her as she watches Chloe's expression slip at the question, her confidence tripping, and the part of Beca that's sarcastic and sure brightens. “Because I feel like if it's enough to warrant mentioning, then it must be a lot.” She inches closer and is strangely pleased to hear Chloe's struggled inhale. “And if it is, if you have been thinking about it a lot, then I wanted to ask why.” She reaches up to boldly tuck a strand of red hair behind Chloe's ear, shooting for easy nonchalance and feeling as though she comes decently near the mark. Then she asks, smug and as if she already knows the answer, “Was I just that good?”


And there's a whole handful of seconds where Chloe just looks at her. Looks at her like Beca has just upended and overturned her whole world. And the sense of joy Beca gets from that is probably far closer to sadistic than it should be, but that doesn't matter right now. What matters is Chloe looking a lot like she doesn't know what to say. Chloe, looking a lot like she's blushing at some private thought.


But then something changes, imperceptible until Chloe's suddenly smiling that mega-watt smile, cheeks still stained with red, and she brushes every inch of her body against Beca's as she passes. Slowly.


“Wouldn't you like to know?” Then she's turning to skip out of the Bella house. By the time Beca's brain has reset and she manages to call out an agitated, “uh, yeah, that's why I asked!” before she has to run to catch up with her.

 


 

 

 

It's the way she'd said it that has Beca curious. So, just, normal. Like it wasn't a big deal or even a new development, because surely that would have required some adjusting? She made it sound like it was just something that's been happening and it has filled Beca with this intense need to know. To find out why. Yes, maybe the idea of Chloe having enjoyed that first kiss so much that she hadn't been able to stop thinking about it and had really, really wanted to do it again is giving Beca a weird high. So what? She's just curious. Chloe is her friend and if Beca is going to be questioning her own ability in that department, then who better to ask? It's totally not an ego thing. Not completely.


So it's really no big deal when she takes a quick break from the choreography she and Chloe have put together and pulls her cell phone out of her bag, fingers swiping through screens until she can thumb Chloe's name in her contacts. Just a bit of fun when she types out a quick “are you really not going to tell me?” and hits send in the messaging app. And if her breath comes a little quicker when she hears that creepy little minion laugh that the redhead uses as her notification tone, it doesn't mean anything. She's just curious because she's curious.


She grabs one of the bottles of water gathered in the centre of the table and cracks open the top, glancing sidelong at Chloe as she spots her turning in place, looking around for her cell phone. Beca's lips twitch at the sight, but she smothers the smile by taking a drink. Surreptitiously, she watches as the redhead finds the phone and goes through the motions of typing in her pass code.


Even when Chloe is standing in one place, she's always moving. Bending a leg at the knee and tapping the toe of her sneaker to some unheard tune. Bringing a hand to her mouth to nervously gnaw at the skin of her thumb. Distractedly touching her fingers to her throat, tips tapping out what might be the same tune as the one that gets her feet going. Chloe Beale is a live wire. Always charged and forever shocking someone, somehow. Constantly moving because to remain still would mean certain doom or admitting defeat or something. Right now, she's doing the toe thing. Pounding a rhythm into the floor and, Beca thinks, humming along to it. She knows the instant Chloe reads the text because her mouth forms this cute little self-satisfied smirk just before she looks over at Beca, who maintains unwavering eye contact as she brings the bottle up to her lips again. Carefully swallowing as Chloe looks back to her phone and types a response. Then she winks at Beca, who almost chokes on her water at the sheer salaciousness of the action, and strides back over to where she'd been helping Emily. Beca's phone chimes and she can't grab it quick enough.


Make me, babe. ;)


And so what if heat rockets along Beca's spine and her mind flashes back to earlier and that kiss. Where her hands had ended up and how soft Chloe's skin had been.


It doesn't mean anything.

 



“Okay, but for real.” Chloe doesn't so much as bat an eyelash when Beca appears in her doorway, stepping into the room and kicking the door closed behind her. It's kind of annoying, the total lack of reaction, but Beca breezes over it like it doesn't bother her. “You said you'd grade me later. That's like a binding verbal agreement.” Chloe only smiles over top of the text book she has open against her thighs, legs drawn up and bent at the knee. She has a bowl of grapes sitting next to her elbow and her iPod is filtering soft music into the room via the little player its docked into. Beca's gesturing with her hands again, using them like stage props as she speaks, aware but unable to stop herself. It's like that German chick all over again. “And it isn't even a big deal, so I don't know why you won't just-” Chloe snorts a laugh and it cuts Beca off as effectively as a slap might, with a similar resulting facial expression.


“If it isn't a big deal, then why are you so obsessed with knowing?” Beca, taken aback, blinks owlishly at her for a moment.


“Because you won't tell me!” She resists stomping a foot against the floor but she definitely sounds like a toddler throwing a tantrum and she hates herself a little bit. Chloe is still smiling like this is the funniest thing she's seen all year.


“I did tell you. I said a lot, so,” she gives a few very confident nods, “that should be a good indicator.” Beca blows out a frustrated breath and drops down onto the bed. She leans back so that her back isn't quite touching the mattress and her forearms are propping her up. Chloe can be so awkward sometimes, it drives her crazy. She might, secretly, love it.


“Yeah but, what...” she picks at the bedspread for no particular reason, “Like, where would I land on a scale of one to ten?” Chloe's smile only grows at the question and Beca's a bit beyond flustered at this point, but she's not about to let that stop her. She really wants an answer to this, even if she isn't quite sure why getting one has become so important. She just wants to know “One being 'I want to rinse my mouth out with battery acid' and ten being-”


“I want to rip your underwear off with my teeth?” It's said with such a heavy dose of innocent helpfulness that Beca's mouth falls open and stays that way for a long, long, so long it feels like forever, minute. Chloe's eyes sparkle like the sea and Beca fleetingly wonders how long it would take to drown in them. “Oh, are we not talking about the same scale?” Beca baulks, blinking hard and jerking her head back in surprise.


“Is that the one you usually use?” Chloe pops a grape into her mouth and knits her brows together, shaking her head as she chews.


“What other scale would I use?” Exasperated, Beca lets her arms give way and she drops the rest of the way down onto the bed, but manages to catch the back of her skull on the wall as she goes. She mutters a quiet “ouch” but refuses to rub at the spot. Something in Chloe must must feel a sense of sympathy though, because she closes the text book and leans to the side to place it on the floor next to the bed. Then in the same fluid motion, she's tipping onto her hands and knees and crawling towards Beca, whose stomach dips in time with the mattress. “It's very scientific.” Beca arches an eyebrow and tries to hold still as Chloe creeps closer.


“Is that right?”


“Mm-hmm.” Chloe hums, stalling in her advance only once she's as close as she can get to Beca without being on top of her. Beca's chest feels like there's a weight there already. “I have a whole system.” Having little to no control over where her eyes choose to drop and sweep, Beca finds herself flicking back and forth between Chloe's eyes and mouth in a way that is probably really obvious. “A very methodical rating system.” The urge to press herself further into the bed grips her momentarily, but since she's pretty much as into it as she's going to get, there isn't anywhere for her to go. Not that she's sure she even wants to, it's just her instinctual reaction. She feels nervous, having Chloe this close. Like an unbearable buzzing or tingling sensation is filling her up. And yet she doesn't want it to stop.


“Oh yeah?” It's becoming rapidly apparent that Beca is losing the ability to form coherent sentences, ones that don't make her sound like a whiny five-year-old that's about to shout 'I'm telling mom!', because jesus, no.


“Yeah. It isn't just the kiss you get graded on.” She runs a finger down along the length of Beca's arm and grins when the skin erupts in goosebumps. “It's the touching, too.” Beca emits some kind of non-committal vowel sound in reply. “And the lead up to the kiss.” She's hovering over Beca at eye level now, still holding herself up on her hands and knees, and her curls brush against Beca's cheek whenever she moves. Which she does, dropping down, a millimetre at a time. “And whether or not,” the words whisper against Beca's lips, “you can make me wish you'd keep going,” Chloe presses hers against them, quick and quiet, leaving Beca feeling like her circuit box just had the wires torn out and now they're waving in the air, all frayed ends and dangerous sparks, “once you decide to stop.” And just like that, Chloe's done. Pulling back with a wide grin and shuffling up towards the head of the bed again. Beca lies there, still as stone except for her eyes, which sneak a very unsubtle glance at the redhead as she settles back into her earlier position.


“Oh.” She tears her gaze away and stares up at the ceiling, not thinking about how fast her heart is beating or what her response to that is probably supposed to be. “Sounds fool proof.” She hears Chloe chuckle.


“Works for you.” Beca pulls herself into a sitting position and shoots her a glare.


“So you have rated me.” She keeps her narrow eyes trained on Chloe's face and watches as she tries to affect an air of cool collectedness, but largely fails because her smile keeps cracking the ice.


“Maybe.” At Beca's exasperated look and the way she makes to get up like she's going to leave, Chloe waves her back down onto the bed with a laugh. Grudgingly, Beca complies. “Fine, fine. You're like a dog with a bone.”


“Well, kill me for being curious. It's not like I've really had the opportunity to ask someone before.” Beca's tone is dry. Chloe tucks her legs close to her chest and rests her chin on her knees.


“What, no teenage make out sessions?” She says over top of them and Beca's lips part in a grimace, showing teeth. Chloe pounces like a tiger. “There's a story!” She slaps the sides of her legs in excitement. “Spill!” Beca feels her face fall, horrified, because yes. Yes, there's a story. And Chloe is looking at her with those smiling baby blues.


She sighs and tugs her fingers through her hair. Chloe squeals delightedly and then shuffles over on the bed, lifting the bowl holding the grapes onto her end table and patting the spot beside her. Beca manages to muster a glower but only half of her heart is in it. She awkwardly moves around and nestles her body between the redhead and the wall. There's just enough space on the bed for them to sit side by side without quite touching, but Beca is sure she can feel Chloe's body heat. Magnetic field, gravitational orbit; something. She clears her throat.


“I was sixteen,” Chloe lets loose another high-pitched sound, “okay, if you're going to keep making those noises then I’m just gonna go.” The redhead lets out a giggle that is being blatantly and forcibly subdued, and reaches over to give Beca's knee an apologetic squeeze. Chloe's hand brushes against her thigh a little. Beca presses her lips together.


“Sorry. I'll be good.” Only it's said in a way that makes it sound like Chloe's actually planning to do the opposite.


“His name was Paul and he was in my, I wanna say history class?” Beca screws her face up before dismissing that line of questioning with a shake of her head. “Doesn't matter. He caught me at the end of school one day and asked if he could take me out.” Chloe is acting like this is the cutest story she's ever heard. Her face is nothing but one giant smile, which might be creepy if Beca didn't find it so damn endearing. Ugh. “My friends were there, and they all had boyfriends already, so I was always like this unnecessary seventh wheel.” She pauses, a feeling of discomfort momentarily disrupting her thought process. Because she doesn't really like talking about that version of herself, the 'weird chick with the headphones' that's never had a boyfriend, who folded under peer pressure in a way that this version of herself would scoff at. She feels dumb, even though she knows she shouldn't because this is Chloe she's talking to. Still, she feels weird revealing that side of herself. Vulnerable. “So, I said yes.” But Chloe just keeps on smiling.


Somehow, the warmth from it loosens Beca's muscles. Makes it easier to keep on talking. When she reaches the end of the tale, she doesn't feel as near as embarrassed as she'd expected she would.


“But why did you take his pants off?!” She's laughing more than she thought she would too, but Chloe's infectiousness is probably the cause of that. Chloe's probably everything to do with that.


I didn't.” Beca is quick to remind her. “And it was so he didn't have to drive home with Coke crotch, that crap is sticky when it dries. Besides, he had boxers on, it was totally fine. Or it would have been.” Chloe is glowing with amusement.


“How did your dad even find you there? It wasn't your car you were parking in, right?” Beca shakes her head.


“No, I didn't even have a car, but when I didn't come straight home from school like a good little girl,” she rolls her eyes, “my dad decided to launch a mini search party. He called my friends, went to their houses-” Chloe lets out a gasp.


“No way.”


“Yes way, dude. And like, I wouldn't have even been that late. Two hours max. But one of them caved, I never did find out who, and told him I was out with Paul and that I was probably-”


“At 'Get Lucky' Lookout.” Chloe finishes for her with far too much glee as she happily ignores Beca's continual protests of how she hadn't had any idea that was where he'd taken her. “I can't believe this happened to you. Oh my god, it's just too perfect.” Beca scowls at her.


“Hey. How about we try some sympathy?”


“Oh, I'll get to that when it stops being funny.” She quips, waving Beca's pout away with a hand. It's infuriating, but Beca can't stay mad at Chloe when her nose crinkles like that. “So, you never even got to make out with him?”


“Sadly, no.” She neither looks nor sounds as though she has ever been bothered by this. She hasn't. “Not that the Professor believed me.” Finally, a shadow of compassion flickers across Chloe's face and something about it – maybe the way her eyebrows pull down or how her smile is a little more crooked than usual – makes Beca think. “Why'd you pull away last night?” She never consciously gives her mouth any command that it could interpret as 'hey you, move' but her body doesn't seem to want to listen to her lately anyway. Chloe, for her part, actually looks shocked by the question, as though it's the very last thing she'd been expecting Beca to bring up. Which, coincidentally, had also been Beca's feelings on that matter up until about six seconds ago. Still, she doesn't take it back. Just waits, curious and resolute.


“I told you-”


“No, I know what you told me.” She cuts in, using the same tone she'd use if Amy was trying to slack off in rehearsals. “But I was kind of hoping for the truth this time.” Chloe frowns and Beca fights the urge to reach up and smooth out the crease with the pad of her thumb. After a few seconds of biting at her bottom lip, Chloe lets out a breath.


“Promise you won't freak out?” Beca's heart beats a little harder.


“Well, I haven't yet.” She says with a wide smile and an exaggerated wink that appears to relax the other woman somewhat.


“When you touched me like that, I didn't want to stop.” It's inevitable, but Beca tries really hard not to think back on that, the exact moment at which she had lost control and morphed into a seventeen year old boy like a seriously messed up Hulk.


“But you did.”


“Yes.”


“Why?” Chloe lets out a whine of a groan.


“Because it turned me on.” She says it in a rush. Like the front end of the sentence is attached to the back of a moving freight train. Beca can't tell if her body goes cold or really, really hot. It takes her brain a bit too long to actually process what Chloe has said, but boy, when it does. It feels like a box of puppies has just punched her in the face and she can't help grinning like the cat who got the canary.


She feels what she can only describe as 'stupid giddy' at the very idea that she made Chloe so hot, she had to literally force herself away from Beca. If she were the type of person to burst into hysterical giggles, she's sure this would be the moment that would do it. As it is, she settles for smiling so wide her cheeks reach her eyeballs.


What?” She gasps around it and Chloe drops her head with a groan, pressing her forehead against her knees to hide her face.


“Don't make me say it again.” Beca's pretty certain she'd give her right arm to hear Chloe say that again. Something in her stomach won't stop squirming and she can't shake the feeling of being lighter, too light, lighter than air. “Are you totally horrified?” The question is muffled by a cushion of thighs and clothes. Chloe lifts her head again and stares at Beca with eyes that look dangerously close to being glassy. “Do you not want to do this anymore?”


“Hey, no. That's not-” she reaches out, awkwardly stopping half way to Chloe's shoulder before jerkily finishing the journey and letting her hand rest there. “No. I’m sorry. It's fine, it's totally fine. It's awesome.” Chloe's scepticism writes itself in lines across her face. “It is! I mean, look at me.” Beca lets her hand fall away to gesture down the length of her body. “Who wouldn't want a piece of this?” Finally, the stirrings of a smile appear. Beca isn't lying, it is totally fine. Even if it shouldn't be. “Why'd that make you stop though?” Chloe hefts a heavy sigh.


“Because I'd have wanted to go further than you were maybe ready for.” Always back to Beca. Always back to Beca and how Beca's feeling about things, and making sure that Beca is okay. Sometimes, Beca doesn't know what she did to deserve someone like Chloe. She's never been particularly 'good' or 'nice'. Aside from helping a few old ladies cross the street, she can't think of anything she's done beyond the realm of regular human kindness – not too much that's even within it – that would have resulted in such a gift being bestowed upon her. Or why she's suddenly begun to wax poetic. There's something about looking a gift horse in the mouth sitting on the tip of her tongue, but it gets pulled back and pushed aside.


“You could have actually asked me, Chlo.” She isn't sure why her voice is threaded with a thin ribbon of hurt. Isn't certain that her body feels it beyond the shake in her vocal cords. Her eyes stay focused on Chloe, who's face is darkening under her own personal cloud of guilt. “This isn't going to work if you don't talk to me.”


“I do talk to you.” Her tone is soft. It reminds Beca of the time shortly after Chloe's nodes surgery, when she would push herself too hard, too fast, only to end up having to talk in whispers for the next few days because it hurt too much. Always striving to be perfect, even when it hurts. “It took me off guard.” She admits with a half-hearted shrug of her shoulders. “I'm sorry.” She says it in that breathless, tearful way that makes Beca's insides seize. Like gears and cogs grinding to a rusty halt. She pushes her hand against the side of Chloe's leg, just below her knee, where her thigh meets her calf. It bumps into the other and both legs sway.


“You don't have to be sorry.” She mimics Chloe's pose and rests her cheek against the tops of her knees, head turned towards the redhead. “This is new for both of us. We're going to mess up somewhere, it's inevitable. Well, for me at least. I apparently can't do anything right without getting it, like, really super wrong first.”


“That's not true.” Chloe's frown is concerned, overly so for Beca's meaning. She isn't looking for a pity-party.


“Can you call my boss and tell him that?” Chloe's eyebrows lift in unison and Beca's smile is instantaneous. Because she knows without a doubt that if Chloe was given even one eighth of a chance, she'd march down to Residual Heat and show the whole lot of them what a 'red-haired temper' really looks like. “Scratch that. I can't afford to bail you out and the Bellas need you at Worlds.” And it's kind of astounding, what a compliment like that will do to Chloe's face. Beca tries not to focus too hard on that. There's a speech sitting at the pit of her stomach, gnawing its way around it like a shark circling prey. She lifts her head from her knees and tugs the fingers of one hand through her hair. She has more nervous ticks than a junkie. She cocks her head to the side, looking at Chloe with a mixture of hopefulness and hesitancy. “You can always ask, you know that right?” Beca isn't exactly always so approachable, not that Chloe's ever had a problem with that.


“Yeah.” But Chloe's voice is still quiet, her eyes the tiniest bit less vibrant.


“It's not that I don't, I mean I love that you're being so...” she trails off, mouth hanging open and soundless, before finishing with, “considerate. But I’m doing this for you. Well, for you, and because I want to be the super cool friend who you totally remember forever and ever because of this really awesome thing we did.” Chloe's shoulders shift in a chuckle and Beca sees the creases and lines that belong to her smile starting to form. “And I think that, if we're going to do this right, then you should be able to-to act on those impulses, you know? Run with whatever you're feeling.” She pauses to take a breath and Chloe remains still and silent, save for her eyes which seem to be flickering about Beca's face like they're trying to get a reading. On what, she has no idea. “So, I guess what I'm saying,” she's smiling too wide and her voice is too high, “is that if you ever want to do something... different... then, I'm cool with that.” It's a lot to get out, in more ways than one, and once she's finished she feels exposed and awkward. But cerulean pools appear to be swimming a little less and for that, Beca thinks it's worth it. “Now you please say something.” Of course, it doesn't diminish the awkwardness at all, but Chloe laughs and Beca finds that the pro outweighs the con once again.


“Are you giving me a free pass?” Chloe teases, after another few seconds of silent staring, and Beca finally breaks eye contact with a roll of her own. Her skin feels tingly, the kind of numbness you feel at the dentist's office right before the freezing sets in, and it scurries over her body at the implication. She lets her hands fall to the bed and balls up the duvet in the one hidden between her and the wall. When she feels a touch on her other hand, her head twists around and down to find Chloe's fingers dancing over the knuckles. “To just...” then under, pressing their palms together and lacing their fingers, “take what I want?” Beca's eyes flick up and she looks at Chloe through her lashes. She tries to keep her face neutral, but the beginnings of a smirk are there. She can feel it. See it on Chloe's face, in the way the redhead is grinning.


"Within reason." She says, slowly. Chloe narrows her eyes.


"Promise you won't hunt me down afterwards and punch me in the gut?" At that, Beca just gives in and lets the smile overtake her face.


"Not anymore, no." She likes hearing Chloe laugh. If she were to think about it, she'd say it was probably one of her favourite sounds. Not out loud, where it could be overheard, and not for any reason other than 'because it is'. But it is. She likes Chloe's smile and the way it makes Beca feel when it's pointed her way. She likes that Chloe is a huge dork and laughs at her dumb jokes, understands her dumb jokes. She doesn't even care when Chloe makes jokes at her expense because, again and again, the cons have nothing on the pros.


Which doesn't mean anything, not to Beca. Not yet.


Chloe brings their hands to her mouth and places a kiss against Beca's, chaste but firm and in the shape of a smile. And Beca's arm tingles at the way up to her shoulder.


It's not until later that Beca realises Chloe still hasn't given her a rating.

Chapter Text


It was never supposed to go down like this. Freshman Beca had given herself a year, at the behest of her father, after which she'd be on the fast track to Los Angeles and Barden would be a distant memory, a far off glimmer that she'd think about maybe once every ten years. The only lasting affect college was supposed to have on her was the reminder that you had to work hard to get what you wanted, even if that meant attending dumb classes she had no use for that were filled with dumb people she had no intention of getting to know. Barden was supposed to be a strictly 'get in, get out' situation. She was going to keep her head down, study just enough to score a passing grade, and then it was on to the big time.

 

The big time was not supposed to be a spot-lit stage anywhere near the world of collegiate a cappella. It was not supposed to be anything she gave a second thought to. It wasn't supposed to be fun, or annoying, and it sure as shit wasn't supposed to result in any kind of soul-searching. She wasn't supposed to make friends, she wasn't there for that. There was never supposed to be a redhead at an activities fair, nor a really messed up, rape-whistle-near-miss incident in a shower, of all places, and there definitely wasn't supposed to be auditioning of any kind.

 

And then there had been feelings. Stubborn and strong, and inexplicable. First, an apathetic interest, then a case of mild annoyance that somehow morphed into a genuine and incredulous outrage. Then actual anger, which had led to a legitimate sadness that had made her want to throw up. After that, and a strangely euphoric reconsideration, there had come a storm – one that had most definitely not been in the forecast – of such magnitude, it had changed the landscape around her. Swapped around the important bits of her life and put everything in a new order. Suddenly she had friends, a boyfriend, people she cared about. People she didn't want to say goodbye to just yet.

 

So, she'd said goodbye to L.A. instead. For now. She never would have bet on Barden, not in a million years. It was supposed to be a straightforward stretch of road with one lone hurdle waiting to be jumped.

 

There wasn't supposed to be a Bellas, or a Jesse. Connections, of any kind.

 

Why does the universe always have other ideas?

 


 

“No, no just- can you hold on for like- no! I'm not, no, this isn't supposed to happen!” Beca's got the butt of her palm pressed against her forehead, fingers tangled up in dark strands at her hairline, while her other hand holds the phone to her ear. She closes her eyes as she paces back and forth in front of the kitchen table, tilting her head towards the ceiling and clenching her jaw. “Dad. Will you listen to me for two- don't you dare hang up on me! Dad? Dad!” When she accepts the fact that he has in fact hung up, she pulls the phone away from her ear and presses it to her forehead with both hands. For one deathly still moment, everything is silent.

 

The sound that leaves her is loud, angry, and not unlike that of a feral beast. The motion she makes is spasmodic, wild, an incensed flail of frustration that has her lifting both arms and even a leg into the air all at once. The adult version of a toddler tantrum.

 

“Oh, wow, okay.” She spins to find a startled looking Chloe trying to avoid Beca's hair as it whips about, hands up in front of her shoulders as though she'd briefly thought about reaching out to hold Beca still and then thought better of it. Beca slips the phone into the pocket of her jeans.

 

“Sorry.” Then she turns away from Chloe again, sinking down into one of the chairs at the table and sliding her hands up over the side of her face until they all but disappear into her hair. She can feel Chloe still standing behind her, almost shuffling on the spot.

 

“Rough morning?” Chloe asks and Beca sees her walk by in her periphery, heading towards the section of the kitchen counter where the kettle lives. Beca only grunts in reply and Chloe glances back over her shoulder, slowly lifting onto her tiptoes so that she can reach something on the top shelf. “Ooh, is it flashback Friday?” Confused, Beca frowns and turns her head just enough so that she can see the other woman. “Are we revisiting the Beca from freshman year?” Beca rolls her eyes and Chloe presses the hand she isn't using to retrieve the box of fruity flavoured tea over her heart. “The Beca I fell in love with?” Her face is the very picture of heart-warming hopefulness and Beca almost plants her face right into the table, she drops it so hard. She catches herself though, pulling back before impact and setting her forehead down on the surface with only a little more force than necessary. She hears Chloe laughing and then the sound of her depressing the switch for the kettle. What she doesn't hear is Chloe sidling up behind her and draping herself over the back of Beca's chair so that she can wind her arms around the brunette's waist. Beca's already tense, so she can't really stiffen much more. Not that it would have lasted. “What's wrong, Becs?” Chloe's voice is hovering close and Beca feels the arms around her tighten in a squeeze. She blinks against the tabletop, hair pooling around her face in a way that shuts out most of the brightness of the kitchen.

 

“My dad hates me.” She mutters darkly and the sound Chloe makes is one of practised patience.

 

“Your dad doesn't hate you.” With a final squeeze, she's lets go of Beca and moves away.

 

“He does!” Beca argues, straightening like a figure in a pop-up book. Chloe is walking back over to the kettle. “Dude, he's throwing a graduation party for me.” With agonising slowness, the redhead pivots until she's completed a one hundred and eighty degree turn and stares at Beca, her mouth open in a perfectly scandalized expression.

 

“What. A. Monster.” Then she's turning back and opening the box of tea.

 

“You don't understand.” There's a very undignified whine trickling through Beca's voice and though she isn't sure it's even possible to tell if a person is smiling while their back is to you, she knows Chloe is smirking. Chloe, who Beca also knows is going to spend the next five minutes trying to decide on which flavour of tea to steep before inevitably choosing the berry-kiwi option like she always does. “He's invited my whole family.”

 

“Do you want to call child services, or shall I?” Beca wishes she had something she could throw at Chloe's head. A soft to medium-soft projectile, nothing that would do any lasting damage. “He's proud. His baby girl and only child is graduating.”

 

“Ugh. Gag me.” Beca presses the first two fingers on each hand to her temples and rubs them in small, tight circles.

 

“You have to at least take me on a date first, Beca. What kind of girl do you think I am?” Chloe asks, a chuckle in her voice, and Beca lets her eyes slip closed so that she doesn't have to look at the redhead if she happens to turn around.

 

“One who is helpless in the face of my sexual prowess.” Beca talks a big game, she does this on purpose, but the thing about Beca is that she can back it up, should there ever be a time that required such a thing. She's cocky, often to the point of being obnoxious – she's lost count of the number of times people have screamed at her to be serious for, like, a minute – and while her mother, father, and one-time family counsellor may have been right about her using that side of herself as a defence mechanism, she'd honed that skill over time. Sure, she's awkward, but she can take a strip off someone's back at a hundred yards.

 

Unless that someone happens to be a statuesque, Germanic Amazonian. But there aren't too many of those around. She hopes.

 

“You know me so well.” Chloe sighs, dreamily. The water in the kettle starts to bubble, steam rising out of the mouth at the top. Chloe finally settles on a tea and drops the bag into a bright pink mug that has 'Aca-Princess' printed across it in a fitting spirally white font. The kettle clicks off and she lifts it from the base, filling her cup until it's about an inch from the rim. Beca watches quietly from the table as Chloe goes through the motions. “I can't believe it's almost here.”

 

“Graduation?” Beca asks, as Chloe reaches into a draw for a spoon and then nods. “Yeah, it's...” she pauses, leaning back in the chair and running her finger absently along the table edge, “insane.” She finally settles on. Chloe spoons out her teabag and opens the door to the cupboard under the sink, where she drops it into the compost box tucked beside the pipes. “I wasn't supposed to be here this long.” Chloe lets the door close by itself and picks up her mug, holding it gingerly by the handle and the rim and walking slowly over to the table.

 

You weren't supposed to be here this long?” She says with an archly raised eyebrow and Beca concedes with a smile and bow of her head. Chloe takes a seat opposite her and blows across the surface of the tea, sending ripples through the liquid. Beca can smell berries and kiwi and she smiles privately to herself.

 

“Do you think you're like, the oldest Bella?” Immediately, Chloe shakes her head.

 

“Amanda Price became a Bella in nineteen-eighty-eight. Soprano, party girl-”

 

“Sounds familiar.” Beca interrupts with a smirk.

 

“-totally smoking.” She stalls, with a rather obvious pointedness, and Beca's expression never flickers. “Anyway, she was a Bella for eleven years.”

 

“Are you serious?” Beca all but explodes and Chloe confirms it with a nod as she brings her mug to her mouth. She takes a handful of small sips and Beca's eyes dart away from her lips, down to her hand where she's idly twisting the ring on her finger around in circles.

 

“She's where I got the idea actually.” And Beca laughs because of course. Of course Chloe knows the aca-archives well enough to copycat a scheme from the early nineties. “I wonder where she is now.” Beca looks back up and sees that Chloe's gaze had sort of shifted out of focus a bit, turned far-off.

 

“What, no bi-annual Bella newsletter?” Beca almost jumps out of her seat when Chloe slams a hand down hard enough to make the table shake, and her eyes are so wide that Beca is genuinely afraid she's given her mouth third degree burns from the tea.

 

“Oh my god, we should totes start one!” Chloe's voice is the kind of high that the redhead had once been afraid she might never be able to reach again.

 

“What you all starting in here?” Cynthia Rose saunters into the kitchen wearing an intrigued expression and Mary J Blige t-shirt. She wiggles her eyebrows at them. “Is it sexy?” Beca rolls her eyes again and across from her, Chloe laughs quietly.

 

“Beca just had a brilliant idea.” She says, amusement jostling the words. Beca gives a rather vehement wave of her hand.

 

“Dude, don't put this on me.” But Chloe just bats her eyelashes and ignores her.

 



It's early evening when Beca hears soft footfalls on the stairs leading to her room. She knows it isn't Amy, because Amy is holed up somewhere wrapped around Bumper, but she doesn't have to wonder long. Red hair rises into view like her own personal sunrise. Chloe has a laptop tucked under one arm and a giant bowl of popcorn secured close to her body with the other. Beca's stretched out on her bed with her own laptop open against her thighs and she takes in Chloe's approach with wide eyes.

 

“Oh, no.” She throws out an arm and points an accusatory finger at the redhead. “I've done my movie duty for the week. Your quota has been exhausted, woman.” In a rare moment of dry sarcasm that reminds Beca, weirdly, of herself, Chloe pauses half way to her bed and levels her with a withering, narrow-eyed “yeah, no shit” expression. It's shocking enough that Beca drops her hand and rolls her lips together, eyebrows raised like she just got served and is totally okay with it because it was hilarious.

 

“Why is your go-to instinct always that someone is trying to torture or punish you?” Chloe takes a seat on the end of the bed and Beca's eyes narrow, suspiciously.

 

“Personal experience.” They flicker over Chloe, searching for a tiny switch or misplaced freckle, something that might prove she's a robot or a clone, or give away an ulterior motive. “Are you going to make me watch cat videos again? Because I love you Chlo, but no. No more. One of us will not leave this room alive.” Chloe shrugs.

 

“I could take you.” She sounds incredibly unworried and part of Beca is offended, because Chloe could at least pretend. The other part of her knows that Chloe's right. She has actually seen the other woman's arms. Still, far be it from Beca to go out without a fight.

 

“You could try.” Her gaze drops back to her laptop screen and she saves the mix she's spent the last little while fiddling with before closing the program.

 

“I could try right now.” Chloe offers, voice low and full of husky promise. Beca's fingers twitch against the keys and she has to fight the urge to look up again. “Take you right here on the bed.”

 

“Okay!” Beca almost yells, closing the laptop lid and finally finding the strength to glare at Chloe without blinking or blushing. “You need to keep it in your pants, lady.” Chloe's curls bob as she shakes her head with a laugh.

 

“Spoil sport.” She pouts. Beca resolutely ignores it.

 

“What's with the various movie-themed items then, if there is to be no movie?” She inclines her head towards the things Chloe has brought with her. The redhead's smile lights up her face.

 

“We are going to eat popcorn and watch cheesy nineties music videos.” She explains that they'll throw food at the really bad ones, not the good-bad ones, and that she already found a playlist on YouTube that looks amazing. Beca is dubious to say the least, but when she asks Chloe if this is really how she wants to spend her night and dazzling blue eyes take on that sincerely vulnerable quality, Beca knows she's already lost.

 

Not that there's ever really a downside to hanging out with Chloe. Ah, how far she's come from that antisocial freshman.

 

“Is this like a weird treasured pastime of yours I don't know about?” Beca asks, as Chloe drops the bowl into her lap and shuffles up the bed to stretch out beside her. She scoots closer to Beca and settles the laptop against her legs, brushing their arms together.

 

“Not really. Bree and I used to do this sometimes.” Chloe shrugs and even though she's smiling, Beca can hear the sadness clinging to the words. Can see it in the way the redhead wrinkles her nose. “It's not really the same over Skype.” She watches as Chloe wakes the computer up and navigates to her YouTube playlists.

 

“I never thought I'd miss her.” She leans forward to pull up a pillow, fluffing it before placing it more comfortably behind her and leaning back.

 

“No?”

 

“People don't usually miss tyrannical leaders.” Beca's lips curl into a smirk and she waits for Chloe's slap, but it never comes. There's only a sharp 'tsk' of warning to let her know that the redhead even heard her. Beca lifts a hand, absently tugging at an earring. Her eyes follow Chloe's fingers as they stroke and swipe almost in unison. “You must get pretty sad though.” The first video switches to full screen and Chloe flashes her a smile as she mimics Beca's earlier shifting of the pillow at her back. It's a small smile, one that doesn't even last very long, but something about it hits Beca square in the chest. Hard enough to make her see starts.

 

“Not so much anymore.” And it's kind of dumb really, how much Beca wants to ask Chloe if it's because of her.

 

She isn't supposed to be the kind of person who cares about stuff like that.

 


 

Sixteen songs and over an hour later, Hanson's 'MMMBop' draws to a close and the intro for Brandy and Monica's 'The Boy Is Mine' auto-starts. Chloe recognises it immediately; Beca can tell by the way she's excitedly flapping her hands.

 

“I love this song!” She squeals. Beca only smiles, amused by her friend's antics. “Remember Jerry Springer?” She asks after a moment, dropping a piece of popcorn into her mouth. There are a handful of the fluffy puffs strewn over Chloe's keyboard, something the redhead doesn't seem overly bothered by, since she'd been the one doing the throwing, but all Beca can think about is kernel flakes between the keys. The majority of them had been thrown there by Chloe when Rednex's 'Cotton Eye Joe' had begun, but despite Beca's continued insistence that Chloe “just skip the damn song, dude”, the redhead had pointlessly persevered and continued intermittently sacrificing the aforementioned snack food. Jesse would be rolling in his grave.

 

Beca noisily bites down on a piece, eyes never leaving the screen.

 

“Nope.” She pops the 'p' and Chloe glances askance at her.

 

“Bullshit.” At that Beca does look away, turning raised eyebrows on the redhead and wearing the same expression she might if an elderly man, one usually lovely and polite, had just told her where to get off. “You're telling me that you've never watched an episode of Jerry Springer?” Beca shrugs.

 

“Yes?” That takes them into a discussion about trashy mid-morning talk shows and how they've become sort of a dying trend in terms of the chair-throwing, sleeping with your biker-bride hooker half-sister kind. By the end of it, Chloe still doesn't believe her and they're halfway through 'What A Girl Wants', which Beca had initially tried to skip, only to have her hand slapped away and “X-tina is the tits” snarled in her face. She'd twisted her lips in amusement and decided to keep quiet on that one.

 

"So, why are you so against this party your dad is throwing?” Chloe's question comes out of the blue and Beca sputters against the mouth of the water bottle she's taking a drink from. She coughs a few times to clear her windpipe, then screws the cap back on as Chloe continues. “I mean, I know about your problems with your dad,” and she does, more than most people do, “but is your whole family...” she trails off, realising that she's accidentally painted herself into a corner and Beca saves her from having to say it with a playful wink.

 

"Crazy?” She offers and Chloe flashes her a reproving scowl. “It's not that." Beca shrugs. "I'm not really good with the whole," she pauses to rub at the tip of her nose and then gestures with both hands, imitating bear paws, "attention thing."

 

"Says the Captain of a three time international championship winning a cappella group." The redhead bumps their shoulders together and Beca smothers a smile.

 

"That's different. That's performing, for strangers,” she lets out a sigh and pulls a face, “people who haven't seen me running naked through my Aunt Rita's flower garden." Chloe laughs, her face a mixture of surprised delight. "For the record, I was three.” Beca rushes to point out. “They haven't seen me naked like, recently or anything." Chloe's eyelids droop so that she's looking at Beca with a few more fistfuls of intensity than had been present only seconds ago.

 

"Does that make me special?" She whispers, sounding as though she hopes Beca will say yes, and the brunette's cheeks colour. "Or just really super lucky?" It takes a minute, but Beca is finally able to blow out a breath.

 

"It makes you an asshole." If she could move her hands, she'd push Chloe's face away so that she'd stop looking at her like that. But she can't. “Is this really how you wanted to spend your night?” So, she's forced to make an awkwardly abrupt topic change just to cut the tension she's feeling.

 

It's not that Beca isn't having fun, she is. A weird amount actually, but she can't imagine that Chloe doesn't have something else she could be doing. Chloe tilts her head to look at her and Beca watches the way red hair sways with the motion.

 

“Beca,” the way Chloe says her name, like they're lost in the stacks of a sexy library, makes her skin prickle, “what are you suggesting?” She's heard the word 'coquettish' before, once or twice maybe. She's never seen it in action though and right now Chloe is the living, breathing embodiment of what, she thinks, the word means. Her eyes are sparkling, every twinkle knowing, laughing at some private joke that lingers on her face in the form of dimples and smile lines. A smile that isn't a smile and isn't a smirk, it just is and it's breathtaking and unnerving all at once.

 

Because Beca hadn't been suggesting anything at all, really she hadn't, but Chloe is looking at her like she should have been. Like Chloe wants her to be. And after what feels like an eternity, Beca swallows thickly and opens her mouth to respond.

 

But then Chloe's there. Soft and warm, and Beca's mouth is otherwise occupied. By lips that press and part, that slant and slide in all the right ways. Keep her still and present, keep her restless. At the very edges of her awareness, Beca can hear the keening opening keys of Lauren Hill's 'Doo-Wop' and the melody melts into the lyrics as Chloe's tongue sweeps in to make her blood sing. She strains forward, ignoring the way that the muscles in her neck protest at the angle. Protests that die down when she feels Chloe shift and place a hand against the curve of Beca's neck, right against the spot that hurts. Like she somehow knows. Chloe sighs into the kiss and Beca feels it thrum against the core of her being. Feels the solid weight of it vibrate pleasantly through her.

 

Moments pass. Long moments where nothing but music from a bygone era exists and Beca's just a person, being unravelled in the simplest of ways. Slow and easy, enjoyable, and it's nice. It's really nice and Beca doesn't stop or pull away when that thought crosses her mind. She just accepts it because what's not to enjoy? Chloe really is a good kisser and Beca doesn't feel the kind of pressure or stress that she might if Chloe was a guy or someone she was in an actual relationship with. That Chloe is Chloe makes all the difference to her.

 

Her kisses make Beca's insides feel like liquid. Molten mercury swimming through her body and changing its behaviours like quicksilver. Squeezing and tugging her heart into beating harder, faster, even though everything else around her moves in slow motion.

 

Chloe kisses like she means it. Like she lives for it, puts everything she is into it. All without rushing or pushing, as though letting herself go is the easiest thing in the world for her. Chloe's kisses are languid and methodical, every stroke seemingly predetermined and purposeful. The way she pulls back, just an inch, just enough to separate their mouths so that they can each take an equally ragged breath, but keeps her lips close enough that Beca can still feel them. Parted. Waiting. Goading Beca, daring her to close the distance again and lighting a fire in her so unparalleled, Beca doesn't think to question it. Just lets the flames chase her forward until she can lick slowly into Chloe's mouth and revel in the way it makes her feel. Marvel at the reaction that her taking the lead seems to have on the redhead, who whimpers so soft and quietly that Beca barely hears it. But her body does and the sound trickles through her like lava.

 

'Who Let The Dogs Out' by the Baha Men isn't something she's expecting to hear. Isn't something she even remembered existed until the title of the song is being yelled at her through the speakers of Chloe's laptop. A deep crease forms between Beca's eyebrows in the second before she tears herself away from Chloe's mouth and she throws out a hand, grabbing the lip of the laptop and slamming it down with a tad more brute force than she knows the act needs. But fingers are curling into the front of her shirt, brushing the skin of her breastbone and pulling her back around, and from the way Chloe demands that Beca's attention – and her mouth – be back on her, she thinks any apology for rough handling will be accepted when she gets around to giving it.

 

It isn't long before Chloe breaks away again though and Beca manages to open her eyes wide enough to see the other woman pushing the laptop towards the end of the bed, out of the way, with the bottom of her foot. Beca watches as Chloe moves the popcorn bowl out of reach and shifts her body, moves until she's reclining propped on her side and looking up at Beca through a heavy-lidded gaze. Reddened lips pressed together, bottom one disappearing a little every other second as teeth work it over beyond Beca's line of sight, and face flushed; it's the first time that Beca can consciously recall finding Chloe sexy.

 

Because she doesn't really think like that. There are people she finds attractive and people she thinks are hot, but 'sexy' is a word that rarely comes into the equation.

 

But that's what Chloe is right now. Lying there looking up at Beca with what the brunette can only think to describe as bedroom eyes, and it fills her with something indescribable. Maybe fear or excitement, but neither at the same time, and Beca realises she's panting. Can hear herself. Breathless. Then Chloe's hand is reaching up again and Beca's moving before her brain can give her body the command, sliding down as fingers once more sink into the material of her shirt and pull her back in until they're lying side by side.

 

This kiss is hot and heavy from the beginning, searing synapses and crossing every wire in Beca's nervous system. Heat rises from everywhere to sweep across her body like wildfire as Chloe's hand reaches Beca's hip and tugs her closer. Teeth graze her lip, biting gently before Chloe's tongue eases the pain.

 

“I really,” Chloe pauses to catch her breath, voice almost unrecognisable in a way that makes something inside Beca jerk violently, and she keeps pressing closer, moving almost imperceptibly against Beca as if she can't hold still, “really like kissing you.” Beca's stomach dips and knots, and a shiver shakes its way along her spine. Their foreheads are touching and Beca can't open her eyes.

 

“I-” It comes out strangled and broken, making her sound like a pubescent teenage boy and she might be blushing, but she can't tell. Her face already feels hot. “Good.” She still somehow manages to trip over the word and she wonders if she sounds as drunk to Chloe as she does to her own ears. Her head feels like it's been filled with cotton wool. “That's, that's good. That's awesome. Otherwise it'd be like, super awk-” she has no idea what she's saying and she's relieved that Chloe doesn't seem to care. Just shuts her up with another kiss feels like she's trying to pull Beca apart from the inside. Bold, certain fingertips slip beneath the hem of her shirt and flutter over Beca's skin, making her shiver again. They breeze along the side of her stomach and over the dip of her hip, and when they stoke along the bottom of her rib cage, Beca has the strangest sensation of feeling cold even though Chloe's touch burns a line of fire wherever it goes. She draws back, out of the kiss, unable to focus on both as the redhead's nails scrape gently from rib to navel and then Chloe's trying to wrap an arm around her back but Beca's is in the way, plastered to the side of her body. She feels brilliant blue eyes on her, actually feels them, and finally remembers how to open her own.

 

She's never found it hard to look at Chloe before, but in that moment she does. Even though she can't describe why, it's almost painful.

 

“I don't...” Beca's voice is quiet, hesitant, and she feels a rush of embarrassment flood her as she confesses, “I don't know what to do with my hands.” Chloe's eyes glitter, the thin shaft of dying sunshine reaching in through the gap in the curtains lighting them up like fireworks.

 

“Do you trust me?” Chloe whispers, and the question shakes the foundations around them.

 

“Of course.” Beca doesn't miss a beat. Doesn't have to think about it.

 

And it's strange, because she hasn't given her trust to that many people in her life. Can probably count them all on one hand and so actually developing trust, of any kind, can be scary for her. It's not that she has abandonment issues, not exactly, but she'd been at what everyone likes to call “an awkward age” when her father had walked out on his marriage, and it had sort of messed her up for a while. Not that she'd ever tell him, or anyone else for that matter, but that part of her life had left her with an unwillingness to trust people. Because why bother, why open yourself up like that, if they're just going to leave in the end?

 

Chloe's still here though. Maybe that's why Beca lets her take hold of her hand by the wrist and guide it towards her body. Maybe that's why she doesn't freeze or freak when Chloe pushes Beca's hand beneath the material of the thin tee she's wearing and presses it flat against the curve of her ribcage, just below her bra, and holds it there.

 

“I want you to touch me.” Maybe that's why Chloe's words don't send Beca running for the hills, but rather ground her instead. Make her want to stay in spite of the fire that's been ignited and is burning her up from the soles of her feet to the crown of her scalp. She blows out an uneven breath and tries not to think too much as Chloe releases her wrist. She peers up at Beca and there's caution buried beneath everything else dancing in her eyes. “Is that-” The very purposeful movement of Beca's hand causes Chloe's question to hitch and break off prematurely, the ending being replaced with a gasp that teases Beca's lips into a smug smirk.

 

“Yeah.” She answers anyway, a thick thread of satisfaction winding its way through her when Chloe's eyes flutter and the column of her throat shifts as she swallows hard. The lack of thinking really works for Beca here, lets her just be, just act, without issue. The hand that had been guiding her drifts up along Beca's arm as she traces feather-light patterns up and down the redhead's side, and fingers crawl lazily over Beca's shoulder and neck, towards her face. Her nose bumps against Chloe's, presses into her cheek as their lips meet again and again in kisses that turn careless the instant Beca's fingers find the middle of Chloe's back and curl into the skin, gently digging her nails into smooth flesh dragging them down towards the waist of her jeans.

 

Chloe's back arches and she releases a rough moan from somewhere low in her throat. Beca feels the flush press of Chloe's body against hers, that of breasts against her own, and something inside of her snaps like a twig. She snakes her arm further around the redhead, trying to wedge her hand in between Chloe's side and the mattress, trying to get her closer still. She feels a strange and frightening sense of desperation beginning to build, but refuses to dwell on it. There will be time for that later, right now, all she wants is this.

 

A door being slammed downstairs rattles the entire household and there are at least two people screaming in unison somewhere. A series of door openings follows and more voices join the commotion and Beca, however fleetingly, finds herself abruptly and passionately wishing they lived alone. Just for an afternoon or something. The Bellas could come back. Just, later. Flo is cursing up a storm in her native tongue and she can hear Stacie throwing out threat after threat of doing serious bodily harm. Beside her, Chloe is silent and stunning, all rosy cheeks and swollen lips, looking as dazed and confused as Beca feels.

 

Her hand has come to lie still against the curve of Chloe's hip and Beca forces her body and mind to remain calm, so that it stays there. She thinks she sees a shadow of a reaction to this on Chloe's face, but she can't be sure.

 

“Sounds like D.S.M. is throwing down on twitter again.” Chloe murmurs after a moment and Beca has to blink to clear the haze. She hasn't been paying attention to what it is they're shouting about. She makes an effort to listen now though. Lying there quietly, her thumb brushing figure eights into Chloe's skin. Sure enough, the Bellas are in an uproar about Das Sound Machine tweeting something offensive about them and usually, Beca would care.

 

Beca would care, like, a lot. She'd be pissed. She'd demand Chloe teach her how to actually use twitter – because Beca Mitchell and social media do not mix well – and leave them a, hopefully, scathing insult in return. As it is, Beca is left feeling a little like she wishes she could care and a lot like she's just been dropped into a conversation from an aeroplane flying at thirty-thousand feet.

 

Breathless, exhilarated, and more than a little confused.

Chapter Text


Chloe loves to sing. That isn't going to be the headline to any urgent news flashes, it's a well established fact. It's who she is and has been since she was three years old and her mother walked in on her serenading an audience of stuffed animals, clutching her sippy-cup in one hand and pretending it was a microphone. It's a story that very few people actually believe, because three-year-olds don't do that kind of thing, aren't capable of really carrying a tune, let alone belting out notes that most adults can't reach. They don't have to believe it though, Chloe knows it's true. She was kind of there.

 

Living in a sorority house with your a cappella sisters automatically means that there's usually at least one person singing at any given time of the day. More often than not, that person is Chloe. She sings her way out of the house in the morning and sings her way back in at the end of her day. She sings in the shower – something Beca had been privy to before the rest of them – and hums while she brushes her teeth. She sings while she makes breakfast and while she works out. There had even been a few bouts of what her doctor had referred to as “sleep singing” during her teenage years. Incredibly uncommon; he'd never run across another case of it in the thirty years he'd been practising. Thankfully, that had faded with time, and now she reserves singing strictly for her waking hours. It takes up a lot of them.

 

She's always felt as though singing unlocked part of herself. Some primal area deep within her, one reserved solely for feeling, one that only music can reach. The feeling she gets from singing, from music, is almost better than sex. Almost. It makes her feel good, free, makes her feel like everything is right in the world and nothing can go wrong. That had been why her brush with nodes had been so devastating. It hadn't been just the risk of losing her voice, but a part of herself as well. The part that makes her happy, makes her shine. So, Chloe sings a lot.

 

She's singing right now, as she washes dishes, hair tied back into a loose ponytail and bright pink rubber gloves encasing her hands. Stacie had offered to help dry and the two of them are seamlessly harmonizing their way through CeeLo Green's “Fuck You”. As she passes Stacie a plate, she flicks a handful of bubbles at the taller woman, who doesn't miss a single note as she jerks backwards and tries to bat them back at Chloe with little success.

 

Singing with the Bellas takes all of that feel-good emotion and amplifies it by a thousand. Where Chloe loves singing by herself, singing with someone else brings her as close to nirvana as she has ever been. It overtakes her, shows on her face and in the way she moves, and maybe that was why Alice hadn't like her. Because she and Aubrey were the newbies and maybe they were too passionate for her liking. Not that it makes or would have made any kind of difference. Chloe won't change for anyone. She's happy being the person she is. Someone who will gladly sing every show tune she knows from sunset 'til sunrise, if you'll just join in from time to time.

 

“Do you think we'll all still be friends after graduation?” Stacie asks, swiping a hand across her cheek to gather a few errant blobs of soap that had somehow managed to find purchase on her flawless skin and drying them away with the teacloth. Up to her elbows in soapy water, Chloe laughs, disturbing the few strands of hair that have escaped their bindings and now hang about her face.

 

“Of course we will. We're sisters, Stacie. The Bella bond is stronger than any other bond in history.” It's something she believes with ever fibre of her being, which is why there is exactly zero sarcasm to her tone. “Why would you even ask that?” Because it would never have occurred to Chloe to question such a thing. Stacie takes the dripping mug being offered to her and twists the towel around it as she speaks.

 

“You just always hear about people losing touch after college.” She lifts one exposed, slender shoulder in a shrug that sends the strap of her halter top sliding down her arm. “And we're all going in such different directions. My mom always said that life gets in the way,” Stacie recalls, wearing a look of deep concentration, “but she lost touch with most of her friends when she married my dad.” She flashes Chloe a sly grin as she dries another cup. “She says that she got rich and they got jealous.” And that's kind of sad in a way, Chloe thinks, but she laughs anyway. “I just don't want to that to happen to us.” Chloe fumbles around at the bottom of the sink and yanks the plug free, placing it on the edge of the basin. The water whirls and churns, disappearing like a tiny water sprite, and she turns to lean against the counter, pulling off her gloves. Water droplets spring from the latex and land against her face as she haphazardly snaps them off, inside out, and tosses them onto the worktop behind her.

 

“Stacie, I promise,” she reaching out to take hold of her fellow Bella's hands, tea towel and all, “even if you become really super famous or marry Aaron Kwok and end up filthy rich, I won't be jealous.” Stacie pouts.

 

“Not even a little bit?” Chloe lets out a laugh and gives the taller woman's hands a squeeze before letting them go. She brings her her thumb and forefinger together until there's barely a hair's width of space between them.

 

“Maybe a little.” Stacie's smile lights up her entire face, shows nearly every one of her pearly white teeth, and Chloe feels a familiar fondness swell inside her chest. “You guys are my family.” She says, earnest. “And family is forever. I won't let you guys just drift away.” And people always tell Chloe that she's the glue, that which holds the team together. She's the one who never gives up, never backs down – “like a tenacious terrier”, Amy's words, always Amy – she's the one who brings them back, should they start to wander. After all, she hadn't been about to let Beca actually leave after her little explosion at the retreat.

 

Beca, who will be on the first flight out to Los Angeles the instant she tosses her Barden-green cap from her head.

 

All at once, panic fills Chloe. Piercing and breathtaking, like a knife to the gut. With her own private movie running on a reel in her head, she watches Beca leave the Bella house, feels her goodbye hug, and sees herself waving as the captain – former captain – is whisked away by a yellow taxi. Away from Barden, away from Chloe. And there's no doubt in her mind that Beca will be anything less than a huge success. She'll achieve each and every one of the dreams she's confessed to Chloe and then some. Her life will be made up of interviews and business meetings, and it'll all take place beneath the blinding light of stardom. And Beca will try, because she's good and she's honest and Chloe really does believe that they have something special. But as time goes on, she knows the texts will be fewer and further between. Phone calls almost non-existent. It won't be Beca's fault; it's easy to get lost on the fast track to celebrity. And Beca deserves that, Chloe knows. She's worked hard for it and will continue working hard until her dying breath. Because Beca is music.

 

It's one of the things Chloe loves most about her.

 


 

The thought stays with her, nags and gnaws at her, late into the evening. Long after Beca and the other Bellas have arrived home after another long and pointless day of schooling. As Fat Amy likes to point out, they're already graduating, so no one is really paying attention in classes anymore anyway.

 

“I miss being in school and watching videos when the teachers didn't feel like acknowledging us.” She'd bemoaned over a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs that Chloe and Stacie had decided to cook once dish duty was finished.

 

The thought stays with her throughout the meal, stealing her attention away from the food on her plate that she'd started playing with, a motion that ceased only when Beca cleared her throat. Chloe had glanced up to find the brunette looking at her quizzically and she'd flashed her a typical 'don't worry about me' smile before looking away. Which, for some reason, had apparently not eased Beca's concerns one bit.

 

“Knock, knock.” At least, she assumes that's why her captain is hanging off the side of the door frame, wrapping her knuckles against the wood and peering into the tiny room at the back of the Bella house where Chloe is curled into an armchair, staring out of the window with the lights off. The room is home to a single book shelf – which is mostly filled with volumes on a cappella and singing in general – the chair Chloe is sitting in, a stereo system that Stacie's bright pink iPod is still docked into and an elliptical. Chloe's eyes snap to the doorway and she feels her heart drop into her stomach when she sees Beca standing there. Smiling a little uncertainly, fingers tapping a nervous beat against the frame. “You're harder to track down than Bigfoot.”

 

“Less hairy.” She counters with a thoughtful hum. Beca's eyebrows inch higher up her forehead as she steps into the room to stand awkwardly in the centre, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her jeans.

 

“You okay?” Beca asks after a somewhat pregnant pause and Chloe bobs her head. The motion is lacking its usual bounce though and she knows Beca sees it. Can tell by the way dark eyes narrow and lips that Chloe knows the taste and texture of purse. “Kay, 'cause you don't seem fine. You actually seem sort of the opposite of fine.” Chloe tilts her head to the side and watches the way Beca's hands twist and wave as she speaks. “Like, anti-fine. Or something.” And Chloe doesn't know what to say, because she feels silly that she's letting this get to her as much as it is, but Beca is looking at her with the kind of expectant concern that unravels Chloe's resolve. When Beca lifts her leg to toe the side of Chloe's foot where it's lying curled beneath her on the chair, she knows she's lost this particular battle. “Come on, you've been weird all day.” Chloe's smile is timid, she feels it in the tremor that's making it unstable.

 

“Will we still be friends when you're super famous and hanging out with people like Dr Dre and Timbaland?” She doesn't mean for it to sound as meek and desperate as it comes out. She reminds herself of a desperate teenager, begging her boyfriend to tell her that they'll be together forever. Beca stares down at her for a long moment, before arching an eyebrow.

 

“Are you high?” Usually, Chloe would laugh. Because Beca can make her laugh so, so easily with nothing more than a specific edge to her voice. She doesn't feel much like laughing right now though and she knows the instant Beca realises she's being serious because the younger woman's face transforms, all humour dropping away. “Are you- wait, are you being serious right now?” There's no lingering shadow of playfulness, just a mask of befuddlement, and all Chloe can do is offer a half-hearted shrug.

 

She feels so small, so stupid that she's asking such a question. That she feels the need to. That she hadn't thought to earlier. That the possibility of such an outcome hadn't occurred to her before Stacie had brought it up and now she's kicking herself for not seeing it sooner. For not realising the potential for disaster before now. A handful of weeks before they graduate and they have to say goodbye.

 

“Why?” Beca asks and Chloe leans her head against the curved backrest of the armchair, silently searching for clarification. “Why are you asking me this?” She hasn't even asked herself that yet. Maybe she's asking because she'd rather know ahead of time, give herself a fighting chance prepare herself for the inevitable pain that this separation is going to cause. Because it's going to hurt, she's certain of that. It's going to hurt like a bitch, like part of herself has been cut away with a rusty dagger, leaving her with a wound that lies jagged and open. Refuses to heal.

 

And maybe that's dramatic. She'll concede to the fact that it certainly sounds it, but Chloe's always felt more than she should.

 

“Stacie and I, we were talking earlier,” she knows it's going to sound dumb when she says it out loud, because 'she should have expected this' or 'of course they'll still be friends', “and I think I've been so preoccupied with Worlds and not preparing for graduation that I haven't really thought about how...” she trails off, biting her lip as the backs of her eyes start to prickle.

 

“Thought about what, Chlo?” Chloe takes a deep breath and forces it out.

 

“That we're all going in different directions and we'll probably never speak to each other again.” It sounds just as silly as she'd expected and there's a brief lull in the conversation where she isn't sure if Beca is going to yell at her or burst out laughing.

 

Honestly, she isn't sure which she'd prefer.

 

“So, you are high.” Typically, Beca does neither and the dry humour with which she responds – which Chloe, normally, loves – rubs the redhead the wrong way for once.

 

“I'm scared.” She barks, a little too harsh, a little too loud, and it stuns Beca into silence. She stands there, mouth agape, hands still buried in her pockets, blinking at Chloe like she just recited the alphabet backwards. In a different language. While doing an angry German accent.

 

“Of what?” Beca finally manages to gasp out, both looking and sounding bewildered. Chloe can feel the air thickening around them. Charging itself, crackling. She knows she's turned this too intense, but she's been stewing for the last six hours or so. Running herself in circles, like a mental cardio marathon, worrying over something that could be nothing or everything.

 

And the thing about feeling too much, is that other people don't understand. They just think you're emotional and weird, and end up slowly backing away from you with their hands raised like they're trying to ward off an aggressive dog. And despite what her mother had told her, it doesn't hurt any less as you get older. You just learn to handle it better. She swallows against the lump forming in her throat.

 

“Losing you.” It's barely above a whisper and her voice cracks in the middle, but at least it's out there now. Instead of raling around inside her head, banging off the rafters and echoing until it hurts. She doesn't think she's seen quite this large an array of 'confused Beca' expressions before, not in a single ten minute span anyway, but the brunette keeps throwing a different one at her every time Chloe opens her mouth. She looks positively flummoxed and Chloe feels kind of guilty for dropping this on her out of the blue, but she couldn't hold it in anymore.

 

Silence stretches across the distance that sits between them and Chloe imagines she can hear her heart struggling to beat. The blood rushing in her veins and the whirring of anticipation rustling by her ear. She doesn't mean to watch Beca so intently, but she finds herself following the other woman's every movement. The way she shuffles on the spot and brings her hands up to combs her fingers through her hair. The way her lips part and her chest rises and falls with the effort of the breath she releases.

 

“Yeah, that's not...” she scratches at the back of her head, gaze focused on something just above Chloe's right shoulder, “that isn't going to happen.” And maybe it's the melancholia darkening her mood, but that isn't a good enough answer for Chloe.

 

“You don't know that.” But what's supposed to come as a snarl ends up sounding a lot more like a whine and Beca starts to smile.

 

“Sure I do. I know everything.” Chloe's pout is firm and, for the moment, unmovable and for some reason Beca's smile, though diminutive to the point of being almost private, only brightens. “You can't just get rid of me, Beale. Not now. Not after you put in all that time with your chisel.” She mimes holding something in one hand, hitting it with what Chloe presumes is an invisible hammer that she has grasped in the other. Her tone is teasing, light and playful, but Chloe hears the truth lying behind all that. Knows how Beca plays with humour in order to make any and all sincere emotion easier to handle. And she's reminded that this is the woman who'd waltzed in a surly, aggravating menace – words that Chloe is close to certain Aubrey had used to describe her – less than a handful of years ago, who had gone on to change not only the Bellas, but the entire world of a cappella. It had been a wonder to behold, the rebuilding and restructuring of that, and Chloe counts herself lucky that she'd been given the opportunity to witness that. She remembers how that Beca had fought for what she believed in, had fought for Chloe, for all of the Bellas, when Aubrey lost sight of what was important. She remembers how hard Beca's shell had been and how brilliant the light that spilled out was when it finally started to crack.

 

“Breaking down your walls.” Chloe's smile is small but it's real. “Brick by brick.” And at Beca's quiet chuckle, Chloe realises she feels lighter. Like a weight has been lifted, her worries eased. It feels indescribable. And Beca isn't good with expressing her own emotions, let alone anyone else expressing theirs. Chloe knows that, so she isn't about to break down and cry in front of her, but her throat feels tight as she reaches for Beca's hand. Beca's lips curve into a half-smile as she gives in to silent request. She has nice hands, Chloe thinks, as she takes it and holds tight until Beca's easing back out of the grip and linking their pinkies together. Chloe's breath sticks in her throat.

 

“Bellas forever, dude.” And she feels so, so much in that moment. Happiness. Gratitude. Love. So much love. Her vision blurs and then clears somewhat as she feels a dampness trickling along her cheeks. She can make out Beca's watery face, expression torn between horrified and heartbroken. “Oh god, please don't cry.” Apparently, she settles on panicked. “I don't know how to handle crying. And I mean, like, any kind of crying. I didn't know what to do when my dog would whimper, Chlo, I'm not equip-” Chloe gets to her feet somewhere around the middle of Beca's tangent and uses her pinkie to pull the other woman closer. She stumbles forward, still speaking, and Chloe cuts her off by bringing their lips together.

 

Because if there's one thing she's learned from this experiment thus far, it's that kissing Beca Mitchell is the only fool proof way to shut her up.

 


 

It's the Stacie conversation that has her texting Aubrey the next day, asking her if she has a few minutes free to Skype. The whole thing has shifted something off centre and even though Beca had done a bang up job of alleviating some of Chloe's fears, they linger. Fears always do. So when Aubrey messages her back with an "Anything for you. ;) xxx”, Chloe's nervous and excited at the same time. It's been a while since they last did this. Aubrey is having a crazy busy season and Chloe has classes and is preparing for Worlds, things that they can both understand and appreciate. Things get in the way – life, that had been what Stacie had said – and it's so much harder than it was when they were living under the same roof.

 

She isn't prepared for the way her heart feels like it's being stuffed into a vice when Aubrey's smiling face appears.

 

“How's my favourite aca-bitch?” Aubrey asks, obviously as excited to see Chloe as Chloe is to see her.

 

“Hey.” She croaks, then clears her throat and tries to smile. She's hunched at the head of her bed with her chin resting in the gap between her kneecaps, looking over at the laptop she has resting on her night stand. Maybe it's her lack of pep that tips Aubrey off. Whatever it is, the former captain goes from happy to “who do I have to cut?” in about an eighth of a second.

 

“Who's upset you?” Smiling probably shouldn't be Chloe's automatic responce to the, probably patented, Posen death-glare, but it is. As much as Aubrey may have neglected Chloe's feelings and opinions during her final year as a Bella, she can't count the number of times her friend has had her back. Sure, Aubrey's yelled at her – and apologised profusely after the fact – but anyone else who had dared open their mouth in a negative way towards Chloe had swiftly been ripped a new one whenever Aubrey had been within earshot. She's viciously protective, she loves Chloe, and that's why she smiles.

 

“Nobody's upset me, Bree.” But even as she's saying it, she knows Aubrey won't let it go that easily.

 

“Did one of the girls do something?” She demands, eyes narrowing to slits before popping wide open again. “Is it Beca? Did she try to walk out again? Do you need me to come down there?” Chloe laughs and shakes her head.

 

“Beca hasn't done anything.” And okay, that's kind of a lie. Beca has done plenty, but Aubrey doesn't need to know about that. Not yet. “I just wanted to see your face.” The blonde's slightly pixely features crumple at the confession and she makes a sound that's usually only uttered upon the viewing of a small, furry animal. Maybe a baby.

 

“I miss your face.” Aubrey says with a sad smile. Then she reaches forward and traces what can only be Chloe's outline with the tip of her finger. Chloe heaves a sigh and presses her own hand against the screen.

 

“I miss you.”

 

Chloe never says goodbye. Goodbye is for funerals and deathbeds, and Chloe doesn't want to think about those things in conjunction with any of the people in her life right now. Through a fresh round of tears, she'd pressed “text me when you land” into Aubrey's shoulder and then held onto her hand until it was time for her to go through the rigmarole that is airport security. When Chloe had left for Barden, bright-eyed and excited for what the future might hold, she'd told her best friend back home that “I'm going to call you so much, it'll be like I haven't even left.” Chloe had kept her promise, like she always does, but her calls started to go unanswered, messages not returned, until finally, she stopped trying. Aubrey had told her that a one-sided friendship wasn't any kind of friendship at all and then they'd eaten cookie-dough ice cream and watched trashy television until they both felt sick. It had been like a break up, Chloe realised after, of the worst kind. One that shredded deep and left scars that were going to take a long time to heal.

 

Scars that might be starting to reopen, just a little.

 

Because how can you just stop something like that? How can a person go from being your best friend in the world, to someone who can't be bothered to pick up the phone once a month? They'd been friends since fourth grade and now Chloe can't remember the last time she spoke to her. And it doesn't matter how long it's been, the pain flares like arthritis, striking hot and sharp after months or years of nothing.

 

Aubrey won't ever do that. Will never leave her like that and that's something Chloe knows, without a shadow of a doubt. Aubrey is the kind friend that you could go six years without seeing and still fall back into the relationship like you just saw her yesterday. But Chloe can't be that kind of certain about anyone else.

 

She knows what she thinks she should believe, but fear and doubt are powerful things, and she doesn't want to lose any of the Bellas. She loves them all so much.

 

But losing Beca terrifies her. Fills her with a kind of cold dread that she is utterly unaccustomed to. And it isn't that she doesn't believe Beca when she tells Chloe it won't be like, that she's “stuck” with her.

 

It's just that Chloe's been wrong before.

 


 

It's some time after two in the morning when Chloe rolls onto her side with a huff of frustration and decides that worrying about this isn't going to do her any good. It is, in actuality, going to do her – and potentially the Bellas, if she can't convince herself to focus on anything else – a lot of harm.

 

So, with a sigh of determination that is, at its core, quintessential Chloe Beale, she vows to quit worrying and makes a solemn promise to herself that she'll start living for the now again. Living in the moment.

 

The Bellas are going to leave. Beca's going to leave. She can't stop any of that.

 

But she can sure as hell live every moment she shares with them from now until then to its fullest.

 

Live like the whole damn world could be catapulted into the sun tomorrow.

 

She's always been so good at that.

 


 

Chloe hasn't driven a car since her last visit home and even then it had just been a quick run to the store because they'd run out of bourbon for the eggnog. Grandma Beale had slipped a fifty into her palm and sent her off with a sly wink and a pat to her behind. So, given that, it feels a little strange to be sliding into the driver's seat of Stacie's jet black Golf, keys grasped in one hand.

 

The younger Bella had immediately agreed to let Chloe borrow the car when she'd asked, hadn't appeared even remotely curious as to why she needed the vehicle. Had just dug around in her purse for the keys and tossed them to the redhead on her way out the door with a request to drop her at the nail salon on the way to wherever it was Chloe was going.

 

Truth be told, the nail salon was in the opposite direction of where she was headed but Chloe would happily play taxi for twenty minutes in order to obtain what was a very vital component in her plan for the evening. The component, actually. Without it, there wasn't much of a plan at all. It would just be Chloe sitting on a wall in a parking lot waiting for Beca. As it is, she's sitting in Stacie's car with the radio playing, splitting her time between keeping an eye out for her favourite brunette and tossing tiny gummy bear candies into the air, before trying to catch them in her mouth. It passes the time rather efficiently and before she knows it, people start filtering out of the building she's parked across from. She folds the bag containing the sweets over at the top to stop anything from falling out and places it in the cup holder, then sits back to watch.

 

Chloe believes that you can learn a lot about a person before you meet them. She believes that you can garner a general impression of their personalities by watching the way they interact with the world around them. Now, for example, she watches a young man who's too busy staring down at the screen of his phone to pay attention to where he's walking shoulder check another guy and then not bother to offer even a half-hearted apology. He just keeps on walking, eyes glued to his phone. He's probably a bit of an ass. Then she spies a woman struggling to cram all five of the books she's holding before, sure enough, she drops one. Chloe watches as a guy with shoulder length blonde hair stoops to pick it up for her, handing it back with a smile. That guy could be decent, a 'nice guy'. It's when people don't think you're looking that they show their true colours. Chloe's learned that the hard way, like most, and so she pays attention to every minute detail. Each one just a small part of a larger puzzle, and Chloe likes puzzles. Her dad used to buy her those metal brain teaser things when she was a kid and she'd sit down with them, not moving on to anything else until she'd solved it.

 

And she always solved them in the end.

 

She catches sight of Beca trying to weave through the throng of people, her finely tuned 'Beca sensor' operating at peak performance today, even with all the bodies there to create interference. Not that that's ever mattered; Chloe could find Beca at an overflowing frat party. She has. She watches her pause at the bottom of the steps and reach for the headphones dangling around her neck. With a smile, Chloe presses her hand against the middle of the steering wheel and fires off a series of honks that sound suspiciously similar to the tune of Kesha's “Tick Tock”. She laughs when she sees Beca's head snap up from the iPhone in her hand and twist around, searching. Chloe honks twice more and finally Beca's able to zone in on her. She isn't far enough away that she won't be able to make out Chloe waving at her from the driver's seat and the redhead smiles as Beca frowns and starts to walk over. She makes her way around to driver side of the car as the window is lowered and tilts her head down at Chloe, who looks up into Beca's suspicious, surprised expression and squints against the sun.

 

“Hey, weirdo.” Beca greets her, eyes flickering over Chloe's face like they're hoping to find the answer to her upcoming question before she has to ask. “What are you doing here?” Chloe beams and turns the key in the ignition, starting the engine without looking away her.

 

“Waiting for you.” She admits, with a purposefully flirtatious flutter of her eyelashes and then she inclines her head towards the empty seat beside her. “Get in.” It's a testament to how far they've come in their friendship, Chloe thinks, that Beca drops her bag into the trunk of Stacie's car and belts herself into the passenger seat without question.

 

Chloe's pulling out of the parking lot, pointing the car in the opposite direction of the Bella house before Beca speaks again.

 

“Is this a kidnapping?”

 

“Maybe.” She flicks the indicator on and waits for an oncoming car in the opposite lane to pass before turning out to follow it. She glances at Beca, lips parted in a smile that she can't quite contain. “Would you object to it if it was?” Chloe turns her gaze back to the road but she can still see Beca in her periphery, shifting around and reaching under herself until she pulls her wallet out of her back pocket with a sigh of relief.

 

“That depends.” Beca places the wallet into the cup holder on her side for safe keeping and catches Chloe's eye when she sits back. The redhead's eyebrows are raised in question and Beca's fingers are tapping out a rhythm against her thigh. She leans over the console between them and Chloe has to fight to keep her eyes trained forward. She tightens her grip on the steering wheel and tries not to notice how close Beca is, or the way she's smiling at Chloe – like she's flirting – and how she can tell which shampoo Beca is using this week just by smell alone. The captain takes a breath and then, in a secretive whisper; “Are you going to share those gummy bears with me?” The question pulls a peal of laughter from Chloe and when she nods, Beca grins winningly and snatches the bag. Unfolding it and reaching inside to pluck out a green bear. Not at random either. No, Beca's selection was incontestably deliberate. She wanted that green one. “Then I'm totally cool with this.”

 

They lapse into a comfortable silence then, the only source of sound coming from the radio. Chloe's never had a problem with silence. She isn't one of those people that always needs to be talking or have music playing or the television on. She's comfortable with it, always has been.

 

But when it comes to her and Beca, it never really feels like silence. Whenever there's a lull in conversation, or they'd gotten together to study – something which both of them find an easier feat to accomplish without the distraction of music – the space between them doesn't feel the same to Chloe as it does with other people. It isn't that she doesn't find comfortable silences with other people, it's just that with Beca there never seems to be any actual silence. There's always something there, buzzing in the air. A pleasant hum, a tune Chloe can't place. Things being said without words, but with a certain look or sarcastic head tilt. She doesn't really think about it though. She just enjoys it.

 

Aubrey hates silence. Hates it with a fiery passion. Before the other Bellas had moved in, when it was just her and Aubrey in the house, there was always music playing. Always something to fill the void and Chloe hadn't minded. Not one bit. She's a 'go with the flow' kind of girl, one who can adapt to things fairly quickly, within reason, and besides, she knew why Aubrey needed the noise. She'd confessed one night, in a breathless rush of pinched emotion and a wine glass in one hand, that it had become a coping mechanism after too many years using it to specifically block out things she didn't want to hear. Music soothed her, which is something Chloe completely understands. It does the same for her too, she just hadn't needed it like Aubrey had.

 

Tom used to like having music playing when they had sex. Or made out, or indulged in a session of hot and heavy grinding. He said it focused him, turned him on. He especially enjoyed it whenever Chloe would forget herself and sing along during.

 

“What are you smiling at, dork?” Chloe blinks herself back into the present and turns her head quickly to the right to find Beca wearing a smile of her own. Fond and amused, things she doesn't often wear so freely. It curls around Chloe, holds her warm and tight.

 

“Sorry.” She isn't and she knows that the way she wrinkles her nose gives that away. “I was thinking about having sex with Tom.” Beca almost chokes on the candy she's just popped into her mouth. She lurches forward with one hand braced against the dash and coughs once, harshly.

 

“Dude, now?!” Chloe's laughter fills her chest, shakes her ribcage until it hurts, and when she risks another glance at Beca and sees her sitting slack jawed and horror-stricken with huge, watery eyes, the pain doesn't ease. There's a fluttering around her heart, one that only grows and strengthens whenever Beca gets flustered like this, and Chloe had always figured it was some kind of sympathetic anxiety.

 

She's starting to feel as though that may not necessarily be the case.

