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The Real-Deal

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It all starts, and to some extent ends, with Barden.

The life she led before being cajoled into college had not prepared her for this, and her carefully constructed walls were starting to shudder as people – yes, plural - started to bang with both fists, but all she could hear was the sound of her own crippled breathing as she retreated further and further into the wall behind, putting distance between herself and their silent screams, a single sheet of glass keeping them at bay. It was a mass of indistinguishable body parts: the stuff of nightmares.

Literally.

Before Barden she would have nightmares of empty spaces, wastelands of nothing stretched out before her, in her, ironically suffocating, but now she missed the clear, defined panic that came with it because she knew why those fears lurked in her subconscious (the child with abandonment issues never really grew up).

With the old, threadbare copy of Brothers Grimm fairytales clutched to her chest and Kimmy Jin fast asleep across the room, Beca inhaled, exhaled – like the therapist had told her to do, courtesy of the source of those abandonment issues, Daddy – and flipped to a random page within one of those infamous stories, finding solace in the words, clinging to their coherency while all around the walls in her mind trembled.

Sometimes she was able to fall back to sleep with relative ease, other times she would be awake all night, mixing, putting all her effort into not thinking, divulging her soul to her equipment. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say that music saved her; it steered her through life, comforted her through evenings like this one. It was everything, the lullaby that kept the emptiness at bay, the reason why she came to Barden at her dad’s request, the only aspiration she had reduced to a single concept: music. Someday she would allow other people escape in the dark, crowded, empty rooms of clubs. Of bars. Of wherever she could play, wherever the people needed her. She was the dealer; this was her drug; they were her customers. Why was it so unreasonable that she wanted to do this for the rest of her life? Why couldn’t her dad -

In the daylight hours she was almost normal. She didn’t have feature-length panic attacks, or suffer from social anxiety to a dysfunctional degree and she wasn’t afraid to tell people what she wanted them to assume about her. It was an old defence mechanism, honed over time to a skill, a tattoo that only she could see (never let people close enough to leave you) but that horrible, safe, lonely existence she had carved for herself as though out of stone came crumbling around her faster than she ever believed possible.

There was this girl with bright, Disney-blue eyes, and vibrant red hair that cascaded over her shoulders in waves, and a smile that made Beca falter, succumb to her summons at the activities fair that first afternoon, be invited to an a capella audition before she could assess what was actually happening, and nod helplessly, enraptured. It was like squinting at the sun after emerging from darkness. It was like her body knew that something had changed, or was about to change, and it was bracing itself for the fall. It’s scary, to feel something new. Something like hope. At that moment she didn’t recognise it for what it was (quite the pessimist) but as the days, the weeks, the months went by it was difficult to maintain the façade of ignorance. Especially when the nightmares stopped.

Chloe was everything that Beca was not. She was bouncy, and enthusiastic, and optimistic until the very end of rehearsals, when blood, sweat and tears were literal and not figurative, and everyone else was grumpy and cursing Aubrey with whatever strength they had left. She was caring, and patient, and kind. She was the cliché come to life, better than anything Beca could have conjured up (better than those story books she clutched so secretly to her heart).

Shower-Chloe, the one with no boundaries, was not separate from day-Chloe, night-Chloe, or any of the Chloe’s in-between, and at first Beca found that strange, threatening almost, until she accepted (with relief) that this girl was genuine, the real-deal. It made her scared little heart twinge. There was nothing in Chloe’s way. Nothing she wouldn’t do for the Bella’s, for her best friend Aubrey even when best friend Aubrey treated her like something she’d stepped in. She treated most people like that during rehearsals so Beca wasn’t worried; she would however roll her eyes, smirk, and stare at a spot over Aubrey’s shoulder when she was lecturing the group just to irritate her. Chloe was passive-aggressive, if at all aggressive, so Beca took it upon herself to exact small instances of petty revenge for her sake. Honestly, though, Fat Amy’s wheezing after cardio was enough to send Aubrey into apoplectic shock and start to screech about how they were not ready, they were never going to win, and Beca’s personal favourite: why does she even bother, they’re all useless slackers, etc.

