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Bechloe Oneshots

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The pain ripped through the edge of Chloe's jaw, a dark metallic taste overwhelming against her taste buds as her deep cobalt eyes met the edge of a training mat. She hadn't expected the hit to be that hard, to be that fast and agile. Beca was strong enough to make a lasting impression, one that echoed on the side of her mind.

Her fingers met the aching splotch that was throbbing with her heartbeat. She was breathing heavy, stare raising to meet the chocolate gaze. It was cocky, the smaller girl having a smirk engraved on pink lips. She was in fighting stance; shoulders squared as her gloved hands raised in point with her collarbone.

"you told me to give it my all," She panted, trying to make up for the punch she just threw.

"I know what I said." Chloe spits to her side, the blood trickling from a small cut that was stinging on the side of her mouth. She was tempted to drag her arm against her chin but knew it would just smear the crimson even more.

"Do you need a minute?" Beca asked.

Instead of giving a plausible answer, Chloe sprung forward, moving with the current as she attempted to hit Beca where it hurt. The brunette ducked quickly, forcing her knuckles into Chloe's ribs as the girl pushed back against her touch, not quite fond of giving up yet.

"Come on Chlo," her opponent taunted "You're better than this."

"You're right," The red-head straightened up, dropping her hands to the side. Her fingertips were cold against the gym air. She was breathing heavy as she slumped her shoulders not fully in the fight. "I know you're right, something just seems off lately. Like I'm not good enough."

"Oh," Beca dropped her own stance, sniffing a bit as her lungs got used to the normal pace she usually kept. She stepped closer to her friend, not intending for the game talk to really hit the girl as had as it did. "That was a joke. We just spar for fun, right? You know you're capable of anything."

The two of them were about a nose distance apart now, sweat glistening under the light that the facility gym had to offer. It was a small and private room in the middle of a large company. Its surrounding windows were frosted, a few weight machines off in the corners. There was mostly empty flooring, though.

"I know," Chloe gave a menacing smile, sweeping one foot under Beca, the smaller girl lost her balance quickly, landing on her back as all the breath escaped her lungs. She grunted, her hands landing in a mess above her as Chloe quickly straddled her sparring partner.

"That was dirty, Beale." The brunette growled under her friend's touch.

"Play dirty to win big, Mitchell." Her knees were on either side of the girl's waist, fingers lightly pressing down on top of her wrists as she smirked in triumph. Beca was panting, staring up at Chloe as deep red hair fell into crystalline eyes.

The clearing of someone's throat was enough to make the girls peel their limbs apart, Chloe veering to the side as Beca sat up on her elbow- their focus on the tall blonde woman who stood by the door. They didn't hear it slide open, the one drawback of the facilities advances in technology.

"If you two are done," She spoke gravely. Aubrey's hands were crossed over her chest, the company logo on the black t-shirt she wore was quickly covered by her arm. They had grown used to the disapproving looks and snide comments they got from the group leader. She never went further than that, though. "We have things to discuss."

"Of course," Chloe raised herself up from the ground, wiping her hands on her equally as pitch pants before reaching a hand down and pulling her partner up from the floor. Beca let out a small grunt as she nodded towards Aubrey.

The girl grunted before walking away, expecting to be followed. She didn't' have to wait long. The corridor that stretched in front of them was lined in metal walls, the floor a dark grey. It was lit by bright fluorescents that would emit different powders if dropped. Just like any lightbulb. They were too careful around here to let that happen, though.

"I'm sure both of you are aware of the rise in crime rates in sector seven."

"Mm," Beca spoke up, "It's all over the news, but I don't see how that's our problem."

"Local law enforcement usually handles that type of thing, don't they?" Chloe cocked a brow, feeling Aubrey's shoulder make contact with her chest as she let out a small breath. The blonde had stopped suddenly, turning to face the two girls that stood in front of her. They looked scrappy, dried blood still on the base of Chloe's chin.

"You're right." She stated "Usually, but it's gotten too out of hand for them to fight anymore."

"They've given up?"

"They've deserted." Aubrey snarled, clearly angered by the situation that was thrust into the teams responsibility. She turned quickly on her heels, shoes still echoing as they headed to the large room office that was at the end of such a lengthy hallway. "Barden has to clean up their mess now. One that's shrouded in barbed wire, apparently."

Beca gave a wary glance to her partner as the two took the hint that Aubrey would blow a gasket on the subject if they asked any more questions. Chloe's mouth was dry and tasted like cotton. She always used to cringe when she would see someone dig their teeth into the collar of their shirt, soaking it with saliva. It was never a habit she kept as a child.

The trio came upon a large glass door. It was smoked out, just like the walls of the gym. There was a stillness in the air as Aubrey touched the black screen that lit up to the slightest interaction. It illuminated a small patch of the hallway in a deep blue color. She typed in a code, each number flashing gold at the possibility of being pushed. The normal cards wouldn't work here. They couldn't swipe their way into a high-level office.

A small compression of air released in to fill the quiet, Aubrey squaring her shoulders as she stepped into the large room. It was simple, a white desk pushed against the back wall with a large computer screen made of transparent material. There were equally as stark bookshelves to the right, filled with different law books that would highlight in gold the moment you laid a finger on them.

"This is who you came up with?" Gail sat behind the large desk, shutting the screen off as she raised her eyebrows. She looked stunning, her hair in a tight bun as she lifted her chin slightly. A dark collar was popped on her shirt, mouth slightly agape as she stared at her apprentice for an explanation. Neither girls had ever seen Aubrey quake with much intimidation before- yet this one woman had enough power in just her gaze to still the entire room.

"I-uh," She cleared her throat quickly "Well, yes ma'am. Chloe and Beca are two of Barden's most promising agents. Just young enough to pass, just pretty enough to do so with flying colors."

Beca drew in a breath, ready to push words past her lips, but Chloe's hand on the small of her back stopped her. It was better to stay silent in this situation, even if she had to bite her tongue the point of tears forming in her eyes.

"Sector seven needs fighters," Gail stood up from behind the desk, her dark heels reflecting against crystal floors. "Not trainee's."

Chloe averted her gaze to the floor. The woman in front of them had only spoken a few words to her, maybe once or twice while passing in the hallway. There was a mutual understanding between everyone here. You don't question your leadership, especially when she looks that intimidating in a pair of 6-inch heels. Her hands were behind her back, one wrapped around the opposite wrist as she stayed at attention. Beca was a little more slumped, her chin lifted slightly as she listened to the exchange.

"They've trained well, Ma'am." Aubrey stood her ground, a bit more anger pressing it's way through her tone. She had faith in the girls that she had stuck with from day one. The two people she pulled from poverty and gave a purpose. They were hard to break, at first. But she got through. She taught them everything that she knew. "They know Sector Seven."

Gail let out a small sigh as she sat on the edge of her desk. She had a pensive look on her face, biting her lip as she stared down at the floor. It was something to consider. The rest of the unit were more than capable of finding some order in an unsalvageable piece of land. But the two woman who stood in front of her had a better chance of doing it without detection.

"I could feed you some bullshit line about this being the hardest thing you'll ever have to do in your career." The blonde spoke, stepping closer to the three smaller girls. Aubrey held her breath, her chest starting to burn as the sanitized air ate away at her throat. "The hardest thing in your lives."

Beca nodded quickly, not sure how to respond to the intimidation tactic that was being applied by someone on her own side. She hadn't been back home in years- her own mind running crazy with what it could possibly look like now. A city that she knew like the back of her hand at one point would have morphed and crumbled.

"What exactly do you need us to do, ma'am?" Chloe asked, knitting her eyebrows together as she found her voice.

"RACE." Gail responded matter-of-factly, her gaze whipping to face the red-head. "Reassess, announce, contain, and extract."

"Extract what?" Aubrey asked, lips slightly parted.

"Anyone you can," Gail let out a small breath "Sector Seven will crumble, and I can't have half a population fall under false pretenses, now can I?"

The fabric was soft under her touch, corners folded nicely under meticulous scrutiny. She had tried to get as many wrinkles out as possible, the scent of powdered detergent fresh in her lungs as the girl plunged herself into the prospect of packing instead of facing the inevitable.

"How do you think she'll do it?" Beca asked from the top bunk.

It was a small room, a little cubby that was marked with some obscure number. It reminded Chloe of a submarine the first time she slept here- the creaks of the metal bunker against the wind sounded more like the track they played in every Titanic exhibit across the country. Instead, it was a simple holding room for them to sleep.

There was a set of bunk beds pushed against one corner of the wall, a desk adjacent to that. A small police scanner rested in the corner next to a little lamp. One that usually remained off when the girls weren't reading through the assigned material.

"What?" Chloe glanced up at her counterpart, lost in her own thoughts.

"The city," Beca stared down, knitting her eyebrows "Gail is going to level it. How?"

Chloe shrugged, shoving another shirt into the duffel bag. They were all the same- all dark in some way or another. They weren't given many options here. A few sets of training clothes and of course their standard uniforms.

"There are only so many ways to get rid of a population."

"We can get them out."

"I suppose you want to start with our families, then."

"No." Chloe said gruffly, letting out a small sigh. "We start with anyone who will listen."

Beca simply nodded, swallowing roughly as she lowered her back onto the wall like she had done a million times. Her hands were resting in her lap as the breathed carefully. Silently. The girl glanced up as her mattress dipped slightly, the springs groaning and creaking. Chloe leaned into the duvet where the ladder is, her body draped across the length of the area.

"We'll be okay," She spoke, playing with a bit of fabric that came loose from the rest of the stitching.

"It's not us I'm worried about," Beca admitted, tucking her legs under her chin as she wrapped her arms around them. She was curled up into a little ball, both girls listening to their breath in the otherwise quiet room.

Chapter Text

My fingers have the tendency to shake. My personal kryptonite when it came to my wishes of becoming a surgeon, or even a vet. I could focus so intently on keeping them steady and precise, but no matter how hard I tried, they would always tremble.

I remember the first time I got a tattoo. The needle, the bright fluorescent lights and the way the man's weight was so heavy against my freezing skin. I had waited outside for about an hour as part of some charity event. The harsh cold and unforgiving temperatures were enough to quell the anxiety that started to form against the inside of my mind.

He told me very carefully "Make sure you stay still."

Right. That was easy enough. I didn't always need to be tapping my foot or twirling a pen. All I had to do was relax into the plush coating of the bed and let him do his work. I remember that day being scary, the feeling of a hot iron nail is the only way I can describe it. But I did, stay still that is. At least I tried too. But the man didn't mention a thing when my fingers started to twitch on the opposite hand.

Maybe my inability to stay still helped fuel the drive it took to get into Barden. The scholarships and trust funds not being enough to really cover my tuition. But it helped knowing someone in the admissions offices. They pulled strings, and I sat with my grasp wavering on a stack of folders and transcripts. They didn't' mention anything either.

The thing I realized most in life, is that people don't seem to want to call you out on things. If you have a piece of lettuce from your lunch wedged between your teeth, they're quick to rush you to the bathroom as a deep shade of red comes to your cheeks. But with nervous ticks like shaking hands? It's a different story.

Beca's gaze would always wander through the years, yet she bit her tongue. It was obvious, the way that she wanted to bring it up in moments that we were alone. In a way, I could keep the nerves from causing them to tremble too much when I focused on the little alternative girl who had a talent for mixing music.

She was different. So much so that she irked Aubrey's anger and interest that I had never seen before. She had to hold things back more- take more control over the way her rage came to mind whenever Beca would bring up a snide, well thought you, comment.

I never objected. Not when the two of them argued like they did. I knew that I wouldn't get a word in edgewise. I would just keep my hands in my pockets and rock back and forth from my toes to my heels. There was no need to push things, not unless they had to be pushed.

Beca was my co-captain and a damn good one. The two of us spent upwards of fifteen hours a week together, mixing tracks and planning out choreography. The two of us lounging lazily in her attic room as Amy snuck around with whatever flavor of the week she decided to taste.

It was during one of these long study sessions that she mentioned my hands.

I was lounging across her bed, the blankets dented under my weight as I let out an exasperated sigh, shoving the book that I was holding to my side as I blinked against the ceiling light that suddenly filled my view. Beca had her feet up on her desk, laptop resting near her knees.

She averted her gaze away from her work as soon as I stretched out my fingers and grumbled in frustration, staring at them for a few moments before closing my eyes. It was hard to read when the words were too distorted to decipher.

"Hey, Chlo?" Beca asked, her voice soft as I moved my forearm over my gaze, trying to blink away the blue light that was obstructing my vision. It was afterlight- something I got when I stared at anything slightly bright for more than a few seconds. I was used to it like I was used to the shaking.

I didn't answer, too lost in my thoughts. They were racing a mile a minute while the bed dipped slightly near my head- the metal springs creaking and groaning under the small DJ's weight. The gentle touch of a finger jabbed into my ribs. Another grumble moving from my throat.

"Chlo?"

"Beca."

"What are you trying to read?"

The question threw me off, I didn't think that would be her first reaction. She had seen me come apart at the seems a couple of times before, but just like everything else she bit her tongue and looked the other way. This time, she curled up into a little ball at the top of the bed and pulled at the pages of the book.

"The history of Japanese theatre," I grumbled, not opening my eyes, anticipating the questions that were sure to flood in. I didn't have the patience to sit through and pick through my psyche. "It's for Drama 108."

"Oh," Beca said in a hushed tone as the silence fell over us once more. I was internally begging, pleading that she starts to just hound me. Press further for something that she wanted, something that she needed to here. She let out a thick sigh as I squeezed the fabric of the comforter, white knuckling it.

"In 1949 critic, director, and producer Takechi Tetsuji began offering brief runs of controversial kabuki stagings in Osaka." The brunette had a soothing voice, one that finally made me whip my head to the side as my eyes widened slightly. "These "Takeuchi Kabuki" were instrumental in nurturing Kamigata."

"Beca," I whispered, listening to her speak softly- not changing her tone. Her features scrunched up every once and awhile at the different names for plays and their creators, but she never faltered, not for a good ten minutes. "Beca."

"Hmm?" She finally glanced up, hair falling into her indigo gaze as she kept both of her hands on either side of the book. She parted her lips slightly, confused on why I had made her stop.

"What are you doing?"

"Reading?" She mirrored incredulously.

I swallowed roughly, my mouth dry as I stared down at the different paisley designs on the covers. "Why?" my voice was barely above a whisper.

"Chlo, something is clearly stressing you out." She said, "I've uh… I've never seen it this bad before. So just let me read to you, okay?"

I stared at her, feeling the lump edge at the center of my throat. No one had ever done something like this without making a big deal about why- yet her was this girl who used sarcasm as her second language, willing to drop everything and read through a history of something she clearly couldn't pronounce.

I sniffed, fighting back the urge to cry as Beca nodded knowingly, flicking her eyes back to the pages of the book. "Okay."

"Today the theatre division of entertainment con-glo-mer-a" She squinted, holding the book further from her stare. "That's a fucky word. I'm skipping it."

I chuckled slightly, getting a glimpse of a whole new side of Beca, one that didn't ask questions. One that kept her focus steady, and slowly wrapped her fingers around mine, even if they were trembling like crazy.

Chapter Text

The gun was weighted in Beca's hand, her finger lazily on the trigger as the mix of plastic and metal found it's exact target. She wasn't nervous, the brunette never felt a spark of anxiety in moments like these. To Beca, this wasn't a talent show where she was testing out her vocal range against a cliché Kelly Clarkson song- no, this was something she knew how to do very well. Detach herself from her surroundings.

The house that she was in did strike a bit of a nerve- the scent of freshly baked cookies thick in her lungs. It was something that usually comforted her after a long and taxing day of classes- but today it only made a thick knot form against her stomach. Her mouth was dry, despite this, a lump in her throat.

Something felt off to the young girl the second she stepped through the gate to the Bella's shared house. They were reserved for sororities, and other prestigious events but the Dean had heard just about enough griping from the group of girls to finally get them their own place on main.

Tonight, however, things were dark. Even if all the Bella's had gone to their respective classes and activities there would surely be a light left on. Chloe had chided about the electric bill and how irresponsible it was but it never stopped the golden glow of a bathroom lamp from seeping into a hallway that was unchecked and unoccupied. This is what had Beca so on edge.

Her breath was short and labored as she kept her pistol lowered to her side, taking careful steps as her boots echoed off the edges of the little foyer that was lined with countless picture frames from past competitions and team building trips a certain ginger had coaxed her into arranging.

Everything was so quiet, everything except for the clear figure that was highlighted slightly by a glassy glow. The patio doors were revealing enough- even without the light or the supposed give away, Beca knew she wasn't alone. Her jaw clenched as the metallic taste of blood coated her tongue. A nervous habit that a little Chapstick could always cure right up.

She was silent as she rushed forward, ignoring the sudden noise as she slammed the figure roughly into the wall closest to her, right by the staircase. A loud crash rang out as a little bowl Amy had made in pottery class tumbled to the ground, it barely missed the strange figure and Beca- the shorter girl secretly grateful to have a way to get rid of the pinched pottery without hurting Amy's feelings- according to the blonde, it was the one thing that she wasn't good at. The house couldn't help but agree. Silently, though.

The figure was soft under her touch, Beca's forearm outstretched against the bulk of what she now knew was a woman's chest. Her knee pinning her down as the gun in her right hand round an easy click flush against a temple. Even in the dark, Beca knew her anatomy well.

What she didn't' expect was the sudden burst of light, not causing her to recoil, but enough to make her squint against the burst of color that coated every inch of the small foyer. Her attacker hadn't flicked the switch, someone else did. Beca was a tiny girl, one against one was pretty rough- but two against one was a stretch. Especially in her own house.

Her steely blue eyes darted over to the little plastic switch, gaze softening as she realized it was Amy who had brought light into the house.

Wait, Amy?

"You see, this is what I'm talking about." The figure under her touch caught Beca's attention, a series of dread running through her as she stared into slate grey eyes. "Weird, right?"

"Legacy, what the hell?" was all Beca could manage as she untangled herself from Emily. She girl finally letting out a thick breath. It was late- she was in sweatpants and an old Bella's shirt with the sleeves snipped off by a pair of craft scissors. Beca was panting, quick to shove her gun back into her black jeans.

"Yeah, I can see your point." Amy pondered, accent thick as Beca's crazed stare flashed back over to her friend. She didn't seem shocked, why wasn't she shocked? Beca had essentially pistol-whipped their newest recruit. "I'm just glad you're not trigger happy."

"Trigger… I'm sorry, what the fuck is going on?"

The blonde finally directed her attention towards the smaller girl as Emily struggled to adjust her shirt the way it was before her captain ambushed her. It wasn't a good idea to sneak up on her, not with her nerves bundled and heart racing.

"You know how I take twenty dollars from your wallet every month?" Amy didn't take a breath before she continued "Well, I found your badge."

"I don't… I mean, the twenty dollars I want to circle back to. But what's the big deal?" The brunette struggled to grasp the situation by its horns. "Yeah, I've been working at a production company-"

"Not the badge Shawshank." Amy tapped her temple. "Your other badge, the metal one."

Of course, Beca knew what badge her shifty roommate was talking about. One that she worked hard enough to obtain- one she had thought about hiding in a lock box away from the sticky fingers of her friends. It was bound to happen one day; them figuring out about exactly what she had been up to before she joined the singing group she now called family.

"Care to explain?" Another sharp voice filled her ears. One that actually made the color drain from her features as her gaze focused quickly on the carpet. Emily and Amy, she could handle- the younger of the two would be happy just to go to an amusement park for the day to forget about her troubles while Amy would settle on a forty instead of a twenty from the woman's wallet.

Chloe was a different story, her mouth taught in an odd expression as she leaned heavily against the doorframe, emerging from the dark clutches of the living room for dramatic effect- part of Beca prayed the rest of the Bella's didn't crawl from the corners of the house just to give the big reveal a little more flare.

"Right, so considering you know what I do…" Beca sounded out, pressing her fingers to her temple in exasperation "You thought it was a good idea to sneak up on me?"

"Oh no," Amy spoke up "That was Emily's idea, and for once I didn't have the heart to go against it."

The youngest girl drew in a shocked breath as she shook her head in dismay. She knew Amy was working too well with her, never going along with a plan. "Are you kidding? Beca could have killed me!"

"I wouldn't have-"

"You were gonna do something dumb at some point Emily might as well fast track it!"

Chloe cleared her throat as she held up a hand, silencing a room. Beca had been in many compromising situations- under the mercy of guns, and knives, even a crossbow one summer in Cabo, but Chloe's deathly gaze was enough to halt everything in the area.

"What are you exactly?" She asked, slowly lowering her hand. "A paid assassin, a spy?"

"If I was a spy I couldn't really tell you-"

"Rebecca Mitchell."

"Yeah, yes." She let out an exasperated sigh "God forbid I wanted to get out of the family business and go get a college education."

She never wanted any of the girls to figure out about her secret hobby. She wasn't even sure if that was the label she would slap onto it. She had killed people, fought for her life against a string of car bandits and even jumped from a few planes without a parachute. But somehow living in a house with upwards of twelve college girls was the biggest challenge.

"A college," Chloe barked, not even knowing how to finish her sentence. "Beca you're a contract killer. How do you expect me to be okay with this?"

"Technically I've only killed two people." The girl thought, shoving her hands in her pockets as she looked back "I usually just knock em' out but if you keep coming at me you're asking for it."

A sharp elbow to the ribs halted Beca, Legacy shaking her head frantically. Chloe looked like one of those cartoon characters that had smoke pouring from their ears as flames how out of their mouths. Beca had never seen the girl this angry- not even when CR threw up in her new purse half-way to regionals. At least then, her caring nature kicking in.

"Alright, Em." Amy mumbled, taking the girl by her shoulders as she shoved her across the wood-paneled floor. "Let's go get ice cream."

"What? I don't even have shoes."

"Oh my god."

The two's voices echoed against the walkway as Emily complained about how freezing the sidewalk was against her bare feet. Beca's mind rushed through the options that were presented in front of her. She wanted to be anywhere but here- Chloe's deep stormy gaze was loud and abrasive despite the quick silence the engulfed the two of them.

She shifted her stance, her boot clacking against the hardwood floor as she rolled her shoulder slightly. They were tight with tension, mouth still like sandpaper as she struggled to find her thoughts. "Chlo, I didn't mean to hide anything from you."

"That's a lie." The ginger hissed, crossing her arms over her jacketed chest. "And the recording studio? Fuck, Beca. You could have told me."

Beca let out a struggled sigh. She had done everything in her power to keep her secret. The long nights stitching up scars and covering bruises with thick foundation over the discolored skin felt useless now.

Chloe was standing close, so close that the scent of her citrus body spray filled every inch of Beca's lungs, making her feel warm and content as she bit the inside of her lip. That cold edge was still close to her abdomen. She was taller than Beca, but not by much- her breath like acid against the girl's collarbone.

"I trust you, Chlo." She whispered, voice breaking "I just don't trust myself."

The chilled edge of the open door behind her almost beckoned her way. It was what her family did- they ran when things got too challenging and coarse. Her fingers twitched under the weight of the cold as Chloe just stared- stared so silently and so pensively that she was close to burning a hole through Beca's skull. She was rooted in her place, however, not wanting to turn her back on a family that had given up everything.

"A spy, huh?" Chloe finally relented, letting out a long breath as she placed her hands on the younger girls hips, her touch like a hot iron as Beca finally let out the cold air building up in her throat. She had felt the subtlety of the girl before, drunken nights where she would get a little too clingy. Or even if the girls had forced them to venture into a haunted house that rolled around during the Autumn months, but it was never like this. Not this gentle or warranted. "So are you like, CIA?"

"You know I can't say," Beca sounded out softly, a little teasing glint in her eyes.

"Don't worry, I'm not mad," Chloe whispered, her words soft as a deep chill ran through Beca's body, her eyes clenching shut as she shuddered, feeling Chloe's body press closer to hers- this was new, but the fuzzy feeling that rocked through her stomach certainly wasn't. She inhaled feeling Chloe moved her body even closer as she ran her fingers over Beca's sides.

"You're not?" Beca mumbled, voice deep and raspy as she curled her fingers into her palm.

"Mmm," Chloe purred, pressing her lips against Beca's forehead softly, her ears ringing as the smaller girls mind clouded. "It's kind of hot, really. You're like James Bond."

Beca hummed into the touch, lost in bliss.

The sudden click of a trigger snapped the younger woman right out of her stupor, lips parting slightly as her eyes shot open in disbelief. The gun. The pistol that was tucked so neatly into the waistband of her pants had its hot metal tip digging into her spine- Chloe's stormy eyes showing flashes of lightning. She had never seen them so dark before.

"James Bond is a terrible spy, Sweetie."

Chapter Text

The slick cement made jogging hard- rubber soles hitting the edged pavement with little conviction as air pushed past my lungs. They were burning, irritated against thick movements and rough touches. It was just like gym class, but without the patronizing beeps and sweaty kids that bleed pizza grease.

I was one of those kids, the kind that would hole myself up in my room with a couple of cheesy boxes and crappy video games. I certainly never one to push past my bedroom door and actually put on a pair of running shoes.

But here I was, at 1:30am mid-January wishing for a fast death. One that would put me out of the rough training schedule and cardio that Aubrey Mother fucking Posen had instilled in me. Of course, she said nothing about running in the middle of the night on the trails behind campus- but I also had poor time management and that blonde-haired demon could tell if I skipped a day.

My chest quelled with the pain of a winters touch, my even-paced jog dulling out into a slow trot before I paused at the path's edge, ripping out one of my earbuds. I listened carefully as my breath came out in even puffs, creating a misty cloud that was illuminated by the budding moon.

The little path that I had chosen for my midnight sprint was lined against the back of Baker Hall. It was a little-paved walkway that started right at a lights edge but wound through a spurt of woods behind the campus. It was connected to a larger wildlife park that was a few miles down the road. A lot of people used it for biking or taking out their dogs in a quiet environment.

This late at night it was empty, which is why the startling crack of a hammer caught my attention. It made my heart press into my throat, my other hand dropping as the left earbud drifted over my shoulder. My mouth was dry and sore, nose running from the freshly hedged snow that was collecting near the trees.

I knit my eyebrows together as another crack of iron against wood made me take a slight step back. This time with a little more conviction. I had seen enough horror movies to know that you don't, under any circumstances, follow the weird noises in the creepy forest.

"Mother of God," The voice halted me in my steps- it was muffled and agitated, but one that I knew quite well. One that had bounced off the shower walls a few weeks ago and caught my attention with it's encouraging tone at each and every practice. "Are you kidding me?"

My shoulders slumped. I could keep running, I could take off back in the direction of my dorm and crash before Kimmy Jin got that evil look in her eyes. Or I could check out the situation at hand, not intending to sneak up on the girl the way she had me.

I chose the latter, my arms crossed over my chest as I leaned against one of the trees. I watched carefully. Chloe Beale had a silver flashlight between her teeth, muffling her scrambled speech as she directed the pale light over what looked like a large box.

She stumbled over a root, letting out another quick breath as she found her balance, the strange box catching my focus once more. "This is the weirdest walk of shame I've ever seen."

The startled redhead whipped around, pushing a quick bout of air from her lungs as she snatched the light from her lips with an odd clank. It didn't' seem to pain her though- instead, she busied herself with blocking the box.

"Beca?" She asked the obvious question. "What are you doing out so late?"

"I could ask you the same thing," I pointed a finger her way "I'm just going for a jog because I can't sleep. You, on the other hand, are being weird and creepy."

"Am not," She swatted my hand away, touch cold and unforgiving. It was a gentle one, though. I wasn't really sure if Chloe Beale was capable of doing anything worse than a simple tap. Either way, she looked agitated. "You know how unsafe it is to wonder these woods without your BU rape whistle?"

I rolled my eyes, but still felt the heavy and cold edge of that very whistle against my back pocket. It seemed almost necessary. "Seriously, Chlo, is everything alright?"

"Everything is fine." She breathed out, she turned her back to me, squatting in front of the box as she started to rummage through it. Whatever it was sounded heavy. "Well, if you're going to stay, make yourself useful."

I nodded absently, grasping the flashlight that she shot back at me, I curled my fingers over it as I squatted down next to her, pressing the marigold edge against the objects. The closer I got the more I realized that they were little brightly painted doors- a few houses that were built out of things found around a hardware store- and a couple of objects that I couldn't quite read, but they looked like little-painted signs.

"Chlo," I started, "What is all this stuff?"

"You don't run this path often?" She said, not answering me directly before she turned her gaze my way and placed her fingers under the silver light- she lifted it up, my hand lagging a bit as I stared her down.

"No, no I suppose not." I hadn't ever been on this part of campus, but I found it safer than jogging around the actual buildings where frat boys tended to finish off entire cases of beer just for fun. In fact, it was Aubrey who suggested this place at the last practice, again, not at midnight, but on any given day.

"When I first started college, I didn't adjust well," Chloe stated, pulling out a few of the doors and setting them down next to the box. "I couldn't sleep most of the time, and until I met Aubrey, I didn't even have the Bella's."

"So you started to come out to the woods in the middle of the night to do what exactly?" I asked carefully, not seeing where she was going with this.

Chloe rolled her eyes, a trait I'm sure she picked up from me at this point. She grasped my hand, pulling me to my feet as she was careful around that root she tripped on earlier. I let her lead me down the path, not objecting as I held the light in front of us. It caught the strange sides of a few houses-

Tiny houses that were alike in craft and perfect in make. The same painted doors and easily carved fences were accompanied by little signs with words I couldn't quite read. It was a magical and empathetic find that made me tilt my head to the side- a tiny town at the base of large oak trees behind a college campus.

"what is all this?" I mumbled, once again squatting down to one of the little houses that had a door drilled into a naturally made hole that the tree had produced after years of weathering. It was beautiful and small, and a little sign stuck out to me. "Come, Faries, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame."

"William Butler Yeats." I turned to stare at her, resting my hand lazily over my knee as I gazed into surreal blue eyes. Even in the darkness, they showed like the sea. "I uh- I started making these things because they were interesting to me, I didn't expect other people to like them too."

I stood slowly, shoes crushing against gravel. "A fairy forest?"

"Yeah, I suppose." She shrugged her shoulders, pulling her hand up to the back of her neck as she scratched it nervously. "People always say that fairies are invisible… they're magic and strange, but not in a bad way I just- I guess I just feel like them sometimes."

I opened my mouth to speak but was cut off by a sharp and unruly breath that she dragged in. "I know, it's lame. Which is why I do it at 1 am, because god, I make houses for mythical creatures that don't even exist. And you think this is stupid right? It is stupid."

"Chloe," I grasped her arm, cutting her words off as she had her averted gaze flash back to mine. She was struggling to take a deep breath. It was clear that none of the other Bella's, or anyone for that matter, had stumbled upon her secret. "I think it's endearing."