 

“Right now.” She affects an air of seriousness as she pulls up to a stop light and uses the halt of traffic to look at Beca properly. Her hair is a little wild at the front thanks to the forward jerking motion she'd put it through and midnight-blue eyes don't appear to be able to hold still for longer than a few seconds. Her lips are slightly parted and Chloe can't help but glance down, just once. “That's where I'm taking you.” She breathes, lowering her voice until it sounds more like a promise than a whisper. Beca continues to gape. “I thought maybe we could include him in our little experiment.” The brunette's right eye twitches, almost unnoticeable, and then she's opening her mouth wide, probably to scream bloody murder. Which is exactly when Chloe loses her cool and starts laughing again. “So easy, Mitchell.” If looks could kill, she'd be dangling over a cliff edge, head pointed towards the jagged rocks below and the rope around her ankles being burned at one end.

 

“You're an ass.” But Beca always decides to save her in the end.

 

“But a loveable ass, right?” Beca rolls her eyes and Chloe smirks as the light turns green and then they're off again. “You know you love it, I've seen you look.”

 

“I have not!” Beca explodes in the seat beside her, cheeks colouring even though Chloe is currently talking out of the backside in question, and when she starts giggling begins anew, Beca throws her hands up in disgust. “Okay, we're done. You can take me home now.”

 

“Oh, don't be so grumpy.” Chloe teases playfully, shoving Beca's shoulder with one hand.

 

“You're so mean to me.” Chloe hears her dramatic, overly shaky sigh and by the time she looks over at her again, Beca is pouting. Pouting. It's odd and seems out of place, but it's also ridiculously adorable and Chloe finds herself, impossibly, even more endeared.

 

The fluttering in her chest grows ever wilder.

 

“Well, I'm about to be really nice to you, so I ask that you reserve all judgements until later this evening.” When Chloe turns off onto a dirt road that looks like it belongs about five stop into the town of Sketchville, Beca goes back to asking if this really is a kidnapping, but Chloe keeps her lips sealed.

 

She'd be lying if she said that she wasn't a little bit nervous. During the planning stages, this had seemed like an awesome idea, a stroke of genius even. But now that they're on the last leg of their journey, she's starting to worry about Beca's reaction. Because this is going to be different and Beca has been known to react poorly to swift changes or surprises. She'd almost had a meltdown when the program she uses to make her mixes had automatically updated and changed, like, everything and then the one and only time Chloe had thrown her a surprise birthday party, Beca had punched Fat Amy in the face before they'd had time to turn the lights on and blow their noise makers. It isn't as though she can back out now though, they're basically at their destination and Beca won't leave it alone if Chloe suddenly decides to drive home and refuses to tell her what she'd been planning. So, Chloe keeps her foot on the gas peddle and navigates the bumps in the road as smoothly as she's able. Beside her, Beca has started gazing out of the window more ardently, peering curiously at the bushes and overgrown foliage that has sprouted up since they turned off of the main road.

 

Their climb is subtle and so when Chloe steers the car around the thick trunk of a tree and stops shy of driving off the edge of the embankment, a startled squeak leaves Beca and she leans forward in her seat. They aren't all that high up, but the houses below stretch as far as the eye can see and somehow that makes them seems smaller. Lights are starting to flicker on all across the town, preparing to battle the darkness as the sun makes its descent in the sky overhead. The streets are busy with cars, speeding along like mechanical ants in their concrete farms, and Chloe thinks that it's kind of pretty, in a way. A bustling sort of beauty. She kills the engine but leaves the radio playing and depresses the button to release her seatbelt so that she can swivel around until she's facing Beca, who does the same, one leg bent at the knee and resting against the side of the console.

 

“So,” she begins, pulling Beca's attention back towards her, “I know this is maybe weird, or unexpected or something,” and she has to fight the urge to touch her fingers to her throat, because Beca can recognise that nervous tick from half a mile away, “but I was thinking about what you told me the other day and...” she trails off, a wave of foolishness rushing up to meet her. She sends her gaze to the roof of the car and sighs loudly. When she drops her head back down, Beca is looking at her strangely. Like she isn't sure what she's seeing right now. It's valid; there aren't many people who can say they've witnessed Chloe Beale embarrassed. “I figured since you never got to with Paul, maybe you could try it again. With me.” She tacks on at the end, just for clarification, and then there's a long moment where the only things that transpire is more staring and Chloe's stomach tightening its knots.

 

“Did you seriously bring me up here to make out with me?” It's easy to tell when Beca's surprised. Her eyes get all wild and wide and she tends to sputter, babble even. However, it's not always so readily apparent what kind of surprise she's suffering from. Is it good? Bad? Is this going to end with her stalking off in a huff or doling out a friendly punch to the arm while she looks everywhere but at Chloe? There's a handful of seconds where the redhead can't tell. Then, she sees it. The easing of tension in Beca's shoulders, the way she drops them with a quiet sigh that sounds like a smile but hasn't quite made it there yet. That's when Chloe knows she's safe.

 

“Well,” she tucks a strand of red hair behind her ear, “you're doing all this for me.” She shrugs and rests the side of her head against the top her seat. She smiles, but feels her lips quivering at their corners. “I thought I could do something for you.” It's not meant to be anything weird, Chloe just wants to do something nice for her and since they've already crossed into a temporary, sort of 'more than friends' realm, she doesn't think this is really going to damage anything.

 

“You're such liar.” Beca huffs, folding her arms over her chest and pointedly looking away from Chloe, who frowns like she's missed a huge chunk of the story by somehow skipping to the end. She opens her mouth to argue but her shock prevents her from speaking. She doesn't think anyone has ever called her a liar before. Ever. They've never had reason to; Chloe doesn't lie. She'd hardly even told fibs as a child and the handful of times she'd tried, the failure had been miserable. “You're just hoping you'll get lucky.” Beca, however, is quite skilled in the arts of semi-serious falsehoods, but the way she twists her mouth and lifts her eyebrows usually gives her away.

 

“You're right.” Chloe heaves a dramatic sigh and Beca's eyes find hers from their corners. “I just want to get into your pants.” Dark blue eyes swivel back around until they're looking out through the windshield again and Beca's mouth finally untwists with a grin. Like she can't possibly hold it back any longer.

 

Chloe loves these moments. Where it's just the two of them and she can say whatever she wants, whatever she has to in order to get Beca to smile like that. Again and again, until Chloe's face aches from smiling back. Beca clicks her tongue reprovingly and she shakes her head, glancing askance at the woman beside her.

 

“You know Stacie will kill anyone who has sex in this car and isn't her.” Chloe thinks about that for a moment.

 

“I don't think so. I think if anyone's going to understand doing what you've got to do when the bug bites, it's Stacie.” Beca chuckles, acquiescing to the argument without another word, and Chloe can't be sure that the brunette's neck hasn't taken on a light, pink tinge. “We don't have to do anything though.” She says after a minute, wanting to make sure that Beca understands that she's joking about the pants. That she doesn't feel pressured. “We can just sit here and eat gummy bears while the sun sets.” She wonders briefly if that should sounds as appealing as it does. “Whatever you want.”

 

“What do you want?” Beca counters immediately, nudging Chloe off balance. She sways, then catches herself, drawing the corner of her lower lip into her mouth and pinching it between her teeth as she mulls over all potential answers to that question.

 

The thing is, she's attracted to Beca. She's pretty sure she always has been. She's smart, witty, beautiful, and Chloe's always been a sucker for killers pipes. She remembers 'No Diggity' like it was yesterday and how she'd so desperately wanted to be able to stand up for Beca after the 'Bulletproof' fiasco at semi-finals, because it had been brilliant. She'd told Beca that after the fact, but she knew it hadn't meant as much then. Her voice pulls at Chloe, at something buried deep. Releases a feeling of warmth that fills her with a contented happiness, as though it's flooding her system with dopamine. But every now and then, it tugs at something cardinal too. Because Beca is sexy when she sings. And Chloe's never had a problem thinking that. To her, it's a simple truth. And that's always been far more appealing to her than any lie could ever be. She wonders if Beca feels the same in that respect, lies versus truths, and hopes that she does.

 

Because Chloe's about to give herself over to to this particular truth and she's not looking forward to getting slapped or screamed at.

 

In what should be an awkward, bumbling series of movements, Chloe squeezes by the steering wheel and clambers over the console that divides them in what loooks like one fluid motion. She braces herself with one hand against the backrest above Beca's shoulder and eases herself into her desired position, knees on either side of the woman who is looking up at her with the most accurately portrayed 'deer in the headlights' expression Chloe has ever seen. Once she's lowered herself down and is comfortable with how she's resting her weight, she curves her mouth into a shy half-smile.

 

“Hi.” She's close enough that Beca has to tilt her head back in order to be able to actually look at her.

 

“Hey.” Beca replies, one long blink serving as a punctuation mark at the end of the slightly dazed greeting. Chloe's hands clench and flex around the padding of the seat beneath them, unable to remain still as the urge to move nips at them.

 

“You ever been straddled by a redhead before?” It's easy for Chloe to fall back on what she knows, what she does well and enjoys doing. Beca's always been strangely receptive to her teasing – strange because Beca hadn't been all that receptive to anything back then – and by now Chloe knows that it's an okay way to break the tension, whatever the cause of it may be. Beca looks up at her from beneath a furrow brow and Chloe can feel her arms shifting on either side of her, restless. Not sure where they should be.

 

“I don't think I've been straddled before, period.” Chloe ponders over that for a moment.

 

“Jesse never pinned you down?” Beca's eyes almost pop out of her head.

 

“Dude! Oh my god, no. No, we are not-” Chloe's laughter is quiet, the very antithesis of malicious, as colour blooms across the cheeks of the woman she's hovering over. “Can we not talk about my sex life right now?”

 

“Sex life?” Chloe archly raises a brow. Beca shifts below her. “Who said anything about sex? Some of my best pinning took place outside of the bedroom, you know.”

 

“That's great.” Beca mutters, dryly. “Good for you.” Chloe lets out a throaty chuckle at the sour bite being pumped into the words.

 

“You're so cute when you're embarrassed.” She can feel the heat from Beca's glare but doesn't look away. Instead, she lifts her hand to trace the shell of Beca's ear with the tip of her finger. Around the curve, back and forth over the metal running through it, with just enough pressure to ensure the touch is felt. “I always liked your earrings.” She finds herself mentioning, absently.

 

“Thanks?” All the bite has been sifted from Beca's tone and replaced with the quavering wariness that Chloe has become more familiar with, is starting to expect during moments like this. As if Beca's body is being laced with anticipation, drip by drip. And it excites Chloe, that that's Beca's reaction. That it's always a variation of the same. Something she can recognise and read, and push at a little when she feels it's okay.

 

With her thumb and forefinger, Chloe grasps the small hoop at the front of Beca's earlobe and gives it a gentle tug. The brunette clears her throat and Chloe sees it bob in an effort to swallow.

 

“Tilt your head back?” Her question is quiet, almost drowned out by the distant sound of disc jockeys giving their two cents on this week's top ten. She isn't even sure that Beca has heard her until she's doing as Chloe asks, though not before she wets her lips with her tongue. An action that has Chloe riveted. “See, when I parked, I didn't usually douse my date in soda.” Beca tries to snap her head back around, probably to argue, but Chloe's already leaning in. Her nose bumps Beca's cheek, acting as a buffer, and Chloe hears the captain's breath hitch in surprise when her lips brush the outer ridge of her ear. And it rises unbidden, a sudden and irresistible need that grips Chloe, squeezes her until she's grinning so widely she can barely speak at all. But she presses her lips close and manages to murmur, “It was only the really good ones that had anyone coming away wet.” Chloe hears a sharp gasp and a thrill runs through her, like lightning.

 

“Jesu-” But her outrage is short lived, snuffed out when Chloe dips her head and presses her lips to the patch of skin beside Beca's throat. The brunette's breath whistles out of her and Chloe hears her mouth drop open with an audible 'pop'. Smiling, she kisses her way down smooth skin and then, with only a very brief moment of hesitation, she drags her tongue back up along the same path. The sound that Beca makes is new and bold, and it fills Chloe's senses as completely as it fills the quiet of the car. It tugs at something in her gut, twists it until she's scraping her teeth against Beca's skin and sucking at her pulse point. Hands latch onto Chloe's hips, pawing in what could be desperation as their owner releases keening, mewling sounds in between her laboured breaths. Then they're sliding under the material of Chloe's shirt and bright blue eyes roll back at the touch. Chloe relinquishes her hold on skin that she knows is going to purple and bruise. Beca's going to kill her when she realises.

 

Fingers moving over dark tresses, across a thumping temple and eventually coming to rest against the curve of the other woman's cheekbone, Chloe tilts Beca's head back towards her and tips her forward into a kiss that seers a line of fire right through Chloe's middle. With her movements skewed towards feverish, she parts her lips and slips her hand back around and into Beca's hair. It feels like silk, Chloe muses idly, as she swipes her tongue against Beca's and groans when she feels the brunette kiss back. Hard. Fingertips dig at the base of her spine, grasping, groping and Chloe drinks it all in. Savours every second, every touch, every noise she catches Beca trying to suppress.

 

And she does catch her.

 

When she nips at Beca's lower lip, then sucks it into her mouth to soothe the sting. When her fingernails scratch lightly across Beca's scalp as she holds her close. When she slows the kiss down so that it matches the rhythm of the song being played and each press and pull fits snugly inside the beat. Each time it's like she downs another shot and the liquid burns its way through her entire body as she becomes more and more intoxicated.

 

The hands at her back snake upwards until they encounter resistance, the material of Chloe's button down stretching tight over her body, and even then they keep pushing. Desperate for more, until she hears Beca exhale loudly through her nostrils. She can feel the other woman's frustration leaking into the kiss, can taste it, and a shiver turns her spine rigid.

 

Shakes something lose.

 

And when Beca's hands tighten into fists at the hem of her shirt, clutching and jerking like she wants to tear it open or off, arousal slithers through her. White hot and melting, pooling low in her stomach in a way that makes her ache. Not new, but different. Because it's Beca, which just makes it it's so, so different, and now Chloe's movements become instinctual. She breaks away, ignoring Beca's cry of protest and ducking down to show the opposite side of her neck that same attention she'd showed the other earlier. Strong fingers tangle themselves in Chloe's hair and the redhead reaches down. Fumbling between the seat and the door, she feels for the lever that will allow her to push the seat back as Beca's panting breaths set fire to the air. Her fingertips graze hard plastic and that's when Beca notices what she's doing.

 

“Chloe, don't!” But it's too late. Chloe's pulling the release and they're dropping backwards far more rapidly than she'd been expecting. Thrown off her axis, she isn't able to catch herself in time and her chin collides with Beca's forehead with enough force to rattle her teeth. Various exclamations of pain are uttered and Chloe only opens her eyes when she's finally able to plant one hand firmly against the backrest and push herself up enough so that she isn't worried she's accidentally crushing Beca. The brunette has her palm pressed to her forehead and her eyes are screwed tightly shut.

 

“Oh my god, are you okay?” Chloe lifts her unoccupied hand to Beca's face, pulling hers away by the wrist so that she can inspect the injured area herself. The skin is a little red and even though Chloe's informed that she's fine, she feels awful. She gingerly touches her fingertips to the spot and Beca winces. “I'm so sorry.” She whispers, feeling ridiculously close to tears, but then Beca is laughing. Blinking open stormy blue eyes and taking Chloe's breath away.

 

“It's fine. I'm fine. I've been telling Stacie to get that fixed for months.” With the back of her hand, Chloe brushes back a few wayward wisps of hair, then lets it lie still against Beca's cheek. “I think she keeps it broken on purpose.” Beca's smile is knowing. “Like a quick release for when she's in a rush.” Then she winks and then Chloe is laughing too.

 

They lie there, in a tangled mess, laughing about nothing for who knows how long. But the sun has almost disappeared beyond the horizon and she knows that pretty soon the text messages demanding to know where they are will start flooding in.

 

Chloe doesn't want to leave yet.

 

“Well?” Beca's gaze is anticipatory, dark eyebrows rising in what could be challenge, and even if Chloe had some kind of rebuttal ready, that look would have evaporated it. “Are you going to kiss it better or what?”

 

She doesn't know if she ever smiles this much, this widely with anyone else.

 

Bowing her head, Chloe places a feather-light kiss to either side of the sore spot and hums her, albeit surprised, approval when Beca lifts her head to catch her lips as she pulls away.

She wonders if kissing Beca is something she'll ever get used to. If the feelings, the affects, will lessen over time. She wonders if she'll get the chance to find out. Graduation isn't that far away and then it's on to Worlds, and after that? Beca will be gone. Along with everyone else. Right now though, Chloe pushes that thought aside and presses closer to Beca instead.

 

Living this moment to its fullest.

 

Kissing Beca like tomorrow might never come.

 

Because being close to Beca like this, kissing her like she means it – like they're something, something more – makes Chloe think of 'Titanium'. The way it flows. The way it builds. The way it fills her until there's no more room, but somehow keeps going.

 

And that should be Chloe's first clue.

 

But she isn't looking for one. 

Chapter Text


 

It's after seven by the time they roll into Stacie's parking space at the back of the house. Which technically isn't a parking space at all but Beca is being continually surprised by how far a bit of shameless flirting will get you. All Stacie has to do is lick her lips and push her boobs out and suddenly the person about to write her a ticket has had their attention redirected. She's like a magician. No strings, no wires, just sex appeal. She has literally seen people turn to mush in front of Stacie. Okay, not literally literally, but figuratively. She's watched guys, and the occasional girl, fawn over her like drones to her queen bee. She doesn't think Stacie has ever had to pay for a single drink in her life, certainly not since Beca has known her, and she's only ever received one speeding ticket. And she drives like a crazy person. She laments that the cop who had given her the ticket was gay, but had tried it on with him anyway.

 

The back of the house is dark, the lights in kitchen and workout-slash-library room all turned off, but there's a glow coming from the upstairs window – the room Beca shares with Amy – that illuminates the front of the car as they pull up. Beca leans forward to pear up through the windshield, searching for other signs of life but finding none. She drops back into her seat and lets her head loll to one side, eyes flickering over Chloe's profile as the redhead puts the car in park and shuts off the engine.

 

Chloe is probably the single sweetest person that Beca has ever met. That's including the time her parents took her to Disneyland – pre-divorce – and she waited in line for one of the longest twenty minutes of her life until it was her turn with Mickey Mouse. That's right; Chloe Beale is even more sweet than Mickey Mouse. Like, if they were candy bars, Mickey would be the low-fat 'less calories!' version and Chloe would be the good stuff. Made with pure sugar cane or something. Because there's no one else on the face of the planet who would have done what Chloe did, in the way she'd done it, there can't be. It would defy the laws of nature.

 

This experimenting thing, it's supposed to be about Chloe and Beca helping Chloe. Beca being a good friend to Chloe. This whole time, she's been telling herself that she's doing this for Chloe. No one else. No other reasons. So to have Chloe do something for her, it feels weird. In a face-melting, diabetic-coma kind of way.

 

Because who does that?

 

Maybe Beca is still too stuck in her own little box, thinking of the general population as arrogant, unfeeling assholes. Maybe she should give humanity more credit. Maybe the sky will open up and rain hundred dollar bills down over the Bella house.

 

She knows that it's Chloe. Just Chloe being Chloe. Always thinking of someone other than herself, even when the thing they're doing is specifically for her.

 

“So?” Chloe's voice pulls her out of her thoughts and Beca finds that she's being stared at. Chloe's fingers are gripping the underside of the steering wheel, hanging there, and she has her cheek resting against the top of it so that she's looking at Beca side-on. Beca's eyebrows jump, just once, in question. “Did you have fun?” The thing about Chloe's particular brand of teasing, is that it's almost never sugar coated with any kind of faux-innocence. Especially not when they're alone. She's unabashedly unashamed and could probably flirt Beca into unconsciousness if she wanted to. She's mischievous in a way that slinks into her expression as well as her voice, and she's unapologetic in how she exercises her skills in that department. And while Chloe has always been flirtatious towards Beca, things have started to turn. Like someone's cranking the volume on an amp. It isn't as though she hadn't expected this to a certain degree, with Chloe being who she is and the both of them doing what they're doing. Given than Beca has never had a problem with Chloe's teasing and innuendo. It's always been this fun, harmless thing between them.

 

But Chloe's earlier comment, when she'd been joking about spilling drinks on dates and coming away wet, that had done some damage. Some unexpected, unanticipated damage. Nothing that couldn't be patched up, but Beca felt a lingering unease as to whether or not it could be 'fixed'.

 

Because you're not supposed to be aroused by your best friend. She's pretty sure that's a big no-no and is probably listed in the big 'How To Be A Better Buddy' handbook she hasn't gotten around to reading. It hadn't last long, in the grand scheme of things – just, you know, the entire time they were in the car and half the ride home – and it's subsided now, but the memory of it makes Beca feel kind of guilty. There's a voice in the back of her head reminding her that she should be in this for Chloe. That it's fine for her to enjoy kissing her and stuff, but that anything more than that is off limits.

 

She's just scared she won't be able to separate the two.

 

It's possible that it had been a fluke. A reaction – so what if it was a visceral one – that is not destined to be repeated. Maybe next time she'll go back to having fun with it, enjoying it a little, and not start thinking about how Chloe's clothes are too tight and that if she would just pull hard enough then that problem would be resolved and-

 

“Bec?” Dark eyes blink. Chloe is sitting up again, frowning at her. “Are you okay?”

 

“What? No. I mean, yes. Yeah, I'm fine.” It comes out a little jumbled, a little rushed, and the crease in Chloe's brow remains. Beca feels like she's being scrutinized. “And yes. I had a good time.” But then Chloe is smiling and Beca finds herself wondering if she whitens her teeth or if they're that dazzling naturally.

 

“Me too.” Chloe's gaze moves to where her hands are squeezing and twisting around the wheel. “I'm glad.” She huffs a quiet little laugh that has Beca smiling curiously. “You know, I felt kind of nervous. Bringing you there.”

 

“You did?” Beca's surprise is genuine. “Why?” Chloe shrugs, then lets go off the steering wheel to bring a hand up to tuck her hair back. She's still looking forward, at the back wall the house, and Beca's eyes wander over the wave of Chloe's curls. Her hair always looks so perfect, like it's never out of place even when it's sticking out at odd angles first thing in the morning.

 

“I wasn't sure. I was afraid you might think I was being dumb or something.” Chloe's confession is hushed, subdued by an insecurity that seems so strange whenever Beca catches her wearing it. It drapes itself over Chloe's shoulders, the extra weight causing her to hunch, like a cloak. One made from too-big shadows and the first shy hellos of kindergarten friendships. And it's easy to forget that this side of Chloe exists. People think of her as the embodiment of bubbly excitement and bouncing happiness. A forever flicking spark, like a lighter. And while she is all of those things, there's more. There's always more. Chloe just doesn't show it to everyone, despite usually being so open and free with her feelings. She's fragile.

 

“Chloe...” Beca draws her name out until it sounds like the drunkenly conceived love child of a whimper and a whine, and her chest tightens when Chloe's eyes dart to hers and hold. And this is always where Beca has the potential to mess up the most. When Chloe is looking at her like whatever she says next will make or break her existence. Like Beca could destroy her with a single word. Which will never be Beca's intent, but she's so bad with words and expressing anything in a way that isn't through music, and even though she won't admit it – because it totally isn't obvious – she's pretty easily flustered by things. But even though this kind of stuff is alien and difficult for her, she tries anyway. Pushes herself. For Chloe. “You know I'll never think that, right? There is literally nothing you could do that would ever make me think those things about you.” Because Chloe would do, has done, the same for her. Beca is very rarely the instigator when it comes to physical contact, but she releases her seat belt and turns to reach over the console between them. She wiggles her fingers when Chloe doesn't move, snapping them until there's a hand in hers. She holds it in a firm grip and parts her lips in a smile that looks strained, and drags a breath in through her teeth. Baby-blues shine in the dimness of the car and it takes her a minute to focus. “It was really awesome of you to do that for me.” She nods, eyelids fluttering, and gives Chloe's hand a squeeze. “Thank you.” And Chloe just looks at her. Gazes at Beca as her mouth starts to curve and curl and then Chloe is beaming.

 

Beca wants to kiss her so badly, it's startling. She wants to tug Chloe forward and press their lips together and kiss her, just because.

 

She swallows hard and lets go of Chloe's hand, forcing a flash of a smile when the redhead's face falls.

 

“We should probably head in. Before they send Amy to track us down.” It's common knowledge that the Tasmanian has a nose like a bloodhound. She'd once sniffed out a Treble who had been lurking around the perimeter of the house and had, as it turned out, been waiting for Stacie. Apparently they had a hook-up date planned, but she'd neglected to give him a set time, so he'd decided to just wait around. Because “I'll be out when I'm ready” could mean any and all possible times and he didn't want to risk missing her.

 

“Yeah.” She hears Chloe say as she reaches for the door handle. Chloe isn't letting go of her hand though, she's actually tugging on it and when Beca turns back to her, she frowns. Because Chloe has guilt face. And that's never a good thing.

 

“What?” After a few beats of silent staring, Chloe hefts a begrudging sigh.

 

"You should check the mirror." It takes Beca a second to understand what she means, but when she does she reaches for the sun visor and flips it down, angling it so that she can see her reflection in the small, rectangular mirror. She gasps, a cold, shivering sensation rushing down her spine, and she rips her hand away from Chloe, both of them flying to her neck. And the giant, practically novelty-sized hickey that's covering the skin like a bullseye. Beca has no idea how a bruise can possibly look proud, but this one does.

 

"You gave me a hickey?" Each word is spoken with the kind of slow and careful vocalisation that she knows Chloe has come to associate with 'bad'. The redhead cringes, pushing herself as far into the space between her seat and the door as she can when Beca turns her wrath in her direction.

 

"I didn't mean to?" Is the meek offering she receives and a strangled sound of indignation leaps from the back of Beca's throat.

 

"Chloe, I look like I've been mauled." She watches Chloe bite her lip and slams her hand into the side of her seat, levering herself forward a little. "If you smile right now, I swear to God." Her threat only seems to spur the expression on though and then it's lighting up Chloe's face like Christmas. And there it is again, the urge to kiss her, even though Beca is kind-of-but-not-really pissed.

 

"Well, you were kinda mauled." She points out, sound far too smug for Beca's liking.

 

"Fix it." She barks and Chloe blinks at her. "You need to fix this, right now, because I am not stepping foot inside that house” she throws an arm out, pointing to the building in question, “until it's gone or covered or whatever.” Her heart is beating in time to her dramatics and she isn't going to lie, there's a lot of panicking going on beyond her less than calm exterior right now. “Fat Amy is in there, Chloe." She makes it sound like there's a deranged killer hiding in one of the bedrooms. "She'll eat me alive if she sees this." Which, Beca thinks, could very easily be true. They don't know what Amy got up to before jetting to the States. She could be an actual murderer, fleeing from the law. Even more of a deranged psychopath than they already consider her to be. And they live in a freaking sorority house for Christ's sake, it's a perfect recipe.

 

She can't believe this is happening. She has no idea how she's going to hide it – correction, how Chloe is going to hide it because this is all her fault – or what she's going to say if someone sees it and demands an explanation. Which they will, because they're far too interested in Beca's sex life and for the entire duration of her relationship with Jesse, there was always someone with an ear pressed against her bedroom door and disembodied giggles floating in from somewhere outside. They're nosey and annoying, and she loves them to death but if she walks into their den with a hickey the size of her face on her neck, they're going to swarm her.

 

“Oh god, you're so dramatic.” Chloe sighs airily, as though she's freaking out over a hangnail. Beca's eyes widen and she lifts her hands, pressing one to either side of her face.

 

“My neck, looks like, a cage fighter's.” To Beca's insurmountable disbelief, Chloe snorts. Then she's opening her door and stepping out of the car, and Beca's launching herself after her. Partly to try and catch her and partly because the dome light has come on and she doesn't want to chance any of the Bellas seeing her. “Chloe!! You get back here right now!” She's sprawled over the console, one arm stretched out onto the driver's seat, when Chloe bends and pops her head back in the car. The look she gives Beca is the kind of look a parent might give a toddler after it's broken out of its crib and used markers to express its inner artist all over the walls. For a third time.

 

“Aubrey is easier to deal with than you are.” Chloe dead-pans and Beca's mouth drops open. She wants to yell again, wants to demand Chloe take that back or be able to think up something as equally unflattering to throw back at her, but she's too busy sputtering to formulate any kind of sentence. She hears the sound of the trunk being opened and a zipper being pulled. By the time she's recovered enough to breathe normally, Chloe is back. She stares down at Beca who is trying to glare back, but she has a feeling her expression probably looks a little too helpless for it to be convincing. Chloe makes a waving motion with her hand, indicating that Beca should sit back up. When she does, Chloe slides back into the car, something has something curled into her palm. It's Beca's Bellas scarf, liberated from the strap of her bag, where it's usually tied.

 

“Chloe, this isn't going to work. I haven't worn that thing in like-”

 

“Do you have a better idea?” Chloe interrupts with a bat of her eyelashes. Beca wants so badly to have a better idea. When she doesn't say any more, Chloe leans in. She slips her hands inside the curtain of Beca's hair and winds the scarf around her neck. Beca's eyes automatically flick up and away when Chloe's find them and the older woman chuckles when Beca clears her throat. She keeps her gaze averted until Chloe pull back. “There. Can't even see it.” Turning to the mirror once again, Beca inspects Chloe's handiwork. The scarf is folded into a strip that's thicker than she's used to wearing it, but it's covered the mark. She still looks like a flight attendant though. “See?” Beca huffs, tugs once at the knot Chloe's tied and then slaps the visor back into position.

 

“If this doesn't work-” Apparently, all of Beca's sentences are destined to remained unfinished, because Chloe's interrupting her again. This time with a roll of her eyes and an unflattering sound from between her lips.

 

“You'll what?” She challenges, tip of her tongue brushing the top of her teeth in a way that catches Beca's attention and holds it. “Glare me to death?” She doesn't waste any time after that and before Beca can think of anything else to say, Chloe's out of the car and closing the door behind her. She follows suit, quickly checking the placement of her scarf in the reflection of the car window before scurrying after Chloe who, she's pretty sure, is giggling. Which should probably infuriate her beyond all reason.

 

It doesn't.

 


 

Thankfully, Beca makes it into the house, through the hallway, and past Stacie, Cynthia Rose and Flo, who are running through some kind of cardiovascular work out in the living room. Well, Stacie and Flo are working, Cynthia Rose is mostly just standing back and admiring. She catches Beca's eye as she walks by and gives her captain a wink, hand balled into a fist and pressed to her mouth. Beca's smirk is small, but it's there, and she shakes her head as she climbs the stairs. Chloe had detoured into the kitchen on her way in and had the audacity to wish Beca luck before they'd parted ways. Honestly, she doesn't know why she agreed to help her, can't recall what would have possibly made her think that doing her friend a solid would be worth this kind of recompense. She sighs to herself as she reaches the landing, walking to the other end to climb the final flight leading to her bedroom. Some days, Beca is simply too good a friend.

 

“You dirty stop-out.” Is the first thing Amy says to her. She's lying on her bed, putting the newest copy of the latest trashy celebrity gossip magazine down against her legs to give her room mate her full attention. Beca crosses the short distance to her bed and drops her bag down onto the mattress.

 

“Yeah.” She winces, sarcastically apologetic. “I don't know what that means, so...” She shrugs and looks down, unzipping her bag and pulling out her laptop. Taking it over to her desk, she plugs it in to charge, wiggling the cable until the orange light comes on and stays, and once again silently vows to buy a replacement off eBay. It will cost five dollars and save her numerous years of her life that she would otherwise lose to anger. It's win win. She backs away from it slowly, hands held out like she's trying to make sure the air stays still.

 

“It means,” Amy pauses, chewing thoughtfully on the piece of red rope liquorish she's just bitten off. “You're a slapper.” Beca straightens and turns a blank expression on Amy.

 

“It's like you are literally speaking a different language.” She throws out her very best Kimmy Jin impersonation – which is still pretty good, even after a few years apart – and leeches as much life out of face as she can.

 

“Slag. Tart. The village bicycle. Stop me when you catch on. Prossie. Slut, wh-”

 

“Got it!” Beca throws her hands up, waving all potential future insults away. “I got it. I'm good.” Amy purses her lips and then takes another bite of her liquorice, giving Beca an altogether too thorough once over. It unnerves her, so she ducks into the closet and out of sight.

 

“So,” Amy drawls. Beca really wishes the walls were thicker. “What's his name?” She frowns, peeling off her t-shirt and tossing it, then her pants, into the bright pink hamper Amy had given her as a gift on their very first night at roomies. There's a second one sitting next to it, the only distinction between the two being the large wooden letters that Amy had used half a bottle of glue to stick onto the sides of them. An 'A' – which actually has “fat” written in small letters along the left hand side – and a 'B'.

 

“Who?” She grunts, standing on her tiptoes to reach the top shelf and pull down a pair of sweats.

 

“Who'd you think?” Amy's voice is high. The annoyed, 'stop beating around the bush' kind of high. Unseen, Beca rolls her eyes and shimmies into the sweats. “Your boy-toy.” And almost topples over.

 

“My what?” She calls back, incredulous, tugging her pants the rest of the way on and then stretching into one of the baggy tees she likes to sleep in. “What are you- what's happening here?” She pulls the door open and steps back out into the room. Amy's moved to sit on the edge of the bed with her legs hanging over the side and she's watching Beca like she knows something. Smirking like they're sharing some kind of secret.

 

“You don't need to be embarrassed. Everyone's had a rebound bang,” Beca eyes bulge, “at some point in their life.”

 

“Oh my god, no. That's not-” she slices her hand through the air in the universal 'that's it'. “No one is banging anyone.” She turns away and lets her eyes slip shut for a second, praying that she doesn't blush. Behind her, Amy raises her eyebrows, unconvinced, and her teeth graze the tip of her thumb when she takes off another length of rope.

 

“Mm, I dunno. Sneaking around-”

 

“I'm not sneaking! I don't sneak!”

 

“-staying out all night-”

 

“Amy, it isn't even eight o'clock.”

 

“Trying to cover up a love bite with your Bella scarf.” Beca blanches, pivots on a heel, and gawks at her friend. Amy pops the last bite of rope into her mouth and rubs her hands together like she's dusting them off. “Or are you going to tell me that your neck was just cold?”

 

She's going to kill Chloe.

 


 

However, the opportunity for that doesn't present itself as readily as she would like. Which is why she's standing in the kitchen at Residual Heat, wearing a turtle neck that is decidedly blood-free, popping various coffee capsules into their respective makers. She's sporting more soggy coffee grinds than she is blood spatter at the moment, because of course there's a handful of people working there that still prefer using a percolator like it's two-thousand and five or something. Hipsters. Anyone that thinks a coffee pot is retro is not the kind of person she wants to waste her time, well, delivering coffee to but it's sort of her job, and so she hands Dax his mug with a tight smile and doesn't say a word. She delivers the rest, like a good little intern, and feels a twinge of guilt when a few of her fellow employees thank her by name and she realises that the only reason she knows any of theirs is because they're written on the cups and she's created herself a mental map of the office layout.

 

Which is weird, because Beca doesn't usually care about that stuff, only she actually likes this job. She'd liked it even before the whole, totally awesomely terrifying, Snoop thing – her boss' future, semi-devastating reaction to her demo aside – when people hadn't noticed her yet and thought some kind of magic fairy brought them their coffee. This is what she's been dreaming about doing for the last half of her life. Not specifically delivering coffee, but paying her dues. She'd known she was going to have work her way up from the metaphorical mail room and she had relished that idea. Because when it comes to music, Beca Mitchell loves a challenge. She's a fighter, Aubrey had found that out first hand, and – without counting the slight hiccup during her first year at Barden – she doesn't give up. She works hard and she's driven, even if it doesn't always seem like it. There's always something going on inside her head.

 

With the exception of Sunday mornings. Those being reserved for any potential hang overs and the vast expanse of empty black space needed to overcome them.

 

The point is, Beca had liked it even when she was an invisible, literal nobody. Since Snoop, people have been paying more attention to her. Nothing earth shattering, but they look at her now, as opposed to through. They know that it isn't a magic coffee fairy that brings them their much needed fix, but rather a magic coffee pixie. Which is another reason she likes Dax about as much as she does the idea of naked skydiving. So it's not a bad thing, being noticed. It's kind of what she'd wanted. It's kind of the only way to break into the music scene.

 

She just wishes she could have followed her impromptu mash-up session with something different. Better. Something, you know, good.

 

It keeps her awake sometimes. When she's lying under the covers, blinking against the blackness of the bedroom around her and listening to Amy's soft snores on the nights she isn't staying at Bumper's. She goes over all the things she could have done differently and they swirl around on a spin cycle inside her head, and every time she's left with the exact same mess.

 

Maybe she just doesn't have anything original to say.

 

The thought follows her around. Makes her chest hurt as she walks back into the kitchen, like a huge cement block is slowly being lowered onto her torso, and there's an awful few seconds, there in front of the stainless steel sink, where she's afraid she's going to black out or cry or something so totally inappropriate. She grips the edge of the counter until her knuckles turn white and reminds herself to breathe. Tells herself no, that isn't how this is going down. She hasn't wasted the most fundamental years of her life planning and gunning for a career she feels so passionately about, only to have someone tell her that she's average. That anyone can do what she can do. Because she's been hearing shit like that forever - “There are thousands of people that can smash music together, but they don't all have your brains, Beca. You could do so much more.” “Music isn't a career. It's a hobby.” “I know you have fun making you little mix tapes or whatever it is that you do, but you should think about a fall back plan. Just in case.” – and she's sick of it.

 

So when her boss strides into the kitchen with his sunglasses still perched in place and acknowledges her existence with a nod of his head, she smiles back at him. With as much confidence and sincerity as she can manage, and stretching it as wide as can be acceptable before it starts getting creepy. She watches him retrieve a bottle of orange juice and a brown paper bag from the fridge, then back away to nudge it closed with the toe of one very shiny, black dress shoe. Then he's leaving, presumably to his office where he'll more than likely be Skyped into a very important meeting or maybe he'll pick up the phone and call Beyonce, just to talk. She drops her gaze to the ground with a sigh, but her head jerks up again when she hears him back-pedalling. He stops in the doorway, looking over at her, then he lifts his arms and uses the hand holding the juice bottle to point to the watch on the wrist of the one carrying the bag.

 

“Tick, tock, Reggie.” For reasons unknown to both Gods and mortals alike, Beca flashes a tight smile, and salutes him. He continues on his way and, once he's out of sight, her smile plummets and she closes her eyes.

 

“I'm not a sailor. What am I doing?” She mutters to herself, rubbing a hand over her forehead. “Whatever. It's fine.” She opens her eyes and gives her hands a few violent shakes, like she's trying to get something sticky off of them. “Shake it off.” Seems like she's been telling herself that a lot lately and she's pretty sure that can't be a good thing.

 

Her phone buzzes in her pocket and she slips her thumb and forefinger in to grasp it on either side and pull it out. It's text a message from Jesse. She thumbs in her pass code and touches the little envelope icon to bring up the messaging application.

 

Saw u and chloe yesterday

 

She doesn't know why, but those five words – or four and one partial – make her heart rate spike and turn her hands clammy. She stares at her phone for a long moment, trying to swallow to wet her suddenly dry throat, before typing a response.

 

Huh? Playing dumb is playing safe. At least, that's what Fat Amy had told her once. Whilst she – Amy – was treading water in the middle of the Trebles' swimming pool, fully clothed. After having finished an entirely unrelated tirade about how much she loves ABBA. The image of her, sopping wet and the kind of deeply reflective that only alcohol can create, flickers through Beca's brain while her heart pounds in her ears. Jesse could mean anything. Maybe he had seen them separately, at different times. Maybe he hadn't. Maybe he'd seen them together, what would it matter?

 

u guys were lookin pretty cosy

 

Why is she sweating? She blinks down at her phone and tries to come up with a similarly apathetic response, but another messages comes through before she manages.

 

U were driving down 56? Benji and me were just leaving that coffee shop I took u 2? we waved but u guys were obvs 2 cool 2 notice us

 

She releases the breath quietly suffocating her and rolls her eyes at herself.

 

OBVS

 

sarcasm hurts bro. Even thru txt.

Were u just out and abt or like on a date or sumthing?

 

How hard is it to type a few extra letters? Are you textually disabled?

 

Avoiding the q!!!!

 

Ass. No. Not a date.

 

Well, it hadn't been. So there's no reason for her to feel guilty about typing that. Which means that empty gnawing feeling must be something else.

 

I don't rmbr u complaining abt my ass when it was ur bf's ass.

 

I'm going back to work now.

 

BECAW. Don't leave I’m boooored.

 

Sorry dude. I have an actual JOB, unlike certain college bum layabouts who shall remain nameless.

 

Now who's the ass?

 

Oh my god. An actual complete sentence. Let me mark my calendar.

 

She finishes delivering the last round of coffees and spends the rest of the afternoon mostly running errands for different people until her boss swans back in about an hour before quitting time and tells everyone to gather around the table. After fifteen minutes of him talking – and trying to get Dax to “just shut up. Shut. Up.” – Beca isn't exactly sure what it is he's been talking about, or what he's asking, because he's thrown out a bunch of words that she thinks must be 'music producer' speak and she has no idea what they mean.

 

And he's looking at her. Like he's expecting her to jump in when he asks if anyone has any ideas.

 

But she's got nothing. She doesn't even understand what he's asking for. The cold sweat of dread trickles uncomfortably down her back and it makes her shift in her seat. He's got his sunglasses off and he's looking at her, waiting. Just like that, she wishes she'd never given him her demos. That she hadn't spoken up and done that stupid 'Here Comes Santa Claus' mash-up. She wishes she'd never ever applied for this dumb internship because she's obviously not ready, not good enough to be what she wants or go where she wants to go.

 

She feels sick.

 

Pushing down the urge to vomit, she looks away from her boss and down at her hands. Shame burns through her, mingling with the dread and making her feel dizzy. And Fat Amy's words are there, echoing like one last lifeline.

 

And yeah, sure. She's Beca 'Effin' Mitchell.

 

But what if that isn't enough?

 


 

Beca is the type of person who tries to hold her emotions close to her chest. Packed away into a little box. Each one a playing card with a different face on it, a different numerical value to determine the level of that particular emotion. Her sarcasm cards probably have the most freedom; she keeps them palmed, ready to flash them into existence without warning and she doesn't usually use any below a five. The rest, however, are forever changing. Faces and values, and for a long time she'd found it hard to keep all fifty-two cards in her deck. The stack would fall and cards would scatter, and although that still happens, she definitely has control over the majority of them now. Most of the time.

 

Her father has seen his fair share of clubs, all eights and nines, right through to the King itself. He'd endured the screaming matches that littered her teenage years, had even screamed back – because she didn't get her stubborn streak from her mother – but thankfully that part of her life had gone the way of the dinosaurs. Largely wiped out, but with remnants poping up from time to time. She still gets mad, angry, livid to the point of needing to walk away even if it's just to cool off. The retreat had sort of proven that she was still prone to meltdowns, especially when stressed, which it seems like she is about ninety percent of the time right now. She supposes that things like this – anger management or emotional evolution or whatever – are a time-based change. It's a hard thing, to unlearn a habit. She's too used to hiding behind her walls and feeling like she has to figure stuff out on her own. It's like finding out that you've been doing a card trick wrong for the last ten years of your life and then trying to learn how to do it the right way. Only maybe this new way is too hard, too complicated, so you fall back on what you know, despite the new way blatantly better.

 

Today, Beca is situated somewhere in between the old and new. Which is something she might commend herself on, but after having a generally shitty day and then the thing with her boss at work, she feels like even more of a failure than has become her usual since being told she sucks. Not really something worthy of a “well done”. Instead, she burrows further into the corner of the bed and pulls the duvet up until it hits the underside of her nose. As a teenager, she'd wallowed. About everything. A lot. She wasn't like, emo or anything, but between her parents divorce and having to move to a different town and a different school, there was a decent amount of angst in her life. Things she felt were deserving of a little wallowing. Like most, it's something she's since grown out of. She'd rather wrench herself out of a bad mood these days than let it continue to blacken.

 

She hears the front door open and close and strains to hear over the silence of the room. There's a humming, absent and perfectly in tune, growing louder as dull footfalls sound on the staircase. She tries to breathe quietly so that she can listen and finds that the humming has turned into quiet singing. Her lips quirk against the underside of the quilt and it feels like the first time she's smiled all day. Actually hurts her face a bit, but the pain is unable to deter the expression. Because she recognises the song, or rather songs. Which she should, she'd mixed them. Specifically for the person singing, as a birthday present the year before. The Supremes' 'Can't Hurry Love' and Jet's 'Are You Gonna Be My Girl', two of her “favourite songs in the history of music. All music, Beca.”, something that had been brought up during a conversation about a month or so before the day of celebration.

 

The bedroom door swings open and the melody hits Beca's ears uninhibited as light from the hallway streams in and she has to squint until the door is closed again. And it's always kind of weird, hearing someone sing something she's created. She hadn't written the songs, obviously, but they've been layered to her beat. Her rhythm. The sound is new, even if the lyrics aren't, and she's always known that this mix sounds good.

 

But Chloe's voice is really pretty, so it sound even better.

 

Beca half holds her breath as she watches the redhead flit about the room with her back to the bed, shrugging out of her jacket and hanging it on the back of the door, then twisting the dimmer knob until the room is bathed in a soft glow. Beca doesn't want to say something and startle her, but she doesn't want to scare the crap out of her either when Chloe eventually spots her, little more than a nose and a pair of eyeballs stuffed against the wall.

 

Because Beca's current whereabouts is exactly why she's crediting herself with clambering into that grey area where new and old meet. It is, after all, unprecedented. The Beca of old would have locked herself away, though sharing a room made that a bit more difficult than it had been during her teens, so the locking out was more of a mental thing now. She'd have buried herself up to her eyes ball in an angry mix that she would inevitably end up scrapping because once she was back in her regular 'stable' frame of mind they always sounded like someone was running her laptop through a garbage disposal. That isn't what she's done today though.

 

No, instead of putting on her headphones and avoiding eye contact with everyone, Beca had stopped on the landing on her way back from the kitchen and stared at Chloe's bedroom door. Then, after checking to make sure no one was watching, she'd slipped inside and closed the door behind her. She'd known Chloe was out, so she wasn't surprised to find the room empty; that was the final thing that had convinced her to enter. Once she had, she'd stood there in the entryway for a full minute, just looking around at all of the things that make up part of who Chloe is. She still doesn't know what had compelled her, but she'd crawled onto Chloe's bed and under the covers and pressed her back against the wall. Then she'd taken one long, steadying breath. And felt herself calm.

 

Like a magic trick.

 

By the time Chloe arrives home, Beca's been lying there for probably half an hour, forty-five minutes and yes. It has occurred to her, numerous times, that Chloe might find this strange. Beca randomly appearing in her bed, especially in the kind of mood she's in. Fat Amy aside, there aren't all that many people who have seen this side of her, and sure Chloe has seen it in the past, but Beca hadn't been in her bed then. It sort of brings a new dynamic into the situation. But their entire relationship has been one new dynamic after another and so she feels like this one is probably going to go over just fine.

 

Her eyes follow Chloe over to her closet, where she's obscured from view by the forever open door, still singing to herself. Beca has the sudden realisation that the other woman could be on the brink of changing for the night. As in, about to remove her clothes, and Beca thinks she should really say something before she gets an eyeful.

 

It's a few seconds before she speaks.

 

“Why don't you want to be a singer?” Chloe screams.

 

Well, It's more of a yelp really. One that starts before the redhead can back away from behind the door to face her intruder and ends with a very loud, high-pitched gasp when she finally spots Beca, eyes blinking at her from where she's tucked beneath the duvet.

 

“Oh my-” the remainder of the sentence is lost to a series of whining, half-giggled groans as Chloe hops on the spot, from one foot to another, and bites at her lip like she's trying to hold back a torrent of expletives. Her eyes are the size of spotlights, one hand pressed to her chest, and Beca is pretty sure she can see the pulse point at her neck thumping from where she's lying. She can't decide if Chloe looks amused or annoyed. “You scared the daylights out of me!” But she's talking to Beca, so she's inclined to go with the former.

 

“And apparently the soul of a ninety-year-old grandmother into you.” Beca arches a brow. “Daylights? Really?” Chloe only rolls her eyes and Beca makes no attempt to sit up or move. Her limbs feel heavy and lethargic and she isn't sure she could move even if she wanted to. She's so tired and wonders if this is a side effect of realising you've been wasting your life. “So, how come?” Flame-red curls slip and sway as Chloe tilts her head to one side like a curious puppy and Beca watches recognition dawn.

 

“Oh. A singer?” She offers up a shrug, disappearing behind the closet door again and this time Beca can hear the distinct sound of clothes being removed under the timbre of Chloe's voice. She makes a point of looking down at the mattress, knowing full well that Chloe is “pretty confident” about her body.

 

You should be.” Beca tries to subtly clear her throat.

 

“I don't know.” Is the airy reply she receives. “I mean, I did for a while when I was younger.” Beca hears a drawer open and then hangers rattling. She catches a blur of movement at the edges of her vision and her eyes dart automatically to see Chloe poking her head around the closet door at her, shoulders bare. She smiles like she has a secret. “I was actually on one of those television talent show once.” Beca bolts upright in the bed, bunching up the covers and pressing one hand down hard against the mattress as she stares.

 

“What?!” Chloe laughs at the outrage in her voice. “Why am I only finding this out now?” The redhead shrugs again and goes back to looking for a shirt.

 

“It wasn't a big deal. Just a local cable show.” Only it is a big deal because Beca can picture this tiny red-haired girl striding confidently onto the stage and belting out a song that blows away both judges and audiences alike just perfectly.

 

“Is there video?” There's a shrill desperation to her voice. She doesn't care. “Please tell me that there's video. I need there to be video of this.” This is everything she never knew she needed. She hears Chloe laughing.

 

“I think my mom still has the tape.”

 

“I'm going to need that Fed-Exed. Like, overnighted.” Chloe reappears so quickly that Beca doesn't have time to avert her eyes, but it's fine because she's changed into her pyjamas, and a shirt and shorts, though a sinful distance above the knee, are far less jarring than a naked Chloe.

 

“There is no way,” Chloe whispers adamantly, walking over to the bed, and the expression she's wearing makes Beca want to press herself against the wall, “that you are getting your grubby little hands,” affronted, Beca raises both eyebrows as Chloe slinks onto the bed, “on that video.”

 

Excuse me? Grubby?” Chloe's eyes twinkle as she sits. “I didn't hear you complaining yesterday.” Beca isn't sure who's more surprised by her words; herself or Chloe. For her part, the redhead is also juggling elation, and Beca feels her stomach turn at the way she smiles, a thoughtful hum playing across her lips.

 

“Just because I don't complain that doesn't mean they aren't,” she pauses to lean in, so close that Beca jerks her head back a little, “dirty.” Sky blue eyes stare unfalteringly for a moment, before one of them closes in a wink and Beca lets out a groan of defeat as she drops back down against the mattress. Her weight jostles Chloe's giggling body and from her position Beca watches the bounce of her crossed legs. The air grows hushed for a time. Beca traces patterns across the fitted sheet stretched over the bed, and then, “Not that I'm complaining, but why are you in my bed?” Beca's hand stills and she looks as far up as she can without actually moving her head and manages to catch Chloe's gaze.

 

“Sorry.” She mumbles, suddenly sombre, and brushes the back of her hand against her nose. “I just...” A sigh escapes her and she hates how sad and pathetic it sounds. She hates feeling like this; weak and worthless and mopy. Because God, she hates moping. More so when other people do it because it makes her all uncomfortable and she never knows what to do. She would love to be able to tell Chloe something other than the truth. Joke that she was waiting for the redhead so they could pick up where they left off in Stacie's car. “I didn't want anyone else to find me.” What comes out though, is the truth. Which is usually how things with Chloe go.

 

Keeping the internship from her had been difficult. Like really, really difficult. Because a person can't just outright lie to Chloe Beale's face. She has this power, something ensconced in her genetic make-up that causes you to feel pain if you so much as think about lying while she's looking at you. So, there'd been a lot of standoffishness and one word answers of “busy” to Chloe's reoccurring “where have you been?”. And it had all been pointless, all that stress and worry for nothing, because she should have just told Chloe right after she got the call letting her know she'd been hired. Of course Chloe would have supported her and maybe they could have avoided having that horrible argument at the retreat. Thinking about that makes her head hurt. She's not supposed to yell at Chloe. No one is supposed to yell at Chloe. She either crumples like you've just destroyed her world or she fights back because she's a redhead and they're stubborn, and possess a temper the same shade as their hair. The latter always results in Chloe feeling terrible about it later, as if she's the one who started the fight in the first place. As if she's the one in the wrong.

 

“What happened?” Beca jumps when she feels fingers against her forehead, running up into her hair, then pulling back and starting the journey over. Chloe's voice is quiet and Beca lets her eyes drift shut, just for a minute.

 

“Nothing.” It's automatic and she frowns as it leaves her. “Today just really sucked.” She's alarmed to hear a quaver in her voice, a warbling edge that hadn't been there two seconds ago but consumes every word of her explanation now. She opens her eyes and finds Chloe looking down at her, confused and concerned, hand never stilling.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Beca doesn't know. She has no idea about anything anymore. She feels like her life is starting to spiral and not in a fun, Disneyland way. Except maybe Space Mountain, because she constantly feels like she's disorientated and going to hurl. What she wants is to sleep for half a decade.

 

“What if I can't do this, Chlo?” She whispers her fear towards the leg she's looking at, because if she looks at Chloe right now she knows she's going to cry. She deals with her own tears about as well as she deals with anyone else's. It's not that she thinks crying is a weakness, it's just that when she starts she finds it really hard to stop. And then she feels dumb and she hates feeling dumb. With other people, she also wants to make the crying stop, but people are so different and they each have their own ways of dealing and Beca never has any idea what she should or shouldn't be doing. Not with herself, or her friends, or her mom.

 

She swallows and her throat feels thick.

 

“What are you talking about?” Even Chloe's speaking voice is musical. There's something about the sound of it that makes Beca want to open up. Politely knocks on her doors and asks for entry, and Beca doesn't bother looking through the peep hole because there's only one person who knocks like that.

 

“My life.” She rasps, suddenly hoarse as she strains to hold back the tears she can feel filling her eyes.

 

“Bec....” And how can one word, a singularly lone syllable, sound so devastated? Chloe's hands tug at her, urging Beca to move over, and she goes from lying next to Chloe to lying with her head cradled in the other woman's lap, cheek resting against the spot where skin meets shorts. Chloe uses both hands to comb through Beca's hair, fingers dragging deep from hairline to tip. Methodical, like a massage, and it sends little shocks spiking over her synapses. “What happened?” And for some reason, Beca is compelled to answer the question this time around.

 

“My boss, just, you know...” she swallows again, words wet and eyes starting to sting, “I think he was really hoping I'd have something for him by now and I don't.” She sniffs, then lets out a humourless laugh. “You know, because I suck.”

 

“You do not-”

 

“There's isn't an original thought in my head, Chloe!” Beca barks harshly against the redhead's thigh. She's can feel hear heart pounding in her brain. She hates breaking down. “I mean Jesus Christ, I've been trying to come up with something since before the retreat and there's literally nothing inside of me. Nothing.” She blinks to clear her vision and a tear breaks free. It ambles along the plain of her cheek before dropping to land against smooth skin. When her vision clears some, she sees her hand wrapped around Chloe's knee, thumb idly stroking back and forth. She doesn't remember how it got there, but she doesn't feel like that should matter right this minute. “Everything I've tried sounds like garbage, and not the band, because that would actually be something and if I can't even put one track together how the hell am I supposed to make a career out of this?” Chloe's fingers slip through her hair and grasp either side of her head, trying to turn Beca so that she can look at her. Beca shifts and rolls over without complaint. Another tear escapes, tracking a line from the corner of her eye all the way down to her ear. She brings her hands up and angrily swipes the underneaths of her eyes before Chloe pulls them away by the wrists.

 

“Look at me.” The command is obeyed before it's even processed and Chloe's gaze is heavy, intense, the features of her face arranged in a sternly serious manner. Beca sniffs, twists her hands free to rest them against her stomach, and falls quiet. Chloe runs her fingertips along the highest point of Beca's forehead, lightly stroking the hair there with one hand. “Do you know why I barged into your shower that day?” Beca doesn't have the energy to conjure up any physical signs of sarcasm, but it's there in her voice, as shaky as is it.

 

“Because you have no sense of personal space and a serious lack of sexual restraint?” Because who tells a person whose shower stall they've just broken into that the song they were singing is their lady jam. That is literally the opening scene of a porn flick. Chloe bites her lip and pokes Beca in the cheek.

 

“No.” She chides. “It was because you sounded amazing.” Beca feels her stomach twist. “I just, I knew it was you and I had to hear you sing and see your face.”

 

“Could it not have waiting until I was wearing clothes though?” Chloe wrinkles her nose in a smile and presses the fingers of her free hand to Beca's mouth as the other stills against the top of her head. Beca's chest tightens when Chloe's fingers connect. She feels like she shouldn't breathe.

 

“No. Shush.” But then her hand is gone and Beca's chest resumes its rhythm. “Do you believe in love at first sight?” It would be funny, the way Beca's insides lurch like she's just been thrown out of a plane, only she's pretty sure she doesn't have a parachute. All she gets out is a lengthy “uh” before Chloe carries on. “It's like that, when I hear certain people singing for the first time. There's this really intense feeling of just knowing.” Chloe is a passionate person. The kind of passionate that occasionally borders on crazy. Beca knows this, has seen it multiple times and has, in fact, been on the receiving end of it. But it's one thing to see it from across a room. It's an entirely different entity altogether when there's all of two feet separating you. Her eyes seem brighter, every line and curve on her face more crisp, more alive. “I felt that with you. I knew that the Bellas needed you and that you were going to be amazing.” With a smile, Chloe traces the outline of Beca's face with a fingertip. “I’ve never fought with Aubrey like that for anyone else, you know.” The urge to look away loops its tentacles around Beca, slimy and cold, and yanks to no avail. As awkward as she feels knowing that she's blushing, Chloe's eyes have hers locked into a standstill and it makes it difficult for her to breath, how much she can see dancing in them. “I knew you were amazing then, just like I know you're amazing now.” Her finger grazes the shell of Beca's ear and she shivers as Chloe's smile widens. “Just like I know you'll still be acamazing ten years from now.” The usual need to cringe against anything 'aca' related comes and goes without notice.

 

Beca feels like she's suffocating beneath the sincerity in Chloe's voice and eyes. Her touch. At some point she'd begun winding her fingers into the material of her shirt and they still as she forces herself to sit up, twisting so that her knee rests in the junction where Chloe's crossed legs meet. Chloe, who says nothing at all about the abrupt movement and whose smile never falters. She reaches out with a hand and bows her body forward, wrapping a hand around Beca's neck to anchor her movement. Her lips are warm against Beca's temple, they prickle the skin there before she rocks back into position and Beca glances sidelong at her.

 

“You just need to believe in yourself as much as I do.” Chloe makes it sound so easy and Beca can't understand it, but maybe for her it is. Fingers swim and blur as they near Beca's face and tuck dark stands behind her ear, then linger along her jaw line. Beca thinks she might start crying again. Her chest hurts and her muscles ache and everything is so hard.

 

Except Chloe. Everything about Chloe is soft and gentle, and real.

 

The thing about Chloe is that everyone thinks she's this untouchable ray of sunshine. It's only the people who are close to her that know how fragile a thing that can be. How the smallest shadow can cleave it in two. But as sad as that is, it makes her real. Means she isn't fake. She has the biggest heart of anyone Beca has ever known. She does her damnedest not to hurt people's feelings and she goes out of her way to be nice to, frankly, a lot of people who don't deserve it.

 

And she never lies. Not when it matters. Not in moments like this.

 

The brazen, blistering truth of that burns through Beca in a heartbeat. Turns every nerve ending she has into frazzled, frayed bits of string and starts something boiling at the pit of her stomach. And she isn't all that great with emotion, it's been said time and time again, so she doesn't know if she wants to cry or scream when faced with such honest, unshakable belief. Which is probably why she does what she's about to.

 

The tips of Chloe's fingers are just skimming off the end of her chin when Beca darts forward with all the certainty and speed of someone who knows exactly what she's doing. She catches a glimpse of Chloe's startled expression before her eyes close and she finds her lips with ease.

 

There's a rock, heavy and porous, and it sits just off centre in Beca Mitchell's chest, masquerading as a thing that's 'pretending' to be her heart. Beating inside its fake façade, praying that no one hears it and figures the whole thing out. Because Beca hasn't gotten this far in life by letting people know she has one of those. She's sort of gone out of her way to imply the opposite. When she kisses Chloe this time, just the press of her mouth against the other woman's, that rock starts to shake. She can feel it trembling in there, can feel the vibrations shuddering through the rest of her body. She parts Chloe's lips with her tongue, slips it into deliciously slick warmth, and feels the redhead's surprise in the way she shapes her mouth. The absent way she brings her hand back to Beca's face to cradle the same jaw line she'd been tracing only moments before. Beca's brow furrows at the touch.

 

And it feels like lava is flowing over the rock now, scorching the outside before sinking in through the minuscule holes that cover the surface and rolling out towards all ends of her. She tries to gasp but finds herself unwilling to pull away, so she surges forward instead. Movements instinctive, like she's sure of them, as if they don't echo the trembling of her rock, she stumbles into Chloe. A graceless crawl that has her on her knees, straddling the redhead's lap and towering over her for perhaps the first time ever. Chloe's hands hold Beca at her sides, between hip and rib cage, and Beca presses her palms to Chloe's cheeks, tilting her face up. Finding no resistance, only a kind of waiting obedience that suggests Chloe is more than happy to have Beca take the lead here, she slips a hand around to tangle fingers in red hair and kisses Chloe harder, deep and hungry.

 

And Beca is sure it's Chloe's words that have her feeling this sense of immense relief. The idea that maybe she isn't destined to be a failure, that there might be something worthy just waiting to flow from her fingers, rather than having any kind of need sated.

 

Chloe's arms snake around her waist and with a firm tug, she brings Beca's lower half in closer, tighter, against her body. The action pulls a thrill through her, white-hot and raw, and she drags her free hand lazily along the side of Chloe's neck. Her thumb brushes over the pulse point there and the fluttering she feels has Beca backtracking to the spot in the same moment she tries to move on. She curves her fingers around the base of Chloe's neck and lets her thumb rest against the spot. She can feel the thumping cadence of life, strong and rapid, and finds herself distracted by the beats as she unconsciously counts them.

 

There's a slow certainty to the way Chloe kisses that gives Beca chills. A thoroughness that pulls her insides tight and then let them spring loose to bounce around confusedly. Like dropping a half tonne of bouncy balls into a small space from high up. She thinks it has to be some kind of skill, one of the tell-tale signs of being a 'Good Kisser'. Chloe would be a shoe in if they ever added kissing to the Olympics. She's thinking this, insanely, when Chloe's teeth nip her lip and she tightens her hold around Beca's waist. Beca's fingers fist automatically where they're tangled in red hair, tugging sharply at the handful of strands now trapped in her grip. Chloe's breath hitches in a high grunt that crashes against Beca's lips and there's an endless second where they're both just hovering. Holding steady. Then Chloe's pitching forward, strong arms clinging as they lift Beca, whose stomach flips and rolls with the move, and she presses her down into the mattress.

 

Beca's back hits the bed and she doesn't know how either of them miss suffering an injury because she's positive Chloe hadn't been paying any kind of attention to space or surroundings. Then Chloe's there, looming over her with dishevelled curls and fire in her eyes, and maybe Beca has suffered some kind of trauma because it makes her think that Chloe looks like an angel, which just isn't the kind of thing Beca Mitchell thinks. Ever. About anyone. Even actual angels.

 

Chloe lies her forearm to the side of Beca's head and braces her weight against it as she dips down. Fingers brush against her crown as Chloe catches her lips and sinks into another kiss. Their legs tangle and Beca's chest heaves at the press of their bodies, head spinning with the taste and feel of Chloe. And she registers thinking it, knows the exact point at which she distinctly, consciously becomes aware of it. Arousal. Glissading through her like flames, pleasant and unbearable all at once. And she knows this feeling, knows it well, and after her brief reintroduction to it in Stacie's car, it's all the more familiar to her.

 

It's the Chloe factor that makes it, not weird, but different. The fact that it's Chloe's hand Beca can feel bunching her shirt up and splaying out across skin that's flush and warm because of what they're doing. That it's Chloe who's kissing her like they're headed somewhere, stealing Beca's every breath and swallowing the soft whimpers she's trying so hard to hold in. And for all their promising that “it'll only get weird if we let it”, Beca hadn't considered this. Feeling something, anything, beyond perhaps a paltry “oh, this is nice”. But when Chloe drags her lips over Beca's cheek towards the column of her neck, lingering against the mark she's spent the day trying to hide, and the hand cradling one half of her ribcage moves high enough to just cup the underside of her breast, it's an “oh shit” that summarises Beca's internal monologue. She sinks her teeth into her bottom lip as though holding it in place will somehow stop any sound from leaving her, a plan neatly foiled when Chloe starts to nip and lap at the flesh of her neck. Heat flashes through Beca's body, a knee-jerk panic hot on its heels, and it's the desire to not have to wear a turtleneck any longer than is strictly necessary that has her reaching blinding for something to grab. For a way to stop Chloe from writing her name across Beca's neck in hickies.

 

And she's not exactly thinking clearly, because pulling someone's hair is so juvenile and not normally how she would choose to react to or solve any kind of problem.

 

Only Chloe's reaction is about the furthest thing from juvenile Beca thinks anything can get.

 

With her eyes closed and brow gently furrowed, Chloe gasps her way towards a moan as her hips rock in a single, forceful wave. Searching for friction and finding it in the press of Beca's thigh.

 

Everything freezes.

 

Above her, Chloe becomes as still as death and Beca knows she should probably take her hand back but she can't remember how to make her muscles work. The only thing that still seems capable of recalling its job and how to perform it is her heart, but even that is beating overtime, trying to compensate for everything else shutting down. And Beca is certain that she doesn't blink, but she doesn't remember actually seeing Chloe's eyes open. They're just suddenly there, as bright and brilliant as always, only her pupils are blown in a way that Beca has only read about.

 

And that's another thing she'd failed to consider.

 

Noise rushes back in as time starts up again, the sound of her own breath startling her, and as she lets her hand fall to lie against the redhead's shoulder she thinks Chloe must be experiencing a similar kind of shift. Because she's making like she's going to move, away, and there's something about that that makes Beca bristle. Annoys her a bit, because they've talked about this. Beca has gone out of her way to talk about this.

 

 

“Don't treat me like a doll, Chloe.” She snaps, all harsh irritation that melts away to nothing when Chloe's face falls just right and turns her tone soft. “I'm not going to break.” Certain. Something she knows Chloe can't argue against.

 

And it's only later, much later, that Beca will think back on that and realise it was never the breaking that she should have been afraid of, but rather the falling.

 

In the moment though, all she can think about is how Chloe is biting her lip in that same unsure way she does when she's trying to make a decision on choreography. Looking down at Beca from under heavy lids, red curls framing her face and begging Beca to reach up and touch them, move them aside so she can look at all of Chloe. Which Beca is sure she only wants to so that she can make sure the other woman is okay. Because Chloe wears her emotions like a badge of honour. She doesn't hide them, or hide from them, and so Beca's pretty sure the urge comes from the knowledge that all you have to do is look at Chloe to know how she's feeling.

 

In the midst of it all, Beca thinks about the seven of hearts. Lucky number seven, hovering there in the middle of its suit. Waiting to see which card she'll pick next.

 

Chloe looks like she's made her decision. She releases her lip along with a breath and her mouth lifts ever so slightly at the corners. And it's not a smile, but it's not not a smile either and Beca isn't sure what to make of it. But then Chloe's hand is moving and Beca's eyes flick down to catch the tail end of its journey. She grasps Beca by the hip, almost holding her down against the bed, and gives her hips one slow, very purposeful roll. Bright eyes close as her lips part and the groan that leaves Chloe is breathless and shaken. Screaming relief in a way that makes Beca's toes curl and her stomach tighten. Sends fissures rocketing along the surface of the rock in her chest and pours fire down her spine. Makes her hips shift in a slight tilt that feels like an earthquake.

 

“A'yo Chloe!” The redhead starts, nails digging and slipping against skin hard enough to make Beca wince and Chloe immediately pulls her hand away. Wide-eyed and abruptly rigid, Beca watches as Chloe drops her head toward her shoulder, obscuring her face, and mutters a very quiet, very frustrated sounding “shit”. “Chloe! You up there?” Beca lets her eyes close for a five count while her brain tries to get back up to speed and the first thing it throws at her is that Cynthia Rose's voice has never been more unwelcome at a Bella performance. She hears Chloe inhale, crisp and clear, and then she's lifting her head.

 

“Yeah, I'm here!” She calls out and Beca resists the urge to smile at how unconvinced of that Chloe sounds. They wait.

 

“You know where Beca is?” The brunette in question has to clamp her lips together to stop herself from laughing.

 

“Oh my god.” Chloe mumbles, which doesn't help Beca in the slightest. “She's with me!” There's some muffled talking, the content of which neither of them can make out.

 

“Legacy wants to talk at her about something!” Cynthia Rose sounds about as exasperated as Chloe looks and Beca feels. It's hard not to be amused, or at least it is for Beca. Chloe looks like she might kill something. Or someone. Beca is suddenly very aware of her positioning.

 

“Well where is she?!” She barks back and Chloe can be kind of scary when she's rocking her 'captain voice'. Like, fierce scary. Firestarter scary.

 

“She texted saying she's leaving her dorm right now.”

 

“So why didn't she wait until she was here to ask?!” Beca really wishes she could see more of Chloe's face right now. She likes it when she gets all crazy-eyed with rage. There's a beat of silence, during which Beca is sure she'd be able to hear Cynthia Rose's thoughts if she listened hard enough.

 

“Maybe because if Beca wasn't here, then it'd be a wasted trip?” Cythina Rose's words are tinged with the muted hurt of being yelled at. “Damn girl, don't shoot the messenger.” Beca feels a burst of air against the top of her head as Chloe lets out a sigh.

 

“Sorry, Cee!” Beca loves the way she can tell when Chloe's being sincere by the lilt in her voice. “I love you!” There's a dull grumbling that follows, something that could be a “yeah, yeah” or a “whatever” and once enough time has passed without any more being said, Chloe rolls off Beca and into the narrow space between her and the wall beside her. Beca feels her absence in the cool air that rushes to cover her in Chloe's place and wrinkles her nose in distaste. Chloe wriggles onto her side, hands pressed palm to palm beneath her cheek, and stares at Beca's profile until she finally gives in and turns her head.

 

The thing about Chloe is that she makes everything seem so easy. Not just things like being pretty and nice, and talented. But like, smiling and breathing, and just being.

 

And Chloe is everything that should make Beca squirm away, uncomfortable. Like the unrequested ray of sunshine that breaks through the gloomy overcast mornings of a hangover.

 

But the truth is, she's never felt more at ease.

 

Never felt more secure.

 

More like herself.

 

Not with anyone.

 

Chapter Text

Chloe is not lacking in the area of sexual experience. She's no stranger to arousal and its affects, knows her body. She likes to think of herself as somewhat well-versed in matters of the bedroom. She hasn't done anything overly kinky – nothing more than silk scarves and handcuffs – but she's confident and comfortable with what she has done. Not that she's ever felt pressured to go beyond that, she never gets far enough with guys who might end up trying that angle. She can sniff out a player at fifty paces. They just give off this scent, musky and kind of slimy. Old oil or grease or something. No, Chloe has never been into bad boys. She'd rather spend her time with guys like Tom, who might have a bit of a bad boy smirk but that's where the comparison begins and ends. He's sweet and funny, and he listens, which is something Chloe had come to realise is a rare trait to find after arriving at Barden. At least in high school they faked it better. Tom is the kind of guy that Chloe makes an effort to keep in touch with, even though they've both moved on, literally in his case, and don't really see each other anymore. They Facebook, sometimes Skype. Chloe doesn't have that kind of time for bad boys.

 

Bad girls though? They might be a different story.

 

It's not as though she's always been conscious of it. She would have said something sooner if that had been the case. Maybe it had been Beca's impending graduation, making Chloe think back on all the things they had and hadn't done together, that had been the catalyst. The rock tossed into the river that sent ripples out to gently jostle the things bobbing at the surface, rearranging them. Whatever the instigator had been, the regret breached the water to sit high above everything else, and that was why Chloe had brought it up at the retreat of all places. Because that was where the thought had occurred to her and she isn't the type of person to hold stuff in. Of course, Beca hadn't quite grasped Chloe's meaning there in the tent, which had given her some time to rethink the whole thing.

 

To ask herself when and why. The answers she'd gotten back were various iterations of things she's always felt towards Beca, which had been the deciding factor in the end. Because Chloe has probably wanted to see what it would be like to kiss Beca since the captain's freshman year, only she'd never focused on the desire. There were other things going on, Aubrey was crazy and Beca was obviously into Jesse, so why should Chloe dwell on the idea of kissing her?

 

Looking back now, this thing with Beca has been there all along. In different forms, none of them ever being frightening or loud enough to make her stand back and think. Chloe has just always really liked Beca. Her snark, the way her mouth curls around her smirk and how her dark eyes sparkle when she's about to say something sarcastic.

 

And it isn't like Beca is this big hardass, riding around on a motorcycle or playing with knives, or whatever it is that actual badasses do. It's more the way she carries and conducts herself, the moody exterior that she wears. The same one that breaks down like sugar left out in the rain, revealing the cute little puppy hiding underneath the pile when you get close enough. It had been the dark make-up and Beca's obvious disconnect from the world around her that had grabbed Chloe's attention from across the quad. The 'please don't try to talk to me or be my friend' attitude that shadowed her every move. The earrings, her tone, and what Aubrey had later coined as Beca's “fuck off smile”. And it's those same things that has made Chloe look at other girls too. Which has recently led to the no-so-unexpected revelation that she might have a 'type'. It's probably more 'faux-bad girl' or 'bad girl-lite' that she's into though, rather than the real strong stuff. And it's awesome, realising that, because it means that this thing between the two of them is doing exactly what she wanted.

 

It just also might be doing more than she expected.

 

Because even though she hadn't outright planned any of the things she and Beca have been doing – in hindsight, she really thinks a few bullet-pointed notes might have helped – she certainly hadn't anticipated this.

 

'This' being Chloe lying face down on her bed. Her fingers laced together and hands trapped between her forehead and the mattress, so that she doesn't touch herself.

 

She has what she considers to be a very healthy outlook on sex in general and masturbation isn't something she's ever had a problem with. It's a healthy way to express one's feeling and urges, and it's a great way to abstain from actual sex until you're ready. It's also a great way to relieve stress and Chloe has had a lot of hands on experience in this particular vein of body confidence. So it isn't any kind of underlying discomfort that's giving her pause. It's just that if she were to do that, right now, she knows without a shadow of a doubt who she'd be imagining behind closed eyes.

 

And getting off while thinking about Beca is some seriously new territory. Virgin territory. Also, it's probably not something she should even be considering, because she knows she'd feel so super guilty afterwards. There's just something about her best friend being the unwitting staring role of a sexual fantasy that makes Chloe feel kind of weird. Because this definitely hasn't happened before.

 

Then again, she hasn't exactly done this kind of thing with any of her other close friends.

 

There were bound to be some hiccups, she'd told herself that at the beginning, but up until this point she's had every faith that together, she and Beca would be able to get by them. So, up until now, Chloe's just been enjoying the ride. Like, a lot, sure, but that was the point of this. To have fun, to figure out if this is something she likes and enjoys. Which, if her current state is anything to go by, she really, really does.

 

She'd been foolish to think that any kind of escalation in their experimenting wouldn't result in an equivalent rise in desire. Chloe knows her body too well, knows what that slick rolling feeling in her stomach means and she knows what happens when she lets herself go. But Beca had basically told her to.