In moments like this she would catch Chloe’s eye from across the room, roll her own, smirk, actually look into another person’s eyes without flinching for longer than two seconds, and Chloe would smile her sly, secretive smile because she knew that Aubrey would strangle her if she saw them distracted. But those smiles were Beca’s favourite. Sometimes her motivation for rolling out of bed after a sleepless night were those smiles, and to witness firsthand Chloe’s endless optimism, and to feel those gentle hands caressing her skin as she taught her the moves to the ridiculous dance that accompanied a song about eternal flames. Needless to say, she was in deep trouble.

It was easier to ignore, to shove those feelings into the dark recesses of her mind, even though Chloe’s presence haunted her, lingered behind her eyelids, infiltrated her dreams (because now they were dreams) until awake and asleep she couldn’t escape from whatever it was that was happening to her. It felt a lot like burning. A phantom itch. It was there when Chloe wasn’t, pulsating like a wound. Then, because she couldn’t stand it, she got a job at the student radio station for distraction. Because Chloe had shoved a flyer into her hand pointedly, knowingly. She was starting to know everything and the flames licked all over, burning, smouldering, the heat from Chloe’s understanding gaze crawling over her skin like fire ants. To be close to another person – for another person to want to know the dark recesses of her mind – was a prospect too unbelievable, and the little girl with abandonment issues pushed it all away vehemently (never let people close enough to leave you).

Jesse was his name.

If Chloe was the strong, independent, wonderful Disney princess, then he was the wise-cracking sidekick, the compassion to her indifference, the aspiring white knight who didn’t realise that she herself was not the princess, but the extra, one of the animal friends in the background. He treated her like porcelain, but she was burning and he was dousing her with gasoline (the wrong kind, her mind constantly whispered, because Chloe hurt her in the best ways).

That night, when the nightmares returned, she could see his face through the glass, trying to step in front of the barrage of fists hammering at her wall. But it wasn’t enough (he was not enough).

After she slipped into a steady routine the year started to pass too slowly and too quickly all at once, and L.A was reduced to a figment of her imagination. (She’d realised one day, lounging with Chloe in their coffee-shop, talking endlessly over beats and notes and songs, that there was something about the burning that wasn’t as terrifying as she’d always imagined, and sometimes she forgot that she was even on fire). Chloe made her forget and imagine all at the same time; she was remixing Beca, one day at a time.

They would do things like that: lunch, coffee shops, exploring the forbidden areas of campus, attending whatever extracurricular event a member of the Bella’s invited them to – Amy’s being the most frightening and unpredictable and she was never sitting through a one-act show called The Vagina Monologues ever again because the fake blood wouldn’t come out of her favourite white shirt - and Beca would show her around the dingy radio station with mock commentary and Chloe would show her around the science labs with nerdy enthusiasm, both of them sharing and trusting pieces of themselves. They would ‘hang out’ outside of Bella’s practise, all of them, and it made her feel strange having so many people constantly around her, calling her friend. When she wasn’t there, she received texts - people wondering where she was, asking about her life. It was hard to resist the urge to push them all away (the old defence mechanism) but something that was blooming inside of her begged her not to. For once, it whispered, don’t ruin this.

One unremarkable evening Kimmy Jin, clearly in a bad mood, textbooks strewn all over her desk and bed, an empty Red Bull can slowly turning into jagged metal within her grasp, demanded that she leave their room if all she was going to do was mope.

Beca, attempting to read up on atoms or Keats or something, looked up, surprised, because they usually didn’t acknowledge one another, and this was one of those rare times that they were both in their room and Beca wasn’t engrossed in her music.

She hadn’t seen Chloe properly in a week because of assessments and it was starting to take its toll. At first she had thought that it was a good thing, that it was wrong to depend on another person like she was starting to depend on Chloe, that she couldn’t get attached, that she couldn’t, she couldn’t, she couldn’t, not where she was concerned, but it made her feel hollow, and she missed the flames, cascading over her the way Chloe’s tresses cascaded around her shoulders -