"You do?" She knit her eyebrows together, parting her lips slightly. "It's not childish?"

"No, of course not." I let out a small chuckle. "These are beautiful, Chlo. Everything about this is beautiful- and, and mysterious in a way. If I hadn't of stumbled across you in the forest building them then I'd want to know who was."

She let out a breath of relief, or maybe something more as she ran her hand through her hair. Shaking her head. "It's just a hobby, Bec."

"A damn cool one," I said, turning back to the box "Come on, I want to help. Tell me what to do, Boss."

Chloe stared in a bit of disbelief for a few seconds before snapping out of it. She shook her head with a slight beaming smile. "Uh, grab that hammer,"

I did as she said, forgetting about the chilled weather and the pain that ripped through me because of stupid fucking cardio. Instead, I built houses, little houses in the middle of the forest where other joggers and housewives could get a slight taste of mythically and wonder. Where I could finally get to know the bubbly personality of Chloe Beale.

The one that wasn't so invisible to the very creatures we constructed houses for. The one that was never invisible, to begin with.

Chapter Text

Beca wrapped her arms carefully around her girlfriend, hugging her close as rough shutters rocked through the girl's body. She had never been this upset- tears streaking down her cheeks and dribbling off her chin as snot began to rush against the base of her nose.

The smaller woman rested her head on her girlfriend's, arms snaked around her waist as the two sat uncomfortably on the pantry floor. The room dark and desolate aside for some month-old chocolate chips and uncooked bags of popcorn. It gave the room an odd scent- one that accompanied the slight sliver of golden light that worked its way under the door.

Beca was never good at the confronting thing, always swallowing down her feelings like it was bile threatening to rise past her lips instead of a normal human emotion. She would shut herself away and keep from letting secrets exposed. It made her seem cold. Hell, she was cold. Cold with anyone other than Chloe. The Bella with the mane of fiery hair had made her soft, but she didn't mind.

Chloe had fallen into a puddle as soon as she passed the threshold of the door. The poor girl probably thinking she could escape through the frame into a garage or a bathroom. Maybe even a basement, but instead she was met with a wall of food. It was her birthday. This was supposed to be a happy day, one full of friendship and love- but instead, she was curled up in Beca's lap, clenching onto her girlfriend's chest.

"Shh," Beca cooed, trying to calm the woman down as she rubbed small circles on the nave of Chloe's back. She opted not to talk, knowing that Chloe had received the dark phone call that her busy father couldn't make it to the party tonight. He was a surgeon- head of surgery really. It didn't surprise the brunette, but Chloe still held onto childish hope that he would put her above his career.

"He was supposed to be here." She spat into Beca's chest, digging her nails deeper into her collarbone. Her eyes were clenched. "He promised. And he… he just bailed like he does on everything else."

She swallowed thickly before continuing.

"He didn't go to the performance at the Kennedy Center. Or, or graduation… Beca, he hasn't been to a birthday party since I was four years old. Four." Her voice teetered out to a low whisper. "I hate my birthday. The stupid candles, and god that song. The song is so incessant. Who came up with that song?"

"I don't know, baby." Was all Beca could muster, squeezing Chloe's shoulder with utmost precision. She didn't know. She didn't know why Richard Beale was such a terrible father, or why people opted to put so many candles on cakes and sing that god- awful tune. But she did know her girlfriend. Her girlfriend who was shaking with fear and rage.

Beca started to hum, a soft tune that her own mother would use to lull her to sleep. It was melodic and melancholy, something that had gotten her into mixing music in the first place. It instantly moved against her throat as Chloe stiffened in her grasp for a second before melting into the girls hold.

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine," Beca began, her words a soft murmur as she held Chloe flush against her, the girl struggling past a clogged nose and scratchy throat. "You make me happy when skies are grey."

Chloe's breath was evening out, steadying.

"You'll never know dear, how much I love you, please don't take my sunshine away." Beca moved back into humming the rest of the tune, not completely faithful in her knowledge of the lyrics as Chloe finally released her death grip on Beca's chest, still clenching a bit of fabric between her fingers.

Beca never knew much about that song, but she knew it reminded her of the girl in her arms. And besides, it was way better than Happy Birthday.

Chapter Text

"This all boils down to skill," the brunette mumbled through clenched teeth. She was taunting her, teasing her like it was her damn job. At this point, it was. Her muscles were sore and fingers were shaking, but she knew one thing. She could not let Chloe win.

"Are you saying I don't have the skills necessary to win?" her girlfriend piped up, breath hot on the back of Beca's neck.

The two girls were entangled, their limbs a mess as Beca struggled against the taller girl's weight. It wasn't like she was holding her up- Chloe was more than capable of doing that herself- but she was stuck under the woman: the mat slippery under her touch.

All of the brunette's joints ached, her mouth dry as she struggled to catch her breath. She had to admit, this game was a lot easier when they were younger- not with the stiff muscles that came from years of college and emotional distress. Okay, and this was supposed to be fun, but Beca still lets out a growl in annoyance at it all.

"Left hand, red."

"What?" Beca asked, blowing her hair out of her eyes. Her Left hand was already on green- the color almost mocking her. She had to get her grasp over Chloe and all the way across the mat in order to have a fighting chance.

"Too hard for you?" Chloe griped, a sly smirk pressing against her features. That lit a fire against the woman- her jaw clenched as she stray hairs from her eyes. No, it wasn't too hard for the smaller girl- she wasn't giving in to her girlfriend just yet. The boobs pressed against her back didn't' help too much, but she refused to acknowledge that either.

"Shut up Beale." Was the only response the older girl got. It elicited a bit of a chuckle, but even Chloe had to admit, this was starting to get to her as well. Sweat was beading against her collarbone as hair started to adhere to her forehead. She sniffed, watching carefully as Beca moved her left hand until her fingertips touched the edge of the red circle. Her whole entire shoulder was on the mat along with her cheek.

"Alright, Right foot yellow."

Chloe drew in a sharp breath but didn't say anything at the risk of starting something she couldn't finish. Instead, she let out a small whimper as her foot finally crumpled against the plastic covering. "You know, Bec's when you said you wanted me to be on top of you tonight, I didn't think this was the way you would go."

A sharp knock at the door cut off the sarcastic remark that danced at the edge of the DJ's mind. Their heads whipping towards the sound, well, as much as they could. Chloe almost regretted the motion right away- close to losing her balance over the rough sound.

"Get the door," Chloe whispered, her voice thick.

"What? No way dude, I'm not giving in that easy." She shook her head "Come in!"

"I can't!" The voice of a Bella moved through the oak door "It's locked."

"Fucking hell, Stacie." The younger girl cursed, shaking her head "What do you need?"

"Uh, my phone?"

Chloe was the first one to sigh this time. She knew the taller woman needed that thing. If she didn't' have her focus on social media at least half the time it would lead to her trying to rip Amy's throat out with her bare teeth- the captains knew their girls like the back of their hands.

"Alright, Seriously, get the door."

"Chloe, You're the one on top of me."

"But you're smaller… you can just shimmy out."

"You automatically have to get up and answer it now after using that god-awful word."

The ginger huffed, clenching her jaw. She knew Stacie would be quick to bust open the door or make some random comment about how the two girls were easily relieving some stress. Beca let out a small groan, knowing that someone this was the more compromising position.

The girls catching her playing board games with Chloe? Damn, she would never live it down.

"Just give in, Beca." The older woman taunted.

A sly smirk moved against the younger girls lips. "You wish."

Chapter Text

When Chloe was four years old, she choked on an ice cube. It was her earliest memory, stopped in some random fast food restaurant on the way to Wildwood New Jersey. Her little feet were kicking back and forth, her mom having to keep a firm arm across her midsection to keep her back against the cheap plastic booth.

The ice had come along with the sweeping gulp of blue energy drink. The kind that had way too much sugar for her tiny body, but not enough to keep her awake at night. She had coughed first, catching her father’s attention the moment he got a look at her paled features. He scooped her up, pulling her flush against him.

Chloe could remember panicking, crying almost immediately as the patrons around the restaurant stared in sweeping silence. He pressed his palm into her back, moving quickly as she coughed a few more times and finally got the feeling of air back into her hissing lungs.

She felt that same rush of cold now- that same ache that filled her chest as she dug her fingers into the pavement until they stung cruelly. Chloe felt icy, Chloe felt like she had just choked and that there was no one there to pull her into their arms and soothe her.

Instead, she groaned under the weight of another. An elbow shoved into her ribs, a knee too close to her midsection, and more importantly, a cheek on her chest, not hugging her close, but pressing so far into her that a heat seared against her skin. Chloe groaned at the rough ache that hit her like a truck. Half of her body was sprawled against the malleable grass, the lower edge digging into the stone asphalt.

“Ow, fuck.” The stranger mumbled, her whole body vibrating with the muffled words. Chloe wanted to shiver at the hot breath basting the side of her throat. She moved her arms, pressing her palms into the dirt as she lifted herself away, still hovering as Chloe blinked wordlessly at the overcast sky. “You okay, dude?”

Chloe inhaled sharply, clenching her eyes shut as she strung her now free arm over her stare. She couldn’t let this woman see her eyes. Her glasses the only priority that was getting under her skin at the moment. She could deal with a little blood, she could accept the torn clothes and the painful morning after. But she needed those glasses.

“Hey,” the small flash of brunette that she thought she saw before she tumbled to the ground placed a cold thumb under her chin. “Are you okay?” She repeated tenderly. “Can you open your eyes?”

“I’m fine, really,” Chloe mumbled out, hearing the exasperation in her words. She didn’t’ sound fine, and nothing about that made the girl straddling her happy.

“Then open your eyes.”

She made one small attempt to grasp at the ground around her for the sunglasses. She had no such luck. The dropping pit in her stomach seemed to grow slowly. She edged her stare, blinking rapidly at the bright light that filled the air. She hadn’t seen the sun- hadn’t stared into anyone’s unwavering eyes, for months. For years that dragged on in her mind.

Midnight orbs blocked out the overwhelming light. Chloe’s breath hitching as she waited for the worst- the cherry on top of the darkness that shrouded her. The quad was empty, the day waning as classes pulled the student body into their clutches. They were alone, and Chloe was wracked with fear.

“There we are,” The stranger said, “Your pupils look a little dilated.”

“I just got tackled.” Chloe ghosted.

In truth, she was baffled. The curse, her family’s misfortune, made it impossible to pull her sunglasses away from her eyes without creating a few more garden ornaments. It started when she turned fifteen and accidentally turned her hamster into a paperweight. Not the greatest memory, but it got the lesson across. No matter what, she had to keep her aviators over her stare.    

This stranger, this person who crashed into her, stared plainly at her. Not convulsing on the floor as stone worked its way through her veins. Not gasping as she lost any sense of life she had left behind her eyes. Not the way Chloe’s mother had told her it would happen.

Yet, she waited, waited in stunned silence as she held her breath. She had paled, hair falling into her gaze as she stared head-on into the woman’s eyes. “Sorry, I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“You’re fine,” She breathed a response, glancing around frantically as she finally spotted her glasses and pulled them onto her features. The stranger was warm against her skin, legs moving to a straddled position against her stomach. “Sorry, the sun it…”

“I get it, you’re like a vampire or something.” She waved her hand in front of her face. “The sun is your mortal enemy.”

“Not quite.” Chloe couldn’t help but chuckle at that, earning a triumphant smile from the woman before she rolled herself away from the redhead. It was cute, leaving a fuzzy feeling in her throat as she propped herself up on her elbows.

“I’m Beca.” The girl stated, still sporting the mix between a smirk and a toothy grin on her face. She was collapsed into herself on the grass, scratching her hand through her head as she lifted her chin. “Human wrecking ball.”

“Chloe,” She reached out a hand, maybe to be pulled up to a sitting position, maybe to be polite. “Vampire queen, apparently.”

“Oh, you’ve promoted yourself to queen now?”

“If I’m undead it’s the least you can grant me.”

She got a huff in response. The girl officially taking her hand and pulling her up. Chloe couldn’t help the jump in heat she felt the moment those fingers collided with hers. She swallowed it back. This was a fluke, it had to be- no way could a girl like this a human girl who wasn’t plagued down with an ancient snaky curse, be immune to her stare. It was unheard of.

“Where were you off to in such a hurry?” Chloe dared to ask.

“Biology lab,” Beca shrugged innocently. “But I was thinking about blowing it off anyway. We’re just looking at cells.” She stilled for a moment. “Maybe we should… I would like to buy you coffee considering I ran you down?”

“I would like that,” Chloe said despite her reserves. Despite the fact that this woman wasn’t a statue, and that the color in her cheeks drained a little more each time Beca flashed her dusky gaze. “If you’re not too afraid.”

“Afraid?” Beca let out an exaggerated scoff, waving her hand in front of her face. “What’s there to be afraid of, Chloe?”

Chapter Text

The brunette stared at the wooden grain table as if she could burn a hole into the surface. A dusky stare traced the little faces that were cemented with a clad gradient. She was tempted to reach her fingers out and trace them to ease her nerves- but she knew that would look like she was back in middle school. Shoved into the corner of the room as she waited for a higher authority to hiss towards her for whatever she had done to land her there in the first place.

Chloe’s hand was resting on her knee, squeezing against the tension in her leg as her other hand gripped the handle of a cup of coffee that filled Beca’s lungs sourly. The steam looked darker against the red painted walls of their kitchen, the smaller woman flicking her gaze towards the golden watch against Chloe’s wrist. It was almost 3:15.

“Relax, Bec’s” The girl to her right spoke tenderly. “We raised them.”

“Which is why I know they’re not going to take this well.”

Chloe couldn’t help but smile at that. Her wife looked like an awkward mess, daring to run her fingers through those brown locks. She had a couple of nervous habits, which made it impossible to play a game of poker with her. But for the most part, Beca kept her calm, she always had. Always putting the older of the two before her for as long as Chloe could care to recall.

“Delia will probably pass out.” Beca shifted completely, turning to her side as she draped her hand over the back of the dining room chair. “Five dollars that she’s going to faint.”

“I am not betting on my child,” Chloe gasped in faux shock. “And she’ll be fine.”

Beca nodded thoughtfully. Their youngest would be okay, she decided. There would be questions, and they would answer them the best they could without scaring the six-year-old more than she already was at the sight of her moms sitting so easily and quietly at a kitchen table at three in the afternoon. It was Florence that would be stunned into silence- something that was hard for the girl.

Everything froze the second they heard the door creak open. Chloe tightened her stance despite seeming confident about the situation. They could catch pieces of the conversation, Delia chattering on about something that happened in class today- her sentences as coherent as they could be.

Florence was nodding along as she pulled her backpack closer to her shoulders, slowing her walk to let her little sister catch up with the movements. The girl was tall for her age, fourteen and strong in her stance. She looked every bit like her mother, brown hair and sharp features complimented eyes that shown like Chloe’s- strikingly blue. Earth-shatteringly so as they flashed towards her parents.

She stopped fast enough to have the spunky redhead collide with her leg, she let out a small grunt of a sound before glancing towards the dining room. “Oh! Hi Mommy!” Delia’s stare moved to Beca “And mom!”

The little girl let out a bit of a squeal that made Beca’s heart melt. She had to admit, she didn’t get a chance to see them as much as she would like when it came to things like this. The studio having a complete hold on her as a smile broke out on her lips. Delia ran forward, waiting to be scooped up by her mother as she was pulled onto her lap- Beca wrapped her arms around her daughter, her toothy grin enough to make all the tension wash away.

Florence was a little warier, her shoulders slumping slightly as she cocked an eyebrow at Chloe. “What are you two doing home?” her words soft as she placed her hand on the back of the chair “At the same time.”

“We have to talk to you guys,” Chloe said as Delia cuddled closer into Beca’s chest.

“This is important?”

It almost wasn’t a question as Florence lowered herself into the seat across from her parents. Her fire-filled locks fell into a grey stare. You could pick her out from the crowd, her legs lanky and her stance pulled into utter confidence at almost all times.

“Mm,” Beca knit her eyebrows together “For you guys.”

Chloe raised her mug towards her lips. “For all of us.”

Delia knit her fingers into Beca’s t-shirt, the woman rubbing small circles on her back. She contemplated bouncing her leg to keep the girl awake, but she knew that they had both of their daughter's attention fully. “Is this about where babies come from? Cause Flor already told me about that.” 

Chloe choked audibly on her coffee, snorting against the heat that pressed near her throat. “I’m sorry, what?”

Beca struggled to stifle a laugh, instead, resorting to placing a small kiss on the top of Delia’s head. The little girl squirmed in her mom’s grasp but didn’t’ attempt to pull away. Instead, she shifted until she was facing the table herself- letting her little hand rest on the surface. She effectively jabbed her elbow into Beca’s side.

“No, no sweetie it’s not.” Chloe knit her eyebrows together, deciding to drop the subject for now. “But we need to talk about that later-“

“I’m in middle school, it’s all we talk about.”

Both women heard their daughter, even though the statement was mumbled. Beca cleared her throat and sat forward enough to not squish the girl in her lap. “Your mother and I think you’re old enough to know something… about us.”

Chloe gave her a sparing glance. This wasn’t something they could just blurt out. It was a touchy subject that both women worked very hard to keep hidden from the general public. To keep them from moving around every five years- to keep them sane and their children’s lives normal.

“Is this about you being umpires? Because I already know that.”

“Vampires, Del.” Florence leaned back in her chair “They don’t even play baseball.”

Chloe had kept her coffee to her side, not even bothering to down a gulp just to have it climb back up her throat in shock. Instead, she just widened those brilliant blue eyes. She dug her teeth into her bottom lip. This time, she was relying on Beca to take over.

“I mean, come on, moms.” Florence leaned forward despite herself “you think we’re completely oblivious?”

“No, I-“The small brunette stuttered, holding Delia closer. “This isn’t weird for you?”

“You’re my mom.” She snarked back “It’s a bit annoying that you’re starting to look younger than I am.”

“I knew.” Delia was wiggling around in her seat, saying it with her singsong voice. She was getting a little too bouncy for Beca to handle. “I knew all’s along and Florence didn’t even have to tell me about that one.”

“Are we done here?” The older girl cocked her pointed eyebrow, letting out a bored sigh.

Chloe snorted, physically pulling enough breath into her lungs to create an odd sound. “No, young lady, we most certainly are not done.”

Florence Beale had her arms crossed against her chest, clearly uninterested in the looming conversation that was giving the two women so much anxiety in the first place. Beca clenched her jaw. “How did you know?”

“Blood,” Delia answered simply as she reached across the table for the base of Chloe’s mug, Chloe who absently slid the basin out of the girls reach. “I saw you drinked it.”

“Drink, sweetie,” Beca whispered, correcting the girl tenderly.

“Plus, I think Livy’s mom is a horsey thing.”

Florence parted her lips “Centaur? Miss Anderson just doesn’t shave.”     

“Honey, that’s rude.” Chloe corrected, deeming it safe to pull her coffee back to her lips. It warmed her up, made her feel a little more human despite the cold chill that moved through her. “Miss Anderson is a nice lady-“

“She wears a size fourteen,” Beca grumbled, pulling a squirming Delia back into the base of her lap, she wrapped her arms around her, avoiding the gaze of her wife as she rested her chin on the girl's shoulder.

“that’s no excuse to- A size fourteen, really?”

Chapter Text

Her pension for ignoring the obvious was something that Chloe Beale had always hated about herself. It wasn’t that she didn’t’ pay attention, because she did, really. It had to do with the simple fact that she was the type of person to go all in when it came to everything. When she focused, she focused with every inch of her being. When she smiled, it was the brightest thing in the world. When she loved she loved with her whole self, and when she was wounded- when she was wounded it was all she could feel.

Chloe Beale felt like she had a hole right where her heart should be.

That was the deepest and darkest pain she ever allowed herself to feel; Sure, she was sore. Her body ached at the constant sobbing that ripped at her throat the past few days. Her eyes were red and burned. Her nose raw as she tried to muster enough confidence to keep her throat from collapsing.

She had forced herself into the cold Brooklyn winter for one thing, and one thing only; being human. It had been a week since she walked in on her husband and her receptionist. How Cliché. The man she had given every ounce of herself to went to the woman who she trusted with her trade secrets. Chloe threw both of them out before stifling her cries enough not to wake her daughter. Her sweet five-year-old daughter who was just as preceptive as her mother.

That night she called Aubrey, barely able to speak, but with her, she didn’t’ really need to say much. She offered to take Ava for the week and Chloe readily agreed. She had to sort things out- she had to wordlessly pack Gabriel’s things and call up a lawyer that would be powerful enough to ensure that she had prime custody of their daughter. Everything so heightened and real that she didn’t’ allow herself to feel, she didn’t allow herself to do anything other than keep herself busy.

Of course, that hadn’t lasted. And Chloe found herself curled up in a tight ball on the cold tiled bathroom floor at three o’clock in the morning when her mind wouldn’t settle, and her tired eyes refused to close. She had lurched a few times, emptying the contents of her stomach until there was nothing left but a sickly bile.

The next morning, she forced herself to clean up the best she could, until she looked presentable enough to head to the nearest coffee shop (though, that wasn’t too hard to do in the brunt of New York City.) Which is exactly why she found herself in this situation now.

Her hurt had washed away for a split second as a flash of guilt ate away at her. The icy sidewalks giving way to a rushed attempt at getting back home. Back to the heat and back to the little corner, she had designated to herself in her dark bedroom. Her fingers clenched the Styrofoam cup in her hand, the hazelnut liquid never giving way to her lips.

Instead, it ended up coating a near stranger- a woman who kept her head down as her arms lifted a bit, eyes undoubtedly focused on the now scalding liquid that dripped down her jacket and created a small puddle on the ground. It was freezing by now, the collar of a white button-down peaking from the black peacoat, the woman’s own coffee and the little bag of pastry resting in her right hand.

She glanced up then- her breath catching, no longer sprouting little clouds into the air. Her nose looked raw from the cold, her lips slightly parted as she finally let the little edge of breath puff out in a long-awaited release.

Beca Mitchell looked older.

Her once spark-filled midnight stare still had a certain glow behind it, but it was wiser, it was more in tune with the person she had become. Her hair fell against her shoulders in perfect waves, her shoulders more defined and her stance a little less like a freshman majoring and music, and a little more like a CEO managing a major record company.

Chloe had kept up with the headlines for a bit. It was painstaking, so much so that she would mute the words on her timeline after a while and stop answering the messages from publicists that would inquire about her little fling with the uprising talent in the music world. Chloe was starting a family after all, and she had her education to focus on. Not the girl she used to- still maybe does, have feelings for.

Beca’s eyes quickly softened, maybe noticing the redness of Chloe’s, or the broken pieces that the woman hastily tried to cover up with a half-hearted smile, and a rushed apology that came out in a hoarse response. She cursed herself. Her own voice betrayed her.

“Chloe Beale mustering out an apology is the last thing I ever thought I would hear on a Wednesday morning.” Beca lifted a pointed eyebrow. The same Beca that she knew and loved and missed so heavily was right there behind the business façade.

“Well, I did just pour a whole entire cup of coffee down your shirt.”

“Then let me buy you one.” She lowered her arms, running her fingers against the stain as she let a few drops wick its way into the fabric, most of it flicking off to another destination. “For old times’ sake.”  

Chloe hesitated. She had just spilled a scalding drink over this woman. But it wasn’t just any woman. It was Beca Mitchell. The same girl who hated acapella but ended up leading the group in college with her hand in hand. The same girl who taught her the value of family, and going for what you believe in. The same girl who she thought she let go when LA came into the picture.

The same girl she didn’t’ even invite to her own wedding.

“Beca,” She warned, “I’m buying.”

“Yeah, but I still have my drink. It’s yours that got spilled. Remember?”

She was stubborn and persistent. The glint glowing harder against her stare as she held the door to the little hole in the wall shop back open. Chloe hesitated, but it soon melted away the second she felt the heat that the stone fireplace in the center of the establishment created. And really, if she was to deprive the warmth from Beca (who was without a doubt going to catch a cold now) then what kind of a person was she?

Chloe ducked her head and entered the shop, watching carefully and quietly as Beca easily shed her jacket and placed it on the coat rack by the door. The white of her shirt looked dull in the dimmed lights- and her stare flicked over towards the counter, almost as if asking permission. Chloe nodded softly, following her as she ordered the same thing she always had- a medium cup of coffee with four sugars and two creamers.

They sat at a little table that exposed them to the crackling fire and kept them away from the draft of the door. It was tiny, and Chloe could practically feel the heat of Beca’s knee close to hers. The girl stared at her name written on the side of her cup, not daring to take a sip of the hot liquid just yet.

“How have you been?”

“we don’t’ have to go through the small talk, Chloe.” Beca said gently “Aubrey called me.”

This made her sharp eyes snap up, sitting back in her chair. Why would Aubrey call her? They hadn’t spoken in close to six years- Beca Mitchell was certainly not someone Chloe thought Aubrey willingly associated with. But then again, maybe Chloe didn’t’ know who the blonde aligned her connections to.

“So, I suppose you know everything.”

“Not everything. But enough.”

A bit of a scoff moved past Chloe’s lips. This wasn’t the conversation she thought she would be having with Beca Mitchell. Frankly, she assumed that she would never hear from the woman again. Maybe if they both showed up at their five-year reunion, but neither seemed to answer the invitation that most of the Bella’s responded to with absolute joy.

“Don’t’ do that.” Chloe said “Don’t give me that stupid little head tilt. I don’t need you to be sorry for me.”

“Oh, I’m not.” Beca took a calculated gulp of her coffee, wincing at the bitterness. “I could have told you that Gabriel was an asshole from the beginning.” Chloe winched. “He’s named after a fallen angel, for fucks sake.”

“That’s just in the movies, Bec’s.”

“Right,” She knit her eyebrows together “But all movies have to be inspired by something.”   

Chapter Text

Night had fallen hours ago. The pink skies faded to a deep velvet black that overwhelmed the whole entire city. The whole set of football fields that held floodlights. Floodlights that ran against the brown and deadened grass. The numbers were painted onto the ground in white powder, breath pushing past grates that connected to maroon helmets.

Beca Mitchell kept her focus on the matt black sky. She was freezing to death, shivering in her jacket. The scent of fries filled her lungs as she clenched onto the little bucket that the snack car had handed her. Her stomach rumbled, of course, it would betray her in a time like this. A time when she was trying to make an excuse to head back home. The safety of her bedroom calling.

This was a big night for her school, what she had assumed as her school. The Fayetteville Lions were up against Carson’s Knights. Their Royal blue jerseys clashed with crimson. Beca leaning on the chain link fence as she stared despondently at her makeshift meal. Stacie had ditched her for some ball boy about twenty minutes ago. Twenty long minutes that she cursed herself for not driving tonight.

“Hey, do I know you?”

Beca let out a long sigh, part of her not wanting to look over at the stranger who had leaned close to the fence herself. She draped her arms over the metal edge. She held a little flag, one that flashed blue. The brunette almost felt disdain towards the woman from another school. They had made such a big deal- it felt like fraternizing with the enemy.

“Oh, I doubt it. I’m new in town.” Beca finally willed herself to look to her right. The woman had struck her as nothing less than gorgeous. A being that had fire-filled locks, flowing over her own leathered jacket. Her breath was pushing past perfect pink lips. She wore a bit of a smile, one the exposed crystal white teeth. Her canines were pointed, not unnatural, but certainly captivating.

Beca found herself awestruck, shoving her container a bit her way. “Fry?”

“Thanks,” She plucked one out of the package, getting a goofy grin on her lips. “I’m sure I know you from someplace. Where did you say you moved from?”

“I didn’t,” Beca squinted, a bit lulled into the conversation. There was something, something about this girl that made her want to keep talking. Ever since she got here, she knew that she wouldn’t fit in. She was awkward and strange, and somehow, she had gotten along with a few choice girls at this hell-hole of a prison. High School.

“Right,” the stranger nodded, pushing the fry into her mouth as she spoke, her words muffled “I remember your wanted posters. Beca Mitchell, your father is Haniel Mitchell.”

Beca choked on air, coughing a few times into the dark air that surrounded them. Her feet didn’t’ feel firmly planted on the race track that surrounded the football field. She could hear the buzzer signaling the end of the half-time press against the inside of her ears. It would have made her flinch if her stare wasn’t so focused on the stranger with the icy eyes.

“What’d you do?” She said, a deep smile on her lips. Menacing. “Must’ve been bad if they kicked you out of Heaven and sent you here.”

“That is none of your concern.” Beca scoffed, turning to her side as she dropped the fries into the trashcan with a loud clang. She brushed her palms off. Beca wanted to stay and talk, she wanted to figure out more about the gorgeous stranger. She shoved her cold hands in her pockets, keeping her head down as she walked towards the parking lot.

“Oh, come on, wings.” The woman caught up with her easily with a small trot. “Listen, I’m not one to judge.”

“Is that so?” Beca said, bemused.

“Nope,” She smirked, “cross my heart.”

The woman made a mock gesture against her chest, a little ‘x’ like there was a bit of treasure resting against the fabric. It made Beca smirk, shaking her head despite herself. This girl was something else, practically hopping out of her boots at the thought of someone else other-worldly. Someone else that didn’t belong here.

“Something terrible,” Was all Beca said, keeping her eyes forward. They were glossy. “What about you, Red? You clawed your way out of the depths of hell to what? Join debate team?”

“How’d you know I was a demon?”

It was Beca’s turn to smile. She had her ways, most importantly, each time the light flicked against those striking blue eyes, they gleamed red. Such a bloody color that almost seeped into her stare, pulled at her resolve. She stopped, the stranger knocking against her shoulder with a bit of a shocked huff.

“Your eyes, sweetheart.” Beca lifted her eyebrows. “They’re a dead giveaway.”

“Okay,” She blinked a few times at the pet name, Beca liked the way the demon squirmed. She hadn’t provided a name, how else was she to be addressed after pushing herself this close to her. For a demon, she smelled a hell of a lot like strawberries. “Chloe works fine.”

“Chloe isn’t very menacing,” Beca observed.

“Right, not like Satan or anything like that.” Chloe waved her hand around erratically barely phased by the blunt nature of the girl. She was abrasive and grumpy, the opposite of what an angel should be. Maybe a fallen one living up to the reports. “Who’d you scorn?”

Beca rolled her eyes, a simple thought running through her mind. This Chloe character was not one to give up in her pursuits. She was steadfast, not backing down as she stared at the brunette. Part of her wanted to speak, but the other knew that her association with a demon would add another 100 years to her sentence.

“Raphael.” Was all Beca said, a bit of a huff to her voice as she slipped through the little opening of the fence out into the student parking lot. They could hear the roar of the crowd, smell the gasoline that filled their lungs. It was quiet, muffled.