 

Chloe squeezes her eyes tightly shut and tries not to think about the feel of Beca beneath her. Her hands on her, the sound of her, the way her hips had jerked against Chloe. She presses her forehead down harder against her hands and shifts her legs restlessly against the bed. She feels too hot in her own skin. Thoughts of Beca in her lap, claiming Chloe's mouth like it belonged to her, unrestrained. The images, the impressions of the moments, they're burned into Chloe's brain like brands. There's some kind of sensory thing going on and she can still hear and feel Beca, can still taste her skin and feel fingers pulling at her hair.

 

She groans into her mattress.

 

Her surprise over everything has taken a back seat to her arousal, but it's still there. Sitting ramrod straight in the back of the car, wide-eyed and frozen in shock. Because Chloe is the forward one in this relationship and she didn't know Beca was capable of, well, any of that. Taking the lead, kissing Chloe like she'd wanted to, reacting to Chloe like she'd wanted more. It's the intensity she'd felt, coming off of the brunette in waves, that's hit her hardest she thinks. Her anguish, her desire, the space in between those two that had seemed like no distance at all and had left Chloe's head spinning.

 

There's also this sick feeling too, lying heavily in her stomach and making it churn. Because Beca had been upset, she'd been crying, and to say that it had broken Chloe's heart would be an understatement. It had shattered it, decimated it, broken her. To see Beca that low, so adamant about her own failure, Chloe had just wanted to make it stop. Hold her until it faded. Which she was fully prepared to do, until Beca was suddenly in her lap, kissing Chloe with all the fire of a bubbling volcano, ready to erupt.

 

Maybe she should have stopped her. Maybe Chloe should have seen it as an uncharacteristic move and understood that Beca was upset, and that maybe that was the reason she'd, for lack of a better term, thrown herself at Chloe. It had all just felt so right. She should have asked her about it immediately after Cynthia Rose was done with her interruption, but Beca had seemed fine. Flushed, but Chloe is learning that that's just how Beca looks afterwards and okay, so that thought doesn't help Chloe's current condition in the slightest.

 

Chloe exhales, forcing all of the air from her lungs before taking in a deep, steadying breath.

 

Beca had left, not in a hurry exactly, but the shifty uncertainty that often circled the brunette had returned faster than had become the usual in the moments after the interruption. She'd excused herself with a stunted little “Uh, I guess I'll head downstairs and wait for Em?” And Chloe had smiled and nodded like nothing was amiss, when really her body had surpassed its boiling point and was melting off the edge of the bed.

 

And she wants to make sure that Beca's okay. She just needs to get a grip first.

 

On her hormones.

 

Because of Beca.

 

“Crap.”

 


 

After a few dozen more steadying breaths and having regained the ability to move without feeling like she'll either combust or de-solidify into a puddle, Chloe is able to check her appearance in the vanity's mirror and make it downstairs without incident. About half way down, she hears voices coming from the living room and steps off the bottom stair in that direction. Rounding the corner of the kitchen, Chloe spies Beca's sitting on one end of the couch, leaning forward with her forearms resting on her legs. Cynthia Rose is stretched out along the back with her head propped up on a hand and one leg bent at the knee. Emily is standing, a little awkwardly, in front of them much like she had Chloe and the rest of the Bellas during the night of her impromptu audition.

 

“-don't have the equipment but...” Beca trails off and Chloe can hear the cogs working even before she stops beside her. When she does, Beca tilts her head back to look at her and Chloe flashes a knowing smile.

 

“What are you scheming?” Beca scowls, but doesn't quite meet Chloe's eye.

 

“I'm not scheming, I'm just,” she waves a hand towards Emily, “carefully considering all options before putting a mutually beneficial plan into motion.” Behind them, Cynthia Rose barks a laugh and Beca shoot a glare over her shoulder. “Unless you have some super secret production studio in your back pocket....” She lets the sentence hang threateningly and Cynthia Rose admits defeat by letting her head fall back against the couch cushions, mumbling something unintelligible. “That's what I thought.” Chloe's lips stretch wide at Beca's playfully snappish tone and when the captain turns back to her, she cocks one lone, dark eyebrow. “Why are you grinning at me like that?” Chloe scrunches up her nose.

 

“You're so cute when you're playing 'big dog'.” Then she reaches out and pinches Beca's cheek, before tapping her palm against her now slack jaw as she walks between her and Emily to take a seat on the footstool. Chloe knows it isn't that pinching that has Beca's cheeks reddening. She catches the sidelong glare being aimed at her and just keeps on smiling. “What are you guys talking about?”

 

“Our collaboration.” Emily says, or rather, she explodes, beaming like her mouth is solar powered and she's been out in the sun all day. And it's adorable, how excited she is by this. How excited she'd been at the retreat when Beca had asked. She's acting the same way now, like Beca's a superstar, and Chloe gets that. Because she feels the same way. Whenever Beca asks for her input or if she can listen to a new mix, there's always a sense of unbearable excitement waiting to rush at Chloe. Grab hold of her and shake her about until she's dizzy. Which Beca can't understand of course, she stares at the pair of them like they're insane, but she doesn't need to. Beca knows Chloe doesn't lie and so she in turn knows that Beca just has to accept that Chloe believes it.

 

“Oh! Do you guys know what you're going to do yet?” She isn't as excited as Emily maybe, but Chloe's still pretty pumped about this. She can't wait to hear what they come up with because Emily really does have some killer song writing skills – she may have let Chloe take a peek at her notebook, Chloe may have squealed. She just loves seeing the creative side of people, okay? - and Beca is brilliant.

 

“Flashlight.” Emily beams, then falters, eyes darting to Beca. “I think. I mean, that's what we decided on, right? Unless you changed your mind? Which is totally, totally aca-cool-”

 

“Chill, Legacy.” Beca smiles, wryly. Emily fidgets like a nervous Energizer bunny. Chloe watches the interaction with a smile of her own, one that's warm and fond. “Definitely Flashlight and like I was about to say before someone interrupted,” she throws another pointed glance in Chloe's direction, who only smiles wider and waggles her fingers in a wave, “I don't have the kind of equipment we should be using,” she pauses and Chloe soaks in the way Beca's face changes, the small but cocksure shifting of her lips that lights it up with the kind of sly self-confidence that has always made Chloe just a little bit giddy, “but I know where we can find it.” And then Chloe's eyes narrow.

 

Because Beca is totally scheming.

 

“Where?” It's an innocent enough question, asked in an innocent enough manner, and Beca doesn't even need to look at her in order to see through it. Chloe can tell she has by the way Beca shrugs her shoulders.

 

“Nowhere.” She stands from her spot at the end of the couch and inclines her head towards the kitchen, motioning for Emily to go ahead. Emily lets out an excited squeak and does as instructed, and Chloe presumes Beca means to follow her, only she doesn't let her get that far. The second Beca so much as twitches in the direction of the kitchen, Chloe is reaching out, fingers skimming material before catching at the waistband of her sweats. She tightens her grip and gives one good tug. Beca bounces back like a ball at the end of a length of elastic, letting loose with a surprised yelp before almost stumbling into Chloe's lap. Immediately, she's winding her arms behind herself, batting at Chloe's hands before twisting out of her hold, rough and rushed. Their eyes meet for a second, then Beca's flit away to land on everything else in the room.

 

That sick feeling returns to upset Chloe's stomach, something that can be taken quite literally at times.

 

Chloe doesn't like upsetting people. She doesn't like anyone being mad at her and she doesn't like being mad or upset with anyone else. It takes a very real toll on her body. There had been a four day period a few months after she and Aubrey had first joined the Bellas, where Chloe had been basically bed ridden with the flu. Only it hadn't been the flu, but rather the side effects of Alice being a complete and total bitch to her. She can count on one hand the number of times she's had that feeling because of Beca, so it isn't something she normally associates with her.

 

What Chloe does associate Beca with, is happiness. Affection. That tingly, settling sensation that fills up Chloe's chest when she sighs because Beca's just done or said something amazing or dorky. To Chloe, Beca is the kind of comfort and contentment a person can spend a lifetime searching for. Beca's her best friend.

 

Beca being weird? Acting all standoffish and cool? Beca not looking at her? It sets off alarm bells for Chloe. Because the last time this happened, Beca had been hiding the internship from her, and given what had happened between them upstairs, it instantly puts Chloe on edge.

 

“Are you okay?” She just wants to make sure.

 

“What? Yeah, no, I'm fine.” It's as if Beca has forgotten how good they've become and reading one another. “Why would you,” Beca shakes her head, dispelling cobwebs, “I'm totally fine. Totes.” A dense, cloying mass of something coats the lining of Chloe's stomach, spills into her blood stream and makes everything thick and sticky. It isn't dread and it isn't sadness; it's that sickeningly acerbic feeling a person gets when they realise they're being lied to. Not being artfully redirected through ambiguous one-word responses, but outright lied to.

 

And Chloe doesn't understand why Beca would do this.

 

“Then why won't you look at me?” Every single one of Beca's anxious movements stop in an instant, like she's been flash frozen. Briefly, Chloe wonders if it's the question that does it or the tone of voice, because it had dipped and cracked in the middle against her will. Beca does look at her then, without blinking, and for the first time in a long while, Chloe isn't sure what she's seeing in those stormy eyes. Regret or remorse maybe, but Chloe isn't ready to consider the meaning behind either of those. She can feel her heart struggling to beat as it swims amongst the gummy, unsure mess inside of her. Beca's lips part and it's an eternity before she actually speaks.

 

“I'm sorry.” She breathes, but it does nothing to ease Chloe's fears, because she doesn't know what that means. She knows that it's honest, can see that in the way Beca's expression becomes drawn and tight like she's struggling with something. And Chloe reaches out because she wants to help, wants to understand. She brushes her fingertips against Beca's before grasping the hand in a loose grip.

 

“For what?” She rasps, quietly desperate. And Beca doesn't pull away from her this time, but neither does she offer anything in the way of a comforting squeeze and Chloe feels like she's being suffocated. She counts every struggling beat of her heart as Beca stares wordlessly at her, keeps counting until her lips part and Chloe finds she has to hold her breath.

 

Behind them, Cynthia Rose clears her throat and the sound makes Beca start. Chloe's hand falls away and they turn their heads in unison to find the other woman regarding them with raised eyebrows.

 

“Just wanted to remind y'all that we're still here.” The 'we' makes them both look towards the kitchen, where Emily is standing in front of the fridge, looking at the photos there and pretending not to listen. Beca flushes and Chloe watches the blush spread. One hand disappears into dark tresses, combing and tugging them back before returning to hang at Beca's side. She balls it into a fist, then jerks it up and down in a singular, firm motion that makes Chloe think of judges and gavels.

 

“I really am.” Beca says after a few seconds. “Can... we'll talk later, okay?” Chloe doesn't want to talk later, she wants to talk now, but if she always got what she wanted then she'd have gotten a pony for her eighth birthday and a dirt bike for her twelfth. So, she nods and does her very best impression of someone who's totally, one hundred percent fine with that, and smiles.

 

Because if Beca needs a bit of time, for whatever reason, then Chloe isn't about to stand in the way of that.

 

“Em, are you like, do you wanna do this now?” Emily spins around as Beca approaches her from behind, doe eyes wide and every word she knows suddenly scrambling to get out. They catch in her throat and leave her mouth hanging open and moving soundlessly. “If you're not busy or something?” Chloe watches as the newest addition to the Bella sisterhood is finally able to pull in a breath.

 

So totally not busy. Yes. Yes! That would be...” but she falters again and ends the sentence with an emphatic shake of her head that's so off-kilter, Chloe isn't sure if she's going for an affirmative or negative.

 

“Okay, I’m gonna need you to turn it down a notch.” Beca says it as nicely as she can manage, thumb and forefinger twisting an invisible knob hovering in the air in front of her, but an awkward irritation sits beneath her words. Readying to fire sarcasm on all cylinders. Emily manages to gain the upper hand on whatever it is her face is currently doing and schools her expression into one of mild excitement. Chloe can only barely detect the hints of crazy still swinging from the corners of her mouth. “Great. Okay, so I think the studio will have everything we need. No one's going to be there this late, so-”

 

“Beca!” The captain whirls, staring like a startled puppy as Chloe stands and walks around the couch, arms folded across her chest. “What do you think you're doing?” And yeah, she might sound like a shrill sorority mother who's just discovered that her girls are out of bed past curfew and wearing the kind of clothes that belong at a night club. So what? Beca blinks at her, the slight shake of her head that she gives Chloe making her hair sway back and forth.

 

“Uh,” Beca tilts her head to one side, fisting a hand again and pointing her thumb in Emily's direction as she scrunches up her face, confused, “collaborating?” Chloe bristles.

 

“You're talking about breaking and entering!” Because it's as if Beca doesn't even see the potential trouble something like this could cause, whereas Chloe could spot it from Prague. All bright lights and sirens, handcuffs and broken dreams. She angles her neck, sticking her head out towards Beca, who arches her upper body away from Chloe's wrath. “Do we need to discuss the black-as-sin mark that's already marring your criminal record?” Chloe sees Emily straighten in her periphery, attention piqued, and makes a mental note to clear that up at a later date. Beca's back has hit the breakfast bar and she's about as far away from Chloe as she can get without actually lying across its surface. Chloe only halts her advance once their toes are touching.

 

“Dude, can you like,” she narrows her eyes down at Beca, who visibly relents and all but melds into the worktop. “I have a key.” She finally squeaks out.

 

“Oh.” Chloe says, airily, and takes a step back. “Well, that's different.” Beca straightens with a half-hearted glare.

 

“Yeah. I know.” She rubs at the back of her neck and takes on Chloe's challenging eyebrow raise with one of her own. Beside them, Chloe thinks she can see Emily glancing back and forth between them like she's at Wimbledon. Eventually, Beca looks away. “But we should probably still make sure no one catches us.” She tells Emily, ignoring the eye roll that Chloe knows she sees.

 

After a few more squeals from Emily, she excuses herself to use the bathroom - “I have to pee, I'm so excited.” - and Chloe watches Beca pull out her phone to check the time, even though there's a clock on the wall behind her.

 

“Sneaking into recording studios in the middle of the night,” Beca glances up at her, “I didn't realise you were this much of a badass.” She flashes a teasing grin and there's an expression that passes over Beca's face, one that promises a coy comeback, but it's stolen away at the last second and instead of bantering, Beca just kind of smiles with a roll of her eyes and looks away.

 

And Chloe tries not to worry, she really does. But she never been very good at that.

 

“Hey, do you um,” what she is good at, is detecting the subtle changes to the other girl's tone. The way it jumps around like a wheel over cobblestone when she's self-conscious. Beca's looking down at her feet when she begins, toes on her left foot curled under and the knuckles pressing down into the floor. Like she's scuffing a sneaker across gravel, shy and embarrassed. Only different, because it's Beca and neither one of those can cover any of her emotions in Chloe's opinion. And Chloe has a lot of opinions when it comes to Beca. “Do you maybe want to like,” she does look up then, meets Chloe's eyes as she tangles her fingers together and bends her hands back, twisting them around restlessly, “come with?” Chloe's attention flickers down to Beca's feet and drifts swiftly back up. Just looking. “Or something.” Because she's very 'not Beca' in that moment.

 

Only, she's so 'totally Beca' too.

 

There are a handful of versions, each one of them the original Beca. Each one complex and riddled with differences.

 

Each one completely, utterly, and unconditionally loved by Chloe.

 

“Really?” She doesn't mean for it to come out sounding as shocked as it does, but her surprise kind of saturates the word. Drips from it like the lime green goo of ninety's Nickelodeon game shows. Beca nods.

 

“Yeah, I mean,” Chloe watches the way her shoulders shift, hears the heavy exhale that Beca's trying to keep quiet, lets her eyes follow the path of Beca's finger as it tucks her hair behind an ear, “it's like my first track, you know? My maiden voyage beyond the sea of mash-ups.” Chloe chuckles at the visual, at the way Beca's brow creases in brief embarrassment at having said that out loud. “It could be my first demo, so...” she trails off, blowing her breath out hard enough to make her sound like a horse nickering.

 

“It's a big deal.” Chloe supplements instinctively, not really having considered that before now. It could be an awesome first demo and she'd been excited before because the Bellas doing stuff together outside of a cappella has always given Chloe a kind of high, but the revelation sweeps her up like a strong gust of wind, carrying her up and away like a plastic bag. She reaches out and grips Beca by the shoulders, giving her a strong but gentle shake. Beca's eyes pop, one hand rising to touch the side of Chloe's, maybe to get her to stop, maybe just because. “It's a huge deal.” Chloe feels the smile stretching across her face, can almost see it reflected in Beca's eyes.

 

“Yeah.” Beca bobs her head once Chloe has stilled, hands staying at her shoulders even as Beca's moves, scratching at the back of her neck with a finger. “So I just thought, I mean, it'd be cool if...” she purses her lips, hand falling away, and it's everything Chloe can do not to giggle at how adorable Beca is being right now, but she wants to know where the brunette is going with this. Beca finally rolls her eyes and plasters on a fake, though thoroughly genuine self-deprecating smile. “Wow, okay. I'd just really like you to be there.” Then she bites her teeth together and waits.

 

Presumably for Chloe to respond.

 

Which is something the redhead is having a tiny bit of trouble with right now, what with it feeling like her lungs are being filled with water.

 

“I... what?” She sputters and Beca, still smiling like a serial killer, inhales noisily in a kind of backwards sigh that Chloe has come to recognise as the metaphorical steam rising from Beca's nearly boiling kettle. Which usually only shows up when she's frustrated with herself. “Yes. I- yes.” Chloe rushes to get out and feels warmth blossom as she sees relief flood Beca's face. “Of course. I'd love that.” Chloe's lips curve into an unapologetically uncontrollable grin that at least appears to relieve some of Beca's tension. Makes her smile seem more real.

 

“Okay.” Beca lets out another breath. “Good. Great. I'm gonna,” she inclines her head towards the doorway, “change.” It's a few seconds before Chloe realises she still has her hands on Beca's shoulders and she draws them back, enjoying the wry smile that the momentary lapse in concentration pulls from the brunette. Beca ducks around Chloe and heads for the hallway, the redhead hot on her heels because she should probably change too.

 

“Nah, it's cool.” Cynthia Rose says to no one in particular and Beca spins, one hand on the banister, to gawk in the direction she'd just come. “I'm just gonna chill here, but I appreciate the invite.” Beca's face shifts into a grimace, as she winces through a one-eyed squint and mouths an “oops” before Chloe can't contain her laugh any longer and ushers her up the staircase.

 

“We love you, Cee!” Chloe yells back for the second time that night and Cynthia Rose's incomprehensible mumbling follows them to the second floor.

 


 

 

As expected, Residual Heat is decidedly dormant when they arrive. The sickly orange glow from the street lamp on the corner lights the front of the building, illuminating the three of them in the window's reflection as they approach. Chloe had parked Stacie's car a little ways down the road “to avoid suspicion”, which Beca had repeatedly told her was unnecessary, but she has been a steadfast advocate for 'Safety First' – in all its forms – since first grade. She isn't about to start putting her traffic cone tiara on the line willy-nilly after so many years of diligently maintaining the title 'Sovereign of Safety'.

 

This is the first time Chloe's seeing the place where Beca works. Although she's pretty sure she's driven by it before, never really paying attention, so she sizes the building up. It looks nice from the outside, professional, but she tells herself to reserve all judgement as to whether or not it's a place worthy of Beca's talent until she's seen the inside.

 

“Okay so, the doors are locked,” Beca tells them, even though she and Emily have both just witnessed her pulling unsuccessfully at the handle, “which means there probably isn't anyone inside.” Chloe leans her shoulder against the exterior of the building and cocks her head at Beca.

 

“The lack of interior lighting and cars in the parking lot didn't give that away?” Beca shoots her a dirty look and Chloe purses her lips, smacking them in a kiss. Beca ignores her and reaches into the pocket of the oddly dressy overalls she's wearing to retrieve the small, circular, electronic key she'd been given so that she could let herself in early to prepare coffee for her superiors before they arrived. She waves it around a little frantically in front of the receiver panel but nothing happens.

 

“Oh my god, this thing just f-” she draws the letter out and then lets out an angry little laugh, “I hate this thing.” She tries holding it closer, something which Chloe thinks might be nerves making her movements jerky, but gets the same result. “What the hell is wrong with a regular key?” That bright red light stays bright. Beca sighs her frustration and Chloe chuckles before taking pity on her. She reaches over Beca's shoulder to take her hand, thumb falling into the dip where Beca's meets her forefinger as Chloe's rests her palm against the top of her hand, pinky curling around the side of the brunette's furthest most knuckle. She pulls Beca's hand back a ways and then moves it from left to right at a nice, even pace. The light blinks green and a buzzer sounds. Chloe lets go of Beca's hand, trailing her fingers over the brunette's shoulder as she takes hers back.

 

“Technology is so difficult.” Chloe whines, shifting her lips into a mockery of a pout just as Beca throws another glare her way, then she's catching the edge of the door being thrown open and motioning for Emily to follow Beca inside. She takes the rear, the three of them searching the darkness with wide eyes, looking for any signs of life as they sneak through the main office area. Chloe feels a bit like Kelly Garrett as they stalk through the shadows in the direction of the recording studio.

 

They make it there without spotting so much as a flicker of intelligent life, though Beca is quick to point out “that still could mean Dax is around here somewhere, but I'm pretty sure you could take him Legacy.” which makes Emily stand a little taller, prouder. It mostly makes Chloe smile a lot. Beca flicks on the main lights and then goes over to the sound board to hit a few switches, one of which turns a light on in the booth. Emily shuffles into the middle of the room behind her, bouncing on the spot, and when Beca turns and finds her there, her eyes dart up and down her tall frame in surprise.

 

“Dude, you can like, sit.” She gestures to the same rolling office chair Dax had been banished to weeks earlier and Chloe watches as Emily looks over it, past it, then finally sees it. She chuckles silently and takes the opportunity to survey the room. It's nice, smartly furnished, the equipment all seems to be sturdy and well built, which is about the only thing Chloe can comment on in that regard, having literally no experience with that stuff. Beca seems to approve though, if the glazed over look she gives every inch of the work space is anything to go by. Emily, rather than roll the chair over and then sit in it, chooses to do it the other way around and sits down, using her feet to pull herself forward bit by bit until she's sitting beside Beca at the board.

 

Chloe's already lit five candles, with the help of a lighter sitting on the edge of the desk, by the time either of them notice she's moved from her seat by the door.

 

“What's happening?” Beca looks around, completely confused, then up at Chloe, who smiles and shrugs her shoulders with a happy smile.

 

“I just thought I'd help set the mood.” Beca's eyebrows jump a few inches.

 

“Is 'horny college guy who wants to seem romantic but actually just wants to get laid' really the kind of mood we need right now?” She purses her lips and twists her mouth to the side and Chloe, bending to light yet another candle, shoots her a smirk over the flame.

 

“Not right now.” Because who knows what 'later' may bring. Beca's cheekbones gain a pale pink hue and her eyes dart to Emily, then back to Chloe. But she doesn't grin or roll her eyes, or do anything that she would usually do and it's like Chloe swallows a stone whenever that happens. She feels them struggle down her throat and land heavily in her stomach, one after another, until she's sure there's a miniature Everest in there. It takes longer than it should, but Beca whips out a generic “you're so weird” that allows Chloe to continue on. “I was going for relaxed.” She explains, moving over to the windowsill.

 

“Well, you're heading towards a fire hazard.” Beca quips and beside her Emily just about falls off her chair laughing. The sound of it makes even Chloe pause to look over. Because it's really not that funny, Chloe can admit that – and no one makes her laugh like Beca does – and the reaction is pretty intense. It's also fairly quickly subdued once they're both looking at Emily and the youngest Bella swallows, anxiously twitching her head and turning her mouth down at the corners.

 

“Yeah, no, not-not that funny, right? Okay. Sorry.” And Chloe smiles because Emily is cute and so filled with a zest for life that she reminds Chloe of herself. She's way more timid than Chloe has ever been though, but a small smile from Beca is enough to ease the confidence out of Emily. “Okay, so, how do you want to start?” Chloe drops back down into the chair beside the door and Beca swivels around to look at her.

 

“You're cool with this?” She asks, a brief cloud of worry moving in to darken her face. “You're not gonna be like, totally bored?” Chloe furrows her brow and shakes her head, smiling like that's the dumbest thing Beca has ever said. Which, it might be.

 

“Watching the master at work? I'm going to be riveted.” She says with a wink that makes Emily turn away, because sometimes Chloe can't help herself. “I'll just be over here. Doing my darnedest not to mess with the whole,” she gestures in their general area, “professional vibe.”

 

“Right.” Beca pauses, open-mouthed, the tip of her tongue touching her top row of teeth. “Okay.” Then she's spinning around again and Chloe settles into the chair with a grin.

 

It's a bit of an awkward start, what with neither woman really knowing how to actually begin. Chloe can see how Beca is holding back, not wanting to come across as bossy, and she can see how Emily is so desperate to impress and gain approval, that she doesn't want to risk voicing an opinion that might wreck her chances. The perks of being an 'invisible' observer.

 

It's kind of great actually, getting to sit back and watch them interact. To see them go from semi-awkward false starts to a coherent back and forth that makes them both more excited with every added word.They forget Chloe's there – something that only makes fondness swell – and lose themselves in the possibilities, totally unaware of the keen eyes drinking in the interaction with an odd sense of pride.

 

“I mean we could do,” the way Beca reaches for switches with confidence as she talks, “do you wanna, do, do you feel like you wanna layer a bunch of voices like,” the way she falls back on explaining things through notes and music; what she does best.

 

“I think in the beginning it could definitely build,” how she pays an almost intense amount of attention to every single thing Emily has to say, “um, I think it starts out light though.” And Chloe can almost feel how much that means radiating off the newest Bella. She knows how much it would mean if she were in Emily's position. Knows how much it means to have 'professional Beca' pay you any kind of interest at all. Because Beca is always so serious about music, so passionate, and unless you're Aubrey, there are no stupid ideas when it comes to the things you say to her. She takes every grain of melody-infused sand and adds it to the hourglass, giving you a bit more time to talk. Beca can talk about music for days, and Chloe would let her. Because there's something about the way Beca looks, when she's in that place, in the groove, in her element that streaks Chloe's sky with lightning.

 

Like the storm of the century; breathtaking to watch.

 

“Get your cute butt in the studio then.” Beca also gets cocky when she's in that place and Chloe's seen this unstoppable, flirtatious kind of confidence before, like verbal compliment vomit. It's just usually directed at her. Or, more recently, that stupid Das Sound Machine woman. “Don't tell my boss we're in here by the way.” Emily nods her head and mime zipping her lips together, then gets to her feet to walk around Beca and out of the room. A second later Chloe sees the door inside the booth open and Beca offers Emily a quick wave. Chloe clears her throat. The sound makes Beca jump and she pulls herself around in the chair by her toes. “You okay?” She blinks owlishly at Chloe. The redhead raises an eyebrow.

 

“Cute butt?” She does her very best to sound as unimpressed as possible and her efforts are rewarded by way of Beca's gloriously embarrassed glow.

 

“What?” It comes out as a too high half-laugh, they both know it. “I'm being, like, nice or whatever.” Chloe tuts, shrugging her shoulder with a forced apathy that threatens to crack her mask of cool indifference.

 

“Okay, but don't come crying to me when she confesses her undying love for you.” Beca's face slackens, turns paler than Chloe can ever recall seeing it.

 

Dude, don't-” Chloe interrupts her with a smirk, pointing towards the booth where Emily is patiently looking around.

 

“Your girlfriend is waiting.” Beca clenches her jaw and takes an extra few seconds to properly cement the glare she's giving Chloe before twisting the chair back. She hits a switch on the sound board as Emily points to the microphone.

 

“This is, wow...” Emily lets out a laugh, like she can't believe this is happening, “this is the real deal.” She sounds so awed. From where she's sitting, Chloe can't see Beca's face directly, but she can make out the faded reflection being cast against the glass.

 

“Yeah, don't touch anything, Legacy.” And Chloe finds herself unwilling to look away. She wants to remember every second of this. “You're very pretty but you seem clumsy.” And not just so that she can tease Beca mercilessly with it later. Emily slips the headphones on and gives Beca a thumbs up. “Great.”

 

Then just like that, they're off. Beats and vocals fill the small room, carrying the minutes away as Beca watches and listens. Chloe does the same, only most of her attention is on the captain. Beca might have wanted her there for moral support – or whatever – and she might have even seemed apprehensive, but that's gone now. Chloe can't help but watch the way she works, the way her fingers glide over sliders and twist knobs. The woman who can't get a remote controlled door to open knows every inch of a mixing board like the back of her hand, and it shows. There's a confidence to every movement that pulls at Chloe, that she finds indescribably attractive, that makes her shift in her seat.

 

'Professional Beca' is hot.

 

It makes her think of earlier, of the confidence Beca had displayed then too, though that had been different. Bold and raw, her hands on Chloe, deftly tuning her towards the right key only to leave it as an unfinished symphony. She can still feel the fading vibrations from the strings, each one perfectly plucked. Chloe Beale has never been ashamed of an attraction a day in her life and now is no different, but the unease brought on by Beca's behaviour is still with her. Lurking.

 

She worries her lower lip as she catches sight of Beca's reflection lighting up and laughing at something Chloe's missed. Because Beca is distracting and she care barely hear the song being played back over mismatched beat of her heart. Thumping in time with Beca's rhythm, in sync with her every move. It's hypnotic. She's so sure and alive with that certainty. It reminds Chloe of a pool filled with bodies instead of water and the opening lyrics of 'No Diggity' slicing through the chorus of 'Feels Like The First Time'.

 

Her fingers drum restlessly atop the arm of the chair and she honestly has no idea how long they've been here when Beca whoops an “I think we've got it!” that brings Chloe crashing back to earth, into the present. She blinks a few times to clear her mind and sees that Beca has turned to beam at her.

 

Chloe slowly lets out a breath and consciously steadies herself before returning it.

 

“Well?” Her eyes are big and bright and fixed on Chloe. “What do you think?” But it's in a way that makes her feel like Beca is searching for something. Something specific to Chloe. That even in spite of Beca knowing, obviously, that what she and Emily have just put together is good, she still needs Chloe to sign off on it. Give it her signature mega-watt stamp of approval. And it's strange, how Beca can appear so certain and yet unsure of herself at the same time.

 

“Bec,” Chloe lets out an airy laugh of disbelief and shakes her head, pushing herself up out of her seat. Beca's eyes dart away from her face as Emily re-enters the room, then back as Chloe comes to a stop and looks down at her. “I think it's amazing.” And maybe her voice is too soft, maybe she says it with too much reverence, maybe all that awe she feels for Beca's talent shines through a little too brightly. “You're amazing.” Maybe it creates a moment that's too similar to the one they'd shared in Chloe's bedroom.

 

Whatever the reason, Beca's ears burn and she looks away.

 

“So?” Emily is one big excited squeal. “How aca-awesome does it sound?” Beca recovers quickly though, rolling over to the computer and reaching for the mouse.

 

“Why don't,” she pauses, queuing everything up, “you listen for yourself?” then hits play.

 

A full play through of the song only reaffirms that which Chloe had already, albeit distractedly, known; it is amazing. They both are. Emily's vocals are solid and Beca's touch is all over the song. Her heart is in it, Chloe can hear it, feel it, see it in the way the base line jumps around the screen. And then the three of them are jumping, heads snapping in the direction of the main office at the sound of a door banging closed.

 

“Shit.” Beca hisses, thundering to her feet and then just standing there immobile with her hands frozen in mid-air. Emily looks like she's going to pass out. Chloe is nigh-on hyperventilating. This is why she didn't think this was a good idea. Because now they're going to get caught and they're either going to have to bribe whoever this is to stay quiet or they'll have to call Stacie down here, or Beca will be fired and none of these are things that Chloe particularly wants to happen. “Uh, Uh,”suddenly, Beca is a flurry of motion beside her, “the booth!” All flailing limbs and hands that grab at Chloe's arms. “Hide in the booth!” Grab and push at persistently and Chloe stumbles backwards, almost tripping over her own feet.

 

“What? Why?” Because she would really rather stay as an extra body in case they need to fight their way out of here. For some reason. Beca keeps on ushering her towards the recording booth.

 

“Because it's probably my boss. No one else has any reason to be here this late,” Chloe gives her a pointed look and readies herself to unleash a verbal lashing because they shouldn't even be here but Beca crashes through it like a pane of sugar glass, “and I can explain Emily and me being here, but if he thinks I just bring my friends in to hang out whenever then he's totally going to fire my ass so please.” She lets go of Chloe's arms and gestures to the door they're in front of. “I'll come get you when it's safe.” Reluctantly, Chloe nods her head and slips inside, crouching down out of view of the window.

 

If her phone can be trusted – which she isn't sure it can be since the numbers seem to be changing at an agonisingly slow place – seven minutes have passed. Chloe had sat down on the floor after the first few and she waits, anxiously tapping her thumbs against her kneecaps and staring at the door like Beca will appear if Chloe thinks hard enough. She's never been so annoyed at not being able to eavesdrop in her life, and that's including when they were left to wait like animalswhile those two sycophants from the National A cappella Association were deciding on the fate of the Bellas.

 

Chloe doesn't enjoy not knowing what's going on. She hates it, in fact. It makes her twitchy. Especially when it involves any of the Bellas, because they're her family and if something is going on with her family, then Chloe needs to know exactly what it is, immediately. So she can help or try and fix it, or sing at it. Something.

 

So when Beca finally appears, like an apparition in front of the door, the relief that washes over Chloe is immense. When Beca grins, like an idiot, and gives her two thumbs up, that relief starts to change. Starts to charge as Beca opens the door.

 

“Dude, he liked it!” And then it explodes, the impact sending Chloe rocketing up and shooting forward. “I played it and he-” Chloe barrels into her, wrapping both of her arms tightly around Beca's neck as the brunette laughs – a real, full laugh that makes Chloe's head spin as she feels Beca hug her back – and tries to stop them from careening to the floor. She presses her cheek to Beca's and buries a hand in her hair, smile so wide it's impeding her ability to speak.

 

“Beca!” It isn't quite a shriek, though it's close, and a still chuckling Beca playfully jerks her head away, like she's being deafened, but Chloe doesn't let her go too far. Her hands slip around to cup Beca's face as she pulls back, chuckles fading into a smile, and Chloe brushes her thumbs over soft skin. “I,” she stops, tripping over the unexpected lump sitting in the middle of her throat. She lets out a breath that's shaky with a sudden surge of emotion and blinks to clear her vision, then tries again. “I knew he would.” Because she's never doubted Beca, not for a second, not once. Nobody in their right mind would.

 

Beca's smile shifts, tentative and slow, and then she's looking up at Chloe like she believes her. Her smile carries that belief to the rest of her expression and the sense of gratitude, that she's actually touched by the words, emanating from Beca makes Chloe want to kiss her. So she can make sure Beca knows how amazing she is. Chloe is just so happy. And she's so caught up in Beca's expression that she doesn't notice the other woman's gaze dropping to her mouth until it happens for a second time. Heat flares to life behind her ribs, reaching out to scorch her shoulders, and something in her stomach coils tightly when her fingers slip towards Beca's neck, moved there by the brunette's forward motion.

 

A motion that ceases almost as quickly as it began.

 

Beca blinks, then takes a step backward, out of Chloe's space. Out of her reach. And that's when Chloe twigs.

 

Beca hasn't been pulling away from Chloe, she's been pulling away from herself. She's doing it right now. Pulling away from her reactions, her reactions to Chloe, because of course that's it. Beca's such a control freak when it comes to her emotions and the way they rule her, mentally and physically, it only makes sense that she'd be freaked out after making the first move for once. Because it had kind of been a big move. Like, earthquake big. Chloe's pretty sure she felt the ground move, only she can roll with things like that. She wears her emotions like a cape, the sole purpose of which is to battle evil and sadness.

 

Beca does not.

 

Beca's like the brooding anti-hero who spends the first three-quarters of the movie denying their heroism, only to fly out of the shadows to save the day in the nick of time. Unable to deny the calling in the end.

 

“We um,” Beca's voice cracks and she grimaces at the sound of it before turning to walk back into the studio, “we should probably take off though. Sneak you out before he sees.” And Chloe doesn't say anything. Doesn't try to pull Beca back, just silently agrees and follows in her wake.

 

Because she knows that Beca needs to work through this on her own and that she'll find her way back to Chloe when she's ready.

Chapter Text


Beca is lost.

 

Not in a physically literal sense, but rather she's mentally lost. A bit turned around inside her head. Like she's reached a crossroads and the signs are all still crisp and clear, but she can't remember where it is she wanted to go. And she remembers this feeling from the bygone days of her youth, when the sound of screaming parents could only be drowned out by music. She remembers the conflict that had warred within her, the part of herself that so desperately wanted it to be over, for them to just be apart so that the fighting would stop, and the part that yearned for everything to go back to how it had been when she was little. When they still loved each other. She remembers the utter confusion brought on by not knowing exactly what it was she wanted and how that was amplified by sound of her own voice screaming at her during every quiet moment. When she didn't have music to drown it out.

 

Jesse had once asked her why she pushes people away. That's why. Because when there are people, things become complicated and confusing, it's inevitable. People fight, they yell, they love until they hate, and Beca hadn't wanted anything to do them as a species. She'd had such great aspirations of ignoring everyone, speeding through her only year at Barden and then hopping a plane to L.A. Where she could be aloof, but charming, towards people who might be worth her time.

 

Only people had gotten in the way of that too. Had demanded Beca's time like she'd it to spare. And people are messy and loud, persistent.

 

But they're funny and talented, and smart too. They're loving, in a way that doesn't always scare her.

 

And this is what she's talking about; she doesn't even know how she feels about people in general. Beca hates not knowing.

 

So, yeah, she remembers this. Like an echo from the past, somewhat altered by the years and allowing no further insight than it had back then despite the familiarity. Because while the feeling is the same at its very core, this time it comes via a different vein. One that Chloe has nicked with her knife, spilling brilliant red blood in thin rivers along her arm. Dripping off her fingertips, pooling at her feet. Leaving her numb and immobile, because she doesn't know how this happened. How she got to this place.

 

A place where she climbs into the laps of her best friends and basically attacks them like a rabid dog.

 

She's mortified. Horrified. She's really, really, not confused, but something close. Something similar. And she doesn't know what to feel right now, what to do. How to apologise for what she'd done or if she even wants to, and what does that even mean?

 

She's embarrassed that she lost her cool like that. That she let herself go so wildly. Because Beca Mitchell isn't wild, she's moderately excitable at best. But then that's nothing new either, is it?

 

That Chloe can illuminate parts of Beca that Beca didn't know were there. Tucked into the shadows, just waiting for the right spectrum of light to hit them.

 

She doesn't know what it is about Chloe. What makes her an exception to all of Beca's rules. Chloe is the kind of person Beca hadn't been able stand being around in high school, all of that cheer and brightness was a drain on her brooding angst. Even now, after literally being forced into becoming more comfortable with group hugs and dog piles, and just every manner of personal space invasion imaginable, there's a difference. When Amy or Stacie or any of the other Bellas hug her, Beca will awkwardly pat their back and wait for them to move away. Will count the seconds until they do, just to keep herself from throwing her body towards the other side of the room. It's like an itch she isn't supposed to scratch, and she knows that, but she wants to anyway. So she stands there and tries not to, tapping her foot and counting to distract herself until the urge goes away.

 

When Chloe hugs her, Beca will roll her eyes and think about how big of a goof her best friend is. She still counts, but she doesn't know why. There's no agitating itch to get away from with Chloe. Sometimes she'll squeeze too tight and Beca will try to get free so that she can breathe again, but that's to be expected, right?

 

With Chloe, Beca doesn't feel the desire to run anymore.

 

Or she hadn't, until tonight.

 

After they drop Emily off at her dorm, Chloe drives them back to the Bella house, alternating between quietly humming and singing along the songs playing on the radio. Beca can't remember the last time she felt so tense in Chloe's presence, the unwelcome kind of tension that waits for something to snap. It seems she's the only one feeling it though, because Chloe doesn't bring it up. Chloe doesn't say a word to her the whole drive back, and apart from the smile she'd flashed Beca at the one red light they'd been forced to stop at, she doesn't even look at her.

 

And it shouldn't bother Beca, silence between them has always been fine. Nice. But Beca is beginning to feel scratchy and her leg starts to bounce when they turn onto their street, not stopping until Chloe's put the car in park and unlocked the doors. There's a light on in the library-slash-exercise room, but apart from that the rest of the house is dark. They reach the back door at the same time and Chloe steps back with another smile, gesturing for Beca to go ahead. Which she does, using her key to unlock the door and stepping over the threshold into the hallway. Curious, she heads towards the library and sees that the door is open.

 

“Oh my god.” Beca leans against the frame, staring at the sight before her, incredulous. “Stacie, it's almost midnight. Why are you riding the elliptical like a speed demon?” The buxom brunette only notices Beca about halfway through her tirade, but when she does she grabs the wires connecting her ear buds and tugs them out with a smile.

 

“Hey, Deejay Bee. What's up?” Beca gestures towards her.

 

“What are you doing?” Stacie furrows her brow and looks down the length of her body, like she's checking for something she's missed. She's wearing a pair of the tiniest shorts Beca has ever seen and a sports bra that sort of looks like it's crying out for help. Her skin is covered in a thin sheen of sweat and the strands of hair that have escaped from her ponytail stick to her face.

 

“Sexercising?” The answer pulls a giggle from Chloe and it lands unexpectedly close to Beca's ear, making her jump and whip her head around so quickly that she almost clobbers Chloe's face with her forehead. She jerks back, surprised, and Chloe scrunches her nose up in that way that Beca knows means “sorry”. Beca accepts the apology silently and turns back to Stacie, expression serious.

 

“What the hell is that?”

 

“You know,” Stacie begins vaguely, retrieving the small towel she has draped over the front of the machine and dabbing it over various parts of her body. “Like regular exercising, only specifically tailored towards upping your sexual stamina.” Beca raises an eyebrow.

 

“And this is something you need more of?” Stacie grins like Beca just gave her the biggest, best compliment, and shrugs her shoulders as she swipes the towel across the back of her neck.

 

“You can never have enough stamina in the bedroom.” Green eyes drift away from Beca's, over to the warm body at her back. “Right, Chlo?” Beca hears the redhead's appreciate hum and tries not to move. Because Chloe is really close to her and if she moves, they'll be touching. And that's the exact opposite of what Beca has been trying to accomplish since she left Chloe's bedroom. If she doesn't touch Chloe, then she won't freak out and attack her again. Which is a totally rational route to take.

 

“You know it, Stace.” But Chloe is really close and her voice is so low it's sultry. She can feel the words brush by her face.

 

“Okay.” Beca drawls, high and uncomfortable. “I'll leave you too to compare notes. I’m gonna hit the sack.” She manages to slip by Chloe without contact and calls a goodnight back over her shoulder. She feels eyes on her, boring into the back of her head until she ascends the stairs out of view.

 

She feels bad. She feels awful, shutting Chloe out, but this is the only thing Beca thinks will help. She needs a bit of distance, just until she can screw her head back on straight and not feel like such a horny idiot.

 

Amy is, unsurprisingly, absent from their bedroom. Beca wonders into the closet to change, throwing everything she takes off into the hamper and walking back to her bed, onto which she collapses, face down, head pointed towards the end of the bed. She keeps her feet in the air to avoid touching them to her pillow, because gross, and lets the mattress muffle the deep groan she releases before flipping onto her back. She brushes the hair out of her face and exhales loudly.

 

The thing is, Beca doesn't know why she's acting like this. Well, she does, but she doesn't know why she's reacting this way. She's embarrassed, yeah, but it's not like this is the first time that's happened around Chloe. The redhead usually wraps her in a side hug or bumps their shoulders together, and Beca will roll her eyes as her cheeks burn. And that's it. She doesn't pull away from Chloe, retreat back into the cave she'd lived in before Barden. She's been out in the sun too long, she can't see down there anymore. She screws her eyes closed and drapes her forearm across them.

 

She'd liked it. She'd wanted it. A lot.

 

That's the problem. That's the issue here. Because she's pretty sure she isn't supposed to be feeling any of that? This, what they're doing, it's for Chloe and yeah, Beca's been having fun up until now and it's not like kissing the redhead is a chore, it's just that Chloe is her best friend.

 

She shouldn't want to kiss her until she can't breathe or touch her until she loses her voice.

 

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Beca pushes herself up and decides that she needs to sleep. Maybe this will all make more sense in the morning. Maybe this will all be gone in the morning.

 

She makes it to and from the bathroom without running into anyone and slips beneath her covers with minty fresh breath, and the beginnings of a stress headache. She lies on her stomach, head turned towards the wall and stares at nothing. She doesn't want Chloe to get the wrong idea. Whatever the hell that means. She doesn't know, but the thought tugs at her regardless, and Beca hates this. Not know what she's feeling, not being able to explain any of it, even to herself. Not being able to rationalise why she'd gone at Chloe like a vegetarian would a salad, or why she'd basically invited Chloe to grind-

 

Beca stops the thought. Grabs it by the neck and shakes it, before throwing it into a shadowy corner. Her breath shudders out of her and she tries to forget the way Chloe had looked, hovering over her in the dark. The way she'd felt, pushing Beca down into the bed and pressing, rolling against her. She squeezes her eyes tight.

 

“Beca?” Only to blink them open, wide, when that voice replaces the blood in her veins with ice water. “Are you asleep?” She considers not answering, maybe feigning a coma.

 

“I'm awake.” She whispers back instead, then lets her eye drift closed, mentally chastising herself. The bed dips before Beca gets the chance to roll over and she feels Chloe lie down next to her on the edge. Not against her though, they aren't quite touching, which is impressive given the size of her bed. Beca can't help but feel the weirdness in that.

 

“Hey.” Chloe's voice is the kind of quiet used around people who are actually asleep by those wishing not to wake them. Beca tries to turn onto her side to look at her, but she gets tangled in the sheets when she rolls back, trapping herself. She struggles for a few seconds until Chloe's smile lights up the room and she reaches over to help tug the sheets free, giggling. When she's finally loose, Beca completes her movement, giving her covers a little kick for good measure.

 

“Hi.” She's been told it's astounding, how awkward she can make a single word sound. She licks her lips and tries not to chew at them, shuffling back a short distance to give them both some breathing space.

 

The bedroom around them is dark, with only the night spilling in through the window at the top of the stairs. Amy had lifted the blind that morning and Beca had forgotten to lower it, so she can see a few stars twinkling in the sky beyond the pane if she angles her head right. She doesn't try to see them now though, she just looks at Chloe looking at her, and it reminds Beca of the tent, only they're both right side up this time.

 

Chloe's legs shift, brushing against Beca's knees beneath the duvet. For a long moment, everything is silent.

 

“You were awesome tonight.” It's weird how she's never noticed it before, but Chloe's sincerity is like way more affective at close range. When every shade of blue making its home in her eyes is visible and Beca can see exactly how her lips curve into a smile. Every line. They way they twitch at the corners milliseconds before Chloe allows the movement to stretch and flourish, brightening her face.

 

“Uh...” it blinds her a little, and she stumbles, “thanks.” She's glad it's dark; she's probably blushing. And that's another thing that's weird, or different at least. Beca Mitchell doesn't blush, not around anyone else, not unless that person is purposefully trying to embarrass her and especially if that person is Jesse. Because he's an asshole and he knows where every single one of her 'annoy me' buttons are.

 

“I mean it.” But Chloe knows where all of her 'flatter me' and 'make my insides twist' buttons are, and Beca stuffs one hand underneath her pillow to clench the cheap material in it.

 

“No, I mean,” she shakes her head as best she can, “I know. That you mean it.” Chloe's brow creases. Beca balls her hand tighter. “I do.” And she does.

 

Chloe doesn't lie.

 

“I um,” Chloe begins against after a few seconds, pausing to flash a small smile, “I know that I should really be giving you space right now,” Beca blinks and parts her lips to interrupt, but Chloe keeps going, “but I wanted to make sure that you were okay.”

 

And yeah, so Beca had kind of been expecting this. She had just been hoping to do this after a few hours sleep. Once her unconscious brain had had time to work things through, or just wipe the earlier portion of the evening from her memory. Which she doesn't really want, but she doesn't want to think about not wanting that either, and really, that is her problem in a nutshell.

 

“Yeah.” The word leaves her as an exhale and she lets her eyelids drift shut for a heartbeat. “Yeah, I'm fine.” She is. In an overall, 'big picture' sense. There are bits of her that aren't, tiny little sections of herself that she's in the process or partitioning off, just for now. She can see it in Chloe's eye though, that she wants to ask more, that she isn't convinced, and sometimes this whole 'Chloe being able to see right through her' thing is super inconvenient. But because Chloe is Chloe, she leaves it alone, with a nod and a smile, and Beca breathes a quiet sigh of relief.

 

“Looked like you had fun though.” And then almost chokes on it as she stares at Chloe, eyes wide with panic. Chloe seems to understand and quickly amends. “With Em, at the studio.” As soon as Emily's name is mentioned, Beca starts nodding.

 

“Oh, yeah. Totally. She's really talented.” She's not ashamed to admit it, she's jealous of Emily. Her ability to fit words together in a way that draws the melody to them. She's lucky that they gained a Legacy this year; who knows what would have happened if Emily hadn't been here for her to collaborate with.

 

“Yeah. And pretty.” Beca furrows her brow at the odd but not untrue statement, watching as Chloe's smile returns.

 

“Uh. Yeah? Yes.” Then morphs into a full blown smirk that leaves Beca with zero time to prepare herself.

 

“Pretty cute butt, too.” There's a handful of seconds that poise themselves on a knife edge for a small eternity, then start to tip forward.

 

“Do not-”

 

“Beca Mitchell, you are such a flirt.” Then they're off like a roller-coaster.

 

“Shut up! I am not! No!” Chloe's eyebrows jerk towards her hairline and she turns the corners of her lips down momentarily, conceding to something that goes unheard.

 

“I mean, I'm impressed. I didn't know you had that kind of game.” Beca's face is burning, but she honestly can't tell if annoyance or embarrassment is the cause this time. She wants to hit Chloe with her pillow.

 

“That wasn't-” but instead buries her face in it, mumbling, “Chloe, oh my god,” before resurfacing to watch Chloe's elated grin settling back into place. “That is literally me just being awkward. You know what that looks like, dude!”

 

“Mmhmm.” Chloe hums and Beca knows that if looks could kill, the redhead would currently be in the I.C.U. - where she would make a completely successful recovery – and Beca would be out of this conversation. It makes her feel like such a creeper, because Emily is an actual baby and just, no. “Is this how you win over all the girls?” Chloe leans in to whisper, and it's barely a few centimetres but it's enough to make Beca's toes curl reflexively, and she feels heat sweep along the back of her neck as bright blue eyes narrow. “You reel us in with your awkward charm and clumsy wile,” Beca has the good sense to at least appear affronted, “make us fall for you and then you cast us aside once you unveil your inner Rhett Butler.” Once Chloe's finished, Beca arches an eyebrow.

 

“Yeah, I don't know who that is,” Chloe actually gasps, but Beca ignores it, grasping at the frayed ends of her sarcastic confidence and twisting her face into an expression of pained acknowledgement, “but it's okay. I get it now.” Chloe forms her mouth around an “oh?” and Beca nods. “You're jealous.”

 

“Jealous?” Chloe's eyes are shining and the thought of how Beca doesn't need to look out of the window to see stars floats through her mind unbidden. Now she wants to hit herself with the pillow.

 

“Yeah.” She gives a nonchalant half-shrug and tries not to blink as Chloe stares her down, expression suddenly blank. Beca unclenches her hand beneath the pillow when she realises she can feel her heart beating in it and lies it, clammy side down, against the mattress.

 

“Maybe I am.” Beca's heart stills inside her chest. “Maybe...” her eyes flick over Chloe's lips as she licks then curves them slowly into a the kind of salacious grin that shouldn't make Beca's skin itch. “Maybe I don't want to have to share you.” But it does.

 

She wonders if these moments should feel as intense as they do, as charged. She wonders how much of that is caused by her inability to behave like a normal, well put together human being most of the time.

 

She wonders if Chloe ever looked at Tom the way she's looking at her now. Wonders if she ever looked at Jesse that way. Like she wanted to devour him on the spot. Possess him. And she knows that Chloe is playing with her, it's just that she's really, really convincing. Scarily so. But it's the fun kind of scary that Beca never knows what to do with. So she just gapes like a startled fish until Chloe breaks and starts giggling.

 

“I hate you.” Beca insists, breathlessly, once she manages to pull herself out of her daze. Chloe hums and shakes her head.

 

“No. You don't.” She wrinkles her nose up and Beca clenches her teeth in a smile.

 

“I kinda do.” But Chloe just keeps on shaking her head, wearing that stupidly attractive smile that Beca eventually has to look away from. “You drive me freaking-” she's going to say “crazy”, it's right there on the tip of her tongue, but what comes out is an inarticulate groan of frustration and she presses her face into her pillow again.

 

She's taken a few stifled breaths by the time Chloe's hand starts stroking over her hair and she has to take a few more before she can find the strength to turn and look at her again. Chloe's smile is different now, quieter, gentler. And rather than stop, Beca's heart reacts as though it's being squeezed in an iron grip.

 

“You can like it, you know.” Chloe's voice is hushed, reserved. The idea that she might be afraid strikes Beca mid mind-melt. “It's okay. It doesn't have to mean anything.” And this is the side of Chloe that kills her, without fail, every time. This genuine, sincere, kind Chloe who's always there, but is so often surrounded by other aspects of her bubbly personality that it gets pushed to the back. Never forgotten, just out of the way. Right now though, there's nothing else. No more smart remarks or teasing comments. No sexual undertones or sly glances. No slight hysteria or glassy-eyed vulnerability.

 

Just Chloe. Wanting to make sure her friend understands. Make sure she knows. That she's okay.

 

“I know.” And just like that, Beca does. Just like that, it's simple, it's fine. She might not know exactly how or when or why, but right now none of that matters. Chloe is telling her that it's okay, that what Beca did is okay, and just like that, Beca believes her.

 

Because Chloe doesn't lie.

 

So, she doesn't flinch away or twitch when Chloe's fingers drift across the scant distance that separates them to brush a few strands of hair back from Beca's fluttering eyes. Her touch is like a whisper against Beca's skin and she feels it through every inch of her.

 

“Do you?” Quaking, like an invisible vibration. And Beca knows, she does, but words aren't her thing, so she can't explain it – any of what she feels – to Chloe. Wouldn't know where to begin even if she did have the words. Suspects everything would fall short or become convoluted and confusing. Words can either carry too much weight, or not enough.

 

Beca decides to show Chloe instead.

 

Using the hand still hiding beneath her pillow, she pushes herself up and over in one quick movement. She shoves at the duvet, kicking her legs free, and she leans into Chloe, who barely has time to turn her head before Beca's ducking down. Dropping into a kiss that sends that inner vibration whirring towards something almost tangible. Hair curtaining them off from the outside world, she kisses Chloe soundly. A firm press of her lips that grounds her in the moment before she lets herself go.

 

And feels the chains that have been weighing her down for the last few hours drop loose as she consciously shucks them off. Their enormous lack of necessity finally resonating as she slides her tongue into Chloe's mouth with neither prompting nor outright permission. She feels a cool gust of air as Chloe inhales sharply through her nose, hears the low groan Beca's boldness pulls from her, and feels the way Chloe moves her body until her back is parallel with the mattress.

 

Chloe grabs a fistful of Beca's sleep shirt as she tentatively returns the kiss and the act sparks a flicker of annoyance inside Beca. Because she doesn't want 'tentative' right now.

 

What she wants, is to show Chloe that she knows.

 

What she wants, is to let go.

 

What she wants, is to kiss and touch, and feel Chloe without worrying.

 

What she wants, is to make Chloe feel too.

 

She sucks the redhead's lower lip into her mouth, nipping at full flesh, tugging, as she slides in closer to Chloe and kisses her again. Firm and thorough; the way Chloe kisses her. And of course she likes this. Why wouldn't she want this? Why should it scare her or make her feel weird and guilty? Make her feel anything other than a sense of enjoyment. Chloe's a really good kisser and Beca's pretty sure she isn't half bad either. At least, that's what she's gathering from the way her shirt is being pulled at. Stretched taught to the point of tearing.

 

“If you rip this shirt...” she breathes into Chloe's mouth, feels her chest heave as she draws in a lungful of oxygen.

 

“You'll be topless.” Chloe finishes, eyes sparkling in the dimness and teeth flashing bright. “You know that's like a really bad incentive to make me not rip your shirt off, right?” Something in Beca's stomach twists, makes her dizzy, and Chloe releases a lofty sigh. “I have seen you naked.” Beca rolls her lips together, holding the expression for a few beats, and then parts them with an audible smacking sound.

 

“Yeah.” She half snaps, half gasps, tone pained. “I remember.” Chloe lets out an appreciative little moan that sends a line of fire along Beca's spine. But she tries not to visibly react, because that's exactly what Chloe's looking for.

 

“Me too.” But then Chloe does that thing where she bites her lip and sighs all dreamily, looking Beca in the eyes as she whispers, “Nightly.” And then that line of fire is coming back around, scorching her insides and searing an image onto the back of closed eyelids that is as new and alien to her as her body's response to it is. She swallows Chloe's quiet laughter as she kisses her again and feels her stomach clench when hands stroke up along her sides, then down over her back. Their tongues brush and Beca's whole frame jerks when one of Chloe's hands drifts down over the seat of her pants.

 

And there's an instant where the kiss halts, where everything slows to a crawl and Beca's hanging in suspended time, weighing her options and trying to decide. And it's like she forgets the point of this, too preoccupied by falling back on old habits. But her body remembers. It's as Chloe's retracting her hand and Beca think she hears her apologise or ask if she's okay, or maybe both, that everything catches back up to itself.

 

She presses another kiss to Chloe's lips and feels the redhead's hand pause in its retreat. Another kiss, chaste but heavy, then Beca's mouth is moving to Chloe's jaw. Skimming along the bone and making Beca think back to the car, to what Chloe did and how it made her feel. She moves her head so that their cheeks are touching and her mouth is poised above Chloe's ear. All she needs to do is say it. To not think and to just say it. Do it. Do whatever. Do what she wants.

 

“You can put it back.” Chloe's exhale, warm and near, splits in the middle and trips into an unrestrained whimper as Beca presses hot, wet kisses to her neck. Chloe smells like the lotion she uses, some fancily-named berry that Beca had never heard of before, and her skin is silky. She briefly, and silently, commends the lotion for working so well and then all of her thoughts are derailed when she reaches a spot between the hollow of Chloe's throat and her collarbone. Her teeth catch as she dips to kiss there, grazing skin, and Chloe's breath hitches so violently that for a second Beca's terrified she's done something wrong.

 

But then Chloe puts her hand back and gives a single, gently encouraging squeeze, and Beca's mind goes blank.

 

She presses into Chloe, sucking and nipping lightly at the skin. Chloe whimpers, her free hand disappearing into Beca's hair, and she might have like, super limited experience when it comes to giving hickeys, but she finds herself utterly unwilling to not try this. To do anything that will result in the termination of the sounds Chloe's making. She trails kisses along her collarbone, then returns to the area to repeat the action. The fingers in her hair tighten and she can feel the way Chloe's struggling to control the motion, to not grip too tightly, in the way her fingers stutter. The way tremors shake her other hand as the moves it to the small of Beca's back. And maybe it's her imagination, but Beca thinks she can feel Chloe's heartbeat against her lips. Thumping, rapid.

 

“Harder.” Beca's whole body lights up at the demand, the sound of Chloe's voice as it's pulled from her, breathless and needy. Arousal slinks through Beca, white hot, and she feels it squirming. Unbearable and intense. All-consuming. She can't do anything but oblige. To do otherwise never occurs to her. She rests her hand in the dip above Chloe's hip and clamours for purchase, needing something to hold on to. Then she does as she's told, drawing the flesh in harder, teeth scraping harshly, tongue pressing firm to sooth the burn. Chloe's mouth falls open with a gasp and her back arches a short ways off the bed beneath Beca. And it's intoxicating.

 

It makes Beca do it again.

 

The sound that leaves Chloe this time is somewhere between a cry and a curse and Beca shifts her positioning, hoping for a clearer result. She isn't sure exactly what it is that earns it; the placement of her mouth or her hand, and she doesn't remember when the latter gained a mind of its own but her palm is suddenly curving around Chloe's rib cage and resting against bare skin.

 

“Bec.” And Chloe's moaning her name in a way that Beca can't comprehend. Simultaneously surprising and sexy, and it makes her release abused skin to break away. Because she can't breathe through the heat. She feels stifled and sick, like she's running a fever. She glances up and finds Chloe already looking at her, pupils blown and face flushed, but concern has drawn her eyebrows together. Beca realises that she's only okay with two of those things, so she kisses her again. To try and ease Chloe's tension, even if it worsens her own.

 

Fingernails scrape her hipbone and there's a pressure, low in her gut, steadily building, and she knows what it is.

 

But it's okay.

 

So she keeps kissing Chloe, over and over, like she's desperate and maybe she is. What does it matter?

 

It's okay.

 

The material of Chloe's shirt shifts unexpectedly across the top of her hand and then fingers are covering her own, gently but insistently pushing up. And Beca doesn't really think about it, her brain is only dimly aware of anything existing outside of Chloe's mouth, so like pretty much everything else they've done so far, she lets herself be led. Follows, blind and willing. Until the texture of silk or satin, something expensive, registers and her eyes fly open. She wrenches her mouth away, but remains close enough for their noses to brush. Chloe's biting her lip, staring Beca down, and she gets the distinct impression that she's being dared. To do what, she can't be sure of that, but Chloe's grip doesn't falter. Beca doesn't move. They hang there for who knows how long, drinking in one another's ragged breaths until Chloe gets tired of waiting, and she squeezes her hand around Beca's.

 

She watches Chloe's eyes roll back and lets out a broken little whine at the sight. Or maybe it's the feel of Chloe. Beneath her hand, atop her hand, hips shifting below Beca until her Chloe's thigh is pressing into her hip. It's a sensory overload and it makes her head spin. Makes her muscles twitch and her thumb brushes over smooth material, over the inarguable curve of a breast. And Beca's brain short-circuits.

 

Her fingers contract without prompting this time and Chloe releases an uncouth, guttural grunt of surprise, her grip on Beca loosening before she draws her hand back completely. Beca watches the changes that Chloe's expression goes through, as she moves her fingers, explores, slow and gentle. Her heart is beating so fast and hard, it hurts, and Chloe's breathing is becoming increasingly more laboured. Every noise that leaves her sounds like it's being dragged over gravel and they tug threads of arousal through Beca, hot and wet, until her toes curl. Chloe's leg moves restlessly along Beca's side, back and forth, up and down, like she can't hold still. And Beca's skin prickles all over when Chloe, eyes still closed, tangles her fingers in fiery curls.

 

Chloe's pretty; she's gorgeous. This isn't news, it's not some recently discovered fact that's blown the scientific community away. It's plain to everyone who ever lays eyes on her. But right now Chloe is gorgeous, sexy in a way that Beca honestly finds stupid and unfair. So she kisses Chloe, just once, because she can, then palms her breast again, firm and a little clumsy. And when her fingers graze the impossibly silky flesh that swells above the cut off of the bra, and Chloe's hand fists in her hair, hips lifting, moan tearing itself free from between her lips loud enough to worry Beca, something shifts.

 

Something changes.

 

Unnamed, but irrevocable.

 

And it reminds Beca of mixing. That feeling she gets when she finds just the right song to blend with another or adds the finishing touch to the beat she'll lay over them. Exhilarating. Satisfying. Perfect.

 

“Stop.” Chloe gasps, and Beca freezes, fear instantly immobilising every motor function in her possession.

 

“Did... did I-” But Chloe's shaking her head and licking her lips.

 

“No. You didn't, uh,” she clears her throat with an airy laugh and draws in one long breath, “you didn't do anything wrong. I just, I just needed to take a break.” Then she's opening her eyes and Beca finds that she can move again. She carefully slips her hand down, over taught muscles, and rests it back in the dip above Chloe's hip. The leg at Beca's side straightens to lie flat and Chloe sighs, a small smile tugging at her mouth. “That was good.” Until it slides toward a smirk. “That was really good.” One that Beca finds she can't help but mirror.

 

“Yeah?” Chloe nods and it makes Beca feel kind of awesome. Dizzily so. She hears Chloe chuckles when she rolls sort of bonelessly over onto her side again, hand sweeping over Chloe's stomach but maintaining contact. “Sweet.”

 

“Sweet?” Beca can't remember the last time she used that word in any context outside of “that's a sweet soundboard”, which is a moment she would really rather not relive. And she knows Chloe is making fun of her, but she can't muster up the effort to care.

 

“Yeah. Sweet.” She sounds breathless, embarrassingly so, but she doesn't feel her cheeks burning. Chloe's smile dances in her eyes and her lips are red and swollen. Her neck looks like a map of the Hawaiian Islands. “Holy shit.” Beca laughs and Chloe, following the line of her gaze, touches a hand to her neck.

 

“Pretty bad?” And Beca knows the smile she's wearing is far too self-satisfied, but she doesn't care about that either.

 

“It's pretty awesome, actually.” Because Chloe's biting her lip and smiling again, and Beca just feels really, really happy. Like, she giggles.

 

Because it's okay.

 

She asks if Chloe will be able to cover them and the redhead assures her that yes, she's learned some tricks over the years. Then they lie in silence for a short while, side by side, just looking at one another as Beca's thumb sweeps back and forth along a strip of skin alongside Chloe's navel. And when Chloe announces that she should head to bed, when she starts to roll away, Beca catches her by the hem of her shirt and holds fast. Chloe glances back at her, curious.

 

There's a moment of wavering indecision, flickering to life inside Beca before being doused by Chloe's hesitant smile.

 

“Stay.” And she's saying it before she really knows that she's speaking. “You should stay.” Out of breath and rushed, like part of her knows she'll chicken out if she thinks about it too long – or at all – and Chloe's surprise is evident. Or maybe it's confusion? Beca thinks she might need to clarify. “Like, here. With me, I mean.” But then Chloe's brow creases in that way that usually means 'you're an adorable idiot' and Beca feels kind of dumb, but not really.

 

“What if Amy comes back?” Even as she says it though, Chloe's rising from the bed and flipping the duvet back. Beca watches her, shuffling back under the blankets as well, and shrugs.

 

“We fell asleep watching movies.” Chloe quirks an eyebrow as she slides in beside Beca.

 

“Watching movies?” Scepticism purses her lips as Beca reaches towards her headboard and tugs down a pillow for her. Chloe takes it with a smile and lifts her head, tucking it under.

 

“Whatever. She won't be back. Whenever she's with Bumper, there's like a solid fourteen hour period where she goes missing. It's fine.” Carefully, Beca turns onto her opposite side so that her back is to Chloe. She usually sleeps facing the wall anyway, but as at ease as she feels with the redhead right now, she's sort of afraid Chloe is going to want to know why Beca asked her to stay.

 

And Beca doesn't know how she'll answer that.

 

What she does know, is that when Chloe winds an arm around her middle, hand working under her shirt to still against Beca's stomach, and she presses her body close, burying her face in Beca's hair, it feels nice. It feels comfortable.

 

“Good.” Warm breath tickles the back of Beca's neck as Chloe hums, content, and dark eyes disappear behind suddenly heavy lids. “Night, Becs.”

 

“Night, Chlo.”

 

It feels safe.

 


 

There comes the distant sound of rustling, loitering at the edges of her awareness. Luring her away from sleep and towards unwelcome consciousness. She fights it with a frown and a disgruntled exhale, and for one blissful, immeasurable moment, everything is peaceful.

 

That never lasts long in this house though.

 

A crash that resonates with all the force of a nuclear blast rips Beca out of her white-noise happy-place and throws her head first into the stinging, stark coldness of early morning. She tries bolting upright, rising like Dracula out of his coffin, and she would normally be able to manage it. But the arm still slung around her waist is surprisingly weighty, and strong, and restricts the movement so that she only manages to lift her upper body a short ways off the mattress before craning her neck in the direction of the racket.

 

Fat Amy is on her knees, gathering the stack of CDs she's had sitting on the edge of the table for the last few days that are now strewn across the bedroom floor, and Beca has been waiting for this. Had foreseen it. Could it not have come during the afternoon though? When she was already awake?

 

“Jesus, Amy.” She barks her name like a curse and the woman in question mumbles her apologies as she puts the CDs back onto the table, this time further towards the middle. She's complaining about the sun being too bright, blinding her sensitively hungover and over-shagged eyesight – which Beca really, really doesn't want to hear about – when she gets to her feet. And gasps.

 

“Aca-lesbians.” And she whispers it, like she thinks she's David Attenborough hiding out in the bush, spying on a rare and elusive species of bird or something. Beca rolls her eyes and lies back down; she's too tired for this.

 

“That's not a real word,” she mumbles, shuffling back onto her side and closing her eyes as she feels Chloe's sigh on her skin. “But keep trying.” She rubs the end of her nose with the side of her hand and yawns, then very slowly says, “You will get there.” And she only realises that Chloe is awake when she feels her press a smile into her shoulder.

 

“Doesn't make it any less true though.” She practically sings the words and Beca lets out a groan, because all she wants to do is go back to sleep. Her classes are done, they aren't practising until later this afternoon – because Emily actually attends her classes, go figure – and she wasn't done being not-awake. “I can't leave anyone alone for five minutes around here. You bitches all end up drunk off your tits or gayer than Elton John, God rest his soul.” Beca presses her face into her pillow.

 

“Elton John isn't dead, Amy.” She hears Amy humming indecisively and can picture the way her face is scrunched up, eyes creased at the corners. Chloe shifts behind her, scooching down and tugging the blankets up until they're touching Beca's chin.

 

“Are you sure?” It's clear from her tone that Amy doesn't and isn't going to believe her, no matter what she says.

 

“Pretty sure, yeah.” Heavy footfalls move to and from the closet, intermittent shuffling and banging around sounding in the interim. Beca sighs, then tenses when she feels Chloe's hand slip over her abdomen. Fingertips trailing lazy, feather-light patterns across the skin just above the waistband of her pants, making the muscles twitch and jump.

 

“Because I feel like he's dead.” Chloe's nose bumps Beca's shoulder beneath the blanket, then drifts along its length towards her neck, where she places a very soft, very surreptitious kiss. Beca tries not to bunch the duvet between her hands, but she squeezes her eyes shut.

 

“Can you just, can you go and google it?” She blurts, calf muscles tensing as Chloe's fingers circle her bellybutton and her breath washes over Beca. “Somewhere that isn't here?” Amy makes a kind of verbal wincing sound.

 

“Sorry, am I harshing the afterglow?” And if Beca were not to incredibly immobile, she thinks she might swing for her friend. “Do you still need some post-coital come-down time?” Her ears are burning. She's pretty sure her cheeks are too. Chloe's touch is liquefying her insides.

 

“We didn't have sex!” It's far too loud, almost an outright scream, and it does nothing to alleviate the blush that she's really hoping isn't as neon as it feels.

 

“No. No, course not.” Fat Amy pauses, for what Beca knows is dramatic effect. “And I’m the Queen of Sheba.” Chloe's hand slides along her hip to trail patterns along Beca's side and it's so close to being ticklish that Beca thinks she might end up swinging for Chloe as well. It's what she'll do after that might be different.

 

“Amy, I swear to god-”

 

“Okay, okay!” Amy huffs, offended. “I just came to grab my shower stuff. I’m going! Keep your knickers on.” And Beca knows that there's more to come, hears it in the way Amy talks out of the side of her mouth. “Unless they're already off.” She resists the urge to upend herself, Chloe and perhaps even the bed in order to throw things at Amy. Somehow.

 

“Get out!” And settles for throwing that instead. She hears Amy descend the stairs, cackling like the little sister who managed to get a rise out of their elder sibling, and waits until she can no longer hear footsteps before speaking again. “Dude, are you freaking kidding me?” And then Chloe's laughing into her hair, even as Beca presses her hand down over the redhead's to hold it still.

 

“I couldn't help it.” She manages in between giggles. “You're so grumpy in the mornings.” Beca grumbles and frowns.

 

“That makes no sense.” She opens her eyes again and stares at the various posters and pictures on her wall. “How does me being grumpy make you handsy?” The way the early morning sunlight streams in through the window to light them up.

 

“Because you're cute when you're grumpy.” Chloe's voice, she finally notices, is sort of hoarse first thing in the morning. Thick with sleep but still managing to carry the same happy lilt. “Like an adorable little animated dwarf.” Beca tries to twist around to face her but they're too close and so all she can really do is turn her head until she can see a blurry, vague impression of red hair and pale limbs.

 

“I will kick you out of this bed.” Her threat falls on unaffected ears though, because Chloe slips her hand out of Beca's grip and hikes it higher, running each one of her fingers over Beca's topmost ribs. And when her thumb brushes the underside of her breast, Beca hears her own breath catch and stick. Feels Chloe's smirk imprint itself on her skin.

 

“No you won't.” Beca exhales, noisy and something close to annoyed, through her nose and clamps down on Chloe's hand again.

 

“Oh my god, you're like a fiend.” This time pushing it down until it's out from under her shirt and Chloe is pouting against her back. “A sex fiend.”

 

“You make it sound like such a bad thing.” Unseen, Beca rolls her eyes, shoulders shifting in a quiet laugh.

 

“You're one of a kind, Chlo. Anyone ever tell you that?” Chloe doesn't say anything for a minute and it's long enough for Beca to start wondering if she's somehow put her foot in it, but then the redhead is humming thoughtfully and hugging Beca to her with one arm.

 

“Yes, but that's the kind of thing that always bears repeating.” And Beca laughs, but her mind is drifting. Away from the conversation and towards the cyclic train of thought that is speeding towards frequent. Because she's hardly even awake yet and it's been circling in the back of her head since she opened her eyes and realised Chloe was still in bed with her. That Chloe was still in bed with her, and she didn't mind. That Chloe is still in bed with her and she likes how it feels.

 

And it's Chloe's voice that whispers to her from every secluded corner of her mind.

 

It's okay.

 


 

Dude. Guess what? It's seven minutes before Jesse texts her back and Beca spends them nervously chewing on her thumb nail, sitting at the kitchen table and staring off into space. She actually jumps when her phone goes off.

 

Chicken butt  And then she spends a good thirty seconds staring down at the screen.

 

...what? What the hell does that even mean? He's probably typing out a really long, pointless explanation. She's impatient. Whatever. Legacy and I put together a demo and I played for my boss. He liked it! Like, he seriously said that it's a solid demo and that he looks forward to WORKING WITH ME!

 

Her cell is ringing immediately, a photograph of her kissing Jesse on the cheek while he makes a surprised face filling the screen. She pokes the little green phone icon with her thumb and holds it up to her ear.

 

Are youshitting me right now?!” He yells, before so much as a hello can pass her lips, and she laughs into the phone. Although it's really more of a giggle and wow, when did that start becoming a thing?

 

“I shit you not.” He makes some very strange, squeaking sounds that she thinks might be him trying to form words.

 

I'm coming over right now.”

 

“Dude, you don't have to come over.”

 

I'm coming ove right now and I’m picking your sexy, talented ass up and we are going to celebrate.” She rolls her eyes at his use of 'sexy' and gets up from the table. She should probably eat breakfast first because god knows where he's going to whisk her away to and they both know how hangry she can get.

 

“Do I get any say in this?” She searches through the cereal boxes until she finds the Golden Grahams and nestles the phone between her shoulder and her ear so she can grab a bowl and spoon, then heads back to the table.

 

None whatsoever.” She can hear him smiling.

 

“Didn't think so.” She makes one last trip for milk and then sits down again, pouring the incredibly unhealthy squares into the bowl. “Whatever. I guess I'll be here? Maybe?”

 

Oh, you'll be there.” And she sighs because yeah, she will. They say goodbye and she hangs up just as Cynthia Rose shuffles into the kitchen, rubbing her palm over her short hair as she yawns.

 

“Mornin' B.” Her voice is gravelly in the mornings too, but Beca notes how it's differen from Chloe's as she chews, nodding a greeting. “Oooh,” she coos, “I didn't know we had G.G.'s.” She grabs a bowl and approaches the table with a narrow-eyed suspicion. “You been hiding them again?” Beca spoons another mouthful past her lips and adopts an expression of contrite confusion.