“Seriously, stop moping,” Kimmy Jin snapped, turning back around, done with the conversation. She was manic – everyone was, the stress was taking over, the pressure of success – and Beca, for once, didn’t snap back like she desperately wanted (it wasn’t Kimmy Jin’s fault that her withdrawal symptoms were starting to show) so she slung herself out of bed, clad in sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt, and left the room before she thought better of it. Chloe, who was sharing a dorm with best friend Aubrey, lived a couple of buildings over, and it was Sunday so the courtyard was empty, and it was late so she was feeling reckless. Under the moonlit sky, amidst the slight breeze shaking the trees, she was filled with a feeling so strong it made her falter. It felt a lot like -

When Chloe opened the door, she squealed in elation, and Beca caught a brief glimpse of similar attire to her own before being engulfed in a hug so strong it made her stumble, but Chloe laughed, remarked that she was as sturdy as a Chihuahua, patted her on the head fondly before batting away the swipe that Beca attempted to lay on her with a delighted chuckle, and bounded over to her messy bed, beaming, even with the bags under her eyes.

“What are you doing here?” she asked excitedly, giddily shoving all of her books to one end of the bed to create room while Beca tried not to panic at the question, or stand so awkwardly in the doorway. Old-Beca would have shrugged, stating boredom as fact, but old-Beca wouldn’t have sought out another person like she was constantly seeking out Chloe. If there was even an occasion that called for honesty, this was it.

“I wanted to see you.”

There, five words of pure truth.

Chloe, as usual, took this out-of-character behaviour in her stride, but her smile was a little wider. “You’re so sweet. Sit with me.”

The world hadn’t ended so Beca did, ignoring the pointed glare that Aubrey, clad in a dressing gown so thick she looked like an Eskimo, aimed her way. She, too, was manically poring over notes upon notes upon notes, but the crazy gleam in her eye was always there; she was just that kind of person. She didn’t speak a word, just shook her head like she knew something Beca didn’t.

“I’m not bothering you am I?” Beca murmured to Chloe as she sat beside her with all the poise she could muster because it was the middle of the night and there were scented candles scattered around and an ambience in the room that she just couldn’t disturb. “I was tearing out my own hair and Kimmy Jin told me to clear off.”

“Since when are you so polite?” Chloe chuckled, ignoring her question, exaggeratedly mimicking her tone in a bad southern accent. “Why yes Miss Mitchell I am extraordinarily occupied-”

“Oh, shut up,” Beca snorted, swiping at her again, normalcy returning like it had never left. She picked up one of the books she almost sat on and squinted at the page like it was written in Latin. “Remind me again why I’m friends with such a loser?”

Because of course Chloe was smart on top of musically gifted on top of gorgeous on top of everything else, and of course she wanted to become a paediatric surgeon and save dying children. There was only so much Beca could take before she woke up, the dream shattered, the Disney princess revealing herself to be in love with a knight of some far off land. For now, however, she could settle into Chloe’s warmth and listen as she talked about her upcoming exam, ease her worries with her usual mix of snarky, genuine comments, and promise her a milkshake at that new place they had adopted a couple of blocks away once it was all over.

“Like a date,” Chloe said, eyes twinkling, her head on Beca’s lap and Beca’s fingers in her hair because they did this now.

Beca’s scared little heart stopped beating for a moment. “Like a date,” she clarified, joking but not joking, wondering how on earth this was ever going to be okay. How she was ever going to be this new and improved person with Chloe when this sad, lonely girl with daddy issues who couldn’t say what she meant was always lurking in the shadows, pathetically clinging to this girl’s kindness like a moth to a flame, thinking that maybe Chloe was burning too, but not for Beca, because she was already so, so alive.

Aubrey scoffed and Chloe launched a pillow at her head, effectively ending Beca’s melancholy thoughts by knocking over a candle that was sitting on her beside table in the process. She screeched, throwing a blanket over it, but Beca, rolling her eyes at the melodramatic display, was uncomfortably reminded that all of this was just some bad metaphor for her life.

It didn’t take long for her to fall into something much bigger than what her life had prepared her for thus far. Chloe, with her red hair, gorgeous smile, happiness etched into her very being, was dancing in Beca’s flames, and every touch would set her alight. Anew with fear and passion and recklessness, she wouldn’t shy away, at least for brief moments, from Chloe’s outstretched hand. Sometimes there were looks of indecipherable intensity, and jokes a little too intimate. Caresses, in touch and looks, were frequent: they were dancing a waltz, but Beca didn’t know how to make the next move, and Chloe wouldn’t twist and dip her in case she fell.