Chloe had kept her silence, her boots apparent. Snow had begun to fall, had floated through the black of the night. It was one of the beautiful things Beca found solace in. The snow reminded her of the clouds, and home, and everything she had lost. Everything she craved to find again.

She mentally cursed herself as she reached Stacie’s car. The woman was nowhere to be seen, and she hadn’t shaken Chloe yet- not that she really wanted to. She found the girl interesting. A demon who had chosen to show her face among a student body instead of torturing damned souls.  

“Much like Ramiel, I was to take a wife.” She spoke, a bit of bitterness in her voice as she sniffed. She liked the way the icy flakes started to find a home in Chloe’s hair- her coppery locks highlighted by the streetlamp that had an unnatural neon tone to it. “Not of any volition to my father.”

“You’re fallen because you fell in love?”

“Something like that.”

Chloe swallowed back the dry taste in her mouth. The two of them listened to their breath. The brunette was watching the cloud that pushed past her lips, watching how far it stretched and how long it took to disperse. There was another loud buzz. One that signaled the final quarter’s start.

“How long?”

“A century.”

She let out a low whistle. It was a cruel punishment for the prospect of happiness. “You know, Demons can love anyone they want.” Chloe took a step back. Her boot left a black print in the snow. She had stood still for too long. “Human, demi-God, angel.”

Her voice smoothed out during that last word, breathy as she dared to take another step towards the stadium. Beca ached. These past few moments she wanted nothing more than to get rid of Chloe. To go back to her stalemate of a life. One where she could pretend to care about the drama that ran through the halls. Who had slept with who. What person had an older sibling to buy the alcohol for the upcoming party. But now, all she craved was her normalcy.

Invenies rursus amore” Chloe spun lightly, turning her back to the angel. “See you around, Mitchell.”

Beca let the weight of her mind push her side against the side of the car. She watched Chloe walk away, knowing that the young demon purposely swayed her hips a little harder. She knew that Beca was watching, couldn’t take her eyes away from her. her mouth was slightly agape, her breath low and unrecognizable.

Just like that, the woman was gone. And Beca? Beca finally saw a reason to risk another century.

Chapter Text

When Chloe Beale was buzzed, she didn’t make the best choices. Her mind would get fuzzy, and her body would start to feel almost weightless among the hot and sweaty bodies in a club. Chloe liked to skip “Buzz” and go straight to drunk. It wasn’t about pacing herself, because if she paced herself, she would think too much.

Of course, she was always careful. She kept her cup with her at all times and ended up dumping out most of the alcohol in the metal sink if she let it sit for too long. Hell, she had even been the designated driver for the girls on hundreds of occasions.

But now was not one of those times. Now, Chloe was thinking way too much, and nursing about half of her “Down-under-tornado” That Amy had brewed up in the Bella’s kitchen. It was an unnatural shade of neon blue, making her stomach churn and her mind run as her veins warmed up with the prospect of forgetting her troubles for just one night.  

When Chloe got buzzed, she got handsy, but more importantly, she got reckless. Even as the girls slowly pulled out a bout of board games. Some cards were missing, and pieces hidden under the sectional in the living room- but they laughed through it all the same.

“Okay, there is no way I am playing Yahtzee!” Stacie proclaimed, raising her red cup her lips with a long gulp. Her back placed firmly along the front of the sofa.

“Too many letters.” Beca agreed, waving her hand wildly in the air.

“Yahtzee is all about numbers, B.” Cynthia rose stated from her perch behind the couch, arms leaning against the back. Her fingers fiddled with the gold chain across her wrist, the small charm marking her place in the group.

“Same thing.” She was slumped over on the ottoman, amber bottle resting between her fingertips as she rested her elbows on her knees. She shot a sly glance Chloe’s way, a bit of redness coming to her cheeks. “Beca doesn’t have the patience for a board game.”

Beca needs to stop referring herself in the third person.” Aubrey chimed in.

Chloe drew in a sharp breath at the dirty look exchanged across the room. “How about we play something else?” She mused “You know, an old sleepover game or something.”

“light as a feather, stiff as a board?” Amy said. “I am not letting the lot of you lift me off the ground.”

Chloe snorted at the idea. She had never paid much stock in those types of games. It all seemed like something designed through myth and tall tales just strung through time. There were a few games that peaked her interest: Never have I ever, seven minutes in heaven, but more importantly: spin the bottle.

The words seemed to rush through her lips. “Why don’t we play spin the bottle?” She got a few odd looks, an amused smile from Stacie, and a horrified stare from Aubrey. “We just need a bottle… but if no one is-“  

Beca held out her hand hastily, finger extended as she signaled the room to give her a second. They watched, Stacie leaning back further into her seat, pressing her shoulder against Aubrey’s- cheeks heating up by the second. It could be the alcohol, but it could be more.

The tiny brunette gulped down the rest of her frothy drink in a few seconds, the liquid dripping off her chin as she scooted to the end of her seat. Her feet planted firmly on the ground as she finally pulled the bottle from her lips, letting out an unseemly belch as she dragged the edge of her arm against the corner of her mouth.

Buzzed Chloe was never more attracted to her.

“I like that idea.” She placed the bottle on her side, flashing her stare near Chloe, who had inadvertently moved to the edge of her own seat. “We’ve never played it before.”

“Maybe because we’re respectable women of acapella that don’t go around sloppily kissing everyone that happens to sit in a circle,” Aubrey grumbled, not the least bit as tipsy as the rest of the group.

“Oh, relax Bree.” Stacie cooed, letting her hand fall on her knee. “I’ll even move to sit across from you if that makes you feel a little better about the odds.”

“Why would… I mean, you-“Aubrey was speechless for once in her life, cheeks flushed as she darted her stare down to the floor. Her fingers picked at a bit of carpet, mind not up to fighting Beca on this anymore.

With a triumphant smirk, she flicked her hand to the side, the glass let out an ungodly scraping sound as it spun and spun, and it even made Chloe feel a bit sick to her stomach. It was that or the fact that Chloe hopped the tip of that very bottle landed on her. That she could have an excuse to kiss Beca without the prospect of forgetting it all tomorrow. Without blaming wandering hands on drunken mistakes.

She didn’t have such luck, fate landed on Jessica. The blonde lifted her eyebrows as she pulled her shoulders back. It was Beca who drew herself over the table, smiling into the small peck on the lips that she gave the young alto. It made Chloe stir, but after all, this was her idea. The smaller of the two flopped back into her chair, grasping the half-empty bottle from Emily’s hand.

The youngest of the Bella’s had been nursing her drink all night. If their captain hadn’t grasped it and finished it off, then it would be poured down the sink instead.

“Did I see tongue?” Ashely asked, almost with accreditation as she flicked her wrist to the side, letting the bottle run its course. She was joking, Chloe hoped because the deep heat that licked at the side of her stomach made her queasy.

Chloe tilted her head back and emptied her own drink as the game continued. Ashely locked lips with Flo, Aubrey got that chance to have a steamy make-out session with Stacie that leads to red cheeks and the absence for the rest of the game. Hell, even Lily licked the tip of Cynthia Rose’s nose. But the redhead just leaned further into the couch, not amused as she remained in her half-sober state.

“Chlo,” Amy rammed her elbow into the girl’s side, earning a grunt as she popped her oceanic eyes up towards the room. Every bit of focus was on her. “It’s your turn, Ginger Spice.”  

She plastered a fake smile on her face, not sure if the hot feeling in her throat. The bottle was freezing against her touch as she gave it a good spin. The noise that she had become so used to had the decency to make her cringe. Beca’s bewitching stare. Chloe held her breath until her lungs ignited.

The tip of the bottle landed on Emily.

Sweet little Emily that widened her stare as she choked on the air that was in the room. She dug her back further into the ottoman, leaning into Beca’s leg. It was almost cute, the girl clinging to a woman as her face flushed. The room was in near silence.

Beca leered behind her drink, running her pinky over the perforated edge of the label. Her legs were crossed, elbow resting on her knee as she lifted her steel-toed boot and slammed it into the base of the coffee table with as much force as she could muster. The bottle shifted, it’s mouth pointing towards the young DJ.

“oops.” She husked, smiling into her drink as she tilted it back and polished the rest of it off.

Chloe swallowed back the sour taste in her mouth as Beca raised from the seat, she placed both of her hands on the edge of the coffee table, leaning towards the middle. “Chlo, don’t you know you have to follow the rules?”

“Huh? Yeah, yes.” She nodded with haste, the whole room watching the two of them. Amy bit her bottom lip as Emily lifted her eyebrows. If Aubrey were here, and not holed up in Stacie’s bedroom trying to be silent- then she would grasp Chloe by the collar and hold her back. But nothing was stopping her now.

Chloe grabbed her by the chin, tilting her lips forward as the taste of alcohol mixed with her own lingering breath. She had waited months, years, to finally feel Beca under her touch. The usually dominant girl melting until the sudden authority. She responded quickly and with a hot hunger, fingers lifting from the table and tangling in deep copper locks.

Beca moaned into the embrace, pulling apart as her own chest started to burn. Her cheeks were full-blooded, mouth dry as she exhaled shakily. She had sobered up, and thankfully for Chloe, her buzz was cured.

A low whistle rocked through the room as Chloe darted her stare towards the blonde that sat on the couch, swinging her own glass around with a prideful smile on her lips. She mouthed something triumphant that Chloe didn’t have the gumption to decipher at this point.

Chloe Beale was Buzzed. But she didn’t’ mind remembering this in the morning.

Chapter Text

Offices made her nervous; the four blandly painted walls, the leather chairs, and Ikea desks. The way there were often diploma’s that stood out against rose gold frames. Air seemed to grow heavier with her stomach the longer she sat on the edge of the seat. Her arms were resting easily on her knees, thumb running haphazardly over a band-aid that was fastened near the edge of her index finger. The adhesive was worn at the side, and the fabric stretched in a pale color.

Hell, she shouldn’t’ be a bundle of nerves. She was a grown woman. A grown woman that ran her own bar for fuck’s sake. A simple parent-teacher conference wasn’t something to get her knees weak. She was a mix of rage, and pure annoyance. She hadn’t even spoken to her son. The brunette getting a call in the middle of her lunch rush from the principle of this godforsaken public school.

She let out a labored sigh and leaned further into her seat, letting her sweat caked back come in contact with the cool material. She tapped her fingers against the armrest, scanning the desk; there was a little mason jar in the corner- filled with different pink highlighters and pencils. There was a wooden frame that encased a picture of a small dog with tan fur and incorrigible eyes. The words Bad to the bone was etched into the surface. A nametag dawned the letters that spelled out Beale. Beca had read everything over more than once.

She shifted the moment the door creaked open behind her, breath hitching as she pulled herself from the seat. It wasn’t her son; his presence was yet to be desired. Instead, it was a soft-eyed woman. One that was a few inches taller than Beca. Her skin was pale, and her hair was fire-filled. She looked flustered, cheeks red and breath spotty as she slammed the door behind her. Pressing her back against it before even looking up. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

“Bad day?”

“huh?” The stranger lifted her head up fast enough to snap a bone in her neck. She paled, clearly not realizing that she wasn’t alone. She had files in her hands, files that fell to the carpeted floor. “Oh! Miss… Mitchell, I’m so sorry. I thought-“

“That receptionist told me to just wait here,” Beca replied sheepishly, reaching down as she scooped up the papers. She restrained herself from looking down at the files. It would be rude, she determined. Instead, she kept eye contact with the captivating woman in front of her. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s uh, it’s my fault.” She swallowed thickly, gratefully accepting the papers. “It’s just a been a hectic day is all. Please, have a seat.”

Usually Beca would be intimidated, she would fall into her nerves and shake until she would have to sit on her hands just to get them to stop trembling. But this stranger, her son’s teacher evidently, had a bit of calming effect on her. She simply did as she was told. Watching as wild locks of hair fell into ocean eyes. She blew out a breath, hair falling into her eyes.

“I don’t think we’ve met before,” She said, giving a genuine smile despite her frazzled state. “I’m Chloe Beale. English teacher, and acting principal.”

Beca raised her eyebrows. Jackson had mentioned this woman before; the girl half the school had a crush on. She was as young as he said that she was. He would grumble out that he was reading Hamlet in Miss Beale’s class before scarfing down the rest of his chicken and heading to soccer practice. This woman had a lot on her plate.  

“No, I don’t think we have.” Beca gave her a small smile “I run a place downtown. Not many of my nights are free.”

“Do you?” She said, enthralled as she pushed the files away, leaning forward. “What’s the name, maybe I’ve heard of it?”

“Barden’s.” She beamed, remembering how much work she put into the little dive bar. They had their regulars and their newcomers- but either way, it was home to her. A place that she built up from scratch and turned into something she always wanted it to be. “It’s kind of an underground bar I don’t know if you’ve-“

“No way!” Chloe slammed her hands on the desk, positively beaming. “You own that place! I swear to god, they have the best cheese fries known to man. Especially after long nights grading papers. Or when you get stood up, and, wow” Chloe paused “And Im a professional I shouldn’t be talking like this.”

Beca blew out a puff of air, captivated by the pure joy on the woman’s face as she tapped her fingers lightly on the tabletop. The brunette couldn’t’ help the strong smile on her face- or the happiness that bounced off the teacher and pushed against her mind. “Funny, I was wondering if you would be up to holding off on this conversation and getting some of those fries.”

“Are you trying to bribe me, Miss Mitchell?” Chloe cocked a perfectly pointed brow.

“Beca, please. And I’m merely suggesting that we can talk this over somewhere more comfortable.” She shrugged innocently. “Offices give me the creeps.”

Chloe let out a drawn sigh, slumping her shoulders. “Me too. Trust me, me too. But Jackson-“ She hesitated “Jackson actually did something that I would commend if I wasn’t in this building right now.”

Now Beca was curious. It wasn’t that she hadn’t cared about her son’s well being in the first place. She just knew that she had raised him right. She had done it all by herself too; his father bailing the second he learned of the baby’s existence. She taught Jack to be strong and fair, and she had never been called into the office before today. She figured that this would be the first offense. Her son probably a nervous wreck himself.

“What exactly did my son do?”

“He stood up for someone,” Chloe explained, finally glancing down at the files. “But in the process, he did take a punch- instigating a situation.”

Beca raised her brows “he’s in trouble for getting hit?”

“I don’t want him to be, and technically I am acting principle. So, if you do decide to own up to that cheesy fry deal, I can overlook that little clause in the rulebook that states everyone involved in situations like this get punishment.”

“Just like that?” The tiny brunette asked. “you can just ignore the rules?”

Chloe held eye contact as she slid the folder near the edge of the table. She was like a cat near a water glass, slowly letting the papers drop into the metal trash can with a clang. “What rules, Beca?” She kept an innocent twang to her voice. “You were just here to invite me to a glass of wine at your bar.”

“Oh, we’ve upgraded to fries and wine?” Beca snarked, lilting her head.

Chloe let out a satisfied huff as she reached into the compartment at the edge of her desk. She pulled a leather bag over her shoulder. Standing as Beca watched with acute attention. She was entrancing, even in her everyday movements. Everything about Chloe Beale made Beca want to shut the bar down and share a bottle of her best wine while they talked into the night.

“I’m not sure that would be the best combination,” Beca stated as she stood, holding the door open to the teacher in front of her.

“Wine and cheese are perfect! It’s like… hmm, what are good combinations?”

“Peanut butter and jelly?”

“Yeah!” Chloe adorably snapped her finger as she placed the opposite one on the tip of her nose like they were playing a game of charades. “Like Peanut butter and Jelly! Wine and cheese… and potatoes.”

Beca snorted, shaking her head as she let the office door come to a close behind the two. The hallways were mainly empty now, both women letting their voices echo off the walls as they headed towards Barden- a bar that had the best cheese fries, and evidently, the best pairings.

Chapter Text

Chloe had only ever gotten the air knocked out of her once. She was ten years old when her horse reared its ugly head at the sight of a rattlesnake. Of course, she didn’t’ blame the animal- neither of them really. There were predators, and there was prey in nature. In that case, the giant and regal animal that she had been riding since she was ten were rendered useless the second a reptile bared its venom-soaked teeth.

She had fallen into the mud, cold and icy as it’s winter filled hands roamed past the fabric of her riding gear. She was almost dizzy the moment it happened. Her eyes were staring up at the blue cotton sky as she felt that unfamiliar ache in her chest. She wasn’t hurt; she knew she wasn’t. She just couldn’t’ catch her bearings.

Her father had blown a gasket at that. His little girl being thrown from the only near dangerous thing she was allowed to do at that age. Of course, she was never allowed to ride again after that little mishap. But that never stopped Chloe, even if she had become so accustomed to night riding at this point. She was only guided by the moon, the moon and the gut feeling that she needed some form of adrenaline.

That’s why she was out here now. Chloe’s horse kept its head bowed as it walked against the path, their breathing in synch as it pushed past the condensation in the air. She could almost smell the frost, taste the cold chill that reminded her of the day her most trusted steed had thrown her to the ground. That same anxiety was in the air now- Chloe pressing her palm to the animals’ neck, applying a slight and comfort filled pressure.

It slowed down to a trot, this part of the forest unwelcoming. She was dressed in a long cloak, it was pitch, if not for the bright white spot on her horse’s chest than she would have been completely hidden to the human eye. Which, she needed at this point. She had no purpose to head into town- other than the need for a drink.

“It’s okay, girl,” Chloe whispered evenly, flashing her icy eyes up to the front of the trail. They were almost to the pub. She had worked out a deal with the owner a while back. No one would bother the king’s daughter as long as she kept towards the back of the restaurant. Hell- she had even made friends with the blonde wench that usually worked all the shifts for a few pence.  

Her horse slowed to a complete stop, pushing out a long breath as if to rub it in Chloe’s face. The girl stifling a scoff as she pulled her feet from the leather stirrup, dropping to the ground. Part of her knew that her animal stalled for a reason, but he didn’t’ carry the same fear that he did when the rattlesnake slithered into the picture.

Still, she placed her palm on the rear bolster of her dagger, expertly crafted in iron with a dark dragon burned into the metal. It had a distinguished by the dark emerald of a gem. One that was polished and kept with great care. Chloe had fallen in love with the item that was given to her in passing. Never to be seen without it.

The redhead pressed the soul of her shoe against a bushel of leaves, her breath catching the second she felt something wrap around her ankle. It wasn’t that of a serpent, or something more sinister- it was simply a rope. A rope that was tied with intention.

She felt that same rush, that same absence of air that filled her when she was ten years old. The ache in her chest was replaced with on in her ankle, eyes blinking rapidly as she let out a little yelp. Her throat was quickly raw- the leather holder that held her blade still tied evenly around her waist, arms sore as she kept her breathing.

Her horse breathed out in a steady noise, almost mocking her as the large oak tree creaked under the added weight of a swinging rope trap. “Oh, hush.” She grunted, reaching towards the dagger. Her fingers were cold as they met the empty space in her holster.

“Fuck,” She grumbled. Her first instinct was to reach for the weapon, sawing through the rope that so unceremoniously pulled her from her bearings.  

“Well, damn, I didn’t think this would actually work.” Chloe shot her eyes open at the sound of a stranger’s voice, her heart pounding in her ears. She tried to get a good view, tried to keep the dizzying feeling from her head. It was impossible. “You know, this is a very nice blade.”

She saw the black gloved hand reach other her, wrapping perfectly skilled fingers around the item. It was the voice of a woman, one dressed in almost all pitch- just like the princess herself. The girl was squirming now, trying her best to get a look at the woman.  

A deep grunt escaped her lips the second she did meet eyes with the stranger. In fact, it wasnt a stranger at all. It was one of her father’s knights. The snide one with the unforgettable features that were soft and menacing all at once. She could never forget a person like that. One of the two female knights in the cabinet that the king laid his trust into.

“Princess, you know you shouldn’t be out this late.”

“Don’t’ call me princess.” Chloe crossed her arms over her chest, maybe hoping to get more blood flow to them.

“Oh, and how am I supposed to address you then?” The young knight circled her. She sported the royal crest on her overcoat, just as pitch as the rest of her outfit. Chloe always found it too fancy for her family; two long pitched swords embroidered into the fabric with a dastardly crown placed over top. Almost like it was inviting people to mess with them. Beca, as she remembered, wore it with pride.

She carried a heavier accent than anyone Chloe had ever met before. She wasn’t born into a royal family that was supposed to protect her own. No, she was a commoner that worked her way up to being knighted a few years ago. Always trusting and head-on in battles.  

Beca squatted down, her boots making an odd noise against the muddied path. She placed her hand on Chloe’s shoulder, steadying her as she looked into those angry ocean eyes. “Now, your majesty, that doesn’t seem to matter. What does, is why I caught you on this path, at this hour.”

“I don’t see how that is any of your business.” Chloe was stubborn as ever, huffing softly. “And Chloe is fine, thank you.”

“It does seem to be of my business when you’re the one in my trap.”

“Why are you creepily setting these things anyway?” Chloe changed the subject. Her horse had been no help in this situation, not that she expected it to be a big and strong protector. But Midnight was used to Beca, used to the way she slyly fed him sugar cubes when Chloe wasn’t looking, just to annoy her.

“In the classic style of your father,” Beca started, raising back to her feet as she gripped the rope “There have been recent thefts on this route, and he wanted a little extra protection set up.”

“For the town?”

“For you.” The edged sound of a blade against leather caught Chloe’s attention, not having the effort to lift her head at this point to get a better look. The young knight dug the edge of the knife into the rope, sawing away at its clutches. “Don’t be stunned into silence, Princess. You really think he doesn’t know of your little midnight excursions?”

Chloe She corrected hastily “And he what?”

She didn’t get a chance to answer, the quick snap of the rope sending her with little grace down into the mud-soaked ground. It was cold and unwelcoming, just like that incident once more. This time she saw the tops of oak trees and the taunting face that Beca dawned, the girl letting out an instinctive groan of discontent.

“You have got to be the worst knight in shining armor ever.” She groaned, appeasing the ache in her lower back.

“Do I look like I’m wearing armor to you, princess?”

Chapter Text

Her stomach churned against the lack of food, Chloe regretting not taking that bagged lunch that Aubrey had made her meticulously. Her roommate loved nothing more than to micromanage, and part of that came with pretzels, juice, and Pb & J’s every time midterm season came around.

The redhead had about an hour between exams at this point, a deep hunger biting at the inside of her stomach every five minutes. She knew she wouldn’t be able to focus on her Physic’s exam- not when the only thing on her mind was that toasted sandwich back in her shared apartment.

She decided to do something that she had never done before, fishing in her pockets for any change that she had left. There were no snack machines on Barden that worked- not for the last three years that she had been here. The only ones that were rumored to have any type of function was housed in the campus’s radio station.

Chloe had never been in there before, sometimes flicking to that channel whenever she had trouble focusing and needed some white noise. The mixes were good, getting better over the years. Hell, she would even hum to the tunes every once and awhile, often getting a sharp look from Aubrey during dinner or practice.

With another drawn-out growl from her stomach, Chloe had her mind made up. She would sneak into the station and raid the snack machine. The large brick and mortar building just across the street. There was practically no traffic- almost silence as kids resigned to the library and coffee houses to study.

Chloe crossed the street, her footfalls silent as she pressed her back flush against the wall, there were blinds against the glass-plated doors, perforated. It gave the Bella a good look at the empty desk that sat in the waiting room- a back door propped open to what looked like an even bigger station. An empty station, the keys still in the second door.

The girl flinched as she slowly turned the brass knob, padding silently into the room. It looked like a dentist office with a neat and untouched table pushed against the corner. There was a quiet phone, Chloe’s heart pounding roughly in her chest as she propped the second door, a long creak sounding as she froze in her spot, eyes scanning the second part of the station.

There were rows and rows of records lined up like the library, each shelf from floor to ceiling. There was a second floor, or more like a landing, that contained a few couches and what looked to be an old box television. A cleared area with two tables coated in paperwork and even more records housed two freshmen, each tiredly shifting through the masses of work in front of them.

Chloe squeezed through the little crack in the door, eyes shifting towards the large vending machine that rested in the corner behind some stacks. It was luckily pushed up against the wall Chloe was close to- her breath shallow as she slowly crept along the corridor.

“Hey, Sweetie.” Chloe pulled her shoulders back, eyes darting through the stacks as she caught a look at the woman hanging through the metal door frame of the booth; a red on light shaded her face with a dark shadow. She cocked her head to the side, deep midnight eyes flashing towards one of the freshmen.

She was familiar, in a way, something that Chloe couldn’t quite put a name to from so far away. The interaction created a window for her to shove some of the quarters in the machine without giving herself away.

“You’re not allowed in the booth, remember?” The girl speaking lifted her eyebrows, a slightly condescending tone to her voice. “The Booth is for people who can actually sort music my genre’s instead of making the best guess. Alright?”

Chloe stifled a grin as listened to the woman talk, sliding one quarter into the machine, cringing at the sound that it loudly made, her heart in her throat. She technically wasn’t doing anything wrong; a little breaking and entering, but it was for the good of hunger fueled concentration.

Her frantic eyes scanned the buttons, eventually deciding on a pack of cookies, her fingers pressing against the numbers. It beeped loudly, Chloe’s breath hitching as she froze in her spot.

“I know there’s a myth that we have the only working machine on campus, but I’m pretty sure this is borderline illegal.”

Chloe’s blood ran cold, colder than it had been from her apparent deception, her fingers grasping at the fabric of her jacket. That voice was a lot more amusing when it wasn’t directed at her. The woman who broke in for nothing more than a snack.  

“I uh,” Chloe turned slightly, drawing in a breath as she sized up the girl next in front of her, flashing recognition falling across her features. This girl had aged since the last time Chloe had laid eyes on her- that deep dusky stare almost unchanged compared to the rest of her. It was a stare she would never forget, one she thought she would never see again.

Beca Mitchell had grown a couple of inches in the three years since they had last seen each other. Her shoulders were straighter and her make-up lighter. Her piercings were missing, but the black t-shirt and dark jeans she sported reminded Chloe of the girl she had met at the activities fair long ago.

“Oh!” Beca lifted her eyebrows in shock. “I guess you’re used to pending police reports, then.”

She clearly remembered the girl, a triumphant smirk on her features as she crossed her arms over her chest, arms strong and defined against the fabric of her shirt. Chloe gulped back her hunger, giving a sheepish smile to the woman.

“You never came to auditions,” She managed out.

“So you figured you would track me down,” Beca mused teasingly “Four years after you walked in on me in the shower.”

“You have a good voice,” Chloe adjusted the backpack on her shoulders “Who can fault a girl for trying?”

Beca smiled happily, scratching the back of her neck. Chloe had a certain heat against her cheeks. She expected to get yelled at, to be ushered out or have campus security called on her. But this was more like a happy accident.

Her stomach chose that moment to make an ungodly growling sound, Chloe rolling her eyes as Beca cocked her head to the side- her calm alpha demeanor shifting to the awkward girl she had met in the showers so long ago.

“Wait, did you say myth?” Chloe asked, parting her lips slightly as she remembered what Beca had said a few moments ago.

“Unfortunately, so, Red.” She said softly, “Turns out Barden is way too cheap to actually have working ones. And to give up actual CDs instead of a bunch of 45’s. But you don’t see me complaining.” She scrunched her nose up slightly “Okay, maybe I complain a little but-“

There was another inhuman growl escaping from Chloe’s stomach at this point. The girl flushing softly against the noise that she couldn’t control in the slightest. Beca blew out a soft breath, parting her lips.

“I’ll tell you what,” She finally admitted “I have a whole snack stash in the booth if you have some time to kill… I even have Swedish Fish.”

“Swedish fish, huh?” Chloe lifted a brow, shoving her hand into her pocket. “You drive a hard bargain Shower girl. Besides, I thought only freshmen are allowed in the booth.”

Beca chuckled softly, pulling herself away from the case full of records with a strong smile. “I think I can make an exception.”    

Chapter Text

Beca was frustrated, frustrated and exhausted. It wasn’t a good combination for the young DJ, her compassion slowly dwindling through the night. Beca had good intentions when she stirred herself away at 2am after a brief nap to refuel. In fact, she even had a bit of a plan scribbled out on crunched up paper in the nearest magic marker she could muster up.

That paper had found itself curled up in a ball, missing the wastebasket completely, along with a few dozen other papers she had discarded in a tired haze. No idea seemed good enough for Chloe, to make up for all the dismissal and frustration that came along with today. This one day that Beca regretted overlooking the past two years.

She wasn’t sure how this was any different. Sure, this was the birthday that Chloe turned legal, but it wasn’t like the two shared in underage drinking, and drunken nights of fun before- this just meant the redhead didn’t have to quell at the thought of using a fake ID anymore.  

Beca hated everything about this; the one light that she dared to flick on in the Bella house sat above the small island that she slumped over, the granite countertop cold and unforgiving against her bare arms. She had every intention of making a skilled plan to ensure that this was the best birthday Chloe ever had, but at this point she had nothing.

Nothing but a headache and half a sheet of notebook paper with a little sun drawn in the corner- because she’s a nervous doodler and leaving messages at 2am on bakery’s answering machines hadn’t been the best idea.

The sun was just starting to peak over the horizon, signaling that she was almost out of time, Chloe was a morning riser, and would most likely be the one to catch the small brunette in her puddle of self-pity. Beca’s stomach clenching the second she heard creaking steps matted by carpet.

“Beca?” It was a voice she recognized, thankfully not Chloe’s, sweet an innocent like hers, but never carrying that sultry edge. Emily looked even more exhausted than she did at this point, rubbing the back of her hand against her eye as she scanned the mess in the kitchen. “I thought I heard something.”

“what are you, a bat?” Beca grumbled slightly, lowering her forehead to the cool countertop. It soothed her a bit, Emily cocking her head to the side as she ran her fingers through the mane that flowed close to her shoulders. She shivered under the cold of the tile.

“what are you doing up?” Emily asked, ignoring the sarcasm she had become accustomed to from her captain. “It’s nearly four.”

Beca stiffened at this, clenching her eyes harder. They almost burned at this point, her stomach churning from lack of food and a burn-out that was sure to flicker to a close at some point. “It’s stupid.”

“I’m sure it’s not if it’s keeping you awake like this.”

Damn, this girl was too sweet for her own good. Emily Junk having such a strong voice innocent composure made Beca vulnerable in a way. She wanted to protect the girl with her life- the second she saw her a new feeling of defense washed over her. She wasn’t the only one either, her and Chloe had a tendency to melt around the freshmen, snapping at anyone who spoke out of turn around her.

With a sparing sigh, Beca pulled her stare up to a golden brown one, Emily not looking the least bit tired. “I wanted to do something for Chloe’s birthday.” She admitted sheepishly. “But I can’t think of a thing… nothing seems good enough for her.”