 

“I have no idea what you're talking about.” Obviously, Cynthia Rose doesn't buy it for a second. She doesn't say any more though, just scoops up the cereal box and dishes herself out a healthy amount. Beca tries to keep her expression neutral. It's not that she hides it on purpose. Okay, maybe she does. But if she doesn't then Stacie eats the entire box in like two days and Beca doesn't get a single square, and it drives her crazy.

 

“Oh shit!” She hears the other woman gasp and Beca's about to tell her to calm down because they aren't that good – they are – and she doesn't need to over-exaggerate – but they'd be worthy of it if she did – but Cynthia Rose hasn't even added the milk yet. She's just standing there holding a bowl of dry cereal and staring at Chloe who's come to a stop in the doorway, presumably stunned by the outburst. Beca takes another spoonful into her mouth. “Damn girl, your neck looks like my grandma's patchwork quilt.” Then she sputters, accidentally inhaling, and ends up coughing so hard that milk almost shoots out of her nose. Her eyes are watering when she looks towards the redhead again, but she can see them even through the tears.

 

Hickeys. Dotting Chloe's skin like dalmatian spots. She's wearing a pale blue, billowy button down shirt, the first few of which have been left undone to show, not only only cleavage, but the red-purple marks as well. Unashamedly on show, for all the world to see. Beca's chest hurts. From the coughing, obviously.

 

“You okay there, Becs?” Chloe's wearing that smile, the one that projects innocence but is tinged with mischief. Which you can tell, if you recognise the signs. Beca can, and she glares at Chloe as she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and gives a final, harsh cough.

 

“Oh, yeah.” She rasps, waving her empty spoon in the air above the bowl. “Just great.” Chloe snags an apple from the fruit bowl and beams at her.

 

“Awes.” Then she's spinning away, returning Cynthia Rose's appreciative wink, and disappearing back through the doorway. It strikes Beca then, as she's thinking about the way the sunlight catches Chloe's curls and how her smile could probably make pretty cartoon birds flock to her, that Chloe's is the living, breathing embodiment of Disney.

 

“Looks like someone had fun last night.” A hand breaks Beca's line of sight as well as her train of though and she blinks to see Cynthia Rose finally pouring milk over her cereal. Beca doesn't really answer, doesn't trust herself too, so she nods her head and finishes her breakfast. Munching thoughtfully until there's nothing left, then picking up her cell phone.

 

Chloe? What the hell?

 

Mm, hey Becs. What's up? :)

 

Dude. You said you'd cover them! What are you doing?!

 

Tsk, tsk, Bec. I never said I'd cover them, just that I COULD. ;) And I’m not doing anything.

 

Yeah! That's my point! You're NOT covering them!

 

“Who you texting?” Beca jerks her head up, clutching her phone between her hands. Cynthia Rose is waggling her eyebrows at her, pointing at Beca with her spoon from where's she's sitting on the edge of the counter. “You got yourself a new beau?”

 

“What?” She stands with a too-loud laugh, picking up her bowl and taking it over to the sink. “No, there isn't...” rinsing away the remainder of the milk, she plugs the sink and twists both taps. She turns back around to frown at Cynthia Rose the same way she might if the other woman had just suggested they try eating cream cheese right from the container without any kind of cutlery. “There so isn't anyone new.” And yeah, the way she's talking is making it sound like the complete opposite is true, but Beca doesn't know how to turn that off. “Nope, everyone in my life right now is super old. You know, like, comparatively. To someone who might be new. I mean, Legacy is kind of new though? If, if I had to like, name someone. New.” By the time she's done, Cynthia Rose's expression has plummeted.

 

“Right. Right.” Her voice carries an uncertain lilt and the crease between her eyebrows is deep. “Switch to decaf, Cap. Just, try it.” Beca rolls her eyes and turns back to the sink, squeezing in some dish soap and swishing her hand around in the water before pulling the cloth in under the bubbles. She makes quick work of her bowl and spoon, setting them on the drainer to dry and excusing herself out from under Cynthia Rose's suspicious attention. She's in her room changing when she hears the doorbell.

 

“Beca!” Fat Amy's voice rattles the closet door and Beca shrugs into a flannel shirt – a rare sighting in more recent years – that she leaves open over a tank top. “Your boy-toy is here!”

 

“Shut up, Amy!” She hears the Tasmanian's uproarious laughter and runs her fingers through her loose hair once more before jogging down the stairs.

 

“Hey, Jesse.” When she makes it to the bottom, Stacie is standing beside her ex-boyfriend, one arm stretched along the length of the doorway as she hangs over him. “You're looking really cute today.” Looking at him the same way that Chloe looks at churros. He's blushing and verbally stumbling under the attention and his wide eyes catch hers as he mumbles a thanks to Stacie and silently begs Beca for help.

 

“Stacie.” She uses her most authoritative captain voice. “Heel.” And Stacie pouts, but relents with a flirtatious wink and walks away towards the kitchen. Beca flashes him an apologetic smile and then suddenly Chloe is there. Appearing out of the blue to bump her shoulder against Beca's and grin at Jesse.

 

“Hey, Mister Boy Toy.” Beca twists her head around to frown at Chloe's choice of words. “What's up?” Jesse smiles but it seems a little uncertain and his eyes keep darting away from Chloe to try catch Beca's, but she's still looking at the redhead.

 

“Uh...” he clasps his hands together in front of his body and raises both eyebrows, “not much. Just picking Beca up.” Chloe tilts her head to look at Beca and laughter explodes from Jesse. “Holy hickeys, Batman!!” And then because he's a boy and is therefore unable to resist the urge to touch everything in sight – even things he isn't supposed to. Things that don't belong to him – he reaches out to Chloe. Beca slaps his hand away and he flinches back, blinking at her owlishly. She feels herself colour and tucks her hair behind her ear.

 

“Dude, don't... you can't just go around grabbing people.” And this time when he laughs it's in disbelief.

 

“I wasn't going to grab her.” But his lips are curving and stretching into the boyishly winsome smile she fell for. “I just wanted to see if they were real or part of an early Halloween costume.”

 

“Ooh, sexy zombie sorority sister.” Chloe actually sounds excited and Jesse's fists a hand, enthusiastically pointing a finger at her.

 

“Yes! Minimalistic, but totally effective.” He grins and he rests his hands on his hips, shoulders hunching as he continues to eye Chloe's neck. “Seriously though, those are some killer-”

 

Okay!” Beca grabs one of his hands and twists the handle of the front door, pulling it open and stepping out of the house. “Time to go. Say 'bye' Jesse.” Jesse stumbles after her, almost tripping down the steps as he allows himself to be manhandled by someone half his size, and Chloe's laughter follows them to his car.

 

“Bye Jesse!” If she were bigger, or if he were smaller, she'd throw him into the trunk and leave him there. 

Chapter Text


Beca watches the town drift by outside the window, idly making note of places she's visited and places she hasn't. Places she won't probably won't. Because even though she's sticking around to finish up her internship, without the rest of the Bellas to forcibly drag her into any of them, it's probably going to be a life of work, Taco Bell and sleep taking up her immediate future. Which means 'Kicks For Chicks' will likely never feel the presence of Beca Mitchell within its walls. And that's just fine by her.

 

What isn't fine, is the way Jesse has been stealing glances at her since they backed out of the driveway ten minutes ago. She refuses to look at him, instead keeping her gaze focused on the blurred streets they're flying by, but eventually feels herself relenting. She twists her mouth to the side.

 

“Can you please keep your eyes on the road?” Jesse lets out the biggest sigh of relief she's ever heard and it's enough to finally make her turn to him.

 

“Oh thank god,” he's gasping like a newly revived fish, “I'm not dead or invisible!” She stares at him, hard, and blinks slowly as he takes one hand from the wheel and pats across his chest, then his face. “I'm alive! I’m real!” Then he reaches over to pat her face too, dropping his voice to an awed whisper. “We're both real.” She slaps at his hand until he takes it back, laughing like she isn't wishing death upon him with the power of her glare alone. She huffs.

 

“I can not believe we dated.” He turns his attention back to the road with a smirk that lifts the hair on the back of her neck.

 

“After seeing what you did to Chloe's neck, neither can I.” It had only been a matter of time, she'd known that before getting into the car with him. She'd just been hoping he would forget or take her silence as a some kind of sign. “Now,” he tilts his head to the side and draws a circle in the air beside his neck, “were you patterning it after something specific or was this a Mitchell original design?”

 

“Okay.” She says, all airy snark. “You can just pull over. I think I can walk back from here.” He flicks on the indicator, pulling up close to the curb and Beca can't quite mask her surprise. “Wait, what?”

 

“You know what I think?” He's smirking again. She bites her teeth together, inhaling with a hiss of feigned remorse.

 

“Yeah, I don't care.”

 

“I think,” but she'd known that wouldn't stop him, “that, subconsciously, you actually want to talk about this.” She cocks her head like a spaniel.

 

“And I think you've finally inhaled too much fog from Benji's smoke machine.” He shuts the car off and unbuckles his seatbelt, twisting to face her. She eyes him, warily.

 

“Hear me out.” Her groan of annoyance is ignored and she leans back in her seat, looking up at the roof of the car as she hears the faintly ticking cogs of his brain beginning to formulate sentences. “You and I both know that if you don't want to talk about something, you don't. But you're not even trying to deny this, Bec. Literally all you needed to say was,” he takes it upon himself to adopt the kind of voice that belongs in a cheesy ninety's movie about Californian teenagers, “Oh my god, Jesse! Stop being such a creep. Like, I totally didn't have anything to do with Chloe's hickeys!” The rush of murderous annoyance that sweeps through her must show on her face because he's cringing away from her with a sheepish smile and then stepping out of the car, voice back to normal. “I'm just saying.”

 

Where are you going?” Beca manages to get out before the door closes and then he bends down to meet her gaze through the driver side window. He points through the car and Beca turns her head to see that he's parked outside of the coffee shop he'd liked to take her to while they were dating. “Oh.” She fumbles with the door handle before getting it open and steps out onto the curb. Jesse's there holding a hand out for her but he's still smiling, so she bats it away. He pouts, pulling his hand into his chest.

 

“Will you stop doing that? I get it, okay?” He hits the button on the fob that locks the car and slides the keys into his pocket. “You don't want me touching the things that belong to you. Message received.” He holds the door open for her but Beca turns on him, poking a threatening finger hard into his sternum and driving him back against the brick wall of the entryway.

 

“Enough.” She bites out, glaring up at him. “Or I'll spill scalding coffee into your lap and make it look like an accident.” He tries to tamp down the edges of his smile but only manages minuscule success. She pivots away from him with what sounds a lot like a growl and heads inside.

 

Beca doesn't really do coffee, she's never been a fan. Jesse hadn't known that during their inaugural visit to Barden's Beanhouse – or B.B.'s, as the 'cool kids' liked to call it – but once she'd told him, and then insisted it was fine because he looked like he might cry over his poor choice, he had ordered her a frothy frosty drink that, according to him, tastes exactly like the vanilla bean frappuccino at Starbucks. Beca had no idea what that meant though, she still doesn't. The only time she ever steps foot inside a Starbucks is when she's with either Chloe or Stacie, and Chloe orders a caramel macchiato – with an extra shot of caramel because “a girl can never be too sweet, Becs” - every time without fail. She can't be sure Jesse hasn't just fabricated the whole thing in order to get her to drink the concoction. She doesn't protest though, when he orders their usual and slaps a note down onto the counter.


“You want something to eat?” He asks over his shoulder as Beca slides into a booth by the large, curtained window at the front of the store. The interior is pretty small, all exposed brick and plush seating that's dimly lit to give a cosy feel.

 

“I'm good, thanks.” He shrugs and adds a little jam filled pastry to the order. Lifting a short ways off the seat, Beca pulls her phone out from where it's digging into her backside and lies it face up on the table, pressing the lock button to check the time. There's still a few hours before rehearsal. She sighs and lifts a hand to rub at her neck, unconsciously swiping her palm over her own rapidly-fading hickeys. She's still feeling the after affects of Chloe's earlier appearance. The stunned shock at seeing the marks she'd made sitting there, as bold and brash as when she'd made them. She has no idea what Chloe's thinking, what kind of new game this is, but it's crazy and someone is going to end up embarrassed. And she knows that someone is her because it's always here and the embarrassment has already started.

 

“You know,” Jesse says, sliding in across from her and handing her her drink before letting the brown paper bag he's got snared between his teeth drop into his hand, “you should probably learn to start loving the real stuff.” He taps the plastic lid of the 'to go' cup his drink is in, steam slowly rising out from the mouth slot. “Now that you're going to be a super famous music producer, I mean.” She rolls her eyes at him and sucks a mouthful of her drink up through a Barden-green straw.

 

“I'm hoping I can make early morning crabbiness kind of my signature 'thing'.” She says with a narrow-eyed blink and Jesse hums thoughtfully as he takes a small sip of his drink, smiling around the lip.

 

“You do rock the grouchy look.” She flashes him a grin and shimmies her shoulders a bit, like she knows. He reaches into the bag and pulls out his snack, flaky bits of the pastry crumbling onto the table top as he bites off a chunk. There's silence for a short while and Beca can feel his good behaviour wearing thin, his patience fraying. She continues sipping her drink, biding her time until he asks and she can throw him an appropriate glower. His fingers tap an anxious rhythm against the side of his cup and Beca's eyes flick back and forth between them and the underside of his chin. She won't actually look at him, because he'll take that as the kind of invitation that it isn't. “So,” but as it turns out, “you and Chloe.” He doesn't actually need an invitation. “That's still....” He lets the sentence hang long enough that she finally does look up at him, a sense of mild exasperation rising in her ever expression eyebrows. “A thing?” She shrugs non-committally and tightens her hands around the transparent plastic cup that's three quarters filled with icy, sugary goodness.

 

“It's not not a thing.” Jesse ducks his head a bit and gives her what she assumes is as close to a glare as he can manage. It isn't very effective. Jesse couldn't scare a fly off shit.

 

"And how's that working for you? Because I saw how well it's working for her." She rolls her eyes.

 

"Can you drop it?" He laughs, but holds his hands up as a plea for peace.

 

"In sorry! I'm just surprised." At Beca's arched eyebrow, Jesse elaborates. "Well," he clears his throat and takes a sip of his coffee, "I don't recall you really being into that when we...." he trails off, gesturing between them and wiggling his own eyebrows. "Is it like, is that something Chloe asked you to do or...?" Beca rolls her lips together and holds the expression for a few beats, eyeing him like she's either going to punch him or ignore his line of questioning completely.

 

And it would be easy to do any one of those. The kind of easy that requires no thinking what so ever.

 

"No." She admits, looking down as she stirs the thick drink with her straw. "I mean, not like, not directly?" Her hands disappear beneath the table and he can tell from the way her shoulders hunch that she's nervously rubbing the palms together. "I was sort of..." one hand appears again and she points a finger to her neck, waving it back and forth along the side, "in the area? And one thing led to another." This whole time she hasn't been looking at him, but she does now. Searching his face, waiting to see what his response will be. His mouth splits into a grin.

 

"You know that's what they all say, right? 'One thing led to another' and then bam." Beca makes the mistake of taking a drink from her straw as he speaks. "You're pregnant." And it almost results in what Jesse would refer to a 'spit take', but she manages to keep the liquid inside of her mouth. Just barely.

 

"Yeah, um," she wipes her thumb across her bottom lip to catch the thin smear of dribbled drink, “weirdly? Not worried about that.”

 

“Is that because you don't think you'll get to that place or because when you do, you'll use protection?” She shifts uncomfortably at the question and throws him another glare.

 

“I told you, you're not getting all the dirty details.” He wiggles his eyebrows at her wording, then smiles.

 

“And I told you that I’m not looking for any.” He lifts his cup to his mouth, taking a longer pull this time. “I'm just... here.” She really hates it when he throws on that expression of sincere niceness. Because it usually makes her open up, like a flower under the Spring sunshine. “If you want to talk. About anything.” He adds the last bit as an afterthought and wink a sly wink that makes her want to smack him. She doesn't though.

 

“Things have... progressed, I guess?” Instead, she uses her straw to stir her drink and tries not to let the strange flood of anxiety wash her away. Because talking about this makes it real. Talking about it with Jesse makes it something. Something worth talking about, something she maybe wants to talk about, and what that makes it, Beca doesn't know. But Jesse gives an encouraging nod of his head and she finds she can breathe a little easier. “I mean, we've kissed.” His nod continues at a slow, even pace. “Like, kind of a lot.” Then slows to a stop as he lifts a brow and Beca feels the faintest hint of a blush warming the back of her neck. She rubs at the spot with one hand, chuckling unexpectedly when a thought occurs to her. “She picked me up after class one day, the day you saw us driving?” He nods again, quickly this time. “Totally took me somewhere to park. Like, park park.” Jesse's grin is huge, overtaking his entire face.

 

“Parking?” He asks, his dark eyes sparkling. “What are you, sixteen?” She reaches across to swat his forearm with a bite of her lip. He doesn't bother pulling away.

 

“I'd never done that before, asshole. We'd been talking about it and she just....” Beca looks away with a shrug, her hands dropping to cradle her cup and rubbing the pad of her thumb along the damp side of the plastic. “You know Chloe. Always thinking about other people.” She hears him hum in agreement, soft and quiet. Thoughtful. “Anyway, it was actually really sweet and nice, and things have become a bit more,” with an awkward pause, she gestures with one hand and then immediately regrets it, because her brain doesn't always communicate so well with the rest of her body and her fingers clench into a sort of groping motion as she says, “handsy.” Then she pauses, hand still hovering in mid-air, a look of horror sweeping over her face. She balls her fingers into a fist and points one at him, eyes lifting to catch his gaze. “Not like, no,” his grin somehow widens, “you- shut up! Don't you say a single thing. I swear to God, I will walk out of here and never speak to you again.” By the time her rushed tirade comes to an end, he's laughing at her fluster.

 

“You know,” he breaks off another chunk of his pastry and pops it into his mouth, “you act all surprised when people have the audacity to like you and actively seek you out in order to spend time with you, but this is why.” Brushing his fingers together to rid them of crumbs, he flicks his hand out towards her and she furrows her brow. His grin turns smug, playfully disbelieving. “You're adorable.” And he vats his eyelashes at her for extra emphasis. Beca rolls her eyes, hard.

 

“I really hate you.” Jesse just tosses another piece of his snack into his mouth, then goes on to ask if she thinks their experimenting is having the desired results for Chloe. Beca takes her time sipping her drink and savouring the flavour before answering. Partly to stall, to gather her thoughts, partly because she doesn't actually know how to answer him. And it isn't as though she has to, she knows that Jesse will bug her but that he'll ultimately be okay with whatever she says here. The thing is, she hasn't outright asked Chloe what he's asking her now. She wonders if she maybe should. Just to keep tabs on how things are progressing. “I think so.” She hedges, after a few moments. “I mean, it's not like we've sat down and made progress charts,” his shoulders shift with a quiet laugh, “but it's, it's whatever.” She twirls her straw and takes another sip. “She always seems like she's into it?” Lifts a hand to scratch at the side of her nose. “Like she enjoys it.”

 

“Do you?” Her gaze flies back to him, wide-eyed, and she feels the beat of her heart pick up its pace.

 

“Dude.” She squeaks, sounding something close to scandalized or outraged. In a rare show of mimicry, Jesse's the one rolling his eyes this time.

 

“I'm not trying to be a creep, Bec.” And of course he isn't, she knows that aside from joking around, there isn't a single greasy, sleazy thread in his body. “I just want to make sure that you're doing okay.” He flashes her a wink before taking another drink. “Gotta look out for my girl.” There's a warmth swirling around inside her chest, bouncing between her ribs and over her lungs, making it a tiny bit more difficult to breathe but also making her feel loved. Her fingers squeeze the plastic cup between her hands, sending the liquid inside soaring towards the hole in the domed lid.

 

“Well, this isn't for me, so like, that's irrelevant.” The words don't sound right though, rough and hollow, and they don't convince Jesse any more than they do herself.

 

“Pretty sure Chloe would disagree with you there.” And this isn't for her, it was never supposed to be, but she's only just settling into the idea that she enjoys it too – that she really enjoys it, that she's maybe allowed to and that Chloe's okay with that – and she's really not ready to discuss that aspect of it yet. With Jesse. In public. And she's mercifully saved from having to talk her way out of it by Jesse's phone ringing. Instinctively, she glances down to where he has it lying face up on the table and does a double-take at the caller I.D. He snatches it up and she catches his gaze as he answers. Guilt creases the corners of his eyes, makes his lips twitch as he smiles and answers with a cheery “Hey!”. Her mouth falls open and her eyebrows nearly touch the wisps of hair at the highest point of her forehead. “Yeah, yeah. No, that's fine. I'm actually having coffee with Bec right now anyway.” Beca leans back in her seat and folds her arms over her chest, staring him down as his eyes flit back and forth between hers and nothing in particular. “That's- yeah, okay, great. No, four-thirty is fine. Yeah. Okay, I'll talk to you later then. You too. Bye.” He ends the call and places the phone back down.

 

There's a long moment of silence in which he swallows another mouthful of coffee and Beca works the tip of her tongue around the inside of her cheek, before running it over her lips.

 

“Why is Aubrey calling you?” And she knows that smile, the one he's wearing, like she does the combination to her high school locker. It oozes feigned indifference and yet manages to completely give away the fact that he's trying to hide something.

 

“Oh. Uh. Well,” and with as useless as Beca is when it comes to dealing with people's emotions, she knows how to read them, “when you guys got back from the retreat, it seemed like it had really made a difference. Brought you closer and stuff. I thought it might be a good way to reconnect with Benji and the boys in the future, so I just,” and the shrug he gives her is a strangely nervous one, “I got her number from Chloe and gave her a call.” Strange, because Jesse doesn't really do nervous. It's not in his repertoire. Beca leans forward, tears off a small piece of what's left of his snack, and gives him a suspicious once over as she chews.

 

“Why are you being so weird?” She narrows her eyes and lowers her voice as she asks, making a mental note to berate Chloe for not sharing this piece of information with her when she sees her later. That's when she spots it; the pink hue rounding the tips of Jesse's ears. She gasps so wildly that she almost knocks her drink over. “Oh my god.” His eyes snap wide, darting around the small coffee house, but hers don't leave his face. She can't quite believe the words that are about to come out of her mouth. “You like her!” But there they are.

 

“And now you're six.” Jesse tries to brush it off with a laugh and an exaggerated eye roll.

 

“You totally do! Oh my god!” Beca rests her forearms against the tabletop and leans forward. “You used to call her Mein Führer, dude.” He points a stern finger at her.

 

“No, I used to call her your Führer. Difference.” Beca's mouth morphs into a smile that echoes the incredulity covering the rest of her face. Her eyes are big and they're shining and the urge to burst into laughter keeps rising without warning. She isn't mad. She sounds it, but she isn't. She actually finds this all kind of hilarious. “And I don't...” because Jesse is adorable when he's all uncomfortable and embarrassed, which isn't something she's seen all that often, and witnessing it always gives her a kind of sadistic glee that she is completely unapologetic about. “We've just been talking, that's all.”

 

“You make it sound like anyone talking to Aubrey of their own free will isn't like this huge character-defining flaw.” And when he frowns at her like she's just personally offended him, that's it. She can't hold the laughter back anymore. It explodes from her in a long stream of bubbly exuberance that is so entirely un-Beca-like, it leaves him looking stunned.

 

Which only makes Beca laugh harder.

 


 

Time is a fickle bitch.

 

At least, that's what Amy says.

 

Beca's starting to see her point. Because for all the instances where she'd found herself wishing time would speed itself up it never did, and now that Beca's University life is coming to an end, now that she wants time to slow down, just a bit, it's flying by too fast to catch. And it's not as though she isn't excited for her life to finally start, she is. She's super excited – some might even say 'stoked', but not her. Nope. – she really is. But there are things in her life right now that she'd like to hold onto for a little while longer.

 

“Amy, put the chair down!” Chloe's hands are trying to simultaneously reach for Amy and the chair at the same time.

 

“I want to do Backstreet Boys at Worlds!” But the piece of furniture being brandished like a weapon remains poised overhead while Amy's face contorts under the strain of her determination and Cynthia Rose pre-emptively clutches at the oversized knit blanket that they sometimes have to throw over the Aussie to get her to calm her down.

 

Beca hangs back in the doorway, dark eyes drinking in the scene before her, absorbing it as she forces herself to memorise this moment. This insane, impossible moment that has somehow become her norm.

 

Because pretty soon, Beca's going to blink and all of this will be gone.

 

When Cynthia Rose starts inching forward and the look in Lilly's eyes turns towards manic, Beca takes a breath and heads in.

 

“We'll do Backstreet Boys when Hell freezes over.” Her announcement draws everyone's attention, including Amy's, and she breezes by the scene to heft her laptop bag onto the top of the piano. “Or when I'm dead, whichever comes first.”

 

“I could make one of those happen right now.” She turns to glare at Amy who chooses that moment to look away and finally put the chair back down on solid ground. “Or not.”

 

“I always wanted to do the Backstreet Boys.” Stacie sighs regretfully from where's she's sitting in the middle of a gathering of mostly empty chairs and Beca rubs at her forehead before unzipping her bag.

 

“Maybe we can work that in to a rehearsal sometime around never, kay?” She sets her computer aside and pops open the lid, hooking up a few pieces of equipment as she hears Stacie's thoughtful hum.

 

“I think they're probably going to be too busy to fly out here.” Beca's hands still and she slowly lifts her eyes to find her leggy friend distractedly tapping her nail file against her knuckles. “Maybe I could go to them....” She widens her eyes and then turns her head to try and catch Chloe's gaze. Something that proves all too easy, since the redhead is already twisting her head around to find Beca's. Fairer eyebrows rise and Beca's eyes follow the curve of Chloe's lips. She blinks and looks away with a shake of her head.

 

Chloe had been running through some general warm-up choreography before Beca's arrival – exactly when Stacie had decided to sit down, Beca didn't think she knew – but once the captain announced that she had a rough demo of their set list down, warm ups went out the window. Chloe let out a piercing shriek and practically bounced over to where Beca was stood at the piano, slapping her palms down on its black top.

 

“Cue it up!” Her grin warms Beca from the inside out, teases her own lips into a playful smirk.

 

“Patience is a virtue, Chlo.” Chloe wrinkles her nose at her, then reaches for the laptop, but Beca's quicker than she is and manages to slap her hands away.

 

“I don't have time for patience, Mitchell.” Chloe pouts, batting her lashes and earning an eye roll. Then she stretches her arms across the piano top until her fingertips can brush along the side of Beca's hand and fixes the brunette with a gaze that could boil water. “I want it now.” Beca has to bite the inside of her cheek to stop herself from making a noise, but then Amy makes one for her. A loud, obnoxious snort of laughter comes from where she's straddling the back of her seat.

 

“Bet that's not the first time you've told her that in the last eighteen hours.” Beca's teeth slip, sinking a little too deeply into the flesh of her cheek and she winces at the taste of blood. Chloe turns around with a sigh, resting her back against the piano and Beca tugs at her earlobe as she opens window after pointless window on her laptop.

 

“Say what?” Cynthia Rose's rough murmur splits the ensuing silence like fine hairs and when Beca risks an upward glance, she finds the woman in question, as well as Emily and Flo, staring at her with varying levels of curiosity while Jessica and Ashley have the decency to pretend to be looking elsewhere. Amy is mouthing something somewhat seriously in Chloe's direction and Stacie has gone back to filing her nails.

 

“Fat Amy is perverse.” Beca sighs after an uncomfortably pregnant pause and it pulls a huff of laughter from Cynthia Rose.

 

“Tell me something I don't know.” She comments wryly and Beca sees Amy's mouth open in slow motion.

 

“It was like the Isle of Lesbos in our room this morning.”

 

“Amy!” She explodes, hands clenching at the screen of her computer and a blush erupting along the back of her neck. Cynthia Rose's eyes almost bug out of her head and Amy's expression is that of a person who has no idea what they've done wrong and doesn't understand why they're being yelled at. So basically, a toddler.

 

“What, it was!” And see, Beca had been afraid something like this would happen. Buried at the back of her mind, the worry of being walked in on or found out lurked like a stranger in an underpass. One that steps out from the shadows only to bother her and for one single, solitary reason.

 

“It really wasn't.” As much as she loves the Bellas, every one of them, she doesn't want the questions. She doesn't want the catcalls and the teasing, she doesn't want them interfering. And they will, she knows they will, and she really, really loves them but she needs this to stay between her and Chloe. For her sanity.

 

“You were sleeping together.” Beca baulks and she sees Emily doing an amazing impression of a tennis enthusiast, head bobbing back and forth between her and Amy. She runs her tongue over her teeth and sucks a breath in between them.

 

“No, that's not-” she shakes her head, staring hard at the back Chloe's and silently willing her to step in and save her ass, “we were sleeping. In the same bed.” And it's like the redhead can feel Beca's attention on her, because she turns until she can lean against the piano with a forearm and Beca can see her profile. It is, as always, unaffected in terms of embarrassment. Her smile is humouring, almost as if she's condoning the behaviour, and of course Beca isn't going to get any help from her. This crap is like Chloe's favourite past time. She drags her hands over her face.

 

“Oh. Oh I see.” Then opens her eyes to see Amy looking over at Chloe. “Does Beca often molest your neck in her sleep?” Beca feels like she's dying.

 

“Oh my god!” Chloe presses her lips together, but it's no use. The laugh bursts free, her mouth stretching in a wide smile, and the glance she throws Beca has just the barest hint of an apology lining it. “Can you stop talking now?” Fat Amy furrows her brow with a shrug.

 

“I mean, I can try-”

 

“Good.” Beca snaps. “Do that. Because you have no idea what you're talking about.”

 

“Someone's protesting an awful lot.” Cynthia Rose's comment is as sly as her smirk and Beca can see Jessica and Ashley huddling close to hide their giggles.

 

“Please, I doubt Beca even knows how to give a hickey.” This from Stacie, who isn't even looking up from her nail filing as she basically insults Beca's bedroom moves. Her green eyes flick up to catch Beca's gaze.

 

And everything sort of slows to a crawl for a second, because Beca knows that Stacie got a good look at both of them the night before. Knows with the utmost certainty that Stacie would have caught any hint of a hickey prior to them both disappearing upstairs. But of course she hadn't, because no such marks had been present then. And no matter what anyone thinks, Stacie is the furthest thing from dumb, so it should be easy for her to put the clues together. But all she offers her captain is a brief brow furrow of remorse.

 

“No offence.” Beca feels herself shrug on autopilot.

 

“Sure.” But Stacie's continuing on before the word fully leaves Beca.

 

“It's just, you don't strike me as the wild type, you know? Which is totally cool.” Then she's back to her filing. “Not everyone is comfortable with their sexuality.”

 

“I am perfectly comfor-” Beca catches herself, reining in her annoyance and pressing her fingers to her temples. “You know what? Never mind. We have a lot of shit to get through today, so can we please just focus on that and not my sex life?” Amy raises her hand into the air.

 

“But you are admitting to having one of those then? Currently?”

 

“Amy, I swear, I will make you run laps.” Immediately, Amy closes her mouth. Threatening exercise isn't something Beca enjoys doing – it feels far too Posen-esque – but sometimes it's the only thing that works on Amy. That and the blanket.

 

By the time they're two hours in all curiosity over Chloe's hickeys and how they came to be seems to have been pushed to the back of the Bellas' minds, shoved their by the intense focus needed to keep up with Chloe when she's 'in the zone'.

 

Which is exactly where she is right now.

 

Focused and fierce, busting every move into a zillion sparkling pieces that the rest of them are left to try and catch as they fall. Chloe's something else when it comes to this. Well, Beca thinks she's something else when it comes to a lot of things, but this whole 'dancing and singing' bit? It's what Chloe was born to do and it shows in every twist of her body, every shake of her hips. Things that Beca is absently keeping a close eye on until she realises she's doing it. Then she's almost tripping over herself to look away. But then Emily does actually trip and the upset is some kind of last straw for the redhead, who's been teetering on the brink of a snap for the last forty minutes.

 

“No, no, no.” Chloe stalks over to Beca's laptop and pauses the set list, pulling a collective groan from the group. Beca bends at the waist, hands braced against her kneecaps, sweat-slicked tendrils of hair sticking out at odd angles around her face. “Okay, please just stop.” Chloe strides by her and she closes her eyes against the cool breeze that the redhead's rapid pace stirs up as she walks towards Emily. The newest Bella watches her approach with wide, frightened eyes. “Look at me.” Beca straightens and her breath wheezes out of her as she winces at the way her back muscles protest to the usually easy movement. Chloe's been riding them hard from the get go.

 

“Yes, ma'am.” She hears Emily mutter and feels sympathy trickle through her.

 

“What's the problem?” Fiery hair twisted into a bun, hands on her hips, features shadowed and stern; Chloe kind of reminds Beca of her High School gym teacher. But only kind of, because he was taller, hairier, and sort of a dude. Chloe's smaller, smoother, and somehow more intimidating when her eyes do that thing where they look like they might shoot lasers at any given moment. Emily shuffles on the spot and Beca's eyes flicker over the muscles in Chloe's legs as she unconsciously flexes them.

 

“It's just, um,” then up across her thighs and where her tank is pulled tight over her stomach, “I-I think I'm just having trouble with the uh,” over a fist and forearm, then along a toned biceps and across a shiny shoulder, “the um,” her eyes are trailing the column of Chloe's neck, idling at her marks, when she hears someone pointedly clearing their throat. She snaps her attention away from her friend and towards the sound. Stacie is staring at her, shooting her a look that screams “get ready to wrangle your captain, captain” without the busty brunette having to say a word.

 

“Spit it out, Em.” And Chloe is never outright mean, but boy her glares can pack a mean wallop. So it's sympathy that sends her shuffling into the space between Chloe and Emily right as the taller woman opens her mouth to say something that is probably going to be wrong no matter what it is.

 

“Chlo? Can I talk to you?” Bright blue eyes see right through the fake smile Beca plasters on but Chloe allows herself to be taken by the elbow and led away towards one corner of the room. Once Beca decides that they're a far enough distance from the group, she stops and turns Chloe towards her. “Hey.” She says, tersely. “What the eff, dude?” Chloe sighs and tips her head back to stare up at the ceiling.

 

“I'm sorry.” Beca watches the way her throat bobs as she speaks.

 

“Yeah, I don't think I'm who you should be saying that too.” She drops her hand from Chloe's elbow and the movement seems to run through the redhead's body, pulling her head forward again. She does look sorry though, her eyes are even a bit glassy. Which of course immediately sends Beca into high alert. “What's wrong?” Chloe only shakes her head, wringing out her hands and blowing out a breath as she blinks back tears whilst trying to make it look like she isn't doing that.

 

“Nothing.” Beca's brow creases.

 

“Chloe.” She wraps her hands around the other woman's arms and leans into her, using her weight to try and hold her still. It works; Chloe's body freezes. For a few heartbeats, they're just looking at one other. Beca feels it circling her, that same whisper of dread that always comes around to sting her ears whenever Chloe is upset about something. “Talk to me.”

 

“I think,” Chloe manages after a minute, bringing a hand up to press the heel of her palm against her forehead, “I'm just really stressed about everything right now. Between finally graduating and worlds and wanting everything to be perfect-”

 

“It will be perfect.” Beca gives Chloe's arms a reassuring squeeze, pausing only long enough to wet her dry lips and make sure that she's looking at Chloe. Really looking at her. “You are going to look totally hot in your cap and gown.” Because she's learned that eye contact with Chloe is important. “We are going to kick some skinny German ass at Worlds.” That through it, Chloe becomes grounded and settled. “And you are going to put everyone to shame with how awesome and perfect you are.” And can somehow set the person on the other end at the kind of ease that allows their lips to flap without thought. And whatever, Beca's fine with it. She's learned that making people happy feels pretty good and if she has to make herself the idiot to do that, then okay.

 

So long as it keeps making Chloe smile like that.

 

Chloe's shoulders relax and the glassy quality to her eyes has receded. She lifts her hands and trails her fingertips along the underside of Beca's forearms before she grasps her by the elbows and pulls her a hair closer. A shiver shoots along the brunette's spine.

 

“When you say things like that,” and she tries to keep her breathing steady with how loud it is above Chloe's low whisper, “it really makes me want to kiss you.”

 

So. Feeling like she wants to let Chloe do just that with the Bellas at her back is really super weird.

 

“Well that,” she extracts her hands with a rueful smile, “will have to wait until later.”

 

She tries not to pay too much attention to Chloe's pout.

 


 

Chloe's apologies are the kind that cannot be refused. One does not simply decline an acceptance of them. No, even if you wanted to deny the redhead with the big blue eyes – which, why would you, what is wrong with you? – you'd be S.O.L. Because when she hangs her head like that and walks over to you with her lip between her teeth, batting her eyelashes like an extra from Bambi, there's no way anyone can stay mad or annoyed, or whatever the hell they were with her. It all melts away into this warm, gooey mess, and Beca had gotten to see that courtesy of Emily. Who had puddled mercury out of a broken thermometer when Chloe had shuffled over and said she was sorry. Then there had been hugging and an impromptu singing session that had put everyone in a better mood.

 

After that, the rest of practise had gone off without a hitch, allowing Beca ample opportunity to map the details of the marks she'd left against Chloe's skin. The vibrant colour of them reminds her to be thankful that her own have faded enough to be covered by concealer and she doesn't have to hide them behind a curtain of hair anymore.

 

She can't believe Chloe is parading them around like she is. Beca knows that the other woman has no shame when it comes to things of a sexual or intimate nature – rightfully so – but she'd expected her to be a bit more tactful? Secretive? Although she has no idea why, Chloe isn't one for hiding herself away and it isn't as though Beca is mad or anything that Chloe isn't hiding the hickeys.

 

She just would have prepared herself a little better if she'd known. Or she'd have tried to, at any rate. Chances are she would have probably still acted like a bumbling adolescent caught doing something she shouldn't even with prior warning. Seems like that's the story of her life when it comes to Chloe though; always being yanked out of her element.

 

“Penny for your thoughts?” Beca manages to shut down her jump of surprise before it can be executed, keeping the motion internal, but her fingers clench around the sides of her laptop as she shuts it down. Dark eyes flick to their sides. Chloe is standing beside her, skin still a little damp from exertion, hair a frazzled halo around her head.

 

“I,” Beca begins carefully, closing the lid and sliding her computer into its bag, “was just thinking about how complicated you make my life.” The redhead mouths a silent “ah” and gives a slow nod of her head, leaning her forearms against the top of the piano.

 

“Just think how bored you'd be without me.” There's a twinkle in Chloe's eyes and a teasing smile painting her lips. Beca's attention flits back and forth before she pulls her lips back over her teeth.

 

“Yeah, I feel like my everyday would just run a lot smoother, you know? Less bumps.” At that, Chloe tips herself further forward, one foot coming off of the waxed floor to balance herself as that teasing smile stretches.

 

“But the bumps are what make it fun, Becs.” And she winks. Flirty and slow, and ridiculously lascivious. And Beca feels her pulse flutter as Chloe holds her gaze.

 

“Um...” Their heads turn in unison to find Emily awkwardly wringing out the strap of her bag as she waits for them to notice her. “Hey, sorry.” She offers with a short wave when they finally do. “I just wanted to check if my mom got a hold of you?”

 

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, she did.” Mrs Junk is probably one of the coolest parents, coolest people, that Beca has ever met. Well, verbally met; they haven't actually done the whole face to face thing yet. Pretty soon though. “She said she'd heard back from like, seventy percent or something? And that your...” Beca pauses, squinting as she tries to recall the phone conversation she'd had with Mrs Junk. “Godmother?” Emily smiles and bobs her head. “Is totally on board and trying to get in touch with some of the Bellas your mom couldn't reach.”

 

“Awesome.” Emily beams and Beca thinks it's cute, how close she is with her mom. That they're more than just parent and child, that they're friends. That Emily can probably talk to Mrs Junk about anything. “Okay, well I just wanted to make sure, so I’ll just...” she jerks her thumb in the direction of the door, “leave you guys to it.” And backs away from them with an odd little bow of her head and follows Stacie and Cynthia Rose out.

 

“So....” Fat Amy is the last one to leave. “What are you two chickies up to this evening?” Beca shoots her a glare.

 

“Why are you asking?” Amy draws out a high-pitched hum alongside her “no reason” and looks around the auditorium with a nonchalance so feigned, it's almost insulting.

 

“Just, you know, don't want to accidentally walk in on anything.”

“Amy.” Beca's warning tone is somewhat less affective when paired with the sound of Chloe giggling. The Tasmanian waves her hand and laughs, speciously.

 

“Right. Nothing going on. Gotcha.” Then she flashes Beca an exaggerated wink that has the brunette glowing scarlet with rage. She tries yelling but can't get any of her words out, so she just ends up spitting out a bunch of vowel sounds as Stacie pokes her head back in to tell Amy to get a move on. The blonde leaves, but not before tossing, “Try not to suck each others faces off between here and the house, yeah?” over her shoulder. “You need your lips for Worlds!”

 

“Get out of my auditorium!” Beca's bark is echoed by Amy's laughter, as well as further giggling from the woman beside her. Beca glances over at her, glowering. Chloe is nothing but smiles and sunshine. “You're being ridiculously unhelpful with this.” Chloe shrugs and straightens, pushing off the piano and walking over to her duffle bag.

 

“Do you really care if they know?” She asks, taking a seat on one of the chairs and pulling off the runners she'd bought specifically for rehearsals. Beca hefts the strap of her bag over her head.

“Yes!” It comes out as a mini explosion, causing Chloe's hand to hover over where she's just dropped a second shoe into her bag and is reaching for a well worn pair of Vans she'd stolen from Beca during the brunette's second year at Barden. She flashes Beca a raised brow. Beca makes a few random hand gestures as she walks around the piano towards Chloe. “What? It's not like it's any of their business.” Chloe resumes her movements, pulling out the old sneakers and dropping them to the floor before sliding her feet in. It's as Chloe's head is down, turned away from her, that Beca hears her ask.

 

“Are you embarrassed or something?” And the furrow in Beca's brow is so deep that even she's surprised when it doesn't crack her face.

 

“What?” She sputters, literally incapable of comprehending what she's been asked for a handful of seconds. “No, I-” the words get caught somewhere at the back of her throat and she has to cough once to dislodge them. By that time, Chloe's looking at her again. Light blue eyes gleaming with an element of uncertainty that one wouldn't ever expect to find after taking a first, brief glance at Chloe's character. “No, I'm not. Of course I'm not. I told you already,” she pauses, twisting her mouth as she swallows and grips at the thick material of the strap slung over her shoulder, “there are people who would give their left arm to be-”

 

“Boob.” Beca blinks at the interruption and the tightness at her chest eases somewhat when Chloe's lips quirk into a small smile. “You said they'd give their left boob to make out with me. Not their arm.”

 

“And that distinction is important to you, is it?” Chloe nods, her smile widening, and Beca just shakes her head and accepts it.

 

“Whatever. My point is, I don't have anything to be embarrassed about. There are literal leagues of people who would be willing to commit acts of dire humiliation just to be given the chance of trading places with me.” She lifts both eyebrows. “Making out with Chloe Beale on the semi-regular? I should be congratulated.” After using her index finger as a shoehorn, Chloe stands and lifts the strap of her own bag onto her shoulder before closing the distance between them.

 

“Congratulated, huh?” Beca's insides twist as Chloe's smile morphs into a smirk, like a lioness's walk slinks into a crouch and pounce. “And why is that?” The cold chill of apprehension spreads icicles along the lining of Beca's stomach as she realises she's being backed into a metaphorical corner. And that Chloe knows exactly what she's doing right now.

 

“Oh, I think you know why.” Beca replies, tongue poking the side of her cheek as she stares Chloe down, shooting for sarcastic certainty and surprising herself by largely succeeding. Chloe purses her lips and then lets out a breath, and they're close enough now that Beca feels the tail end of it whisper across her cheek.

 

“Maybe...” Chloe reaches towards the her and Beca feels her heart start to hammer. And it's kind of annoying, the way her body responds to Chloe, because she'd really like to be able to maintain her composure right now and best the redhead at her own game. Because that totally feels like something that should be within Beca's grasp. “I just want...” only it couldn't be further from it right now and Beca thinks her palms might be starting to sweat, “to hear you say it.” Fingers brush the side of Beca's face and she fights against her eyelids' desire to flutter, maintaining the all important eye contact as Chloe smooths down a few wayward strands of hair.

 

“Yeah?” Beca's voice is suddenly breathy, something that might be embarrassing if she were able to focus on anything but Chloe's proximity and the way it makes her eyes sparkle. “Why's that?” Fingertips stroke aimlessly along the column of Beca's neck, rising and falling with the hard swallow she can't stop in time, until Chloe's hand curves around her shoulder, levering herself closer and pressing her lips to Beca's ear.

 

“I think you know.” Beca can feel her ears burning when Chloe pulls back, but a scowl makes its way onto her face regardless.

 

“You can't keep using my own words against me.” Chloe laughs and takes a step backwards, then another, until she's turning and walking towards the door.


“Yeah? Says who?”

 

“Uh, me?” Beca offers, following after her and silently pleading for her heart to just, chill for a second. Take a break. “The universe? It's like an unwritten law.” Chloe scoffs, stepping over the threshold and out of their practise space.

 

“Of what?” Beca takes the time to turn and make sure the door closes properly, because the one time she hadn't, they'd arrived the next day to find dog crap everywhere and Aubrey had made her clean it up. Alone. But only for the first five minutes because Chloe had refused to participate in practise at all if Beca was going to be made to do something so awful by herself.

 

“I don't know, dude. The best friend code or something.” She turns to find Chloe smiling dreamily at her, hands clasped together in front of her body, batting her eyelashes like a thoroughly romanced housewife from the fifties. “Shut up.” She brushes by Chloe with a glare, setting off at a pace that forces the other woman jog to catch up to her.

 

“You love me.” Chloe needles, bumping their shoulders together. Beca's sour expression never falters.

 

“I said shut up.” Her grumblings fall on deaf ears though. She'd known they would.

 

“And you think I'm pretty.” Beca rolls her eyes, ignoring the heat at the base of her neck. She hears Chloe sigh beside her, airy and pleased. “The prettiest girl in the whole school.” There's a part of Beca, granted it's much smaller than it was once upon a time, that sort of wants to die right now. Wants the ground to open up and just take her. Anywhere, away, into the arms of Satan himself because that would probably make her feel less... whatever it is she's feeling. When none of that happens, she lets out a muttered, disgruntled noise. “Are you denying it?”

 

“It's like, super debatable right now.” She's well aware of how big a 'non-answer' that is. Judging by the way the redhead is staring at her profile, Chloe's aware of it too. “Gloating isn't pretty on anyone.”

 

Except Beca's a big fat liar.

 

Because on Chloe, it totally is.

 


 

The fact of the matter is that Chloe is probably the prettiest girl Beca's ever seen. Like, in a general, non-creepy sense. She doesn't exactly go around eyeing up every female to cross her path, but out of the ones she's actively noted? Yeah, Chloe's probably got them all beat. Which isn't to say that the other Bellas are any less attractive, they all are in different ways, but there's something about Chloe that can over shadow even Stacie's raw sex appeal. Not that Beca thinks about Stacie like that – and she honestly doesn't, it's never once entered her mind – it's just a statement of truth. “Stacie is hot”, quotes the universe. And while there's so much more to her than her looks – seriously, the chick is up to her eyeballs in pre-med stress and loving every second of it – there's always that 'something' when it comes to Chloe.

 

Objectively speaking, Chloe Beale is gorgeous.

 

If Beca was an emo teenager, she'd probably compose really awful poetry about how the sunlight catches her hair and shimmers off of her smile. But she isn't, so she won't. Not even mentally. But if she was then she probably would, because Chloe is that kind of pretty.

 

And she's like ninety-nine percent sure she shouldn't be thinking about this in the shower. Especially given how long it had taken her to stop thinking about the redhead every time she so much as saw a shower curtain freshman year.

 

Oh well, too late now.

 

Shaking herself, she shuts off the tap and goes about her post-shower routine, ending as always with her blow-drying most of the moisture from her hair before brushing it back into a loose ponytail. She leans towards the mirror to inspect her face, screwing it up after a few seconds and looking away with a disgruntled huff. She wonders if Chloe ever has days where she looks in the mirror and doesn't like what she sees. On the one hand, she can't imagine that she does. Because Beca sees Chloe's face regularly. On the other, she also knows Chloe. Knows that even the prettiest of people have insecurities, despite all of the positive energy they put out that tells people otherwise.

 

Damp towel slung over her shoulder, Beca exits the bathroom and takes the stairs to her and Amy's shared attic. She drops her towel and gross, sweaty practise clothes into the hamper, distractedly humming along to a tune she doesn't recognise at first. When she realises it's “Torn”, she stops herself with a rueful smile and a shake of her head.

 

Sure, most of the retreat had been god awful and something she would be hard pressed to repeat even if threatened with an alternatively slow and painful death. Between the exhaustion and the stress of it all, then fighting with Chloe and almost being killed – she doesn't care what anyone else says, she seriously could have died in that bear trap – she hadn't thought there would be room for much else, good or bad. But then Aubrey had suggested a camp fire and Amy had screamed herself hoarse over the thought of s'mores, and somewhere around Stacie telling them all that the only camp fire she'd ever been to had been on a beach in Miami and she never really got around to the s'more eating. Something Fat Amy had a difficult time understanding at first.

 

How do you not have time for smores?”

 

When you're busy having really awesome sex with a guy built like a Greek God.”

 

Ooooh.”

 

All it had taken was one look from Chloe and a quiet “You know you can talk to me about anything”, and Beca was unfolding like they were the only two people there. It's a hard thing for her to do, admit she can't handle something by herself, but Chloe knows that and somehow that always makes it easier. And it's the fact that Chloe knows her so well that had made that moment even more bitter-sweet. Gathered there with the people she'd spent the last four years of her life with, people who'd become her family, who she saw more than her own flesh and blood.

 

Because it really wasn't ever going to be like that again. After Graduation, they'd probably never all be in the same place at the same time. Not unless Aubrey was arranging some kind of reunion and literally flew to all ends of the globe in order to drag them all into the same room.

 

Which, in fairness, Beca can totally see her doing.

 

That sucked though, the truth of it, because Beca's really, really going to miss all of them. She'd meant it that night, had felt how much in the way her nose had started to tingle as she said the words, staring hard into the fire in the hopes it would steam away the threatening tears.

 

Then Chloe had opened her mouth, and all hope of that had been dashed. Her eyes had immediately become glassy, a lump surging to sit high in her throat, and she can feel it now. The prickling behind her eyes, the tumble of her stomach as Chloe sang the opening line, the way she'd looked at Beca. A mixture of unsure certainty that shouldn't have been possible, but Chloe had never really been one for listening to rules.

 

Because Beca had hung a “No Admittance” sign over her ribcage a long, long time ago, and Chloe had just ducked right underneath it on her way in. They all had, really. Chloe had just maybe made it in a little deeper.

 

And the song had brought Beca to the Bellas, had been the catalyst for everything that has transpired in the last four years, including Muff Gate, to a degree, and there had been at least two people around the fire that night who had no idea about that. No idea why Chloe had chosen that song. And even those who did know probably didn't really understand the magnitude of it.

Because the song that had started all this? Chloe was now singing at the end of it all. To Beca, for Beca. And the way she looked at her? It had almost been too much. Had almost tipped Beca over the edge, there was so much feeling there. Sunken into her gaze and screaming from her expression. The enormity of the emotion radiating from her had clawed at Beca in a way that was entirely unexpected. Harsh and raw, and it had left her feeling exposed.

 

But it had worked. Had been the flood that broke the drought.

 

Chloe had come to the rescue again.

 

Like she so often did for Beca.

 

Right now though, it was Chloe that was going to need rescuing, because Beca had a medium-to-large sized bone to pick with her.

 

“Jesse asked you for Aubrey's number and you didn't tell me?” From in front of her vanity, Chloe slowly pivots herself around on the stool she's sitting on and gives Beca a once over before answering.

 

“You know, I kind of always thought you'd be the jealous type.” She muses with a quick nod, lifting a hand to tap her pointer finger against her lips. Beca frowns, confused, and Chloe lets her hand fall with a sigh. “I didn't think it would be a problem since you guys broke up?”

 

“Oh my god.” Beca's eye roll is one of mammoth proportions. “I don't mean- dude, no.” She pulls a face and shakes her head, taking a single step into the room. “I'm not jealous.” Chloe turns back to the mirror – where Beca can now see she's applying mascara – with a high hum of what sounds a lot like patronizing disbelief.

 

“You know, Becs, that's exactly what someone who's jealous would say.” Beca stares hard at Chloe's reflection, but the redhead is too focused on stroking the brush over her lashes. Beca finds herself momentarily distracted by the sweeping motion, only pulling herself out of it when Chloe's eyes finally do flick to hers.

 

“Are you being serious right now?” Chloe holds her gaze for a few seconds, then Beca sees her lips start to stretch. She exhales through her nose and drops her shoulders. “You're an asshole.” Chloe's smile widens as she caps the brush and places it next to a handful of other items Beca doesn't think she needs to use.

 

“You call me far too many names.” With a final inspection, she turns back to Beca with curiously raised eyebrows. “Is this like kindergarten? Are you just being mean to me because you like me?” Beca hangs her head and holds her empty hands out.

 

“You got me. Yeah. That's exactly it.” When Chloe stands with a chuckle, Beca's confidence falters for an instant, but she drags it back upright when the other woman takes a step closer and Beca forces herself to maintain eye contact. “I just really, really like you.” She blows out a purposefully shaky breath that she doesn't really need to fake and feels her insides shudder at the way the redhead beams. “Chloe? Will you share a juice box with me?” Chloe presses a hand to her chest, stalling a foot or so away from Beca and speaking with the broken reverence of someone deeply moved.

 

“I would be honoured.” Beca's façades splinters and then she's grinning, a small chuckle shaking her frame. “Maybe it'll lead to us sharing a mat at nap time.”

 

“Hey, I'm no hussy. We'll have to share at least four juice boxes and a package of animal crackers before that.” She clicks her tongue with a wink and Chloe laughs again, curls bobbing as she shakes her head in amusement. “Really though, what's up with Aubrey and Jesse?” Chloe shrugs, moving around Beca.

 

“I just gave him her number.” Beca turns to watch as Chloe grips the doorknob and presses it back into the frame. She's abruptly and acutely aware of how close she is to Chloe's bed. “Aubrey hasn't really said anything to me.” She turns back to Beca and the brunette narrows her eyes. “Did Jesse say something to you?”

 

“But she has said something.” Chloe's laughter bubbles from her even as Beca ignores her question, or maybe it's because of that.

 

“Just that he'd called her.” She walks back to Beca, reaching for her. Her hands grasp the shorter woman's upper arms and gently squeeze before she rubs them up and down from shoulder to elbow. “Why is this bothering you so much?” Beca visibly bristles but doesn't move away. She is, in fact, consciously aware of how she doesn't feel the need to.

 

“It's not bothering me.” She retorts, teeth clenched, and the little sound Chloe makes is riddled with disbelief. “I just figured that if my ex, who I'm still super good friends with, ever crushed on my former nemesis,” Chloe tuts reprovingly at her choice of words, “he'd maybe tell me. And I wouldn't find out just because she happened to call him while I was there.” Chloe's lips press into a pout as she turns Beca with little more than the suggestion of hands against her arms. They drift down to Beca's and take hold, tugging her along as Chloe backs towards the bed.

 

“Poor Becs. Are you feeling neglected?” Beca glares at her, mouth popping open with an audible, annoyed, smacking sound.

 

“I'm feeling something.” She warns, but the twinkling in Chloe's eyes never ceases. She uses her hold on Beca's hands to pull closer, much like she had during Beca's first hood night, until their noses almost brush. Beca's breath hitches. She pretends that it doesn't.

 

“Is it sexy?” Chloe whispers, low and husky, but she can only hold onto the play for a handful of seconds before she's falling back onto her bed with a laugh. Beca's face recovers far quicker than the rest of her body and she schools her expression into what had once been, and still kind of is her neutral 'resting bitch face'. Or whatever the hell Stacie had called it one night after too many mimosas. “Do you really think he's crushing on her?” Scooting over on the bed, Chloe pats the small patch of space beside her and flashes a hopeful smile up at Beca.

 

“No dude, I know.” She drops down with a derisive huff, lying flat with her head against Chloe's pillow, and stares up at the ceiling. “You don't spend that much time with a person and not learn how to figure out when they're lying to you.” Out of the corner of her eye, she can see the redhead scrutinizing her. “I'm not jealous.” Sees the corners of her mouth twitch into a smile. “I guess I'm just...” she pauses, a heavy sigh lifting her chest, “not used to him not telling me stuff, you know?”

 

“Yeah.” Chloe concedes with a nod. “I mean, Tom and I, we talked a lot. Maybe not about everything, but it was weird when that started to become less frequent.” Beca lifts the arm furthest from Chloe and rubs the heel of her hand over the tip of her nose, then loops the arm loosely around the top of her head. “You guys are still good though, right?”

 

“As far as I know.” Beca sighs and there's an edge of bitterness to it that she knows is unfair. Because Jesse's totally the type who'd feel awkward talking about potential new romances, especially if it happened to be with Aubrey, given her and Beca's history. And she's not mad at him, it's just really weird. It's different.

 

And Beca doesn't doesn't handle change all that well.

 

“You know you're being silly, right?” She's about to huff or roll her eyes or something as equally aloof when a gentle touch caresses the hand above her head. Chloe's fingers are idly toying with her own, stroking over the length of them and tugging at the tips. All done innocently enough but it sends Beca's heart skipping nonetheless, and she quietly battles against the unexpected deluge of pins and needles that race along her skin.

 

She thinks she's coping pretty well with this change though, all things considered.

 

“Yeah.” She briefly wonders if this is some kind of new trick. If Chloe's figured out the easiest way to get Beca to agree to something. But her thoughts are stilted by fingertips tickling her palm, sending sparks rocketing towards her elbow, then up to her shoulder. She swallows, shifting to suppress the shiver that's itching to slither along her spine. “I know.” And blinks up at Chloe, lips parted, but words delayed. “I do, I,” another blink. Chloe's eyes are freaky blue right now. “It's whatever. He's a big boy.” Her smile is as genuine as it always is as her fingers trace circles around Beca's palm. “He can make his own mistakes.”

 

“Excuse me.” Chloe's squeal of offence is quickly followed by a pincer-like pinching of the skin below Beca's thumb. The brunette yelps and tries to pull her hand back, but Chloe holds fast. “That 'mistake' happens to be one of my best friends.” Beca arcs an eyebrow.

 

“That doesn't mean you'd date her!” Chloe's shoulders bounce with her giggles, shaking the bed and Beca both. She lets her hand still in Chloe's again, making short work of her relinquishing attempts. “You can't sit there and tell me that dating Aubrey Posen wouldn't be a nightmare.” She feels Chloe's thumb absently brushing the dip of her wrist where it meets the bottom of her palm. Beca's toes curl against the duvet they're lying on.

 

“It wouldn't be without its rough patches.” Chloe's admission garners a smug clicking of Beca's tongue, but dark eyes take in the redhead's shifting expression – the slight narrowing of her eyes, the shadow of thought that passes over her face, the tilting of her head – and she knows that smugness is about to be short-lived. “But I think she'd make up for it in bed.” Beca's eyes slip closed and she lets out a heavy breath, an uncomfortable weight settling against her chest. She feels Chloe move beside her and opens her eyes in time to see red hair sweeping in close to her cheek. “I bet she's a tiger in the sack.” Is whispered into her ear and all of the air in Beca's lungs leaves by way of a thoroughly disdainful groan of disapproval.

 

“Oh my god.” Chloe's cackle, because there are in fact times where she does resemble a witch in that department, isn't as unpleasant as the word might suggest. Beca actually thinks it's kind of adorable, lying back and watching as the redhead's mouth stretches around her laughter, red hair slipping away from her face as she tips her head back. “What is wrong with you?” It's the kind of sight that reduces her to the kind of person who is unable to muster any malice, no matter how hard she tries. So every one of her would-be-scathing questions comes out via a stupid smile and squeaks free around barely contained laughter. “Why would you say that to me?” Because this has become her permanent 'talking to Chloe' setting over the last few years. Smiley and care-free.

 

Very un-past-Beca-like.

 

“Because it's fun to watch you squirm.” Chloe lets her head loll forward again and meets Beca's gaze, smiling down at her with a crinkling of her nose. Beca rolls her eyes, but they return to the same spot. That's one of the things Beca loves most about Chloe; her honesty. As a kid, Beca had been lied to a lot – for her “own good” - and so people who went out of their way to be truthful ranked pretty high on her 'give a shit' list. Chloe, with her truthful smile and honourable brashness, is more than likely right at the top of it. She hasn't actually checked it in a while. “Have you ever been attracted to another woman?” Of course, Chloe also doesn't have a problem asking questions that other people might approach with a little more caution. She just jumps in with both feet and the hope that she doesn't drown this time, an unknown but ever present fear when swimming near Beca.

 

“Um...” Beca, who has looked away and feels a little like she's been left out at sea right now. Bobbing on uneven waters without a single thing to cling to. Chloe's smile is patient though. Always content to wait, whatever the reason. Beca moves her hand to toy with the edge of her t-shirt and realises the other that would usually join it in the nervous habit is still lying dead beneath Chloe's ministrations. “I don't know.” Chloe barks a laugh.

 

“What do you mean, you don't know?” She's grinning when Beca looks back at her. She can feel weird muscles in her face twitching as she tries to keep her expression neutral and shrugs against the mattress.

 

“I've never really thought about it.” And she hasn't really. She can't, in that moment, recall ever looking at another woman twice. Not like that. Not like she's sort of, maybe, kinda caught herself looking at Chloe once or twice today. Possibly yesterday also. She can't bring to mind a specific time where she was consciously aware of being turned on by another woman, by something they were doing or how they were moving or looking at Beca.

 

“Well, think about it now.” Beca rolls her eyes. Of course Chloe would expect it to be that simple.

 

“I can't just- It's not, I'd need to-to, to think, dude. You can't just-” Beca cuts herself off with a guttural sound of frustration and it flies from her as she waves a hand towards Chloe. “Have you?”

 

“Yes.” Chloe answers immediately, bobbing her head, and of course it's just that easy for her. She retrieves her hand from Beca's and the brunette quickly curls hers into a fist, moving it to rest next to the other by the bottom of her shirt. She keeps her attention on Chloe though, watching as she runs fingers through red curls and bites her lip, thinking something over. “But you probably mean other than you, right?” That feeling a person gets when their crush makes eye contact with them in the school hallway? Or when their brand new boyfriend or girlfriend puts their arm around them for the first time? And it feels like cold water is being poured into their body from an opening in their neck, but in a good way? That's what fills Beca when Chloe asks that, asks it like it's nothing. No big deal. She doesn't even linger on it and there's no teasing or meaningful glance. She's just stating a fact and Beca kind of freezes because they definitely haven't talked about that at any kind of length. Chloe sounds like she expects Beca to have anticipated it though and really, Chloe should know better than that. Because Beca Mitchell is kind of an idiot in that department. “Promise you won't laugh?” The hesitation in Chloe's tone brings Beca back down to earth and she furrows her brow.

 

“Of course I won't.” But the teasing twitch of Chloe's lips is still there.

 

“I haven't told you yet.” And okay, so Beca's definitely intrigued. She hasn't spent all that much time considering the reason, or reasons, why Chloe had wanted to try this, what started it all. Biting her lip again, Chloe scoots down until she and Beca are at eye level. She presses her hands together and props them beneath her cheek as Beca turns her head to watch. “I think maybe Aubrey.” Something bubbles up inside Beca, but it isn't laughter. She feels her expression freeze, rather than twist into a playful display of revulsion, and it's been a solid ten seconds since the last time she blinked when she realises Chloe's face is falling. Right before her eyes.

 

“See?” She forces a smile. “Totally not laughing.” After a few beats, Beca can see Chloe's anxiety visibly easing and she pulls a hand free, letting it drift towards Beca. “But um,” her eyes flick towards the ceiling as Chloe's hand settles lightly against her hip, “you think?” Chloe's close enough that Beca swears she feels the vibration from the redhead's hum shudder through her.

 

“Yeah. I mean, some of the women in my classes are really hot, but I've thought back on how I was with Aubrey and I’m just... not sure, I guess? I love her a lot.” And yeah, sure. There had to be enormous amounts of love and affection for Chloe to put up with the crap Aubrey had thrown at her during the blonde's final year. Beca just hadn't considered that it might have gone beyond that, at least for Chloe, until now. “I don't know that I was in love with her or anything.” And the strangest, barbed, twisting sensation rips through Beca's stomach, strong enough to make her flinch. “What?” Beca's eyes dart.

 

“What?” She can feel them widening in that overly innocent manner, the one that fools absolutely zero people except for her grandma, god rest her soul. Chloe is frowning again and this time Beca acts without thinking. She presses the pad of her thumb against the furrow between Chloe's brows and holds it there for a second to steady her hand, then relieves enough pressure to sweep it back and forth until the skin there is smooth again. “Sorry. I guess I just never really expected you to have felt like that. Potentially.”

 

“Does that weird you out?” Chloe's eyes catch hers in between strokes and Beca's throat tightens as she shakes her head.

 

Because no, it doesn't.

 

And being open and honest might have made her feel uncomfortable, like a lot, in the past. But the way Chloe smiles at her now? She thinks that might make all of that nasty discomfort worth it.

 

Jesus. When did she turn into this?

 

“No. I'm just being dumb.” And she's about to take her hand back when Chloe grabs it with the one that had been pressed against her cheek. Chloe gives it a squeeze and Beca lets her take it down to lie against the mattress. “No one before Aubrey though?” Chloe shrugs, a rare thing to behold.

 

“I don't know.” Beca hikes her eyebrows with a smirk.

 

“What do you mean, you don't know?” Finally, she's the one getting to throw Chloe's words back at her and she receives a shove against her hip for her efforts. She rolls with it and a smile as finger tap a rhythm out against the palm of her hand.

 

“I don't really know how to explain.” Which is something Beca doesn't think she's ever heard the other woman say. Chloe could teach a table how to waltz or a vending machine to limbo. She's good at explaining things, even outside of the a cappella world, and she never gives up on anyone. Seriously, she taught Fat Amy how to play chess in their second year and between distractions and rehashing and using the Bellas as pawns, it had taken six hours. But Chloe had stuck it out. Sure, she had to pull Amy back by her 'Orthodox Jew' ponytail a few times, but damn it if she doesn't know how to play a mean game of chess after the whole ordeal. So Chloe not knowing how to explain something, especially in regard to her feelings, is like Beca suddenly not knowing how to mix. Like Bigfoot, it's something that can go years in between sightings.

 

“Oh,” is what slips out in her surprise, but then she follows it up with a confident, “Okay.” because it is okay. If Chloe says she doesn't know, then she doesn't, and it isn't just an avoidance tactic because she doesn't want to talk about it which, frankly, would be a total Beca move. “Can we go back to what you said before?” But easing the tension with sarcasm and egotistical enquiries is also a total Beca move. “About you being attracted to me?” It's also something that Chloe has never had trouble playing along with.

 

The redhead's mouth curves into a wide grin and her hand squeezes Beca's hip, sending a shockwave along her lower back.

 

“I don't think I remember that?” She says with a confused little frown and Beca feels her body relax further as she twists her lips to the side, eyeing Chloe suspiciously.

 

“I distinctly remember you implying that you found me attractive.” She lets her eyes drop to Chloe's lips where a tongue slips out to wet them as she wrinkles her nose up.

 

“Hmm, nope. I don't think I said that.” Beca feels the familiar thrill that always accompanies their playful banter buzz through her body and she slips her hand out of Chloe's, pressing it into the bed to push herself up and turns onto her side.

 

She can see Chloe's gleeful excitement in the way her body vibrates against the bed. Infinitesimal movements that reek of anticipation just as much as the toothy smile she's giving Beca does. Biting her teeth together to hold in the laughter. It's the kind of situation that leads to the occasional tickle fight, which always end quickly because Beca is “a huge baby” when it comes to being tickled. She argues that it makes her feel like she's dying, which it does.

 

“Do not take this away from me.” She says with a handful of idle threats, and she's trying to glare at Chloe but her eyes are so wide and bright and brilliant, and Beca's pretty sure she could look at them for like, a really long time.

 

Which is only mildly disconcerting in the moment.

 

“Or. What?” Because Chloe's confidence is seeping back in by the bucket load and Beca literally can't think of anything else beyond the way the redhead's whole demeanour changes when that happens. Her arm wobbles as Chloe's hand finds its way under the hem of her shirt, brushing skin, and she has to curl her fingers into the bedding to reaffirm her balance.

 

“I...” she wavers when she catches Chloe staring, rather pointedly, at her mouth, “will think of something. Terrible.” She manages to come off sounding semi-certain. Fingers stroke a short ways up Beca's side, over her hip and through the dip, hitting the very bottom edge of her ribcage before drifting back down. She chews on the inside of her cheek and holds herself steady. If she moves, in any way, she might collapse.

 

Chloe might stop touching her.

 

She doesn't want either of these things to happen. So, she clears her throat and allows that quiet voice in the back of her mind to reiterate just how 'okay' this all is.

 

“Speaking of thinking.” With the skin of her cheek still clamped between her teeth, Beca raises a single eyebrow, not quite trusting herself to speak. Not with Chloe's index finger dipping towards the waistband of her low slung pants, drawing a circle in the hollow of her hip. “I've been thinking about what you said after rehearsals.” Beca's eyebrow remains in its elevated state and she really hopes Chloe gets the message because there are fingers dancing across her abdomen and yeah, she's not opening her mouth right now. “Semi-regular?” Beca's pretty sure that the entire surface of her skin jumps when Chloe reverses the motion of her hand with a twist of her wrist and drags her nails up over Beca's side. She forgets to nod, but Chloe goes on anyway. “And how,” her leg muscles flex involuntarily as Chloe traces patterns as far as she can reach along her lower back, “we could make that a 'more-regular' thing,” Beca tries to take a breath but Chloe's nails are lightly scratching over her back now and it audibly hitches in a way that makes Chloe smirk and her own eyes slip shut in embarrassment. “If you want to.”

 

The thing is, she doesn't remember feeling quite like this with Jesse. And again, she isn't comparing them like that, but while things with him had been exciting and different, while she'd always had fun and felt good, it hadn't been like this. She hadn't felt like she wanted to crawl out of her own skin. Or pull him inside of it. Hadn't felt such desperate confusion over which she's be more likely to do. With Chloe, it's all amped up to ten. Eleven even. It's raw and unexpected. It's more. And Beca doesn't know why that is. How much of it is to to with the experimenting, that Chloe wants to be doing this with her, or if it's just that Chloe's Chloe. That Chloe's good at this. And she shouldn't even be thinking about it this much, because she's doing this for Chloe and it's okay if Beca likes it, and nothing else matters.

 

“Oh yeah?” She hears herself answer, like a disembodied voice floating in from another plane of existence. Chloe nods with a bite of her lip, her eyes flickering down to Beca's mouth again as her whole body seems to shift without moving.

 

“Yeah.” She breathes out, hand finally resting against Beca's hip again and squeezing. Holding. But it doesn't make Beca feel trapped. “Like, right now.” Chloe's eyebrows lift a little and she pulls her lips together in an expression of sheepishness that's also somehow shyly challenging. “For example.” And that floors Beca for a solid five seconds.

 

Because Chloe Beale is asking if she can kiss her. Not for the first time. And is acting coy about it. Like, excited teenager coy.

 

“Does later not work for you?” Beca's confidence is about as dependable as electrical tape. Sometimes it'll keep the connection and things will be great, others it'll lose it completely and the screen will be a devasating blank. Right now, it's holding together, but she knows that won't last. “Or maybe, like, tomorrow?”

 

“Is there somewhere else you need to be?” Chloe asks, right as her arm is curling around Beca's back and she's bodily pulling her closer across the bed. Beca lets out an undignified squeak and slaps a hand against Chloe's shoulder as she's taken. The other woman lets out a burst of excited giggles as Beca's forehead almost hits her nose, but then Chloe's brushing their legs together, tangling them and levelling Beca with a look that could set a hydrant on fire. “Is there somewhere else you'd rather be?” Beca doesn't need to think twice to know that the answer to both questions is no. Chloe tilts her head, angling her face towards Beca, but she doesn't lift it from the bed. “Maybe I can convince you to stay.” She wants Beca to come to her.

 

Asks her to move by hooking a leg around Beca's calf, letting their thighs touch, and keeping the arm around her pressed tight against her back.

 

And Beca doesn't doubt Chloe's words, not for an instant, even though she doesn't seem sure herself. Because she knows what it's like to want to stay exactly where she is right now. What Chloe can do to make her want that. What little Chloe has to do to make her want that. Make that tight feeling in Beca's chest rupture to leak warmth through the rest of her body, relaxing tense muscles and slowing her thoughts. Slowing everything down right before Chloe lets go of the match and lights her up from the inside out.

 

“So,” Beca's voice is hushed as she drops her head forward an inch and when she sees Chloe's response flash in sky blue eyes, something in Beca sparks early, “convince me.”

 

And she should know better than to goad in such a way; Chloe never backs down from a challenge, and her reaction to Beca's thrown gauntlet is instantaneous. She's right there with a handful of matches that are already lit, lifting her shoulders from the bed just enough to catch Beca's lips and send the matches flying. Each one landing in a different spot.

 

At the small of her back, where Chloe's hand has flattened and they burn a hole through the base of her spine.

 

At the seam of her mouth, where they scorch lips into parting and ignite a line of fire that travels to all ends of her being.

 

At the lowest point in her gut, where they fall into a pool of something like gasoline, setting it aflame long before Beca thinks it probably should have.

 

She tries not to make a habit out of thinking too much though, during moments like these. Thinking, Beca has found, only gets in the way of things and her brain tends to become less and less capable of doing it anyway, the longer she spends losing herself in Chloe. A relatively new past time that she feels herself picking up once more. Or rather, sinking into.

 

Chloe just makes it so easy, with all of her confidence and the ease with which she pulls every string within her grasp. She could manipulate Beca like marionette if she wanted to and that knowledge isn't lost on the brunette. Beca is quickly gaining an understanding, or something that resembles one, of how helpless she becomes when huddled behind closed doors with Chloe. Pressed together like this, Chloe's mouth warm and inviting. Pulling at every inch of Beca until Chloe's lips part and Beca is helpless to do anything but give in, slipping further down as she meets that first firm sweep of a tongue with her own.

 

Chloe's breath whistles out in a sigh that Beca feels against her face and then the hand at her back is moving again. Stroking lazy lines wherever it can reach and Beca moves hers to rest at the hollow of Chloe's neck. The side of her thumb grazes the redhead's pulse point and Beca can feel the way it's wildly fluttering. And she's felt that before, how Chloe responds to her, but every time it's like a shot of adrenaline. Injected into the part of her brain responsible for handling her reflexes and instinctual reactions, sending everything shooting forward, too quickly for the rest of it to process.

 

And so Beca's pressing against Chloe's shoulder and urging her onto her back before the notion to do otherwise can occur to her. She shifts with the motion, because Chloe lets herself be guided without a fight, until Beca's hovering over her, forearm still braced against the mattress to hold herself up. Chloe leg, the one not nestled between Beca's, rises to bookend the brunette's hip and Beca jumps a little when she feels Chloe's fingertip drawing a line from her ear along the curve of her jaw.

 

“I scare you?” She hears the smirk in the other woman's words, feels the impression of it where their lips are still touching and ignores the immediate, thankfully internal, answer that springs to the forefront of her mind; “you terrify me”.

 

“No.” Beca manages to mutter, exasperation elongating the vowel. “Just surprised me.” And she almost laughs, because Chloe's been doing that a lot lately. Languid, smiling kisses are peppered against Beca's lips in the interim and dark eyes close as she catches herself holding her breath. Waiting for something that she isn't aware she's waiting for, biding her time, until Chloe lingers a fraction of a second too long and then Beca's the one doing the surprising.