Jesse, frowning, always frowning, would ask what the deal was.

Beca would shrug and reveal nothing. She wasn’t sure if there was a big revelation, or whether she was merely falling apart. Someone could only be broken for so long before they fell apart, right? Every shade of blue she saw reminded her of Chloe’s eyes …

He would question her like he was compiling a fact-sheet then ask her along to film nights with his roommate to make it seem casual, but there was Chloe’s smile …

Luke would tell them not to have sex in the booth. Beca would laugh incredulously, hurting Jesse’s feelings, but she couldn’t help it because she wasn’t practised in the art of friendship: she was imperfect, awkward, unable to handle human interaction, even with Chloe’s words ringing in her ears telling that she was okay …

Unfortunately Jesse still believed he was the white knight in both his and her story. He would not listen to her theories of animal friend extra and persist on persisting, cornering her at every opportunity with his charming smile and promise of perseverance, stating again and again that they were destined to be together. Meanwhile Chloe was aware of all of it, her eyes flickering with something whenever she saw them together but Beca couldn’t talk about it, couldn’t talk about anything, really, so they were all of them acting a play, with the Bellas singing a tragic chorus.

She realised that the only truthful thing she had ever said in her life was I wanted to see you to Chloe, and sometimes she wasn’t sure whether that had really happened or whether it was all a figment of her imagination.

For a long time after she felt lodged in-between old-Beca (safe, of relatively sound mind) and present-Beca (crumbling, tentatively hopeful). Because of this, nothing changed. Transition was practically impossible when there was a lifetime of bad habits to overcome. She was short tempered with everyone, including Chloe, mostly with Jesse; she was finding it hard to breathe, struggling to adjust to this new sense of self. Changes didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t as easy as pretending the nightmares never existed. She couldn’t pretend that fire didn’t burn; that sometimes dancing led to injury; that sometimes certain damaged people weren’t good enough for other people who looked liked Disney princesses.

Barden was full of obligations and responsibilities and not for the first time she considered quitting and finding her own way to L.A because it was hard to do this – to live. It hurt. It filled her with emotions that she couldn’t handle. It made her want so badly, too badly, so much it was turning into need.

It was Cynthia Rose who stopped her.

She was in the auditorium, dawdling after rehearsals, feeling a pang of guilt and confusion when Aubrey dragged Chloe out the door without a backwards glance (best friend Aubrey didn’t like or trust her) when Cynthia Rose sat beside her. They hadn’t had much to say to one another thus far because Beca’s sarcasm was enough to make the group chuckle from time to time but not enough to cement a friendship.

“I get it.” She started with a sigh so defeated it seemed like she really did get it. “But this bullshit has got to stop, Bec. Seriously. I don’t know the ins and outs of your situation but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where it’s heading. It hurts to put yourself out there, I know that, but it always hurt more to sit on your hands and do nothing.”

There was no preamble, no bullshit, just sentences arranged in a way that made sense.

“But what if it works out and she feels the same?” Beca whispered, finally, the ghosts flying from her mouth before she could stop them. It scared the shit out of her. What if Chloe was it for her? This could be make-or-break for her sanity. She was the best person and Beca was so far from together. In some strange, illogical universe that she somehow lived in, Chloe made it look like she wanted her as she was; imperfect, scared, problems and all. It was terrifying to accept and even harder to believe, because she couldn’t be good enough for Chloe. She just couldn’t be.

Cynthia Rose pondered this for a full minute, and Beca appreciated the effort she was putting into the answer. Surprisingly the silence wasn’t awkward so her natural instinct, for once, wasn’t to run. “Then you learn, and grow, but you do it together. Not like this. Get off your ass and fight for something, Mitchell, for once in your life. I know what you’re all about, this I’m-too-traumatised-for-real-life bullshit. Whatever happened before, it doesn’t matter. Let it go.” She clapped her on the back conspiratorially – they were in this together now. Comrades. Friends. She started to rub soothing circles over the back of her jacket when Beca, with a gasp of resignation and sorrow and guilt and regret and everything, released all of her ghosts from the dark recesses of her mind in long overdue sobs. Cynthia Rose, comrade, friend, stayed with her until there was nothing left (a pile of ashes where a phoenix needed to rise).