“Oh,” Emily softened cautiously, not wanting to scare the older woman off.

That was an easy thing to do, it had only been a semester that the two had known each other, but she was quick to pick up on the little quirks of the woman- and well, all of the Bella’s really. She knew Lily liked hot sauce too strong for her own good, and Flo had a tendency to fall asleep almost anywhere. Jessica and Ashly sharing in on their own shared bathroom ritual each night. Chloe even having a weird thing with how the butter always had crumbs in it.

Beca had her family. She never dove too far into the explanations of why certain things made her uncomfortable, but after meeting Mr. Mitchell at the activities fair Emily knew what the girl was dealing with. Holiday’s and Birthdays were always a touchy subject for her, which is why none of them ever mentioned them to the captain. If she really liked you, she would pick up a cupcake at the grocery store, not bothering to light the candles, but handing the whole box over in case one of the girls wanted to.

“I don’t know how to do birthdays,” Beca admitted like each word came with a pulled tooth. “You know what, this is weird, this is totally weird-“

“No, it’s not.” Emily dared to reach out, halting Beca with a soothing hand on her wrist. “You care about Chloe, and this kind of thing is important to her. Don’t freak yourself out, Cap.”

“Okay,” Beca let out a steady breath, trying to calm the heat that flushed to her features. “Then what do I do Legacy?”

“Well,” Emily sounded out carefully “First things first, stop thinking so much. Chloe would love anything you gave her, including a card made out of glitter and noodles, you know that.”

Beca nodded carefully, that was true enough. The redhead had almost gushed over Beca picking up some ice cream on the way home whenever she was having a taxing day or is she set out two painkillers when Chloe dragged herself home from a frat party.

“Secondly, go upstairs and get some sleep.” Emily scanned over the woman “you look like a rat.”

Beca let out a slow breath, her shoulders wracked with tension as the sickeningly sweet scent of cake coated her lungs. It was a wonder that it hadn’t burned, a wonder that there wasn’t a kitchen fire to accompany the streamers, and the bottles of crystal alcohol that lined the tables with little to no dignity.

The tiny brunette felt a hand on her shoulder, a reassuring one that knew exactly where to squeeze to release some of that built up tension. It worked, Emily having an overwhelming calmness to her.

“She’s going to love it,” She whispered huskily, trying not the let the ache in her legs bother her. The two women were crouched behind the sofa, lights dark and house quiet (Well, except for the little giggles and whispers coming from the other girls hiding spots.)

“Really? Because maybe we should just forget all of this. You know, hide forever.” Beca said shakily “I really like staying behind the couch, you know? There are even cheerios.”

Emily rolled her eyes as Beca held up a forgotten piece of cereal that was sure to be there for a few months at this point, she batted it out of the woman’s hand, shaking her head. She knew the girl was nervous, but the party would be great. She had invited a couple of Chloe’s friends from class, and of course, the Bella’s were there. She had cake and soda, balloons- everything that a surprise party had to offer.

Her chest tightened the moment she heard the key in the door, Emily shooting her own gaze to the hallway. The hinges creaked, and Chloe’s footfalls had been tired- a full day of classes and exams not disappearing because it was her birthday. They waited until the perfect moment, until the girl walked halfway into the living room, her silhouette visibly looking around.

With another soft breath, Beca shot up, Emily close behind as she hit the lights- the whole group shouting out a surprise as Chloe’s face quickly lit up. Her lips parting as her fingers pressed close to her chest- eyes darting around the room as she took in the number of festivities, all the girls having huge smiles on their faces.

The room quickly erupted into a buzz, a bit of a weight lifting off Beca’s exterior as Chloe was flooded with hugs and best wishes. Emily giving a beaming smile to her captain, happy that the redhead had her signature smile on her lips.

“You did all this?” Chloe asked, the slow buzz of music starting to fill the space as Emily excused herself politely. She had a drink in her hand, a few people patting her back the second they walked by. She had lost interest in everyone else, it seemed. Deep blue orbs peering into midnight ones.

Chloe was a few inches taller than Beca, the girl reaching to her left to set the blue solo cup down. She leaned forward, grasping Beca’s fingers with her own, pulling her close like she had done the night of the initiation party nearly three years ago. The scent of sweet alcohol on her breath from half a downed drink.

“You hate birthdays,” Chloe stated softly, eyes darting close to Beca’s lips before moving back up to those deep royal eyes.

“Yeah,” Beca let out a soft laugh, averting her stare “But you don’t, and this is a big one, you know. You’re legal now. Which means you’re the one that’s going to be frequenting the liquor store and-“

“Beca,” Chloe cut her off, her touch tender a cool hand lifting her chin up so their eyes met once more. “Stop talking.”

“I-“

“Shh,” Chloe let a small smile play at the corners of her lips. “You have avoided birthdays like the damn plague since the day I’ve known you, Beca Mitchell.” She ran her thumb over the girl’s heated cheek. “You wouldn’t do this for just anyone.”

“You’re not,” Beca swallowed roughly, “You’re not just anyone.”

The full-on grin had burst onto Chloe’s features at this point, the girl taking a chance as she pushed forward, soft and rough all at once- the thick taste of mint coating Beca’s taste buds as she gently pressed her lips against the small DJ’s.

Beca was stiff at first, melting into the embrace the second electricity flashed against her spine, her arm lifting as it snaked around Chloe’s waist, pulling her closer than she ever had before; a light nip pressing against her bottom lip before being quickly soothed by Chloe’s tongue, the two of them pulling apart seconds later.

“Wow,” Beca panted, bringing her thumb up to swipe the side of her mouth. “I don’t think I hate birthdays anymore.”  

Chapter Text

Beca, dont you fucking dare.” The warning was swift and curt, such a vulgar word coming out of such a happy girl. Chloe always carried a sunny disposition, one that kept her holding doors open even if people didn’t stop to say thank you. Or giving up her jacket the second a slight chill took hold of one of the Bella’s.

Her fingers wrapped around Beca’s wrist, grasping it hard enough to leave a bruise at this point- the tiny brunette didn’t know her friend had it in her; the scheming and the planning, and most certainly not this.

Why not? She hissed out, keeping her voice hushes as she felt her sunglasses fall a bit from her nose. It was stupid, she knew it was, to keep them on in such a dark restaurant. Even if she did get a chance to follow through with her plan, she would never get a chance at a good aim. Not with the light of the candles appearing only a little brighter than their surroundings.

“I don’t care how sickening this is,” Chloe whispered softly “If you don’t put that God damn meatball back on your plate I will shove it so far up your-“

“Alright, alright.” Beca ripped her grasp away from her counterpart, letting the food drop back onto her untouched plate of spaghetti. It was a mess of gluten and sour tomato paste, that of which coated her palm at this point. Chloe not wasting time in shoving one of those fancy cloth napkins into her. “I’m just saying, if a wild meatball just decided to hit Aubrey in the face, then you could rush to the rescue.”

“And how would we explain being here in the first place?” Chloe knit her eyebrows together, pushing the edge of her metal fork into her own mess of sauce. She had gone with the lasagna, losing her appetite the second she saw the awkward first date that was going on a few tables away.

“Easy,” Beca shrugged her shoulders, leaning further into the booth. “I have coupons.”

Chloe squinted her eyes, shaking her head softly. The girl who was to her right was a new breed of ridiculous. Usually, Beca Mitchell was calm and poised. She acted like nothing mattered. But the second she got wind of this date, she had lost it. Even suggesting they tail their friends.

They sat on the same side of the booth, Chloe shoved against the wall and the ever-approaching brunette. She kept scooting closer to get a better view of Stacie and Aubrey through the ferns that were coyly placed for décor. She could almost smell the mint on her breath.

“Beca, this is not the Mini-mart. You can’t just print off coupons for a five-star restaurant.”

“Four.” Beca was practically in her lap at his point, turning her head slightly to stare Chloe down, crystal blues widened at the closeness.  

“What? Ow!” Chloe forcible shoved the girl’s elbow from her ribs, Beca scooting back a bit as she gave the girl a lopsided grin.

“Have you seen the bathrooms?” the small brunette asked, “No way in hell is this place five stars.”

“Okay,” Chloe drew in a soft breath, taking her hand and pressing it right below Beca’s shoulder. She pushed her back softly into her seat. She was like a puppy at this point, a hyperactive one that just wanted to bounce all over the place. The older girl didn’t fault her. Of course, this was a taxing situation. “What are the facts?”

“The facts are,” Beca grasped her glass of red wine, bringing it up to her lips. Her words echoed as she spoke into the glass. “My future wife and your future wife are going to fuck tonight. And we’re just sitting idly by because you won’t let me intervene.”

“Oh, my bad if I don’t want you to chuck a meatball halfway across a restaurant.” Chloe groaned, in one swift motion she pulled Beca’s glasses off of her face, the girl cringing away from the sudden light. “And what the hell are these supposed to do?”

Protect my identity. The girl stated as if it was obvious and she was the sane one. This was her third glass of wine at this point, she was working her way towards a fourth. “What if they know were-“

“You’re what?” The voice made Beca freeze mid-action, her mouth dry and stomach churning. All that alcohol wasn’t sitting so well at this point. Chloe’s eyes were peering past her counterpart, nothing but pure guilt.

“Dating,” Beca turned around quickly in her seat, breaking the awkward silence. She had been so preoccupied with her own well being the two of them forgot to keep a track on the real target.

They both looked stunning, Aubrey in a red form-fitted dress, a deep leather jacket over her shoulders and her arm linked with Stacie. Stacie who was in a deep maroon number with lace sleeves and dark black boots. Everything about them screamed elegance. While Beca sat nearly in her friend’s lap, a bit of red sauce still on her hands.

“You two?” Aubrey lifted her chin up, biting the edge of her red painted lips. Her deep Irish eyes scanned back and forth between the two women. Chloe cautiously wrapping her arms around Beca’s waist, pulling them closer than usual as she rested her chin on the girl’s shoulder. She smelled of wine and marinara sauce. “Really?”

“Yuppers,” Beca stumbled out, patting Chloe’s head. “Right babe?”

“Huh,” Stacie gave her an amused smile. “And how long has this been going on?”

“A few weeks-“

“A month.”

They spoke at the same time, Chloe paling at the words. “Oh wow, I guess it has been a month already. Time flies, doesn’t it babe?”

Aubrey tightened her grip on Stacie’s arm, the girl sighing contently at them. It was an obvious lie- the two of them well aware that their friends had been trailing them for most of the evening. It didn’t matter much, though, other than the looming feeling of being stalked. Because it was a date, a good date.

“Well, we’ll let you two lovebirds carry on.” Stacie took a step back, Aubrey happy to follow at the loss of warm contact. She gave Chloe a soft look before turning her gaze back to the tall brunette next to her. “Have a good night, you two.”

“Thank you.” Chloe hugged Beca tighter, her palm resting against the girl’s stomach.

“Oh, and Bec’s.” The taller woman lifted her eyebrows “You might want a napkin, you’ve got a little-“ She swiped she swiped the corner of her mouth carefully before sauntering away. They were probably heading back to the house, or for a nice walk in the park. Both women in the booth watching carefully as the door opened and closed quietly, plunging them back into the lull of the restaurant.

“Ugh.” Beca shoved back, Chloe let out a bit of a yelp as she got shoved against the wall, the surface cold and unforgiving as Beca placed her hands over the girls, holding her in place. “They looked happy.

“Yeah,” Chloe side, resorting to the fact that she was pinned under the girl. “I knew that much.”

Beca drew in a careful breath. “At least you got dinner out of it.”

“Oh?” Chloe forced a weak smile. “Does that mean you’re picking up the tab on a five-star restaurant?”

“Four.” Beca lifted her head, getting a good look into Chloe’s sad eyes. “I’ll even treat for ice cream.” 

Chapter Text

She always thought the piano was too grand a structure. Its looming frame would take up half of any room that it was placed in. It stole the center stage, drawing all attention to the embossed instrument. Someone who sat at the red studded seat with great posture and strong commitment wasn’t someone Chloe wanted to be.

That didn’t’ mean she despised her neighbor; in fact, she admired the musical prestige that would often float through open windows like the notes that hung heavily in the air. The breeze seemed to shift them like eyes steadily flicking across sheet music.

Chloe would often settle herself against the window seat on the second floor of her old Victorian. She had long ago done away with the screen, letting her leg hang into the open air as her focus shifted to her own work of grading papers.

Her mysterious neighbor always seemed to be fiddling with something- tuning up her instrument or running through the same few bars over and over again. Chloe didn’t seem to mind; her eyes would clench shut and her fingers would tap absently to the beat that edged through the mostly empty suburban street.

In the summer the notes were lighter; they matched the warm air and the scent of honeysuckle that always took up more than half of Georgia. When the weather shifted to a cold heaviness, so did her neighbor’s music. The pianist would lean heavily on the further ends of the instrument, notes deep and dark.

She balanced the mug within her grasp, eyes watering as she gulped down a healthy amount of red wine- it was soft and sour all at once. Chloe had curled herself along the edge of the window once more but without any papers. There was no resolve left in her patience to pick out the grammatical mistakes that one too many made. Instead, she waited for the music.

Her neighbor worked like a clock, though, Chloe had never seen much of the stranger. The darker side of the young teacher wanted to admit that she sprung up quickly from her mattress each time a golden yellow mix of headlights shown through her bedroom window.

It was part of the allure, though, not knowing exactly who played such heavenly music.  

She felt the cold bite of midnight air, letting her head rest against the wood paneling of the window seat. She didn’t mind the cold so much, the light dose of alcohol warmed her skin. Yet, it seemed almost habit to run her free hand up her arm, tracing the pattern of old tattoos often covered up nowadays.

The notes started in a slow and haunting tune, a mix between sharps and flats. The pianist let the music flow, Chloe watching carefully as the sheer curtains lay evenly over a solid window. Warm light bathed the grass in front of the opening. The stranger laid heavily on the keys- Chloe could almost feel the passion put into each note, her fingers tightening against the mug.

There was an earth-shattering crunch. Not one of broken glass, or metal wrapped around a tree at an intersection a few blocks away from her house- no, it was sour notes. Keys all pressed at once as the mysterious stranger weighted everything on the musical instrument.

Chloe drew in a breath so sharp that it burned her throat. She had almost dropped the novelty glass she picked up on her way to Wyoming. It was a little gas station in Limon Colorado, a place that was a mix between a convenient store and a tourist trap. It had worked well enough- being the only thing the redhead had seen worthwhile between civilization and Kansas.

She blinked a few times, staring at the inky shadow that stood in front of the window. She couldn’t quite see an outline, as more of a dark shape. The curtains hugged the frame, two solid arms reaching up as they grasped at the sill, pulling it down with a shaking slam.

Chloe pushed herself harder into the wall, almost as if she was afraid of getting caught. She had never heard the pianist end so abruptly, had never grit her teeth to the point of pain at the sounds that wafted from across the street.

Theyre having a bad night she figured glumly, not letting her disappointment of the silence get to her. She had to get to bed anyway, it was too late, even for her.

Her fingers tightened around the steering wheels, knuckles a sickly white against the grey interior. She was trying to talk herself out of this, it was lack of sleep, it was her pure need to be the star of a lifetime movie involving something other than clean-cut weddings- Hell, Chloe didn’t’ know why.

She didn’t know why she was drumming her thumbs against the dashboard as she wiggled around in her seat. Her sapphire eyes snapped up to the rearview mirror every once and a while. She was parked in her driveway, not pulling all the way into her cold garage.

This was ridiculous.

So, what if her neighbor hadn’t played music in upwards of a week? So, what if her mail was collecting on a molded welcome mat? So, what if her grass almost reached the numbers on her mailbox- weeds wicking through the cracks in the driveway.

Okay, so maybe Chloe was a little bit more than curious. But that didn’t’ explain why she had to keep herself from stepping out of her Honda Civic and dashing across the street to knock on a strangerdoor.

She missed the music desperately, and overall, she missed the warmth that it provided with its simple construction. Whoever was behind that grand piano felt with every inch of themselves, made Chloe feel.

Chloe steeled her nerves as she grasped the handle to her car, pulling herself into the cold air. She left a stainless water bottle filled with coffee on her roof- if Im murdered, theyll know I wasnt intending to be.

Her thoughts ate at her bitterly as she pulled back her shoulders and tried to walk across the street. The school teacher cringed at how loud and truth-calling her heels were against the pavement. Sure, a suit like this was a power move at the moment, but not the greatest for sneaking.

She palmed the shoes, used to the rough and chilled pavement under her socks.  

Countless papers were stacked in the gutter in front of the large house, the shutters a deep navy against the slate rafters. There was a stained-glass window that was blocked by a large oak, and a car untouched in the driveway. The grass tickled at her legs as she stepped over the offending mail- not sure if she should knock, or if it was considered rude to even touch the stuff.

Her fingers were shaking like she had never spoken to a neighbor before- she had. The old woman to her left had a pension for figuring out about any fling she brought home, and the lovely couple to the right were trying for their second child. But all of them had a mutual understanding not to disturb an artist at work.

Chloe drew in a breath, one that ripped into her throat as she let her knuckles connect with the wooden door. It seemed too hollow, too empty. She took an instinctive step back, tucking her arms around her as she rocked on her mostly bare feet.

This is a stupid idea, they  re not home.

The thought echoed in her mind. Of course, there was a reason that this person wasn’t answering the door- she almost let out a breath of relief. She had done her civic duty and checked on the neighbor that vanished out of nowhere. Good. Now she can go home and eat that salad she made at the beginning of the week.

That’s when the door opened. Its metal hinges creaked and groaned like the ghost of Christmas past. An unfamiliar warmth pushed past the doorframe as Chloe’s stomach dropped. She could catch the faint scent of vanilla and the musty edge of ink.

A woman stood in front of her, a few inches shorter as she leaned against the door. She had a strong frame, shoulders held back in confidence. She held onto the iron doorknob, a black t-shirt stretched over her stature, grey joggers ending in mismatched fuzzy socks. An innocent person who didn’t’ look so scary- her eyes such a deep midnight that they were almost an inky black.

She squinted, scratching at the back of her head as a few strands of brown hair fell from a messy top bun. “Can I help you?” Her voice was raspy. Sexy.

“I just uh,” Chloe said, “I didn’t’ think I would get this far.”

The stranger lifted her pointed brow, the ghost of a smirk pulling at her lips. “Ah, I see, trying to get the neighborhood recluse out of her house?”

“No!” she rushed, a little too quickly. “I just… I heard you playing last week, and you stopped so suddenly, and your mail has been collecting- like, what if you dropped dead or something? I couldn’t’ not check on you.”

She was laughing. The woman was laughing at how flustered Chloe became- she must have looked like she was mad. Her shoes were still clenched in her hand, her blouse was half pulled from the hem of her pants with all the nervous fidgeting she had subjected herself to.

“That was very kind of you,” The beautiful woman spoke, dragging her thumb along the edge of her eye “I didn’t die, promise.

She whispered the last word. It sent Chills up Chloe’s spine, one that made her once again trace the ink that graced her arm during a simpler time- the stranger guiding her stare to the exact spot Chloe had called attention to. “I like your tattoo.”

“Thanks.” She said.

“Got any more?” She leaned forward slightly, squinting her eyes “Can I see them?”

“Depends on if you’re the type of composer who runs of coffee.”

The woman scoffed, stepping aside as she let the door creak even louder. Chloe almost flushed at her own words. She was never too forwards when it came to stuff like this- but it felt different. Like she knew this woman for years just based on the music flowing through a grand piano.

Maybe she did know her, maybe they both knew.

Chapter Text

The grass was dead. Its once green blades had faded to a sickly brown- a brown so dull that it reminded Chloe of eyes that had flickered of all curiousness. She could feel the cold, understand why the plots of land looked like a nuclear war site, but still, it made her stomach clench in worry.

She listened easily to the sound of rain beating against high hanging branches. The leaves weighted heavily with the thick coat of water. A few chilled drops hit Chloe on the back of her neck, the young redhead wiping away the liquid at first before caving to her resolve. Now a stain soaked into space where her cotton shirt met her fleece jacket.

This rain would be good, Chloe thought, for the plots that were headed by sharp stones long forgotten. Even with the rain, she could tell that the moss spreading along limestone was due to abandonment. They were cracked, with rust stains leaking onto incorrigible words.

She couldn’t’ tell how long the graveyard had been here- but judging by the old markers, and the even older wrought iron fence that surrounded the property- she knew it had to be four times her age.

Purple wisteria plants wound themselves up the sharpened iron spikes. The lavender flowers had dulled out, a few sparks of color moved against budded vines. They looked like they could house thorns; like they had been stripped of all color and belonged with the dead buried beneath sheets of dirt.

Chloe couldn’t help but lift her chin up to try and see past the light drizzle.

Beca couldn’t’ be here. There was no reason for the young woman to drive herself to an old graveyard in the early morning hours. She had pulled her black car as far into the parking lot that she could get it before stalking out into the rain.

The older of the two held off for a few moments, she found solace under a sweeping willow tree with low hanging moss that clouded her from the icy sheets that began to form against the very dead grass that Chloe couldn’t push from her mind.

Her feet were sinking into the muddy base of the tree, her full body weight leaning against the bark that had been formed in the same edge of time that a shovel first broke the ground in front of her.

She watched silently as Beca came into her view. She had reserves about following her out into the country like this. It felt too invasive like she was breaking something special between the two of them; but after the multiple times that Beca had quickly canceled her plans before burying her words into coffee, Chloe knew that something was being well secured.

The woman was dressed warmly. She had a grey sweatshirt on, covered by a black leather jacket. Beca wore fingerless gloves, even from here, Chloe could tell that her breath pushed into the wet air like a football player running drills.

She held flowers; big bursts of color that came in the form of earth-shattering oranges, and yellows so vibrant that the petals were drawn from the sun itself. The reds dripped in subtle despair, thorns drawing out their own drops of blood.

The brunette took a stilling breath before she knelt down in front of a grave; one far too old and crumbled to have sentimental meaning. Yet, Beca closed her eyes, depriving the world of the golden color that they radiated. She pulled a single flower, a zinnia, Chloe mused, from the bundle before placing it carefully against the base of the stone.

Chloe blinked dumbly before her eyes scanned the rest of the yard. She stepped closer to the hidden edge that she hugged- closer to the sheet of moss that kept her hidden in the clutches of the dead. She gasped, almost silently.

There was a brush of color against every headstone in view; hundreds of them. They were people forgotten, they were people that were written about in the history books and may be remembered in the town history. But no one came to visit them anymore, most family members buried a few feet away.

Beca had haphazardly left a flower at every single grave.

The redhead bit the inside of her lip to keep tears from drawing at her waterline. Dont make such a big deal, Chloe. Beca would tell her. She would tell her to swallow it down, and that it was just an act of kindness no one would really appreciate but the dead.

“You followed me out here?”

She drew in a breath quick enough to cut her throat, deep cobalt eyes flicking up to meet honey ones. She hadn’t even heard Beca approach, not the crunch of the slowly freezing ground of the breath that hung so heavily in the air. “Jesus.”

“Sorry,” She flushed “I suppose I’m used to being the only one here.”

Chloe swallowed thickly before she reached forward and grasped the collar of Beca’s jacket. She pulled the girl into the shade, it was cooler under the foliage of the willow tree, but it was darker, the two of them standing close in a shared space.

“What are you doing out here?” She said, voice raspy. She kept her fingers around the collar of the sweatshirt. “You’re going to catch your death.”

Beca cracked a small smile, eyes flicking to Chloe’s lips “I don’t know, it seemed like the right thing to do.”

“You do this every weekend?” Chloe asked “You put flowers on every grave? Why?”

“If I don’t, who will?”

It was a simple way to answer a question with an equally as echoed one. Beca seemed mighty smug to Chloe. Chloe who wasn’t the slightest bit mad at the young brunette. Her hand still clenched the bouquet of flowers in frozen fingers. Her eyes were dull, and her nose was running, but Beca didn’t’ seem to notice.

“These people,” She swallowed roughly “They don’t have anyone to care about them anymore. They don’t have a legacy written in stone… and I just, I think that’s a sad existence. To be forgotten, you know?”

There was a beat of silence.

“No one deserves to be forgotten.”

Chloe knew all too well, letting her stare flick towards the headstones. No one seemed to mow the grass against the base of the stones, no one seemed to scrub the rust or trim the weeds. But Beca had thrown herself out here every single Saturday for god knows how long.

She moved her fingers against the side of Beca’s face, swallowing roughly as she traced her touch across Beca’s lips. Their breath mingled, Beca leaning into the warmth that Chloe offered with a simple gesture. A simple gesture that paled in comparison to laying flowers against graves.

The rain was wetly draped over her bone structure, eyes sharp as Beca inhaled carefully. She tilted her eyes to the side. She had a tender look in her eyes, one that pushed Chloe forward- that drove her into a pure madness. She needed to feel every inch of Beca’s skin. The emotion in her actions, in her kindness, pulling at her.

Chloe ghosted her lips of Beca’s. She felt the cold numbness of the rain, tasted the earthy essence that the girl presented as the two melded into one another. Beca lifted her hand, curling her arm around Chloe’s neck as she continued to clench the flowers in hand.

The world seemed to cease existence the moment their lips touched, Chloe letting tears flow unchecked against her cheeks. The two couldn’t’ tell, couldn’t fold away from each other as emotion seeped into an empty graveyard, where nothing mattered, but a bouquet of flowers, and a pension for kindness.  

Chapter Text

Beca pulled the glass of wine up to her lips, letting the sour liquid coat the crystal as she nursed the drink. She was already feeling the beginning of a buzz and it was only fifteen past six. The last thing she needed right now was to drown her anxieties about the reunion in a thick glass of self-regret.

She was leaning against the island in the middle of Stacie’s kitchen. Her main task was to grab the cheese platter that her friend was insistent on because were older now, Beca. And no one hates cheese. Which, the small brunette had to give her.

Instead, the group had ended up migrating into the large room, talking about where their lives had gone and how easily the conversation flowed between them again. It had only been four months since they last saw each other at a pop-up performance, but still, they enjoyed catching each other up.

Emily leaned heavily into Aubrey’s side, keeping her own glass of white wine palmed as she tightened her fingers into her girlfriend shirt. Aubrey was laughing at something Stacie said, and Chloe- well, Chloe was a beaming beacon of light in the corner of the room.

She was smiling, smiling at something Amy talked animatedly about. The shorter girl had exaggerated movements as Chloe nodded out of obligation. Her silk shirt was becoming untucked as she moved, locks of silky auburn hair fell into her eyes.

Beca beamed into her own drink, taking a long gulp before she shifted herself against the granite. Her eyes moved to the small girl that dragged a neon color crayon against a white piece of paper.

Even at the young age of five, Beca could tell that Bella took after her mother.

Her eyes were soft, and her skin was a smooth olive color. She had medium flowing hair that framed her little shoulders as she sat quietly and listen to everyone chatting around her. It looked like she was trying to concentrate on keeping herself in the lines- her tongue poking out of the corner of her lip.

“You know, kid” Beca started, capturing the girl’s attention “your godmother is pretty amazing.”

“Aunt Chloe?” Bella drew in a soft breath as she glanced up from her project “I thought you hated her.”

Beca furrowed her brow. Kid’s said some wild things- but this was otherworldly to her. She had never shown disdain towards Chloe, not in her recent memory. Maybe as a teenager fresh out of high school and thrown into College at Barden. But those days were long gone, and Bella couldn’t be too observant, could she?

“I don’t hate her, what makes you say that?”

“When you and Aunt Chloe came over last week for movie night, I heard you two in the bathroom.” She spoke simply “You were screaming at her.”

“Oh,” Beca squeaked. She wished she hadn’t waited for her wine to warm. Now it made her stomach churn. “Those were… happy screams, Kiddo.”

“They didn’t’ sound happy.” Bella trotted out “And then you punched the wall and yelled the F-word.”

Beca drew her bottom lip into her teeth, biting down hard enough to feel a pinch, but not hard enough to draw blood. I cannot give this kid the talk right now, holy fuck. Her thoughts were racing, her fingers digging into the side of the counter.

“Okay, I um…” She stuttered “I don’t really recall doing that, so… I don’t” She trailed off, a light whisper.

“You did,” She said, “You were like Oh my fucking god!

Beca lifted her eyebrows, shifting so easily as to stand near the child in order to muffle her. She swallowed thickly. If her stomach wasn’t dropped in the first place, now it was soring.

 Oh my fucking god! 

“Okay!” Beca placed her and gently on Bella’s arm “Shh, okay. Here’s the thing. Aunt Chloe and I were just playing a fun little grown-up game.”

“You played that game seven times.”

“Six and a half, but let’s not-“Beca stilled “let’s not talk about this.”

That seemed to deter Bella, the girl shrugging her shoulders softly before she picked up her orange crayon before filling in the empty space that was the tigers tail. She was kicking her feet back and forth, Beca raising her glass to her lips as she gulped down the remainder of the liquid.

It was then that she realized the stark silence of the room.

Part of Beca Mitchell hoped that the party had forgotten her existence and trailed back into the living area. But she knew her family, and the quiet of the room was never a good sign. She swallowed the sour coating on her tongue before dropping her shoulders and turning around slowly to face the girls.  

Emily had her lips slightly popped, perfect eyebrow raised. Aubrey’s cheeks were flushed, and Stacie was muffling her laughter with the bulk of her hand. Chloe- well, Chloe was the quietest Beca had ever seen, scratching the back of her neck as heat licked at her cheeks.

“How much of that did you hear?” Beca squeaked out.

“Beca, when my child mimic’s Oh my fucking god! It tends to capture my attention.”

“I was listening the whole time,” Amy said.

Chloe pulled her fingers up to her nose, squeezing the bridge as she let out a shuddering breath. “Six and a half?”  

Chapter Text

Tears welled up against her eyes, a sharp sting that pulled at the back of her mind and tugged at the lump in her throat. It was steady forming, something she had to swallow against five or six times just to ease the swelling. Beca Mitchell told herself she wasn’t going to cry, told herself that she couldn’t cry. She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth and stilled herself.

The ache in her stomach was something that the young girl pressed thickly against. It was something she had always done when there was a pain that needed to be stopped. She applied pressure and she focused on the way her breathing felt against her lungs. Noticed everything and thought about nothing.

There was blood, though, this time there was blood. Its ugly crimson stain moved from the large gash that stemmed against her knee when they had collided with the gravel. The nine-year-old was so close to home, but now she was glued to the fence that encircled Miss Jensen’s yard. Her little mutt of a Pomeranian barked loudly behind the window that he always stood guard at.

Beca let a sob escape her throat as she glanced up from her position on the sidewalk. There was a clean line of blood running from her nose. She could taste the metallic edge but refused to lick her lips clear of it. Instead, she shook, staring up at the boy who still had his fist clenched like it hadn’t just come in contact with her jaw.