 

Her hand slinks up to grasp the side of Chloe's face, holding her in place as she licks deep into her mouth, relishing the short groan that vibrates low in Chloe's throat. She rests some of her weight against the body below her and tilts her head, changing the slant of her mouth and nipping at Chloe's lip before kissing her again. Long and slow, and as steadily as she can manage while the hand at her back and the one that's slid to the column of her neck keep clutching and slipping, dragging short nails along her spine and making her quake.

 

And as much as Chloe can throw her off balance, as much as she can undo fastenings that Beca knows she double-knotted, as much as she's actually learning to like those feelings, Beca knows she's more than capable of bringing all of that out in Chloe too. And she really likes the feeling that gives her. There's a tightening in the pit of her stomach and a brief, liquid coolness trickling through her chest, then she moves. Rolling her body over Chloe's and shifting her leg to lie higher between the redhead's thighs.

 

Chloe jerks herself roughly out of the kiss with a sharp moan that is drawn down from somewhere high at the back of her throat and the sight of her struggling to blink her eyes open makes Beca smile. And it's the way Chloe's looking at her now, all sultry surprise and breathless desire that darkens her eyes, that makes Beca feel bold. Makes her feel certain and sure, makes her feel okay. Makes her feel like she can do anything and it won't change a thing. Won't trip either of them up. It makes her feel a kind of excitement she isn't familiar with. It makes her feel wanted. Makes her feel sexy. Like she knows exactly what to do. What Chloe wants her to do.

 

And they've always had the kind of connection that allows them to communicate without speaking, but this horizontal spin on things is new and so Beca's surprised by how fluent they're becoming in one another's body language, and how quickly. She wonders if maybe she shouldn't be though. If she should just quit being surprised by anything when it comes to Chloe. Besides, the confidence that Chloe gives her makes Beca feel like doing the surprising for a change.

 

Gazes still locked, Beca uses her arm to give herself some leverage and presses her thigh into Chloe again with enough force to make certain the other woman knows exactly how intentional the movement is. The hand at her back drops down to grab Beca's hip, holding her firmly and at bay while the other fists reflexively and almost takes a chunk of skin from her neck. And Chloe gasps as she does this, mouth falling open in a blunt display of shock and wanton arousal that only serves to fuel Beca further. She drags her attention away from Chloe's face and dips her head, pressing a single, strong kiss to the curve of her neck as she bat's Chloe's hand out of the way so that she can grip the leg still bracketing one side of Beca, pulling at it as she rocks her thigh into Chloe again and opens her mouth against silken skin.

 

Chloe always smells just as good as she tastes, a fact that startles Beca whenever she remembers that she knows exactly how true it is. From experience. She reminds herself now, inhaling deeply as she drags open-mouthed kisses over Chloe's throat and feels the redhead's breath hitch, rattle and rasp. A strangled sound escaping at the press of Beca's leg.

 

“Bec-” the 'a' gets lost beneath another broken cry when Beca's teeth graze flesh and dark eyes roll back behind drooping lids at the sound. At the way fingertips dig into the muscle of her shoulder. Chloe's hips shift, angling up in a sharp motion that steals Beca's breath and her mouth opens soundlessly against Chloe's neck, body stiffening as she squeezes her eyes shut.

 

And it hurts, the heat that's racing through her, like a physical pain. One she's suddenly desperate to rid herself of, because there's no possible way she can stand it any longer. Like an itch that can't be reached or being tickled in a way that feels good but is almost too much to bear.

 

Only it isn't like that at all, because Beca knows what this is.

 

What it really is.

 

“It's okay.” At first, she thinks it's in her head. The shaking timbre of Chloe's voice, reassuring her across time. But then she hears it again, feels the air around her stir as the words move through it. And they lift her head so that she can look at Chloe, whose pupils are blown and cheeks are flushed, and who looks as turned on as Beca feels. And that's a problem.

 

Because Chloe being very obviously into Beca and what Beca is doing unravels the already tenuously held together threads inside the brunette, a new but rapidly spreading trend, and Beca feels them as they're worked free.

 

“I know.” This time when she kisses Chloe, something heavy sinks to the bottom of her stomach, pulling with it the shivers elicited by Chloe's fingers stroking along her neck. They trickle through her like water, warm and wet, and with every fervent pass of her tongue, Chloe's there. Spilling whimpers and reassurance into Beca's mouth and almost drawing blood when the hand against her leg slides down towards her backside and she nips a full lip in shock. A sound that's between a breath and a word leaves Chloe as Beca's hand grasps round flesh and she's forced to choke back a moan when hips jerk up to meet hers again.

 

Chloe's hand drifts along her side, pawing mindlessly as Beca kisses across her jaw line and then tips Chloe's head back with a persistent touch of her nose against the underside of the redhead's chin. She's reminded of the way Chloe's hands would often drift to her throat back when her nodes were giving her the most trouble, before the surgery as well as a little while after, and the kisses she leaves there are soft and delicate as she remembers.

 

She's almost at the hollow when Chloe palms the side of her breast through her shirt and her heart nearly flies out of her throat. It settles for trying to strangle her instead though and she's forced to drag air in through her nose as her body responds to the contact by surging forward. Or trying to; there isn't really anywhere for her to go except into Chloe and the hand Beca had smacked away curves around the base of her neck, clenching as her lips latches onto a patch of skin and she drags her teeth over it. And she should have learned her lesson, especially after rehearsal, but the line separating irrationality and reason has been kicked all to hell. Muddied and askew. And the way Chloe bucks against her is only making it harder to see. Her flames and her fire crawl over Beca, imprisoning her, blinding her.

 

“This helping you relieve some of that stress you were complaining about?” She pants against slick skin, cocky in a rare moment of bravery. Chloe groans at the disorientation in Beca's tone and shifts up sharply into her again.

 

“Not exactly.” Her voice is husky and thick with arousal, her breathing shallow but edging towards rapid and when Beca rolls her hips forward, Chloe's high cry worries her for half a second because they do actually live in a house with other people. But then Chloe's swallowing hard under her lips and the hand at her neck is twitching strangely as it squeezes. “Beca,” and it should throw up some kind of red flag, the way Chloe saying her name like that sends arousal pooling between her thighs, “I-” has her gripping Chloe's leg once more as she rocks into her again, “shit, Beca, I,” and again. Chloe's fingers slip into her hair, tangling in dark tresses despite the ponytail and fisting, tugging until their cheeks are pressed together and she can hear the desperate, “Bec, Beca I-” as it breaks into a piercing gasp that hangs in the air like a deafening silence.

 

It eats up all the oxygen in the room, flames roaring to life around Beca for one eternal instant before they're snuffed out indefinitely and she feels Chloe's body stiffen and still. Fingers tightening in her hair until her scalp stings. Then Chloe shudders, her breath leaving her in one long exhale that the sound of Beca's rapid heartbeat almost drowns out. Her eyes are open, staring down into red curls, her face likely slack and expressionless. Until she feels Chloe's body sag a little and Beca manipulates her dry mouth enough to snare her bottom lip.

 

A quiet, contrite whisper breaks the silence and finds her ear.

 

“Shit.”

Chapter Text


Chloe has no problem with silence, it's been said before. It doesn't make her feel awkward or twitchy. Her bubbly personality just prefers to fill it with animated chatter or the kind of pointless, friendly questions that never go anywhere but always make her smile. She knows how to enjoy silence though, sees its merits and has indulged in its advantages from time to time.


Curled in Tom's tiny bed on lazy Sunday mornings, naked beneath thin sheets as he held her close and his fingers drifted in sleepy lines over the top of her shoulders. Sometimes she'd ask him things like “What did you want to be when you were little?” or “Did you have a pet growing up?”, others he'd sing in a quiet, off-key manor while she pressed chuckles into his chest and begged him to stop.


Squeezing Aubrey's hands backstage after Puke-Gate, in a secluded section of the Lincoln Centre where the audience feedback was nil and her best friend could breathe again outside of the suffocating attention. A rare moment where Aubrey had needed the quiet in order to calm down, rather than it being the cause of her anxiety, and where Chloe, she'd said, made it possible. Without Chloe, Aubrey isn't sure she would have come back from that, but whenever she brings it up, Chloe just smiles and shakes her head, telling her that “You're Aubrey Posen, you can do anything.”


Sat across from Beca while the captain loses herself in 'mix mode', concentration furrowing her brow and headphones pressed so tightly to hear ears that Chloe can't even hear the beat leaking out from them. The silence giving her an opportunity to watch and wonder without distraction. To marvel at just how in her element Beca is when she's surrounded by music and the tools to change and mould it. Chloe's certain that Beca would be able to achieve the same results without all of the shiny electronic equipment though. She's sure that denying Beca the tools would only jump start some kind of evolutionary 'next step' or just bring out the very literal magic already swirling inside of her, allowing her to do all the same things with nothing but her hands.


Beca was born to bend music to her will.


Aubrey had once compared Chloe to music. Told her she is music, pure and raw, given human form.


And maybe that's why Beca knows exactly how to manipulate her. How to find Chloe's base rhythm, tease it out to lie it next to hers, overlying them both with a beat that's new and fresh, and scarily good. A beat that speaks to Chloe, the reminds her why music is so important to her, why she needs it to breathe.


Why she fell in love with music in the first place.


The room around her is still. Quiet. The air permeated by the kind of hush that buzzes and sings, makes flesh prickle. The kind that's charged with an undercurrent, running through every breath and thump of a heart, every considered movement that goes unfulfilled. Because moving is what has landed Chloe in this predicament and she can't exactly go anywhere anyway. If she could, she would probably make her apologies and flee to the furthest corner of the house where she could die of embarrassment in peace.


While Chloe is anything but unflappable, mortification isn't something that ails her too frequently. Especially not in the bedroom, because seriously, she has zero to be embarrassed about in that department. Usually. But above her, Beca is as still as death, and Chloe can feel the burn of shame scorching the back of her neck. She brings her hand, the one not still clamped to the back of Beca's neck, down towards her mouth, pressing her fingers against where she's anxiously nibbling her bottom lip.


“Um...” She lets her eyes close at the sound of Beca's voice. A murmur against her skin, unsure and rough from what Chloe assumes is partly due to a dry mouth. “Did you-”


“Kind of.” She rushes to interrupt, because she doesn't know if she'll survive Beca actually asking her that, and lets her hand fall back towards the crown of her head. She slips her fingers into her hair and grabs a fistful, tightening her grip as the crease between her eyebrow deepens and the burn reaches her cheeks. “A little.” She hasn't felt this humiliated since her senior year of high school – a tale of strawberry jam that could terrify the masses – which, coincidentally, is also the last time something like this happened to her. Because Chloe has had a pretty good handle on her libido for a while now. Long enough that there's no reason this situation should have gotten away from her like that.


No reason besides Beca, that is.


Beca, who isn't saying anything, isn't moving. Is basically a person-shaped weight against her now and whose breath sweeps across Chloe's skin where the opening of her t-shirt has been pulled away from her neck by her movements. Beca, who's thigh is still pressed against Chloe and whose hand remains clutching one denim-clad leg.


“Sorry.” Chloe says, squeezing her eyes shut as she tries to keep her breathing even. Tries to stay as far away from panic as she can. “I'm not usually that...” her lips shift, twisting around her chagrin as she wills the blackness behind her eyelids to take her away, “quick.” Only the blackness doesn't stay empty and every thought, every image that had been swirling through her mind moments before rushes back to her in blazing technicolour.


Beca lying tight against her, moving rhythmically as Chloe pants her name. Beca's hands on her, moving slow beneath fabric, stoking fires that already roar and rage. Lifting Chloe's shirt to draw patterns across her stomach and sternum, pressing kisses to her neck as that same hand works its way back down. Over the lines of muscle that sit parallel to her hips and towards the waistband of her jeans, or sweats, or khakis or whatever it was she'd been wearing in her head that allows Beca's hand to pass easily beneath. To cup between her thighs over the flimsy barrier of her underwear and draw her name so desperately from Chloe's lips, over and over again. In a flash, they'd been naked, in another, they were back on Chloe's bed in her room.


It had transpired in a handful of seconds, but Chloe had lived a lifetime in that span. A lifetime of sinful, sweaty encounters that all pile into the pit of her stomach, one on top of the other until the weight is full and real. Until they can shape themselves into a giant hand that claws at the floor of it, looking for a crack they can slip a nail under and wrench everything inside of her up into turmoil. Leaving only debris for her to sift through to try and salvage a friendship.


And yes, she has a tendency to be a bit overly dramatic when things take a turn for the worst – her multiple break downs over the potential end of the Bellas being one, or a handful, example – but she and Beca haven't discussed this or anything even close to this, and this is the kind of thing she knows will throw Beca for a loop. Because as willing as she's been to help with her request so far, Chloe doesn't think Beca particularly factored this into that. Because Chloe sure hadn't.


“The jeans probably...” she swallows, unable to finish the thought as panic swells and threatens to take hold. She can feel her heart starting to pound again, this time for a different reason.


“Yeah.” Beca's tone is supplemental and little else. She's talking to fill the silence and the thought of that makes Chloe's stomach churn unpleasantly. Creating just enough space for that clawing hand to slip a finger into and gain some leverage. As it pulls up, Chloe feels the weight against her chest increase, making it difficult to breathe, and she isn't going to cry because wouldn't that be the icing on the cake. If Beca doesn't know what to do now, Chloe isn't going to throw an emotional wreck of a wrench into the works to confuse her further.


“Friction.” She isn't sure if her over-explaining things is actually helping though and her breath hitches against the word, and something in the sound of it jars Beca into action.


“Yeah.” Beca repeats, extracting herself from Chloe and shimmying back until she's sitting more or less in the middle of the bed. It takes a few seconds for Chloe to open her eyes and when she does, she sees that Beca has moved to sit across from her through a watery film. She blinks it away, shifting until she's sitting up with her back against the headboard, and tugs her shirt back into place. There's a foot or so separating them and everything feels so awkward. And that scares Chloe, it makes her feel horrible and sad, because things between her and Beca have never been awkward. At least, she's never felt that they were.


There have been many times in her life where Chloe has wished she had the ability to shut her brain off. To slow everything inside of it down to a slow crawl, so as not to get carried or swept away. She's been burned before and, over the years, security measures have tentatively been set in place to avoid future disasters.


Because just like Aubrey had said, Chloe falls in love too easily.


And Beca Mitchell had swanned in and flipped all the latches, shutting the entire system down.


Purely by accident, of course. Judging from the size of her eyes, which flit about the room nervously and refuse to remain on anything for longer than five seconds. Refuse to land on Chloe at all.


“You're freaking out.” It isn't an accusation, not really, it's more like she's letting Beca know that that's okay. That it's okay to admit to it. Because Chloe can see that she's freaking out. She's been face to face with a freaked out Beca multiple times times in the last few years, she knows what that looks like and it looks a hell of a lot like the Beca that's sitting in front of her right now. Only this time there's a few new additions. Flushed skin, reddened lips, ponytail tugged salaciously askew.


“I'm not freaking out.” Beca's voice is higher than it should be, breathy with the effort to appear collected as she shakes her head. Chloe's stomach drops a few more floors and she bends her knees, pulling her legs into her chest. Beca's fingers are picking at the duvet beside her knee and midnight eyes return to the spot again and again in the short silence.


“You're kind of freaking out.” That Chloe breaks with a whisper that, despite her best efforts, still comes out bursting with remorse and regret.


“I'm not.” She sees the way Beca's eyes flash, her patented 'fuck off' glare from previous years stepping out of retirement for an instant. But then Chloe sees her jaw clench, notes the way she swallows, and catalogues every way in which she can see that Beca is trying to calm herself down. For Chloe. Because Beca is freaking out, however minutely, but they haven't been able to come this far in their friendship without Beca learning how to read Chloe. Chloe's kind of like a well-worn paperback at this point, even feels a little ragged around her edges, and so Beca can probably see the panic Chloe feels herself spirally towards after her reaction. So, she's trying to tamp it down. Trying to ease back from boiling, down to a super low simmer. Chloe doesn't say anything when she hears a hiss of a sigh slip past Beca's lips. “I'm not.” Doesn't argue it again. “I'm just...” tries not to watch the way Beca's hand moves to her hair and her fingers run through it, scratching against her scalp before shaking the strands free. “Surprised, is all.” When their gazes meet again, Chloe offers a small smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes and a half shrug that's jittery with annoyance.


“Sorry.” It's unnecessarily snappish, Chloe knows that but can't hold it in, and Beca frowns at the apology.


“You don't-” Beca shakes her head and looks away, “you don't have to say that.” Back down at the duvet, where she's absent-mindedly tearing off pills and leaving the tiny balls of fluff in a haphazard pile.


“Well, I didn't mean to,” Chloe pauses to wave a hand in Beca's direction, finishing with a self-reproving, “surprise you.” It's painfully obvious that Beca doesn't know what to say to that. It's in the way she shifts, the way she twists her lips and how her shoulder's sag, it's even in the way she breathes. Chloe can see it all and she presses her nose into the gap between her knees and rests there, like she's trying to hide her face. And maybe she is, she wants to. Part of her would really like to ask Beca to leave right now because she feels really, really stupid and for once Beca is actually making things worse for her.


“Can you just,” Beca's hand comes up, palm forward and flat, warding Chloe off, “can you like, just stop, for a second?” Chloe blinks, taken aback by the other woman's curtness, but she doesn't say anything else and Beca catches the corner of her mouth between her teeth before speaking again. “Just so I can actually think before I speak and maybe not sound like an insensitive idiot. I'd really like to avoid you getting pissed at me because I've said something the wrong way.” Some of the tension in Chloe's shoulders eases at that and she does as requested. Remaining silent and still as Beca re-ties her ponytail and looks around the small room, the grinding tick of cogs in her brain becoming almost audible. And Chloe stays like that until enough time passes that she starts to wonder if Beca intends to say anything further.


She lifts her head, opening her mouth to say something, but Beca's hand flies up again, her gaze following close behind and both imploring Chloe to give her just a little longer. The redhead presses her lips into a thin line and rests her chin against the top of her knees.


I'm sorry.” Beca's apology reaches right inside Chloe's chest. “That was really dumb of me.” Slithers down until it finds her stomach. “Reacting like that.” Lifts it back into place as Beca unfolds and re-crosses her legs, clearing her throat. “I should have just like, immediately said it was okay.” Beca pauses, looking over at Chloe from beneath dark lashes. “Right? I mean, that's probably what you're supposed to say.” She sounds so far from sure that it makes Chloe chuckle. “I haven't really,” she gestures towards Chloe with a hand and the movement stutters, “been here before.” Chloe isn't exactly sure what she means, but it surprises her nonetheless. “I mean, not with,” Beca's hand never really stops moving, twitching this way and that, catching Chloe's eye every few seconds, “not with another girl, anyway? Guys yeah, but like-” until they widen and Beca stops herself by running the tip of her tongue over the front of her teeth. “Okay, can we pretend I didn't just say that and that you're not assuming I mean Jesse, and we can like, erase that section of the conversation?” Blinking her eyes back to a more acceptable size, Chloe agrees with a nod and a tentative smile. There are things she wants to say right now, of course there are, but Beca seems pretty intent on rambling her way through this until she runs out of steam. “Awesome.” Beca slaps her hand down against her leg, a motion that serves as a punctuation mark for the would-be forgotten part of her speech. “I just,” she bites the inside of her cheek, “I'm sorry, okay?” And there it is again, right inside her chest. “Can we just like, forget that happened?” Squeezing Chloe's heart until she's sure it's going to rupture.


“Which part?” Chest tight, pulse racing, the question slips by Chloe's lips as a cracked whisper and Beca stares at her, unblinking and expressionless, until realisation dawns.


“Oh. No, not,” Beca shakes her head, eyes not straying from Chloe now, “not that.” The harsh movement of Chloe's throat as she swallows is hidden by the placement of her legs. Her hands squeeze the sides of them and she wills herself to stop feeling so panicked. Because it's Beca and nothing bad is going to happen. She just can't shake the sense of vulnerability that's covering her like an itchy woollen shawl, nor the solid lump of anxiety it has left sitting in her gut. “That was, like, good.” Chloe's eyebrow twitches and Beca's cheeks immediately colour. “I mean, no that's not-” she cuts herself off with a noise of frustration and Chloe has to bite down on her lip to control the shaky smile trying to stretch her lips, “that you, um, I mean, it's good.” Her eyes follow Beca's hand as it moves back to her hair and she tugs her fingers through dark strands again. “Can't get much more definitive proof that you're into something than, than-” and she pulls her hand free and waves it through the air, as if waiting for the next word to appear.


And it hits Chloe, not for the first time, how adorable 'awkward Beca' is. How cute she is when she's unbearably flustered and tongue-tied. How much Chloe enjoys tormenting her by putting her into that position, as awful as that may be, and the way it makes her feel, to be the one bringing that blush to Beca's cheeks.


"Orgasming over it?" She supplies, her uneasiness giving way beneath the weight of the need to tease, and Beca narrows her eyes at Chloe because she knows. Knows exactly what the redhead is doing.


“Yes.” Beca says, brusquely, drumming her fingers over her kneecap.


And Chloe's body is still buzzing from it, as small and abrupt as it had been. Swimming over her skin like pinpricks of static that cling as they try to drift by her, sticking around to see if a bigger wave might swell to finally sweep them fully away. Tiny nails digging into her and making her muscles jump and twitch involuntarily. And Beca's right, that really is a kind of definitive proof of being into something. Only the thing Chloe had been into, really into, behind closed eyes, is probably different to what Beca's talking about.


Or, not different, but more specific. Because it's been pretty clear to Chloe for a while now that she's into girls.


But in that moment she'd been really, really into Beca.


“You okay?” Beca, whose expression has folded into concern and is watching Chloe from across the bed as she asks.


“Yeah.” But it takes Chloe a fraction of a second too long to reply and she knows Beca doesn't buy the chipper front she adopts right before she tacks, “Totes.” onto the end. And there's something stewing in the back of Chloe's mind. Something that's whistling and bubbling about how no, she isn't, because she can't look at Beca right now and not think about her hovering over Chloe. Moving against her, their clothes brushing until there's nothing more between them in Chloe's mind and it's all bare skin and slick kisses. And she can feel it, burning against her like Beca's gaze is now. Wide-eyed and worried, and Chloe knows that some part of Beca is still freaking out about this, and she really doesn't want to push Beca any more than this already has. “Shouldn't I be asking you that, anyway?” She's always been good at deflecting attention, either towards or away from her, and Beca's almost always just as easily sidetracked.


I'm totally fine.” Beca insists, fingers bending back as she presses the tips into her chest to indicate herself, but it comes out a little too flippant to be truly sincere. “I,” she stretches out her index finger, circling it in Chloe's direction, “am even better than expected. Apparently.” The words are laden with amused innuendo and Chloe feels the infrequently encountered heat of a blush creeping towards her cheeks. She looks around for something to throw and picks up a small, round-ish crocheted ball – her brother's lucky hacky sack – that she hucks at Beca. The brunette lets out an “ah!” of indignation as the thing hits her solidly in the chest. “Don't hate me because I'm right.” She grumbles, reaching down into the gap created by her crossed legs and picking the hacky sack up from where it had landed.


“Bullseye.” Chloe beams, ignoring the look Beca flashes her and refusing to elaborate. When Beca looks back at the ball and turns it over a few times in her hands, Chloe can't help but watch the way her fingers move along the fabric, shuffling the beads around inside.


“I didn't know you played.” Beca says after a moment and Chloe snorts.


“That's because I don't.” And she laughs because she's tried, and the mental image dredged up at Beca's assertion is one pulled from a memory that's over a decade old. She points to the footbag. “My brother's lucky hacky sack. He tried to teach me once though.” She drops her chin back to her knees, letting her head loll until her cheek is resting against their tops and her eyes rove over Beca, who's still looking down at the bag. “Or twice.” And Chloe's smile is unstoppable as Beca's eyes flick up to hers, a playful, questioning expression lifting the corners of the brunette's mouth. “Maybe a few times.” Beca chuckles and the buzzing inside Chloe's body changes pitch, buzzes louder.


“Couldn't quite,” Beca cocks her head and flashes the most outrageously exaggerated wink Chloe thinks she's ever seen, “hack it?” Her eye roll is one to rival Beca's and the laugh that leaves her is full and unhindered. She stretches her legs out beside Beca and tips her head back, shaking it almost in time with her shoulders.


“You are the biggest dork I have met.” And she supposes that it should probably sound like an insult, but it doesn't. It doesn't feel like one either. There's nothing but happy contentment coursing through her as she says it, knowing the undeniable truth of her words and revelling in the fact that she's the one that gets to sit across from the biggest dork she's ever met – potentially the biggest dork in the entire world, but she doesn't have all the criteria to back up an accusation of that magnitude yet – and it's kind of ridiculous.


How much she loves Beca in that moment.


“Yeah well, you weren't complaining ten minutes ago so....” Beca punctuates the sentence with a 'pop' of her lips and purposefully widens her eyes, then she's twisting her mouth around in that way that makes it look like she's trying to stop herself from laughing, but that Chloe knows is her not really trying at all. And it's such a dumb, undeniably 'Beca' thing that Chloe finds herself pulled right into the expression. Wrapped in it, breathing through it, living for it. And it's a strange thing, she thinks, to have someone else's expression light up your own face. But there's so much about Beca that brings all that and more out in Chloe.


With smile lines creasing her features, Chloe darts forward to reach across the space between them. She snatches the hacky sack out of Beca's unsuspecting hand, only to lean back and throw it her again. This time it hits her square in the breast and Beca looks down and back up in one quick, appalled motion.


“Hey!” She looks so affronted. “Watch the ladies, dude!” And Chloe can't help it.


“Oh, I do.” She counters, her sudden salacious tone and lascivious smirk smacking the offence right off Beca's face. She lets her gaze wander down over Beca's chest and even though she's mostly doing this just to get a rise out of the other woman, that doesn't mean she can't appreciate the eye candy right?


She recalls how Beca had seemed surprised at her offhanded comment about being attracted to her, as if the notion had never occurred to her, and that in itself had never occurred to Chloe. She'd just assumed that her wanting to do this with Beca would have clued her co-captain in. Apparently not. Of course she finds Beca attractive. She can't imagine anyone seeing her and not finding her attractive. She's just really nice to look at, Chloe thinks, and that's something she enjoys indulging in whenever the opportunity presents itself. She hasn't really given much thought to that though, beyond her attraction to Beca being another reason for her wanting to experiment. But then, Chloe's never made a habit out of questioning things like that.


She's never stopped to ask herself why her heart sped up every time Aubrey would grab hold of her hands or hug her during their freshman year. Nor did she feel the need to ask herself why Tom's smile made her legs turn to jello. So why would she even think to question the fact that Beca's smile makes her feel a little giddy? Or ask herself why her heart pounds harder than rain during a thunderstorm whenever Beca's hands are on her. Or why, exactly, thinking about Beca – hands, hips, mouth, movements – had gotten her off, more or less, in record time.


It's only when Beca's shock subsides enough for her to roll stormy eyes, lift a hand to rub the patch of red slowly spreading from the base of her neck, and Chloe finds herself mesmerised by the arc of Beca's neck that she thinks maybe she should.



 

 

Maybe it's not Beca. Maybe it's all coincidental, the perfect alignment of hormonal stars. Maybe Beca is just the common thread.


The clinical side of Chloe's brain is telling her that her body's reactions are natural, to be expected. That there's no way, especially with the preconceived notion that she might be into girls, she could remain unaffected. That she probably would have respond the same way to anyone she'd been in that position with. Then, there's the other side. The side that traipses over all of that 'coincidence' crap, kicking up dusts and memories alike of how soft Beca's skin is beneath her hands. Of how the shape of her body feels when it's pressed against Chloe, how it fits. She remembers the sound of her voice, teasing her, daring her. The cocky tone and smug smirk. The way Beca's words and lips had brushed Chloe's neck and sent her already spinning mind spiralling.


How every one of those things had coalesced into a single moment that had seen Chloe's earth shift on its axis and then roll right off its pedestal. But maybe that would have happened with anyone. Maybe it's the newness of it all and the realisation that yeah, Chloe has been missing something up until now. Maybe it's simply the that fact she's discovering that girls really do get her engine revving. Maybe Beca just happens to be really good at giving her a jump start.


In the safe solitude of her room, Chloe lets herself think, Maybe it is Beca.


As if serving as an exclamation point to that thought, Chloe's phone vibrates against the top of the bedside table. She shifts her head on her pillow, looking over towards the glowing screen, and pulls an arm out from under the duvet to snatch the phone up. The screen goes black before she can see what caused the alert, so she thumbs the power button and sees the little envelope icon that tells her she has a new message. She types in her pin code – which is still Tom's birthday because that's the only code her brain seems able to remember – and taps the icon.


It should say something, the way her body warms and her face lights up when she sees Beca's name at the top of the message, but it's become such an automatic, instinctive response that Chloe doesn't even notice.


Sorry I was weird earlier


Her stomach flips as she reads the text, sucking her bottom lip between her teeth and holding it there before she rolls onto her back and frees her other hand from the covers to type a reply. And she knows how hard it must have been for Beca to send that message, how long she probably sat there, teeth worrying the pad of her thumb, willing the message to just send or delete itself. She also knows how tense she'd likely felt while she waited for Chloe's response, which is why the redhead decides to take the jokey route. Ease some of that tension.


you're always weird becs :) xx


You know what I mean.


Chloe goes back and forth between “yeah” and “I do” a few times before another message from Beca comes through, saving her from making the inexplicably difficult decision.


I'm sorry I didn't stay and talk.


Beca doesn't say sorry all that often. Not because she's an asshole or because she doesn't feel the need to, it's more that she finds it super awkward. Because if there's a reason for her to say it, that means she feels bad or guilty about something, and Chloe knows how poorly Beca gets along with her feelings. They don't always mesh well.


I didn't think that you might want to until after I left.


Usually, that conflict encompasses the realm of texting, email, facebook – which Beca never uses anyway – and probably the good old fashioned written word, though Chloe's never been able to test that. Beca isn't all that open with people and Chloe, though an exception to an extent, still has to guess at what Beca's feeling a lot of the time. Which isn't a big deal because she's gotten pretty good at it over the years. Deciphering the crinkle of a brow or tilt of her head. The way she rubs her nose or cracks her thumb knuckle under the pressure of her fingers. The way her face goes completely blank when she's been caught doing something Chloe thinks is especially adorable. The way she picks at already chipped nail polish on the way to a performance. Okay, so maybe 'kind of good' and 'guessing' are the wrong words to use. Chloe knows Beca.


Or that maybe we should?


The text brings Beca's nervous chatter to life inside her head and a smile to her face; Beca knows Chloe too. It just sometimes takes time for Beca to remember everything. She seems to be on a roll right now though, because texts are coming through faster than Chloe can reply to them.


Or maybe I’m being dumb and you should just delete these texts and forget I said anything??


Chloe rolls her eyes then closes them with a laugh, pressing the top of the phone to her forehead and taking a moment to gather herself. She's never not found Beca adorable.


You're not being dumb :P She hits send and, smirking, quickly types another response. Well, not this time anyway.


Why do I put up with you?


Because you love me and I'm an AWESOME kisser. ;)


She's smiling the entire time she waits for Beca's response, which takes a little longer to arrive than the preceding messages.


Can't argue with that.


Chloe, unsurprisingly, loves that 'butterfly' feeling. Not the nervous, anxious one that makes your palms sweat and bile rise into your throat. No, the one that makes your skin prickle and your stomach roll. The one that leaves you momentarily breathless and your cheeks aching because the person causing all of that also makes you smile, like, all of the time.


DO you want to talk about it though?


I know you said that you were okay.


I just want to make sure I guess?


For someone who had so vehemently and insistently projected the air of a person who doesn't give a shit, Beca cares an awful lot. About the Bellas, her friends, about Chloe.


Am I being really super lame right now? I am, aren't I?


There's a feeling swelling behind Chloe's ribcage, one that reminds her of Tom's smile and Aubrey's embrace, and she releases a slow, shaky breath as she stares at the little black letters on the screen and considers, not for the first time, how much she loves Beca. How much she really loves her, and how much emptier her life would be without her. She thinks about how much Beca makes her laugh, how much she loves making Beca's eyes roll, how much she loves just knowing her and being with her.


You're being a caring, considerate friend, dummy. :P xx


Oh. Is that what this is?


Yes. XP xx


She stays quiet and still for a few moments then, only the rise and fall of her chest and the oddly out of sync tapping of her thumb against the side of her phone shifting the air around her. She slants her mouth to the side as she thinks, trying to pick out which words go well together and will reassure Beca best. Because she wants to reassure her. She wants Beca to know that she is okay and that the only reason she might not be okay, is that if Beca isn't. Because Chloe understands how this could be weird for her, accidentally getting her best friend off – and it had been an accident, as purposeful as Beca's movements may have been Chloe knows she hadn't intended for it to go that far – isn't something that either of them could ever hope to just brush off. Or want to. They're too close, they've come too far to regress back to a place where they awkwardly avoid talking about something. After almost four years, Chloe's gently eased that bad habit out of Beca's grasp.


I'm fine though. Really. She pauses, biting at her lip again as her thumbs hover in place over the screen. She isn't sure where the nervousness is coming from, except that she doesn't want to scare Beca off. And maybe that's all it is. Honestly... I was kind of embarrassed. And scared.


Scared? (and it's me, you weirdo. I’ve literally seen you naked, so there's really no reason for you to be embarrassed.)


Chloe laughs quietly at that, because yeah, Beca has a point. But Chloe knows that she does too and it coupled with the insatiable need to tease that burns through every fibre of her being and lights up her insides like fireworks whenever Beca is involved, is too much to turn down.


Yes, but having an orgasm in front of someone is a different kind of naked, becs. ;)


Touche.


I wasn't scared of you seeing me like that though. Chloe doesn't realise the truth of that statement until it's staring her in the face and she holds off sending it, reading it back a few times. Trying to pick it apart and unearth every possible meaning. I was afraid you'd freak out. Then sends it anyway.


Sorry.


You don't need to keep saying that.


Did it make you think any more about where you want this to go?


Chloe blinks at the question, blindsided by it. Then berates herself because it really shouldn't be that unexpected for Beca to go back to that given recent events. The thing is, it hasn't made her think about the future it all. She's been too busy thinking about what happened, too stuck in the moment. That moment. So she doesn't know quite how to respond, but figures an honest answer is probably the best way to go.


Not really. And every few letters, Chloe finds herself stopping. I know that I like this. Just to collect herself, to make sure that what she's saying is the truth, but approached in a way that isn't going to potentially freak Beca out again. Doing this. With you. And she knows it won't, knows that Beca values honest above almost anything else and that she's always appreciated that about Chloe. I like kissing you. Because Chloe's never lied to her, and she isn't about to start now. Touching you. She glances up at the ceiling and blows out a slow breath as she considers how she wants to end the message.


Closing her eyes is probably the least helpful thing she could do for herself in that moment, because images of Beca roar to life, unbidden but welcome, and a sigh leaves her as she remembers.


I like it when you touch me.


And she isn't lying about that either, but as her body hums with each memory of Beca's hands on her that her mind brings forth, she knows she isn't being completely truthful. She really likes it when Beca touches her. Enough that she's caught herself wishing, on a few occasions – almost all occasions – that Beca wouldn't stop. That she'd keep touching Chloe until every barrier, material or otherwise, fell away and she'd finally be able to feel everything Beca has to offer. Finally feel Beca, all of her. Pressed flush and bare against her sweat-slicked body and-


Chloe's phone vibrates in her hand and she almost drops it onto her face, but she lets out a startled breath and holds tight. Blinking a few times to clear her mind, fogged up from the steaminess of her thoughts, Chloe thumbs the screen and feels a tremor roll through her hand.


None of that makes me feel uncomfortable.


Sparks ignite, a shower of searing golds and oranges ricocheting off of her ribcage and she smiles, like an idiot, as she feels Beca's confession lift an unseen weight from her shoulders. And it takes a minute, for everything inside of her to calm down and realign, for her to catch her breath. For the sheer, insurmountable happiness that the statement sends sweeping through her to dull, just enough for her motor functions to return to working order.


So... we're good?


Beca's reply is as close to instant as it can get.


Yeah. Chloe feels every tense muscle in her body relax. I’m apparently REALLY good. ;)


And Chloe laughs, loud and free, and feels the strain of it stretch across her cheeks.


Shut up, Mitchell. xx


Don't hate the playa, C. You be knowing I gots mad skills.


OMG. I’m going to sleep.


Sweet dreams. ;)


Still smiling, Chloe scrolls and taps her way through her phone until she finds her 'Beca' playlist and the mix that the aspiring music producer had put together as a birthday present for her last year. Chloe's two favourite songs, mashed perfectly together with a meticulous precision that she appreciates like it's the first time she's hearing it every single time she listens. She adjusts the volume and hits the play icon, then lies the phone back on her end table and settles down under the covers. A familiar beat opens the song and Chloe's eyes drift close with a content sigh.


In the darkness, black and white flashes of The Supremes singing on stage inter-splice themselves with Jet's music video and there between them both, is Beca. Bursting with colour and confidence, whispering in Chloe's ear under the melody.


And maybe it is Beca.


Maybe it doesn't matter.


Maybe Chloe needs to take her own advice and just enjoy herself.


Enjoy Beca, while she can.  

Chapter Text


It's not that Beca hates technology. She'd actually be pretty lost without it – literally in some cases – and her mash-ups would be significantly more difficult to, well, mash. It's just that, beyond her laptop and any general recording equipment, Beca's kind of left in the dark when it comes to that stuff. She knows how to use her cell phone, but it's not like calling and texting are difficult things to master for anyone under the age of fifty-five, so that isn't much of a victory in the tech department. It's once you get into changing ringtones and personalisations that she hits a brick wall. She'd finally given in and gone to Chloe for help when she couldn't figure out how to set a specific photo she'd taken – because yes, she knows how to work the camera – as her background and Jesse had taken it upon himself to go in and change his personal ringtone to Def Leppard's 'Pour Some Sugar On Me'. It's been like that for months and no one will help her change it. She hates all of them, but is well aware that Google is a thing she also knows how to work.

 

She actually likes texting. It serves a very valuable purpose in her everyday life, in that it allows her to communicate with people in a way her mouth does not. That being half decently. It gives her time to think and choose her words, carefully, even when she doesn't really need to. She likes having the option, you know? She likes being able to read back what she just wrote and make sure it doesn't make her sound dumb or like a belligerent asshole. And while it's true that tone of voice is usually lost somewhere between the little black letters, she never seems to have that problem with Chloe.

 

You're being a caring, considerate friend, dummy. :P xx

 

For one, Chloe uses emojis like they're going out of style. Or she uses them more than Beca, anyway. So whenever she's being flirty, which is a lot, there's usually a wink, and so it goes for any other emotions that can potentially be embodied by letters and various punctuation marks. She'd found it really disconcerting at first, the amount Chloe uses them, but as with everything else about the redhead, it's grown on Beca over time. She's become used to it, comforted by it even. She misses it when it's not there and the texting makes it easier for Beca to feel that, because she's not in front of the person, fighting with her instinctual desire to run away from the feeling. To cover it by kicking up sarcasm and scorn like dirt.

 

Oh. Is that what this is?

 

But here in the relative sanctuary of her room – Amy's gentle snores are once against filling the gaps in the silence like cricket chirps – body buried beneath the blankets she's got pulled up over her head, that automatic reaction can't reach her. Can't find her. Maybe it's blinded by the glow emanating from her phone screen. She keeps tapping the pad of her thumb against it to make sure it stays on, make sure she sees Chloe's message when it comes through.

 

Yes. XP xx

 

She smiles when it does, because that dumb little emoji manages to somehow perfectly capture the expression Beca's sure Chloe is wearing as she types it. The one she'd intended to elicit when she sent her playfully dumbfounded response. Only she didn't have to reach too far back into her high school drama closet to dredge up the material for that; even after years living, eating, breathing and competing with the same girls, girls she really does consider to be her best friends, she doesn't consider herself all that great of one. Doesn't know how to be that or what that really is. At least, she doesn't feel as though she does. Doesn't think she's very good at it. Which is fine, she guesses she's pretty lucky.

 

I'm fine though. Honestly... I was kind of embarrassed. And scared.

 

Because Chloe outshines probably every person – the other notable exception being Jesse – Beca's ever even tried to maintain any kind of relationship with. Shines bright enough for both of them and covers the share of 'being good at it' that Beca's lacking. Chloe has the patience to do that, to wait for Beca to catch up. And Beca might not think about that a lot, she might never say it out loud, but she's more thankful for that than she'd care to explain. Which is why she tries so hard, to be there for Chloe. To be the kind of friend Chloe deserves. Right now, she wants to type a response, wants every reassuring word in the dictionary to flow from her fingers and through Chloe's phone screen, but her brow remains furrowed as she stares at the words on hers.

 

Scared? Is what she types, and she almost leaves it at that, but her thumb pauses. She purses her lips and tries to recall anything she might have done to make Chloe feel scared. The embarrassment she gets, because she'd been pretty close to mortified herself, but probably for different reasons. Chloe though? There's no need for her to feel it and Beca wants to make sure she knows that. (and it's me, you weirdo. I’ve literally seen you naked, so there's really no reason for you to be embarrassed.) Sarcasm has been Beca's best friend since the beginning.

 

Yes, but having an orgasm in front of someone is a different kind of naked, becs. ;)

 

She fumbles the phone as she reads the reply, an undignified squeak struggling free from the back of her throat as it hits her face and she rushing to pull it away. She holds her breath, listening for Amy's snores. When she hears their continued wheezing, she lets her breath go and looks back to her phone. Her eyes roam lazily over the words, each one pulling a shiver that little bit further along her spine. Because yeah, that had happened. She knows it happened because Chloe's referencing it. She knows it happened because the memory of it makes the muscles in her calves contract and her feet shift restlessly against the mattress. She knows it happened, because she can still recall the way it had felt, all of it. Vividly. Chloe's skin beneath her lips, her hands touching, clinging, her voice as it stroked over Beca's skin. The feel of denim beneath her hand as she pressed into Chloe without thinking, her mind perilously blank save for some nameless need that seemed intent on devouring that emptiness. Consuming it, consuming her. The way Chloe's kiss had drawn every ounce of control right out of Beca's body, letting her throw caution to the wind and sweeping her up into a storm of unrestrained utterances and movements that had fuelled that need into a gaping black hole. One that couldn't be neither filled not avoided, and it had swallowed Beca whole.

 

She blinks against the glare of the screen and tries to control the tremors making her thumbs twitch as she fires off a blasé reply.

 

Touché.

 

The truth, the real, harsh truth of the matter is that Beca is about the furthest from blasé that she can get right now. Although, not as far from it as she'd been during the initial aftermath, so she's almost as far as she can get, with her brain constantly reminding her that “hey, so, you've never like, felt that before”. And it doesn't just mean with Chloe, it means never. Not with anyone, not even Jesse. Guilt drips through her like syrup as she thinks it, because god, she'd loved him. Does love him. But it had never been like that.

 

I wasn't scared of you seeing me like that though. I was afraid you'd freak out.

 

And it was no wonder her tiny mind had freaked out as all manner of thoughts and feelings and frightened regret – because Jesus, had she just blacked out? Had some otherworldly entity taken control of her body and rushed Chloe forward before she was ready? - swarmed her without warning, practically strangling her with their unfamiliar toxicity. Still, she should have known better, behaved better. Because she doesn't need to concentrate all that hard to remember how afraid Chloe had seemed, sounded, how she'd pulled back from Beca in a way she almost never does. She finds herself wishing once again that she could do what Emily does, just so she could set Chloe's mind at ease. Because even if she is freaking out, that doesn't mean Chloe needs to as well. Doesn't mean she needs to worry about Beca, because Beca's pretty confident this will just blow over and her body will turn off and cool down and they can go back to their 'experiment'. Everything will be fine.

 

Sorry. But most of her words are still lost, left floating in rippling sky-blue pools of apprehension that she doesn't know how to calm.

 

You don't need to keep saying that.

 

And it seems unfair that she can find such waters soothing, when it's her that keeps throwing rocks at the surface. She lifts one hand from her phone and presses her thumb between her brows, rubbing harshly at the crease there as she tries to think. Beyond the general worry and upheaval over this whole situation, there's one crystal clear part of Beca that wants to make sure Chloe knows that Beca's still okay with this. With moving forward. Because she does want that, she still wants to be there for Chloe, like that. An alternative, the thought to maybe ease back or stop this, doesn't really enter her head.

 

Did it make you think any more about where you want this to go?

 

She still doesn't need a solid answer, that isn't why she's asking. She's mostly asking because she wants Chloe to know that it's okay if it did make her thing about that, that she can tell Beca, and sure, she's also kind of curious. She's pretty sure that if their roles were reversed in this, it might have made her rethink things.

 

Not really.

 

Although maybe she's giving herself too much credit. She lets out a breath and waits for the reply she can feel Chloe preparing one floor below. She feels strangely jittery as she waits for it, throat bobbing as she anxiously swallows and stares her phone. And this is silly, she doesn't even know why she's nervous, but she has no idea what Chloe is about to say and while she's certain it isn't going to be anything bad, she knows it's going to be something.

 

I know that I like this. Doing this. With you. I like kissing you. Touching you. I like it when you touch me.

 

The silence beneath her duvet is shattered by the sound of all the breath in her body rushing free, each and every slip of air racing the another, tripping past Beca's lips in a cacophony of noise that is deafening to her. She has the presence of mind to note that Amy's still snoring before her eyes close and she's dragged back into Chloe's room by the pit of her stomach. She doesn't honestly know what had come over her, what switch had been flipped to allow her to move and act with the kind of instinct that had managed to block out every single thing, except Chloe. Her kiss, her touch, the way she'd tasted and felt, the way she'd sounded.

 

Chloe's broken crying of her name still rings in Beca's ears and ghostly flames lick over her insides as her cheeks warm. And even though that switch had been flicked prior to that moment, every desperate murmur of her name had ripped another wire free, severing the connection and making it impossible for it to be flipped back the other way. The scary thing is, Beca hadn't cared about that. Hadn't cared about anything except the way Chloe's hand sporadically squeezed at the back of her neck before sliding into her hair and tugging hard enough to press their cheeks together, her warm breath brushing Beca's ear.

 

Bec, Beca I-” The echoes make toes curl against the sheets and she bites down hard on the inside of her cheek as they rebound on an infinite loop. When she realises what she's doing and that it's because she's afraid she'll make an even louder noise that will definitely wake Amy, and she's in no condition to explain anything right now, she screws her eyes tightly shut and wills her brain to shut down. Her body to turn off. Because her body is reacting, just like it had in Chloe's room. There's the same thick wave of arousal rolling through her stomach as the echoes come again and this time swell to crescendo with Chloe's gasping finish. She remembers, the thought somewhat fleeting given the circumstances, wondering if that was how junkies felt. Helpless against the desire to score one more hit. Just one more. That's all she'd been in the moment; desire. A relentless need to keep Chloe present and with her, moving and moaning.

 

She thinks about how she'd told Chloe it was fine, “good”, and how even though she'd back-tracked, she hadn't just saying it. She'd enjoyed it. The thrill she felt having Chloe lose control, however briefly, beneath her. And that was really what had freaked her out the most.

 

Beca's never really questioned her sexuality. She's never needed to, never really saw the point. It isn't as if she's all that into labels or whatever anyway, so it had all seemed like it would be way more hassle than she was ready to commit herself to. Hypothetically. As in, not practised, because she hasn't questioned it.

 

And it isn't like she thinks she might be a little bit gay. But lying there under her covers, she considers the notion that she might just be a little bit gay for Chloe.

 

None of that makes me feel uncomfortable.

 

Which isn't a big deal, because who wouldn't be?

 

So... we're good?

 

It's not even a question.

 

Yeah. She has fun with Chloe, she likes being with her. She likes kissing her and touching her and having all of that reciprocated. And it's fine and it's safe, because it's Chloe. It's fun. I’m apparently REALLY good. ;)

 

Shut up, Mitchell. Xx

 

It's okay. Because it's Chloe.

 

Don't hate the playa, C. You be knowing I gots mad skills.

 

At least, that's what she keeps telling herself.

 

OMG. I’m going to sleep.

 

Because it's in the empty spaces between her reassurances, that the worries slip in. The questions. The idea that 'maybe'.

 

Sweet dreams. ;)

 

Just maybe.

 


 

 

Beca stays in bed longer than usual the next morning, lying with her back to Amy and her eyes closed, pretending to be asleep as she hears the other woman shuffling around. At one point Amy stubs her toe and releases a string of muffled curses that she's very obviously trying to keep a lid on so as not to wake her captain, and Beca almost bursts out laughing. She manages to keep it to a smile though and eventually she hears Amy's footfalls on the stairs. With a quiet sigh, she rolls onto her back and throws an arm out over her covers, staring at the ceiling instead of blinking intermittently at the wall and welcoming the change. She looks for patterns there, anything to take her mind away from the thing she can't stop thinking about.

 

It hadn't been a sex dream. Not exactly.

 

Honestly, given the events of the previous night and their public parking stint, the dream itself had been tame in comparison. There had been Chloe and kissing, a lot of kissing, Beca remembers their hands being locked together, and that's it. No nudity, no sex, nothing worth being embarrassed over. Well, with the exception of maybe the echoes following her into slumber, but even those Beca's pretty sure she should be proud of, not embarrassed by. Still, the dream is what has her reluctant to leave the bubble of her bed. Beyond it lies the real world, real life, real Chloe. And she isn't certain she can face any of those things just yet.

 

She feels her phone vibrate and reaches under her pillow to retrieve it, pulling out the charger and swiping her thumb across the screen.

 

Do I have to come up there and drag you out of bed? Because I can't promise we'll leave if I’m forced to do that. ;) x

 

It's instantaneous, the way the corners of her lips turn up into a smile. Chloe's confident flirtations had definitely taken some getting used to, but Beca doesn't react to them all that differently than she did back then. She's still awkwardly sarcastic, still references Chloe seeing her naked, she still has the same verbal diarrhoea that has plagued her most of her life. Chloe tells her it's cute and adorable, but that's neither here nor there.

 

I’ve decided to take a brief sabbatical from life. How you choose to spend your time today is totally up to you.

 

Is that an invitation? ;P x

 

A chuckle rumbles through her chest and she's unsurprised to feel relief at how playful and normal Chloe seems. It widens her smile and her thumbs fly across the keyboard.

 

You wish it was. ;) Beca knows how to use emojis too, she just saves it for special occasions like birthdays and the bold moments where she finds herself able to tease Chloe like this. Because it's never a consistent thing, nor is it a black and white matter of can or can't. Sometimes, Beca finds that she can be almost witty in the redhead's presence. It makes Chloe laugh and do that thing with her tongue. Others, her own tongue becomes tied or thick or something that makes her unable to form sentences that don't make her sound like an idiot. It's a shame there's so much leeway between the two, she'd just like to be stable for once. Right now though, she feels pretty solid. You know, I’m really glad we're skipping right over that potentially super awkward bit and fast-forwarding to the part where I can act all insufferable and smug. Or as solid as anyone can feel where Chloe is concerned.

 

You mean more insufferable and smug than usual? I didn't think that was possible. <3 xxx

 

Her heart gives her ribs an extra kick or three and she moves her hand from where it's been tugging absently at her lip as she waited for the reply and pauses, just for a second, before firing back.

 

I guess there's still a lot of me left for you to uncover. ;)

 

In terms of her texting history – also that of her speaking and actual physical writing – it's probably one of the more blatant innuendos she's thrown out there. In that it's less of an innuendo and more a direct come on, but Beca still has sleep in her eyes and Chloe's mouth on the brain, and not enough willpower to care right now.

 

Beca Mitchell, you minx! :P That DEFINITELY sounds like an invitation!

 

She notes the unusual lack of kisses at the end and wonders if Chloe had been too flustered to remember them. Lips parting with a chuckle, Beca lays her phone down against the mattress beside her and goes back to staring at the ceiling. She moves her hand to her stomach, rubbing tiredly along the flat expanse; she can still feel how Chloe's fingers had laced with her own in the dream. The eerie chill of a would-be memory lingering against her skin. The sensation causes her to pull a breath in through her nose and the sharp sound of it serves as the final kick in the pants she needs to sit up. The duvet falls to pillow across her lap and she rubs at her eyes before reaching around to run her fingers through her hair. They get stuck halfway and she winces when her ring catches, a high whimper rising from the back of her throat as she tugs it free along with a few strands. She futilely tries to pat the mess down but wouldn't place any bets on it looking much better. Reaching towards the end of the bed, she grabs one corner of her laptop and drags it onto her knees, opening the screen.

 

Back in the day, Beca would be navigating towards her mixing program, brain already buzzing with beat tweaks and overlays. But life has gotten slightly more real – and a lot more surreal – since then and it's her web browser that receives the first double click most days now. It's her email that pops up as a suggestion when she types in the first letter. For some reason, her boss prefers email to texting. He's never explained and she isn't about to ask, but that's the reason the first page of her inbox is about seventy-five percent 'Boss Man'. The remaining twenty-five is split evenly between Facebook notifications she doesn't know how to turn off and someone by the name of 'Ricardo' insisting he can show her how to “please your woman in bed”. She quirks an eyebrow at the implication, lips pursing in amusement and she clicks the little box beside it, as well as the Facebook emails, and then hits delete. They're gone in a flash and she selects the newest email from her boss, time stamped an hour and a half ago.

 

Reggie,

Forwarded your demo to my guy at the L.A. branch today. Thought you'd like to know.

S.H.

ps – Next time you pick up doughnuts, make sure they have those powdery ones. There were none in the last box and it ruined the rest of my day.

 

She blinks wide-eyed at the screen for a few seconds, then lets out another high squeaking sound that would normally make her feel silly but today it carries her right off the bed. Laptop grasped in both hands, Beca crosses the distance to the staircase in a heartbeat and is at the bottom in what feels like less. She flies by Jessica who has to jump back into the doorway of the room she shares with Ashley in order to avoid being mowed down.

 

“Sorry Jess!” Beca calls back, but doesn't stop. She skids by Chloe's open door, sees that she isn't inside and pivots around, her bare feet carrying her over to and down the final flight of stairs. She rounds the corner into the kitchen, heels slapping against the tile as she walks in and drops the laptop on the counter in front of an amused looking redhead. When Chloe doesn't instantly respond to what's on the screen, Beca turns her head to find that she's being stared at. “What?” She's a little surprised to hear the breathless edge to her voice because after three years of involuntary cardio, you'd think she'd be able to run a few stairs without huffing and puffing like a pack-a-day smoker. Chloe's eyes are an even brighter blue than usual, the mid-morning sunlight streaming in through the window and lighting them up.

 

“What is that on your head?” She asks and Beca frowns, lifting a hand to check. It's only when Chloe starts laughing that she realises she's talking about her wildly untameable mane and Beca backhands her upper arm. Chloe only laughs louder.

 

“Dude, look.” Ignoring the fluttering in her stomach, Beca jabs her finger against Chloe's cheek, forcibly turning the other woman's head towards the screen and only easing off when she stops feeling playful resistance.

 

“Oh my god.” Chloe stands up so fast that she almost knocks her chair over, and she tilts the screen as though a better look will clarify some mystery. “Oh my god!” Then she's spinning toward Beca, who has to step back in order to avoid being smacked by a flailing limb, all wide eyes and smiles as she pulls her into a fierce hug. “Oh my god!” Her face fits pretty perfectly into the crook of Chloe's neck and every one of her senses are assaulted at once as her hands drop automatically to Chloe's hips. Hips that had been bucking hard against Beca not eight hours before.

 

Suddenly her hands are burning.

 

“Not that I don't love a good Bloe moment.” Beca jumps in Chloe's embrace, her nest of hair swaying jerkily, as Amy's voice's pulls at her attention and she snaps her head to the side to see the Tasmanian stretching onto her toes to grab a cereal box from the back of the cupboard where the cups live. Her hair is damp, sticking to the back of her neck, and her heavy breathing suggests that she may have just gotten into a fight with the elliptical. “But if you two are going to have sex, can you at least do it in a room that isn't occupied?” Startled, Beca blinks as she untangles herself from the redhead and looks around. Sure enough, there are other people besides Chloe present – Cynthia Rose, Stacie and Lilly, to be exact – and she tries to withhold her embarrassment in favour of pretending she'd know that all along. That she hadn't been blinded by Chloe.

 

“We're not-” she makes a face that's reminiscent of one she might wear if she'd just smelled something foul and shakes her head a few times in quick succession, “what? No. Just, stop... being weird.” Amy throws her a pair of raised eyebrows, because as far as Beca's insults go, that's probably the dullest her tongue has ever been. Instead of trying to cover that with further failed attempts though, Beca's eyes dart to the cereal box in Amy's hand. “Hey!” Amy flips open the top of the Golden Grahams box, her eyes narrowing in silent challenge.

 

“Yeah?” She reaches in, slowly unrolling the plastic, never looking away from Beca as she grabs a bowl and stars to pour the cereal into it. “Something you want to share with the class?” A quick glance around the room confirms Beca's suspicions; everyone is looking at her, their expressions laden with curious humour. Because they all know, they just want to hear her say it. With an imperceptible twitch of her head at the sound of the sugary squares landing in the bowl, Beca rolls her shoulders.

 

“No.” Because of course she isn't going to admit to it. “I thought you had something else. It's fine. Never mind.”

 

“You sure, cap?” Cynthia Rose is grinning at her from across the room and Stacie might have gone back to her magazine, but Beca knows exactly how her cheek bones rise when she's smiling and she can see them over the tops of the pages. Lilly is saying something under her breath but as usual, none of them hear it. Beca swipes her tongue across her lips before parting them to speak.

 

“Poorly hidden cereal can wait until later.” But Chloe beats her to it, the jab pulling an indignant puff of air from Beca that goes ignored, or possibly unheard over the sound of Chloe's exuberant clapping. “Beca has exciting news!”

 

“Is this like the time Stacie told us she had exciting news and it ended up just being her announcing her outrageous sexual milestone number?” Chloe opens her mouth and Beca sees the slight curving at the edges. Feels her heart beat a little faster and her lungs refuse to work for a few seconds, but then Chloe's brow furrows.

 

“No.” And Beca makes a mental note to grill Chloe on that particular filed-away thought later.

 

“Oh.” Amy sighs, disappointed, pouring milk into the bowl before returning the carton to the fridge. “I was hoping there'd be cake again.” Beca's still staring at Chloe when she feels something jab her in the ribs and she blinks to find Chloe pointing a knowing smirk in her direction as she retrieves her hand, gesturing to the laptop screen. Beca's eyes widen with recognition and she clears her throat.

 

“Oh, right. It's no biggie,” the smile she flashes them looks pained, too much clenched teeth between parted lips, “my boss just sent the demo Emily and I made to a guy in L.A., I guess?” There's an eruption of sound, mostly her name being yelled at different pitches and volumes, and a flurry of movement from the girls in the sitting area as Stacie throws her magazine down and theymove as one to rush her. Amy's closest though, and Beca finds herself being wrapped in a bear hug from behind and literally lifted a two feet or more off the ground. She squeals and then immediately wonders when she'd become so free with those kinds of sounds. Amy spins her and she catches a blur of red hair on her way around. Hears Chloe's laugh and, Oh. “Dude, oh my god, put me down, put me down!” She struggles until Amy acquiesces to her demand and drops her the short distance back to the floor.

 

“Sorry Beca, I didn't realise your brief stint in the bear trap had done so much psychological damage.” Beca rounds on her, index finger pointing menacingly.

 

“I could-”

 

“Have died. Yeah.” Amy finishes with a wide roll of her eyes and a loud exhale that she vibrates past her lips. “We know.” Beca's jaw snaps closed and she's right on the threshold of being offended to the point of turning grouchy when two long arms embrace her from behind. She wonders what it says about her, that she can tell who it is by the size of the boobs pressing into her back.

 

“Congrats, Deejay Bee.” Stacie's hair drapes itself over Beca's shoulder as her generous height advantage allows her to swoop in and press a kiss to an unsuspecting Beca's cheek before the brunette can duck away. It still doesn't stop her from pulling a face and jerking her head roughly away, rubbing at the steadily reddening spot with the back of her hand and muttering a quiet “gross” that just makes Stacie laugh. Cynthia Rose delivers a friendly punch to her shoulder, then reaches in to muss Beca's hair. As she's batting the hand away, she hears Lilly sigh, relieved, behind her.

 

“I can call off the hitmen.” Beca neither knows nor has any desire to know what that means and she wrestles herself out of Stacie's embrace to put some distance between her and everyone else in the room.

 

“So, what does this mean?” Cynthia Rose asks, as Beca reaches around Chloe to close the lid of her laptop, acutely aware of how the redhead makes no effort to move out of her way, thus causing Beca's arm to brush along her hip. She clears her throat and avoids Chloe's teasing smile as she straightens, tucking the computer under her arm.

 

“I don't really know.” She shrugs, lifting her free hand to tuck wayward strands of hair behind her ear. It reminds her of the state she's in and, suddenly extra aware of Chloe's proximity, that she hasn't brushed her teeth. She starts backing away, careful steps that take her towards the hallway. “But I'm going to hope that whatever it means, it's something good?” With a twist of her lips and a wrinkle of her nose, she catches Chloe's eye for half a second and then disappears around the door frame. Where she can shakily exhale and furrow her brow to her heart's content on her way back to her room.

 

Because the knots that her stomach has tied itself into are only starting to loosen now that she's out of Chloe's line of sight and she can't help but think that, if that is going to be a new reoccurring thing, then she's going to be in trouble.

 


 

 

Most people who meet Beca make the mistake of assuming she doesn't feel anything, emotionally speaking. It's something she'd had to get used to, once the ear spike had gone in and the eye liner had been applied, but by that time she hadn't cared too much about what anyone thought of her. She wanted people, all people, to leave her alone. The only thing she gave a shit about, the only thing she needed, was music. As long as there was music, there was life inside her, no matter what anyone else thought.

 

Her parents, naturally, thought she was depressed. Like their petty arguments and eventual divorce just had to be the centre of her world as well as theirs – it was – and that their failing marriage obviously had to have taken a toll on poor Beca – it had – but she didn't want to deal with their patronizing, babying crap. So, all of those half-walls she'd been erecting ever since Tabitha Clark had pushed her into a mud puddle and pointed and laughed with her friends when Beca was five, thereby revealing unto her the notion that people sucked, started to climb higher and connect. Brick by hastily placed brick, until it was solid and tall, and all of her feelings and emotions were left out to waste away on the other side. It wasn't fool proof of course, there was cracks in the cement that occasionally let things slip through, but for the most part it worked. It kept people away and hardly anyone ever tried to understand what went on behind the wall, and it was fine. It was great.

 

It was lonely.

 

Discovering that had been one of the most difficult hurdles she'd encountered up until that point. Getting over it, around it, moving it out of the way. Moving past it and on towards the next, the one in the distance sitting in the middle of a row. Coming to terms with the fact that she wanted to reach the next one. She didn't want to be lonely anymore.

 

And the unrelenting fact of the matter, that so few people have tried, have been allowed to try, to dig deep enough to find, is that Beca feels too much. Always has, and she's had her tiny little heart broken enough times, in enough different ways, that shutting people out became her default coping mechanism. She'd hated that about herself, the feeling, for such a long time, that the reprieve she found behind her wall was almost breathtaking in its size. Addictive in its steely coolness, something she relished with a fervour during the blistering heat of her teenage years. Comforting in its false façade. Because a motley crew of mismatched “mouth-singers” and a guy who wasn't just an asshole had unearthed the reality that Beca's 'solidly built wall' was nothing more than a big cardboard box. The bricks drawn on with thick black marker and in a messy kid's scrawl.

 

It was only once she was outside of it that she could see it for what it was.

 

Something is crawling along her ankle. Up her pant leg and over her skin, and Beca kicks her leg out with a surprised yelp, staring down to inspect the spot. There's nothing there, but she catches sight of something wriggling beneath the desk and exhales with a roll of her eyes. She pulls her headphones down until they're hanging around her neck and stands, arranging her expression into a frown. Then she leans over the desk where her laptop and equipment lives until she can see over the back of monitor, and glances down.

 

Chloe's arms are wound around the railings, her face pressed tight into the gap between two of them and because of the angle all Beca can see is the top of her red head and brilliant blue eyes that are shining with mischief. Like a naughty kid who knows they're going to get away with setting the couch on fire. Again. She's abruptly aware that breathing is a necessity and that it's something she's somehow forgotten to do while she's been looking at Chloe, so she inhales as she raises an eyebrow.

 

“Can I help you?” She rests one hand against the edge of her desk, lifting herself a little higher, and cocks her head curiously. Chloe pushes herself back with the kind of smile that dazzles and, hands still wrapped the railings, she shrugs. “You're lucky you didn't get stepped on.” Beca tips her head forward matter-of-factly, second eyebrow rising to join the first.

 

“I didn't know bugs turned you into such a scaredy-cat.” Chloe lets go then, climbing the rest of the stairs, and Beca drops back down into her chair.

 

“I didn't know people still said scaredy-cat.” She says dryly, using her toes to turn the seat of the chair until she's looking at Chloe, who rounds the corner into the room and comes to a stop in front of Beca. She crosses her arms over her chest and narrows her eyes in a way that Beca has known to be rather frighteningly threatening at times.

 

“There are still a few precious souls left on this planet who would rather not resort to using derogatory terms for lady-temples as insults, me being one of them.” Beca feels her face twisting, lips stretching wide over her teeth as she bites them together and widens her eyes.

 

“Lady-temple?” She asks, gleeful and with the urge to burst into giggles – real, girlish giggles – tickling her chest. Chloe seems unmoved by Beca's childlike response, slipping her hands into her back pockets as she rocks on the balls of her feet. Beca wrinkles her nose. “Dude.”

 

“Beca,” red curls sway as Chloe tilts her head, eyes intent on Beca's as she gently furrows her brow, but the corners of her lips are lifting and so Beca doesn't worry, “do you not treat yours like a temple?” Her tone is chastising and Beca's eyes roll almost into the back of her head, as she turns back to her computer only partly to hide her blush.

 

“Dude, ew.” She mutters and Chloe's soft laughter lifts the hair on the back of her neck. She senses Chloe moving to stand behind her and puts a little extra effort into focusing on the monitor.

 

“What are you working on?” Chloe's words stroke the shell of her ear and Beca's lungs are once again reminding her that breathing is a thing she needs to do in order to remain conscious. She feels Chloe stoop to lean over her shoulder, her face close enough to almost brush Beca's cheek, which bulge out like a hamster's as she exhales.

 

“Um,” she licks her lips and clicks into her mixing screen. “I'm just...” pausing, she lifts her finger from the mouse and gestures needlessly at the screen, “playing around with Em's demo again.” Chloe hums lowly.

 

“Trying to improve upon perfection?” Beca's stomach flutters at the question and she can't help but squirm a little in her seat.

 

“It's not-” she presses her lips into a thin line, rolling them together before opening then with an audible 'pop', “I just feel like something is missing and I don't want this L.A. guy to be disappointed when he-”

 

“Beca.” Chloe's tone is gentle but assertive and then she's gone from Beca's periphery. She remains steadfastly silent as Chloe grips one of the arm rests and slowly turns the chair around. Beca lets her, lips anxiously pursing and puckering like a nervous fish until she's fully facing Chloe. “You are,” and there's nowhere for her to go but Beca sinks as far back into her chair as she can when Chloe braces a hand on either side of her body and leans into her space again, “the most talented person I've ever met.” Beca's eyes dart, flitting nervously to their corners and then up and over, before finally returning to Chloe's.

 

Chloe's eyes are kind of like a mood ring. Beca had first made the connection during her freshman year but she finds herself revisiting the it now, pulling out a folded piece of A4 from a pocket near the back of her mind and smoothing it out to see all the different shades of blue that dotted the page. Beside each one was an emotion, sometimes one word, sometimes a whole sentence, because Chloe Beale was many, many things and the way she felt was similarly varied. As Beca goes over the list – a tiny version of herself walking along the side of the giant sheet of paper, shaking her head as she passes each colour and deems it 'off' – her eyes continue to flicker, but this time only back and forth between Chloe's.

 

“And I wish you had more faith in yourself, but at least you have me to remind you.” And it's as Chloe smiles that mini-Beca finds the right shade, her toes smudging the pastel colours that swirl and blend into 'desperately honest'. Because Beca believes whole-heartedly that Chloe wishes that, she kind of wishes it herself a lot, but not with the same solid vehemence that Chloe does. There's still too much doubt in Beca for that, but Chloe? There isn't a speck of doubt in either of her eyes. “Whoever this guy is, he's going to love the demo, Becs.” If there was, Beca would see. They're really, really close. Close enough that she can see the colours of 'sweet sincerity' starting to leak in to twin pools. Beca doesn't flinch when Chloe lifts a hand, but her insides jump. Then freeze as Chloe's fingers brush her cheek and stray to the side, sweeping a few wayward strands that hadn't been caught by her headphones back behind her ear. With a teasing grin, Chloe stands. “And if he doesn't, then he's an idiot, and you're better off waiting until someone with more than two brain cells to rub together comes along.” And Beca's laugh is somewhere between a gasp and a scoff, but it feels real. She smiles and rolls her eyes with a reproving shake of her head.

 

“Don't you get tired of talking me up all the time?” Chloe wrinkles her nose, the motion lifting her lips, and matches Beca's shake with one of her own.

 

“Nope.” She makes her way over to Beca's bed, turning her body into a roll as she drops down to lie on her back. “You mind if I hang out here for a while?” Beca shrugs.

 

“Everyone else out?” She turns back to her computer and furrows her brow, trying to remember what exactly she'd been doing before Chloe arrived.

 

“Stacie still has a few more classes and Flo and Amy left to pick Em up. I think they're taking her for a makeover?” Chloe doesn't sound too sure about that by the time she reaches the end of the sentence and Beca throws a “yikes” over her shoulder. “Cynthia Rose is at a G.A. meeting and I think Jessica and Ashley are holed up watching a movie somewhere.” Beca hears her sigh and the sound of a pillow being fluffed. “I have no idea where Lilly is.” A wry smile teases Beca's lips, shifting them to the side.

 

Nobody knows where Lilly is when she isn't here.” She points out and Chloe emits another humming sound of agreement, before asking Beca where she thinks Lilly goes. “I feel like she's probably the leader of an underground weapons dealing slash beatboxing ring.” Chloe laughs and they spend a few minutes discussing the potential inner workings of such a thing before the redhead apologises and promises, by way of miming running a zipper along the seam of her mouth, to stay quiet so that Beca can finish working on the demo.

 

And they've spent many afternoons and evenings just like this, doing their own thing but enjoying the other's company in companionable silence. It's nice, and still a somewhat rare thing for Beca. She's usually fairly not okay with people in her space, or she had been, but even after the cold bucket of water that is living in a would-be sorority house had been dumped on her, she still has her moments. Where people become just a bit too much for her to handle, too hectic, and she has to hide for a while.

 

Chloe isn't hectic. She isn't all calm stillness either, but her volume is infectious instead of overwhelming. Rather than sending Beca searching for quiet shadows, it draws her out a little ways into the light, though never against her will. Somehow, she knows exactly how to tell which way Beca's mood is swaying and effortlessly steers herself in that direction. And Beca's seen her do it countless times, with countless different people; her voice lowers, the excitement dropping out of it like water through a sieve, keeping all the essential 'Chloe' bits but thinning it out. So that the person on the receiving end of her conversation doesn't find her grating or annoying during their moment of unhappiness. Beca's seen it, and it's always different depending on who the person is.

 

When Jessica had gotten the news that her grandmother had died, she'd cried so hard and for so long that the rest of the Bellas started to cross the line from concerned to worried. She'd spend hours lying in bed behind the bedroom door, only letting Ashley in, and then eventually Chloe. No one even knew Chloe was in there at first, Beca just happened to pass by the room as Ashley was permitted entrance and she caught sight of Jessica curled into Chloe's side. The redhead's lilting melody drifted through the open door, “we'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when. But I know we'll met again, some sunny day” reaching into the hallway and right into Beca's chest. And, cheeks still tear-stained, Jessica had come down for dinner that night.

 

When Cynthia Rose is angry or upset, Chloe gives her a wide birth and goes out of her way to actually avoid giving in to her usual need for eye contact. But she'll bake a batch of ginger snap cookies, just for Cynthia Rose – must to everyone else's dismay – and leave them outside the other woman's door. And she'll always leave some kind of note, a “these gingers might snap, but I bite ;)” or some other variation written in neat, curly handwriting that's guaranteed to make Cynthia Rose smile.

 

She talks to Stacie in soft tones, stroking fingers through long hair and telling her not to cry because she'll make her mascara run. She hugs Ashley and lets her do all the talking. Lets her talk until her throat is sore and then she hands over the glass of water she'd set off to the side. She mostly tries to talk Flo down, convince her not to kill the person responsible for her bad mood, and she does this with her captain hat firmly in place, the stern authority of that role almost always needed. She holds Emily as close as is physically possible and whispers the worst knock knock jokes Beca has ever heard into her ear until the youngest Bella remembers how to laugh. And Lilly, well, Lilly's never shown that side of herself and that's something Beca is quite fine with. She doesn't dare to think what a pissed off or upset Lilly would be capable of and she doesn't really want Chloe being put in the position to find out.

 

It isn't just the sour moods that Chloe knows how to deal with either. She has this way of taking a person's enthusiasm, their excitement or happiness and amplifying it as easily as shouting into a megaphone. As though all it takes is a press of a button. Beca doesn't know how she does it, can't even begin to fathom it, how she has the patience for it. And Beca tries, she really does, but she's bad at that stuff and so her temper runs thin pretty quick. Never at the person she's dealing with, always at herself, but it's not like that comes across very clearly, so she tries to avoid those situations as best she can.

 

Chloe, she knows, really is one of a kind. In a million different way.

 

Her attention is caught, pulled away from the monitor by her phone lighting up beside her on the desk, the music pumping through her headphones drowning out the alert. She reaches over and taps the screen to life with her pointer finger, then swipes it to the right to open up the messaging application.

 

You busy? xx

 

She blinks at the text for a long moment, hand hovering a few inches off the desk next to the phone, and normally she wouldn't think twice about answering this kind of request.

 

But this is coming from Chloe.

 

Who is lying on Beca's bed. Roughly three and half feet from where Beca is sitting.

 

She coughs a laugh that she hears over the music, so there's no doubt in her mind that Chloe heard it too, but she doesn't turn around. Instead, she picks up the phone and leans back into the chair to type a response.

 

Backrest blocking your vision or...?

 

There's a smile on her lips as her eyes dart away from the phone long enough to check the progress of the track's conversion bar but when she looks back down there's already another text waiting.

 

It IS impeding my line of sight to... certain things. ;) xx

 

Beca rolls her eyes and the action seems to flip her stomach in the same smooth motion.

 

Oh my god do you EVER turn it off?!

 

And it isn't until she's sent it that she realises what the message back is going to be. She bites the inside of her cheek and pauses the track, mentally preparing a reply.

 

Sorry. x

 

No, I didn't mean it like that. I was joking. It's like, a thing I do sometimes. I'm still practising.

 

She hears Chloe chuckle behind her and it's only then that she allows the smile to return to her face.

 

Oh. :/ Keep at it, babe, you'll get better. ;) xx

 

Beca brings a hand to her chest, absently scratching at the spot just below the dip of her throat as something rattles behind her ribcage, jostled by the term of endearment.

 

Was there something you wanted? :P

 

She makes a face as soon as the message sends, grimacing at the unnecessary smiley face. The demo finishes converting in the time it takes Chloe to reply, a span that's longer than the last few, and Beca exits the program with a frustrated huff that sounds a bit disconnected from the emotion itself. Because while she's annoyed at having made a bunch of changes to the track, only to then realise she hates them and undo more than half of them, Chloe's already started to work her magic. Pulling Beca's annoyance out of her in thin lines and discarding them to the side. She pushes her headphones back and glances down at her phone again.