That night she called her dad and told him “I forgive you.” It wasn’t entirely true, but there was a promise in her words that they both clung to.

The next day she found Chloe in their coffee shop, stirring a cappuccino despondently as Aubrey talked at her across the table, probably over regionals if the excessive gestures were anything to go by. It hurt a little to know they were there together, in hers and Chloe’s place, but she couldn’t do that anymore; she couldn’t project her insecurities onto situations, because in some ways best friend Aubrey wasn’t so wrong about her. She was, however, wrong about one thing: Beca cared, and she could change, and she would fight for Chloe with everything that lay dormant inside her (because she wasn’t broken). It had taken a while to accept that and she had handled it all wrong as usual but she was here now, scared out of her mind. But not broken. When she had fallen asleep last night the same nightmare she had been having on and off for months haunted her for one final time, because there were no indistinguishable faces yelling at her through the glass, but Chloe, dressed like she was on the first day they met, smiling that secretive, comforting smile, silently begging to be let in. She had been there all along, waiting patiently; it was just Beca had never looked up from behind her hands to notice.

“I want you,” she blurted out, rather clumsily, as she approached their table, and both Aubrey’s and Chloe’s mouths dropped in surprise at seeing her there. “I mean …” She was making a mess of this already, and she could feel her skin turn as red as Chloe’s hair because she hadn’t even said hello. “I …” She took a deep breath – remembered Cynthia’s Rose’s words and the ghosts spilling from her mind - and met Chloe’s perfectly blue eyes. “I’m sorry. It’s taken me a while to get here, and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t want all of this baggage because, hell, this is a work in progress and I can’t explain half of the things I’m feeling at any given time, but you’ve got me this far with just your friendship, so I just … wanted to tell you that I want you. Properly, I mean. I want you to be, um, mine.” It was cliché, borderline cheesy, certainly badly delivered, but Chloe was the heroine of Beca’s silly fairytale story no matter what. She’d already given her more than she could possibly know. Yet Chloe was looking back at her with tears in her eyes, the cliché come to life. The real-deal.

“Beca …” She couldn’t find the words and Beca, unable to grasp the fact she was standing there, spilling out her heart, that it was actually happening, laughed until she had no breath left in her lungs. Cleansing. They both laughed, a little crazy from the months of dancing on tiptoe, and Aubrey stifled a smile, shaking her head, leaving them to their madness.

For once Chloe Beale didn’t have the words, and neither one of them had the answers, but perhaps there wasn’t ever a question: they were there, in that moment, in those circumstances, and Chloe was everything that Beca hadn’t known she’d wanted, and Chloe was reciprocating the hug that Beca had instigated like she had been waiting all along.

“So …” Beca chuckled, wiping her own tears away, an emotional wreck from the inside out and not giving a damn. “Can I buy you a drink?”

They talked for hours. The baristas had to ask them to leave when the sun was setting, cliché after cliché after cliché (but it was all so wonderful). They’d skipped rehearsal and it was a sign of the times that Aubrey hadn’t blown up their phones angrily – they considered it her way of accepting them. They stumbled, kissing, into Beca’s room, ignoring Kimmy Jin’s yelp of protest, and didn’t stop until the door closed behind them with Kimmy Jin’s declaration of “Finally you unpressed your lemon!” ringing in their ears, until breathless they collapsed on the bed. Beca had never, ever felt so ridiculously over-the-top disgustingly happy in her life. It was kind of grossing her out. Chloe smirked when she told her this, and before she could think of anything else witty to say to recover some level ground after her sappy declaration earlier, Chloe’s hands were grasping her shirt, and a hot mouth was covering her own, pushing her back into the mattress …

Jesse gave her the ultimate frown when she told him.

She’d said: “Listen, I’ve got to be honest with you, because there’s something about all of this that you don’t get. We’re not going to end up together. I’m … in love with someone. I have been all along. It just took me a while to figure it all out.”