She didn’t’ know what she did to anger him; the kid that lived down the street had always been an angry person. For the longest time, Beca had been on the other end of it. It usually resorted in name calling and stealing a few cents here and there- but lately, it had escalated to shoving, now this; he had hit her more than once, had pulled at her hair and brought her to a sniveling mess on the ground. Mere feet from her empty house.  

Beca clenched her eyes shut, thinking that if she stayed still the hits would stop; and they did. There was no other boot tip in her side, no knuckles connecting with her already shaking frame. Instead, there were footsteps- loud ones that pulled her from her minds edge.

“Robbie,” The voice was a growl, a sharp and unforgiving one that made the girl shoot her eyes open. She had never heard it before but stared up as the chain link fence behind them rattled as a ghost in the wind. “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”

Cliché, yes. Still, Beca couldn’t help but gawk at the girl who came to her rescue. Her neighbor that lived across the street; the one that was always so busy with cheer, the one that had worn an emerald green dress to the 7th-grade dance just last week. The one who went for a morning jog before the sun even came up (Not that Beca ever paid attention to that kind of thing).

She had never heard her speak. Not before today. But the light voice that was headed by a vicious growl was exactly the way Beca thought it would sound. It matched her neon blue eyes and her strong stance- one headphone hanging out of her ear as she held the boy close to the fence.

“Get the hell out of here, you creep!” She shoved the boy away with as much force as she could muster, watching with her arms folded against her chest as it heaved up and down with the force of her breath. Robbie pushing forward as he ran towards his own broken home.

Her neighbors face softened with unbelievable quickness as she turned and squatted down next to Beca, her eyes heavy “Are you alright?”

“Sure,” She squawked out, voice running on fumes. He had kicked the breath right out of her. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” The neighbor placed her cool thumb under Beca’s chin, letting out a mix between a hiss and a sigh as she turned her head to the side and got a good look at the forming bruise that moved against her lips. “Hey, we better get some ice on this.”

Ice sounded nice, and so did her neighbor not leave her just yet. Her parents weren’t home. They never were on days like this; her father was going back to school to get his master’s degree, and her mother worked two hours away in the city. Right now, she was utterly alone, and this kind stranger seemed to have a way to cure that.    

Beca could taste the salt against her palm as she pressed it unevenly against her lips. Tears welled up behind an icy resolve, chest tightening as she focused on one thing; the small light that was in her front yard. It was a lawn ornament, an old lantern hanging by a black pole. It swung in the winter wind and stilled in the summer heat- but right now, it was blurred.

The yellow haze that cast itself against her yard was nothing more than a reminder that she was visible. That she couldn’t’ melt into the shadows and let the sobs that so desperately wanted to escape her throat claw their way out. Beca Mitchell told herself that she wasn’t going to cry. She couldn’t’ cry. Not over something so trivial and stupid.

Still, the runny mix of water and mascara coated her palms in an inky mess. There were little specks pressing close to her skin each time she hastily scrambled to push the tears away the second they escaped.

The air was biting and cold, her breath falling past her lips in a hazy mess as she pulled her face into her hands, sniffing loudly. The strap of her black dress fell close to her shoulder as she swallowed back the rip in her throat; raw and unforgiving.

There was a heavyweight on Beca’s shoulders. Its warmth was strong, and her heart began to race against her wrist. The scent of mint and tobacco coated her lungs. She didn’t’ have to look up long enough to pull the jacket tighter around her trembling shoulders.

“He stood me up.”

She didn’t recognize that as her own voice, but still, she flashed her midnight eyes towards her neighbor. The one from across the street that graduated in two months’ time. The one who got a beaten-up impala for her first car. And the one who received a full ride from Barden University in the fall.

Chloe shook her head. She didn’t speak right away, but she didn’t need to. Instead, she pulled the girl close, Beca actually allowing herself to cry as she curled into the girls embrace. The scent was overwhelming, and the nose was cold against the nave of her neighbors’ neck. Neither of them spoke for a while.

“You know, the eighth-grade dance is overrated anyway.” Chloe tried to sooth, moving so her chin rested on Beca’s head “Something tells me you’re not too into the cupid shuffle anyway.”

Beca let out a noise that could easily be confused as a hiccup as she pulled away and stared at the girl who had always seemed interested in protecting her. Chloe would swoop in with some knightly duty and flash her armor before rushing off and falling back into the routine of waving with a toothy grin and picking Beca up from school on days when it was too cold for the girl to walk home on her own.

But that was okay because the redhead always seemed to hop off her steed and into Beca’s castle the second she felt so utterly alone and lost. Offering her a pack of ice, or a trip to the local diner to drown her sorrows in strawberry milkshakes and a large basket of fries.

She didnt have the energy to hold back the tears. Not this time. They flowed openly against her raw cheeks as she raised the amber bottle to her lips and let the bitter liquid burn her throat. The frothy mess dribbled down her chin and soaked into her shirt- but it had already been stained beyond any repair by some idiot with fake blood and a pension for alcohol.

Beca couldn’t’ blame him; the strobe lights in the house were overwhelming, and it was hot. Her stupid vampire costume was too much, a pair of sharp vampire fangs poked at her bottom lip, threatening to split her bottom lip as she leaned against the wall in utter frustration.

Some obnoxious remix of the Monster Mash was playing loud enough to shake the whole entire frat house. The frat house that she and a few friends snuck into without much of a free cause. It had hotter people, and better booze, and that’s why Beca was justifying just how wasted she had gotten tonight. She hated Halloween, hell, she hated everything that required her to have human interaction in a dumb costume.

Some boy she couldn’t’ really make out was flirting with her. He laid it on heavy, his hand right by her shoulder. She wasn’t really focused on how much he wanted to push past her resolve and bring her up to a quieter bedroom- she was homed in on how much his breath smelled like that rancid ranch dip that was on the snack table. why would someone want to kiss that?

She wrinkled up her nose and wiped the tears away from her eyes. Her emotions were too strong right now. Maybe it was the fake smoke the coated the ground. Maybe it was just the fact that this was probably the stupidest idea that they had ever had (Even for high school seniors, which was saying a lot).

He was kissing her neck now as she arched it, vision blurred by the alcohol that ran through her system. It felt nice- her fingers curling into his hair. She couldn’t’ really tell what he was dressed as. The frat boy had told her, it was some literary figure, and all Beca could think about was how disappointed her father would be in her for not exactly knowing the character in the first place.

“Jackson,” The voice cut through the air like a familiar butter knife. “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”

Beca let a smile brush against her lips. Jackson, frat boy or whatever, was nipping at her pulse point and Beca let out a deep and drunken sigh as she let her head thump against the wall.

“What gives, Beale?” The boy detached himself from Beca, eliciting a whimper of upset form the girl as he turned towards her neighbor that used to live across the street. The same one who was attending her second to last year at Barden; the one that rarely returned home anymore. The one that carried a stare like a fire that matched the devil horns on top of her head. “She was enjoying it, weren’t you Bec?”

She is still in high school.”

That seemed to do the trick, the boy flushing almost as white as the fabric of his costume before he grabbed the half- empty bottle of beer from Beca’s hand and ducked into the crowd. It left the two of them, a drunken smile on the girls face as she pointed a finger at Chloe “What gives Beale?” she mirrored.

“You’re wasted.” Was as she got in response before a hand grasped onto her outstretched one.

Beca wasn’t really registering much as she was dragged through a mix of poorly done ghosts and over-sexual werewolves that howled over the bass of whatever song was playing. She gasped when she was tugged onto the porch of the house- making it all the way to the grass before she dug her heels into the soft soil, fake blood cold against her midsection.

“Chlo, come on I was just having sm’fun”  She scrunched her face up, she couldn’t’ tell if she was mixing her words because of the warm jacket of alcohol, or the fake vampire fangs that she ran her tongue over.

“Not here you’re not.” Chloe turned with an exasperated sigh as she turned towards her neighbor “Why did you think this was a good idea? You could have gotten drugged or killed Beca. Is any of that registering with you?”

Truthfully, it wasn’t. But she still blinked dumbly at the woman in front of her. Chloe Beale had grown into those sophisticated blue eyes, that stupid little devil costume made her stance darker and her hair messier than Beca had ever seen before.

“I wanted to see you.”

“A phone call works fine.”

“You would have been too busy to answer.”

Chloe snapped her jaw shut as she stared at the girl in front of her. The two of them held a stare, one that Beca would have broken if she hadn’t consumed so much liquid courage. She could smell the mint and tobacco that wracked Chloe’s whole being. It was warmth and she needed that right now, but she never made a move. Not towards her.

“I’m sorry.” Chloe mumbled out “things have been… busy. But that’s no excuse to throw yourself at some child during a frat party. Jackson doesn’t even know what he’s doing.”

“And you do?” Beca scoffed, stepping forward with a bit of a devilish growl to her words. “You always want to swoop in after I get hurt after I hurt enough to throw myself at someone like him in the first place.”

“Don’t you dare blame me for this, Beca.”

“I’m not.”

“Sure sounds like you are.”

She let out a shaken breath, trying to still herself. The tears had started again and this time the buzz was wearing off enough for her to want to swallow it back. Chloe’s expression softened quicker than she had ever seen before, the girl cupping her cheek as she ran a thumb over her cheeks- cutting away the tear before it had a chance to fall. Her eyes flicked towards Beca’s lips.

Chloe closed the distance between them raising her other hand to hold Beca completely. The brunette nipped hungrily at Chloe’s lips- the kiss was passionate and rushed and sent chills against Beca’s spine. She was rushing to breathe in every inch of Chloe that she could, lungs ignited in a strong fire as she placed her hands on the girl’s waist.

“Beca,” Chloe eventually pulled away from her, hand moving down to rest on the girl’s shoulder as she panted. Beca didn’t’ lift her eyes, didn’t’ meet those strikingly blue ones- not right away.

“Yeah, Chlo?”

“Can you take those stupid vampire fangs out? They hurt like a bitch.”    

Chapter Text

It was abnormal to get a phone call in the middle of a winter night. Snow had just begun to fall a few hours earlier, coating the hard ground with a thin layer of white that the street lamps flashed against at the right angle. It kept Beca’s hardwood floors cold as she placed her feet against them, cringing slightly as her bare feet got met with a blast of frozen edge.

“Hello?” She spoke, groggily as she ran her hand through her tangled hair. “A what?”

A wolf. That’s what her assistant had just said to her. Or at least that’s what Beca thought she heard. She still had a thick haze over her mind, eyes blinking against the darkness as they adjusted enough for her to make out the wobbly shadows of her dresser and nightstand. This was California. There weren’t any wolves in California. Coyote’s- maybe. But not in this suburban part of town.

It brought an unusual excitement to her, her pulse picking up as she flicked on the desk lamp to her side. Her heartbeat picked up against her chest. In a cruel way of thinking, this was captivating. Ever since she had the chance to start her own veterinary practice in the quells of the West Coast she had seen nothing more than canine’s and cats, which she still enjoyed treating, but even the occasional bird got her excited for something different.

“Yeah, no” She stood, eyes flashing towards the clock. It was nearly 3am. “That’s what I thought you said. Where is she now?”

Her office. Great.

Granted the old man who brought her in didn’t think a half a mammoth sized wolf would cause a dent in his hood- something made very clear by the way he was mumbling in the background of the car. He spoke about going to the city about the damages. There was no way in hell that he was paying for the thousand-dollar Vet bill for a wolf. As he put it very nicely.

Beca instructed her assistant to keep the man as calm as possible and continue to monitor the vitals of the large animal before informing her not to call the control officers. A wild animal was different than the domestic dogs they saw on everyday occasions- but even she knew they would act with rash decision and quickly muzzle the animal before putting it down without even considering the possibility of survival.

She begrudgingly shivered against a pair of black sweatpants and a sweatshirt that she had laying around. It would have to do against the weather for right now, the girl not having the pension to deal with a heavy winter coat on a night like this.

Despite her eagerness, to her practice, she knew the roads were icy and her truck couldn’t’ quite take a spin-out. So, she took her time getting down the suburban streets- all the houses the same; dark and unsettled. There was a tire swing here and there, and maybe a toy car that was left out of the garage in an act of laziness. But they were still designed with the same black shutters and honey-colored paint.

The lights were on in the exam room when she pulled up to the large brick building with the illuminated sign; Mitchell & Posen Animal Hospital. She shook her head at the idea, not wanting to go with a cheesy name like Tags and wags. (Which was probably the name of another office downtown.)

A red truck with a clearly busted headlight and a crumpled hood was one of the only other cars in the lot. Beca saw the breath of the old man before she recognized his frame and the slowly lifting and falling of a burning cigarette. She held her breath, shutting off her own car before stepping onto the icy walkway.

“You’re the vet?” He asked, voice harsher than the one she heard on the phone.

Her assistant seemed to have given up on actual human contact and focused all her attention on the wolf that was inside of the building. Personally, Beca would have done the same. Worried about the possibility of the animal waking up and really doing some damage.

“I am,” she said, “Can I ask you a few questions?”

He seemed taken aback by this. He wanted to yell, his face red from the cold and from the discontent that wracked his twisted features. He scoffed, throwing the cigarette down to the ground before grinding the ashes with the tip of his boot. “I suppose, sweetheart.”

Beca swallowed back the anger in the back of her throat as she lifted her chin slightly at the man. “You hit this thing, so you tell me how fast you were going.”

“I don’t know, bout’ fifty, maybe sixty.” He huffed, “that animal jumped out in front of me. I didn’t’ have time to stop so I slammed the breaks. Didn’t’ do much use in this weather though.”

“I suppose not.”

“I wrote my information down with blondie in there. Like I said, I’m going to the city over this-“

“Where did you hit it?”

He blinked at her dumbly for a few seconds after being cut off. She was sleep riddled, and her fingers tapped restlessly against her thigh as she stood uninterested, but still concerned. “On the corner of sunset and 31st.”

She drew in a careful breath. That was a crowded part of the city, even at this time of night. She found herself somewhat grateful that it was an older man and not some pretentious couple on their way home from the club. At least he had the decency to pick the wolf up and bring her to the only place that advertised emergency care.

Beca mustered up a thank you and took the man’s contact information before closing and locking her door behind her. She watched him drive out of the lot through the glass door that had frosty lettering on it. Part of her was unthawing as she flexed her fingers and turned towards the exam room.

The first thing she noticed was how careful her assistant was. The girl kept the lights low as if not to disturb a clearly nocturnal animal. One that took up most, if not all, of her metal exam table. The only glow could be seen from two x-ray slabs that shaded the woman in a lowly neon light.

She almost gasped at the sheer size of the animal; she had seen wolves before, but it escaped her just how big they got. The wolf was conscious, but not viable to gain enough strength to move. It was clearly in pain; stomach rising and falling against russet fur with each passing moment.

“I gave her some sedative,” Jessica said, confidently running her fingers over the animal’s fur, she was almost captivated. “She’s been good.”

Good. Her young assistant muttered her words like she had just potty trained a puppy to use something other than a little pad set up in the corner. This was a wild animal, and Beca was wary, sliding on a pair of purple latex gloves as seamlessly as she could with her numb skin.

“She has two shattered ribs and an avulsion right against her left hip. I stopped the bleeding for now, but she might need stitches.”

Beca nodded reaching behind her as she grasped the stethoscope that hung by the door like a hat after a long day of work. She was beside herself, halting right in front of the large beast; yes, it was a vicious predator that traveled in packs, but right now, all Beca could see was its eyes.

She didn’t say anything, but she couldn’t’ help but notice how human they were. How they scanned her up and down and clouded over in a bout of fear. A sly whimper escaped its throat as Jessica took a slight step back. It was apparent that this was the first reaction she had to anything.

The veterinarian steeled herself as she easily found a clear area to hear the heartbeat. The animal’s fur was coarse, but soft all at once. She took a deep breath, earning a clear eyebrow raise. Again, that was something so human.

“Her heart rate is elevated, but that’s normal considering the situation,” Beca mumbled, pulling back as she moved the instrument from her ears. “How long have you been here?”

She glanced at her assistant, the woman was dressed in long white pants with comical hearts all over them. They looked comfortable, but not enough to keep her warm. She wore an equally stark tank top, hugging into herself as her bag ridden eyes flashed towards her boss. “I don’t know, that man wouldn’t let me call you for at least forty minutes. Maybe an hour.”

“Go home. She’s going to be fine, nothing I can’t handle. I’ll give her some fluids and administer an IV. It’ll bring her heart rate down enough for me to feel comfortable to actually stitch her back leg up.”

“Doctor Mitchell-“

“That wasn’t a suggestion.” She gave her an easy smile “Does she look like a problem to you?”

The wolf stared down the assistant almost like it was a challenge. Those blue eyes looked like they held a grudge against the young woman for poking and prodding at her already broken frame.

“I suppose not.” Jessica relented. “Seriously call me if you need anything. I’ll be back in a few hours.”

Beca said her goodbye to the woman, having to urge her to climb into her Honda and eventually drive away. She was loyal and Beca appreciated that, but she had no use for a woman that would yawn through a procedure as small as a couple of stitches. She worked silently as she changed her gloves and worked at preparing an IV.

She could tell that this animal didn’t like needles (Who did?). She stiffened under Beca’s gentle touch, but the woman found herself smoothing her hand over the animal’s large back, easing the instrument in much to the wolf’s dismay.

“Oh, don’t be such a drama queen.” She mumbled to her, earning a huff. And did she just roll her eyes? “You just got hit by a car. You can survive a little needle.”

The stitches weren’t as disastrous, the fluids working in tune with the IV to calm the wolf down into a placid state. Her breathing was slow, and the auburn-colored animal seemed to be falling asleep. It was an easy fix once the blood had stopped flowing.

After about an hour of monitoring the wolf and paying close attention to how the California sun peaked above the clouds in the slightest way against the blinds- she realized that actual staff would start to show up in a bit. She risked it, slipping out of the room for a few seconds to change out of her pajama’s and into an extra pair of scrubs she always kept behind her desk for times like these. They were black, but they did the trick in a pinch.

She was careful as she set up a pot of coffee and darted her eyes to the clock. It was nearly five in the morning. Beca palmed the plain cup of caffeine and shuffled back to the exam room. It couldn’t’ hurt to just stay in there. It’s not like she had other patients to attend to. The whole entire place was empty aside from a small litter of kittens that were under constant surveillance by her partner.

The door creaked open slightly, Beca focused on not letting her overfilled mug scald the edges of her palm. She hadn’t looked up- but she did, her efforts seemed useless. The mug dropped from her fingers and shattered into half a million pieces.

She was gone for ten minutes, but the wolf wasn’t there anymore. The table was far from empty, a young woman, a naked young woman was in the animal’s place. Still asleep against the light that slowly filled the area. Beca flinched at the scalding coffee that splashed up against her legs, breath catching as the stranger began to stir.

The vet had to admit, she was gorgeous, not that she let her eyes stray too much. Her body dipped and curved as her fingers curled up against her mid-section. Beca’s mouth was dry as she caught glimpse of the IV that was still pushed evenly into her side. The woman shared the same injuries as the large animal that was once in her place- perfect features contorting into pain as her eyes fluttered open; blue and human.

Beca thought her heart had stopped, her back pressed so hard against the door behind her that the doorknob was part of her spine now. Her pulse was strong against her wrist as she picked up her breathing.

“Fuck,” The woman blinked at the light filling her vision, realizing she wasn’t anywhere she knew. She panicked, not by much, her injuries stopping her from springing up, but not from flashing towards the only other noise in the room; Beca. “Fuck!”

“Don’t move,” Beca squeaked out, half because she didn’t’ want the woman any closer, but another part of her entirely worried about the damage she would do to stitches Beca had administered herself. “You just…”

“Got hit by a car, yeah.” The stranger rasped out, she didn’t’ seem the least bit rebuffed about her state of nudity, carefully pulling herself up into a sitting position as she hissed out a breath “I recall you calling me a drama queen.”

“Oh.”

Yeah, that confirmed it. Beca thought she was going mad. The way she had worked herself half to death to get to a place that would allow her to pirate half of her own practice had driven her to complete insanity. If she was seeing things correctly, then the woman in front of her was a thing of myth. Something that would blow down a straw house and chase after a woman in a red coat only to DVR the bachelor beforehand.

“You’ve done a lot for me,” She spoke simply, Beca didn’t interject when the girl stood shakily “But I was wondering if I could trouble you for some clothes. Maybe a blanket.”

“Yeah, dude.” It was a breathy mess.

Part of her wanted to run the other way, but that wasn’t what her conscious would want her to do. Regardless of if this woman just morphed from beast to human in the span of ten minutes the second, the sun came out, she wasn’t going to send her out onto California’s busy streets without a covering of some sort.

The stranger had successfully pulled the IV from her hand with little to no blood by the time Beca got back. She rubbed the spot simply, trying to ease the sting as she pulled the sweatshirt that Beca had arrived in over her head before knotting the sweatpants over her mid-section.

She had a bit of a lazy smile on her face, a streak of dirt clouding her features as she shifted uneasily. She was goofily adorable, Beca’s heartbeat still pounding unevenly against her throat as she let out a simple breath.

“You’re not going to call animal control, are you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“What about a psych ward?”

“Only to check myself in.”

This made the girl giggle. The large beast that could have torn her throat out in a single second was laughing as a thin layer of blush clouded her cheeks. “I like you.”

“I’m glad,” Beca found herself letting out a nervous huff of air “you owe me a lot of money. I charge interest.”

“How about we start with a cup of coffee considering you just spilled yours?”

Beca glanced down at the muddy brown stain on the floor. A cup of coffee would be nice, but this woman was just hit by a truck at full speed. There was no way that her sunken in eyes and pale sweaty skin was a side effect of waking up in a human form. “How about we start with getting you home instead. You look dreadful.”

“You know how to make a good first impression, Doctor Mitchell. I didn’t’ think you were a people doctor?”

“You’re not a people,” Beca squinted, eyebrow raised.

She couldn’t tell if that was offensive or not, but the stranger wasn’t deterred in the slightest. Maybe it was a wolf thing, or maybe it was just the gorgeous woman’s personality. But either way, she relented, leaning heavily against the table. Beca could tell that she was keeping up an act, a cold sweat forming closer to her brow. “Your assistant just pulled into the parking lot.” She said in a hushed voice “What are we going to tell her?”

Beca scanned her eyes around the room frantically before she moved quickly around the room as the stranger watched. She scribbled out a note on one of the pads and kept it on the clear counter where she was sure Jessica would see it. She reached down, and piled the larger chunks of the coffee mug into her palm, dumping them into the trash can.

“we’ll go out the back door,” Beca said, somewhat desperate as she pulled open the exam door and pushed her shoulder against it. “It’s right through here-“ She paused, staring back at the woman. “Oh right, car.”

The stranger had scalding hot skin, Beca seeming to melt under it as she wrapped her arm around the girl’s midsection and pulled her closer, trying to keep her up. She smelled earthy and strong, it made Beca’s throat tingle as they reached the cold air against the edge of the brick building.

Beca pressed her fingers against her lips, keeping the stranger quiet as Jessica pushed her keys into the front door. She considered herself lucky for parking so sloppily in the middle of the night. It straddled the side of the building.

“Why are you helping me?” The woman asked in a frantic whisper as Beca resumed her place pulling the girl close.

“Don’t know.”

“How do you know I’m not dangerous?”

Beca leaned her against the side of the truck, fishing for her keys as she panted into the cold morning. Her nose was raw, and her stomach was dropping, but none of that seemed to matter. She could almost smell the blood that was dripping from the now torn stitches on the stranger’s hip.

“I don’t.”

Chapter Text

The glass had shattered easily against the hardwood floor. Beca Mitchell had never counted to a million before, but she was sure the cup of water was in just that many pieces. The liquid soaked into her sock, and god did she hate that feeling, but she shoved that aside. Shoved everything aside and stayed in one place in the doorway of the room.

The window to Chloe’s room was propped open. It led to the quiet suburban street, the sound of wind moved through the willow trees and played with the Spanish moss. Beca could almost smell fall just as well as she could see the deep golden light from the nearest street corner cast a rectangle across Chloe’s comforter.

Chloe stood frozen, her wild blue eyes flashing in recognition and fear all at once. She was halfway to her closet, mid-step as she tightened her grip against the leathered suit in her grasp. Its forest green material was stretched- it was burned and raw, but still, Beca would recognize it in an instant.

The young reporter had taken her fair share of pictures when it came to the masked vigilante that roamed Atlanta. She was agile, keeping her face behind a leather eye mask that matched the strap on a bag that carried arrows. They were steel, and they matched the crossbow that had become a sort of signature for the young hero; Criminals would be held in place with the branded items, and the hero, whoever they were, was as skilled an archer as any. Even more so.

Chloe Beale seemed to drop her shoulders in defeat, getting rid of the breath that she held so fondly in her throat. She winched, Beca no entirely noticing the movement as the woman turned to face her slightly, dropping the suit on the bookcase closest to her.

“I was uh,” Beca stuttered for a second. But Chloe was patient “You said you were going out, and usually, you wake up with a raging hangover so I- would you like to explain yourself?”

She quickly forgot about the fact that there was broken glass against the floor, a pure stroke of luck as she closed the door behind her and kept her back firmly against it. Chloe always wondered how she would wake up with aspirin and a large glass of water next to her bed. She would always take them gratefully; not to cure a hangover to but dull the activities from the night before.

“I think it’s fairly clear.”

Chloe was right, it was clear. Beca’s cheeks reddened as she glanced down at the glass littered floor. The times when she sat up by the light of the fire and scanned newspaper articles pooled in her mind. When she would sit and barely flinch at her editor screaming about not getting good photos. When god forbid, she actually criticized the masked vigilante at the dinner table and Chloe seemed to go silent.  

“You can not be the hood.” Beca finally said, lifting her gaze up.

The redhead parted her lips in shock, maybe even defense, as she shook her head and turned her back to Beca. She watched carefully, as her co-captain raised her arms and pulled down the white windowsill. It pulled at her heartstrings but mainly made the vital organ quicken its pace.

She was wearing a white t-shirt, one that had a bit of soot over it, but was mainly pristine. The fabric stuck to her back, closer to the middle as an abrasive crimson wicked against the garment. Chloe seemed to hiss against the movement. “This isn’t some type of sadistic Cosplay, Beca.”

“You uh,” Beca swallowed loudly “You’re bleeding.”

“Pulling three people from a fire tends to do that to a person.”

Beca had instantly felt a pool of guilt as those deep eyes met hers one more time. Chloe had her arms crossed over her chest. It was a look she knew well; one that the Bella’s used to get when things weren’t taken seriously, or even when the two of them got in an argument about overexerting themselves at the new routines they had fallen into after college.

She disregarded the glass on the floor, stepping carefully but recklessly all at once. Chloe drew in a sharp breath as the DJ skirted around the room, walking into the closet that Chloe prided herself over (it was quite organized). Beca pulled out a first aid kit, not thinking twice as she pushed Chloe gently onto the corner of her bed.

“The fire on fifth street?” Beca asked, popping the plastic edges of the kit open. She again softened at the look Chloe gave her. This would be the millionth time that the older woman warned Beca about psyching herself out if she kept listening to the police scanner like that. “Sorry. Shirt off.”

Chloe swallowed thickly as she reached towards the base of her shirt and stopped, pulling her bottom lip into her teeth. There was a clear pain in the motion of lifting her arms. The gash was at the base of her back, and Beca lifted her chin as she spoke. “Can I?”

She got a haste nod as Beca carefully hooked her fingers against the base of her shirt. She was slow as she lifted it away from Chloe’s body, careful as she pulled the damp fabric from the wound on Chloe’s lower back. The gash stretched from the center of her spine to the hem of the grey sweatpants the woman tied around her waist. Beca let the shirt fall to the ground.

“A piece of scaffolding fell,” She clenched her jaw as Beca lowered herself back onto the bed, shifting Chloe slightly so her knee was turned towards the now-closed window, her other leg folded against the bed. “I didn’t’ move out of the way in time.”

“It’s not too deep,” Beca mumbled, “this might be a little cold.”

The pressure against the wound was cold, and Chloe did jolt, but she slowly got used to the feeling of Beca’s small hands working carefully to clean the mix of a burn and a gash. The two of them lulled into a silence as they thought dramatically to themselves. Chloe was lost, she had never told anyone about being the Hood. Beca still wallowing in a bit of disbelief.

“I’m sorry about my reaction. I just, forgive me Chlo, but you cried at the adoption fair the other day because a golden retriever sneezed.” Beca smiled at the memory.

“Puppies are my weakness.” She said, “I would say kryptonite, but I feel like that would be an injustice to Clark.”

“Clark?”

Beca pushed the large bandaged against Chloe’s back, smoothing it out carefully as if not to hurt the girl. She had a feeling that Chloe used more of her fair share of first aide.

“As in Superman,” Chloe turned to face the girl, blinking a few times as she got a good look at the jarred face that Beca carried “He’s great in bed, you know.”

“Gross,” It was a mumble of a word “Why would you tell me his name?”

“Because I trust you,” Chloe said simply.

They were plunged into silence again. Chloe was scanning Beca’s face. Her brows were furrowed, and her hair was falling into her hard eyes. She stared down at her hands, covered in a bit of antiseptic and rustic blood that wasn’t hers. They were twitching, itching to do something.

Chloe took a chance, she placed her cold fingers under Beca’s chin, lifting her gaze towards hers. Beca had a look of wonderment and maybe one of desire too- But Chloe shoved that aside, instead, she scanned her stare against Chloe’s expression.

“Beca, I know I’m not the type of person who looks like she can save lives. I’m not as dark as you think I should be, and I sure as hell shouldn’t have a day job in a vets office- but that’s what makes it okay.” She was whispering easily “No one expects me to be an expert archer or a vigilante, and that’s okay. It’s okay to be forgettable.”

“You are not forgettable,” Beca scoffed, leaning heavily into Chloe’s hand as she grasped her fingers and moved them to her cheek. “I didn’t’ mean that in the slightest.”

“I know you didn’t.” Chloe let the ghost of a smirk press near her lips, she sniffed “But it’s true. And I get to help people out of it, so I’m not really complaining.”

Beca closed her eyes, breathing in the fire-soaked scent that Chloe carried. They sat there, Chloe running her thumb absently over Beca’s cheek while the brunette mulled over her thoughts.

“So, hot-shot reporter.” Chloe pulled back, not missing the flash of longing in Beca’s eyes “How does it feel to live with a superhero and not be able to figure it out.”

“Shut up,” Beca slapped Chloe’s upper arm, a smile forming against her features.