 

I want you to come kiss me

 

There's an instant heat, sweeping up in a wave of fire from the floor of her stomach, up through her chest until the flames lick the back of her neck and scorch her cheeks. The urge to flap her non-existent collar to cool herself down rises and dies in the same instant, which is good because it's not like she could move right now anyway. Chloe's brazen blatancy, while not entirely surprising, sends a shock right through her nonetheless. The electricity rooting her to the spot so efficiently that even her heart struggles to beat.

 

Unless you're busy xx

 

She catches the high, baffled laugh that tries to leap from her open mouth and drags her tongue over her upper row of teeth to hold it in, willing her thumbs to work. There's this niggling thing tugging at her pant leg, whispering up at her, “tell her you're never too busy to kiss her”, and she shakes her foot off, pressing it flat to the floor and pushing herself around.

 

When she sees Chloe, her breath doesn't exactly catch. It sort of, sticks.

 

Chloe is sitting at the head of Beca's bed with her face half hidden behind her legs that she's pulled close to her chest, and she can see clear sky blue eyes – mischievous, sincere; Chloe's natural state – staring at her over the tops of her knees. Red curls frame her face and her smile is so wide that Beca can see the edges of it. Lifting her cheeks and making her glow. And the whole image, together, must generate it's own kind of gravitational pull because Beca's moving before she's given her body the command and before her brain can register. She knows that because her headphones catch on the side of the chair, jerking her head back, and that wouldn't have happened if she'd been thinking. She pulls them the rest of the way off and turns to place them on the desk, one hand moving to her hair to try and rectify the damage. Straight strands have been violently tousled, leaving a frizzy mess behind and she fiddles until she hears Chloe laughing. Beca glances over at her and the laughter abruptly cuts off as Chloe presses her lips together as tightly as she can manage whilst still smiling.

 

Threads of anticipation wind themselves around Beca's limbs, turning her into a puppet and raising her up, slowly walking her forward even as her hands are brought together so that she can nervously pull and rub at her fingers. Chloe's eye never leave her as she nears, though they do stray, wandering over Beca's face. And Beca feels her expression slacken away to nothing when Chloe's attention stalls at her mouth and the redhead absentmindedly snares her bottom lip between her teeth.

 

And it's really, really attractive.

 

Which is no big revelation; everything about Chloe is attractive, Beca knows that. She's considered that fact probably hundreds of times over the last few years. The difference is, right now, she's attracted to Chloe. That one unconsciously executed mannerism wraps itself around Beca like webbing and draws her in, even as the ghost of a cold sweat soaks the back of her neck and makes her shiver. Her knee bumps against the mattress and Chloe relinquishes the hold on her lip, looking up at Beca. The remnants of her smile still paint the edges of her mouth, but the rest of it has been smeared away, leaving an obvious desire that tugs at Beca's stomach and a shy hesitancy that makes her curious.

 

“Are you sure you're okay with this?” Chloe's question creases Beca's brow so deeply and so quickly that it's very nearly comical. Beca would probably be laughing if their places were swapped. As it is, she's the one with confusion kicking up dust in her brain. “I mean, after last night and...” Chloe looks for the word for a few seconds before she gives up with a loud exhale and a half-hearted shrug. “Everything.” It never ceases to amaze Beca, how unselfish and caring Chloe is. And maybe it should, because she's had a lot of practice and time to get used to it, but it still floors her. Still makes her lose her footing and stumble because really, who cares that much? It's true that Chloe has her moments, ones that see her red-headed nature burn brightly to life and give the rest of them ample opportunity to tease her about her Irish heritage. But those moments are so few and far between that they might as well not exist at all.

 

Still, instead of brushing the question off as nothing more than Chloe being Chloe, Beca stops to consider it. She sits down heavily on the mattress, jostling the redhead who throws her a small smile when Beca glances over to apologise.

 

“Last night...” she trails off, abruptly coming to the realisation that she doesn't actually know what it is she wants to say and her mouth had just started moving without her. “Oh my god, it's like I lose control of my body when I’m around you.” The words come out as a rushed whisper, once again without her conscious consent, and she knows Chloe heard because she hears her gasp of a laugh. Embarrassed, again, Beca pinches the bridge of her nose, pulling at the skin a few times before releasing angry red skin. “I don't, I don't really know how to say this,” her eyes flick to Chloe's and find nothing but quiet patience smiling back at her, “but it wasn't like,” she twists her left hand into the duvet as she pauses, “totally”, as her brain fires thoughts in different directions, “your fault.” And that's the one she manages to catch and wrestle into submission. As far as her thoughts go, it's actually a pretty good one. It makes sense to her and everything, which is becoming a rare thing as of late. Chloe doesn't say anything for a few heartbeats and Beca feels her palms start to sweat.

 

“Well, duh.” Beca cocks an eyebrow, a quip regarding out-dated, nineties comebacks readying itself for launch on her tongue. “You were kind of the whole reason for it happening.” Only it trips when it gets to the edge, falling into the abyss, never to be seen again. With a start, Beca realises she's gaping and snaps her jaw closed.

 

“No, I mean, that's-” she groans, annoyed at her inability to speak and lifts her hand from the bedding to wave them both in unified frustration, “I'm not,” then barks a laugh, “Okay.” She takes a deep, steadying breath, silently thanks Chloe for sitting there quietly and waiting, and disconnects her brain from her mouth. “It happened. And maybe I wasn't really,” she lifts her hands to, absurdly, make air quotations, “conscious of what I was doing but it was...” she bites her teeth together and runs her fingers through her hair, pushing it back away from her face, “it wasn't an accident.”

 

Of course it wasn't. While Beca's actions the previous night might be a bit of a blur to her now, she knows the bare bones of what she'd done. Why she'd done it. Remembers wanting to. She remembers losing herself in hazy fog, wherein the only thing that made sense was that she needed to do whatever it took to keep pulling those sounds from Chloe. Ensure that gasping, airy quality to her voice remained and every word that left her was broken over Beca's name.

 

Maybe she'd been caught up in the moment, maybe it's down to the fact that she really does lose control of herself in some capacity whenever Chloe's around. Because to this day, she hasn't sung naked in a shower with anyone else and there's not another living soul on the planet that she'll let lift away her cardboard wall as easily as she lets Chloe.

 

Chloe makes her stop thinking. She's the blindfold over Beca's eyes, taking away her sense and reason and forcing her to reply on only her instincts. It's a rush. It's also a risk. But every time Chloe does it, it gets a little bit easier. To just let go, relax, give in. To just go with it, because it doesn't seem to matter what 'it' is as long as Chloe's there.

 

“So,” she clears her throat, rubbing her palm over the back of her neck as she winces her way through another tense smile, “I'm sorry for being a jerk and making you think it wasn't okay.” Chloe had hidden her face again somewhere in the middle of Beca's internal monologue and her gaze maps the brunette's features over her knees. And she feels like she's probably done with what she wants to say, but Chloe isn't moving or making any sound at all and so Beca rolls her lips together before the urge to word-vomit starts to take hold. “Because it was. Okay, I mean. This is-” she extends a finger, tipping it back and forth between the two of them, “we're still okay, too. I think. We're okay, right?” Being flustered is not the kind of position Beca particularly enjoys finding herself in, but the way Chloe laughs – smiling wide and silent, head tipping back just a bit – makes Beca feel warm and like maybe that makes every ounce of her discomfort worth it.

 

“Yeah,” Chloe says through a grin, “we're okay.”

 

“Aca-awesome.” And Beca smiles with every one of her teeth, eyes crinkling at the corners as an invisible weight, the presence of which she hadn't even noticed, is lifted from her chest. Chloe stretches her legs out and reaches forward to shove Beca's shoulder, chuckling quietly. Beca exaggerates the sway of her upper body under the force and then things go quiet until Chloe heaves a sigh and flashes Beca a rather pointed look of disappointment.

 

“You still haven't answered my text.” The reminder is coy and flirtatious and Beca feels her pulse quicken. It's a familiar beat, one that inevitably starts up whenever she's about to make a move, because initiating things isn't usually within her comfort zone. That being said, there's something different about this moment in that she's just admitted this thing to Chloe and Chloe has told her it's okay. And it's things like that which breed new-found confidence in Beca, though she'll admit that it is, more often than not, fleeting.

 

But right now, it's very much present, and she takes in Chloe's expression – a mix of happy surprise and something else that slices a thin line along her abdomen, sending tendrils of fire through her stomach – as she turns her body. Lifting one knee over onto the bed, she presses it down against the mattress and mimics the movement with the corresponding hand, balancing her weight as she brings her other leg onto the bed. Chloe leans back with a lazy, sly smile, making Beca come to her, and watches as she crawls forward. She feels unsteady but her arms don't shake and she isn't exactly aiming for sexy here, she's literally just trying to get to Chloe, but the way the redhead is looking at her, like she's about to be given a lap dance or an expensive steak or something, makes Beca wonder about her own expression. And she doesn't quite ignore the look on Chloe's face, but she doesn't focus on it either, isn't sure what would happen if she did, so she misses the immediate reaction when her hand reaches out to tap the side of Chloe's leg in a silent indication for her to make herself more accommodating. It's only when she doesn't get a reaction that Beca glances up.

 

Chloe's biting her lip again, staring at Beca with a not too distant glint in her eyes, and Beca has to tap the spot again to get the redhead to blink and focus.

 

“Oh.” She breathes, putting the pieces together and sliding her legs apart. Beca fits easily into the space, knees pressed tight and hands reaching for the support of the green metal headboard behind Chloe as she straightens. Beca takes a moment to turn her head from side to side, checking the position of all her extremities before looking to Chloe again. She's smiling up at Beca, the kind of smile that looks as though she's trying to hold and twist it back before it becomes so heavy with happiness or amusement that it falls right off her face. “Hi.” And it's impressive, Beca thinks, how Chloe can pack so much infectious, giggling feeling into one word.

 

“Hey.” Contrary to Beca, who can make a single greeting about as awkward as an unexpected meeting between John Mayer and Taylor Swift. She clenches her teeth and sucks her tongue tight against them, releasing it with a wet clicking sound that raises another chuckle from Chloe.

 

And there's a moment then, where Chloe just keeps on smiling and Beca hovers awkwardly over her, trying to think of what to say next, that feels like it passes in slow motion. But then Chloe's hand moves to rest lightly against Beca's thigh, thumb brushing gentle, encouraging strokes across the material of her sweats, and things finally speed back up.

 

In the same quick motion, she tilts her head and moves in, pressing her lips firmly against Chloe's and closing her eyes as she hears the redhead's contented sigh.

 

She doesn't need to say anything else.

 

Chloe already knows.

Chapter Text


Kissing Beca is like riding an attraction at an amusement park for the very first time. You have no idea what's going to happen, or when, and the only certainty is that you're going to be left feeling dizzy and disorientated at the end. The thrill of it sparks a reaction, like the rush of wind as the roller-coaster car drops from the top of a steep climb, scattering goosebumps over her flesh and tossing a shiver out to roll along her spine. The clack-clack-clacking of cart wheels matching the beat of her heart as they rock over vertebra.


Only unlike all those thrill-seeker magnets, this ride doesn't really end. Or it hasn't yet. Kissing Beca is like that every single time and it's gotten to the point where Chloe's stopped wondering when it's going to, well, stop. Which isn't to say she hasn't felt this way before. Kissing has always been something that Chloe's enjoyed with a largely uninhibited fervour and she's been lucky in that most of the people she's spent any notable amount of time kissing in her adult life have, firstly, been more than okay with her feelings towards that, and secondly, been pretty damn good at it themselves.


Chloe's first kiss has been at the tender age of thirteen with a boy named Steven Tyler – no, she did not kiss him just because of his name, although whenever she thinks back on it she laughs, because music has always been her first in life, it would make sense for it to be connected to her first love too – and they had been dating for exactly one week. He'd been kind and cute, sort of shy too, and Chloe loved to slip her hand into his and watch him blush as he squeezed her fingers back. She can still remember the way his floppy dark curls had always been in the way of startling green eyes and she still has the pink rose he'd given her for their one and only Valentine's Day pressed between the pages of a scrapbook. Being a first kiss though, it had all the markings of youth and had been uncoordinated and sloppy. But it had been her first, and Chloe Beale treasures the memory.


She treasures the memory of every one of her first kisses. From Jeff Lee – fourteen, he'd walked her home after taking her bowling and given her a peck on the porch – to Rob Lucas – eighteen, her last high school love – she remembers them all. Her first kiss as Barden had been with a guy called Jamie and it had become rapidly apparent after said kiss, that the only thing he was interested in was moving beyond kissing. Like way, way beyond. She remembers that too, it reminds her that not everyone thinks and feels the way she does. It reminds her that some people aren't worth her time.


Tom had kissed her for the first time in the rain. He'd approached her as she was leaving a Bellas' rehearsal, slick and breathless from Alice's workout, but he hadn't seemed to notice the beads of sweat trickling along the back of her neck, nor the frizzy haze to her curls. He'd just smiled his crookedly boyish smile and asked her out for coffee. She had breathlessly accepted and they'd enjoyed an evening of easy conversation and caramel lattes. But the heavens had opened just as they decided to head home, of course, and they'd run the short distance back to campus in the pouring rain. She'd squealed and he'd laughed, catching her around the waist and spinning her around until she was facing him. His hair, a little longer then, was stuck flat against his forehead and a single drop of rain trickled down over the bridge of his nose to hang off the end. And Chloe had grinned up at him and stepped closer, catching the drop with her thumb and a giggle, before lifting up on her tiptoes and pressing her lips to his. He'd held her close and she'd felt warm as the sky continued to unleash its torment above them.


To Chloe, they're all important. Each one so thoroughly intertwined with the person she is, that she could no sooner forget one memory than she could misplace some integral part of herself. And she wouldn't want to. Each experience has layered itself, one on top of the other, leaving Chloe with an ever growing appreciation of the act itself. She loves kissing.


For Chloe, kissing lands just shy of the number one spot on her list of thrill rides, not quite being able to beat out sex, but close. Because Chloe's pretty sure she could achieve climax just from kissing alone sometimes, when all the right feelings align and the person on the other end of the kiss knows what they're doing. Chloe could probably just kiss for the rest of her days.


She could probably just kiss Beca for the rest of her life.


Which was precisely why she'd sent that text. It was, she isn't ashamed to admit – to herself – the reason she'd come looking for Beca in the first place. That desire, the niggling need to kiss her again. Once her anxiety over the previous night's 'event' had begun to wane, Chloe had been unable to turn her brain off. Just when she thought sleep would finally take her, the ghostly press of Beca's lips would send a shock wave through her and jolt her awake. Then she'd lie there, thinking about Beca's mouth and hands until her legs would start to get restless and she'd force the thoughts away.


But they kept coming back, and once Chloe was sure that Beca really was okay, she didn't have all that much left to hold her back since her willpower has been frayed to threadbare when it comes this. So she'd lay on Beca's bed, watching the small movements the other woman would make, heart jumping every time it looked like she might be about to stand or look over at Chloe, until her fingers has stretched out the bottom of her shirt and her chest hurt. Until she couldn't wait any longer.


Flirting through text is a different kind of fun for Chloe. She isn't able to rely on body language, so it presents her with a new challenge wherein she's forced to rely on her words instead. And Chloe's no wordsmith, has never claimed to be. She's not the kind of person who will ordinarily use words to manipulate someone, she'd rather use them to reassure or please. But she does know how to string together a sentence in a way that will garner a reaction, myriad reactions in fact. She can make someone smile with a text, or laugh, but she's learned that she can also tip a person off balance with them too. Leave them a little breathless, a little shaky.


Because naughty text messages are something she has traded with various partners in abundance. Starting, somewhat tamely, during her last year of high school, and reaching admittedly filthy heights during her time with Tom. He's sweet, but he was never innocent and neither is she. And that kind of texting can be fun, when you trust the person on the other side.


She doesn't send anything like that to Beca, though the way that her hands tremble – anticipation setting in – and her heart races – and Chloe pictures her amygdala lighting up the rest of her brain – makes her think she might as well have. But then Beca is speaking, confessing things to her that Chloe knows she finds difficult talking about, and she's glad she didn't. Because for all their moments of teasing flirtation, these are the ones that are Chloe's favourites. The raw, truthful ones that are filled with so much bumbling awkwardness that it never fails to make Chloe hold her breath. Never fails to make the moment all the more real. And Beca sounds sure, so certain, and once Chloe digests that, she lets herself go a little. Loosens her control.


The sight of Beca letting hers go is like a shot of something potent and pure, injected right into Chloe's blood stream. There's a heartbeat where Chloe's bravado slips a little, where she isn't sure if Beca's going to take the bait, make the move, but then there it is. That intoxicating confidence that Beca lets settle over her, hesitantly at first, like she isn't sure quite what it's made of. It guides her movements as she climbs onto the bed and crawls slowly towards Chloe, who lies back with a lazy smile and a menagerie of butterflies flapping around in the pit of her stomach, making Beca come to her. Because she wants to be absolutely positive that Beca wants this.


And it's sort of really, ridiculously hot.


Dark hair hanging down to frame sharp features, steely blue eyes focused and intent on Chloe as she closes the distance; the redhead's heart stammers and then speeds up, and she snares her lower lip to stop herself from sighing or groaning as her eyes flick down to drink in the lines of Beca's body. Which, is nice. It's eally nice. It's something Chloe has appreciated on numerous occasions because, well, she has eyes and they wander at times. Of course she's looked at other women before, they're nice to look at, but it isn't as though she's leered like a creeper or anything.


Until right now. Because yeah, what she's doing could technically be considered leering, but Beca's lips have shifted to that confident place between a smirk and a chuckle, and Chloe's insides are churning under the weight of the expression. For an instant, she's lost inside her own mind, inside thoughts of the immediate future and the other ways in which Beca's mouth could be confident. Occupied. She's pulled away from them though by a persistent tapping and she blinks Beca's face into focus once more. She feels the fingers against her leg, registers the other woman's close proximity, and suddenly understands.


“Oh.” She whispers, before quickly creating a Beca-sized gap between her legs that her fellow co-captain wastes no time scooting into. Chloe straightens against the headboard as Beca's hands reach around to grab the rails for support and she watches the brunette glance down and around like she's checking her positioning before turning eyes that match the colour of midnight back to her. And something in the motion, or maybe it's everything about it, makes happiness swell inside of her. Like a novelty-sized bag of jiffy pop that's going to burst and shower popcorn everywhere if it has to sit against the burner any longer. Her cheeks hurt from smiling and she struggles to get the “Hi” out as she tries to stop herself from laughing, like a school girl sneaking time with a boy behind the English block, at the same time.


“Hey.” Something that only grows more difficult with Beca's returned awkward greeting and the way she's looking at Chloe, like she has no idea what to do next, but is really super confident about that. Which is something so inherently Beca that it makes Chloe feel giddy, enough that the hand she rests over top of the other women's thigh is as much to reassure her of Beca's realness – because how can someone this adorable, this dorky, and this attractive actually exist – as it is to encourage her. Put any lurking worries Beca might have to bed.


In the instant before Beca's moves, Chloe finds herself pulling in a quick, steadying breath and then Beca's lips are there, finally there. Soft and firm against her own, and Chloe's sigh is content as she focuses on the back and forth stroke of her thumb and presses down against the desire she can feel already beginning to claw its way up towards her chest. The desire doesn't really surprise her, but the voracity of it takes her aback. Because while Chloe's always been very unrestrained and no less than extroverted when it comes to sexually expressing herself, she's also been able to contain it with relative ease in the past. The incident at the campus library with Tom notwithstanding. With Beca, she struggles. She's struggling immensely right now because all she wants to do is take control of the kiss and, well, sate each one of those kissing urges she's been fighting with since last night. But she also wants Beca to be the one kissing her, wants to let Beca set the pace, so she exhales slowly through her nose.


And moans in surprise when Beca wastes no time in seeking entrance into Chloe's mouth, tongue slipping between her lips without warning and licking hastily into her mouth as fingers curve around the base of her skull. The sound catches Chloe off guard and the way Beca stiffens before pressing closer makes Chloe wonder if it shocks her too. But then Beca's tilting Chloe's head back, the stroking of her tongue turning slow and long, and she brings her other hand up to rest against the redhead's collarbone. This time, Chloe anticipates the hum of approval that she pushes out from the back of her throat as Beca takes full advantage of being the taller of the two for once and she feels the fingers at her neck twitch against the strands of fire-red hair that cover them. Beca pulls back to catch her breath and it gives Chloe enough time to open her eyes. She's rewarded with the sight of an already flushed brunette, whose eyes are still closed, pulling in a shaky gasp of air right before she bites down on her bottom lip to, Chloe assumes, compose herself.


The idea of that, the sight of it, pulls a jolt of something white hot through the core of her being, and then Beca's kissing her again. Her eyes slip shut, rolling up and back as Beca's tongue makes firm stroke after firm stroke and unwinds Chloe even as her stomach tightens. She tries to distract herself from the feeling by bringing her hands to Beca's hips and it works, but only in the sense that it refocuses the fire stirring in Chloe's gut. Drops embers into her palms, makes them itch.


“Is this,” Beca's lips are still touching hers, pouring the words into Chloe's mouth with a cocky air that claws at her insides, “an okay response?” She feels Beca's smirk and once again Chloe finds herself unexpectedly assaulted by just how sexy Beca Mitchell can be even when she isn't trying. Because it's no secret that 'sexy' has never been something Beca's been comfortable with, even though she can pull it off with relative ease. She can work a crowd with her eyes and drop it low with the best of them, but she fakes her way through the confidence. The sure movements of her body born from hours and hours of rehearsals that Chloe is certain Beca doesn't need. She knows because she's seen the way Beca is when she lets go. When she dances outside of planned choreography and the sway of her hips is real and raw.


Beca has no idea how sexy she can be when she's just being herself. But Chloe does.


Chloe has a lot of ideas about that.


“Oh yeah.” Chloe rasps, her voice unexpectedly rough and low even to herself. She keeps her eyes closed and catches Beca's lips in another handful of quick, heavy kisses that leave her feeling dizzy. And sure, maybe that's why she does it. Maybe Beca's mouth pulls Chloe's balance out from under her and causes her hand to collide with Beca's shoulder and shove the woman away from her, hard. Beca's hands leave her, flying back and to her sides to stop herself from falling the whole way down, and maybe her gasping whimper of shock is what sends Chloe pitching forward. Shakes her centre of gravity until she finds herself straddling a surprised brunette's lap. “Totes okay.” Chloe murmurs, biting her lip as she hovers close. Every millimetre of her skin is prickling, itching, desperate to feel. Be felt. She tucks her knees tight against Beca and dips down, tongue drawing a line of fire into her mouth. She misses the feel of Beca's hands on her but distracts herself from that by bringing her own up to Beca's face, gently cradling as every kiss serves to only further stoke the fire building inside of Chloe.


She had thought, however briefly, that finally being able to kiss Beca again would ease the need that had been following her like a shadow since the night before.


Chloe Beale does not usually enjoy being wrong, but she's okay with it this time. More importantly it seems Beca would be okay with it too, if she were privy to that particular inner working of Chloe's mind, because she meets every one of Chloe's kisses with what feels like mirrored desperation. Comparable to the redhead's in a way that could just be Beca trying to keep up, hold her own, but Chloe's mind takes the alternate option and runs with it.


She lets her hands fall to Beca's shoulders and pushes lightly against them.


“Lie back?” And for all intents and purposes, they're alone in the house. There's no need for Chloe to whisper. But that same quiet voice that tells her to go slow, to take her time, for Beca, is also reminding her that Beca is not unlike a house cat. Largely aloof, or so she would have you believe, and easily startled by sudden, loud noises. And Beca can tell her that she's fine, that Chloe shouldn't treat her life a doll, but Chloe's instinctual response to anything Beca does or says lately is basically 'be careful'. Because she doesn't want to ruin this. That's why it's a question she asks, rather than a demand she gives.


Beca blinks twice and then eases herself down, elbows straightening and hands resting awkwardly against the bed covers, eyes never straying from Chloe, whole rearranges her position until she's straddling Beca just below her hips and then casts her gaze down over her. Just looking at her. She's wearing the loose black tee that Fat Amy had gotten her for her birthday two years prior, the one she'd had “Mix or Die” printed on the front in startling shades of purples and pinks. Chloe chuckles as she reads over it for the thousandth time, impulsively reaching out to trace the letters.


“Amy sure knows your colours.” She hums, finger tracing the fading pink of the 'o' and then the creeping purple of the 'r'.


“Uh.” Beca clears her throat and Chloe's eyes dart up, and it's only then that she realises what she's doing. What her hand is doing. With a bite of her lip, she takes her hand back. “Yeah, she-” Then lets them fall to rest over the curves of Beca's ribcage on either side of her torso and she smiles at the way the touch makes Beca stumble. Her thumbs skim back and forth over the material of her shirt and Beca lets out a low hum of her own to preface whatever she's about to say next. “I'm pretty sure she'll just try anything to make me uncomfortable.” Beca huffs a laugh, mouth twisting in a way that Chloe notes is nervous. She tucks a few strands of red hair behind her ear.


“Is this still okay?” She doesn't move her hands away though, keeps the stroking motion of her thumbs calm and steady. Beca looks up at her, eyes narrowing and lips pursed even though Chloe knows there's anxiety hiding, poorly, beneath the surface. She also knows what Beca is going to say and that she's going to sound exasperated


“Yes, Chloe.” And there it is. Firm and insistent, pushed through clenched teeth that are framed by a patronizing smile that shifts into a sympathetic grimace. “Do you need me to write that down somewhere for you? So you remember?” Chloe rolls her eyes and runs her fingers over Beca's ribs. The brunette squeaks, reflexively jerking her upper body away before seeming to remember that she's kind of pinned. Chloe tilts her head.


“What?”


“What?” Beca immediately shoots back and Chloe knows that expression. That startled, 'caught with a smashed cookie jar on the floor and crumbs all over her face' look of shock that usually only adorns the faces of children. She stares at Beca intently, trying to read between the lines, and she runs her fingers over the same spot for a second time. “Dude!” This time, Beca squeals and actively slaps at her hands as the redhead's face splits into a grin when she realises what she's found.


“Oh.” She feigns a gasp. “What do we have here?” The glee in her voice is genuine, as is the glare Beca's currently aiming at her.


“Chloe, don't you dare. If you ever want to get past first base with me-” Chloe ignores her with a giggle and wrinkle of her nose, and does two things simultaneously. She shuts Beca up with another kiss and lets her fingertips dance over manically over her ribs. This kiss is barely anything more than Chloe printing her smile against Beca's mouth, her attentions focused on avoiding the brunette's hand as it tries to grab at Chloe's, the other repeatedly shoving the redhead's shoulder in an attempt to push her off while yelping and begging Chloe to stop. When her fingers find purchase on Chloe's wrist and start urgently trying to tug it away from the spot that's making her laugh so hard she has tears in her eyes, Chloe decides to change tactics.


She turns her hand in Beca's grasp and laces their fingers together, reigning her smile in so that she can kiss Beca properly. And there's a moment, one that hangs suspended in time, where Beca's kissing her back and then suddenly she isn't.


“What's wrong?” Chloe doesn't move away, doesn't sit back, and maybe she should, but she isn't ready to leave Beca's orbit yet.


“No, nothing.” Beca hurries to amend, eyes wrinkling at their corners as she furrows her brow and curves her upper lip in that way that Chloe likes to silently refer to as 'the Elvis tug'. “Sorry.” She shakes her head, wriggling her fingers against the back of Chloe's hand as she works her mouth around her next words. “I just, had a thought.” Chloe frowns, a sickly feeling unsettling her stomach.


“Should I... do you want to stop?” Beca shakes her head again, the motion a bit more firm this time around.


“No, it's fine, really. I just remembered something.” Chloe doesn't find that very convincing, something that must show on her face. “It's nothing.” Worry still gnaws at Chloe's heels though. Nips at her ankles.


“But if you-” Beca's hand comes up to touch Chloe's cheek and it cuts her off with a muted gasp. Her eyes are a vibrant shade of deep blue and they lock onto Chloe's with the kind of intensity that roots a person to the spot.


“Chloe, stop.” But when she speaks, Beca's voice is soft. Reassuring. “I'm fine.” And she makes Chloe believe, just like she has countless times before, for countless different reasons. So when she guides Chloe down with the hand resting against her cheek and back into a kiss, Chloe lets herself be led. Squeezes the hand still tangled with her own and kisses back. But the one still resting against Beca's side has a mind of its own, one with a penchant for being a bit of an asshole, and the instant those fingers tickle their way over Beca's ribs on the opposite side, the brunette wrenches her mouth away and turns her head from Chloe. “Do not.” There's a laugh in there, being squashed between the two words, and Chloe lifts an eyebrow and leans back with a giggle.


“What will you give me if I don't?” Her fingers continue on their journey, her other hand joining halfway, sliding slowly down the front of Beca's shirt until her palms are sitting against the other woman's sweats and her thumbs can slip under the hem of the gaudy t-shirt. Beca's skin is warm and Chloe feels the muscles jumping beneath it as she traces the invisible curving lines that arc out from her hip bones and disappear below the waist of her pants. Beca is quiet for a long moment after Chloe's challenge, giving the redhead some time to map the feel of soft flesh and spasming muscles.


“What do you want?” Beca finally asks and Chloe's eyes snap back to hers instantly. Stormy eyes are dark and wild, the winds of curiosity kicking up specks of starlight, making them glitter and shine. And Chloe's almost positive that Beca doesn't mean for the question to be as loaded as it is, but the answer that springs to the forefront of Chloe's mind feels exceptionally volatile.


I want to kiss you forever is not something she should probably say right now. Not something to which she has any idea how Beca might react, which is a rare thing in itself. So she tucks that thought away, for later maybe, and considers her options. Because she can tell that Beca is asking something else, the same question on a different level, one that goes far beyond any childhood trading of baseball cards. Not that Chloe was ever into trading cards, but that's besides the point. Beca's giving her an opening and it reminds Chloe that she had also given her a verbal 'free pass' not too long ago.


One that Chloe is, more or less, yet to actually use. So, she sits on her haunches and thinks about it long enough for Beca to become restless, something obvious in the way her hands inch forward to tap forefingers against Chloe's kneecaps and she feels kind of weirdly shy about admitting this in the moment. Only Chloe doesn't do shy – maybe apprehensive is more the word she's looking for – and she doesn't normally have trouble talking about “what she wants” in the bedroom. And it isn't as though she wants that, not exactly, but this whole 'experimenting' thing has been a bit one sided so far in her opinion. She kind of wants that to change.


“I want....” She pauses, pressing her lips together as she quickly rewords the sentence in her head and takes note of the way that Beca's tapping has stopped. Chloe's thumbs, having stilled somewhere around the time that Beca had asked the question, start their back and forth motion again, only this time her hands crawl higher beneath the shirt. “Can I touch you?” She can't help but stare as Beca's reaction unfolds; the way her expression is blank for a few heartbeats before her mouth pops open just a little, just enough to make Chloe want to kiss her again, and the way her hands fall from Chloe as her throat bobs under the pressure of a hard swallow. Then there's the blush, creeping slowly, a paler red than Chloe's used to seeing but no less lovely. She likes it when Beca blushes, especially when it's because of something she's done. It makes her feel tingly and alive.


“Is that-” Beca stumbles, mouth working uselessly, “I mean if, if that's...” her brow creases and Chloe feels the tight tugging of the sheets just in front of her knees. “If you want that, then that's fine. That's cool. I’m totally, like, chill. With that.” Beca's face crumples into a pained expression and Chloe can't help it. She laughs, curls bouncing as Beca tries to glare up at her. It isn't very effective however, something the brunette has probably gathered by the way Chloe is still laughing. A dry, dark “shut up” is muttered in between the redhead's silent hiccups and Chloe lets herself be swept up and away by how adorable Beca is when she's grumpy, all huffily furrowed brow and a stubborn refusal of eye contact. She drops forward, holding herself up with one hand against the mattress, the other shifting higher beneath Beca's shirt with the movement. And she can tell by the way Beca's holding her jaw that she's biting the inside of her cheek in an effort to keep her gaze trained away from Chloe, so the redhead simply chuckles and decides to take advantage of the tilt of Beca's head. She stoops, brushing the tip of her nose over a pale cheek before dropping a kiss to the same spot and continuing to chuckle at the sound of Beca's uneven inhale.


“I'm glad you're so chill.” She keeps her voice low, kissing her way to Beca's ear. “Less chance of you overheating, right?” With a smirk, Chloe nips at Beca's ear lobe and feels her stiffen, then relax.


“Right.” The word sounds strained and Chloe hides her smile in Beca's neck, but it's to no avail. “Dude, I can feel you-” She latches on to a patch of skin just below Beca's jaw line, her teeth and tongue severing the remark in two and ripping a sound that is so unexpectedly unbridled from the brunette, that it shocks even Beca. Who Chloe guesses has her hand pressed against her mouth because the mortified “oh my god” that leaves her is muffled and muted. Chloe lets go with a final soothing stroke of her tongue and lifts her head, both to admire her handiwork – which probably won't leave much in the way of a mark, a thing she notices with no small sense of dissatisfaction – and look at Beca. That pale red hue from earlier has turned a few dozen shades darker. “Can you like,” she lifts two fingers away from her lips to speak more clearly, still staring at her wall, “not look at me right now? I'd really like to die without the added pressure of an audience.” Chloe manages to keep her amusement to a minimum and smiles at Beca's profile as the brunette anxiously worries the edge of her lip. And okay, so what she's about to do might be a little underhanded, but it's a sure thing.


“You are so cute.” Beca rolls her head around, this glare somewhat more impressive than the last, and maybe she's about to deliver some snarky insult or something, but Chloe doesn't give her a chance, smothering it with a kiss. And she kisses her harder than she means to in her haste to stop Beca before she can start and she inwardly cringes at the clack of their teeth. The clumsy way her tongue slips between Beca's lips and the awkward push of her body.


And Beca does not cringe.


But every part of her does seem to move at once. Hands reaching for Chloe's hips, pulling against them as her back arches a short ways off the bed and the press of their bodies, chests flush for a handful of seconds, makes Chloe rethink her approach in the blink of an eye. She fans her fingers out, touching as much skin as she can before she pushes her hand down Beca's side, wrist twisting around at her hip so that she can drag short nails back along the same path. And she pulls back out of the kiss at that same moment, leaving Beca to gasp a hitched whimper against Chloe's mouth, which curves into a smirk.


“And I like that.” She nips at a full lip and feels Beca shift under her. “I like the sounds you make.” Beca groans at that, disgruntled and displeased, but distractedly so. And it's true, Chloe really does like them. A lot. They fill her chest with a strange kind of cool electricity, one that ultimately ends up somehow turning into a warmth that trickles downward.


“Please stop talking.” Beca's plea is breathless, pained, and Chloe decides to take pity on her. She kisses Beca again, subsequently ignoring every millisecond of inner monologue in favour of sinking deeper into her best friend instead. Her fingers dance along the brunette's side, sweeping out at the bottom to drift over the waistband of her sweats because Chloe likes the way the muscles there jump when she does that. She keeps thinking about the sounds Beca makes, how they're so different from those she's grown accustomed to. Guys are usually all grunts and groans, with very little in between. Guys are easy to read, their noises easy to understand. Their pitches aren't high, their whimpers more of a low rumble, and most of the guys she's been with didn't really moan. They mostly showed their appreciation through either the aforementioned grunts and groans, or actual words. Often swears, sometimes calls to a higher power if Chloe really wanted to show them a good time, but Beca is distinctly female in the sounds she makes. Chloe doesn't know how the ins and outs of each one yet. And while none of them, with the exception of the single slip up that had caused her earlier embarrassment, have been the kind of loud that had gotten her and Tom banned from the library, they pull at Chloe. Turn her on. Which is awesome in the sense that hey, she's into this, women are still looking pretty great to her. “You know what else is different?” She asks, thinking aloud and not bothering to preface the question with any context.


“Um, no. What?” Luckily, Beca is apparently too dazed to realise context might be needed. Chloe smiles at her.


“I feel like,” she kisses the corner of Beca's mouth and lets her words tumble free without thinking too much about them, “It's easier to tell with a guy.” Which is an easy thing for her to do with Beca. “If he's turned on.” She drops a handful of soft butterfly kisses against Beca's neck in between her words. “Girls are so good at faking stuff, you know?” She thinks she feels Beca laugh at that. “But with guys the evidence is like, right there." She presses her nose into Beca's pulse point, as if to indicate the invisible offender. "Poking you."


"Oh my God." Chloe lifts her head in time to see Beca close her eyes and bring a hand to her face, a silent laugh vibrating out from her body and right through Chloe. Beca drags her hand down over her cheek and opens her eyes. Chloe just smiles.


“Well it's true.” She insists and Beca lets her hand fall to rap her fingers against the top of the redhead's thigh.


"I could carry around like a little white flag and wave it around at the appropriate time?" Chloe bursts out laughing at the image, at the way Beca has made a fist with her hand and is flicking an imaginary flag back and forth, at the stupid too-wide smile she's plastered onto her face. She laughs because she believes, without a shadow of a doubt, that Beca would do that if Chloe asked her to. Which makes her wonder.


"Would you ever really need to though?" She murmurs after a minute and even though nothing about Beca's expression changes, Chloe instantly sees the way that the other woman freezes. "Sorry." She rushes to flash a smile but can feel that it's sloppy, doesn't meet her eyes, and she shakes her head, cursing her lack of filter for the first time in a while. "That was a really dumb question. I can't believe I, just, forget I asked." Beca finally blinks to show that she's still actually alive, but Chloe still can't tell what she's thinking. Only that she is.


“It's fine.” She says after a heavily pregnant pause and Chloe's sure her eyes are probably the size of saucers. “If um, I mean, that's probably something that people like, talk about, when they're doing, uh, stuff. Right?”


"Unless you're any of the guys at my high school, yeah." As soon as it's out, Chloe's brow furrows. "Not that I know from personal experience. I meant because my friends all date-" Beca laughs, a smile painting her lips.


"I got it.” She nods, eyes blinking slowly. “You're good." Chloe exhales her relief. "Just for the record though?" And suddenly can't draw in another breath as her eyes flit anxiously across Beca's face. "I would." The brunette chews at her lips before pointlessly tacking, “need to, I mean.” onto the end. And Chloe feels warm all over.


The admission hangs heavily in the air around them until Chloe's unintentional scrutiny becomes too much for Beca, who looks away from Chloe's eyes.


And Chloe can't help thinking that the fact that it's Beca beneath her should make her feel weird or uneasy or something. Like she should maybe stop this, because this is the same Beca that had gotten her off – in the same amount of time that Chloe can get herself off, which never happens – less than twenty-four hours ago and everyone keeps saying they're fine, but what if they're not? What if this isn't fine? Because it probably shouldn't be as fine as it is. As fine as it feels.


She kisses Beca again. Long and languid, keeping pace with the slow moving river of desire sweeping through her entire body. She kisses Beca until her lungs protest and drowns herself in the welcome heat of Beca's mouth until she needs to breathe and finds that her fingers are itching to explore new ground.


When she sits up, Beca's eyes snap open. She stares up at Chloe, confused.


“Oh, are we, are we done then?” Chloe watches the way she blinks in rapid succession, trying to focus, and shakes her head with a grin. Then she lifts her body away and to the side, rolling off of Beca, who moves her arm out of the way so that Chloe can lie in the narrow space next to her. Beca scoots over, closer to the wall, and Chloe feels her chest constrict as she turns so that they're facing each other. Beca might not be one for grand displays of affection, but there are a million little thing she does that shows she cares. A person just has to pay attention.


She spends the following thirty seconds or so watching Beca struggle fruitlessly with where to put the arm she's lying on. It's only when she almost elbows Chloe in the face that the redhead decides she should maybe help her out. With a giggle and a touch to the very nearly weaponized body part, she takes hold of Beca's wrist and lifts her head to settle it in the hollow of her neck. She drops her head back down, leaving Beca's hand against her back and stretching her legs out as the new positioning of her arm pulls them closer together.


“Better?” Chloe smiles and Beca's nod is suspicious, her gaze drifting down the line of their bodies before returning to Chloe's eyes. They dart back to Chloe's mouth twice before holding. “It's just, I've been thinking.” She begins without prompting, her fingers once more working their way beneath cotton. “In order to be one hundred percent certain that I’m really sure about,” they skim lazily over the jutting peak of a hip bone, “you know,” then drift towards the middle, circling Beca's bellybutton, “I should probably get my hands dirty.” She trails the backs of them over the same path until she can drape an arm around Beca's side and walk the tips along her spine. “Well, dirtier. So to speak.” Beca rests the palm of her free hand against Chloe's hip again, clenching as the redhead's fingers pull a shiver through her. “Don't you think?”


“I- uh.” Chloe traces patterns of nonsensical swirls and star shapes across the plain of Beca's shoulders, circling the area of skin that she's knows is covered by pink lotuses. She likes Beca's tattoos, likes the stories behind them and the way she and Beca had grown close enough for Chloe to find out the meanings behind them. “Yeah.” Because they all mean something. “Yes.” Everything Beca ever says or does means something. “Okay.” And it's almost always different from what the person on the other end initially perceives it to mean.


Beca doesn't lie, not if she can help it, and she's not one of those girls who plays the “I'm not really fine, even though I'm saying I'm fine, but you're just going to have to figure this one out for yourself” game. She just operates differently. Chloe is sure it's thanks to years and years of hiding, masking every thought and feeling in order to keep people at a distance so that they never find out she has a heart that's capable of breaking, but they've never really discussed it. They've never really needed to; Chloe's pretty good at peeling that mask back.


“Yeah?” Chloe doesn't blink as she waits for Beca's final confirmation, afraid she might miss something, but the silent nod comes and goes without a flicker of anything that looks even remotely like regret or uncertainty. And just like that, Chloe finds that she's nervous. Beca's go ahead disturbing the remaining slumbering butterflies who hadn't woken during that first kiss. “Okay.” And because she can't help herself, she presses a chaste kiss to Beca's lips and pushes away the strange feeling of intimacy that tries to latch onto her in its aftermath. She shifts her head and their noses brush. “You'll tell me if I go too far?” Beca's eyes are darker than usual, pupils big and black as though compensating for any diminishing light. But the sun is still high in the sky outside of Beca's window and they have hours before it begins to set.


“Yeah.” Beca whispers, licking her lips in a way that demands Chloe's attention. Like a relentless magnetic pull that Chloe is helpless to do anything other than yield to. Not that it's something she fights particularly hard against; she really likes kissing Beca. She likes how soft her mouth is and how she could theoretically kiss Beca for hours without ever needing to give her face a break from 'stubble burn'. She likes how Beca's kisses start out slow and tentative, before growing bolder as the minutes tick by and she starts to unwind. She likes how Beca touches her when they're kissing, be it an intermittent squeezing of Chloe's hip – like now – or a firm, encouraging full-on grope like the night before. She likes the way Beca's tongue can sweep in and snatch away control of the kiss, the way Beca's teeth feel as they catch Chloe's lip and tug. She likes the way Beca kisses her first, kisses her back, the way she looks at Chloe's lips before she kisses her at all. She likes the way Beca sometimes sighs into Chloe's mouth, just like she's doing now, and she likes the feel of fingers teasing her hair, holding her close.


Chloe sweeps her fingers across Beca's back in long strokes that curve at the end, then carry on back in the opposite direction, like a swimmer turning to kick off of the side of the pool they're doing laps in. She does this over and over, until she's made the journey twice and is heading down for her third pass, but this time when her fingers reach the band of Beca's bra, they linger. She runs the tip of her pointer finger over material that feels vaguely lacy and pulls away from the kiss to regain whatever is left of her focus, because something is telling her she's going to need it.


A few seconds pass before her brain can catch up with 'why' and by then her hand is pawing up along Beca's side, thumb tentatively skirting the edge of her bra cup. Beca doesn't say anything, doesn't make a single sound, her eyes shielded from Chloe and lower lip caught between her teeth. She wonders what's going on inside Beca's head, if her heart is beating as fast as Chloe's is. Thumping so hard and so quickly, it sends her blood rushing to fill the space between her ears and then it's all she can hear. It drowns out every other thought, leaving only one to stand amid the chaos and nudge her hand with its boot when Beca's immobile, silent streak continues. Chloe moves her hand a millimetre at a time, watching Beca's face for even the smallest of changes and continuing until her expression morphs from impassive to impassioned in one sharp inhale.


Up until this moment, the only boobs Chloe's ever had her hands on – for longer than fives seconds and in a manner that was other than accidental – are her own. The reasons for that ranging from helping herself into a push-up bra, to a thorough exploration of her own body, and every 'just because' and 'that feels good' that lies in between. She's never touched someone else like that though, another woman, and when she curves her palm around full flesh, squeezing firmly, a rush of excitement floods her. At the feel of it, the way Beca's torso jerks towards her and the way she releases her lip with a burst of expelled air.


She wonders if Beca thinks this is weird. That they're lying here, doing this, that it's Chloe feeling her up. She wonders, because the tiny crease line between Beca's brows has been present for a while now and doesn't seem to be leaving any time soon. Chloe doesn't find it weird though, wouldn't if she were in Beca's place. Actually, she thinks it's awesome. There's no one else in her life who she'd be able to do this with. Obviously.


It isn't that different from touching herself, she thinks. Beca's breast fills her hand a little more, feels a little different under her fingers. But Chloe's body still responds to it. The contact still turns on the burners at the lowest point in Chloe's stomach, still makes her gut twist and arousal slither through her to settle between her thighs. And like thick cords of rope, it all pulls at Chloe. Goads her. Dares her. Begs her. Then Beca lets out a short puff of air and her tongue darts out to wet her lips, and Chloe takes a knife to each and every strand. And then she's free-falling.


Like a skydiver desperate for a rush, Chloe falls heavily into Beca and closes her eyes as the brunette yields without hesitation. Her mouth opens under the press of Chloe's tongue as she kicks her legs out to tangle them with Beca's, and this time when she clenches her hand, gripping more certainly and with more purpose, she feels taut flesh staining towards her through the bra. And the angle of her hand changes without any conscious thought on Chloe's part, squeezing and pinching until Beca's gasp breaks the kiss, her back arching her forward into Chloe's palm.


And for an instant, everything is still. With the exception of Chloe's mind, which races with every possible 'Beca's going to run' scenario in about two seconds.


But Beca doesn't run. Her fingers dig into the skin and denim at Chloe's hip and then they're kissing again. Harder than before, teeth grazing and nipping, and Chloe's head starts to swim, breakers tripping in the flood and then she isn't thinking anything at all. She switches off.


She feels like a teenager. Hot and excited, blood singing and hand restless. It travels without a destination, pawing at Beca's chest and dragging her fingertips over the smooth expanse of the smaller woman's back, over her hip, grasping at the bone when they jerk towards her and she feels Beca shift tightly over her thigh. And it only happens once, but it hits Chloe like a car crash. Wrecks her. She whimpers into Beca's mouth and it sounds desperate, needy, and all Chloe wants to do it touch Beca.


Everywhere.


Fire roars along the back of her neck, so hot it feels almost cold and she's sure her grip on Beca is too hard, but her fingers are locked. Won't release. Beca's kisses set off rockets behind her eyelids and each tiny explosion makes Chloe's wrist twitch until she finally lets herself slip and gives Beca's hip a hard tug, pushing forward with her leg.


Beca breaks the kiss with a broken, rasping moan, dropping her head so that her forehead is almost touching Chloe's chin. Bright blue eyes remain closed for a long moment. She can feel Beca's ragged breaths land against her chest, drifting down the gap in her shirt, and she feels intoxicated. Her own attempt at deep breathing does little to alleviate that. Her thoughts are back, too many and all moving too quickly for her to catch.


And once the silence has filled the room to a nigh on unbearable level, Beca speaks, her hand moving against Chloe's side.


“White flags might not be a bad idea.”

 

Chapter Text

 


The thing is, she's not joking.

 

Well, she is joking, because awkward jokes are what Beca uses to diffuse awkward situations – which she doesn't advise anyone else to do as it hardly ever works – but the sentiment behind, the idea at the core of her little white flag comment, it is real. Because she is, in that moment, quite painfully turned on. Something that would be unavoidably obvious if she were a guy. Thankfully, she is not, but she isn't sure that it's not going to be glaringly obvious to Chloe anyway.

 

And then she panics, because she doesn't know what Chloe is going to think about that. Beca doesn't even know what she thinks about it. Her brain is just barely continuing to function, the blood having rushed from it to, well, elsewhere and Chloe's hand is like a brand against her hip.

 

“You okay?” The question sounds muffled to Beca's ears, as though being spoke around a mouthful of fabric or from a long ways away. At first, she's too focused on breathing to answer right away, and then she sort of forgets the question has been asked until Chloe's hand squeezes her side and jolts her memory with what feels like an actual electrical current. “Becs?”

 

“Yeah.” She manages, breathless, bobbing her head against Chloe's chin, not quite ready to open her eyes or look up or really move in any way at all.

 

Embarrassment is not something Beca Mitchell deals with well. Actually, she usually deals with it angrily. Both her mother and father have their own favourite tales starring famous 'Beca storm-offs', so it's sort of been a thing for a while, although lesser in more recent years. She supposes growing up will do that to you; make you grow. Still, embarrassment is nowhere near the top of any of her own favourite lists. It makes her feel hot and awkward, and say stupid things.

 

“But if I could just, like, stop thinking like a teenage boy for two seconds I'd be extra okay.” Like that. And she feels it. The rumble that starts in Chloe's belly and slowly travels up to shake her torso, before spilling out from her lips in a giggle. This time, Beca doesn't storm off, but she does push herself away from Chloe and roll onto her back. Purposefully avoiding eye contact, cheeks probably burning. The rest of her body is still too hot to distinguish what specific area is the cause. Her lips feel bruised or used or something, and the thought makes her hands twist in her shirt. She can feel Chloe looking at her. Urging Beca to turn her head.

 

“Hey.” But she doesn't want to give in. “Beca.” The thing about Chloe though, is that she has this way of convincing people. And it doesn't matter if she's turning on the charm, or sex appeal, playing the ditzy girl card or the concerned friend one, like she is now. It always works. It's only when she's finally looking into brilliant blue pools again that she realises she's been had. “What do teenage boys think like, exactly?” Chloe's frown is severely undermined by the giant smile that follows it. Beca glares at her for a moment, then adopts an air of classy disinterest.

 

“I could be persuaded to answer, if someone would, say, grade me, maybe?” She hears Chloe manage a small “nice try” in between giggles. “Then I refuse to answer that on the grounds that I know you know the answer already.”

 

“I do.” Chloe admits, and Beca catches her slow nod in her periphery. “Which is why I'm really intrigued to hear your take on it.” She feels Chloe's toe brushing over her ankle. “See if they match up. Because I...” Chloe's fingers are suddenly walking up the length of her arm, from her bare elbow to her covered shoulder, where she lifts her hand away completely and reaches over to 'boop' Beca's nose, “don't think you could possibly be that perverse.” Blinking and wrinkling her nose in a manner not unlike that of a rabbit, Beca offers up a half shrug that's as nonchalant as she can manage.

 

“I guess you'll never know.” She flashes Chloe a sickly cheerful smile that looks a lot more confident than she feels.

 

Because if she were going to confess, and if dying from embarrassment wasn't a very real issue, she would currently be explaining how, only minutes before, she'd been fighting off images of a stark-naked Chloe, because some things just can't been unseen once they've been burned into the back of your mind. And it's not like she'd consciously conjured the image; it had just floated in. And if she were being honest, she might admit to the fact that she'd been torn between fighting them off and sort of, maybe, entertaining them. She blames it on being caught up in the moment.

 

And wonders how long she can keep that up for.

 

It's just that Chloe is really good with her hands and her mouth, and Beca's body responding to that is totally normal, right? Right. But what about the urge to press down against Chloe's leg, just a little, just to relieve some of the building tension? She figures that's probably pretty normal too. She's felt that before, knows what that is. The desire to rid Chloe of her clothes so that Beca could feel more of the redhead against her? That one is new. And kind of frightening. Also a bit unnerving. She doesn't really know what to do with that, except play it off as a spur of the moment thing. Because she doesn't have the strength for the alternative right now.

 

The alternative being to closely re-examine her feelings on this and Chloe, and everything they've done up until now. And what they might do in the future.

 

Her stomach twists.

 

“You know you can, right?” The question jars her from her thoughts.

 

“What?” She's genuinely confused and if the patronizing 'oh you' smile that Chloe's giving her was coming from anyone else, Beca's feathers would be well and truly ruffled.

 

“You can tell me stuff.” Reaching out, Chloe's fingers slip under one of Beca's palms and tug it away from where it has stretched out the hem of her t-shirt until she can hold it in both of her own. “Like if you want to talk about...” she rubs her thumbs over Beca's knuckles and then across the top of her hand, “things.” And Beca can't help but look at her in the moment. It's not often she get to see Chloe be this shade of vulnerable; unable to quite meet Beca's eye as she speaks, intensely focused on the motions of her thumbs, the timber of her voice a little unsure, a little scared. “Like, what you're thinking. Or feeling. I’m not...” She shakes her head and stormy seas meet crystal skies. “I’m not going to freak out or anything.” And not for the first time, something inside Beca creaks and splits, like heavy beams of wood under the swing of a wrecking ball. “I promise.”

 

Beca spends a long moment just looking at Chloe after that. Chloe never says any more and her expression doesn't waver, and Beca believes her. She always believes Chloe. But that doesn't mean she's ready to admit to thinking about her, like that, however fleetingly.

 

“Well...” she pauses, eyes involuntarily flicking down to where Chloe still has hold of her hand, “you know you can tell me too, right?” Chloe's smile is wide and bright, showing a little too much teeth to be real.

 

“Yeah of course.” But her emphatic nod is resolute and that too makes Beca believe. “Are you... you're having fun though? With all this? With me?” At first, it strikes Beca as a strange word to use; fun.

 

“Yeah.” But as she breathes the word out, it hits her that 'fun' is kind of the perfect word. It's a word that embodies Chloe's essence and screams fiery red hair and carefree smiles. Chloe's probably the very definition of fun, 'fun' in human form. “I mean, yes.” And how many people – in the Bella house alone – would kill to be in her position right now? Having fun with a hot, smart, funny redhead who can do things with her mouth that are capable of liquefying a person's insides. “Obviously.” Beca refuses to sit around and freak out about being aroused by 'all that', because really, why should she? She's cool, she can have fun, she can mess around with her best friend and have it mean nothing at all. “I don't go waving white flags around for just anyone, you know.” She clicks her tongue and winks at Chloe.

 

“Well,” Chloe feigns breathlessness and makes a show of fanning herself with her hand as she lets go of Beca's. “Now I feel all special.”

 

“Yeah,” Beca scoffs, “you should.” She shuffles back around onto her side, pressing her elbow into the mattress and propping her head against her fist. Then, bending her leg at the knees to strike an awkward model pose, she raises an eyebrow and gestures down the length of her body. “Do you have any idea how many people have wanted a piece of this over the years?” Chloe pauses before she answers, dragging her gaze along every inch of Beca in a way that makes her bravado quake, and when she speaks her voice is husky and low.

 

“I can imagine.” And it makes Beca believe that Chloe can imagine, has imagined. “You know, Becs.” She swings her legs up and around until she's kneeling in front of Beca, who is suddenly not looking – nor feeling – quite as confident as she had been seconds earlier. “I consider myself to be very, very lucky.”

 

She's reminded, again, how every moment with Chloe is like a roller coaster, as the redhead leans over and Beca's eyes slip a fraction or five. She doesn't mean to look, it's just a thing that happens sometimes. Occasionally. Beca's eyes generally don't stay focused on one specific point of Chloe's features for very long before straying. She doesn't know why it's a thing. It just is.

 

“I saw that.” And today would be the day that she gets caught accidentally checking out Chloe's cleavage because of course.

 

“What?” Beca snaps her attention back to Chloe's face, blinking furiously. “I- what?” She can feel her cheeks growing hot – maybe she should just start wearing rouge whenever she knows she's going to be within Chloe's immediate vicinity – and the way she's sort of gaping like a fish. Chloe looks like a kid who just got told Christmas has come early.

 

“Beca Mitchell!” She positively squeals the name, high enough for only dogs to hear – which must be why Beca catches it – and there's so much girlish glee to her that Beca almost gets whiplash when a second later, Chloe's levelling her with an expression that could melt every one of the polar ice caps and whispering, “You don't just have to look....” In the exact same tone she'd once heard a porn star use. Or, overheard. She wasn't actually watching it because Beca Mitchell would never do such a thing. Obviously. Then Chloe is biting the edge of her lip and reaching for Beca's hand.

 

And it isn't like Beca rolls right off the bed, but she comes pretty close. She definitely doesn't squeak though because that would be embarrassing. Not that it would really matter if she did anyway.

 

Chloe's laughing so hard there's no way she'd have heard it.


“I just don't see how a bit of theatricality is going to hurt.” Fat Amy bemoans from where's she's standing in the middle of the Bellas House's back yard, hands on her hips and top knot swaying as she rocks her head from side to side to, Beca assumes, work out a kink in her neck. The rest of the Bellas are scattered around; Jessica and Ashley are using the break in rehearsing to sit, Stacie is also sitting, but her legs are stretched into the splits and she's bending in ways Beca would never have believed possible if she weren't seeing it with her own eyes. Chloe and Emily are standing side by side and both sipping from water bottles, while Lilly is attempting to climb the tree that Flo is currently doing handstands against.

 

“Because last time we tried that shit, you bitches tried to Michael Jackson me.” Cynthia Rose is leaning against the same tree, waiting to catch Flo if she stumbles, and glaring at the Tasmanian. Beca brings her hands up to rub at her temples.

 

“You know, you really need to stop blaming your inferior coordination on those who,” Amy twists her mouth until she's mumbling out of one corner, “might be a little bit better than you at the whole dancing thing.” Cynthia Rose's expression turns stony and she bristles in a way that tells Beca she's about to explode.

 

“Amy, white tigers are more than just a bit of theatricality.” Beca tries her best to keep her tone neutral, but she can feel the strain, the desire to snap making it a little uneven. “And seriously, we spent two days in actual boot camp hell in order to get away from twirling batons and,” she gestures absently towards Chloe, who catches her eye around the side of the plastic bottle she's tipping towards her lips again, “glow sticks.” Chloe's mouth curves into a smile and Beca's mind flashes back to the performance. Or, more specifically, the outfits, and how those pants probably shouldn't have looked even 'okay' on anyone, let alone really, really good and Beca's never been an ass girl really but-

 

“I'm not saying we go back to that.” Amy's persistence yanks Beca back to the present, which is a place where Chloe is now smirking, albeit with a gentle curiosity, because Beca's sort of been staring at her for the last ten seconds. Beca knows this because her eyes feel a bit like sandpaper when she blinks and looks away, back to Amy who has given up on the whole 'standing' thing and is dropping down to the grass. “I'm just saying that people might be expecting something more than just singing and dancing.”

 

“Like what?” Emily pipes up and Beca steels herself for the inevitable reply.

 

“If you are thinking of reviving the thunder from down under,” Flo makes a face, exhaling loudly as she straightens, brushing down the skirt she has on over a pair of work out shorts and throwing Amy a look of disdain, “I beg you, please think of the children.” Fat Amy mumbles something about foreigners not knowing a good show when they see one, but Beca isn't really paying attention.

 

“Guys, if we're going to beat Das Sound Machine, it has to be on our terms. We have to do it as ourselves. Otherwise they'll think they won even if they lose.”

 

“Beca's right.” Chloe's nodding resolutely when Beca looks over and watches her glance around at the other women. “We just found our sound, ourselves, again, we can't fall back on bad habits because we're scared who we are won't be good enough. We don't need tigers or pyrotechnics.” Beca watches Chloe as she speaks, the way she draws the attention of every single person there and holds it. The way the muscles in her arms tense and roll as she moves them, waves them to get her point across. The way light eyes find light orbs and smile a few rays of sunshine into them. “Because we will be good enough, all of us. And we are going to kick some German ass.” Beca's chest tightens at the unabashed confidence in Chloe's voice, the belief Beca can see she has in all of them.

 

Honestly, Chloe's dogged belief in the Bellas has been the one constant that has kept Beca's head from spinning off over the years. Granted, it had also sent her off the deep end at the retreat, but once in four years is pretty damn good in her estimation. Chloe has been tirelessly dedicated to the Bellas and it's astounded Beca, because that kind of thing has got to be exhausting. She's exhausted, and she she's only been doing it half as long. But Chloe's always there to lift the rest of them up when they start to flounder, wearing a smile bright enough to make them all believe. She's kind of the best co-captain Beca could have imagined. Not that she'd actually imagined it. When Chloe had announced she'd be returning to Barden following Beca's freshman year, she'd just assumed Chloe would take up the mantel of captain. Seniority and all. It hadn't been a question on Chloe's part though. The first thing the redhead had said to her at the beginning of the year was “Ready to officially rock that captain hat?” and there had been very little in the way of a discussion after that. In fact, Beca isn't completely sure she's ever actually agreed to be co-captain. She doesn't think Chloe's ever asked.

 

They take a ten minute break to rest and rehydrate, and as Beca chugs down half a bottle she catches sight of Jessica and Ashley slapping their hands together in what Beca vaguely recognises as one of those playground rhyming game things. She was never one for playground activities that involved others. She walks over, her small frame casting a surprisingly tall shadow across them and they both turn to blink up at her.

 

“What,” she wags a finger down at where their hands are still joined in the space between their crossed legs, brain already working, “is that?” Fists on her hips, Beca Mitchell absorbs every word, every motion Ashley and Jessica throw at her, and yeah. This could work. This could be pretty awesome. After a few more minutes, Beca claps her hands together and calls out for the rest of the Bellas. They surround the three of them in a haphazard circle and Beca goes through her idea of incorporating it into the routine for worlds. “Could add a bit of theatricality huh, Amy?” The blonde in question turns her mouth down at the corners and offers up a thoughtful nod in response.

 

“Yeah.” She drawls, brushing the toe of her shoe across the grass in a poor imitation of innocence. “Or,” she pauses for dramatic effect, darting her eyes over to Beca, “you could teach us all Cups and we could do that at worlds.” Amy flashes a sickly sweet smile and Beca glares at her before licking across the front of her teeth.

 

“I would rather teach you how to perform thorough breast examinations on stage.” Across from her, Emily hides a giggle behind her hand and Stacie throws Beca a wink that she rolls her eyes at. “Can we please focus? Please?” Amy lets out a high, airy sigh.

 

“Fine, fine. Let's go back to focusing.” And Beca's about to thank her when Amy finishes with, “On preschool kiddie games.” Beca inhales deeply through her nose and pretends not to hear.

 

She kind of disappears into her role as captain for the next half an hour, working with Jessica and Ashley and trying to keep up as they teach her. She picks it up relatively quickly though, a surprise to everyone honestly, and then she brings over the Bellas two at a time, handing one over to Ashley and the other to Jessica while she goes back and forth between them and the others still smoothing out the wrinkles in the dance moves.

 

She's awkwardly trying to get Emily to loosen her hips when her phone vibrates in her back pocket and pulls it out, waving Emily off towards Jessica with a tight smile that loosens itself when she sees Chloe's name at the top of the message.

 

You know, watching you in captain mode makes me think I might need a white flag of my own. xxx

 

She clamps down on the grin that immediately threatens to overtake her face by rolling her lips together. She has no idea where Chloe is, but the redhead is probably watching her, waiting for a reaction.

 

Might?? She thumbs in after a moment. I'm oddly offended. She chances a glance around then, idly searching for red hair in a manner that she's pretty sure is covert. She finds her sitting on the grass beside Stacie – seriously, she turns her back for five minutes and suddenly it's nap time – head bowed as she types away on her phone. Stacie is sitting with her legs stretched out, head tilted back to catch the fading rays of sunlight and hair spilling out in a silky wave as she tugs the tie free, then runs her fingers through long locks. She starts when the phone vibrates in her hand.

 

There's nothing odd about it. You're incredibly egotistical. xxx

 

Right eyebrow shooting towards her hairline, she lets out a scoff of righteous indignation and looks over at Chloe, who winks and purses her lips into a kiss that makes Beca flush. She's hoping her cheeks are already reddened enough from exertion that it'll be hidden. She's surprised when her phone goes off again, because she hadn't seen Chloe fire off another text, and when she finds 'See something you like?' staring back at her, her brow furrows. She looks back up to watch Chloe throw a very pointed glance in Stacie's direction and Beca fumbles with her phone well enough to nearly drop it in her haste to reply.

 

Jesus, no. Unlike SOME people, I don't sit around perving on all of my friends.

 

Just me then? ;) xxx

 

Beca purses her lips.

 

Do you think Stacie's pretty?

 

And scrunches her face up at the question.

 

“Beca!” At the sound of Jessica's strained yelp, Beca glances back over her shoulder and immediately wishes she hadn't. “Help!” Her body follows the twist of her head and turns her around, enabling her to fully take in the sight before her. Jessica is bent over at the waist, her head angled awkwardly and face contorted in fear and perhaps a little pain. Lilly stands over her, arms outstretched and fingers lost in tight blond curls that appear to have created some kind of Chinese finger trap effect. Because the more Lilly pulls, the more Jessica cries out and escape seems to be less and less of an option.

 

“How did this happen?” Beca gawks as she approaches, pressing her palm to her forehead. She wonders if it's the giant rings Lilly is wearing, but then how did her hands end up anywhere near Jessica's head in the first place? “Children can do this, guys. Lilly! I'm not grabbing the knife tucked into your shoe!” Some days – most days – being captain of the Bellas is hard.

 

“What if we slather her head in butter?”

 

“Amy can you just-” Beca cuts herself off, pinching the bridge of her nose and releasing a breath. “Okay, no, that might actually be in the running for a good idea.” Straightening to her full albeit still rather slight height, Beca feels Chloe sidle up beside her and shoots her a glance. There's an air of humour to the redhead's concerned expression.

 

“What's the plan, captain?” Beca rolls her eyes.

 

“Get me the scissors.”

 

“What?!” Beca winces at the volume of Jessica's shriek and turns back to wave the blonde's borderline hysterical expression away.

 

“Oh my god, I'm kidding, Jess. Kidding.”


 

Both Lilly and Jessica had come away from their incident unscathed, physically at least. Who knows what kind of mental trauma Jessica will still be suffering years from now and Lilly, well, she'll probably be fine. Or as fine as she ever is. Even after separating them, Beca was none the wiser as to how it had happened. But Ashley had refused to go on teaching and Jessica was in no state to continue and honestly after the butter, Beca was exhausted so she had called an end to practice.

 

Beca's exhaustion is mostly mental, but physically she aches, her muscles sore. She toys with idea of a hot bath for a good ten minutes while she washes herself clean, blinking wearily at her reflection in the bathroom mirror before deciding even that would be too much effort.

 

By the time Beca washes the last remnants of greasy butter from her hands and arms – and, inexplicably, the back of her neck – she's right back at the retreat, ready to walk. Only not really, because though the danger of tripping a bear trap is significantly less inside the Bella house, thereby increasing her chances of escape this time around, Beca can't deny the smile – something that definitely hadn't been present the last time – teasing the edges of her mouth as she recalls Jessica's shrieks of terror. That and there's no telling what kind of booby-traps Lilly's set up without their knowledge. The entire house could be rigged.

 

She wonders if these are the times people talk about wanting to curl up with a good book and not move for a week. Too bad she doesn't really read so much anymore. Sighing, she gathers her hair back into a slightly lopsided bun and vacates the bathroom, almost slamming into Lilly who at least has the good grace to look guilty on the other side. She even mostly avoids eye contact and maybe that's to do with the 'Captain's Death Glare' Beca's levelling at her, but it gives her a kind of sick sense of satisfaction that she can wait until later to feel guilty about.

 

She isn't reallyready to walk. She's only afforded one of those melt downs every six months – a time period agreed upon by all of the Bellas, who had voted while Beca sat hunched and silent in one of the kitchen chairs looking around at them like they were the biggest bunch of over-reacting idiots she'd ever met, which she still stands by – and she's already met her quota. She's stressed, she knows that's what it is; graduation is around the corner, then worlds, then like, the rest of her life, and she's trying to process it all in a calm, confident manner, but that doesn't always work. And she was bound to encounter some hiccups along the way. Miniature explosions. Surely that's acceptable given everything she's balancing on stiff shoulders?

 

The door to the bathroom closes behind her and sets Beca into motion, like a gust of wind carrying her forward. Body set to autopilot, she rolls her head in a circle and makes a face at the crunching sound she hears, moving along the hallway with her eyes closed. When she opens them again, she's only kind of surprised to find herself in front of Chloe's closed door. Because while she's never really been a stranger to the redhead's bedroom, it feels like she's been frequenting it a lot more recently and she lifts a hand, scratching a finger into her hair as she considers that.

 

Beca was never one of those kids that had a blankie or a stuffy that she toted around until it was filthy and smelled like feet. She never had a thing that gave her that sense of comfort and security, that made her feel safe, and looking back she isn't all that bothered by it. She knows it wouldn't have been anything other than an illusion and the only real thing she'd have gained from having such a thing would be fond memories of said thing, that probably would have ended up lost or thrown away. Music gives her that though, makes her feel safe somehow, and that's less of an illusion to her. It's more real, more tangible than something she would have used to ward off childish tears. Instead, she'd used music to hold back the teenage angst, or wallow in it, depending on her mood. It made her feel, but on her own terms, because she had a very literally control on the knobs and switches that would enable that. Music is her blankie.

 

Staring at the door she's found herself in front of, the insane notion that Chloe is her stuffy hits her hard enough to knock a scoff out of her. She blinks, dumbly, her disbelief warring with the spark of truth that is inevitably going to make its way to the part of her brain that processes thought, once it's bypassed the circuits that the thought itself has fried and finds its way there. And it's crazy, it's crazy, because for the first eighteen years of her life she barely tolerated other people at a distance, let alone people in her space. She's dealt with the fact that the Bellas have broken her on that one, like a herd of cowgirls converging upon the stubborn stallion, but to think that Beca Mitchell is now becoming dependant on a person is outlandish.

 

Doesn't make it any less true, but that doesn't mean she has to be happy about it.

 

It's just that Chloe, upon reflection, does kind of make Beca feel all those things. She's been at Beca's side for so long now, it's hard to imagine life without her presence. Chloe's just always there, feels like she's been there forever, and she brings Beca a sense of comfort that she's only ever found with music. Music, and Jesse. She frowns at the thought, swallowing reflexively and brushing a strand of hair out of her face with the back of her hand. Why hadn't Jesse been her stuffy?

 

She jumps when the door flies open and turtles-in on herself, shoulders lifting towards her ears and chin tucked against her chest as she anticipates the impending collision with her eyes closed. Luckily for her, Chloe happens to be a fantastic dancer with amazing reflexes and she catches herself before they're forced to re-enact a Three Stooge's skit. She grabs onto Beca's upper arms to hold herself back and gasps the brunette's name. After a moment spent with her heart in her throat, Beca cracks an eye and is greeted with Chloe's startled but smiling face.

 

“Hey.” Her voice is a nervous laugh, which is unusual, but she brushes it off. “Sorry.” Chloe giggles, the sound bubbling from between her lips and Beca finds herself marvelling at how white her teeth are.

 

“Were you waiting for your x-ray vision to kick in or...?” Chloe takes her hands back and Beca notices the water bottle she's got hooked over her thumb.

 

“No.” She says dumbly, expression slack. “I- no.” She shakes her head and watches the way Chloe's brow creases into a small frown, lips curving like she's about to speak again. “Are you... were you leaving?” But then the shape of her mouth is changing again and she's smiling instead. Beca feels relief drift up from nowhere.

 

“Just going to the kitchen.” Chloe holds up her water bottle, shaking it a little to emphasize how empty it is before making a fist and pointing back over her shoulder with her thumb. “You want to sit? I'll be right back.” Beca responds with a mute nod and Chloe breezes by her to skip down the stairs. “You get all the butter off?” She calls back over her shoulder and Beca confirms that yes, she did, adding the threat of shaving everyone's head for Worlds. She hears Chloe sing-song, “I think you'd look hot.”

 

George the horse trainer is sitting in pride of place, just like always, on top of Chloe's dresser and he's the first thing Beca sees upon entering. It makes her pause in the doorway and clench her jaw. Her eyes flit over the faded fur of his face and frayed cuffs of his short sleeved shirt; he looks comfortable. Capable of giving comfort. Like comforting is all he's been doing since day one. And she can so perfectly picture a tiny version of Chloe squeezing him tight and pressing him against her cheek. The thought makes her smile and, okay. That needs to stop. She briefly presses the heels of her palms to her eyes and dislodges the thought with a shake of her head, crossing the room to drop down onto Chloe's bed.

 

Chloe had, evidently, been sitting in the middle of it prior to them almost smashing faces and as Beca scoots back until her shoulders are against the wall she catches sight of the laptop screen that Chloe's left open. She's not even meaning to look, it's just there.

 

'It' being flight schedules.

 

And she feels her heart stop. Feels the way her body spits itself towards panic as her vision, outrageously, starts to tunnel. Her muscles stiffen, tensing as though readying her for a physical blow, and she stares at the screen, incapable of comprehending what she's seeing.

 

There's a page's worth of flights in front of her, all at different times, all leaving Hartsfield–Jackson three days after they're due to get back from Copenhagen and arriving at Tampa International Airport as a final destination. They're all one-way.

 

Just like that, Beca thinks she's going to cry. The corners of her eyes closest to her nose start to sting and suddenly there's a lump forming in her throat and no. She's not going to let this happen. She's tired and sore, and she just wants to sit and talk to Chloe for a while. She doesn't want this. Doesn't want a reminder of reality just yet. They still have time, all of them.

 

“You okay?” Beca jumps and almost chokes on her saliva as she tries to swallow the ache in her throat, eyes darting to watch Chloe take a few cautious steps into the room. Which is dumb because it's her room, but it makes Beca bite down hard on the inside of her cheek and force a smile.

 

“Yeah.” It comes out a little rougher than she expects and she blinks, hoping her eyes don't look glassy, before clearing her throat and trying again. “Yeah,” her brow furrows as she bobs her head and hopes her smile holds, “I'm fine.” Chloe purses her lips, just slightly, and then reaches behind her to close the door. Her eyes don't leave Beca for a second and the brunette feels herself swallow again, involuntarily this time. She knows Chloe is going to ask questions, she can practically see them taking shape right in front of her, and she really rather desperately needs her to not ask questions right now. So, with a wave of her hand, Beca gestures towards the laptop. “Your mom must be excited.” Chloe beams as she makes her way over to the bed.

 

“To see me?” She lifts the laptop and mimics Beca's position before laying it on her lap with a wink. “Who wouldn't be?” Beca makes a show of rolling her eyes and feels the tingling in her nose begin to recede. Her gaze tracks the movements of Chloe's fingers as they click over the keys and then reach to pull the lid of the laptop down. “I think she's just glad I'm finally graduating.” She hooks her heels on the edge of the bed and scoots forward until she can reach the bag sitting in front of her end table to slip the computer inside.

 

“I'm sure she'll be happy to have her super senior back under her roof.” Beca's body bounces a little as Chloe hauls herself backwards to lean against the wall again, tipping her head towards Beca who mirrors the action.

 

“Yeah.” Chloe makes a face. “So I can start clearing out my old room. I think she wants to turn it into a relaxation room or something.” Beca feels her lips twitch.

 

“A what?” She asks, eyes flicking to where Chloe's pushing curls back behind an ear with a huff of laughter.

 

“A relaxation room.” Beca levels her with a dead-eyed stare, keeping it in place until the laughter turns real and Chloe decides to give in and explain. “She wants to repaint it and put down like shag carpet or something, all earthy tones of course.”

 

“Of course.” Beca supplies needlessly, but it makes Chloe smile.

 

“It would be her meditation spot. Incense, candles, probably a handful of different wind chimes and decorations made out of blown glass.” Beca holds her breath for a minute, considering her next words before noisily letting it out.