Beca figured he would appreciate the no-nonsense approach. No bullshit movie lines. He didn’t, though, and stormed out of the station before she could blink. It hurt, it always would because she was frustratingly sensitive, but Beca was practised in the art of people leaving. All those years ago her dad had walked out of the door, got himself a new wife within the space of a year, and moved cross-country without a conversation, and only now was he that presence in her life, asking to be let back in. That pain would never quite disappear, nor the insecurity, but as Chloe constantly reminded her: she was not broken, she was mending. With affection she would call her, rather adorably, a work in progress.

Jesse came back however which she wasn’t equipped to deal with, but, as he told her, friends didn’t just quit other friends when things got rough. Or something like that. She was too busy hugging him to really listen. Clearly surprised, he hugged her back, joking that Chloe was already good for her, even if the comment was a little strained and the smile didn’t match his eyes, but she understood and nodded gratefully. Perceptive for once, she gave him space as he gave her the promise of friendship.

“Wow, you’re burning up,” Chloe commented one afternoon, sprawled all over Beca’s bed, her feet in the air as she poured over a biology textbook. She’d reached over to grab a drink of water from the desk and fingers grazed her bare arm.

Beca, however, was lost to her own thoughts. She’d been lost in her thoughts for close to an hour, ever since Chloe came over to study because Chloe, her Chloe, wore glasses. Seriously. Beca couldn’t form a sentence when she first saw her, clad in her usual attire of jeans and a shirt and glasses.

“You, er, wear glasses,” she’d said, startled, totally uncool, when she’d opened the door. From that moment on, she’d been doomed to stutter her way through whatever Chloe wanted to talk about, because she was so damn distracted and sitting on the bed with her so close was -

“Beca,” Chloe said in a sing-song voice. “You got a fever, fever,” she sang, quoting that Adam Lambert song that Beca, again totally uncool, actually knew and liked. There was a sparkle in her eyes that told Beca all she needed to know; that Chloe was teasing her, fully aware of what her very sexy, very chic intellectual look was doing to her. Beca wasn’t even aware she had fantasises, but she was learning a lot being Chloe Beale’s girlfriend.

She was remixing her, one day at a time.

“I’m fine,” Beca defended, crossing her legs, shifting as subtly as possibly, placing her headphones back into position and allowing her finger to hover over the laptop ready to start the mix -

“Beca,” Chloe whined, playfully nudging her. “Don’t ignore me.” She was still smirking.

Gritting her teeth, Beca continued to ignore her regardless, trying to lose herself in the music, but Chloe was doing that one eyebrow raise thing and it was almost impossible to concentrate. Instead she settled for swearing, physically removing herself from the bed and sitting at her desk, determined to win whatever game they were playing.

“Chloe,” she hissed when her girlfriend merely got up and followed her, wrapping her arms around Beca’s upper body, the contact literally making her ache. “I’m working.”

“Stress relief …” Chloe murmured, placing kisses down her neck. Just as Beca was starting to succumb, Chloe pulled back, stifling a smile, and asked, “So what do you think of my glasses?” while breathing into her ear seductively.

Exasperated, Beca stood up, pushing Chloe off of her, and stormed back over to the bed, gleeful laughter ringing in her ears because this was Chloe’s new favourite hobby: get Beca so incredibly flustered that she couldn’t form a comeback. Shamefully Beca lost more times than she won. It didn’t take long for Chloe’s pout and half-baked apologies to melt her heart – when did she turn into such this person? – and return the embrace, always figuring her mix could wait. Because it could. Because Chloe was music on top of everything else.

For a couple that had one occupant with so many issues, things between them were fairytale fine. Beca dreamed of blue eyes, constantly, and Chloe would cocoon her in their sleep. Newly improved Beca would wait for her outside of class, buy her coffee, surprise her with text messages, mixed CDs, promising silently with each gesture to continue learning, trusting, her heart starting to beat for the first time in her life with optimism and hope. It was slow progress, but Beca was impressed that she had ever become comfortable enough to share parts of herself to another person, much less ask one to be her girlfriend.