“Ow! Hey, watch it.” Chloe rubbed the spot on her arm as she stood and started to walk towards her closet “I’m not invincible like Diana or anything, that still hurt.”

“Who’s Diana?” Beca asked, turning to watch her friend flash a smile and walk through the door “Chloe?!” 

Chapter Text

There was a thin line of blood. One that cut across her white skin as if it were paint flashed against a canvas. The kind of paint that was watery and didn’t’ hold much color, but it was there. Beca cursed under her breath at the stinging pain. Sure, it had been noble to fight against her restraints at the time, but now her body was really regretting it.

The handcuffs had cut deep, and her resolve hadn’t held up much to them. Instead, she shifted herself in the uncomfortable chair and hissed the second the metal pulled away from the gash. This room was too cold, and her nose was raw. The lights a sickly shade of green that bounced away from slate painted bricks.

She knew that the only mirror in here was double-paned. If she stuck her finger against the cool surface she was sure that there would be a large and telling gap between the tips. That didn’t matter much, though. She was shackled to this thing- the chain of her restraints looped through a small knot welded to the table. She stared forward.

Her reflection peered back; there was still a nasty bruise covering her right eye. It started in an almost pretty violet before warping into an ugly yellow swatch. Her own knuckles were caked in blood and scabbed over. She hadn’t been given the chance to wash them off. Course, there weren’t many luxuries in here either. She lifted an eyebrow. Orange was her color, it had always been.

It wasn’t that Beca was happy with her situation. Sharing a two by four cell with someone who didn’t understand the concept of a shower was the last thing that she wanted to do with the rest of her life, but something about being in this room made her want to smile. She bit it back though, snagging her bottom lip between her teeth as she sat back in the chair that dug into her spine and stretched out her arms.

Beca Mitchell didn’t’ bother looking to her right when the door creaked open. She barely even flinched as her view was blocked by someone in a suit. A woman who was breathtakingly gorgeous. Maybe it was being trapped in a women’s prison for the past two years that had done it, but Beca found a certain heat rising to her cheeks.

The girl carried a folder; her hair was a startling shade of red and her features were soft and somewhat kind. She wore a silk shirt, one that had a line of buttons down the middle and matched the shade of purple that Beca had over her eye. She looked too young to be anything but a detective but not old enough to have enough experience to pull herself away from the table just enough for a speedy exit.

“I suppose you’re here to go over my charges, then?” Beca flicked her midnight stare to the file. She earned a sour look in return.

“You clearly know what you’ve done to be here.” She said, “Why would I refresh your memory?”

It was theft. A bank robbery with two other women hard off on luck. Ironically enough the bank was small and didn’t even have enough money to cover the expenses the girls needed to run. An error on their part. Beca had shot someone. He didn’t’ die, which she was grateful for, but the action was enough to charge her. It was one single blow the kneecap.

“Then why are you here?”

The woman let out a soft breath as she pushed the file onto the table and pulled it open. A few years ago, Beca would have cringed away from the pictures; they were an onslaught of carnage and destruction. Woman brutally murdered in various ways that all resulted in blood. A lot of blood that still had Beca swallowing thickly as she ran her fingers over the edges of the file.

“He’s called The Scythe. He takes his blade,” She pressed her finger against the picture in front of them, right below the chin “He inserts it against the esophagus and drags it all the way to the pelvic bone.”

“God,” Beca blinked, shoving herself away from the table enough to gain enough distance from the file.

“He’s evaded the authorities for the past four months. His victims don’t have any clear pattern other than the fact that they’ve all downloaded a Beta version of a video game.”

Beca lifted her gaze from her hands. She saw that the woman closed the file. She looked sick herself. Maybe disappointed in the fact that they hadn’t brought this guy in yet.

“It’s the digital version of a popular board game set in the 1920’s. It’s comprehensive, Beca. The software somehow affects people enough to lure them into a trap.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

It was a valid question. Sure, the mention of the game had intrigued her. Her father had a set of it in their basement growing up. She never brought herself to touch it other than gazing at the blocky features and the intricate board. It reminded her of war.

The detective let out a long breath. This time it wasn’t so soft as she adjusted her position in her seat, clearly uncomfortable. She cast her vibrant blue eyes over to the mirror that was drilled into the wall. If she was looking for any type of support, she wouldn’t find it. Only her own gaze.

“You shut all the camera’s down.”

what?”  

“In the bank that day you wormed your way into the system and shut down camera one, thus rendering camera seven inoperable. From there it was a domino effect and you could access anything in that place without catching our attention or the triggering the silent security walls.”

“You’re fucking insane,” Beca scoffed loudly “All I did was hold up a teller. I’m no computer genius.”

The detective smiled then; it wasn’t cynical in the slightest, but it carried a dry edge. She looked like she wanted to laugh as Beca’s stare hardened at the woman that was in front of her. “Please, you’re talented. You left your signature with each step you took. The police here are just below competent enough to trace your IPN.”

“What are you saying?” She asked.

“I’m saying there is nothing keeping me from adding another fifteen years to your sentence with a click of a button.” She sat back in her chair like she had palmed a glass of tart lemonade on a stark hot day. “Or, you could renounce all charges and gain pardon the second you agree to help me bring in a killer.”      

Chapter Text

Her teeth tore into the bread, a thick brine of grease dribbling down the girl’s chin as she forgave chewing slowly. The taste that filled her mouth was too good and authentic. The char of the burger perfectly balancing with the acidity of the pickles and the crisp edge of onion.

Beca pulled the plastic cup filled to the top with some off-brand soda pop to her lips. She washed down the taste with a sugary drink that tasted more like cherry than anything. She didn’t’ mind the sharp burn that came along with chugging that much of her drink in one quick swipe.

Detective Chloe Beale sat across from the woman; her mouth was slightly agape as she stared down the convict. She held a fry that was dripping with ketchup, not dreaming of even pulling it to her own mouth. She hadn’t even seen wolves eat with that much feverish hunger. Yet Beca had quickly polished off a meal like it was nothing.

Easily she set the glass down and swallowed back the last bits of food that still rested on her tongue. She finally flicked up her midnight eyes and caught the bewildered expression of Chloe.

The woman let the fry fall to the plate with a muffled plop. She didn’t’ seem to finch as the condiment made an uncomfortable blot on the porcelain plate. Instead, she brushed her hands of all salt and leaned back in her seat. It was like she was studying the woman across from her, and Beca lifted a pointed brow in response.

They were in some diner that was fifty miles from the state prison, but still not far enough into town to have them run into civilization other than tired truckers and the occasional family of people beaming despite feeling the tight pull of strain from being stuck in a van for upwards of twelve hours.

The open sign was flicking with an annoying buzz. Its color was a mix of pink and blue, it shifted into a sickly pink as the words moved against the mostly empty table. Chloe had lost her appetite, and it didn’t’ have anything to do with the carnivorous partner that was less than a foot away.

Beca drummed her fingers against the table, pushing her own plate away as she swallowed the foot left on her tongue carefully. She didn’t’ really know why she was here, picking at the uncomfortable clothing that she practically swam in. They had gotten the flannel at the only gas station there was in the long stretch of road. They were close enough to the prison to sell bail bonds.

“Sorry,” Her cheeks reddened. “I haven’t had real food in two years.”

Chloe seemed to grow a bit of a smile but quickly swallowed it back as she straightened herself in her seat. Like it was wrong to feel any type of emotion that didn’t align with her investigation.

Her phone rang, and Beca realized that that happened often. It would buzz close to the surface and create an odd shake when it came to the silverware. Chloe would always shut it off by hitting the little button on the side of the smartphone that Beca hadn’t recognized. It had to be a new model, one that she easily missed.

“You’re fine,” Chloe said, “I’m sure you’ve missed this.”

Beca nodded to herself more than anything. It was easy to forget about things that you had a chance to live with every day. The way the grass felt under your toes, and how easy it was to pull into a restaurant and order something with a strong sugar count. Everything was at the tip of her fingers until handcuffs were locked around her wrists.

She grimaced but drew in a breath and lifted her head until she was eye level with the detective; the woman who got her a breath of freedom. She could run at this point, but she didn’t know what Chloe was capable of. It had stilled within her the second Chloe signed the papers that they needed to find this killer if she wanted permanent release.

“We don’t know much about him,” Chloe broke the air “Based on the height and angle of the incisions it’s a male. There was a boot print at the second crime scene with fifty-year-old Alex Ramirez, Carpet was ruined.”

“That’s a shame.”

“It is.” Chloe drew in a breath “He’s killed three so far. One was in 2013, it was brutal but didn’t point to a pattern. The game hadn’t been released yet, so it didn’t’ fit. But our IT guy pulled up a beta test that was only given to twenty people.”

Beca sat back in her seat, it was cold in the diner and she wanted to pull her sleeves down even more, but it made the fabric against her back taut. She waited for Chloe to continue.

“I don’t know why he chose Alex out of all of them, not sure if her score was better or if she had a sound strategy. But she was dead the morning after she first accessed the file. Another death didn’t’ happen for two years.”

“Did you find the other beta testers?”

“Tried to,” another buzz filled the room, this time Chloe was more fluid when she flicked it off. “They either had no interest talking to the police, or they were too afraid to even get involved. They shoved Alex’s file into the basement and didn’t’ even consider a connection until the third victim, Annie Nina, was found dead in her college dorm room.”

“No one noticed anything on a crowded college campus?”

“It was spring break. No one worth noticing was there.”

She felt a pang of guilt. She had seen the pictures of the victims and the amount of blood that scattered around them. They were slow and untimely deaths, but enough to create an undeniable pattern.

The phone rang again, and Beca fought her curiosity to flash her gaze towards it to read the screen. Instead, Chloe fished into her pocket and threw down a twenty before standing from the booth. Beca followed like a dog on a leash, but she didn’t mind that much, carefully walking down the icy steps in front of the building.

“Are you ever going to answer that?” Beca asked as they walked towards the large truck. It was one of the only vehicles in the lot, snow littering the top of the surface.

“Shove it.”        

Chapter Text

The color almost looked like it had drained from Beca’s face. Shadows reached against strong features defined by a layer of dark makeup. The red eyeshadow complimented her dress, a tight number embossed in all types of rhinestones. It tore at her arms, made her uncomfortable and stiff.

She had been holding her breath unknowingly, her chest burning with relief the second she sat down at the leather studded bench. The vanity in front of her was lined with dark bulbs that buzzed in the silence of the room. Flickered when the front door was slammed with too much force.

Beca ran the damp towel across her eyes, trying to scrub away the mascara and caked on foundation. She had realized early on that everything was visible under those stage lights and through the haze of cigar smoke. If she wanted tips, then she wore darker makeup. If she wanted free drinks, she wore tighter dresses.

“Fuck,” She hissed, rolling her stiff shoulders back. Everything ached, everything screamed.

She couldn’t complain, really, she couldn’t. After the bar she performed at shut down three months ago she was begging for a place to test her vocals. A desk job numbed her mind, her eyes trained more on the clock than the logs that she was destined to file. Trapped and stiff.

When Stacie had mentioned a gig at an underground establishment that operated under a false liquor license. Tunnels lead in and out of a small room complete with a stage and bar lined with different grooved bottles. The cliental not limited to stuck husbands and day drinkers.

Men that were confined to a life of crime. Ones that wore pistols like aftershave and had the temperament of a caged lion. They were docile under the low lights and alcohol. So was Beca, her voice soothing- a good source of entertainment. No one would ever pull a gun on the talent. At least that’s what Stacie had reasoned with her.

She couldn’t reach the zipper on her back, shoulder taut with tension as she let out a soft groan and let her hands fall to the table. She wanted nothing more than to get out of this obnoxious dress. Her head was pounding. She blinked, trying to wash out the glare of the vanity mirrors.

“Need some help?” It was a soft purr of a word. So subtle that it was almost unheard. If Beca hadn’t gotten used to the stark silence, she would have dismissed it as a heated conversation in the hallway. A fight escalated by the bar. Instead, she flicked midnight eyes up to the mirror, staring at the now cracked door. It let in a golden yellow edge of light.

The woman was leaned against the doorframe, her arms crossed over her chest. She wore a pair of black pants, buttoned over a pin-stripe shirt. It was flowy, her deep auburn hair looked silky under the vanity lights. Chloe Beale had the features of a God, but the temperament of a demon dragged from the darkest corner of hell.

Beca waved her hand in the air, because, yeah, she did need help. This dress was tight, tight enough for her to agree to the help that was offered. Even if it was Chloe Beale.

She was usually quiet, sitting in the back booth of the bar with a dry glass of bourbon. It never seemed to empty itself, but she always kept her composure. Beca had seen a few other girls come and go, but never any that stuck around.

Chloe Beale wasn’t bothered when she walked into the bar right before the last call. Deep rustic blood dripped into her clothes and sprinkled her cheeks like a glowing brine of sweat. Stacie wordlessly poured her a drink, then another. Beca watching from behind the counter with little conviction. A memory of the woman that sent chills to her spine. Something told the singer that whoever was up against Chloe, didn’t have the energy, or life, to get a drink themselves.

Now she stood behind her, hands delicate as one rested on Beca’s bare shoulder. Goosebumps rose on her skin, and again, she held her breath. The zipper sounded like ice breaking under too much pressure. The metal warm compared to the freezing touch of Chloe. “What were you doing back here?”

“Same thing you are, I suppose.” Chloe said “Trying to get out of that crowded place. It’s good for a drink. That’s all.”

Beca couldn’t help but agree. The ceiling leaked, and the harsh air never stopped flowing. A thick smog of cigarette smoke hovered by the tiled roof. The glasses were always dirty. The stage creaked and groaned under the weight of anyone daring enough to test their luck. But they paid under the table, and that’s exactly what Beca needed.

She turned to stare Chloe down, lifting a perfect eyebrow. She was holding the strapless dress up with her arms, close to lifting her chin as if she wanted Chloe to get out. She didn’t. Instead, she raked her eyes down the woman’s frame as she took in the lavender scent that plagued her lungs in the best way possible.

“It’s a lot, this atmosphere.” She continued “Things were a lot easier when the government allowed you to indulge in your vices, you know?”

“Ah, the good old days when one didn’t have to enjoy themselves in a damp basement.”

Chloe let out a small huff of a laugh, rushing a hand through the edges of curls that had fallen into her gaze, a devilish look in her eyes. “You don’t look like you’re enjoying yourself.”

Beca lilted her head to the side, parting her painted lips. Chloe was eye level with her, bending to a certain point from pulling the copper zipper down to its base. Her breath was a soothing mix of vanilla and tobacco. A sweet edge to a bitter taste. Maybe she wasn’t enjoying herself, the brink room sending a shiver down her spine.

“No,” Beca whispered, her eyes flicking down against Chloe’s lips before they shot back up to that brilliant gaze. “I suppose I’m not.”  

Chloe’s smile reminded Beca of a wolf. Not the kind that was dressed in a patterned nightgown waiting for an innocent girl to walk in with a basket of baked goods. No, the type of wolf that prowled at the edge of a clearing. The deer unassuming until those very jaws were locked around it’ neck. Until blood dripped and toes curled. She found herself leaning closer.

“Stand up,” Chloe ordered. Her voice was raspy.

Beca blinked, doing as she was told, holding the dress tight to her frame as she narrowed her eyes at the woman. She had bruises against her knuckles, fingers twitching in what could only be described as anticipation. Beca’s mind was fuzzy at this point, her whole-body humming.

“I’ve been watching you perform,” her fingers brushed a lock of hair away from Beca’s cheek, tucking behind a reddened ear. “You’re very talented.”

Beca fought against the automatic reaction to say, ‘thank you’. Her lips near quivering as Chloe cupped her cheek, running the pad of her thumb over the woman’s skin. Beca breathed in her sent, closing her eyes as she leaned into the soft touch.

She tightened her grip, pulling a bit at Beca’s hair as the girl let out a concoction that was half of a moan and a breathy sigh, a smile teasing at her lips as Chloe pulled. “Quite the tease.”

Beca lifted her eyebrows, testing her luck. Chloe still wearing that demon-like smile as she leaned forward, crashing her lips close to the woman under her spell. She tasted sweet, the kiss a frantic race as Beca could practically feel the girl’s pulse through her touch, Chloe moving her touch softly across her jaw.

She let the dress fall to her feet, strong hands pulling her by the waist onto the edge of the vanity, the heat of the lights warming her mostly bare back as a kiss never broke, Beca’s legs wrapping tightly around Chloe, pulling her in close as she bit hard at the woman’s bottom lip, begging for entry.

Chloe let out a soft moan as Beca’s tongue ran against the roof of her mouth, the woman breathing in deep enough to feel a sharp burn in her throat from the cold air, Beca stumbling clumsily with the buttons to Chloe’s shirt, fingers numb enough to make it near impossible.

“Need some help?” Chloe asked, smile pressing against Beca’s lips. The girl nodded hastily.

“Please.”

Chloe pulled hard on her own shirt, not caring at the buttons scattered across the room in one fail swoop, Beca not wasting time peeling the fabric away from her now bare arms. Again, they were littered with bruises, tattoos that depicted symbols no one could decipher, she ran her fingers over the ink, nearly testing the waters and tracing the drawings. Chloe shivered under the touch.

She dipped forward once more, joining their lips as Beca messed with the clasp on Chloe’s bra, the woman dragging nails across now exposed skin. Chloe’s fingers traced against the edge of Beca’s lace underwear, skin smooth. Beca hiccupping a gasp as Chloe dipped past the thin fabric, teasing her fingers up and down her folds.

“Shit,” Chloe growled, “You’re wet.”

Yeah, maybe she was. The girl not denying the deep pangs of adrenaline that would shoot past her belt when her eyes met the young criminal across the room. She would swallow it back, concentrating on her words not breaking, her melody never wavered.

“Uh huh,” Was all she could muster, pressing her lips against Chloe’s pulse point as she sucked, hard. The girl growled, a vibration working past her throat as she hastily pushed her fingers into Beca. “Damn it”

Chloe was quick, her pacing strong as she pulled herself in and out of Beca. The brunette was quick to forget about marking the woman, instead, her eyes clenched shut, a primal moan slipping past her lips as she let her back rest against the chilled mirror. She was quivering under the simple touch of the woman in front of her.

“Hey,” Chloe’s voice was quiet, her left hand guiding Beca’s chin until she stared directly into the pools of metallic blue. “Look at me. I want you to look at me.”

Beca swallowed thickly and nodded, she was close, Chloe changing the angle of her fingers as they curled inside of her. She tightened around them, biting roughly on her bottom lip as she struggled to muffle the moan that tore its way through her throat. Her nails dug unforgivingly against Chloe’s back, creating red welts and scarring irritated lines.

“Oh, shit” Her voice quivered as she shook, Chloe slowing her movements against her. She leaned forward, almost collapsing into the woman as she pulled her fingers away, wiping them sloppily on her pants. “Fuck,”

“Do you speak in anything other than profanities?” Chloe chided, that wolfish grin returning to her face.

“No,” Beca shot back “I’m afraid not.”

Chapter Text

The glass clattered against the floor with a loud bang, disturbing the atmosphere that the small coffee shop carried; one filled with old folk songs and mismatched paintings hung against cool purple walls. The frames weren’t the same, and the enigmatic paintings would shift their order, but Beca never paid much mind to them anyway.

Her eyes were on the barista; she wore a smile on her face no matter the hour of the morning, her red hair falling over broad shoulders in easily formed ringlets of crimson color. She wore an apron, one that usually had flour on it. And she never sat still, that, Beca noticed quickly. She would flit around behind the counter all while carrying happy conversations with regulars and new faces.

Her nametag was painting with chalk-like consistency. It read Chloe and Beca thought her parents knew what they were doing when they named her something with that much positive energy to it, her nose wrinkling when she was happy, or curious.

And yeah, maybe Beca had spent too much time staring at the barista. Maybe that was why she had dropped a whole canister of sugar on the floor. It hadn’t shattered, but the little metal top fell and spilled the grained pile onto the surface.

Beca flushed awkwardly, dropping quickly as she tried to scoop the sugar into her hand as fast as she could, almost like no one would notice if she got it cleaned up. There was a man fretting quietly in the corner chair as he folded the paper he was reading. A nurse before her shift that shoved the last bit of pastry into her mouth, and now Chloe. Chloe who stood at the corner of the table, a bemused grin against her features.

“oh my god, I am so sorry” Beca spoke clumsily, her mind working faster than her mouth. “I wasn’t paying attention, and my elbow hit this dispenser thingy, and-“

“It’s okay, Beca” The barista cut her off with a gentle wave of the hand “Accidents happy, I’m just glad you didn’t’ take the creamers with you.”

Chloe knelt down. She smelled like honeysuckle; that little yellow plant that tasted like grass and had a hint of sweetness. It reminded Beca of the summers she spent with her father in Atlanta and the fireflies that would land on the soft petals.

“How did you know my name?” She asked.

“I’ve gotten you the same order of black coffee every single day for the past two years. It’ kind of hard not to notice you.” She backtracked, scooping a small pile of sugar into her hand “I mean, your name. Not you, though, you’re pretty hard to miss too.”

“oh?”

“Yeah,”

Chloe stood, a new heat to her skin as she set the now empty glass canister down with a little click. Beca stood too, dropping the sugar into a nearby trash bucket that was lined with plastic wrapping.

“I didn’t figure you as a sugar type of girl.”

“Oh, I’m not.” She blew air out of her nose softly, “But my assistant is big on anything that’s more sugar than food. She’s under the weather today, so I figured I’d stop and get her a cup for a change.”

“That’s sweet,” Chloe smiled, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. “So, if I had a cough, would you consider taking me out for coffee sometime?”

Beca raised both of her eyebrows, not hesitating the bite back the smile that was on her face. Chloe was messing with the little button on the side of her rolled up sleeve, her neck was flushed, and her eyes scanned the floor to make sure she hadn’t missed any sugar.

“You don’t have to be sick for me to get you a cup of coffee, Chloe.” She smirked, plucking a napkin from the side canister. She easily pulled a pen from her bag as it hung loosely over her shoulder, scrawling out her number. “All you have to do is call.”

“I will,” Chloe said, “Right after I get you more sugar.”  

Chapter Text

Im sorry, but who are you, and can you get your hands out of my shirt?” The voice startled Beca, not in the sense that she didn’t know what she was doing, of course, she knew what she was doing- having climbed her way up from a lowly set painter all the way to head technician for a classic play like this one.

It was community theatre, so she knew she shouldn’t pride herself so much, but there was a certain aspect of the being behind the curtains that always intrigued the young brunette. She found it easy to learn some lines, to throw some raw emotion into words. The real hard part was making sure the actors never missed their cue, and the dull yellowed spotlight stayed exactly on their marks.

She was so used to working with the usual crew that it threw her into the predicament she was in now. Frozen like a deer in headlights as her fingers rested on the warm ribs of someone she had never met before. Someone who had a dying mic pack in the middle of rehearsal Someone who was an out-of-towner that was filling in for an actress with a broken leg.

The woman was stunning, even under the harsh dome lights. The golden color seemed to highlight the annoyance on her features, all the performers tired after a long day of practice and stale coffee. Beca had never seen such fire-filled locks of hair cascade along a plain white t-shirt as if it were a garment made out of the finest material. She was perfect for the part of Imogen.

She had a pointed brow raised, waiting for Beca to do something, anything.

“Oh, that’s just Bec’s.” A voice came from across the room, another actor who slumped in the metal stage chair. Not moving a muscle. She had dropped her posh “Queen” voice as she held her script lightly in her hands. The leggy brunette finding amusement in the dullest of situations, but this certainly wasn’t dull.

“I uh-“ the words moved past Beca’s lips in a blur as she carefully untangled her hands from under the garment. “Sorry about that, your Mic pack was going in and out.”

“The class and subtly of a God, Mitchell,” Jesse said. The man got on her nerves in times like these. Everything about his smug stare and his questioning expression got to her. Sure, the two of them joked around more than helped at moments, but this was not one of these times. This was a run through of the script- a classic and loving tragedy written by Shakespeare himself.

She shot him a deathly stare that could kill anything in its path. Almost like Medusa, in another life, she would embody the serpent-haired woman. But now, now she realized the exact situation she was in. Still squatted in front of a girl lazily seated in a metal fold-out chair. She had a cocky grin on her lips, her paper flipped halfway up as the scene came to a halt.

“Well,” Aubrey stated, rolling her own scrip up into a perfect cylinder out of contempt. She had had enough of the reading through lines at this point- the moon high in the sky, and her Character of Helen not taking much of her attention at this point. “I think that’s enough for today, right?”

Beca couldn’t agree more, falling back on her ankles. She dropped her shoulders, giving a shy look to the woman with the striking blue eyes. Even with the stage lights, they were strong and dark and getting deeper by the second. She seemed not to take her eyes off the kneeling woman even as she closed the large book of lines.

Stacie cleared her throat awkwardly, lifting her chin. She pulled her legs away from the chair, all of them wincing as they shifted from the position they were in for hours. It was like sitting in a restaurant on a leather booth in the summer. There was light chatter as the group dispersed, dropping their scripts onto the table like they did every single day, Jessie cocking his head to the side and following the blonde vixen backstage, again, like every single practice.

It left the brunette awkwardly staring up at the girl. Silently, and relentlessly.

“Sorry,” She apologized again, quieter this time. It still echoed, there were fewer people to listen to her public embarrassment so she could lower her tone. “I’m so used to working with everyone here, I just didn’t’ think.”

“Your hands are freezing,” The stranger said, amusement in her voice. She leaned forward in her chair. Beca could smell the thick edge of lavender, maybe it was shampoo or perfume, but it tickled her throat and warmed her stomach.

“What?” Beca said.

“Your hands.” She responded “They’re cold. Not very secretive, Bec’s.”

“It’s Beca,” She corrected, starting to lose feeling in her legs. Her knees still ached against the stage, but she was almost cemented in place. This woman didn’t look like she was about to offer up any type of movement herself. The awkward silence had almost dissipated into just a still one instead. Beca didn’t’ want to admit it, but she could stare at the young actress all day (in a non-creepy way, of course.)  

“Well, Beca, I think you need to buy me a drink before you get my name.”

“Right,” The woman laughed bitterly “I could settle for calling you Imogen, you know?”

“Fair enough.” The woman spoke, standing. She didn’t flinch like the rest of the cast did, she either gulped back the ache or just didn’t have any, to begin with. She was agile in her movements, her counterpart standing herself. She rolled her shoulders back on instinct, even though it was her legs that were starting to fall asleep. “But you still owe me a drink.”

“And why is that?” Beca asked, the two of them starting to stroll across the stage towards the exit. The red neon sign lit up the almost desolate wings. It made everything look almost sinister- large set pieces looming in the shadows like morphed monsters.

“Because,” The stranger shrugged softly, dropping her script on the table next to the others. “No woman is allowed to feel me up like that without taking me to dinner first.”

Chapter Text

Becas hands were shaking, the heavy tweed blanket draped over her shoulder as she watched idly while her friends talked about what was going to happen next. Not next in the sense of how to get around the yellow police tape and flashing blue lights that morphed into a shady purple. They were done. Done with the group, and ready to move on to whatever life had to offer next. Actively persuading Beca to follow the opportunities presented to her by a man who looked more like a turtle than anything.

Her career wasn’t what she was supposed to focus on right now; The thing that was once so important to her didn’t’ matter much. Not with her hand hidden behind the wall of fabric that was intended to keep her warm. Her fingers were held painfully against the wound- a wound gone unnoticed as blood draped over her fingers like some mix of corn syrup and food coloring.

It was colder than she thought- bleeding out.

Her mouth was dry, and the heaving pain against her ribs wasn’t so blatant anymore. Her mind was screaming at her to speak up, to just tell someone that she had been shot. That a bullet was turning her insides into a hot mix of lead and bile. Instead, she stayed quiet. Because they were finally so happy.

If you asked Beca Mitchell five years ago what she would do if she had been shot, she would say the opposite of this. She would have spoken out against the pain instead of keeping her lips sealed shut. But this was her family. Her family that didn’t’ deserve to worry about her after what had just happened.

“Beca?” Chloe’s voice sounded like she was underwater, or so far away that her words echoed against the side of the DJ’s skull. Deep midnight eyes were darker than any of her friends had ever seen before as they snapped towards Chloe.

Her skin was morphing into a sickly grey, lips slowly fading to a blue. “Huh?”

“I asked if you were okay?” Chloe said, having involuntarily scooted closer to the woman she captained beside for years. Beca just nodded hastily, her own stare moving to Aubrey’s- the blonde was wrapped up in her own blanket, a look of pure determination on her face that reminded the young girl of the first time they had met.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She mustered a smile “That water was just really cold.”

“Oh,” Chloe swallowed thickly. “Well, they said we could leave soon… they just a few more questions,”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah.”

They fell into a labored routine. It was comfortable with them, Jessica leaning heavily against Ashley. Lily was sharing a very quieted words with Emily who nodded with exaggeration, trying to wrap her head around actually being able to hear the woman. Chloe had turned to ask Flo about her own business ventures as Aubrey continued to stare.

Her dark green eyes were almost sharper than the bullet wound at this point. Again, Beca staring her down like the two were in a pissing match. Even in her struggling pain, Beca would not surrender to Aubrey Posen.

“You’re hurt,” Aubrey whispered in a hushed voice. Even with Beca’s vision beginning to fade to a deep blur she still registered the words- her mouth dry and metallic. Part of the stubborn edge biting away at her resolve as she shifted her shoulders- warm blood pouring across her palm. None of the other girls noticed. Beca.”

This time Aubrey’s voice was loud enough to cut across the air- conversation stopping. It was her alpha tone that drew attention to the duo. Neither of them breaking eye contact despite the color of Beca’s stare flickering.

“Drop it.” Was all she choked out.

“Open the blanket.”

“What?”

“You heard me.” Aubrey placed her palm fully on the table in front of her. “If you’re fine, drop the blanket.”

Beca didn’t’ get a chance to let the fabric fall from her shoulders or draw in a shuttered breath before the pain overtook her- the sharp burn that ate so thickly into her resilient attitude. The blood loss too much, she supposed. Her fingers falling away from the wound as she felt her faltering vision finally close in on her, the chair scooting under gravity as her.

She felt the cold docks under her, the scent of the sea overwhelming. It was salted and abrasive, and fuck, blood had never smelled so prominent before. “Turn her on her side!” Chloe’s voice was broken as Beca blinked up at the sun that peaked through the stinted paneling above her. “Help! We need some help over here! She’s not breathing!”

The light wasnthe same as it was on the docks. This was hard. Its fluorescent edge slicing across the silence of the room like it was a double edge sword. Part of Beca pondered if she was dead- if that bullet wound to the abdomen had actually slain her, and the afterlife was just some big office building.