 

“Dude, I thought Aubrey was kidding when she said your mom was a hippie.” It earns her an eye roll and a shoulder shove, both of which only make her grin.

 

“She's not a hippie.” Chloe corrects and Beca holds her hands up, head twitching from left to right, as if to insist that she isn't the one who made that assumption. Then with a haughty sniff, Chloe adds, “She is a free spirit.” And Beca actually snorts. A thought suddenly occurs to her and her hand flies out to grab Chloe's thigh.

 

“Oh my god, is she a nudist too?” Chloe's laugh is loud and, apparently just like her mother, free. The sight and sound of it makes Beca feel happy. Consciously happy, a real burst of warmth behind her chest that she's aware of as it happens. She takes her hand back and lets her head fall forward so she's staring straight ahead. George's beady black eyes stare back at her.

 

“Neither of us are nudists!” Chloe's protest is punctuated in all the wrong place by giggles that continually tug at the edges of Beca's smile. “You haven't seen me naked in years.” She points out and for whatever reason that makes Beca turn back to her. Something she almost regrets when the redhead arches an eyebrow and shifts just the slightest bit closer to her. “But we could amend that. Right now, if you wanted.” She's playing, Beca knows she's playing because she can see the difference in her expression, in her eyes, that gives that away, but her heart still speeds up. Her chest still tightens, a strange sensation of coolness sweeping through her body in an instant like a shiver.

 

“You...” she starts, before her brain has actually thought of anything to say, leaving her to flounder for a moment when Chloe's eyes continue to smirk at her, “are incorrigible.”

 

“Thanks!” And maybe it's because they're sitting so close now, but it reminds Beca of that night in the tent and the moment that all this had started. It makes her think about the way she'd turned away from Chloe after she'd first broached the topic, spine still quaking with the uneasy tremor that had slithered down it at the confession. Because if she turned from it then maybe she could forget about it and the way it made her feel all kinds of awkward and weird. Which, fair enough, isn't all that far off from how Beca feels most of the time, but it's been a long time since she's felt that around Chloe. Chloe's comfort and safety and lately a mixed bag of other things that Beca can't put names to.

 

She blinks and as Chloe's face comes back into focus, she realises they're still looking at one another. That they have been, wordlessly, for a while now. And lifting a hand to rub at the back of her neck, Beca looks away.

 

“Does Clearwater produce a lot of hippies?” She catches sight of Chloe shifting in her periphery as she questions her, hoping a poor attempt at humour will shift the topic. “I mean, I've never been, so....” She lets the word hang and waits for Chloe to pick it up, finish the joke.

 

“You should visit some time.” And even though her head is starting to feel like a tetherball it still swings back towards Chloe because Beca can't quite believe what she's just heard. Which in itself, is dumb. “Once I'm back. If you ever have a spare weekend or something.” Because this is totally something Chloe would do and they're friends and why is she having such a hard time with this? “Just bring sunscreen. And maybe a hat.” Beca has enough presence of mind to adopt a quizzical expression and Chloe beams proudly when she says, “Clearwater currently holds the world record for most consecutive days of sunshine in a single year.” Disbelief kicked to the side, Beca's mouth splits into a wide grin.

 

“Seriously?”

 

“Yup. Three-hundred and sixty-one days. It's totes in Guinness and everything.” Beca feels a rush of glee rise up in her, quickly turning her grin into one of smug self-satisfaction.

 

“Dude,” that grows until she feels her eyes crinkle, “oh my god, that's freaking perfect.” And she starts to laugh. Head tipped back against the wall, her amusement floating towards the ceiling, and Chloe just looks on. Bemused, but happily. Beca pinches the bridge of her nose and looks at Chloe from around her fingers. “Of course you come from a place that's basically the sunshine capital of the world.”

 

It's an old joke by now. Chloe Beale, a body of boundless, bubbly energy and personal ray of sunlight to all. The embodiment of the perfect Summer day. And it's not that it isn't true, it is, it's just not always the case. Which has never been more evident than it has this year; Chloe has dark moments. Chloe gets scared, angry, upset.

 

But even then, Beca thinks, she never stops shining. 

Chapter Text



“Oh, shush.” Chloe admonishes with a huff and another shove to Beca's shoulder when she refuses to stop laughing, but by that time she's giggling too. “Get out, I don't want you here.” Which makes the demand somewhat less serious and so Beca ignores it completely. “Why were you creeping outside of my door anyway?” Beca makes a noise in the back of her throat.


“I was not creeping.” Chloe's hum is entirely unconvinced. “I was about to knock!”


“If you say so.” She throws the redhead a dirty look.


“Whatever. Can't I just come by to say hi?” Chloe shifts beside her, tucking her legs to her chest and resting her cheek against the tops of her knees. Beca allows the heat of Chloe's stare to warm the side of her face for a few seconds before she looks over. “What?”


“You know, we're sort of falling into a rhythm here.” Chloe's words are soft, the air she's giving off irreproachable, and in spite of that Beca is instantly motionless save for the widening of her eyes. “It's not a bad thing.” Chloe's quick to add in a tone that's calm and even, but perhaps a little curious. Beca fidgets, scratching at her palm. “You know how much I like being with you.” And she says it so casually, like it's the easiest thing in the world for Chloe, expressing her feelings. “Spending time with you.” Maybe it is. “Especially...” she trails off with a sigh and heat rises to Beca's cheeks at the small, almost secretive smile that paints itself across Chloe's lips, “I like our evenings together.”


It occurs to Beca then that Chloe has a point. That the evenings kind of have become 'theirs' in a way and that one of them turning up unannounced at the other's door has turned into a reoccurring thing. One that ultimately ends with them panting and horizontal across a bed.


“Me too.” She hears herself say and the way Chloe's eyes wrinkle at their corners somehow makes the embarrassment easier to deal with. Right up until she realises what Chloe is saying. “Oh, wait, no. That's not, I wasn't-” she cuts herself off, biting her teeth together and inhaling through her nose, “I didn't come here for... that.” Chloe regards her silently for a minute, then straightens with an airy sigh.


“I can't say I’m not disappointed.” She throws Beca a smile. “But you didn't just come to talk.” And of course she still isn't buying it. She can read Beca as easily as 'A Cappella Monthly'.


“If you must know,” Beca begins and Chloe's “uh huh” is quiet but definitely there, “I came, to ask, for... a back rub.” Because she is really, genuinely sore and Chloe does give truly magical massages and it has nothing to do with Beca missing the feeling of her hands on her, because that would be weird.


“Oh!” Chloe's face lights up at the prospect of being able to help and Beca's pretty sure she almost claps. Beca tilts her head to the side and narrows her eyes.


“Yay, Beca's in pain.” Her cheer is monotone and only mildly accusatory, but it makes Chloe wince. “Sorry.” Then Beca's watching her clamber off the bed, tugging down her t-shirt at the back and pointing between the brunette and the bed with her other hand.


“Lie down then. Let me at you.” Chloe waggles her eyebrows and Beca follows the instruction with a roll of her eyes, ignoring the way her stomach flips. She tugs Chloe's pillow forward and tucks her arms under it, pressing her cheek into a cocktail of perfume and shampoo that turns the flip into some kind of disastrous traipse trick. “Comfortable?” Beca licks her lips.


“As I'll ever be.” She hears Chloe laugh and then the bed is dipping as the redhead settles on top of Beca with a knee on either side of her hips. The muscles in her calves tense reflexively and Beca squeezes her eyes shut as she tries to get the ones in her shoulders to relax.


“I knew you were pushing yourself too hard in rehearsal.” Chloe chides, moving Beca's hair out of the way before resting her hands at the base of her neck. Thumbs brushing over skin, she presses down and kneads the knots there, making Beca grunt. “Hurts?”

“It's fine,” she mutters, face contorted against the sting and Chloe keeps going. Working around in circles until the tightness gives and the tension in Beca's expression eases. She blows out a breath. “I knew you were looking.” Chloe's chuckle is a low hum as her hands move across Beca's covered shoulders.


“I'm always looking, Becs.” She doesn't know what to say to that, so she stays quiet and fiddles with the material of the pillow case from the underside, unseen, as silence falls over them. It lets her mind drift, though not far, and she finds herself concentrating on Chloe's hands and the press of her thighs. The way heat spreads across her back, like massage oil, wherever Chloe touches her. It's nice; soothing. Definitely one of the many perks to having Chloe has a house mate, because there's no way she'd let a perfect stranger put their hands on her, she has no idea where they've been. Chloe's hands are safe though, Beca sees them all the time and they've been on her before. “Does that weird you out?” Her eyes pop open and she opens her mouth to reply but her words get stuck when Chloe runs her hands down to the small of Beca's back, fingertips dragging just enough to feel good.


“You- were you serious?” She manages, trying to keep the huge lungful of air she needs to take in as quiet as possible. Chloe's kneads from the bottom up this time, pressing the heel of her palm to a few stubborn spots under Beca's shoulder blades.


“Is it really that surprising?” It's funny, how you can sometimes hear a person smiling. Beca's pretty sure she'd be able to hear Chloe's on the other side of the phone. Lingering somewhere about her, it's deafening in its grandeur and she fumbles her words as she pictures it.


“Well, I mean-” But Chloe cuts her off anyway, fingers mapping a pressure trail toward the base of her spine.


“Do you have any idea how attractive you are?” If the sincerity in the question hadn't knocked Beca sideways, the sudden feel of Chloe's hands on her bare skin would definitely have done it. Beneath the pillow, her arms stiffen and she balls her hands into tight fists, slamming her eyes shut again.


“Uhh.” It's not a word, it's hardly even a sound; what it is, is ripped from the back of Beca's throat and kicked high at the end as Chloe's fingers continue to probe. “I... guess, not?” She hedges eventually, unable to convince her hands to unclench as Chloe's touch ghosts along her sides. She presses her lips into a thin line.


A vaguely disapproving hum comes from behind her and Beca feels her hair stand on end, goosebumps crawling along her back and neck, chased by Chloe's hands. She's not aware of how shallow her breathing has become until she can suddenly hear it, and the pounding of her heart, like they're being amplified. Then she's flashing back to earlier in the day and her comment about horny teenage boy thoughts and has to clear her throat to cover up something that is dangerously close to an inappropriate noise when Chloe follows the line of her bra strap with the tips of her fingers.


“That is a crying shame.” Chloe intones dramatically above her and it's as Beca parts her lips to take a steadying breath that Chloe's thumb finds a wayward knot, just below the strap, and presses down. The moan is out before Beca can stop it, but she drives her face into the pillow in an attempt to muffle it, as well as hide her flaming cheeks. “You're hot, Bec.” She hears that just fine though, Chloe's matter-of-fact tone clear as day. “You're super hot.” Hesitantly, Beca turns her head enough to mutter an awkwardly clipped “thank you” that Chloe happily accepts, before running her hands down to Beca's hips where she holds them still. She taps her thumbs a few times, then pulls her hands away completely to leave Beca feeling cold, but that doesn't last long. Before Beca can ask what she's doing, Chloe is leaning over her, her chest pressing into Beca's back and stealing the question away. “You know,” she murmurs, close enough to Beca's ear that she dare not open her eyes, “this would feel better without the shirt.” And she tugs at the end of Beca's sleeve for emphasis. Her mind blanks at the implication and all there is is the weight of Chloe and the scent of her, her lilt of her voice. It all serves as some kind of sensory overload and Beca is helpless against the shudder that makes her body spasm in a way she knows Chloe feels.


“You're just looking for an excuse to get me topless.” Is her strained argument, one that Chloe neither attests to nor denies; just presses a smile to Beca's shoulder and then straightens. But Beca can feel it there, warm and wide. Chloe trails her hands to the hem of Beca's shirt, where she toys with the material.


“You don't have to.” She sounds different now, not scared and not sad, but something. Apologetic maybe, worried she's crossed a line again. Which she obviously hasn't, Beca thinks. Then pauses, gnawing at her lower lip. Because no, not obviously. Beca's gut reaction is neither a wild cry of “no!” nor a strong inclination to flee, which it definitely would have been if this were anyone else suggesting it, but it isn't. It's Chloe. And when Chloe says stuff like that, it only makes Beca's stomach twist and her heart rate spike. It doesn't make her want to say no. Something that is most assuredly not obvious to the woman currently straddling her because it hadn't been obvious to Beca herself until Chloe had said it.


Releasing her lip, Beca swipes her tongue across the edges of her teeth and exhales in a slow stream.


“Do you want me to?” It comes out an octave or two higher than is her norm, throat constricts around the words, and she twists her head around to peek behind her.


“Yes.” Chloe doesn't hesitate for a second and the word lands heavily at the lowest point of Beca's gut, tugging a thread of something akin to adrenaline behind it. Chloe isn't anything but a blur to her, but Beca can see the way she's sitting. Steady, sure. She inhales quickly through her nose and lifts herself a few inches off the bed with her forearm. just enough so she can reach for the back of her collar to tug her shirt forward, over her head. It's going fine until she gets her head all the way inside the body of the shirt and then she can't move anymore. The cotton is refusing to stretch any further, it doesn't matter how hard Beca tugs, and the angle has it caught at the base of her skull.


“Um,” she finally stops struggling, “a little help?” The laugh that reaches her ears is breathy and with a simple pull and lift, Beca is free. She's sure she feels every molecule of air hit her newly exposed skin but the goosebumps that Chloe's hands had teased into existence never went away, so she can't be sure if it's real or not. She slips her right arm out first, then the left, and then goes to lie the shirt down at her side before changing her mind and jerking her hand back, instead choosing to leave it between the wall and the pillow. Like it's some important decision. It isn't, she's just nervous, because this is as naked as she's been with Chloe since she was actually naked with her, and it's not quite the same as the first time she got shirtless with Jesse, but the way her stomach is churning feels similar.


Not that she's comparing.


She's not worried about Chloe finding her body repulsive, which is honestly kind of awesome, or would be, if it meant anything beyond Chloe generally enjoying the female form. If they were dating, not worrying about that would be a boon, because Beca's always been kind of self-conscious, hiding behind layers of mascara and eye liner. But they aren't dating, so worrying about whether or not Chloe finds her attractive would never need to be that big of an issue between them, if Beca didn't already know that Chloe does, in fact, find her attractive. Which, she realises very quickly, isn't something she should let herself focus on right this minute. Because above her Chloe is shifting and sighing in a way that makes her sound satisfied and Beca feel light-headed. Then Chloe's hands are on her again, fingers at her neck, trailing south on either side of her spine and stopping to admire the equalizer bars tattooed across the middle.


“Better.” Beca doesn't know if it's a question or not. It doesn't sound like one, but she sort of feels like her head is filled with cotton and so maybe she's not hearing things correctly. “This is...” Chloe brings both hands to Beca's right shoulder and uses her thumb to work away any remaining tightness, “Is this okay?” All Beca can manage is a weak nod of her head because question or not, Chloe's right. It feels much better without the shirt. “Good.” Chloe takes her time making sure every muscle making up Beca's shoulder is as limp as can be before moving over to the other. She spends longer at the base of her neck, drawing out a couple of muted whimpers with knowing chuckles, and by the time she's done there Beca's ready to get casts of her hands made and bronzed.


“How are you so good at this?” She asks when Chloe lifts her hands away. Distracted by the question, she rests her palms against the middle of Beca's back and holds them still.


“I think,” and it's like tiny fissures spread out from beneath her hands, lines of molten rock stretching across the skin, “I'm just naturally good.” She finishes, not a hint of ego anywhere about her. “I've never taken lessons or anything, but I guess I’ve practised a lot?” Her hands start to move again, idly now, and Beca can tell Chloe's thinking about what she's saying because she's stopped searching for tense spots and is just brushing her hands across Beca's body. “My friends in high school used to line up after gym. Aubrey needed like twenty a day.” Beca's shoulders jump with her laugh, then Chloe's voice drops to a sultry whisper as she say, “And nothing gets a guy in the mood quicker than a rub down. At least, in my experience.” And Beca wouldn't say that her blood turns to ice, but a chill runs through her at the information and she finds herself very purposefully shoving it as far away from the banks of her memory as she can manage. Hoping she'll luck out and it'll get caught in the river flow and end up washing downstream, forgotten.


“That's- okay.” The only reason she says anything at all is because she thinks she probably should, since she asked and all. Her skin is practically humming as Chloe's fingers play over the flowers at Beca's shoulder, following every swooping line, around and around, with a touch so feather-light it's maddening. Tickles. But not enough for Beca to want her to stop. So she just keeps flexing and clenching her hands, back under the pillow again, and tries not to move. The urge to squirm away is there though, real as can be, and Chloe paints invisible swirls over Beca's neck. They could be letters for all she knows, song lyrics, curse words; she doesn't care. Chloe could be permanently marking her with drawings of penises and, okay, so she might care a little then, but she wouldn't stop her. And as hard as it's becoming for Beca to think in a clear and concise manner, she's conscious of the fact that her breathing is uneven. Broken and sharp in spots. And she struggles with keeping that hidden because she's afraid if Chloe notices, she'll stop.


And Beca doesn’t want her to stop.


“I wonder...” Chloe's hands feel like they're everywhere at once, her voice a velvet whisper inside Beca's head, “if they have the same effect on girls.” Fingers wander to the sheer fabric of her bra band and Beca feels nails catch purposefully on the hooks. “What do you think, Becs?” And then Chloe's there again, breasts pressing lightly into Beca's back as warm breath drifts over the nape of her neck. All attempts at tamping down her reaction fall by the wayside and the gasp that leaves Beca hitches as it breaks free. Chloe sighs and it's dreamy and teasing. “Need to break out your little white flag yet?” There's a competitive edge to Chloe's tone, one that dares and goads, and it overwhelms any sense of embarrassment that Beca might otherwise be feeling and kicks hard at her pride.


She's silent for a long moment, considering her options and calculating a response. She'd be lying if she said no, something that weighs heavily against one side of her brain while the other barks at her to fight back, tells her that Chloe is playing with her and the only way to fight fire, is with fire. Beca's never really understood the saying, but at the minute it seems all too apt. She feels Chloe smile into her shoulder, then sit back up. And she has the gall to snap Beca's bra. The motion seems as though it's meant to be a victorious one, but Chloe's hand lingers and Beca takes the opening, talking mostly into the pillow.


“You can like, undo it.” Chloe's hand stops moving completely.


“What?” And Beca allows herself a small, hidden smile at the uncertainty in the redhead's voice.


“You can undo it.” While her own grows stronger, clearer. “If you want.”


“I....” It's not often Chloe Beale is rendered speechless and Beca feels her bruised pride start to swell again. She twists her head as far to the side as she can in an effort to look at Chloe.


“Do you not want to?” And she has absolutely no idea where the surge of confidence is coming from, but she's not wasting the opportunity. The chance to beat Chloe at her own game comes around about as often as Halley's Comet. Chloe excels at throwing Beca off balance. If it were an Olympic sport, she'd take home the bronze, silver and gold. She can get under her skin like nobody else. Which in itself is unusual, but the truly exceptional thing about it is that Beca lets her.


“No, I-” Chloe draws a line with the tip of her index finger, from the very edge of Beca's bra to the middle where two tiny hooks are holding it together. And maybe this shouldn't be a big deal, but it feels like a step in a new direction. One without signposts. “I want to.” Beca's stomach rolls pleasantly and she holds her breath as she waits, counting the seconds.


Twelve of them tick by before Chloe unsnaps the clasp – on the first try and with just one hand, like a seasoned pro – and Beca forgets to be quiet as she lets the air rush out of her. Then Chloe's hands are back, a gentle touch at her elbow, then her shoulders, meeting in the middle and wandering downward in a manner than might seem lazy, if it weren't for the intensity of the gaze Beca can feel scorching her skin. Like Chloe's burning every visible bit of Beca into her memory. She brushes aside both ends of the band and splays her fingers across the newly exposed area, pulling an involuntarily twitch and then a shudder from Beca. Her toes curl, then flex and curl again against the bed spread. She tries to focus on keeping the rise and fall of her chest at an acceptable pace, but gives up instantly when Chloe's fingers curl and she lightly drags her nails down from the bottom of inked black lines to the waistline of her pants.


Beca's back arches without consent, bowing towards Chloe's hands as the soundtrack of a breathless moan – hers – followed by a grunting whimper – Chloe's – plays on an endless loop inside her head. There isn't an inch of Beca that doesn't feel like it's on fire. Chloe's given up all pretences of playing masseur; she's just touching Beca now, and nothing about this is 'relaxing' anymore.


She can hear Chloe breathing.


“You have really soft skin.” She comments from behind her, almost conversationally, and Beca lets out a weak chuckle.


“I moisturise?” It's a meek, desperate offering, and it's flattened beneath the weight of Chloe as she falls forward again, hands on either side of Beca, and leaves a single kiss at the base of her neck.


Everything stops for Beca in that moment. Heart, time, existence; she's in a vast white space of nothingness that is simultaneously too quiet and yet painfully loud. There's no hint of sunlight, but she burns. No visible shadow, yet she can feel Chloe's looming over her. Her nerve endings spark, die, then blaze toward renewed life as she feels the testing touch of Chloe's nose bumping her.


“You always smell so good.” Colour screams back in alongside Beca's ragged inhale and another kiss. Firmer this time and placed at the juncture of her neck and shoulder. Beca wants to make a comment about her shampoo or the natural scent of an impending failure in life, but Chloe's breath is hot and heavy against her and it's driving a wedge into the base of her brain, cutting off its connection to the rest of her body. Muddling everything.


The ends of red curls glide over her skin as Chloe turns her head to press a kiss to the same spot on the opposite side and when Beca just gives in and releases the whimpering shambles of an exhale, Chloe's mouth becomes bolder. The line of her shoulder is dotted with kiss after ardent kiss, leaving Beca's head spinning and her body stifled, hyper aware of everything. Like it's balanced on a knife edge and every shift and shake could send her tumbling. Chloe's weight is suffocating, but there isn't even a small part of Beca that feels uncomfortable. There's only a kind of heat that should be intolerable and a rush of something like pins and needles, only better, ebbing and flowing like waves upon sand. Taking something away every time it recedes, only to replace it with something new when it returns. Beca feels it with every move Chloe makes, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant. She feels it with every touch of Chloe's lips.


She feels it in the way Chloe drops her forehead to rest between Beca's shoulder blades and asks, “Is this okay?” Arousal spikes like a hot poker and Beca's stomach drops away from the burn with a force that's almost tangible.


Because Chloe sounds different. Her voice is lower, rough around the edges in a way that makes Beca feel dizzy enough to cling to the sheet even though she's the one lying down. There's an undeniable sensation of spiralling that has Beca wondering where it will end and what will happen when she or it or whatever it is lands. There's an instant of worry, of concern, and then Chloe's hand is tracking lazily along her side in the moment before she pulls back. Away from Beca, who can hear the apology before the other woman even takes the breath to speak it.


“Don't.” She doesn't know what she means, what it is she's trying or hoping to say, but it serves its purpose and Chloe halts. Her thumb strokes small circles at Beca's hip, just above the rise of her pants. The rest of her doesn't move, just holds perfectly still and Beca can barely feel her breathing anymore. It's like Chloe has no idea what to do, like she's waiting for a sign or some kind of verbal instruction from Beca, which is almost completely off the table at this point. She has no idea what Chloe is thinking but she knows how careful the redhead has played it up until now, so if Beca were to place a bet on anything it would be on the idea that she's probably concerned.


And all Beca can think about is how good Chloe's hands feel. That Chloe knows exactly where to touch her and how. That even though she feels like she's dying, her body is perhaps the most alive it's ever felt. Even with-


“Beca.” It's not quite a whine, nor is it quite a question, but it's whispered and wondering. Punctuated with an open-mouthed kiss to the muscle that bridges Beca's neck and shoulder, and lightly grazing teeth that make her eyes roll into the back of her head. Then Beca's whimpering, arms flexing to pull furiously at the sheet again as Chloe's lips move up along her neck and the redhead stretches out to press them to her ear. “Do you want me to stop?” For once, Chloe isn't asking purely to play the part of teasing vixen. Her query is legitimate and honest and, Beca foggily realises, she probably expects an answer.


The trouble is, she can still feel Chloe's warm breath brushing the shell of her ear and her hand continues idling over Beca's skin, and none of that is making any of this easy. All coherent, rational, and regularly-sane 'Beca thoughts' have left her. Alone, unguarded. Wanting. And there's the irrefutable evidence that Chloe's wanting too, saturating the space around and between them, and somehow it's that realisation that makes Beca's decision for her.


“I...” her voice sounds like crushed gravel, “I need, can-can you-” and the words trip over the tiny pebbles, eliciting an unexpected surge of ire inside her small frame that shoves “move” out of her mouth with more bite than intended. Chloe's warmth is gone, her lightning-quick motions drawing in cool air to roll over Beca's bare back and in a flash, she's sitting. In the murky depths of Beca's frazzled mind, she knows she doesn't have long to fix the crack she just made in their foundation, to convince Chloe she didn't meant it like that. So she draws an arm out from under the pillow and presses it to her chest to hold her bra against her as she starts to lever herself over with the other. Her hips twist and she feels herself pressing into Chloe before the redhead finally understands. She shifts then, lifting a little and watching with surprised eyes as Beca rolls onto her back.


It's a bit of a struggle and her arm almost gets caught beneath her, but she manages. And when Beca lies back, her eyes irrevocably find Chloe's and the expression being framed by messy curls is indescribable. Beca can't find any word that fits, though there are many she could probably use; flushed, awestruck, intoxicated, to name but a few. She looks a bit wild around the edges, startled, but still sure. Like she wants this. Wants to do this, whatever, with Beca.


Like she wants Beca.


She lifts the hand not curved around her ribs to scratch at her neck, the same spot Chloe had kissed, then tucks back a wayward lock of hair she can feel tickling her cheek. Chloe chuckles at that, her expression morphing once more until Beca's looking up at fond affection as Chloe reaches towards her and she lets her arm fall to her side. Chloe brushes away a few more evidently errant strands and it makes Beca momentarily anxious over the state of her hair. Which is ridiculous. Chloe has literally seen her at her worst – which is either first thing in the morning or at around five a.m. after a Trebles party – and it's not like she's ever been concerned about that before, so she tells herself she isn't about to start now. This isn't the time.


Chloe runs the tip of her finger over the bar that runs through the top of Beca's ear, then follows the outline of it down to the lobe. There's a spot, right underneath Beca's jaw and close to her thumping pulse point, that tingles at the touch in a way that makes her wish she could reach in to itch it. She can't though and so she has to settle for swallowing hard and hoping that'll do the trick as Chloe's journey continues. Down over the line of her jaw and across her neck, where her other fingers join the first. They tap a short rhythm against Beca's collarbone before moving on and Beca's eyes watch the way Chloe's follow the path of her fingers. They walk along her shoulder to where the strap of Beca's bra has slipped down and she's about to push it back up when Beca lifts her hand to touch the underside of Chloe's elbow. Baby-blues snap to hers then, instantaneous and earth-moving, and Beca has to take a steadying breath before she can compel the words to leave her.


“It... you can take it off.” And she retracts her arm from where she's been holding it against her chest, making a conscious effort to lie it still at her side. She sucks her bottom lip into the space between her teeth and runs her tongue over it, biting down for a moment in an attempt to use the discomfort to ground herself. Chloe's fond smile melts away to reveal thinly veiled excitement and Beca's entire chest feels like it's caving in, imploding.


Because Beca knows what Chloe's excited face looks like, when it's the kind of excitement brought on by a surprise coffee delivery or an unexpected gift in the shape of a mix courtesy of a certain would-be music producer. Beca knows Chloe's 'I'm so excited, I am basically vibrating' and 'I'm sorry I’m squeezing your arms so tightly, I just have no control over myself when I’m this jazzed' faces like the back of her hand at this point. She's pretty well-versed in all of the redhead's myriad expressions.


Beca's not seen one quite like this before.


She remembers a project her class had done in elementary school, where they'd burned the edges of paper they had darkened with teabags to make it look like an old, worn piece of parchment. The burned edges, that's what Chloe reminds her of right now. All fiery danger that might catch if Beca gets too close. Because this is a turning point for them, for this. A defining moment, as much as Beca might try to tell herself that this isn't a big deal, that it's just Chloe and Chloe has already seen her completely nude, it is. The last time she had been sans clothing she'd had little say in the matter; this time she's the instigator. How far she's come in just four short years. And she's nervous, her palms are sweating, and that wedge sitting snugly at the base of her brain is making it hard to think. But she knows she isn't doing this because she feels like she has to. Knows that even though the streak of competitiveness that had lit her up earlier still dawdles at the fringe of her awareness, it doesn't have anything to do with this moment. Can't touch it. Not when Chloe is looking at her like that.


Like she might crumble or combust, depending on what happens next. Like she doesn't care either way.


Chloe hasn't moved an inch since Beca last spoke, her hand still hovers in place at the bra strap and attention still centred on Beca's face. The air between them feels thick, filled with static, and Beca is almost positive that if one of them doesn't say or do something in the next five seconds her skin is actually going to crawl right off of her body. But Chloe doesn't say anything, doesn't ask if Beca's sure, if this is really okay, if this is what she wants.


She just bites the edge of her lip and reaches for the other strap, then slowly starts to slide them down Beca's arms. Heat swells at her chest as Chloe's gaze wanders there and Beca clenches her teeth at the feel of shifting material. She counts the heartbeats as they thunder against her ribs and tries to keep her breathing even. She watches Chloe until the straps reach her elbows and the slight tug needed to clear them brings the bra down with it. Then Chloe's lips part with a puff of air and Beca closes her eyes, counts to three, and aims them at ceiling. The tepid air of the room hits her flushed skin and Beca's hands fidget at her sides until the straps catch on her wrists and she has to twist them in order to shake them loose. Then the garment is gone completely. She hears Chloe set it close by, maybe next to her shirt, and feels the heat of Chloe's hands before their touch. They land against her hips again and Beca doesn't manage to withhold her flinch.


“Bec-”


“I'm fine.” She interrupts, firmly enough that she hopes Chloe will let it slide but the redhead sighs and she knows she isn't going to be that lucky.


“You won't even look at me.” It's all kind of unfair, the way Chloe's tone – a little broken, a little afraid – tears at Beca. Pulls at her until she's doing just that. And it's not as if she'd been expecting to find judgement or the stirrings of revulsion in Chloe's expression, but the relief that hits her when she sees that Chloe is looking at her, well, like she always does, is nonetheless real. She lifts her arms, folding her hands over her abdomen just to give herself something to do.


“I'm fine.” She is. More or less. Her insides feel shaky and she's half naked on Chloe Beale's bed – oh my god – but there's probably an army of people who would love to be in her position, so it's not like she can really complain She's just treading new water, wondering where the deep ends lie. Chloe's fear seems to decrease at Beca's second attempt at reassurance and a small smile appears like a shaft of sunlight through clouds. Then she nods and lowers her gaze and, a moment later, Beca feels palms brushing the tops of her forearms. Fingers work their way under her hands and Chloe turns one over, taking it in both of her own and toying with the digits one by one. Beca can practically hear her thoughts turning, over and over inside that pretty red head. Chloe shifts on top of her, then resettles her weight.


“What should...” she trails off, licking her lips, “what can I...?” Beca has to really fight against the urge to blurt out “have at 'em” and the fact that that is what feels most strange here is a thought she should probably spend at least a short amount of time mulling over. Later.


Distracted, and more than a little flustered, Beca clears her throat.


“Just, like, whatever, dude.” Chloe chuckles and glances up to where Beca is now regarding her with an arched eyebrow. “What?” The redhead spends a moment too long smiling, like there's some private joke being whispered into her ear that Beca isn't privy to.


“You always do that.” There isn't a single thread of blame to her tone, only amusement, and Beca blinks at her as her own expression twists into confusion.


“What?” She asks, nose wrinkled, and Chloe pinches the tip of Beca's middle digit between her thumb and forefinger, absently squeezing as she answers.


“Call me 'dude' when you're nervous.” When she does, Beca gapes at her, outraged.


“I do not.” Her insistence is immediate, which is probably the thing that gives her away most of all. “I always call you dude!” Chloe laughs again and shakes her head.


“Yes, but you do it more when you're all....” She trails off, taking one hand away from Beca to wave it in a manner that Beca finds incredibly offensive. “It's fine.” Like an attack on her person. “It's cute.” Beca's gasp is audible.


“It is not.” Her vehement denial, and what she thinks are probably fairly pink cheeks, serve the same purpose that they always seem to and Chloe's smile widens, another chuckle singing itself free.


“Whatever you say, dude.” Chloe flashes her a wink but the sarcasm dripping off that final word softens the blow, leaving Beca more or less in control of her faculties for a change.


“Give me back my shirt.” She grumbles and tries to pull her hand out of Chloe's grasp. The redhead holds fast though, and Beca's not trying all that hard.


“No. I'm not done here.” The defiant promise in the words pulls a thrill through Beca, whose hand is relinquished anyway, but only after Chloe has moved the pair of them back to lie at her sides so she can replace them with her own. Beca's skin hums under the touch, a sound that tries its very best to manifest itself vocally and almost succeeds when Chloe starts to slowly slide her palms over smooth skin. Beca's gaze continues to dart, fingers twitching on either side of her as Chloe leans forward a fraction. “So, we meet again.” Chloe is not looking at her. Beca can see the smile on her face though and it tells her that Chloe knows Beca is staring, stunned. And she wishes she could regain just a semblance of her composure, but Chloe's attention is like really, super focused on her chest and Beca's unable to process anything too far past that. She'd almost forgotten she was topless for a bit there.


“Are you seriously addressing my,” she trips over her tongue, “my breasts, right now?” Chloe presses her lips together and raises both eyebrows.


“Would you rather I not acknowledge them at all?” She tilts her head forward as she speaks, curls falling to bounce around her face as she grins devilishly. And Beca bites her tongue, partly because there's no way she can answer that without ending up in some kind of trouble, and also because this image of Chloe is assaulting every single part of her mind and body. Her posture, her hair, her face; it's all stupidly attractive and Beca's mouth dries up at the thought. “You'll tell me? If something isn't...” she walks the fingers of her right hand up the ladder of Beca's ribs, “okay?” Stopping just below her breast, Chloe sweeps her fingers along the length of that single rib and Beca jerks reflexively against the tickle. She shoots Chloe a silent glare and the redhead chuckles, but lets her hand rest against the curve of Beca's side.


“Yeah.” She bobs her head against the pillow and watches the way one side of Chloe's mouth quirks up.


“Awse.” Then she bites her lip, just for an instant, her rush of excitement blatant and nearly palpable. It surprises Beca, but she doesn't get to dwell on it long. “Then I’m going to look at you.” Chloe's thumb strokes back and forth then, just barely brushing the swell of full flesh and an uneven shudder runs along her spine. And it's a weird thing to say, Beca thinks, because Chloe's already seen her, but she figures it's just another way that the redhead is trying to ensure her comfort. Something that, while it may not be needed right now, is still appreciated. “And then,” she holds her thumb in place and drags her fingers back towards it, arching her palm until the tips touch, and curving her hand around until her thumb is pointing towards the centre of her chest and her fingers are resting along Beca's ribs, “I'm going to touch you.” Her heart jumps and she hopes Chloe's hand isn't close enough to feel it. Then bright blue orbs are drifting and Beca finds she needs to take a breath, because Chloe's gaze is heavy where it lingers.


And it's all so, so close to being weird, but it never quite makes it there. Although she does feel a little like she's having an out-of-body experience, like this can't quite be real, for whatever reason. Shirtless beneath an intent redhead – co-captain, house mate, and self-proclaimed best friend – whose eyes rove over Beca with a shameless appraisal that sends heat blossoming along the back of her neck. Her mind races, thoughts a jumbled mess of nothing and hands continuing to fidget. She wraps her fingers around her thumb, clenching tight enough that pulling it free provides a slight challenge, and the action evokes a sound similar to that of a lighter being flicked. She does it again and again, unconsciously for the most part, until Chloe's suddenly looking at her, lips perpetually quirked in amusement.


“If you need to do something with your hands,” she mutters, the one she has sitting below Beca's breast shifting, “put them on me.” Turning to cup the soft swell, their gasps leave them simultaneously, and Chloe's thighs are beneath Beca's palms before her brain can actively put out any kind of signal. Her eyelids flutter but remain open and the touch is so light, it's barely there at all. And there are all kinds of synapses firing, so she has no idea if that's good or bad. Wouldn't be able to tell Chloe if she asked. Which, thankfully, she doesn't. Her gaze has lowered again and Beca follows every minuscule movement of her eyes as they flick across her chest.


Chloe's mouth gives away a lot about what she's feeling, Beca has learned. It twists when she's unsure, purses when she's suspicious, and compresses into a thin line when she's holding something back. When she's caught off guard it opens before any words are ready to come out and it quavers at the edges when she tries to smile through her upset. When she's feeling flirty, it becomes coy, and when she's had a little too much jiggle juice, it loses its filter.


There's a sliver of space parting her lips now, right at the centre between where their corners still touch, just enough to draw in thin wisps of air and convey a sense of awe that takes the static in the air around them and turns it to ash. For one heart-stopping moment, Beca thinks she might choke on it.


“Can...” Chloe never reaches the end of the thought. Beca watches the tip of a pink tongue dart out and then a jolt of something electric rockets through her as Chloe's hand turns just so and, Beca's weight settled more firmly in her palm, she sweeps the pad of her thumb over taught flesh. Beca's gasp of surprise pulls a matching one of approval from Chloe and she grips unthinkingly at toned thighs, prompting the action to be repeated. This time vertically, dragging down over the peak and blurring Beca's vision for an instant. “Is this-”


“Yeah.” She answers too quickly, she knows she does. She tells herself its because she wants to reassure Chloe. So that Chloe doesn't have to worry a second longer than she needs to. It doesn't explain the gravelly edge to her voice though, the one that makes Chloe bite her lip again and move her hand to cover Beca's breast completely. She screws her eyes shut and lets out a shaky breath that tapers off towards a whimper at the end when Chloe gently squeezes. There's a twinge at the base of her spine, a small spasm that serves as a prelude to her back arcing, and then Chloe's other hand is moving. Skimming over Beca's body to join the other in an exploration of pressures that grows bolder with every hint of approval that slips out. And there are two sides of Beca's brain going to war in that moment. The rational, cognitive side; the one that wants to ask what Chloe's feeling – other than the obvious – and what she's thinking. Then there's the lizard-brain side. The one that wants to arch into Chloe's touch and learn where else Chloe's hands feel good.


She has a fleeting moment of insanity wherein she pictures the mental battle as a bizarre version of that one episode of Star Trek Jesse had made her watch when they were dating.


She blinks, and above her Chloe is a halo of red hair and uneven breathing. Her eyes seem darker, maybe shadowed by heavy lids, and every flicker of motion from her hands pulls a fistful of shivers through Beca. She alternates between soft caresses and gentle kneading, for long minutes. Or at least what feels like it. It's maddening, Beca realises with a start that almost shows, and she's halfway towards convincing herself to make an ill-advised smart-ass comment when Chloe's tactics change. Careless touches disappear and Chloe's fingers find a purpose as they test straining flesh with a firm pinch that casts aside the earlier prelude in favour of jumping into the main attraction. Beca's moan is a throaty vowel and her back an almost perfect curve as it lifts off the mattress, pulled upwards by a shock of arousal so sharp that it's nearly painful. She drops back with a laboured pant and feels Chloe's thumb twitch its uncertainty against her before teasing her nipple again. She starts to gasp something, a “god” or “shit” that never comes to life and the beginnings of which are buried under Chloe's empathic moan. Burnt away to cinders at the shifting of her hips.


“You're really beautiful, you know.” Her stomach feels like it falls through the bed. Because Beca does not know. In fact, Beca doesn't know a lot of things. She doesn't know how to make spaghetti or soup, or anything really that isn't toast or involves using the blender. She doesn't know how to change a tire. She doesn't know what's going to happen if and when she finally gets to L.A. She doesn't know how she's going to say goodbye to these girls. Say goodbye to Chloe. She doesn't know how Chloe can sit there and say something like that to her with such conviction and sincerity, and right now, without, what? Meaning it?


Maybe she does mean it.


Beca can't breathe.


In a tiny whirlwind of motion, she shuffles and struggles, feels Chloe's hands retreat like her skin has scorched them, and in the end resorts to slipping her fingers into the opening of Chloe's pockets in order to help her sit up. Her forehead bumps against a jutting collarbone and the room spins behind Beca's closed lids as she tries to hold herself steady. It's not panic that she's feeling, but it's close, and it races through her, making her blood jitter. Material bunches in her palm as she takes a shuddering breath, licking her lips and realising that she's pressed close enough to Chloe to taste skin. Hands are at her arms, rubbing slow lines of uncertain but unwavering comfort from elbow to shoulder before Chloe's arms encircle her, and then they're at her neck. Or one of them is, fingers softly stroking as their owner remains silent and Beca's eyes stay closed. The tightness that had gripped her chest, sending her heart into gridlock, begins to ease and it's only when Beca's breathing has returned to normal and maintained that rhythm for a long few moments that Chloe speaks.


“Are you okay?” But her voice still sounds distant, like Beca's hearing her from under water, and when she nods her head against Chloe's chest it feels like she's fighting waves. “Hey...” but of course, that's not good enough for Chloe, “look at me.” Chloe, whose hands lift to cradle Beca's face, tilting her head back so that she can look at her.


Through her, like always.


Only not like always, because Beca's half naked and Chloe's smile is perhaps the most tender she's ever seen it, as she tucks strands of hair behind Beca's ear. And when she asks again, the question reverberates through her so solidly that she feels it knock something loose. Feels whatever it is clatter against her insides, like a discarded pipe down through scaffolding, each brush of Chloe's thumbs across her cheekbones another clang of metal. The almost-panic is gone, leaving behind no trace and no clue as to why it had burst onto the scene in the first place. Her shirt is still missing and her inhibitions are only now starting to leak back in, but Chloe never left. Chloe's still there, concrete and real, handling Beca in a way that only she can.


Steely blue eyes blink and Beca quirks the edges of her mouth into a smile as she shakes her head.


“I'm fine.” But Chloe's response is only a frown and something flutters behind Beca's chest, stirring up a small laugh. “Don't, don't give me that face when I’m like, shirtless. It's doesn't exactly inspire confidence.” She doesn't feel as cocksure as she's making herself sound but after a long pause in which Chloe scrutinizes her, she watches the redhead's concern break down. Water over a pillar of sugar.


“There's not an inch on you that you should be anything less than confident about.” It's suggestive and purposefully sensual, but it's also sweet. An undeniable truth to Chloe, Beca can hear it. She opens her mouth to reply but the words aren't there and after a few seconds of gaping like a fish, she feels the tip of Chloe's thumb tracing the outline of her lips.


And Beca doesn't know which one of them moves, but her arms are around Chloe's waist and then they're kissing. Easy and gentle.


And then that's all she knows. 

Chapter Text


Beca is the one that moves. Chloe knows because she'd been holding back, forcing herself to keep that sliver of space between them in a moment where it seemed that neither of them were sure what had just happened. Chloe doesn't know if it's what she said, something she did, or something else going on behind the walls of Beca's mind. It's something she's not privy to at any rate and she isn't about to ask. She knows Beca won't tell her, not yet. And that's the reason she doesn't protest when Beca kisses her.


Well, one of the reasons.


The softness of Beca's lips against hers is another, the taste of her. The way Beca's arms feel around her waist, holding her tight and close, is another. The press of her chest as Beca strains up and into her, tongue sweeping languidly into Chloe's mouth, is another still.


In the relative silence of the room that's broken only by the sound of their breathing and the dull thump of her heartbeat in her ears, there are many reasons Chloe lets Beca kiss her.


'Love' has a place in almost all of them.

 


 

Their lips haven't been in contact for many minutes now, but Chloe can still feel the press of Beca's against her own. If she closes her eyes, she can feel the way Beca's mouth slants and parts. The way she'd kissed Chloe, tentatively at first, then with a gradually growing confidence that, despite itself, never reached a place where it became bold or assertive. It remained slow and easy, and Beca's hand had burned the skin of her back where it slipped beneath her shirt to splay flat, fingers stretched to touch as much of Chloe as possible. And she'd felt so close to her in that moment, closer even than when she'd had her hands on Beca's chest.


It was a different kind of closeness, one that Chloe rarely feels outside of the bedroom to be perfectly honest. She's usually naked and covered in a thin sheen of sweat when that sense of intimacy hits her at that level. She'd felt grounded and flighty all at once, dizzy with a sudden surge of emotion that really, if she thinks about it, hadn't been that sudden at all. It had been building from the moment Beca had entered the room, they just hadn't been aware.


Chloe's felt it though. The way the atmosphere starts to charge when one of them enters the other's space. It lies low, like an undercurrent, spiking every now and then until the hum becomes impossible to ignore and that's usually around the time one of them makes a move. She'd been surprised this time, when it had been Beca.


Beca is kind of like a Rubik's cube. There are many, many sides to her, each one containing a multitude of different aspects and colours, each one catching the light and Chloe's love in a different way. Including that often razor-sharp competitive edge that shows up from time to time. Chloe's not on the receiving end of it all that often, so it had taken her a little off guard, but in a good way. A way that pulled at her, set her off like tiny, stuttering rockets. All heading towards explosion, but slowly, streaking across the night sky of Beca's eyes. Eyes that had opened and closed so many times that Chloe had lost count, fluttering and screwing shut, something that had thrilled her to her core.


If Chloe had still been on the fence about liking women prior to that, well, that definitely would have pushed her over the side. It's kind of incredibly undeniable now. Because she's laying curled into the corner of her bed with her covers bunched up to her chin, and she can't stop thinking about it.


She can still hear the rough tone of Beca's voice, telling her to unhook her bra, take it off, touch her. She can still feel Beca beneath her fingertips, soft and smooth, and strong as she pressed and pushed into Chloe. She can still feel the sounds she'd made stirring the air and reaching right into Chloe's stomach to twist at anything and everything they could reach. She'd never wanted someone to keep making noise so much in her life. Which is saying something, because she had loved to hear Tom, but he'd never been as restrained as Beca. With Beca, it's more of a challenge, and it's one Chloe is quickly learning to crave. To best or complete.


When she'd not-so-subtly insinuated that Beca should take off her shirt, she hadn't actually expected it to go anywhere. Looking back now, she isn't even sure if she'd meant for it to. It had just seemed like a good thing to say in that moment. She'd already been enjoying herself, running her hands over Beca while dealing with the barrier, but once it was gone there was no denying it was indeed 'better'. And touching Beca had quickly evolved into something that went far beyond working out the kinks in her muscles.


For Chloe, it had turned into a memory game of sorts, once she realised she wanted to remember every second, map every inch of skin and cement the image in a way that couldn't be erased. Because that moment was important, she could feel it then and still can now, the heavy weight of knowledge, the irrevocable shifting of something enormous. It doesn't matter what it is or if it has a name, it's there. Regardless of whether or not a person chooses to acknowledge it.


She and Beca have been friends for a long time now and they're close. They'd been close before any of this started, but with as much as Beca has opened up to her, a new level of trust had been reached earlier. One that Chloe is pretty damn sure doesn't get handed out to too many people. She knows it doesn't and while she can't be certain that Beca's willingness to undress hadn't had something to do with their fated meeting in the showers all those years ago, Chloe can't help but think that it's more than that.


She wants it to be more than that.


She wants it to be because Beca feels safe with her. Because she is safe with her. Because Chloe would never intentionally do or say anything to hurt Beca. And she knows Beca wants to do this for her, wants to be that person for her. It's just that Chloe's desire for Beca to also want to do this, for herself, is starting to inflate and that is a dangerous updraught to catch. The higher she gets, the more likely it is that something will burst and the life will wheeze out of it.


But when she closes her eyes, she sees Beca. Pale and bare, cheeks rosy and lips parted in a gasp, and Chloe can feel her beneath her hands. Soft, supple, everything she'd remembered and more. So, so much more. This time, there was a vulnerability quite unlike the one she'd encountered during her first senior year. Then, it had been outrage and disbelief colouring the edges. Now, it was as though the edges had been wiped clean and she'd been looking at Beca through a window of vulnerability, rather than a veil.


Because Beca hadn't been hiding this time and without a stitch to cover her upper half, she'd bared more than just her body. Chloe, in turn, had opened up new parts of herself, though those wouldn't be as easy to see. Beca, lying prone on her back with her eyes screwed closed, had probably missed most of the unlocking, despite being the cause. Touching Beca like that, touching Beca at all, had been unexpectedly exciting. Which is saying a lot, because Chloe had been exponentially more than excited, thrilled and elated at the prospect, the notion of what was about to happen. Then once it was finally happening, her brain had been melted down to little more than a series of miss-fires that were somehow still able to hit their mark. And she's had her hands on Beca before of course, but never quite with such blatant intent. This had been exploratory in a different way and the things she'd discovered, she's still processing.


Like how kissing Beca's shoulder had reduced her to a tense, whimpering mess and even just the slightest hint of pressure against her breast had left her gasping. How confident fingers teasing taught flesh had pulled such a guttural moan of approval from Beca, Chloe had felt it between her legs as Beca arched into her. How dizzy that had made her, how the sight and sound and feel of Beca had left Chloe aching, physically and verbally. How much she'd enjoyed watching Beca enjoy what she was doing to her, the culmination burning her from the inside.


She shifts restlessly beneath her covers, legs brushing together as she rolls onto her back and closes her eyes. Trying to ignore the way the memories are pulling at her gut, stirring her arousal until it throbs and she has to bite down hard against her lip for a few moments just to centre herself again. Then she exhales in a long stream and releases the duvet cover that she's unconsciously wound into a death-grip. This too is an obstacle she hadn't factored in during her initial decision to broach the idea of experimenting. Because if it was Tom she was thinking about, if it had been Tom who had worked her up to such a point, Chloe would have no qualms whatsoever about slipping her hand beneath the waistband of her shorts to give herself some relief. And maybe she's giving her reluctance to do that entirely too much thought, considering Beca has kind of gotten her off once already.


Only Beca hadn't meant to and it's not Tom that Chloe's thinking about.


Fidgeting, she folds her arms over her chest and tucks her hands tight against her sides to prevent them from mindlessly straying. It wouldn't be the first time.


She thinks back to the kiss, how it had almost taken her by surprise and how the easy fluidity of it had poured a calming layer of cool over top of her desire. Not snuffing it out, just easing it. Tethering her by the ankles and tugging her back down to the ground. Something had shifted, changed, and it had done so in the time between Chloe telling Beca she was beautiful and Beca struggling to sit up. She knows that isn't a coincidence, but she also knows that she's told Beca a million variations of the same thing over the last four years, and she'd never reacted like that before. Usually it's an awkward brush off, sometimes a blush, on rare occasions a smile.


She's never seen Beca quite that panicked before, although she isn't sure if panic is the right word, but it had been something. And Beca might have shrugged into her tee afterwards with easy sarcasm and playful eye rolls, but there had been a shadow lingering at her back, hanging close. As careful as Beca is – usually – to spare Chloe's feelings, she doesn't think the other woman would lie to her about this. Wouldn't tell her she was fine if she wasn't. Still, the idea that Beca might be feeling the tiniest fraction of anxiety, that she might be worried about things being weird between them – because Chloe knows how she works – is enough to make her practically vibrate with concern.


The thoughtful gnawing of her lip has left it a little tender and she winces as she runs her tongue over it, then rolls over to grab her phone from the end table where it's charging. She squints against the display when she turns it on, peering at the screen through one eye until she brings up the messaging application and thumbs the 'Becs' thread. When she sees the last words exchanged between them – Do you think Stacie's pretty? – her worry slips for an instant and she grins to herself.


Chloe has always maintained that there's no better way to ease some tension than with her playful side.


You never answered this ;) xxx Her smile is one of gleeful anticipation as she waits for the reply, knowing Beca won't be sleeping just yet. She's right of course and a response comes through after a minute or so, making her wonder how long Beca had lay staring at the message, trying to think of a way to get out of it beforehand.


Look at that. I guess I didn't. One of the pros to having your own room is that you can laugh as loud as you want without worrying about waking a room mate. She shakes her head against her pillow.


Becaaaaaaa tell meeeeeee xxx


Why do you want to know? Chloe's the one hesitating now, forehead scrunching into a small frown as she considers the text and how she wants to answer. She isn't really sure why she wants to know honestly, but she knows that the only reason she's asking is because she'd seen Beca looking at Stacie. Which, who wouldn't? Everyone looks at Stacie, she's kind of hard not to look at. Statuesque, gorgeous, and so incredibly smart when you get to know her; she's basically the whole package. It's all very appealing. Which Beca had apparently noticed? Maybe it was the way Stacie had been sitting, stretched out beneath the midday sun. She always looks good, Chloe knows that, she just really wants to know if Beca thinks so too.


Just curious. Xx There's a feeling though, niggling and vaguely unsettling as it upsets her stomach, that tells her what she's just typed is a lie and the furrow at her brow deepens. Because Chloe doesn't lie. Beca's reply comes in a second later though and she's distracted from the thought for the minute.


Do YOU think she's pretty?


Obvs. Stacie's hot. xxx She pauses before sending it, lips twisting thoughtfully before her thumb taps the space between the words and what she ends up sending is, Obvs. Stacie's like crazy hot. xxx


Wow. CRAZY hot? True to form, Beca doesn't disappoint, and Chloe chuckles in the quiet of her room.


Mmm, don't worry Becs. You're still my number one flag raiser. ;) xxx


Oh my god. That's not what I meant. Chloe laughs, pressing the phone screen-down into the mattress as she turns her face into the pillow.


Sure, sure. ;) xxx Of course, she's not about to let it go. …. So, do you?


I mean, I guess? I don't know, I don't look at her like that. A thought comes to her, hitting her hard enough to make her snort.


Funny.


What? And she chuckles to herself as she thumbs in her next words.


Seemed like that was exactly how you were looking at her during rehearsals. ;) xxx


Okaaaay. So, you've hit your text quota for the day. She burst out laughing. I’m turning my phone off.


Beca!! I'm teasing!! :P And she is, of course she is. Beeeeeeeeecccccccaaaaaa Nothing. Seriously?... Still nothing. Chloe sighs and decides the big guns might be needed. :( Sorry...


I WASN'T looking.


Ha! Made you text! =D xxx


I hate you. And Chloe beams.


No you dooooon't. <3 xoxoxoxox Because she knows that isn't true.


And when she finally does drift off, it's to the cadence of Beca's kiss and the memory of warm skin beneath her hands.

 


 

She doesn't see Beca the next morning, the other woman having left for the studio before Chloe could make it downstairs. It's not the first time Chloe's woken to a Beca-less house, but it seems quieter this morning, despite the fact that she knows Stacie is somewhere in the house. Probably exercising. Chloe's not exactly a layabout, but even she finds Stacie's commitment, not to mention her stamina, impressive.


After a quick shower and thorough wringing out of her hair, she'd made her way downstairs and pulled her 'Aca-Princess' mug down from its place amidst the other cups. She stands quietly now, alone, as she waits for the kettle to boil. One of the girls has cut a post-it note neatly in two and drawn an eye on each one, complete with a killer set of lashes, and stuck them to the body of the kettle along with a speech balloon that announces 'Katy loves you!'. It makes Chloe smile like an idiot; god, she's going to miss this.


She always knew it was going to be hard. In those dark moments of clarity when she'd let herself be told that this super-senior gig couldn't last forever, she'd tried to come to terms with that and she was a strong willed person. Yes, she'd had her breakdowns, everyone did, but Chloe Beale was, for lack of a better term, a survivor. And if the impending decimation of the institution around which she had based her very existence over the last seven years hadn't broken her, then saying goodbye to it while it was still standing should be easier. Because it would still be standing. They were going to beat DSM. With Beca at the helm, Chloe knows they won't fail. She believes in Beca more than she believes in even herself, which is saying a lot because Chloe emits self-confidence like a lighthouse emits, well, light.


Almost as soon as she thinks that, thinks Beca's name, she's thrown head first into a mountain of images from the night before, so suddenly that she actually gasps. Beca laid bare, a million snapshots tucked away into the corner of Chloe's brain that handles the appreciation of such images. The desire that they invoke. The desire that makes her stomach flip, there in the kitchen of the Bella house, as the kettle bubbles to a sympathetic boil beside her. And out of the many myriad reactions Chloe could have to her libido taking such a harsh hit so early in the morning, and to the person who happens to be holding the bat, laughter is the one that wins. And it sparks an idea that has her smirking to herself as she pulls her phone out of her back pocket.


So. She isn't sure if Beca will answer, she doesn't always when she's at the studio, so she sets the phone down and drops a berry-kiwi teabag into her mug before pouring the steaming water over it. It's as she's placing it back onto its base that she hears her phone chime.


Yes?


Boobs are awesome. :D She has to press her lips together to stop herself from laughing.


Oh my god, Chloe. An effort that falls flat the second she reads that and maybe it's because she can hear the exact inflection Beca chooses to use, even through text. See her expression perfectly in her mind.


What? They are! And yours are like.. A+ xxx Maybe it's the knowledge that she knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that even though Beca is miles away, Chloe is still making her blush.


When compared with all those other boobs you've touched, right?


I don't need to have seen perfection before to know when I see it again, Becs. ;) xxx Because Chloe is actually pretty good at a lot of different things, but making Beca Mitchell blush might just be her favourite. Even when she isn't around for Chloe to reap the obvious visual rewards.


I am so not talking about this right now.


I am at WORK.


I am busy and like an eighth more important then I was when I started. The messages come in a rush and each one makes Chloe's smile even wider. Makes her wish Beca were home so she could press her smile to the brunette's lips.


I love it when you get all professional on me. It's hot. Xxx It's also the truth, but Chloe's appreciation of Beca's 'mix-mode' is not a new revelation for her. No, that's been there for a long time now, steadily growing, but 'music producer Beca' is a little different and it's one iteration that Chloe hasn't had a lot of exposure to beyond the other night when she'd watched her and Emily record their demo. There are a lot of things that Chloe loves about Beca. Enough that, if she were ever to sit down and try to list them all, she'd either run out of paper before she was done or get a cramp in her hand and be forced to stop.


I am turning my phone off. She loves how much Beca can make her laugh, even when she's not in the room with her.


No you're not. =P <3 xox <3


Slipping the phone back into her pocket, Chloe grabs a spoon from the drawer and scoops out the dark purple teabag. She tosses it into the container under the sink that's used to collect compost-compatible dregs and gives the tea a single stir before dropping the spoon into the sink with a clatter. She takes her mug in both hands then, lifting it to her face and inhaling deeply. Sipping at the sweet-smelling tea, she lets her gaze wander around the space until it settles on the calendar that's attached to the fridge with a handful of magnets. The majority of which were made after Jessica had arrived home from a trip to the craft store with a bag full of miscellaneous items, including a few magnet sheets and some sticker paper.


Chloe had been unaware of that side of Jessica, the one that actively entered craft stores in need of supplies, right up until she'd moved into the Bella house and Chloe had come home early one evening to find the entire kitchen table buried beneath a mountain of scrapbook pages and what had to be hundreds of photographs. There were punches and decals, weird scissors and what looked like a carpet knife, and Jessica had been hunched over the mess, a deep frown etched into her forehead. She has scrapbooks for everything and, as an elated Chloe had later found out, she also occasionally gives them as gifts. All of the girls had gotten one on their return to Barden the year after their win at the ICCA's, documenting their road to victory and then the victory itself. Chloe likes to look through it from time to time. If her day is a little dark, the faces of the women who have become her family smiling up at her from their beginning never fail to brighten it.


Those same women adorn the fridge, each image of them painstakingly cut out and adhered to the magnetic sheet and then cut out in a similar fashion. They're all there, there's even a group shot of all of them holding up the top centre of the calendar. There's one of just her and Beca, leaning on each other and laughing about something after having one too many drinks at a Trebles party. Chloe's pretty sure she's going to steal that one when the time comes, if Jessica lets her.


Her attention jumps from box to box, skipping over the dates until she gets to one that's circled in thick green marker. The letters that make up 'GRADUATION' are sprawled diagonally across half of the calendar in the same colour and Chloe's eyes trace every line and curve of the word before flitting to the two numbers at the top left of the box where it begins.


Five days. That's all that's 'officially' left of her college life. It's a milestone that most people look forward to and it's not that she isn't, it's just not as easy as that. She wonders how it ever could be, for anyone. Granted, she's spent longer here than most, but even after only four years Chloe hadn't wanted to move on. That's why she hadn't.


You told me you were ace-ing that class, dude. What happened?”


I don't know.”


Chloe, how can you not know? Why aren't you freaked out about this?”


It's not a big deal, Becs. It's just another year.”


Yeah, it's a year you have to repeat! When you should be like, out in the real world, having an actual-”


Look, it's fine. It's one more year, it isn't the end of the world. Unless you're that opposed to having me around-”


Oh my god, do not finish that sentence.”


After failing a second time, Beca hadn't taken 'I don't know' for an answer. She'd actually yelled at Chloe, angrily and in a manner that was different from the aggravated yelps that had echoed off of damp tile. Chloe had, of course, yelled back, tears turning her eyes glassy and immediately mollifying Beca's ire.


You... you're so smart, dude. Why are you wasting your time-”


I'm not. The time I spend here with you, with all of the Bellas... it's... that's when I'm happiest.”


It had been the truth but a potentially dirty move, because Beca hadn't been able to argue against it, and when Chloe had thrown the exam a third time Beca had just rolled her eyes and started talking about how they were going to wow the President. Little did she know Amy would be bringing her own 'wow' factor to that particular performance. There have been a few mishaps over the years, but short of maybe insisting Amy wear underwear before going on stage at the Kennedy Centre, Chloe wouldn't change a thing. Shifting even the thinnest thread might drastically change the tapestry of her life, and the lives of the other Bellas, and she likes how that tapestry looks. Pristine and perfect in its own way, except for that one scraggly spot at the bottom. A little frayed where some of the threads have been undone, then reworked, and still unfinished.


It'll be complete soon enough and then Chloe will have to start all over again on a new tapestry. She just hopes that some of the threads will stay the same. Cradling her mug, she leaves the kitchen with a small shake of her head and heads towards the back of the house in search of Stacie.


She finds her right where she had expected to, doing exactly what she'd expected to find her doing. Her long hair is tied up away from her face in a tight bun and her head is bowed so that she doesn't see Chloe's appearance in the doorway. The music playing from the hot pink iPod docked in the stereo system prevents Stacie from hearing her as well, so Chloe is afforded about thirty seconds of harmless appraisal time. She isn't leering, merely looking. A not entirely apathetic appreciation of the female form, something she is more than sure Stacie would be okay with anyway.


Stacie is, pretty much, the epitome of 'fit'. Not only does she love working out, she sticks to a pretty strict regime because of that and it shows. Her legs and arms are toned, a fact that neither the tiny pair of loose-fitting shorts nor the impossibly tight sports bra she's wearing even attempt to hide. Chloe doesn't even know how she's fitting into the sports bra honestly, not that she can see much with the way Stacie's head is bowed. Not that she's trying to see anything, she really isn't, not actively. She's actually a bit distracted by the slope of the other woman's neck and the way the skin is glistening with a thin sheen of sweat. It reminds her a lot of Beca and the night before, and something like a shiver crawls along her spine.


She watches the way the muscles in Stacie's arms stretch and flex as she works the bars of the elliptical, pulling and pushing to the beat of the song, and thinks about the way Beca's had done the same during Chloe's massage. How Beca had tried to hide the reaction beneath the pillow, but Chloe could feel it. All the way to the base of Beca's neck.


The music stops and Chloe blinks to find Stacie standing perfectly still on the machine, holding a small remote in one hand and pointing it over her shoulder at the stereo. Her gaze is trained on Chloe though and there's a knowing smile parting her lips.


“Captain.” She says, a greeting that is far too slow and sultry to be considered innocuous. Embarrassingly, Chloe feels a little flustered at being caught blatantly staring and it takes a minute to find her words. A minute too long. “What'd you think? Do I have what it takes to go pro and start charging spectators?” Her mouth widens into a grin that quickly turns into a laugh that has forever vibrant green eyes glittering and crinkling at their corners, one of which closes in a wink. Chloe shakes her head and uses taking a sip of her tea as a stalling technique.


“Even better, I think you could have your own cable show.” She says once she's swallowed and Stacie coos, pleased, as she steps down off the elliptical. “It could promote the benefits of a regimented work out and at the same time, be incredibly informative on the topic of neuroscience and biochemistry.” Stacie takes the time to drop the remote in front of the iPod dock and then practically skips over to Chloe, long legs bringing her to a stop a foot or so away.


She gets why Beca had been staring. The evidence is standing in front of her, flesh and blood despite all the evidence to the godly contrary. That she knows how amazing and funny, and smart Stacie is only adds to that perception and so it's not hard for her to imagine why Beca had been staring; she doesn't need to.


She just wonders if Beca ever looks at her that way.


“I'd give the term 'physical education' new meaning, that's for sure.” Stacie breaks through Chloe's reverie with that, as well as a flawlessly executed eyebrow waggle, and Chloe laughs. “You wanna grab lunch later?” Chloe's about to agree when she suddenly remembers she already has plans.


“I actually have a Skype date with Aubrey at one.” She says, sipping at her drink again.


“We could run out a bit earlier and grab something? Bring it back?” Stacie offers with a shrug, then she's stealing the mug right out of Chloe's hands and sniffing at it before she takes a drink. “I feel like we haven't talked much lately.” Chloe hums in agreement. They haven't had much one on one time lately, which is a shame, but then most of the girls have been busy tying up loose ends before they leave.


Not long now.


“Yeah.” Chloe smiles, taking the offered mug back and chuckling softly when Stacie enthusiastically claps her hands together with a happy “yay!”.


“I'm going to shower. I'm all gross and sweaty.” She lets out a rough huff of disgust and shakes her hands like she's trying to rid them of something sticky, then breezes by Chloe and presses a quick kiss to her cheek. “Mwah.” Chloe laughs again and turns to watch her go, a teasing remark about how she still smells like rose petals falling easily from her lips.


In a perfect world, she'd live with these girls for the rest of her life.

 


 

“I never imagined I'd find running a retreat this fulfilling.” Aubrey smiles from her side of the screen, a heavily contented sigh shifting her upper body. Chloe watches, happily, from where she's curled into one corner of the sofa, laptop resting on the footstool that she's pulled right up to the edge of the couch cushion.


“I'm so happy for you, Bree.” There aren't words to describe how true that is. Chloe had been genuinely afraid for her friend those first few weeks after her graduation. Aubrey has never been one to let anyone actually see the side of her that is capable of being hurt and afraid, but Chloe's seen it. Dark nights spent cradling hurt feelings, where the only sound to break the silence was that of quiet sobs and sniffles, though they were few and far between. Aubrey had done the same for her; something that had made life at Barden without her best friend all the more difficult. Aubrey knows Chloe in a way that's different from how everyone else knows her. Different from even how Beca knows her.


“Have you thought any more about which direction you'll go once you're done?” The query is innocent enough. Aubrey isn't prying, she's just curious, but a sense of panic slips into Chloe's bloodstream nevertheless. She blinks a few times at the screen and tries to hold her hands still.


“Not really. I'm just taking it one day at a time right now.” Truth be told, she hasn't given her future much thought at all since the retreat. She's been too preoccupied with the present. “I've been looking at flights home though.” Aubrey's smile widens at that.


“Momma Beale's going to be happy to have her little angel home,” she says, voice light with a teasing lilt and Chloe rolls her eyes. Aubrey has actually met her mother a few times, thereby witnessing first hand the way Chloe is doted on like an actual angel sent from heaven. If the people at Barden thought Chloe was made of sunshine and rainbows, when it came to her mom, times that by about a million and you're almost close to understanding how Mrs. Beale feels about her one and only daughter. “Oh God, you've been spending far too much time with Beca.” Chloe's mouth falls opens and her eyes widen until they're perfect circles of surprise. “You're picking up her mannerisms.” To indicate what she means, Aubrey points to her own eyes and Chloe's return to an acceptable size. “Speaking of the tyrannical munchkin-”


“Aubrey!” Chloe squeaks, but they're both smiling.


“I was thinking about her yesterday.” Intrigued, Chloe raises an eyebrow but remains quiet. “We had a group of businessmen in from,” Aubrey pauses, brow furrowed in thought, “I forget the city, but they were your run of the mill bunch. Some wannabe-jock types mixed in with balding forty-somethings. Anyway, one of the wannabes wandered a little too far off the beaten path...” she trails off and Chloe starts laughing, images of Beca shooting skyward surfacing with ease. “I thought Beca had been bad. This guy screamed like a baby for half an hour before we got him down.” Chloe's lips curve around her laughter, eyes crinkling with her grin.


“Half an hour?” She's surprised by the length of time until she remembers Aubrey's 'no ladders' policy and the blonde points out that they didn't have a Lilly there to cut him down this time.


“I know Fat Amy won't care, but I thought Beca might like to know that, Amy aside, she's no longer the only one to be involved in a bear trap incident this year.” Chloe's smile is soft, as is her nod of agreement, because yeah. Beca might like to know that. Or, more specifically, her pride might like to. Of course, Beca would never let her appreciation for such a thing show. To do so would be admitting that it had damaged her pride to begin with, but Chloe would see it anyway. In the way Beca's eyes remain steadfastly averted and the way she purses her mouth before speaking. “Are you seeing anyone?” Chloe's body jerks at the unexpected question, right foot twitching atop the left, and she opens her mouth to speak only to find her throat abruptly void of lubrication. By the time she finds her voice, Aubrey is regarding her with raised eyebrows.


“What?” She's not actually looking for clarification, which is good because Aubrey doesn't look as though she's about to give any. “No. What,” she tries for a laugh, but it comes out subdued and weak, “what makes you think that?” She hopes her expression conveys the adequate amount of befuddlement for the situation, she can't actually feel her face. Or rather, her face feels numb; an odd tingling sensation that is rapidly spreading through the rest of her body. It's part fear, part something else she can't, doesn't want to, put a name to and it makes her heart beat a little more wildly behind her ribs. On the screen, Aubrey shrugs, but she does it with a high little “hmm” that tells Chloe there are things Aubrey is thinking that she isn't saying.


“You just seem... I don't know, different lately. Lighter.” It's an odd thing to say, Chloe thinks, considering Aubrey hasn't occupied the same space as her since the retreat and even though it's something Chloe should easily be able to brush off, she finds herself unable to in that moment. Because Aubrey is fairly finely attuned to Chloe's various emotional states and behaviours, and if she's noticing that there's something different, then there must actually be something different about Chloe.


“Maybe it's the impending sense of freedom.” She jokes, but Aubrey only narrows her eyes at the slightly blurred image of Chloe's she's looking at on her side of the screen.


“No. No, this is something else.” Aubrey muses and Chloe watches the blonde's attention get caught, eyes tracking something behind the redhead. A moment later, she feels the weight of someone leaning over the back of the couch, pushing down on the cushion and looming over Chloe's shoulder.


“Hi, Aubrey.” Stacie trill. “You're looking extra fine today.” Her grin takes up the whole of Chloe's periphery, who they ignore long enough to exchange pleasantries and then Aubrey is right back where she left off.


“Stacie, is Chloe seeing anyone?”


“Aubrey!” Chloe's eyes pop wide and she hears Stacie giggling next to her.


“Um...” and she can't help but hold her breath as she waits to see what Stacie is going to say, even though there's nothing for her to say and Chloe knows that. “You mean besides Beca?” Chloe's heart shoots into her throat and on screen Aubrey sits a little straighter, her eyelids fluttering at a pace so rapid it's disconcerting. There are a handful of seconds that pass that are so steeped in silence, Chloe actually finds it painful. “Beyond planning everything for Worlds, I don't think she has time?” Stacie leans back far enough to turn her head and Chloe can feel her scrutinizing her. “Are you seeing someone?”


“No!” All of that air she's been saving up leaves her in a hiss and she jerks her head back and forth between the two women staring at her. “I'm not!” Stacie's eyebrows hit her hairline and she stands, holding her hands up in surrender.


I didn't say you were.” She reminds Chloe, then points towards the redhead's laptop with a bite of her lip. “She did.” Thus redirecting Chloe's annoyance and allowing her to slip away. When she turns back, Aubrey looks entirely unconvinced.


“I still think you're seeing someone.” The blonde doesn't so much say it as she does sing it and Chloe huffs loudly, shaking her head with her tongue pressed into the side of her cheek. And that's when it hits her.


“Well, you're one to talk.” For an instant, Aubrey looks panicked, gaping like a fish. Then she's smoothing the side of her perfectly wavy hair down with the palm of her head and looking somewhere off screen.


“I have no idea what you're trying to insinuate with that, but-”


“Jesse.” Chloe interrupts with a triumphant smirk and then a quiet “uh huh” when Aubrey visibly flounders.


“What, um, you-you gave him my number. And he texted me. There isn't, we-we're not...” Chloe watches Aubrey's hand travel to her neck as she speaks and she isn't really sure what she's expecting from this, but it isn't a blushing Aubrey. She never expects that. “We have exchanged cordial text messages on a semi-regular basis and nothing more.” Chloe's lips quirk at the mention of 'semi-regular', her mind drifting back towards Beca and Beca's kisses like an errant dingy drifting out to sea. “He occasionally sends me pictures of food or those funny speciality coffees he likes but... you're not even listening to me now.”


“I am!” Chloe hurries to assure her friend, because she had been listening. Kind of. She knew what had been said, she just hadn't been focusing on it exactly.


“You were thinking about someone just now.” It isn't a question anymore and that's the kind of thing that can send Chloe into a blind panic, because she's not sure how to defend herself.


You have a total toner for Jesse.” Aubrey actually gasps at that and Chloe takes comfort in the fact that she at least has this to sidetrack her friend with.


For now.

 


 

After hanging up with Aubrey, Chloe spends the rest of the afternoon alternating between Netflix, the book and magazine sitting on her night stand, and missing Beca. Which, coincidentally, is the reason those first three things fall flat. She keeps losing focus, missing entire chunks of the television show she's trying to watch and re-reading the same sentences five times. She does eventually give up, flopping flat onto her bed hard enough to make the mattress bounce, and just gives in. Lets her mind wander.


She thinks about Beca, her touches and her kisses. She thinks about the way Beca looks and feels. She thinks about the fact that Beca's a girl and considers how different that makes things.


Where Beca is toned and soft, Tom had been strong and hard. His arms had been thicker, more muscular, and he'd been able to lift her, press her into the wall with almost no effort. Beca's smaller, smoother; there's no face stubble and she has more curves. And Chloe likes that. She likes Beca's hips, the way her legs look in skinny jeans, the shape of her breasts and their weight in her hands. She'd liked Tom's Adam's apple and the way it would bob whenever she'd kiss his neck. She likes Beca's small shoulders and the way her skin tastes. She'd loved to feel the way Tom would tense before he came, loved the sound of his throaty grunts and moans. She likes the way Beca moves against her, the noises she makes when Chloe touches her.


She wonders what Beca sounds like when she comes undone.


It's around then, maybe a minute or so later, that she forces herself to get up. To move, walk off the wave of heat still crashing over her, find something else to do other than think about that and how, in that minute, she'd wanted to know what that would sound like.


She finds her solace in Jessica's room where, after her final class of the day, the blonde had collapsed into the middle of the room she shares with Ashley and spread scrapbook supplies over every reachable inch of carpet. Chloe had had to tiptoe and eventually jump towards a space that was empty enough for her to sit in, and they'd whiled away the better part of two hours piecing together bits of a 'final year' book that Jessica had started the week before. Chloe wasn't exactly surprised by the amount of photographs the younger woman had, but the sheer volume was still somewhat staggering. She must have looked through at least twenty pictures of just her and Beca alone, something that had almost overturned her Herculean effort in eye-blink without fail every time. She's actually looking at a photograph of the two of them with Stacie when she thinks to check the time and when she does, she realises that there's a good chance Beca has been home for a while already.