There was one thing, though. Touching didn’t come naturally - hadn’t ever for that matter - but she fought through her instinct to create spaces between them, both mentally and physically, by cautiously allowing their fingers to entwine, by putting a hand on her lower back as they walked, by tracing the contours of her body when they weren’t distracted by kissing. Finding what she was comfortable with was a never-ending test. Everything was when it came to Beca, or so it felt like, but Chloe was so, so patient, never pushing or pressuring, letting her initiate touch-based interactions. Beca swore she was far too perfect to be real, which she teased her about constantly to disguise her own lingering feelings of people-leave-her-for-a-reason, but Chloe, somehow understanding, would roll her eyes like Beca needed her to, grasp her hand and tether her to their relationship, promising silently that she wasn’t going anywhere.

It came to a point when Beca couldn’t talk about it anymore. Words of such poetry could never fall from her mouth, so she talked without them. Though she had been ready to take that next step with for what felt like weeks upon weeks, she had been too terrified to even bring it up, so their first time was long overdue, really, but she eventually got so tired of not being able to talk. This was one of those moments that she didn’t have to speak, so she wasn’t about to waste it.

Turns out sleeping with someone really helps to eradicate those touch-based barriers. Sleeping with Chloe Beale made everything else seem like child’s play in comparison. (Turns out, sex was more than she had ever expected it to be, and looking into Chloe’s expressive blue gaze during …)

The Bellas would jeer at them with affection, catcalling and laughing whenever Beca held out her hand for Chloe to take, but Chloe would look at her with such affection in her eyes that Beca would shrug, state “I’m happy!” to the group and smirk at all the innuendos that replaced the teasing. She wouldn’t have it any other way, especially when Aubrey screeched at them all for being more preoccupied with Beca’s and Chloe’s sex life than the upcoming competition. Beca would roll her eyes, catching Cynthia Rose’s proud-parent thumbs up, respond by giving her the finger, constantly stifling a ridiculous smile. All she did these days was smile. It was creeping her out in the best way.

When Chloe stood up that one afternoon and announced that they were dating, a proud smile lighting up her features, wearing her heart on her sleeve, no one (not even Fat Amy) made a comment. Beca, instead of feeling awkward and uncomfortable and detached, offered her girlfriend a rare, soft smile. It didn’t take long for the comments to roll in, especially when Chloe assisted Beca in a rather flexible dance step, but it was welcome, like validation, like a chorus of acceptance.

When she introduced Chloe to her mother over Christmas, something else slotted into place. When her mom cried tears of joy and relief that her daughter had found someone who understood all her strange idiosyncrasies (and Chloe didn’t freak out over the fact Beca really had been that emotionally scarred for most of her life) she knew that this one was a keeper. That she had been right: Chloe was it. Her mom pulled her aside, smiled a complex smile of proud sadness, whispered “she’s perfect” and placed a kiss on her daughter’s forehead, hesitantly wrapping her arms around Beca as she sobbed all of her apologies into her shoulder for being such a – for not – but her mom shook her head through her own tears, said she had been wonderful and that she was sorry for how she had dealt with the divorce, and fixed another piece of Beca’s traitorous mind.

When they won regionals and kissed in front of everyone, in front of Jesse, her dad, all of the auditorium, in the midst of the noise and mess and the celebratory stomps, Beca didn’t even think twice. She clutched Chloe to her like she was air itself, cleansing her soul with every new milestone they reached. When her dad looked at Chloe like she was his saving grace, the reason behind his second chance, and Chloe was all charm and Grace Kelly poise, Beca knew that things were going to be just fine. That, maybe, she was the kind of person to forgive.

Graduation came and went and Chloe was accepted to Seattle Grace for an internship. It felt a lot like drowning, saying goodbye, but Beca had learned not to give up that easily. Besides, she had the Bellas to manage and she was determined to make it through college in one piece now she hadn’t completely failed her first year there and – she couldn’t bullshit. Things were different now. There was still L.A, but there was everything else, too.

She cried, like, a lot when her Disney princess got on the train. Jesse held her hand, let her sob into his shoulder, the lingering unease from daddy’s abandonment issues flaring up to the surface, but she had Chloe’s sweater to keep the nightmares at bay, and a tattoo of the notes to Titanium on her wrist reminding her that this was real, this existed; she had, once, been brave enough to say I wanted to see you. This was the easy part. Right. Right?