That was until she heard the soft pounding of her heart match up with the beeping of a large monitor, the kind that all those medical dramas had. The scent of antiseptic and horrible hospital food made her stomach churn even more than her meshed insides.

Without opening her eyes she twitched her fingers, running the pads of her touch over the scratchy blankets and multiple wires that were all attached to her in one way or another. She struggled to move- letting out a sharp breath the second the EKG tugged at her chest. “Ow, fuck.”

“Beca, oh my god!” Chloe was the first voice that she recognized, well, the only voice as of now. There was someone else here- someone in heels. Miss Aubrey Posen, Beca was sure. The bed dipped a bit towards the end, Beca drawing in a clean breath as she finally blinked against the harsh atmosphere.

“What happened?” She grumbled, the taste of blood still on her lips.

Instead of waiting for an answer she dug her hands into the mattress, pushing herself up to a sitting position. The sharp pain that dug into her side made her groan. Chloe inched closer- Aubrey keeping her position at the bottom of the bed with her arms crossed over her chest.

“You’re the most stubborn son of a-“

“Bree.” Chloe held up her hand, effectively silencing the woman who was basically frothing at the mouth by now. “You were shot, Beca. You don’t remember?”

Beca shook her head, knitting her eyebrows together as she pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. “I remember jumping from the boat, a lot of pain. And everything moved so fast. You guys were so happy, I didn’t want to- I couldn’t ruin that.”

“So you risk dying because we were happy?” Aubrey asked, trying to calm her seething tone. “That’s utter shit, Beca. You know unhappy every single one of those girls would be if you died?”

“I’m their captain!”

“You were their captain,” Chloe countered tenderly, her fingers wrapping easily around Beca. “Now you’re just some stubborn idiot that we could have lost forever.”

Beca swallowed thickly, staring the two of them down. They both had worn looks of confusion on their faces- the brunette wondering how long she had been out, how long the pair had been sleeping in uncomfortable hospital chairs and drinking half-rate coffee just to stay awake.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t want to scare any of you.”

“well,” Aubrey let out a thick sigh, “You effectively did the opposite of your intentions. You fucking idiot.”

“Bree!”

Chapter Text

The first thing Beca Mitchell noticed was the incessant pounding in her head. It lined up with her pulse, loud and unrelenting as she clenched her eyes tighter. Today is not the day for this. Her first coherent thoughts of the day almost sounded louder in her head- solidifying her suspicions of a nasty hangover.

The second indicator was the pressure on her bladder- it was almost as tiny as she was at this point- a deep tickle fluttering against her midsection as she finally cracked her eyes to an even brighter room than she had remembered (And she didn’t remember much). Beca blinked rapidly to quell the headache. She certainly didn’t remember to take the aspirin that Chloe usually laid out for all the girls on nights like this.

It was remarkable; how someone could be the life of the party and still the most responsible one in a group of at least ten girls. She would always make sure they were tucked in, shoes off because shoes on the bed mean bad luck Beca. Crack a book. As her reasoning supplied. Most of the time it was tender and loving, something friends do for one another- but Chloe always seemed to go out of her way for the family that she had created over the years

Beca’s brows creased as she looked over at the nightstand. No glass of water or brightly colored pills to be seen. It wasn’t like she was expecting it- she could get up and get her own cure, but it was odd if anything. Chloe either hadn’t made it home last night, or she did, just not alone. Her mouth dried at the thought, stomach clenching once more at the thought of having to pee.

The tiny DJ was quick in her motions, swinging her thankfully clothed legs out of bed. She was lucky enough to keep her jeans on through her drunken antics- a sports bra cutting off her circulation as she made the advances towards the hallway.

She didn’t’ get too far, foot catching on the edge of a sheet she came in contact with something warm and soft- breath leaving her lungs as the wooden floor was suddenly under her. The prospect of heading to the bathroom forgotten the second she took a tumble. All air left the DJ’s lungs as she attempted to catch her fall by effectively flailing, her stomach clenching as the cold flooring came in contact with her front.

Her legs were draped over the object that caused her demise. “Ow, fuck.”

The bundle of sheets suddenly shot up, making Beca’s breath catch in her throat as she scrambled to shift on her stomach. “What happened?”

Chloe’s usual sing-song voice was strangled as she blinked quickly. The very sheets that she was tangled in were held to her chest with one strong arm as her untamed hair moved against creamy skin, eyes a duller blue than usual at the rough pain in her neck. Her other hand cupping the offending spot as she rubbed it tenderly.

“Chloe?” Beca’s voice was muffled, her nose pushed into the hardwood. “What the hell are you doing on my floor?”

“I don’t know-“her voice faded out as she knit her eyebrows together, breath catching easily in her throat as she caught a glimpse of Beca’s body. It was nothing she hadn’t seen before, her already toned figure had improved over the years of leading the Bella’s, making it hard not to stare every time her shirt lifted, or they had to change in a small room behind a venue. Beca knew Chloe had wandering eyes too- often prolonging her movements just to make the older girl squirm in an unspoken way.

But this? This was different. This made the ginger pull her knees to her chest as she shifted in the oversized sheet. She couldn’t’ tell if Beca had been seriously injured, or if she was just too preoccupied with her thoughts to attempt to get back up. It was probably the latter of the two.

“Bec’s, I don’t want you to freak out.” Chloe sounded out carefully.

This caught the brunette’s attention, her head picking up from the floor as she noted the throbbing pain right along the bridge of her nose. Granted, the area had taken the most impact aside from her arms, which stupidly tried to catch her fall. She wasn’t’ used to the worry laced in Chloe’s voice- or the girl even being in her room without clothes in the first place.

“Oh my god, did we fuck?

“That’s crude,” Chloe scrunched her little nose in discontent.  

“Oh, we totally did- Ow!” The tiny DJ’s cries were louder than necessary, she was in the process of pulling herself up to her hands and knees, shifting on the floor until she got a good look at the reason she had fallen in the first place. Even in her hazy state, she knew that this was no mistake; years of sexual tension relieved and neither of them even remembered it.

Beca’s expression shifted at the pain she felt right above her waistline, closer to the small of her back. It wasn’t the type of ache you got from taking a tumble, or accidently bumping it. It was more like sunburn- a nasty sunburn that had rusted nails dug across the surface like some off-brand chalk. Her cold fingers running along the sore area as she sat up completely, knees hard near the floor. The area was hot, stinging.

She winced, stare flicking up to Chloe. “Why do you look like someone just kicked your dog?”

The older woman’s chin was resting on her knees, eyes filled with guilt as she sniffed back some unknown emotion that Beca couldn’t quite place. “You’re going to be mad,” she stammered out “I-I remember it being your idea. I just paid for it!”

“Paid for what, Chloe?” Beca hadn’t taken her fingers off of the heated edge of skin on her back, mind fuzzy and blunt. She blinked a few times as the realization set in, the cold air of the room suddenly feeling soupy as she sprung up- scrambling to the floor length mirror that was bolted behind the door to the room.

She turned slightly as Chloe covered her face with her palm, shaking her head the second her eyes caught a glimpse at the dark black etching carved into Beca’s skin. It was a simple tattoo- not more than 40 dollars, the older woman remembers, but it was there. Her name written in swollen ink. “Oh my god.”

“Don’t’ panic,” Chloe was on her feet now too, careful to keep the sheet hugged to her front. She held her other hand in front of her- almost as a caution sigh. She knew Beca would never lunge at her, but the quick glare she got was enough to bring up some concerns.

“Don’t panic?” She said in a mix between a yell and a whisper “CHLOE YOUR NAME IS TATTOOED ON MY ASS!”  

Chloe pursed her lips, staring the wild-eyed-woman down, her mouth slightly agape before she finally tried to make her peace. “Technically it’s not your ass.”

Chapter Text

Beca drew her brooding gaze up from the newspaper that sat in front of her, a half-gone waffle in her grasp despite how much Chloe hated when she did that. Sure, there were forks, and sure, it was a lot cleaner to use said forks to eat- but Beca didn’t’ have the patience.

“What’s this?” She chewed slowly, staring across the kitchen table at Chloe- the girl having a discontent look on her features. A spoon filled with a mixture of milk and honey oats sat thickly in her grasp as she flicked those cerulean eyes back to the item in question.

GRAMMY WINNER BECA MITCHELL DATING A NEW MAN?

The words were in bold, ink seeping through the thin paper that now rested in the brunette’s grasp. She scanned the article- it was just the usual talk about how she was spotted with a mystery man in different places- never exactly knowing who collected this information. Information that she deemed to be private but knew now that nothing ever was.

She never paid stock to the rumors. If she had, then she would have six children and a birthmark in the shape of a toad on her ass. Something that didn’t hold up in her book. She had spent hours at a time trying to calm her wife down- but stories like this always got to her.

“Oh, you know who it is?” Beca placed the waffle back down on the plate, running her hands over her sweatpants to get rid of the crumbs. “It’s the man that I keep on the side, you know, in case you’re away on business.”

Chloe scoffed as she tilted her silver spoon back towards the bowl, a deep glare on her features to the point where Beca thought she might spontaneously combust. The milk and little chunks of oats made a strange sound as they began to swim in the dusty pool of liquid once more. It made the younger woman sigh heavily, tilting the paper back down.

“Baby, you know that’s just to get the public talking right?” She asked, knitting her eyebrows together as she focused her full attention on the problem at hand. “It distracts the media from other stuff. The important stuff.”

Chloe was stiff in her stance, but she relented enough to place the spoon on the edge of the bowl. “That doesn’t mean it’s right. It bothers me, you know?”

“Mm,” Beca hummed, leaning back in her seat. The sun was streaming in through the large patio doors- the two of them opting to keep it simple despite the amount of money they really shared. It was a ranch house; one with a large green lawn and a shining pool that always drew Beca back to her wife’s gaze.

“I know, but I can’t control the media. And that?” She slid the paper over to the redhead “That is literally Jesse.” The tiny woman pressed her finger over the black and white rendition of her with her childhood best friend. The man hated the spotlight almost as much as she did- opting to stay behind the scenes when it came to his movies. He was still a household name, however, so the minute the bloodhounds got a whiff of the two of them going out for coffee, it was downhill from there.

“And how does Allison feel about this?” Chloe folded the paper so she wouldn’t have to look at the huge headline anymore- it might as well be lit up in flashing letters. It seemed like it shined brighter than anything she had laid her eyes on before.

Beca rolled her eyes once more. Not at her wife, not at her situation, but at the mention of the publicist her studio assigned her. The woman was a chihuahua with all bite and no bark. She was quiet when she needed to be but had no problem throwing Beca into situations that would make her look more approachable.

The DJ had drawn the line once Allison suggests she start seeing Aubrey Posen of all people. The two seen having lunch a couple of times to plan the proposal. Beca didn’t’ just want to get down on one knee in some random place chalked up by romance novels. She wanted to make it special, and Aubrey knew her better than anyone. The press ate the leggy blonde right up, though, she was dangerous and caught their attention.

“Allison is all for it,” Beca reached across the table, wrapping her fingers around the redheads. She squeezed them in comfort, running her thumb over the chilled edge of her wife’s. “Of course, I can’t have too many flings because I am no floozy.”

“Huh,” Chloe squinted her eyes “Could have fooled me.”

Beca couldn’t stifle the groan that pushed past her throat. She could usually handle Chloe’s pouting each time a new tabloid reared its ugly head. But it had been getting worse; both the rumors and the reactions. The two of them had been together for a good five years at this point- married for three. They didn’t need this, not now.  

“Sweetie, do you think we should just,” She stared, drawing in a breath. “Do you want to go public?”

This statement made Chloe dark her deep cobalt eyes back up to hers. They were filled with shock and even wonderment as the different situations played out in her head. The older woman hated the way the press antagonized her girl. They way they followed her and snapped pictures- and she could never imagine herself being the main focus. She wasn’t as strong as better, or at least that’s how she deemed herself.

They kept their relationship a secret, not because people thought it was left behind after the USO tour, and not because they were afraid of the backlash- but only because it kept them sane, it kept them, okay, but the pressure had been slowly building. The young vet and producer had felt all looming consequences.

“I…” She spoke out “Is it hard?”

“It’s relentless,” Beca shot back. “You remember right after the tour.”

She did, she remembered it vividly. The one time that all of them were in the spotlight before they trickled off into their own careers, Beca one of the only ones staying in that golden circle of color that the tour shone on her in the first place. She deserved it, they knew she did.


“I need you to trust me, Chloe.” She said tenderly “I need you to stop buying the Sunday paper, and most importantly” She took a deep breath “I need you to tell me what you want.”

Chapter Text

Alcohol had a funny effect on Beca Mitchell. Of course, she would try to pace herself. She would drink a whole glass of water for each shot she tilted into her throat- hell, she even forced herself to eat more than half her body weight just to soak up the residual effects. Beca Mitchell is responsible. A responsible human that never let her Bella’s get too far out of control.

Except for tonight. Tonight, was different for two reasons. One: Finals had just ended. The tensions that filled the house during this part of the semester were always undeniable. Everyone would snap and antagonize each other- settling into a routine of studying for most of the night in separate corners of the house until Chloe pulled them out of their books for dinner. A quiet dinner that was long and considered torture in at least 39 out of 50 states.

Two was simple enough; they had won nationals. The very last nationals that the two co-captains would head before passing off that stupid pitch pipe to another eager freshman with a heart of gold. In this case, it was Emily, Emily who never drank, but made an exception for the happiness that filled her- the kind of happiness that ached for change but mourned for the family that was moving on.

“Hi,” Beca drunkenly wrapped her arm around Chloe’s shoulders, pressing her cold nose to the woman’s cheek. It made Chloe pull back slightly, although she kept her standing with little to no effort. Even with a little buzz, Chloe knew that this was five drink Beca.

Five drink Beca who was overly affectionate. Five drink Beca who would pull her close and flirt shamelessly. Five drink Beca who had roaming hands that usually Chloe wouldn’t object to. Five drink Beca was Chloe’s favorite for a multitude of reason’s, but right here, right now was not one of those moments.

She was standing in the Bella’s kitchen, a metal spatula halfway under another tray of appetizers from the freezer section of the local mini-mart. Chloe knew her girls got hungry and reckless when the alcohol started flowing. Emotions running high in the first place. She kept them well feed; playing into her motherly role.

“Sweetie, you know I love this game.” Chloe pushed Beca’s wandering hands away from the hem of her shift. “But you are wasted, and the Bella’s are in the next room.”

“So?” She slurred, leaning her chin on Chloe’s shoulder as she breathed out a sigh, tickling the red head’s neck. “Why don’t-“ She hiccupped “why don’t we just tell them. HEY GUYS GU-“

Chloe dropped her utensil, quickly cupping her hand against her girlfriend’s mouth to muffle her words. She had pushed the younger woman closer to the fridge, hearing a soft grunt as her back hit the cold surface.  “Sh, Sh, Sh” Chloe hushed, “Baby, we’re keeping us a secret. Remember?”

Beca stared at her with wide midnight eyes, Chloe not sure if the younger captain really understood- she didn’t want to take the chance of pulling her hand away so she continued. “The Bella’s don’t like change. And sober Beca really will not like drunk Beca’s choices right now-OUCH!”  

The ginger snatched her hand away, cradling her palm as she caught a glimpse of Beca’s devious smirk. There was a red welt forming against her skin, the taller woman shaking out her hand. “Did you bite me, Beca?”

Instead of answering the question she got another glint in her eyes, rushing forward in her quick mouse-like way. Her bare feet making slapping sounds against the linoleum. She had taken off towards the living room once more. “GUYS WE GOTTA TELL YOU SOMETHING!”  

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” She mumbled, turning on a dime and wrapping her hand around the girl’s waist. She tightened her grasp, the brunette gripping the doorframe as Chloe got a good glance at the group of women who froze in place at the sound of their captain’s voice. Some mid-sip of alcohol that should have stopped flowing about an hour ago.

Beca was light, light enough for Chloe to throw her over her shoulder as Beca clawed roughly at the doorframe. She squirmed, letting out little-grunting noises. “Ha! You think kidnapping me will stop me from telling them-“

“REBECCA MITCHELL” Chloe cut her off, giving her makeshift family a sly smile of embarrassment before finally peeling her fingers off the wooden frame- the girl quick to give up as she went limp in Chloe’s arms- letting out a groan.

“How come you don’t man-handle me like this when we’re in bed?” She hiccupped again, way past her legal limit. In a way, Chloe considered making five drink Beca into six drink Beca. Yeah, she was broodier, but she was calm and methodic.

“I’m sorry, what?” Emily asked, blinking at the girl who hung over Chloe’s side. Damn, she was so close. So close to distracting Beca with some jalapeno poppers. The youngest Bella hadn’t had enough to drink to forget about this one. In fact- at the end of the day, most of them had been nursing their beverages. If they were feeling something it was swiftly cured.

“She’s drunk,” Chloe explained quickly, letting out a grunt as she put Beca down, the girl wobbling against the quick movement as she steadied herself against Chloe. “Right Bec’s?”

“I may be drunk,” She sniffed, shifting her lean to the doorframe. “But I can still tell when my girlfriend is a smoking hot piece of-“

“So help me god, Beca if you finish that sentence with the word Ass.

“bootie?” She questioned, innocence laced in her voice.

“That’s not better.” Chloe squeezed the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger as she clenched her eyes shut. She didn’t want to see the looks that the girls carried, the silence was enough.  

“Strawberry Shortcake,” Amy spoke up first and carefully, making the girl prop a cerulean blue eye. She scanned the room- taking in the half ajar mouths and the knowing smiles that a few of them possessed. “You think we didn’t know?”

“See baby?” Beca asked, “They- they knew.”

“I didn’t know!” Emily said, looking between the older women with shock on her face. “You all knew? How?”

“The eye fucking across the kitchen table was a dead giveaway,” Stacie spoke up first.

“I saw Beca come out of the shower 60 seconds after Chloe, and there was no hot water left.” Jessica shrugged innocently, going back to flipping through a magazine.

“I heard them straight up fucking a few months ago.” Cynthia rose stated, earning a shocked looked from Chloe as she let out a gasp. “What? You are not quiet, Red.”

“Not when I’m-“

“Beca!” Chloe cut off her girlfriend, blood rising to her cheeks. “You’re saying you all knew?”

The Australian girl shrugged, rising the flute of champagne to her lips as she shrugged, Beca having slid down the wall at the point, mumbling something about wishing she had another drink or at least a trashcan to curve the nausea.

“NO!” Emily blinked in surprise “I didn’t!”

“Shh, Legacy.” Amy patted her friend’s shoulder lovingly. “You’ll learn.”        

Chapter Text

The rough bark of the tree dug into Chloe’s spine, her breath shallow as condensation collected in the air like a minimalist shelf. Her ears were ringing, almost as if an explosion had gone off. Not a literal one- but one wracked with fear and self-doubt.

God, this was such a trivial hazing ritual. The oblivious girl believing that this type of thing was just myth. Pledges weren’t really shoved into ridiculous situations and forced to eat food covered in a thick layer of fish sauce. That was the alternative. Chloe, however, couldn’t keep it down. Not as long as the other girls did.  

That’s why she was in the woods at a terrible hour. In the cold of a lonely fall night. Her movements shook, the path that she was enveloped in was coated with large oak trees. It wasn’t far enough into the season for them to shed their leaves- but the young woman was convinced that the trees never grew them. Not the colorful kind, or even the dull dead ones. They were just barren.

She struggled to slow her heart-rate, knowing damn well that there was no such thing as demons. Not ones that lurked in the shadows and shriveled at the sight of a dull glow. A glow that Chloe clenched so heavily to her chest in awe- the plastic catching cold against the midnight air. Her flashlight didn’t have much of a life left.

“Ten minutes, Beale!” The shrill voice of one of the Kappa leaders cut through the woods. It felt like ice splitting, cracking as hot air drummed up a pressure in the atmosphere. Chloe hated her, she hated her already. That stupid edge of power in her voice as the rest of the girls laughed at Chloe’s extent. “It’s your last chance!”

She breathed out deeply, pressing her fingernails into the bark once more. It made her eyes water. She didn’t care if she couldn’t muster a response. This was only ten minutes. Ten minutes that she had to hold her own in a forest right out of the Never Ending Story.

This was technically her last chance. Chloe Beale was no legacy like the other girls. Her family didn’t have generations of roots in the soft soil of Kappa. Instead, she had worked two jobs during high school to only be considered by Barden. Once she got in she knew she had to make the best of her college experience. It was all-American, and the ginger craved it.

Chloe steadied herself, rolling her shoulders back as the tension fell away. She was fine, this was fine. There was even a little-carved path away from the brackets of trees. It cut through the rancid smelling swamp- a few natural noises cutting against her senses as she ultimately flicked the flashlight off, in a way, the prospect of it flickering was worse than being plunged into a hollow darkness.

It wasn’t completely pitch, the moon hung high in a velvet backdrop, giving a sickly glow to fallen logs that were immersed in water, algae, and duckweeds collected towards the edge of the path- if it wasn’t dark, it would be almost magical. Instead, it made her stomach churn. Her footfalls echoed as they crunched along the dirt walkway.

“This is the worst way to haze someone.” A disembodied voice made Chloe’s blood freeze, throat clenching as she stepped back away from the direction of the woman talking- the voice shaky and cracked. “Is it even worth it?”

Chloe had lost her footing, heel sliding against the muddy edge. She was already unstable, the icy clutches of water surrounding her quickly. Her fingers dug into the slimy luff mud. She could almost taste the dirt and the grime, drawing in such a shuddered breath as she cold soaked through her clothes.

Cerulean eyes filled with terror flicked across the stretch of swamp. Whoever, or whatever, spoke didn’t really sound like a demon. Of course, demons werent real but the gross stench that filled her lungs was. She was close to retching, stomach gurgling as she clawed at the dead grass, panting. She ended on her back, chest heaving up and down as she stared at the large moon through the stretching trees.

“Chloe, sweetie, did you fall in?” Another round of laughter was heard, just further away. Again, she refused to answer. They were so… so snarky and entitled. Even with her shift clinging coolly to her skin, she knew that much, breath collecting in the air.

“Oh, so some things don’t change.” The voice was back, but this time, it was accompanied by deep midnight eyes. They matched the sky, her deep brunette hair falling around her shoulders as she reached out a dirt coated hand- was that blood? No, it couldn’t be. That would be ridiculous, but so would running into a charming woman in the middle of the swamp.

“Hi,” Chloe pushed out, fingers shaking as she clenched onto the shorter woman’s. She wasn’t sure how the little human could pull her up to her feet so fluidly like that, but she wouldn’t complain, not when her shoes were filled with icy condensation.

“Hi,” She beamed, pulling away as she wiped her hand clumsily against her jeans. Her jeans that were coated with dried mud and torn by whatever limbs she had crashed into. That much was apparent, she had seen, or done something that put her into this state. “I assume you are pledging for Kappa.”

“Mm,” She shook out her hands, flinging a bunch of mud filled water along with the sharp movement. “Is it that obvious?”

“No, I just assumed you like to take walks through places like these.” She glanced around. “I’m sure it’s poetic if you’re close to H.P Lovecraft.”

Chloe chuckled, feeling a bit of warmth fill her lungs “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear,”  she quoted in a deeper voice, making a wider grin press against the stranger’s lips as she swallowed back a laugh.

“You know,” She shoved her hands into her pockets “You are strangely calm for running into a stranger at 2am. In here of all places.”

“Well, a pretty girl is way better than a demon,” Chloe said softly, running a hand through her silky copper locks. She cringed away from it, feeling huge chunks of dirt and maybe a few leaves.

“Who says I’m not a demon?” The leaned against a tree, smirking. “Another pledge scorned- oh, one that just has nothing better to do.”

“You don’t look like someone who would pledge Kappa,” Chloe cocked her head to the side. “No Offense.”

“None taken, in fact, I consider it a compliment.” She beamed, sticking out that same mud-covered hand. It was pale, not shaking like it should be- but Chloe grasped it easily, squeezing the woman’s palm. “I’m Beca Mitchell.”

“Mitchell as in, legacy Mitchell?” She raised her eyebrows, “Dude, your mom was literally the co-founder of the sorority.”

“Right,” She slowed her movements, pulling her grasp away “Hence the whole Kappa thing. It’s not really my style.”

“So what?” Chloe asked, parting her lips. “You’re just hanging out back here to scare me, right? Pull a joke on the pledge that couldn’t keep her lunch down?”

“You barfed?” Beca laughed, blowing out a puff of air “Oh my god, that’s nasty.”

“But so not the point-“She pointed a finger, wiggling it around “You really went to all this trouble to scare me?”

“No,” the brunette dropped her expression a bit “Not exactly.”  

Chapter Text

The brunette dug her heels into the light wooden floor- rubber squeaking against the surface as a shoulder pressed into the nave of her back. For being so small, she could hold her own; a prominent pout on her face- and Beca? Beca doesn’t pout. But when Chloe brought up the idea of coming here, of all places, she couldn’t help it.

“Beca, are you for serious?” Chloe grumbled behind her, close to breaking a sweat as she pushed harder against her. Her feet weren’t making much headway, it was like a rough workout, the tips of her own boots sliding back and forth as she panted. “Move your fucking feet.”

The younger girl huffed, stepping to the side only slightly as Chloe went flying, letting out her own grunt when Beca grasped the cotton of the woman’s shirt. Again, showing her strength as she stopped Chloe from face planting completely. The redhead squawked as the collar cut into her throat.

“I don’t like this place.” She pulled back, helping her girlfriend upright. “Everyone is too happy.”

The woman shuddered as she caught the stare of one of the employees- of course, he was smiling, one of those stupid string backpacks attached to his shoulders, and oh god he was starting to walk over to them. They had gone undetected by the large door at this point, but now she had made eye contact with the beast itself, a teenager with metal braces and too much bounce in his step.

“Hi, Welcome to Build-a-Bear!” He beamed “Are you two looking to make a furry friend today?”

“We sure are!” Chloe linked her arm with Beca, begrudgingly at that. She held off rolling her eyes. It wouldn’t be fair to this kid, this poor kid who had to give this speech a million times. Chloe, on the other hand, had no reason to match this man’s excitement. Not with that tone and pitch that made Beca bite back a smile. This would have been the perfect job for her.

The boy had spun off into the deals that they had going on. Of course, with that peppy attitude. Beca was glancing around the store, the different selections of animals perched up on shelves and sitting in bins were enough to make her turn in the opposite direction. There were large machines filled with white stuffing that turned at a dizzying rate- walls upon walls of clothes too small for babies right behind those.

She figured it was time to move on when Chloe let out an audible gasp and started to tug her towards the large selection of animals they could make. She had never been in here- but Beca was starting to see she was missing a lot. A lot of choices, not just bears. Her eyes flicking over the shelves. “Oh my god, look at that guy! He’s so cute, his fur looks so soft-Oh!”

“Chloe,” Beca hastily whispered, as she tugged her girlfriend close as the woman grunted at the sudden movement, her shoulder flying into the girl that still had a tight grip on her. “Chloe oh my god.”

“It’s not that embarrassing, plenty of people our age come here.” The ginger groaned, running her thumb soothingly over Beca’s. Except, the girl didn’t look so annoyed anymore. She was in awe, her lips parting slightly as her eyes twinkled under the large overhead lights. Chloe cocked her head to the side like a nervous dog.  

Beca mumbled something that Chloe thought was an insult to the whole entire process, so she struggled to tug her in the direction of more options. Something a little less close to the front doors where she could bolt out at any moment. Beca refused to move, though, tightening her grip.

“What was that, Bec’s?” Chloe let out a long sigh, attempting to try again.

“They have a Pikachu,” She said a little louder, her eyes trained on the large yellow creature that stood between two others- it was cute, Chloe had to admit that. She recognized the character from when she found Beca passed out on the couch after a long day at her internship. The television was so low it was almost mute, but she could see that the large yellow character with the red cheeks was the same one that sat in front of her.

Beca sucked in a large breath through clenched teeth. “I need it.”

“You don’t want to look around anymo-“

“I need him.” She said, a lot louder this time, glancing with panic at Chloe.

“Alright,” Chloe sounded out with amusement in her voice. She reached forward, picking up the furry neon-yellow animal, or whatever you would call it. She couldn’t help but smirk at the giddiness in her girlfriend’s actions as she all but bounced up and down. “We get to go stuff it now.”

Her eyes widened as she let out a gasp “We get to what?”  

Chapter Text

The wide-brimmed hat kept her dusky eyes away from the hot desert sun. It was unrelenting this time of year- crawling past her skin and soaking into her bones until they were bleached dry. She knew that’s what the star did to them, she had seen the carcasses lined up like headstones. Some of them were human, most of them were animal. Feral. Beca figured; better dead than on her trail.

She had stopped in a town, one that was small and quaint. It had a red painted schoolhouse with a large iron bell that seemed to welcome her with three chimes. It explained the high sun and the elevated heat. She watched at children spilled from the doors and ran to homes spread out around the center of the plaza. There was a watering hole and a general store that sold the freshest of food. It dealt out soda pop too, something Beca had a hankering for since the last valley she had crossed.

People didn’t look like they took too kindly to strangers. Each of them following her with a studded gaze as she dismounted her horse and tied it to the nearest post. He stood out against the white of the day, his black fur was glossy, and his tail swung lazily in the mid-day atmosphere. Beca was sore, and this would be a keen place to stop during the night. A brown horse nudged her own- tied himself.

“Scuse’ me ma’am.” She asked, pulling her Stetson hat away from her hairline. She was caked in dirt, but that didn’t seem to bother the woman much. She had pulled the attention of the nearest stranger. She was holding a bin of freshly picked flowers, Beca could practically smell the pollen. “Does this town have an inn? A place to stop for the night.”

“No, it’s best to keep on movin’.” She adjusted her stance, tightening her grip on the bucket. Her features were sunken in and her lips were pale. She looked deathly. “This town isn’t fit for people who want to stay the night.”

Beca ran the back of her hand against her sweat-stained forehead, drawing in an easy breath as she stared around at her surroundings: people had been staring, though, she had attributed that to being a female riding through the wild west in this day and age. Usually, when she found a pub and slammed back a few beers they would ease up around her. But this town didn’t seem interested in the chance.

“Right well, where is the next town then?” She flicked her stare back towards the woman, but she was gone. Vanished without even a footstep. She let out a heavy breath and ran her hand over the hot fur of her horse. “Perfect.”

She placed her hat back on her head and pushed through the door of the General Store. She was met with the instant coolness that a loud metal fan provided in the corner. There was a slight man behind the counter in a pin-striped shirt. His glasses were too far down his nose and his grey eyes peered up at her over silver rims. He too looked quite unhappy to see a stranger.

Regardless, Beca needed something, anything, after a long day of riding. She grasped a glass bottle of soft drink and a tin of tobacco. She wordlessly set the items down, the man staring at her like she had grown a second head. “I won’t sell em’ to you.”