And it's like there's a pendulum right in the centre of Chloe's chest, and it dictates the speed with which her life slips by. The steadiness with which she moves and holds herself, reflecting the beat of her heart and the current tone of her existence. Right up until the second she realises Beca is probably in the house somewhere, the pendulum's swing has been even and light, hardly noticeable. Once that connection has been made, those swings turn erratic and heavy, and she feels each one as they skim off the insides of her ribcage. Hears the swish and thump swim through her blood, as she pictures Beca up in her room, sitting on her bed. Lying on her bed. Lying on Chloe.


“Okay!” The exclamation is preceded by a groan of discontentment and punctuated by the slam of the scrapbook cover. “I can't look at this anymore today.” She sighs and brushes blonde hair back behind her ears, looking over towards Chloe with a smile. “Thanks for keeping me company.”


“No problem.” Chloe chirps, bouncing to her feet and then gesturing to the organised mess still surrounding them. “Do you want help cleaning up?” Jessica shakes her head, waving her away with a hand and explaining that reorganising everything is part of the fun. Chloe chuckles and, once again tiptoeing through the scrapbooking minefield, slips out of the room.


There's no one in the hallway and for once, Chloe is glad. She keeps her hands clasped together in front of her as she crosses the landing, fingers fidgeting restlessly as she licks her lips and turns her head against a phantom twitch in her neck. The idea that Amy might be in the room, or that Beca might be somewhere else registers, but she powers through it as she takes the stairs, mind buzzing. Every thought she's had throughout the day comes back to her as she ascends, piling one on top of the other and scattering everything else to the winds. When she finally reaches the top, she feels like she's vibrating inside, so much so that her hand shakes as it grips the top of the banister and twists her around.


Amy isn't here. Beca's sitting at her desk, fingers on her equipment, headphones in place against her ears. When Chloe comes to a stop, Beca's head turns until she can catch the redhead's gaze and she smiles. Small and warm, and real.


“Hey.” She says, her voice far too loud over the music undoubtedly being pumped through the headphones and it makes Chloe laugh. But just for a second, because then Beca is motioning with her hand for “just one sec” and turning away.


And Chloe doesn't want to wait any longer.


Biting her lip, she crosses the distance between them in two strides and reaches out from behind Beca, pulling the woman's headphones down. Instinctively, Beca tries to turn, but Chloe presses forward


“I've been thinking about kissing you all. Day.” She murmurs hotly into her ear and hears Beca's surprised inhale. Feels it like a razor to her abdomen; sharp and small, but feeling impossibly big as warmth blooms like blood from a wound. Spreading out until that's all she is.


“Oh, wow, that's-” Beca's words cut off as Chloe grips the backrest of the chair and boldly spins her around until she can straddle her lap. The tips of Beca's ears turn a vibrant shade of pink and her eyes drop to where Chloe's now sitting in her lap before shooting back to the redhead's face. Her mouth opens and stays that way for a heartbeat too long, and the pendulum inside of Chloe swings so hard it almost fractures. “Jesus, dude.” The brunette finally croaks and Chloe releases a heady sigh, slipping her arms around Beca's neck.


“What?” She asks, her voice a husky whisper as she twists Beca's headphones free from where they've been pulled tight against her neck. “Is this not okay?” She presses their bodies tight, leaning to place the headphones down carefully on top of the desk behind the chair. When she leans back, she remains close enough to nuzzle her nose into the crook of Beca's neck and twists her hand around on the opposite side until she can stroke a finger from earlobe to collarbone. “I thought you wanted me to act on my impulses.” Chloe quotes the words with ease, pulling away as her fingers sweep upward again to wander into hair that's still damp from the shower and watches Beca's eyelids flutter. Watches the way she has to work to keep dark eyes open.


"No. I mean, no I do, I just-" Chloe tightens her fingers into a loose fist that has Beca gasping as her head is tilted back a ways. Chloe can almost hear the curse word being strangled at the back of the other woman's throat and mischief muddled with desire pulls Chloe's mouth into a smirk.


"You," she begins a tortuously slow descent, Beca's breath ghosting over her skin, "just," and Chloe's smile is as wide as the sky as she just barely brushes their lips together, "what?" Beca's breath hitches, as she strains upward to chase the near touch, and Chloe feels drunk on it all. On her. The warmth has turned to a burn and she isn't only teasing Beca anymore when, hovering out of reach, she says, “Ask me. Nicely.” Beca's eyes seem to flash and Chloe almost feels the touch of her tongue as she runs it along the front of her teeth before shakily releasing a lungful of air.


“You're the one that's been thinking about it all day.” Beca challenges, voice stronger than Chloe had been expecting as she stares the redhead down. “So, kiss me.” Chloe tenses the muscles in her legs, holding herself still and silently counting. She makes it to four before Beca breathes out a “please” that tears at Chloe, turns the razor into an axehead and drops a rope around her neck to pull her forward.


Beca's lips are lined with a thin film of the vanilla Chapstick she keeps in her bag and Chloe doesn't let her mind linger long at the way her existence seems to settle at the first touch of them. Instead, she sinks into the kiss, revelling in the brush of their tongues and the way Beca's tastes like the hard sour candies that sit in a jar on her desk. Her hands feel like embers where they clutch at Chloe's sides and despite the fire, she feels like she might be drowning.


Beca lights up every one of Chloe's senses.


And inside Chloe's chest, the pendulum swings to a stop. 

Chapter Text


Her day has actually been pretty good. Which isn't to say that they were usually a steaming pile or anything, but ever since Sammy had listened to the Flashlight demo, people have sort of been taking notice of her around the studio. And in a good way for once, not because she spilt hot coffee on one guy's keyboard. They talk to her like she's a person, rather than the snack monkey, which is always nice. Sammy, while never an outright asshole to her in the past, speaks to her like she's halfway to being his equal. Like her opinion matters and has worth. And she should, maybe, probably, be beyond the point where she relies on the approval of others to make herself feel that way, but in spite of the aloof exterior she's spent years perfecting, that's something she's never been able to shake.

 

Not being good enough is always where Beca stumbles.

 

She knows she's good, that she has something. It's the ability to manifest that something into something noteworthy that makes her uncertain. That frightens her, makes her think she might not be good enough. She'd been spiralling for a short while there, but making the demo with Emily had turned things around. Made her believe again. It made her think about Amy's pep talk and Chloe's unfailing commitment. Chloe's proud smile and happy laugh. Chloe's arms wrapping her up in a gleeful, triumphant hug that never failed to infuse Beca with something that felt like adrenaline. That made her feel like she could do anything. Chloe has that effect on people, she knows this. She also knows that Chloe has pretty much always had this effect on her.

 

It's just that she doesn't usually think about Chloe this much – like, seriously, all day – especially when she's at work, but every time she stops whatever she's doing long enough to take a breath, Chloe's there. Like a friendly haunting, smiling at Beca from the corner of the room or across a desk. Brushing by her when she reaches to pull a handful of disposable coffee cups down from the cupboard, along with two too many lids. Steadying hands at her waist, against her back, drifting over her stomach.

 

She definitely doesn't think about Chloe like this.

 

It's like there's some tiny mythical creature – a troll, sure, why not – hiding out between the neurons in her brain, poking different areas at seemingly random intervals and laughing maniacally when the action brings forth a memory that hits Beca with a force so bold and unexpected that it leaves her reeling. Dazed, lost in a daydream.

 

And it's disconcerting, but only in the sense that she doesn't realise she should find it disconcerting until she's already spent a good while finding it anything but. She's worried that she isn't worrying enough, which is quickly becoming Beca's modus operandi in all of this. It's how she's stumbling through; action first, worry about not worrying later. If she would slow down and take a second to actually take stock of what's going on around her, she'd probably realise a thing or two that might help clear things up.

 

But Beca is busy and slightly more important than she was five minutes ago, something she doesn't hesitate to tell Chloe when the texts start coming in. The texts about boobs. About Beca's boobs in particular. And holy god, how exactly is she supposed to respond to something like that? She knows Chloe's playing around, trying to get a rise out of her – which, for the record, works like a charm, not that she's willing to admit, and there's a ten minute period where Beca could light the entire studio with her cheeks alone if the space was suddenly plunged into darkness – but Beca is a little out of her depth. She isn't used to people talking about her body parts so openly, to her, and in such an unashamedly appraising manner. Even Jesse, he talks about her boobs more now that they aren't together than he ever did when they were dating. Which, she considers with a frown, she really should ask him about because what was up with that?

 

Texting is usually a safe space though. The area where Beca doesn't have to panic and where she articulates best. Maybe it's all the daydreaming that has her so utterly incapable of dealing with Chloe's brash compliments today. She's pretty sure threatening to turn off her phone is sort of the opposite of 'dealing' and as for the daydreams, the second she snaps out of them she pushes them away. Kicks them under the rug in the hopes that they'll be forgotten about. Because it was bound to happen, right? You can't engage in a topless groping session with your best friend and then just forget about it the next day. That's not how things work.

 

There's a part of her, tapping at her shoulder and whispering in her ear, telling her that reliving such a session and in such meticulous detail – her skin remembers exactly where Chloe had touched her, kissed her, and the ridges of her spine remember just how it had twisted and arched – is probably not something so easily assumed to be inevitable, but she brushes it away with her hand. Like swatting at an annoying fly. It's not like they're bad thoughts. They don't even make her feel guilty, not really.

 

They mostly just make her feel her feel kind of warm. Kind of all over.

 

She can count on one hand the number of people she's been naked, even semi-nude, in front of. She remembers each anxiety-infused incident and how she'd felt so nervous it had almost made her sick every single time. Except last night. And the knowledge that she hasn't ever felt such a startling lack of discomfort weighs a little heavily on her shoulders as she presses the plastic lids down over the rims of the coffee cups.

 

It shouldn't surprise her. It doesn't, but it does give her pause. Her hands hover over the mouth of the lid, palms catching the steam as it rises from the opening, and she stares without focus into the black shell of the coffee maker she's standing in front of.

 

So, okay, there had actually been a moment of brief unease. And Beca's been called beautiful before, she's even had Chloe tell her that in the past, but something in the redhead's tone had made that specific instance different. The sincerity behind it. She'd meant it all those other times too, but the idea that Chloe had really meant it last night – in the kind of bone-deep way a person means it when they tell someone that they'd die for them – sticks to Beca. And whenever she tries to pull it off, it only stretches until she finally gives up and lets go, and it snaps back into place somewhere near the centre of her chest.

 

There had been a rush of something when Chloe had said that. Something raw and profound, something so entirely capable of actually breaking Beca that she'd jumped off of the proverbial thin ice before it had chance to crack. It makes her feel confused and panicked, like her lungs are trying to strangle her heart, and it turns her stomach into a mess of knots.

 

But then Chloe's there, inexplicably putting her at ease despite being the unwitting and unwilling reason for the upset. And Chloe makes everyone feel at ease, that's sort of what she does. She makes everyone smile and laugh, makes everyone feel happy. Feel loved.

 

But she makes Beca feel that way a lot.

 

She makes Beca feel a lot.

 

She lands quietly back into reality with thoughts of Chloe's hands and unabashed leer floating at the fringes of her awareness, where they've been hovering ever since she'd left Chloe's room, and she lifts a hand to rub at her forehead before picking up three of the cups between her hands.

 

She's on her way to deliver the last one to her boss when he breezes by her, snatching the cup out of her hand with a practised ease and a half pirouette that brings his sunglasses into her line of sight. He points to her with the hand holding the mug, one finger extended.

 

“Good job today, Reggie!” He calls out, then turns and keeps on walking. Beca allows herself a small, kind of proud smile.

 

Yeah, all in all, it's been a good day.

 

And it's not as though she's consciously looking for Chloe the very second she makes it in through the front door or anything – although at this point, it really should be her subconscious that she takes the time to consider – but if she happens to wander into the kitchen and then the living room before heading upstairs, well, she always stops to say hi to the other girls. It would be rude not to.

 

That there's a noticeable sense of disappointment within her when she doesn't spy fiery red hair among the Bellas is not something she dwells on. Nor it is something that can readily be passed off as a regular occurrence like her inconspicuous checking of the downstairs rooms. But it's not a big deal, she's just been thinking about Chloe a lot and wants to her see.

 

No big.

 

She dumps her bag in her room and grabs a change of clothes and a towel, then heads for the shower. Running back and forth for coffees and burritos, whilst simultaneously having a silent nervous breakdown whenever the boss would look at her can work up a bit of a sweat. She feels grimy and is about eighty percent sure she can smell Dax's sriracha lingering somewhere about her person.

 

Her brain shuts down while she showers and there's nothing but the sound of her voice and the occasional wait, wait, what's the next lyric to break up the rush of running water. She emerges from a cloud of steam, with freshly combed hair and the clothes she'd worn that day draped over an arm, and climbs the stairs to her room again. Amy is still absent, as she is more often than not these days and Beca, accidentally, finds herself wondering how long two people can go engaging in coitus before one of them has to tap out. She squinches her nose when she realises she's just said 'coitus', albeit to herself, and shakes her head as she drops her clothes into the hamper.

 

Her laptop is sitting patiently in its place on her desk, waiting to be brought to life, and she spares it a glance as she passes by on her way back down the stairs. She'll come back to it, she will. She has stuff to do, but there's an anxious kind of fluttering buzzing around inside her stomach, pushing her towards one specific destination and she knows it's not going to dissipate until she visits.

 

And whatever, she's just going to see if Chloe's in her room.

 

Chloe isn't in her room though and when Beca closes the bedroom door, feeling a little like she's just done something she shouldn't, she stands in front of it for a long moment considering where Chloe might be. Then it hits her that it doesn't matter, she's not about to go door to door looking for the redhead because she has literally no reason to go to such extremes. Other than that anxious fluttering, which surprisingly does not ease once she's determined Chloe is either out or somewhere else in the house, and with every one of her footfalls her mind goes over one more idea of where Chloe might be, when she'll be back, if Beca will see her then. By the time she's sat in front of her desk, she's rolling her eyes at herself and attempting her very best Taylor Swift impression.

 

Shake it off, Mitchell.

 

But even that reminds her of Chloe and Beca's caught between frowning and smiling as she opens her laptop and presses the power button. She takes the lid off the jar of candies sitting on her desk and pops one into her mouth as the monitor wakes up. It doesn't take too long for her to lose herself.

 

Mixing has always provided Beca with an escape. Into a place that could be either heavenly or hellish, or anywhere in between; it's always somewhere that isn't here. Beca needs that, less lately than in previous years, but it's still something she depends on. Something she craves. Like a soothing hit of nicotine or a warm shot of whiskey. Even when a mix isn't coming together, the familiarity of the act, of the programs and the beats, it grounds her. Still takes her away from the noisy static of reality. It's one of the reasons she reaches for it again and again, slips beneath it like it's an old, worn blanket. Because that's what music has always been for her.

 

And just like that, Chloe's face pops up between the equalizer bars, the thin green lines morphing into blue orbs for an instant in which she abruptly finds herself recalling a thought she'd had involving the redhead and stuffies, and something weird spreads through Beca. She doesn't know how to describe it, doesn't know what it is and it's gone before she can really analyse it. She blinks and the bars return to normal, then a movement in her periphery catches her eye.

 

This feeling, this sense of sunshine seeping into her skin, this one she knows. This one is 'Chloe's' feeling. It is inherently Chloe, in that it's a very specific strain of feeling that Beca only gets whenever the redhead is with her. Different from the rest of the girls, different from Jesse; it is Chloe.

 

Chloe, who's standing at the top of her stairs like she's just appeared out of thin air or a genie lamp and Beca's smile is instantaneous.

 

“Hey.” Her voice is too loud, she can tell as much even over the thumping beat of the music in her ears, but she doesn't really care because it makes Chloe laugh. She holds her hand up, a single finger extended in a silent request for Chloe to give her a second, and then she looks to her computer to save her work. She manages, but doesn't get time to pause the track before the headphones are being pulled down by unseen hands. Beca jerks and tries to turn her head around to ask what Chloe's doing, but then there are lips at her ear and a confession is being whispered against it, and she's gasping as that fluttering from earlier returns. “Oh, wow, that's-” her stomach turns as her chair is spun around and heat rolls over her in a wave as Chloe drops into her lap, straddling her. She glances down to where their bodies now meet, then back up to glittering blue eyes and feels her ears turn pink. It reminds Beca of the car and the way Chloe had kissed and marked her neck. And she needs to say something, but she's pretty sure her mouth has been hanging open for about an hour now and nothing is coming out of it. “Jesus, dude.” Inwardly, she cringes at how rough the words are and because she's not helping Chloe's argument from the night before in the slightest with that one.

 

“What?” Chloe's twisting her headphones free and then leaning forward until their upper bodies are as flush as they can get. “Is this not okay?” The curve of Chloe's nose brushes the crook of her neck and fingers touch the opposite side of her face, and Beca's spine wants to straighten and shiver at the same time. “I thought you wanted me to act on my impulses.” Beca's impulses are screaming at her from all directions, each one demanding she do or say something different or entirely contrary to the last thing that was yelled out.

 

Chloe's fingers slip into her hair and there's a second of mindless black bliss as Beca's eyelids flutter, but Chloe's are still on her. Heavy and hot, and Beca needs to say something.

 

“No. I mean, no I do, I just-” It's almost a valiant effort. Then her head is being tilted backward and all at once, it's almost a curse as Chloe drifts closer.

 

“You. Just.” Chloe's smile is enough to blind her, throw her head-first into a whirlwind of dizziness that makes her truly appreciate the fact that she's already sitting down. “What?” There's the vague impression of Chloe's lips against her own and Beca feels her breath hitch, feels herself strain against Chloe's weight and gravity as she tries to chase the touch. And it isn't a fluttering inside her chest anymore. It's a raucous cacophony of percussion instruments that shouldn't be anything other than senseless noise, but it somehow makes a melody. Swelling and crashing, only to build back up again as Chloe hovers out of reach and says, “Ask me. Nicely.” And that's when Beca's sees it; a spark of her own private symphony mirrored in Chloe's eyes. Daring her with an undertone of desire and a brash, gloating gleam that has Beca battling with the urge to fight Chloe on this or fold under the weight of everything. Chloe is watching her so very closely now.

 

“You're the one that's been thinking about it all day,” she hears herself say, insides trembling even if her voice isn't. “So, kiss me.” It's a moment of boldness and it streaks through her like lightning as she feels Chloe shift imperceptibly on top of her, muscles tensing in the legs bracketing Beca's thighs. The longer Beca looks at her though, the less bold she becomes, and that lightning fizzles to nothing a second before the plea floats out from between her lips. “Please.” And it should have been so easy to avoid saying that, to take Chloe's bait and forge on with this little game of 'challenge' that they had started yesterday on Chloe's bed. It should have been easy to avoid giving in.

 

But it isn't.

 

Beca hears the “please” echo back on itself, bouncing between her hands where they stutter and stumble, but eventually find purchase at Chloe's sides. Reverberating off the stark, white walls of her mind to leave splotches of red and blue that are the same shade as the hair and eyes in front of her. Then there's blackness, as sudden and sweeping as an eclipse, and only the pale pink of Chloe's lips to light her way. Even with that though, Beca's lost. At the first touch, the first sinking swipe of Chloe's tongue, she's turned around inside her own mind. Everything's upside down and backwards, inside out and back to front. Things spin and swirl, changing size and shape, and somehow it all still fits.

 

Chloe's kisses are slow but needy, and Beca lets out a lazy sigh as her idle hands lead themselves beneath the cotton barrier of the redhead's shirt. Chloe's hand is still wrapped in damp tendrils and Beca meets every stoke, every kiss, without missing a beat. The pads of her fingers pull shudder after shudder along Chloe's spine before her palms eventually rest, curling around the curves of her torso just above her hips. Red hair tickles Beca's cheeks with every small move of Chloe's head and she can smell her shampoo, can taste her own Chapstick on Chloe's lips. And that's the strangest thing about this she thinks, fleetingly, that Chloe's wearing something now that was once part of her and she can taste it in a way that's different from simply licking her lips. It's sweeter, somehow.

 

She feels Chloe's chest heave right before she pulls away, breaking the kiss with one of the low, pleased hums that has quickly become synonymous with moments like these and tugging at Beca's kite string. Opening her eyes, she finds Chloe looking at her from beneath half-hooded lids, a sort of cheekily secret smile painting lines along her mouth.

 

“You're really good at that,” Chloe says, her tone thick with a complimentary appraisal that makes Beca both blush and gives her ego a boost. The hand in her hair moves, drifting sleepily down the back of her neck towards Beca's shoulder.

 

“I mean, I'd have to be.” Chloe tilts her head curiously to the side and Beca allows the smirk that's threatening to take over her face. “All day, huh?” She sounds sickeningly pleased with herself, and she is. “Seems someone is becoming a little bit dependant.” Chloe wrinkles her nose.

 

“Oh please, this is not news,” she scoffs, airily, “I've always needed my Beca fix.” Beca raises an eyebrow, her thumbs tapping a thoughtful rhythm against the underside of Chloe's ribcage.

 

“Is this like, can I charge for this or something?” Beca asks and the redhead purses her lips.

 

“I think that might be illegal in this state.” When Beca's reply is a huff of disappointment, Chloe lets out a chuckle and absently toys with the neckline of the long-sleeved blue top Beca's wearing. “Are you telling me you're not already getting enough out of this? That you want more?” Her fingers meet at the buttons, thumbs brushing over the corners where the stitching is thicker and tugging at them to reveal a touch more skin. Beca blinks uselessly as she tries to think of an answer that isn't the first thing ready to fling itself forward. Her sarcastic bite has gotten her into a lot of trouble over the years but it's never been anything too serious; she thinks “I want you” might tip the scale.

 

She doesn't even know what, exactly, that means. They're just the words, there's no thought behind them to tell her what the 'you' part of that potential scenario is. Obviously, Chloe, but beyond that it's like a dark ocean of danger. A hundred-thousand different possibilities lurking beneath the surface, ready and waiting to strike. The thought trips her and she feels her toes touch water, but then she's skidding backwards.

 

“I mean,” she lets her hands slip down until they're at Chloe's hips, touching more of her pants than her skin, “I'm not saying you need to pay me or anything. I just think, like,” she takes a breath and then blows it out, trying to wrangle her words, “I really am good at this.” She grimaces like it's paining her to agree with Chloe's earlier statement. “I kind of think maybe I'm being too generous?” And Chloe's whole face lights up at the teasing. “Like, maybe I should hold back a bit.” Beca watches as Chloe's eyes narrow a fraction and she sucks her bottom lip into her mouth, biting down gently, thoughtfully, before letting go. Sparkling baby-blues leave her face then, tracking the path of her fingers as they journey down over the few fastened buttons, and leaving Beca to wonder if her heart is actually beating as fast as it sounds or if she's just hearing another kind of echo.

 

“You want to even the odds?” Chloe asks, fingers dipping down over Beca's stomach in the space between them and making the muscles there twitch. “Is that what this is about?” She draws patterns, swirls, over the corduroy-esque material and flicks her eyes back up to meet Beca's. Then she pulls her hands back toward herself, crossing them wrist over wrist until they're at opposite sides of her body and reaching for the hem of her shirt. “Because we can do that.” Beca's eyes pop wide when the flapping lever inside her head finally snaps into place and makes the connection. “If that's something you want.” Then Chloe's arms are moving and Beca drops her gaze long enough to see a sliver of pale skin and the kind of lines that promise taut abdominals, and then she's reaching for Chloe's upper arms, gripping tight.

 

Chloe stops, Beca's heart stops, and somewhere around them time stops too. But Beca's mind never takes a break and it's already spinning away towards a place that's eerily reminiscent of last night, only she's not the one on her back this time around. There's a flash of dull beige tile and pale skin, and then Chloe's laughter sets time ticking again as she swoops in to steal a quick kiss from a dazed Beca.

 

“Oh my gosh, you're so easy.” A hand closes around Beca's face, squishing her cheeks. “I love it.” Beca squeaks, an indignant little peep of sound.

 

“What if I had wanted it?!” She sputters around the grip, struggling to comprehend the possibilities, and Chloe just lifts her shoulders in a shrug.

 

“Then I,” Chloe lets go of her face to prod the tip of her index finger against the end of Beca's nose, “would currently be topless.”

 

“Just like that?” Chloe confirms it with a happy “mmhmm” and a nod, and part of Beca marvels at that. The ease with which Chloe can conduct herself, specifically during intimate moments, but also just in general. Beca's always too busy being self-conscious or second guessing herself, unless she's drunk. If there's alcohol involved, she has a nasty habit of ceasing to care. There's a video, floating between the Bellas' phones and refusing to be deleted, of her and Stacie getting their dance on during a house party last year. In this instance, 'getting their dance on' had meant 'grinding up on one another and dropping low' in a manner that would have made Beca's Grandmother roll over and then spontaneously combust in her grave. Beca doesn't actually remember living the incident, but the proof is right there. Being texted to her every time the word 'party' is so much as mentioned. Sober Beca doesn't do those things because Sober Beca is mortified by the very idea of her doing those things. She knows she can at least appear sexy, if she tries hard enough and has the right dance moves down in the right order. She knows how to roll her hips to a rhythm and tilt her head to throw a smirk just the right way, but being sexy outside of the a cappella limelight requires a kind of confidence that Beca Mitchell does not have in spades. She has sporadic handfuls at best, tiny teaspoons of what she'd initially perceived as sugar but which turn out to be salt at worst.

 

She feels awkward and exposed, often like she's doing something or everything wrong despite the reaction of the other person. Not that there have been too many of those. She knew Jesse had found her attractive, he never made her feel anything less than that and especially not in the bedroom. She doesn't really like thinking about him that way, but she can't deny the fact that he made her feel like she was worth looking at.

 

She's no Chloe though. She can't walk into a room and turn every single head, regardless of gender or sexual orientation; Beca's seen her do it. She's seen her do it when Chloe's been dressed to the nines and she's seen her do it in that old, dark green, well-worn knit sweater that's fraying at the cuffs but she refuses to throw out.

 

But it's comfy.”

 

That's because it looks like it's spent a half-century being worn in.”

 

It's fine, it's not like it bothers her. She'll never be a Chloe and that's cool. She's been Beca long enough now to be content with being that, but that doesn't mean she can't admire Chloe's Chloe-ness. Or whatever.

 

“Do you like, even have to try?” Chloe's brow furrows, a small but wondering smile moving her mouth, and it takes a few seconds for Beca to register that she's said anything at all, let alone asked a question. Because wow, this is about to get embarrassing.

 

“What do you mean?” Chloe's all genuine curiosity and intrigue, and the answer's right there, burning the tip of Beca's tongue. She is however, abruptly, painfully aware of their position and it's acting as a dam against the words, because she knows how it's going to sound when they eventually spill over. Chloe's hands squeeze her shoulders and Beca thinks she's probably trying to reassure her.

 

“Sexy,” she blurts, then awkwardly clears her throat before she adds, “being it, I mean.” Chloe doesn't blink and her expression doesn't change, and the period of time she spends just looking at Beca is long enough that the brunette's skin starts to itch. But Beca doesn't look away and she feels her throat bob with a swallow as Chloe bites the corner of her lip until her growing smile stretches it out of her teeth's reach.

 

“You think I’m sexy?” She's somehow both shy and jubilant, like an early sunrise, and Beca first instinct is to look away. She gives into it, sighing loudly and removing her hand from Chloe to fold her arms over her chest.

 

“I didn't,” Chloe walks the first two fingers of both hands across Beca's shoulders, “say...” up along the sides of her neck, until they touch her cheeks and Chloe's thumbs can press up against the underside of her jaw, “that.” With some gentle persuasion and not a lot of fighting on Beca's part, Chloe nudges Beca's head up until their eyes can meet.

 

“It was implied.” Really it had been somewhere between implied and directly stated, and Beca thinks Chloe might be going easy on her. Which is confusing and appreciated, because Chloe revels in making Beca blush, but Beca's feeling a bit out of her element right now. She's floundering.

 

Because this thing she's doing, equating Chloe with 'sexy', it's becoming a semi sort of frequent thing – within her brain, if not outside of it – and it feels weird even if the rest of this doesn't. She's not used to thinking of Chloe like that, it has all the beginnings of making her feel like a creeper, and there's no quick guide available for her to peruse in order to figure out how to deal with it. So instead, she says dumb things and acts like a person who has lost total control of their hormones, and Chloe doesn't appear fazed by any of it. She seems, in fact, to enjoy it. Which only makes Beca's mental spiralling act all the more perilous.

 

“I think you're sexy,” Chloe confesses with an ease that makes jealousy swell like a bubble inside of Beca before it's burst by the sharp point of that last word. Digging between her ribs.

 

“You- what?” It's at that point that Chloe slips off of Beca lap, rocking her body forwards then back to gain the momentum needed to swing her leg around and lift herself to her feet. Chloe lets out a short peel of laughter and turns away from Beca, walking over to sit on the edge of her bed. Beca uses the time to sit a little straighter and she brushes at her thighs, trying to sweep away the chill that has settled there in the redhead's absence.

 

“I think you're sexy,” Chloe repeats, dropping down onto the bed with a light bounce and a shrug of her shoulders. “It doesn't have to be like this big, weird thing to say, Beca.”

 

“It... doesn't?” Beca narrows her eyes, looking for gaps in what the other woman is saying, the spaces where the verbal booby-traps usually lay. Chloe presses her lips into a line, rolling them together before parting them with her tongue. Beca's attention flickers to where it licks at first the top and then the bottom. Then they come together again and pull sideways into a cute little half-smile that has Beca looking up again.

 

“I don't think so.” Chloe lifts her hand to tuck her hair behind an ear and Beca follows that motion too. Because there's something to the way Chloe moves, something she's noticed before but she hadn't realised how much it bled into her everyday. Outside of the rehearsal space. It's such a silly, small action to focus on, but there's a level of grace and fluidity to it that jars Beca and it's something that hangs off of Chloe's every movement. Briefly, she wonders if that has anything to do with the whole 'sexy' thing. Somewhere at the back of her mind, something assures her that yeah, it has everything to do with that. “I think,” Chloe's fingers tease the ends of red hair as she considers her words, her gaze distant and aimed somewhere over Beca's head. “I think you can acknowledge the idea that a person is sexy, but still not actually be sexually attracted to them.” Beca blinks and then Chloe's eyes are back on hers. “Does that make sense?”

 

“Um...” she trails off, one hand going to her neck where it rubs needlessly at the muscle laying between it and her shoulder, “yeah.” There's a flash of Chloe's hand at the same place, then her lips, and Beca's falls away. “Yeah, I think so.”

 

And yeah, it does make sense to Beca.

 

She's just not sure that's what's happening here.

 

After a while, sounds of life float up from the floors below the attic room, growing incrementally until it becomes apparent that the rest of the Bellas are home and, if Flo's yelling is anything to go by, in desperate need of Chinese food. Chloe flashes Beca a smile and scoots off the bed, telling Beca to finish what she's working on and that she'll order hers for her. And Beca smiles right back because after three years of living together Chloe was bound to remember her exact order. Just like she knows Chloe's preferred choice of coffee.

 

So, Chloe bounces away, down the stairs and out of Beca's field of vision, and Beca goes back to the mix she's working on with a fond shake of her head. For the next half hour, it's just her and her headphones.

 

Mostly.

 

Amy sends her a text to tell her that the food is here and Beca saves her work after tweaking one last thing. She grabs a sweater and shrugs into it, hastily gathering her hair into a bun, then heads down to the kitchen. The smell hits her at the top of the staircase and her stomach growls to make its sorry state of hunger known. It's a bad habit, she knows, but she usually forgets to eat when she's wrapped up in a mix or obsessing over a set list. She's been that way since before Barden though, so she can't blame it on the stress of being captain. But unlike that period of her life, the one that had bore a startling lack of sequins and synchronized lady-dancing, at Barden Beca has a Chloe and a Jesse to help her remember to do that pesky eating thing more often than not. Back then she'd only had her mother to do that and while playing the part of a surly teenager, listening to a parent simply wouldn't do. Jesse isn't always physically there anymore to poke her until she concedes, but Chloe does a pretty bang-up job.

 

There's a small mountain of shiny foil containers on the kitchen counter when she enters, the space occupied by by two thirds of the Bellas. Chloe is on hand-out duty and Beca hangs back near the doorway for a few seconds, watching the way she checks the numbers that have been written on the lids to indicate the contents before handing them to the right person. Every time, without fail. It makes Beca smile as she shuffles forward. She sidles up behind Chloe, who's facing away from her as she disperses the food, and spies her number scratched in red pencil across one of the lids. She sneaks closer and slips her arm through the small space between Chloe's elbow and hip, and her fingers graze crimped foil before an arm clamps down hard to hold her in place. She yelps and tries to pull her hand back, but only manages to wriggle it free up to her wrist.

 

“You,” Chloe turns her head so that she can smirk at Beca over her shoulder, “are a ferret.” Beca stops trying to pull away and stares at her.

 

“Excuse me?” She cocks an eyebrow as Stacie breezes by them, twirling around Chloe to grab her container of food.

 

“She's calling you a stinky little thief.” Stacie informs her with a quick kiss to Beca's cheek as she walks out of the room. Beca's head swivels around on her shoulders, first following Stacie and then swinging back around to glare at Chloe, a second eyebrow rising to join the first. Chloe chuckles, relinquishing Beca's hand and turning to face her.

 

“Seriously?” She doesn't know whether she's mildly impressed or bemused. “That's the most obscure insult anyone has ever paid me.” Chloe's smile grows and the glow of her grin makes her eyes sparkle.

 

“Ooh,” Chloe coos, reaching across the scant distance between them to hook a finger into Beca's pocket, “do I get a prize?” She gives her hand a gentle tug and Beca feels the action all the way through her as she stumbles forward half a foot to bring them almost toe-to-toe. She opens her mouth to say something – definitely witty and clever, she's sure of it – but all that leaves her is a half-choked, vaguely indignant sound that only seems to make Chloe glow brighter.

 

“Mm, not before I get my food, yeah?” Beca jumps, Chloe twists her head around, and Fat Amy is suddenly there beside them. Regarding them like she might an unfortunate mess that she's just realised she somehow has to make her way through. “I don't want you two going at it on the counter and knocking my chicken chow mien all over the floor, so if you could just,” she holds out her hands to part the air in front of her and Beca takes a full stride backward as if she's being controlled by it, “keep your toners in your pants for another five seconds.”

 

“Amy,” Chloe chides, putting on her very best captain voice and folding her arms over her chest. The blonde freezes, her hands closed around the silver container and eyes suddenly wide at the unspoken threat in Chloe's voice. “The only toner in here is the one your sporting for Lao Ma's Asian Cuisine.” Amy purses her lips, parting them with an audible pop a moment later and shaping them into a small 'o' of silence that holds for all of three seconds.

 

“Yeah, it's actually pretty big.” At that she leaves, with no small amount of side-eyeing dealt to the pair of them as she goes. Beca's the only one paying attention to that though; Chloe has turned back to the two remaining containers of food on the counter.

 

“Does that not bother you?” Beca addresses the question to the back of Chloe's head and it's one she doesn't realise she wants to ask until it's out.

 

“What?” Chloe turns back to her, still holding both boxes and not making any effort to hand Beca's over.

 

“Amy,” she pauses, tongue pressed flat to the front of her teeth, then gestures to the doorway, “all of them. Making jokes.” Beca shifts on the spot uncomfortably, hands pulling at the pocket of the hoodie she'd thrown on as she glances down. “About us.” When Chloe doesn't respond right away Beca looks up again and finds her standing in the same spot with her head tilted to the side, expression pensive.

 

“Should it?” Beca doesn't know if the question is rhetorical or not. She hopes it is. “Does it bother you?”

 

And she doesn't know what to say to that, because her gut reaction is to tell Chloe that yes, it does. Only, there's no real reason it should. It's been going on so long now that Beca should be used to it, but every time Amy or one of the other girls makes some kind of innuendo in their direction, it's like a cold front moves in inside her body. Even when she laughs it off, there's always a lingering sense of unease. They're 'Beca and Chloe' and that's, like, a thing, and even Jesse has joked about it a handful of times over the last few years. About how he hadn't known Beca would be a package deal when they first started dating or something similar and it had never been meant as anything other than a joke, but Beca's not finding it as funny as she once might have.

 

She's sure Amy doesn't know what's going on with them, there's no way she really could, but they've unintentionally given her enough fodder – as close as they are, they really haven't had that many sleepovers since they started living together – to allow her to speculate, loudly and without filter. To increase the amount of jokes she can get out in one twenty-four hour period.

 

“It just...” she blinks once, then shakes to head to clear away the far-off look she can feel making her gaze hazy. “I don't know. It just makes me feel kinda weird.” Lifting a shoulder in a half shrug, she flashes Chloe a small smile, wrinkling her nose up. “It's fine. Not a big deal.”

 

“But if it makes you uncomfortable,” Beca's about to stop her right there when Chloe cuts herself off, exhaling in a rush. “Do you want me to say something?” Beca's eyes pop and she lifts a hand to wave it frantically in front of her body.

 

“Dude, no. That's not,” her eyes flutter shut and she bites back an annoyed laugh. “Why can't I ever just say what I mean?” Chloe's worry melts a little at that, a smile lifting her lips.

 

“Talking is hard,” she offers and Beca looks at her for a long moment before she laughs again, more humour to the melody this time, and rolls her eyes.

 

“It never is with you but lately you're like, melting my brain.” Chloe's next breath comes under cover of a disbelieving squeak and in the split-second it takes Beca to go back over her words, she's burning a blinding shade of red. She can feel it. She can also feel the way Chloe is staring at her, but Beca is physically incapable of looking directly at her all of a sudden, and she wants to say something, maybe make a joke. Nothing happens though.

 

So, in lieu of speaking, she steps forward and snags the topmost container from where it's balanced on the one between Chloe's hands. Then she shuffles backwards, catching sight of Chloe's questioning – but pleased? – smile at the fringes of her vision before she turns away.

 

“Hey!” She's stopped in the hallway by Emily, who she didn't even know was here, shouting excitedly at her from the living room. “Aren't you joining us?” Mindlessly, Beca veers in that direction and finds the Bellas spread out across the room.

 

“'Course she is,” Amy scoffs around a mouthful of food. “No one escapes movie night.” Beca's halfway through a placating, rolling nod of her head when it snaps straight with recognition, her face abruptly void of everything but displeased surprise.

 

“Wait, what?”

 

“No, no, you,” Amy's pointing at her with her fork, “are the last person about to wriggle out of one. Get your cute butt in here, Mitchell.” Beca lets out a whine of dissatisfaction and pulls off a nearly immaculate impression of a tiny child with her “it's not fair!”

 

“You were out-voted, girl.” Cynthia Rose shrugs from her place in the arm chair, one chicken ball skewered on the end of her fork. Beca sputters, messy bun swaying at the top of her head as she points wildly to herself and then out into the hallway at nothing.

 

“I wasn't even here to vote! You always do it behind my back!”

 

“It wouldn't have made a difference even if you had been here.” Chloe says from behind her, walking in from the kitchen and hip-checking Beca as she breezes by with a wink that makes her stomach dip. “You'd pout and grumble, and still end up sitting next to me on the couch. Brooding, while the rest of us actually watch the movie.”

 

“And that kind of poor company is fun for you?” Her eyebrows are almost at the very edge of her forehead as she asks and Chloe takes the empty end of the couch, looking over the back at her.

 

“Aww, Becs, you're the best company.” Beca's eye roll is a hard one, but then there's a hand being waved at her, or more specifically, fingers are being snapped and wiggled at her. “Please, Beca.” Chloe draws out the vowels in each word in a manner that is painful to listen to and Stacie, Amy and Cynthia Rose soon start yelling at her to just sit down and sack up.

 

“Oh my god, whatever.” Grumbling, she walks around to the front of the couch and sits down in the empty space between Chloe and Stacie. Chloe's just taken the lid off of her food container and she flashes Beca a happy smile as she licks sauce from her fingertips. Beca catches her eyes drifting and redirects them to her own food.

 

“Was that so hard?” Amy asks and Beca shoots a glare toward her. Amy remains unfazed. “It's not like you're going to have to put up with this for much longer anyway.” Beside her, she feels Chloe freeze. It's just for an instant but she feels it, feels the realness of it. When she turns to Chloe though, the redhead isn't looking at her anymore. “Speaking of the big 'G',” Amy pops a shrimp into her mouth, chewing thoughtfully for a few seconds, “those fancy gowns, are clothes underneath optional or...?” Beca drops her face into her hands and mutters a mournful “oh my god” that no one has trouble hearing.

 

Then Chloe is laughing and it spreads around Beca like wildfire, infectious, like a happy plague. Warming up the room.

 


 

 

After that, they don't manage to start the movie until basically everyone is done eating. Beca glances at the time on her phone and thinks about the mix and the email she'd received from her boss seconds after leaving the studio that evening. It seems like she's running out of time in more ways than one lately and that's weird, because when did she start thinking of graduation as something she was being pulled towards instead of willingly led? There aren't quite a million thing she needs to do, but there are a decent amount and she really should be putting up more of a fight here.

 

But then Chloe's back from her trip to the kitchen with their garbage and she's dropping down onto the couch so that she's practically laying across Beca's lap with the biggest smile on her face, and Beca sighs.

 

Reality can wait for a while.

 

“What are we watching?” Ashley asks, cuddled up to Jessica's side on the love-seat.

 

“This okay?” Chloe's voice is in her ear and her hands are taking a blanket from Stacie and draping it over their bodies. Her butt is on one side of Beca, her legs bent across Beca's lap, and her feet are shifting against the cushion on her other side.

 

“Will my answer make any difference?” Chloe's chuckle is a low hum as she leans into Beca's side and Beca's forced to wind her arm around the other woman's back or sit with it stuck between their bodies for the next ninety minutes.

 

“Maybe.” Neither of them buy that.

 

“Uh huh,” Beca breathes out and Chloe turns her head, resting her temple against Beca's shoulder. “But if this is some sappy tearjerker and you start crying on me....” She leaves the sentence hanging and thinks she can feel Chloe smiling. She lets her hand fall to the redhead's shin, lets it rest there.

 

The movie starts, Beca misses the title. There's a pretty girl and a pretty boy, and no one is screaming or getting bits cut off, so it's not a horror. That's all she manages to grasp before she flips about ninety percent of her attention away from the movie, turning it inward instead. She thinks about the mix, about Worlds and graduation. She thinks about the additions she's made, with the help of Jessica and Ashley, and she thinks about that dumb DSM chick's stupid face. All perfectly sculpted angles and impossibly soft skin, cheekbones that could kill and eyes that somehow capture the frigid terror of winter. She doesn’t know what it is about Kommissar, but the fact that there is something has her feeling incredibly frustrated with herself, and there are only so many times she can chant “she is the enemy” at herself before she starts feeling like Aubrey.

 

Kommissar does actually do something besides intimidate and confuse her sexually though; she puts a bit of a spin on what Beca's feeling towards Chloe. Because it's obvious to everyone within a fifty-foot radius whenever Beca is near the towering pillar of pale, Amazonian perfection that she's harbouring a slight attraction. To a woman. Which isn't something Beca has experienced before, consciously at any rate.

 

Whether or not she's attracted to Chloe is a little more muddled. She knows that Chloe is attractive and Chloe touching her, well, does things. Certain things which a person to whom you are experiencing some kind of attraction is usually the cause of. But Chloe is her best friend – Amy can never know – and so that complicates things for her. Mixes the acrid taste of guilt into the concoction already brewing. That there's guilt there at all should give Beca her answer, but Chloe sighs a quiet chuckle and her breath drifts down through the gap at the neck of her sweater. Chloe shifts against her, stretching her legs until her feet are practically altogether in Stacies's lap – who doesn't even bat an eye and automatically moves her hands to rest them over Chloe's ankles, green eyes never leaving the T.V. lighting them – and Beca's hand resettles over Chloe's knee under the blanket. Things are still for a handful of seconds and then Chloe lifts her head from Beca's shoulder.

 

“Enjoying the movie?” Is spoken quietly into her ear and the tickle it elicits pulls a shiver down Beca's spine. She turns her head an inch or two towards the other woman, her eyes going to their corners.

 

“As much as always,” she hedges, gaze flickering over Chloe's face. She feels like she's always noticing something different about the redhead whenever they get this close. A new freckle or crease, a new slant to her mouth. She would have thought that after four years all of these things would have been seen and documented, stored away in some distant part of her brain. And maybe they have been.

 

But they feel new.

 

Chloe hums and the look she's wearing is one Beca recognises as her 'I'm pretending to give something serious thought but I'm really just biding my time' face. It makes her hand twitch where it's resting lightly against Chloe's back. Then Chloe drops her head again, touching her nose to the curve of Beca's shoulder so that the lower half of her face disappears behind the brunette and Beca almost jumps right off the couch when she feels Chloe press a kiss through her shirt. Then she pulls back up, dropping her chin to Beca's shoulder.

 

“Well how can we make this more exciting for you?” Chloe whispers, her hand slipping easily into the pocket of Beca's hoodie where she presses it flat to an abruptly tense stomach. Beca claps her hand over Chloe's, pressing it tighter to her but holding it in place, her expression deadly serious.

 

“What are you doing?” She doesn't think she's ever barked a whisper quite like that before. There's a flash of white as Chloe smirks that's brighter than the television set and Beca's stomach flip-flops.

 

“Watching a movie,” Chloe insists and Beca has to choke back her snort of incredulity.

 

“You're not even looking at-” Stacie shifts beside Beca and the motion makes her vocal cords seize, but the would-be honour student doesn't bat an eyelash in their direction. And Chloe, ever the opportunist, takes Beca's brief distraction and runs with it. Or, more precisely, sits perfectly still with it, save for the hand Beca had had trapped which now slips easily out of her grip, and the pocket, to sneak beneath the cuddly material. Beca inhales sharply, teeth clacking as she snaps her mouth closed to stop any sound from toppling free. Her eyes fly around the room, taking note of where everyone's gazes are settled while her heart pounds hard and fast behind her ribs.

 

“Hey, Becs?” Chloe's voice is even quieter now, so much so that Beca can hear the way she grinds her teeth before she tips her head around to look at her friend. When she does, she sees that Chloe's smirk is still in place, her eyes still glittering, and it's only when Beca turns than Chloe leans in again. “No one can see.” There's a silent giggle to the words and a funeral pyre burning in Beca's gut. “No one,” slowly, Chloe's hand starts to move, “is paying,” stroking over Beca's skin as she might folds in fabric, “any attention.” Beca's stomach dips again, fingers curling around into her sweater.

 

And it's momentarily startling, how quickly her breathing drops, turns shallow and dense. Like she's breathing in one hundred percent humidity. She can feel Chloe's smile in the air beside her face even after she's moved, scooting down so that her head rests against the front of Beca's shoulder rather than the top, her bright blue eyes trained on the movie once more. Her hand doesn't stop moving though and every touch feels electric. The tips of Chloe's fingers send out a charge, each one a slightly different voltage, every one of them making muscles jump and the hair on Beca's arms stand on end. Shivers trickle along her back and she stares blankly ahead at the moving pictures, barely hearing the audio over the sound of her heart.

 

Chloe's hand never strays higher than the blanket's coverage and she keeps her movements slow so as not to attract attention; all things Beca would greatly appreciate, if she were able to register any of it. But Chloe's hand never stops, not for one second, and it demands every last drop of Beca's concentration as it all pools in the same place.

 

Chloe's touch makes her feel electric. Like she might accidentally jump out of her own skin or end up doing something else similarly life threatening. It's simultaneously exciting and terrifying, nerve-wracking and thrilling. A skydive or a bungee jump; you know you're safe, more or less, but that niggling “what if” is enough to give you the jitters. But you do it anyway, because it's a rush. An opposite to mixing and the deep sense of relaxation that gives her, but something readily craved nonetheless.

 

The moment she realises it, the roll of her stomach throws a tidal wave through the rest of her body. Cold and strong, battering every corner of her inner workings and carelessly rearranging the furniture.

 

Just like mixing, the way it makes her feel, Beca feels like she's starting to crave Chloe. The moments they share, beyond their bedrooms; she likes making Chloe smile. Likes making her laugh. She likes it when Chloe just looks at her. She likes being with her, in all senses of the word. She craves those things.

 

Craves this; Chloe's touch. Her teasing glances and comments. Her kisses.

 

She craves Chloe.

 

Chloe sighs heavily, contentedly, beside her and her hand finally stills. Arm pressed against Beca's bare stomach and hand curled around her side, she settles against Beca.

 

And Beca feels something inside her settle too. 

Chapter Text


The film has been over for a good ten minutes now and Chloe hasn't moved a single muscle. Not a single finger from where they're lightly gripping Beca's waist. She's still pressed into Beca's side, with Beca's arm still resting against her lower half, where Beca's hand has spent the last hour or so alternating between stroking and not stroking like a meerkat unable to decide what direction it wants to look in. Wanting to move in some way to take her mind off of obsessing over whether or not she should move, but also not wanting to in case she shouldn't or Chloe decides to move away or one of the other thousand reasons flitting about inside her head like a mob of angry mosquitoes.


She can hear the other girls talking around her, can in fact hear Chloe talking beside her, but no one has addressed Beca directly yet and that's great. Because she's pretty sure she'd either blurt out something embarrassing or turn several shades darker than Santa's seasonal outfit, then have to explain why. Which, of course, she wouldn't be able to and she doesn't know why this is happening. Because it shouldn't be affecting her this way, surely? Not to such a degree, not since Chloe's hand is just lying there perfectly still. It would be another thing entirely if she were actually doing something with it, but she isn't.


And Beca can't decide if that's a good thing or not.


Or, no, she knows it's a good thing, because her heart might up and just give out if Chloe suddenly decides to change her mind. She really doesn't want to die in a room full of Bellas.


“Well, I know I'm not the only one in here who's been caught doing the dirty.” Especially not while they're talking about whatever it is they're talking about; it doesn't sound like appropriate death conversation. Beca turns her head to look at Stacie, who is staring at Cynthia Rose with slatted eyes. “Right, Cee?” Cynthia Rose tuts, blowing out a stream of air as she shifts in the armchair and pointedly avoids eye contact for a solid five seconds before giving in.


“Maybe,” she mutters, loud enough for everyone to hear, and Beca starts when Chloe's squeal nearly shatters the glass sitting on the coffee table.


“Deets!” Chloe demands, lifting her head from where it's resting against Beca, as though leaning towards Cynthia Rose will convince her to dig up the dirt. She uses Beca as leverage, tightening her hold and pulling herself forward with her hand. Her thumb brushes across the bare skin over her ribcage and Beca sucks her cheeks in, teeth lightly biting down on the flesh to hold in whatever squeak or shriek is trying to fly free. Soon enough, Chloe settles back against her, shooting Beca a look that's so quick it can't possibly contain all of the things Beca thinks she sees hiding in it.


All of the attention in the room – including at least forty percent of Beca's – swings around to focus on the dark-skinned woman, who is glaring at Stacie with a small smile playing across her lips.


“Girl, I told you that in confidence.” Stacie puckers her lips, long hair flowing like silk as she shakes her head, and Cynthia Rose rolls her eyes. “Whatever. Freshman year, I kinda had...” she pauses, brow furrowing as her mouth works silently, searching for the words. “A fling.” Chloe gasps and across the room Amy lets out a long, high-pitched vowel that screams of elementary school playgrounds.


“With who?!” Chloe shrieks and Beca feels a chuckle bubbling up at her exuberance.


“That doesn't matter.” The way Cynthia Rose says it suggests that it really doesn't matter and no further questions should be asked about it. Chloe nods, both in acceptance of that and as an indication for the other woman to continue. “My roommate was supposed to be gone for the night, so I invited this girl back to my place and things got... you know.” She makes a face, bobbing her head from side to side and leaving the rest of them to fill in the blank.


Beneath Beca's shirt, Chloe's fingers begin an absent tracing of intricate patterns along her side and over her stomach. Beca's hand flexes and clenches at Chloe's leg.


“Anyway, this chick ends up making so much noise,” Jessica and Flo both let out giggles, and Chloe tucks her head closer to Beca. She can feel the redhead's frame shaking with her own quiet laughter. “That I don't hear the door open.” On her other side, Stacie's smile has overtaken her face and her eyes are glittering with mirth. “Turns out my roommate had gotten in a fight with her boyfriend and come back to the room. So, there she was, all upset, being treated to an eyeful of me in my birthday suit doing my thing.”


“At least you knew your lady friend was having a good time?” Ashley hedges, prompting a brief round of giggles and a few seconds of applause for Cynthia Rose, who bows without standing up.


“You've got to admit though,” Stacie glances around at each of them, “all that thrill and danger is so...” she draws in a deep breath and blows it out slowly, dreamily, like she's somewhere else entirely in that moment, “enticing.”


“Talking from experience there, Stace?” Beca cocks an eyebrow, a thrill that probably isn't too dissimilar to the one Stacie's talking about trickling through her over and over again as Chloe's fingers continue to dance across her skin. Stacie throws her a wicked smile.


“Of course.” And follows it up with a wink that parts Beca's lips. “But in my defence, the lecture hall was supposed to have been empty for another half hour. That professor should never have been in there.” Beca hums, low and unconvinced.


“I bet he thinks twice about going in there now.” Chloe jabs a finger into her ribs and Beca smirks as she jerks away.


“What about you, Deejay Bee?” Stacie turns to face her and Beca feels her expression falter. Chloe's hand, mercifully, stills for the moment and there's one horrible moment where Beca thinks they're going to weasel an astoundingly embarrassing memory out of her, before she realises that there isn't one.


“Nope,” she announces, popping her 'p' with a wide grin.


“Nope like, 'ha ha no but really yes',” Amy asks, eyeing her skeptically, “or nope like... no.” Beca narrows her eyes.


“Like seriously, no.” The redhead pokes her again and Beca almost snaps at her.


“What about Coke Crotch?” Chloe tips her head back to grin at her and Beca wrinkles her nose up.


“His name was Paul,” she bites, all the while quietly enjoying the way Chloe's eyes twinkle whenever they play like this, “and that definitely doesn't count, we weren't even making out!” Her insistence does nothing to diminish Chloe's glee and Beca can feel the curiosity in the room rising by the second. “Coke crotch” is kind of an attention-grabbing name. “Whatever, I’m not playing.”


“Well, that definitely means there's a story,” Stacie trills and Beca quickly realises that she's flanked on either side by two of the worst perpetrators of the old 'can't leave well enough alone' adage. She heaves a sigh and tries to ignore the way Chloe's thumb is tapping impatiently against her torso.


“I've never been caught...” Beca pokes the tip of her tongue into the inside of her cheek.


“Having sex,” Amy supplies, shooting Beca a sympathetic grimace. “It's all right Beca, this is a safe space.” She indicates the area around her. “You can say words like that here.”


“Whatever,” she repeats, purposefully slipping some annoyance into her tone because she knows it's expected. It's not fake, just playful; like she's momentarily portraying a caricature of herself.


It's like pre-Barden Beca, on a lesser scale. Everything before had been exaggerated, from her attitude to her eyeliner, and while her aggravation with the world in general was pretty genuine for the most part, she couldn't deny the fact that she'd had to work to keep up every facet of that particular appearance. That wasn't who she was, not entirely. Bits and pieces had been added and blown up, like a disproportionate collage that had been smoothed out and evened up over the last few years.


Now, with these girls, Beca is more herself than she's ever been before and they're the reason. They've helped her find herself, in a way. That doesn't mean all of her sarcasm and sharp wit had to disappear though. As it turns out, Beca is about two-thirds that and one-third 'miscellaneous'. So, while she isn't actually annoyed with where this conversation is going, she still acts like she is, because she knows that's what the girls are waiting for and it's worth their smiles when it happens.


Chloe, surprisingly, isn't among those calling for Beca to relive an embarrassing moment. She's just sitting quietly, Beca can feel her eyes roaming her profile, can feel the warmth of her smile and the way it sort of melts the tiny icicle fence Beca's half-heartedly erected. With a sigh, she lets it puddle.


“Jesse's dad walked in on us once.” There's a tiny explosion of shrieks and giggles, and Beca has to yell to be heard over them. “But we weren't doing... that. We were just making out!” Stacie says something about her being a spoil-sport and Amy tell her that her grandmother had stories more risqué than that. “He had his shirt off?” Beca adds after a moment and for the first time in over an hour, Chloe moves away from her. Straightening and retracting her hand. The lack of contact actually makes Beca start and she whips her head around to watch Chloe bring both of her arms out from under the blanket, then lean forward to snatch up the glass of water from the coffee table. Aware that their positioning may now be readily noticeable, Beca awkwardly tries to retrieve her arm from around Chloe without anyone noticing.


“What did his dad say?” Stacie queries and Beca uses the shift in attention to slip her arm free. She shrugs, bringing a hand up to scratch at her head.


“He like, immediately walked out and closed the door.” She smiles then, remembering the older man. “But then he stood outside for like ten minutes afterwards, talking to us through the wall about urges and the body's natural desires.”


“Shut up, he did not!” Stacie's green eyes are bright with amusement, her sharp smile wide, and Beca lets out a huff of laughter.


“He definitely did.” She can see the humour in it now, but at the time she was sure she was never going to recover. Or be able to look Jesse's dad in the eye ever again. She was proved wrong on both accounts. “It was totally fine afterwards though. He's a super cool guy, easy going and stuff. He's basically a Jesse clone.” She frowns. “Or, I guess Jesse's a clone of him? Whatever,” she dismisses the thought with a wave of her hand, “they're basically the same person.” She catches the way Stacie is eyeing her and throws an accusatory finger out towards her. “Not one, weird word.” Stacie mimes zipping her mouth closed.


“What about you, Ginge?” Amy directs at Chloe, wiggling her eyebrows. Beca leans forward with her elbows on her knees, face in her hands, and turns her head so that she's looking at the redhead. The spot where her hand had been resting feels cold now without it. “Not that you're all that shy about showing off the goods, right Bec?” Beca rolls her eyes, cursing alcohol and its ability to loosen lips. She made it almost two years before that one slipped out.


Tom and I got lost,” Chloe actually pauses to make air quotations with her fingers, “in the stacks of the library one night and the librarian sort of stumbled across us.” Her mouth turns up towards a coy smile and Beca notes that she looks pleased with herself. “But we weren't naked. Well, not completely.” Chloe winks at no one in particular, but Beca feels like it's aimed at her. “Aubrey also walked in on us once.” Beca's eyebrows hike to her hairline and Stacie bursts out laughing behind her. Chloe has the good grace to look sheepish about this one. “We were very naked that time. I think she squealed for a solid five minutes. Long enough for Tom to put his pants on and for me to throw on his shirt anyway. She made me get the couch dry-cleaned.” Beca is suddenly very aware of where they're sitting. Her face drops.


Dude, this couch?” Chloe stares at her with wide, innocent eyes, and Beca counts the seconds in her head. It becomes obvious that Chloe isn't about to give her a verbal answer pretty quick and Beca jumps to her feet, throwing her half of the blanket onto the redhead. “Dude! Oh my god, not cool!” She starts to brush at the seat of her pants, then stops and looks down at her hands in horror.


It's been cleaned, Becs!” Chloe's laughter is musical, but all Beca can hear is something that sounds similar to a funeral dirge. She cringes and shakes her head;she keeps accidentally picturing it.


It will never be clean enough!” Grumbling, she stomps out of the room and into the kitchen, yanking open the fridge door to pull out a carton of orange juice.


Maybe take away the bad taste in her mouth.

 


 

Becaaaaww


Bec-bec-becaaaaaaaaawwwwww


beca look at ur fone!!!


I'M GONNA KEEP TXTING UNTIL U ANSWER ME


Beca


Becs


YO BECKY


Oh my god, I am changing my number.


Omg, you're not dead!


No dude, I’m at WORK. You know, that magical place grown-ups go to in order to receive money once a month.


Ok well how abt instead of money 2nite I give u a paycheck in booze?? Pre-grad-party party!! Trebles House. Prob starting nowish but going all nite long!


Ur still coming rite?


I can probably swing by for a beer in between my adulting.


That's my girl. ;P I'll pick u up after work?


Whatever. Go practice being a grown up and stop blowing up my phone.


I swear u were more fun when we were dating


BYE Jesse

 


 

The rest of her afternoon ambles by at a lazy pace, the hands of the clock above the doors leading to the recording booths seemingly fighting against invisible treacle as they struggle to tick forward. Time doesn't necessarily drag, but whenever she looks over to check it, it's never as late as she thinks it is. She tries to busy herself by doing her intern-ly duties; coffees, burritos at lunch, replacing the paper towels and cleaning that one shelf in the fridge that is always covered in something green and sticky.


Thankfully, Sammy whisks her away to one of the booths at around two o'clock and when they arrive, Beca finds the room half filled with a handful of other people and a young man probably around her age standing in front of the microphone on the other side of the glass. He introduces her to him – Kevin McMillan, up-and-comer – and Beca offers a signature awkward wave as Sammy takes a seat at the controls.


“Obviously, you know your way around this stuff.” He tells her, gesturing to all the bells and whistles, and Beca bites her teeth together as she nods her head with an almost silent “yes”. And it's nice, to not be patronized or talked down to. If she were being honest, she'd sort of been expecting that. As it is, he keeps her there until shortly before five and for the most part she just watches him. Watches what he does and the way he speaks to Kevin, because if Beca's going to pick up pointers from anywhere, ones from the book of human interaction might go a long way.


And yes, she knows how to work the majority of the equipment he's using, but it's different getting to actually watch a professional. She picks up a fair number of tips and tricks and when Sammy announces that they're going to wrap things up for the day, he tells Beca she can take off early “for a job well done”.


“But I didn't, I mean, I didn't really do... anything,” she stammers, eyes big and round and already wishing she could take the words back and replace them with a silent nod. He smiles at her then, dropping his gaze to roll his eyes and shake his head in a manner very different to the one usually directed at Dax. It's amused, almost playful, and after a few seconds he looks up at her again.

“You listen, Reggie. And I like people who listen, who pay attention, who take in every word I say,” he lifts his hands as he speaks, curling his fingers and then hooking one hand over the other and tugging to emphasize his point, “and lock it in tight.”


“Well, that's me,” she flashes him a smile, “tight like a safe.” It falls almost immediately as a rush of embarrassment threatens to bowl her over, but Sammy just laughs and tells her to have a good night.


When she gets to the back room where they leave their bags, jackets and all that other junk they bring to work with them but don't actually use, she pulls out her phone to turn the ringer back on. There are three messages waiting for her, one from Stacie and two from Chloe. Stacie's is a request for her to stop and pick up some tequila because the Trebles “are somehow out and we can't do body shots without it.”


“Jesus,” Beca mutters to herself, imagining the scene currently unfolding poolside before swiping back and pressing her thumb against Chloe's name.


Party's starting without you, Becs. ;) xxx


Stacie wants to do body shots... don't think I've forgotten that you still haven't told me if you think she's pretty. :P xxx


Beca rolls her eyes, putting her phone down to pull on her jacket and shoulder her bag. She tucks her hair back behind her ear and snatches it back up, typing a response with one hand and pushing open the door with the other.


You still haven't given me my grade. We all want things we can't have, Chlo.


Mouth curled into a smirk, Beca exits the building with a slight inclination of her head towards Janet the receptionist and walks along the front of the building and around the corner. She's out ten minutes early, but Jesse's already parked and waiting for her, leaning against the trunk hatch. The driver's side window is down and she can hear music filtering out from the speakers, the radio tuned to some top forty station that, as she gets closer, she realises is currently pumping out a Katy Perry song. When he notices her approach, he starts moving his shoulders to the beat, shuffling away from the car with tiny, rhythmic steps. She stops, he keeps coming, and she lifts her eyebrows at the sound of him singing along, his voice a high falsetto.


“Have you been drinking?” She asks, tone dry, but he doesn't answer, instead pulling out some twirling dance move that takes him around in a full three-hundred and sixty degrees. He stops right beside her, throwing his hands into the air as the song reaches its final chorus.


And then he's twerking against her side.


Full on, ass-to-hip twerking.


She yelps, arms shooting out to shove him roughlyaway and his low laughter replacing the lyrics of the songas he stumbles.


“Dude, no! Back that Miley shit up somewhere else. Gross.” She visibly shudders and backs away from him, throwing up a hand when he shimmies her way again. “I will end you, Swanson.” He tries to pout but can't quite manage it around his smile. “Are you drunk right now?”


“Beca, I would never.” She narrows her eyes at him. And it's not that she doesn't believe him, she knows he's not that dumb, but there's something. He unleashes it as she's walking around to the passenger side. “Chloe would kill me if I put her snuggle buddy in jeopardy.” She doesn't have anything to physically chuck at him and has to settle for flipping him the bird with a condescending 'screw you' smile as she climbs into the car. “You can't tell me I'm wrong,” he sings, slipping in behind the wheel and turning the radio down.


“No?” She turns, reaches around behind her for the seatbelt and clicks it into place. “You're wrong.” She looks up at him, shocked. “Oh my god,” her mouth stretches into a wide mockery of a smile, “did you hear that?” Jesse rolls his eyes and starts the engine. The radio cuts out completely for a few seconds, then bounces back to life as he shifts into gear and signals, pulling away from the side of the studio.


“Okay, but,” he signals again and pulls out of the side street, merging into the peak of rush-hour traffic, “which part exactly am I wrong about?” He glances over at her, a smirk taking up the majority of his profile. “Chloe killing me or you being her snuggle buddy?” Beca sighs, lifting a hand to rub at her eyes with her thumb and forefinger before pinching the bridge of her nose.


“What happens if I say none of the above?”


“I call you a liar,” he laughs, grin smug and frustratingly charming. It's the same one he'd flashed her way throughout freshman year, the one that had melted Beca's cold exterior bit by bit and it's the same one that made her feel happy, made her feel warm. The fact that they aren't dating anymore hasn't diminished those feelings in the slightest and it's that which has her smiling ruefully as she looks down at the phone in her hands, absently thumbing the lock button. She's surprised to see two new messages waiting for her; she hadn't heard it go off.


you still okay to stop for T? Amy says Bumper can pick up on his way over.


“Oh hey, Stacie asked me to pick up booze. Can we stop somewhere?” She asks, waiting for Jesse's okay before typing a quick reply and backing out of the screen to tap into Chloe's thread.


Mm, there are a lot of things I want from you that I can't have, Mitchell ;) xxxxx


Her stomach dips and flips, somersaulting over every word a second and third time. She wonders how much Chloe has had to drink already, wonders what this means for the rest of the night and, for the first time, she wonders if attending the party is such a good idea.


“That your lady?” He drawls and Beca tears her eyes from the phone to stare at him. Jesse glances sidelong at her, lifting his shoulders in a small shrug. “You have Chloe face.” She blinks at him, one long and slow flutter of her eyelids.


What?”


“Look Bec, we've... how long have we known each other?” She rolls her eyes, already knowing exactly where this is going and she has zero desire to visit that destination.


“You know how long. Just as long as I’ve known literally everyone else here.”


“True. I like to think that we know each other a little better than everyone else though. Or in a different way, at least.”


“Well, I haven't seen most of them naked,” she spits out, immediately regretting the words and throwing her face into her waiting hands, groaning into her palms. “I'm going to pretend I didn't say that.” Jesse only laughs at her.


“No, I mean like, okay.” He pulls up at a red and Beca silently glares at the accursed traffic light as he turns his head towards her. “I know that when you were eight your dad took you ice-skating and that's why you get weirdly whimsical whenever you so much as see ice-skating on T.V.” She'd fallen over so many times that her knees had been bruised the next day and her stomach ached from laughing. It had been one of the best days of her life. “And I know that you get teary-eyed whenever you have to watch one of those animal abuse commercials.” Beca furrows her brow, pointing a finger at him.


“Anyone who doesn't tear up at those doesn't have a heart,” she argues and he bobs his head.


“Agreed. Soulless, obviously.”


“Did this have a point? Or were you just pointing out a bunch of my flaws?” The light changes and Jesse switches his foot from the break to the accelerator.


“These aren't flaws, Beca.” His chiding tone is not lost on her and it has her rolling her eyes again, hurrying to admit that yes, she knows that, and could he please get to the point now. “You react differently depending on who you're interacting with. It used to be with like a vague, general disinterest, but,” he pauses, sighing fondly and reaching out to pat her cheek before she can slap his hand away, “you've grown so much.”


“I'm not afraid to punch the driver.” The only reason she doesn't is because she can see a liquor store up ahead and she doesn't want to crash before at least making it there.


“Yeah, yeah. Okay, my point-”


“Finally.”


“Is that you get this look whenever you're talking to Chloe. You smile, but it's different. It's like... it's Chloe's smile.” He flicks the indicator and pulls over across the street from the 'Booze Barn'. “You have tells. That's how I know it was her who texted. It was her, right?” Beca unclips her seatbelt and hurriedly opens her door.


“And how do I look when I’m looking at you?” She asks as she steps out, bending down to glower at him.


“Mostly like you want to kill something,” he beams.


“More like someone.” She slams the door to cut off the sound of his laughter and shakes her head, walking around the front of the car to his side and waiting for a break in traffic so that she can dart across the road. If Jesse had read the text, then he'd know exactly why she'd been smiling, but she's not about to show him. Suddenly, a thought hits her and she turns around to tap her knuckles against his window. He lowers it, only a fraction at first, as though he's afraid she's going to throw a pipe bomb in or spit at him. “Hey, speaking of Chloe, we've both been meaning to ask... How's Aubrey?” His good cheer slips as surprise barrels in to shove it out of the way and Beca feels the rush of victory swell within her at the look on his face. She blows him a kiss and then turns back to survey the street. Finally getting that break in traffic, she breaks into a light jog and is almost laughing herself when she reaches the bright red doors of the store.


When she gets back to the car, she finds him trying to stare a hole through his phone, the screen of which is blank. Without taking her eyes off him, she slides into her seat and pulls the door closed, depositing the two bottles of tequila at her feet and pulling the belt around her body.


“Is it weird?” He asks after a moment of silence, only looking up when Beca doesn't answer right away and that's only because she isn't sure what he's asking. “Aubrey,” a beat and then, “and me.”


“So, you're admitting something's going on?” She feels almost vindicated and a little like she wants to rub his nose it in, but she manages to refrain. “Really though?” She raises an eyebrow. “You're asking me if it's weird? Because I know you're aware of what's going on in my life right now.” But he doesn't really acknowledge that, he just lets it breeze on by this time, his expression serious. Too serious, she thinks.


“Your opinion is important to me.” This side of Jesse always kills her. The heartfelt, emotional, the 'pull no punches', 'only has time for brass tacks' side of him that has the capability of being ruthlessly tender as well as being painfully sharp. This was the side of him she'd met at his dorm room door freshman year, the one that had told her to figure things out. It was the side of him that had told her “I love you” for the first time, one day after a particularly poor interaction with her father had left her upset. Brash and unapologetic. He's a lot like Chloe in that respect.


Beca sighs.


“No, Jess. I don't think it's weird.” She stops there, wrinkling her nose and considering the idea of them properly for the first time. “I actually think you guys could be pretty great together.” He visibly brightens at that, an almost shy, hopeful glow leaping up to light his face.


“You think?” And Beca wants to tease him about it, she really does, because this is unprecedented thus far in their relationship. This is the first time she's had this kind of opportunity and she really wants to make the most of it by making fun of him. Because it's freaking Aubrey Posen they're talking about and Beca knows everyone always says 'stranger things have happened', but she's pretty sure this is at least one of the strangest developments to occur in recent years.


Which is saying a lot.


She decides to let it go this one time, knowing that there will likely be other opportunities for merciless ribbing in the future. Or she hopes there will be. With as desperate as she's been to get on with her life this year, she's not ready to let him go yet. Or, you know, ever.


“Yeah,” she breathes the word out, turning her phone over on its side against her thigh. “She'd be lucky to have you.” It's quiet for a moment and then Jesse lets loose with the kind of high-pitched whine most people aim at puppies. Then his hand is at her face, fingers tickling her cheek affectionately before she jerks away.


“Even when I hog the covers?” She chuckles, lifting her shoulder in a half-shrug.


“She'll need something to help cool her boiling hot temper.” She watches as he twists the key in the ignition, listening to the way the engine turns over with ease, and something in the rumbling growl sparks a thought. She looks at him, eyes big and round. “Hey, does this mean I get to do the whole 'if you break his heart, I’ll break your face' speech?” Jesse barks a laugh and, good driver that he is, shoulder-checks before merging.


“Only if I get to be there when you give it.”


When Jesse pulls up outside of the Bella House, they can hear the thumping beat of the music from next door as it rattles the car windows in their frames and the whooping yells of undefinable voices reach them through closed doors.


“Sounds like we're missing all the fun.” She slips her phone into her bag and winds the strap around her hand.


“Isn't that,” he points to the bag of liquor at Beca's feet, “where the real fun starts?” Beca purses her lips and hikes her eyebrows.


“Yeah, good point.” With a grin, she hops out of the car. “Actually, can you bring those to Stace? And if anyone asks, tell them I’ll be over in ten. Maybe twenty.” He nods and waves his goodbyes, and Beca heads into the house for a quick shower and a change of clothes.

 


 

Why is Jesse back but your cute butt isn't over here yet? xxx


The fact that Chloe can make her blush when they aren't even in the same room as one another is, Beca feels, incredibly unfair.


The fact that Chloe throwing something like “cute butt” at her is something worthy of making her blush these days, is something else entirely.


At least there's no one around to witness it this time, though. No one around to comment or ask questions she isn't ready to answer yet. She's free to just roll her eyes and feel the burn in her cheeks for a change, rather than concentrate all her efforts on lessening the Rudolph-like glow.


Reaching around with one hand, she squeezes the ends of the clip she'd used to hold her hair out of the reach of the shower's spray and lets her locks fall messily about her bare shoulders as she re-reads the text. The thing about tipsy Chloe, or drunk Chloe for that matter, is that she isn't all that different from regular Chloe. She's a bit more giggly, a bit more free with her touches and flirtations, even less weighed down by inhibitions; all things Beca would have thought highly improbable had that particular persona not been one of the first Beca had encountered. Hood Night had opened her eyes to many things.


The last four years have shown her just how many variations of Chloe there are, how many sides. She loves how every single one of them is kind and caring, even the ones that get grumpy and basically tell Emily to go crawl under a rock and die.


Going over the text again, Beca absently snares her bottom lip between her teeth as she considers what she wants to say, the immediate, knee-jerk response, and whether or not she should. Then she starts to think about why she's even considering not sending it, before quickly deciding that she doesn't care. That “it's okay”.


And she loves the playful side of Chloe. The one that makes it so easy for Beca to play back.


Because it's currently being covered by nothing but a towel and I don't want you getting too excited.


Grinning, Beca tosses her phone onto her bed and moves into the closet to search for appropriate party attire. Her idea of what constitutes as such is, she knows, vastly different to the rest of the Bellas', but it's a Treble party, so she can't really imagine that any of them have ventured too far beyond casual for the evening. She pulls one of her nicer pairs of pants down from the top shelf and has her hand ready to tug a blood-red, satiny top off of its hanger when she pauses. Her hand strays towards her rainbow of plaid shirts and she liberates a purple one, grabbing a grey tank to go with it before dropping the articles onto the lid of her hamper. She nudges the door closed with her toe, then tugs at the corner of her towel where she's tucked it under, and as it falls to the floor she hears her phone go off. She knows it's probably Chloe and the thought to tell her exactly how uncovered she is now rises unbidden. Makes her laugh to herself before she rolls her eyes and slips into her clothes. She exits the closet, hands still doing up the button on her pants, and looks up when her phone chimes again.


In that case I'd like to change my question.


What am I doing over here when clearly everything I’m interested in is over there? Xxx


The breath Beca draws in gets lodged somewhere at the back of her throat and she loses the better part of her cognitive functioning to a coughing fit for half a minute. Wheezing, she sits on the edge of her bed and presses the side of her phone against her forehead, tapping it against bone a handful of times as though that will help gather her jostled thoughts.


Thoughts of the night before and Chloe's secretive touches. Of the night before that and how the redhead's interest had seemed to burn through the palms of her wandering hands. Thoughts of how they'd stroked and pressed and squeezed.


“Ouch,” she pulls her phone away and replaces it with her hand, rubbing at the slightly reddened spot where she'd hit herself a little harder than she'd meant to. She blows out a