Cynthia Rose became her confidante, the best friend she had never envisioned. They were roommates, and Stacie was there more often than not, taking up space they didn’t really have, and Fat Amy would barge in whenever she pleased, but she always brought Chinese food and an extraordinary anecdote, and Lilly would sit in the corner, reading a book in a language Beca couldn’t decipher, and they would exist in each others spaces, the original Bellas. Beca felt a fondness for them all. Together they had embarked upon a journey; they were her people, pulling her aboard a life raft and dressing her up in a life jacket, with and without Chloe’s strict instructions. They didn’t make her burn, didn’t inspire the sparks to shoot from one end of her body to the other, but they did stop her from drowning when she couldn’t set herself on fire, which is all she could ask for.

There was a lot of Skype and soft blue eyes and outstretched figures tracing a screen whilst the embers of Chloe’s tales of post-graduation life filled the distance between them. It hurt – was more painful than old-Beca trying to emerge into present-Beca all those months ago – but it was the kind of pain that meant something. There were no empty spaces in her nightmares, or a barrage of fists hammering against her walls, but an ocean of blue in which she was so, so lost.

“I love you,” Beca whispered, pressing it into the screen, a hand poised as if to touch her face, but she never could because she was never there, making the room seem darker, colder, emptier. Ghost-Chloe.

“Not as much as I love you,” Ghost- Chloe replied after a moment of trying to compose herself, wiping at her tears regardless. (She was always drowning in Chloe’s tears).

Beca chuckled, her heart throbbing painfully. “Impossible.”

It became their mantra – see how far they could push their feelings into the other, how much they could express in a gesture, a look, the words they couldn’t say (and the words they could) never being enough to replace each other’s absence. Whoever said distance wasn’t difficult – and Beca tried to think if anyone ever had - was a liar nevertheless, because breathing was so incredibly treacherous when all she wanted was to drown in Chloe’s gaze, to entwine their fingers so tightly that they really were tethered.

The screen of her laptop could never quite do it justice.

Jesse promised it would get easier, even though he had broken up with his high school girlfriend for the reason which he swore wasn’t a reason at all. She would nod as if she believed him. The months merged together in a haze of sleepless nights, where beats of melancholy songs would imprint to the backs of her eyelids, but there was a never a moment in her resolve that said give up, it isn’t worth this. It hurt to live like this, but it would be unbearable not to. Instead she threw herself into a capella like her sanity depended on it (and maybe it did) but it all paid off when they sailed through their competitions with little to no drama. The new members weren’t a patch on Aubrey and Chloe, but Beca and Cynthia Rose had whipped them into decent enough shape.

The Bellas never, ever let her come close to drowning.

When Beca led them to a miraculous victory at the finals, beating the Trebeltones for the second year running, and Chloe stepped out of the audience like a ghostly apparition, red hair curling around her shoulders in waves, her signature secret, sly smile in place, affectionate eyes locked onto hers, mouthing ‘I wanted to see you’ after not seeing her for three months straight, and Beca burst into sobs in the middle of it all, remembering those words pouring out of her own mouth once upon a time, she saw clearly what the rest of her life held if she was still brave enough to fight for it like she had been in that one moment. It involved keys and rings and promises; endless music, mixes of all genres, amalgamating to make the perfect song. Their song. Their future.

So when Beca, after graduation and her success in L.A and Chloe’s promotion and the apartment they were still christening, dropped down to one knee in the middle of the coffee shop where she had first revealed her feelings, flushing as red as Chloe’s hair because she was still awkward and nervous and scared, tentatively held out a ring and stuttered a clumsy proposal – something about fairytales and princesses and forever’s (she wasn’t quite sure what but Chloe understood everything Beca had never been able to say) – and Chloe contained her high-pitched squeal just for a moment, just to stare into Beca’s eyes and reassure her wordlessly that her answer was a resounding yes, she knew that “I wanted to see you” were the best words – besides these – she had ever uttered. (The resulting embrace told her that she never had to be alone again).

Barden turned out to be the end of one chapter and the start of something much better. Her fiancé Chloe was the cliché come to life, the real-deal, and she was remixing Beca one day at a time.