“Excuse me?” She had knit her eyebrows together in concern.

“Not unless you leave town right after I do. You don’t belong here.”

“You folk are very welcoming, you know that. Right?”

He blew a breath from his nose and accepted her coin anyway. She didn’t ask for a paper bag, instead leaving the bottle unopened as she pressed it against the nave of her neck, trying to ease the heat before walking back into the sticky air. She squinted as she watched close to her horse. She knew he wasn’t going anywhere, but he brought her a sense of comfort.

Part of her felt like she could keep going; get to a place that actually had good housing and a welcoming disposition. Nothing about this place was normal other than an outward appearance.

“You look lost.”

Beca stiffened, her fingers reflectively reaching for her belt. A pearl edged pistol was strapped to her side, but she felt no reason to draw it- not yet. Course, no one had actually advanced in conversation with her since she got here. She had to talk to everyone first, even to draw out a few words.

“Relax, stranger. I don’t bite much.”

The woman was shaded by the wooden awning above them, but even in the darkness, she radiated pure beauty. It was undeniable and kind in a way that she had never seen before. Russet curls pooled over broad shoulders, and unblinking blue eyes stared at her with a certain type of hunger. The simple white dress that covered her was a sharp contrast. A brilliant one at that.

“That’s a very beautiful horse.” She turned her attention back to the animal. “What’s his name?”

Beca pursed her lips. The animal let out a low rumble at the attention that it was receiving. A simply primal noise in the hush of a forgotten town. He pushed his nose forward, nuzzling into the open palm that the woman had offered. Her horse never took too kindly to people unknown.

“Raphael,” The cowboy moved the drink from the back of her neck. The heat instantly seemed to attack the raw spot.

“Like the archangel?” She reached forward and grasped the glass bottle of soft drink, Beca lifted a sculpted eyebrow. The beautiful woman quickly slammed it on the edge of the wooden stand, cracking the metal cap off in a fluid movement. “Here you go”

“Thanks, I think.” Beca took the bottle back, raising it to her lips while she stared keenly at the woman. The sugary drink dripped down the back of her throat and left a sour taste on her tongue. Still, it was enough to cure her of the scorching desert air.

“I know your horse's name. What’s yours?”

She took another swig of the drink. It was starting to taste less refreshing and more like a gross mess of candy that melted from the inside out. Still, it was cold, and that’s what she needed. “Beca Mitchell.”

“Well, Beca Mitchell, it’s nice to have you in this little town of ours.” She gave off a toothy grin. “I’m Chloe. Chloe Beale.”  

Beca had gotten a name. It didn’t’ seem like that much of a feat unless most other people in the town had actively told her to get back on her horse and ride into the sunset. There was an odd orange haze over everything, and she refused to spend the night huddled under a blanket and a sheet of stars. The desert was dangerous at night.

“Well, Miss Beale, is there a place a traveler can spend the night? I uh, asked around but no one seemed to be real keen on me staying.”

Chloe seemed to pale at that, her cheeks flushed from the scorching weather. She had held a calm disposition though there was something more behind her eyes. “I like you Beca, which is why I’m going to say this in the kindest way possible.”

Beca lilted her head like a puppy. The empty bottle hung by her side. She watched as Chloe rubbed her sweat ridden palms together, dirt collecting in little strands due to a nervous habit.

“This town isn’t very welcome to visitors, I’m afraid. It belongs to someone else.” She swallowed thickly “He doesn’t like people who just pass by, believes that this place is better because we have everything we need. Not many people who decide to stay ever leave.”

She had opened her mouth to say something more, to ask questions that were plaguing her mind. Part of her just wanted to talk to Chloe, but everything was shattered by the sound of splitting wood and broken glass. Raphael spooked, letting out a deep huff as he shifted in his position. Chloe had practically jumped into her arms at this point- she smelled of honeysuckle and lemon.

Beca was instinctual, tucking the young woman behind her as Chloe clung onto the back of her shirt. A man had been thrown easily through the pub window. He struggled to lift himself now, an angry crimson soaking into his clothes.

“What the hell?” She hissed, fingers finding Chloe’s waist as she held her in place. The woman breathed heavily against her shoulder. Beca had never felt such heat.

The man coughed a few times as she stood the best he could. She could swear she saw an edge of fear in his eyes as he struggled to make it to the brown horse. His back turned towards the swinging doors of the tavern. They swung, once, twice, three times, before a man dressed in pitch walked through them.

In one single shot, the man was gone. It echoed, and his pistol smoked. A simple altercation had led to blood-soaked dirt and a horse that stirred the second his rider fell limp to the soil.

“He rode in before you did,” Chloe rasped, but Beca hadn’t taken her eyes away from the man that held her gaze. “You should leave.”      

Chapter Text

It had chosen to snow the week leading up to Beca’s due date. Layer upon layer of white powder would solidify into a mess of ice and freezing rain. The roads were like thick ropes of black licorice. Despite mostly being kept clear by the county, Chloe couldn’t help the anxiety that bubbled at the back of her throat each time that stupid news castor in a festive tie flashed his fake smile at the camera.

She didn’t care that Aubrey worked with the guy. He had stood her up a few times, and that was enough for Chloe to scoff each time he came up with a new weather report. Not the fact that he was predicting icy conditions, and warning everyone to stay inside if it wasn’t an emergency.

Chloe considered her wife’s water breaking in the middle of cooking dinner a pretty damn big emergency. Ice or not they had to get to that hospital. Something that they had timed out over and over again until Chloe was satisfied by the number that appeared on a stopwatch she borrowed from Emily. Twenty minutes was a record time for the two of them- even if Beca did have to grip something she crudely referred to as the “Oh Shit’ handle.

“Chlo,” Her voice was timid. “I think it’s happening.”

“What’s happening?” She glanced up from the paperwork she was engrossed in on the kitchen counter. Beca gave her a solid deadpan, those midnight eyes flicking down before snapping back up. “Oh. Oh! Jesus Christ. Right now? It’s snowing.”

“Yeah, tell that to them.”

She pointed to her belly, something that had doubled in size over the past nine months. They had been overjoyed after trying for so long- test after test, stupid myths to increase fertility. Beca, being quite the picky eater, even downed oysters to make Chloe happy. They weren’t too bad, and they never wanted to overdo it, but it seems the universe answered their request with a set of twins. Both girls, both ready to come out now.

Chloe pulled her reading glasses from her nose, her mouth slightly ajar. “Seriously?”

“No. I opened a bottle of water and spilled it down my pants.” She gritted her teeth, gripping the counter to her right. Dinner forgotten. “Yes, I’m serious, help me.

The older woman shook her head quickly, trying to snap herself out of the daze that she had created for herself. She had prepared for something like this, she knew she had. The book, the drills, even the classes that she forced Aubrey to attend with her when Beca couldn’t make it.   

Chloe was quickly by her wife’s side, flicking off the stove as she rested a quick hand on her lower back. Beca looked pale, frightened maybe. Her knuckles turning white as she clenched her eyes shut. A contraction, she was sure. This wasn’t Braxton hicks, not like the others. The pain was all too real.

The bag was resting by the front door, and so was Beca’s coat. Something that Chloe made sure to slid onto her arms despite the protests. It was below freezing, regardless of babies or not, Beca was putting on a coat.

“Babe, I don’t think we’re going to make it.”

“Was that your first contraction?”

She pocketed her keys, throwing the overnight bag over her shoulder. Beca shook her head no, earning a jarring look from the redhead. “Wait, what?”

“I didn’t’ want to freak you out.” She rasped “I thought maybe it wasn’t time- but”

“Clearly it is.”

“Right.” She clenched her jaw, accepting the help that Chloe offered as she placed both hands on either side of Beca’s hips, trying to steady her enough as they entered the pure cold of a December night. “Now is not the time to yell at me, I am in Labor Chloe.”

That earned a scoff as she piled her into the passenger seat, not exactly slipping on the ice that met them at the corners of the driveway. Beca grasped the handle, pulling herself into a comfortable position as she clenched her eyes shut. Another contraction.

“That was seven minutes.” Chloe slammed the door and rounded the side of the SUV before starting the car herself. They didn’t’ have time for the heat, no time to let the engine thaw out enough for hot air. Chloe hated driving in the snow- lucky enough that the windshield was already clear from her afternoon commute. “I think we’re going to make it.”

“Chloe Beale I am not having these babies in your car.” She gritted her teeth as Chloe carefully backed out of the space, her anxiety bubbling. The snow had stopped, but it was piled high on corners. Sure, she had been to the classes, but she was no OBGYN. Beca needed a hospital, and fast. Chloe needed a drink.  

“Alright, sweetie, it’ll be fine.” She took the woman’s hand, “We’ll get to the hospital, and all three of you will be fine.”

That didn’t’ exactly mollify Beca, but she dropped it, running her cold and shaking fingers over Chloe’s, trying to create a rhythm with her breathing. A few seconds of silent driving before her touch tightened and Chloe cast over a sparing glance. Nails were digging into her palm, but she bit it back. Beca was in more pain that she would ever be.

“Chlo, I don’t know if we’ll make it.”

“You will, I promise.”

It was one she didn’t know if she could keep. The roads were icy; black sheets that were hidden by the background of pitch. It was hard to see in the daylight and even worse during the quiet of the night. She was struggling to hurry, struggling to squint past the blinding white that the snow provided. A slight whimper made its way past Beca’s lips.

“Okay, okay.” Chloe drummed her free hand against the steering wheel. “We never decided on names. Let’s do it.”

“Right now? Chloe, they’re about to rip my core open and you want me to talk about what to call them?”

“Mmhm,” She hummed, sticking the tip of her tongue past her lips in an act of due concentration. The headlights of passing cars made her look pale. “I quite like the idea of Aubrey.”

“I am not naming my kid after that demon spawn.”

“Fat Amy then?”

“Chloe.”

“Fine.” She let out a low sigh, clearly, the act of distraction wasn’t flattering in the slightest. “I’ve always loved my great grandmother's name.”

“Ruth?” She said in a breathy whisper, swallowing back a groan of pain as they turned onto the highway, it was almost a breath of relief. The passing cars before them had left a cleaner stretch. Less snow, more road. Beca scrunched up her nose.

“No silly, on my mother’s side. Madison Beale.”  

“Maddie Mitchell-Beale” This seemed to relax her a little bit. “I like it. What about the other one?”

Chloe shrugged innocently. She was drawing for a loss. She didn’t want to be the type of mom that had twins who rhymed. Who dressed in the same clothes with a variety of color. That wouldn’t only be cruel to them, but for everyone less vigilant. “Got any ideas?”

Beca nodded softly, swallowing back whatever moisture that was on her tongue. The conversation seemed to dull her anxiety, but not her pain. They would make it to the hospital. They had to.

“My guidance counselor when I was younger was named Sophia, and I’ve always kind of liked it.” She let out a shaky breath “Besides, without her I wouldn’t have gone to Barden.”

“I thought your dad was the final vote.”

“No, not in the slightest. I would have bolted after the activities fair if an acapella singer hadn’t caught my eyes.”

How could Beca crack jokes in the middle of labor? A double one at that. She had seemed to ease as the sight of a large neon sign up ahead. A few more exits and they would hit their destination.

“God, I’ll never forget that day I saw Aubrey Posen in that gorgeous pink dress.” Chloe smacked the woman’s arm. Earning a pained expression. “Wha- Hey! I’m giving birth over here!”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Text

Chloe Beale kept her beer at the very back of the fridge. It rested behind the leftovers from take-out night and the many cans of sparkling water that she could somehow stomach when she wanted more. The blue and silver cans were lined up nicely and rarely ever touched, but tonight, her fingers twitched. There was almost an ache in the pit of her stomach that told her all she had to do to clear the room was shove the tip of her keys into the metal casing and press her lip against the punctured hole until the can was drained.

Her older brother would pat her on the back and give her a hearty laugh, her younger sister would scoff and shake her head. Her father would stare in disbelief and her mother would probably lose consciousness. And yeah, it would clear the room, which is exactly what she wanted to happen. What she needed to happen at this point in the night.

Instead, she sipped at her very non-alcoholic drink and wished it had something more. Her whole body was aching and that would be just the thing to take the edge off. She had regretted the choice to offer up her small three-bedroom apartment for a family Thanksgiving this year, but she thought she could handle it. After all, she was an adult now.

Her mother still brought a pie despite Chloe insisting that she had had Aubrey’s meticulous help planning out the day before she boarded her own flight back home for the remainder of the week. That didn’t’ stop Mrs. Beale from hovering for over half of the parade before she slumped backing into the living room to watch the dog show, casting worried glances at her daughter every few moments.

Chloe didn’t lack determination, however.

So over five hours later, she sat to the left of her father poking at the food that she had slaved over all day as she listened to the conversation her family seemed to carry effortlessly. Drew had gotten promoted at the dealership that he worked at, increasing his commission by seven percent, and Claire was having an okay time in college, but she still hadn’t determined her major. (Which, of course, prompted a large lecture about how she needed to find herself).

“How is everything here?” Samantha Beale asked as she shoved a mouthful of corn pudding past her lips.

“Oh, they’re well,” Chloe said as she straightened her position in her seat, stabbing the sharp end of her fork into a baby carrot with a deep crunch. “The internship is great, really.”

“I’m surprised you girls could get a place like this in the heart of Brooklyn.”

“Me too, Mama.”

“I mean, it’s massive. Isn’t it Murray? You know, we lived in a tiny studio just the two of us until I got pregnant with Drew. Then we graduated to something so colossal.”

Her father grunted in response as Chloe nodded. She had heard the story a million times before. They had struggled through paying for college and eventually bought a house that they spent years flipping. Now they lived in a resort in Florida that came in handy during summer vacations. “It’s easier with the three of us pitching in.”

“How is Aubrey doing?” Her father asked.

He had always admired the determination in the woman. She greeted him freshmen year with a firm handshake and a dazzling smile that could rock anyone’s world. After the ICCA incident, he had even offered her a cigar and took her out for a beer. She came back somber after that and even wrapped Chloe in a hug before retiring to her own side of the dorm room. To this day, she wasn’t sure what he said to her and she didn’t’ ask.  

“She’s great, she actually just made junior partner at the law firm that she’s at. She really loves it there too.” Chloe gave a genuine smile.

“I’m glad.” He nodded his head “And Beca?”

She quieted at that, lifting the forkful of carrots to her mouth as she looked down at her plate. Her food was beginning to mix together, the gravy leaking onto the green beans and the potatoes losing their form. She mumbled something, hard to understand past the chewing.

“What was that, Chlo?” Drew asked, an impish grin on his face.

“I said she’s fine.” She swallowed the carrots roughly, looking up angrily at the boy, his blue eyes sparkling with something more. This was a fun game for him, the watchful eyes and the taunting. She tried not to let it get to her, Claire shoving her shoulder into her own.

“She’s still at that music studio, right? An intern?” Claire asked.

“A producer, actually.” Chloe felt an heir of pride at that statement. She remembered the day that Beca came home and nearly pounced on her when she told her the good news. She had bought a whole cake for herself and produced two forks as both of them devoured over half of the pasty before happily passing out in the living room with the tv blaring. Aubrey came home and took a few bites herself before shutting off the television and letting the two of them sleep. “She just signed two new artists to the label. She’s actually in LA for meetings right now.”

Chloe had promised to wrap a plate in cellophane and put in the microwave. Beca would get home late tonight, well after her parents had gone back to the hotel. Her sister would still be asleep on the couch and her brother would have gotten his car back on the road in order to catch at Red Eye back home. But for right now, she had a redness to her cheeks and a fond pride in the pit of her stomach for Beca.

The blue and white cans in the back of the fridge were really hers, though Chloe was known to take a few sips here and there. It didn’t’ stop the redhead from craving the beverage now. She wanted to hold the cool item against her cheeks to quell the burning.

“Anything I’ve ever heard?”

“A ton of stuff,”

Chloe pulled her eyes up from her food. She hadn’t heard the door open or felt the cold drift in from the hallway. She didn’t’, however, miss the blue suitcase by the door and woman standing with an even smile on her face. Little flakes of snow littered her clothing as she struggled to unwrap the scarf from under her coat. She shook herself off, giving a shy wave to the Beale family.

Beca hugged Chloe from Behind, leaning her chin on the woman’s shoulder as she pressed her arms close to her midsection. Beca smelled like the earth and her nose was cold against the edge of Chloe’s neck as she placed a tender kiss against warm skin. Chloe stiffened, breathing in sharply as her mother let her fork fall to the plate. Her father bit down on whatever was in his mouth, Drew smirking into his glass.

“You didn’t’ tell them, did you?”

“No, no I did not.”

“I thought you were going to.”

“After dinner, sweetie.”

“Oh.”

“Oh?” Mrs. Beale sat back in her seat, bringing her napkin to her lips as she wiped away something that wasn’t truly there in the first place. Beca straightened up and gulped, almost audibly. Chloe was pale in her seat, having lost interest in the meal that she had prepared. “What’s going on?”

“I think it’s fairly obvious, mom,” Claire said.

Chloe let out a groan and dropped her head into her hands. She had a whole plan devised, and it wasn’t exactly Beca’s fault that she caught an early flight home. Or that she had the tact of a bar of soap.  Usually, it was endearing when she stumbled over her words after getting trapped in fly paper. But this time it was just unfortunate.

“Oh my god, they’re fucking.” Drew laughed.  

“Gross,” Chloe said over the audible groans in the room. Drew even looked a sickly grey after the comment, Samantha Beale shoving her hand into her husbands’ upper arm. “It’s more than that, okay? I love her.”

“Well, I figured,” He drifted his hand through the air “I just don’t’ know why you didn’t’ invite her to Thanksgiving.”

“It’s her house too, it was a given.”

“Beca, Dear, are you alright?” Samantha asked, “You’re looking pale.”  

“yup, uh-huh fine.” She nodded, fingers still wrapped around the edge of Chloe’s chair. “I just didn’t think the second time meeting my girlfriends’ parents would go like this.”

“It’s Thanksgiving, Beca.” Claire smiled, scooting her chair over to make room for another “It’s always awkward in the Beale house.”   

She really needed a beer.

Chapter Text

The sun that streamed through the hotel window was oddly out of place. When Beca Mitchell booked a hotel in Vegas she had specifically asked for one pointing away from the giant rotating star. The only thing worse than waking up with a hangover was being woken up by rays of pure unbridled light that fluttered across her line of sight.

She let out a groan, attempting to place her arm over her eyes in an attempt to block out the annoying natural alarm. Something tugged back. Hard. Beca hissed against the stinging pain that dug into her wrist with a strange clink. She decided she had too much of a headache for this, too much of an angry wrath. This is God’s punishment from taking a body shot from a stranger’s belly button, Beca. She could almost hear Aubrey’s berating voice in the back of her mind.

“Mm, shut the blinds.” The voice was close to her ear, breath hot and saturated with alcohol. It still made goosebumps raise against her skin. Still made a deep shiver run against her naked form. It was mumbled into pillows, and damn was it familiar? Oddly familiar to the point of fear.

“Shit.” Beca blinked against the light, staring up at the ceiling. There was a nice golden crown molding, and the scent of fancy hotel soap was fresh in her lungs. She was oddly positioned on her back, her right arm stretched at a painful angle over her head. “Shit, shit, shit.”

Beca flashed her murky blue eyes towards the form still stirring from sleep. Even in her painful state, she knew that hair anywhere. It had a vibrancy that one could spot across a dance floor. One that was on the back end of one of the most popular YA romance novels in the world. One that was in Vegas specifically to finalize the last book in a trilogy that was a phenomenon.

Not hooking up with an old college friend.

If God’s wrath wasn’t enough already, she was handcuffed. Attached to the woman she had a mad crush on during her four-year stint at Barden University before she moved out to LA. She just had to make the drive to Las Vegas to meet up with the girls again. Her own publicist had been insistent on the fact.

Beca’s phone was buzzing then, loud and incessant enough to make Chloe stir, sniffing loudly as she shifted her arm slightly, tugging almost as hard as Beca had earlier. She yelped, Beca gulped, not bothering to read the ID before holding her cell phone to her ear. “Yeah?”

“Beca? Where are you?” She held the phone further away from her ear, trying to catch her scrambled thoughts. She let Emily yell, it was one of the only two settings her assistant had; loud, and sporadic. “You were supposed to meet Stacie and me in the café to go over the itinerary for today.”

“I’m uh,” She swallowed, mouth dry “I’m a little tied up right now. Start without me.”

She hung up but heard the start of protests. They couldn’t start a meeting about her when she wasn’t there yet. That was the good thing about branching away and forming her own company. Her own very successful company that had taken most artists to new levels. Beca Mitchell wasn’t cocky, but she was good.

“Oh my God,” Chloe spoke into the pillow, nose squished, “I think I got hit by a truck.”

“I think you got hit with a little more than that, Chlo.”

She froze at the voice. All too familiar, all too raspy from a night filled with screaming in a club and never ceasing the noise until they collapsed in a sweaty pool together. Chloe had scratches on her back- painful scratches that trailed blood. She winched and breathed through a clenched jaw. She tried to maneuver herself onto her elbow, clutching a white sheet to something Beca couldn’t’ remember seeing in the first place.

“Beca?” Her wild eyes flashed with embarrassment as she clutched the sheet closer, eyes shifting to her other arm that was wedged awkwardly under her body, cuffed to Beca’s. “Handcuffs.”

“Handcuffs.” She sighed, the blanket had moved away from Chloe’s perfectly manicured hand. “Wedding ring?”

“Wedding-“Chloe breathed in sharply. There was a simple gold band around her ring finger, it was inscribed with something, but she couldn’t quite read it with Beca hastily checking her own hand. There was a ring there too, also inscribed. Also, unreadable. “Ow! Beca!”

“Dude this can’t be real.” She grumbled. “I mean, Vegas weddings aren’t even legal right?”

Chloe stared at her wildly, clutching the sheet like a life raft. Her lips parted for a second, scanning Beca’s face. “Yes, they are!”

Beca wanted to revert back to their original form; With Chloe still fast asleep and the sun not rudely awakening them to a nightmare. But life didn’t work like that, and neither did time. The earth still spun on its axel, and an in a scripted gold ring was around her finger. If what Chloe had said was true, she would need Emily to make some hasty calls. But right now, she was having her arm tugged back towards Chloe’s side of the bed as the woman reached with her dominant hand for her own phone. Aubrey was probably close to phoning the police.

Chloe had pressed a button on the base of her phone, holding it up to her ear. Beca could hear it ring, probably calling Aubrey. She picked up after three seconds and the yelling started almost instantly. She held the phone away like Beca had, rolling her eyes. “Good morning to you too, sunshine.”

She ran her fingertips against the edging itch on her neck. It reminded her of camp. The bug bites always chose a place that looked more inconspicuous than anything. When Beca lifted the sheet enough to get a good view of her skin she felt a little less bad about the marks she had given Chloe. Nasty purple bruises and bite marks littered her whole broad chest, but there was also a necklace. One with a key strung against it.

“Oh, thank god,” She mumbled, not bothering to unclip it. She gave it a hard yank and winced, breaking the simple chain. Beca moved it until the key was in her palm and she quickly worked to unhook it. Chloe was on about a signing she was close to missing. There was an instant relief as she pulled her hand out of the cuffs and rubbed the raw skin.

At the sound of the bed shifting, Chloe cast a glance her way, doing a bit of a doubletake as she lifted her arm oddly, staring at the open cuffs. A bit of joy passed over her features but quickly blurred as Aubrey said something else. “No, yeah. I get it. Give me fifteen. No- I said fifteen Aubrey, not ten.”

She hung up in a similar fashion and let out a frustrated grunt before shoving her hand towards Beca. The smaller woman wordlessly unlocked the cuff and watched as they fell against the mattress. Part of her wanted to curl back up and forget the world, forget the part of her morning where she woke up with a ring on her finger.

“Maybe we didn’t really get married,” Chloe suggested.

“I don’t put a ring on something without follow through, Beale.”

“Yeah, sober you, maybe. Drunk you?”

She had a good point. Drunk Beca was the type of person to buy everyone a pint before hopping up on the bar and showing them the three years of ballet, she had buried deep down inside her psyche. “Okay, fair enough. We can check the hotel chapel?”

“The cheesy one with Elvis as the clergy?”

“That’s the one,” Beca mumbled. “Shit, I have to meet my team in the café.”

“And I’ve got to meet Aubrey at the front. Book signing.”

Beca nodded, spinning her new-found ring around her finger in a fit of nervous habit. She had a few phone calls she had to make today that couldn’t be pushed further, and one client that she needed to meet at a penthouse two blocks over. The ring felt like a weight, a cinderblock that dragged her to the bottom of a sea of emotions. Ones she didn’t’ quite understand.

“Right, okay.” Beca swallowed carefully. “We’re both clearly busy. We’re in Vegas for a reason. But this might trump everything. We can meet at three?”

Chloe pursed her lips and mindfully ran through her schedule. “Yeah, three could work. And if it’s not that chapel?”

“Well, then we’re fucked.” Beca stood, being mindful to keep the blanket close to her chest. “Because you and I have to find a way to quietly get annulled.”

Chapter Text

 Beca hugged her close, almost as if she were clinging to a board that was floating in murky waters between icebergs. The water wasn’t as cold, and her breath didn’t display in the moonlight- but Beca Mitchell had no intention of letting go of Chloe Beale anytime soon. She wasn’t a cuddly person, in no way so, but something was different about her girlfriend. Chloe was the sun to her darkness and her bedridden hair and raspy morning voice was her personal kryptonite.

Chloe hummed evenly, dragging the tip of a plastic spatula against the base of the skillet. It picked up whatever eggs had cooked to the surface. Steam bloomed against the air as bacon sizzled with an equal amount of heat, popping. Beca could feel each breath that Chloe took, her fingers toying at the edge of the girls’ ribs under her shirt. She rested her chin on the woman’s shoulder and cuddled into her neck, pressing her lips against the smooth expanse of skin. Chloe smelled of sex and lavender, something so primal that Beca felt her stomach drop.

“I thought you were still asleep.”

“Mm, I was. But then I smelled bacon.”

Beca felt the woman’s body shudder with a light chuckle, she dipped her head and placed an even kiss on her lips, leaning in as the eggs cooked through. “That’s my girl.”  Chloe turned in her arms, draping her own over Beca’s shoulders, a smile on her lips.

It was still early in the morning and sleep was thick on both their minds, but this was worth waking up for. The rest of the house was silent; some of the Bella’s not arriving home at all while others had fallen asleep before the sun even went down. Either way, the kitchen was sure to be filled in a matter of an hour and their little moment in paradise would be easily shattered.

The door seemed to creak open as if on cue, Chloe shooting her cerulean eyes over to the direction of the front foyer. It echoed and shook, and Beca let out a soft groan before pushing her forehead against Chloe’s in exasperation. “Amy?”

She called out to the Australian. She was no stranger to sneaking in like a decrepit cat after a meal. She wasn’t as quiet and usually trudged up the stairs before collapsing in her bed in the clothes she wore the evening before. It had been easier to handle ever since Beca brought her pillow down to Chloe’s room and ended up spending most evenings there.

“Um, no” It was a soft voice, one that made Chloe pull her hands down and lean her palms against the edge of the counter. She lifted both eyebrows as the youngest of the Bella’s pushed her shoulder against the door frame. “Hi,”

She was dressed casually, a wrinkled t-shirt that certainly was too baggy to be hers, and a pair of sweatpants that were double knotted for good measure. They were oversized too, bunching at her ankles in more than one layer. Her hair was messy as if she took her fingers and tried to fix the knots.

“Emily?” Beca asked, running one hand down Chloe’s side as she let her fingers drop. “Good morning.”

“Morning,” She smiled weakly, eyes darting up to the stairs. “Any chance there’s hot water left?”

Chloe nodded dumbly, shrugging her shoulders as Emily gave one last departing word and headed up the steps. The two women stared at the empty space with looks of awe; legacy, they’re legacy, had spent the night out and come home in clothes that weren’t hers.

“Do you smell that?” Beca asked, crinkling her nose.

“The angst that’s hanging in the air? Yeah. I do.”

“No, I think your eggs are burning.”

Beca wasn’t paying attention to the movie, it was some remake of a remake that she heard Jesse blow a gasket over when news first broke on it. She refused to go to the theatre to enjoy it because it was a movie, how could she? But Beca was content with staring at her phone and scrolling while the rest of her girls mindlessly chewed popcorn and gasped each time there was a predictable change on the screen. 

Her legs were stretched to the coffee table in front of her, and Chloe’s head was on her lap, the girl’s fingers curled into the side of her jeans as she stroked her hair quietly, just watching her enthralled with the movie. Her touch would tighten each time the music spiked in its suspenseful glory.

Stacie was sitting in front of them, typing away at a physic’s paper on her screen, Flo curled up at the opposite edge of the couch, clutching a pillow, she was mouthing the words to the film like she had seen it before, she probably had. Jessica half- asleep herself as she leaned pensively on Ashley’s shoulder.

Chloe let out a slight squeak and buried her face against Beca’s knee, covering her eyes. “I don’t like this part.”

“You’ve never seen it, love.” Beca chuckled but ran her comforting touch over Chloe’s forehead. She couldn’t’ help the smile that bit at her lips. Chloe had a pension for dramatics. She didn’t mind much anyway.

A loud thud caught her attention, masked by another cry of distress of Chloe. Beca cocked a brow and outstretched her arm over the back of the sofa. Stacie glanced up from her laptop, eyes shooting towards the window past the television. Both of them had been the first to beg for curtains, sheer white ones that usually stayed open. After an incident with the treble hazing a year back Chloe had caved.

She trained her eyes on the bushes, almost black under the moonlight. They shifted, shook.

Stacie cast her stare back towards Beca, parting her lips, confused. “Did you-?”

“Oh yeah.”

“What the hell?” Chloe drew in a soft breath as a figure popped up from the vegetation. There was an easy scrape under her eye, red and blotched, dripping blood. A few leaves clung to an otherwise nice outfit. “Is that Legacy?”

“Trying and failing to sneak out, yeah,” Stacie answered, watching as the girl looked both ways like she was crossing the street before stalking out of the bushes and vanishing from view. “What has gotten into her?”

“Who,” Flo corrected, not taking her eyes off the screen. “She’s been seeing some mystery guy.”

“I don’t like him. If she’s sneaking out like this then it can’t be good.”

“Oh, don’t judge a book.” Beca objected, catching her girlfriend’s attention. “You all used to think I was un unreachable badass.”

“No one thought that, babe.” Chloe reached up and gave her a half-hearted pat on the cheek before resounding to falling back into her film. Part of her wanted to reach for the remote and rewind it, the other couldn’t get the sound of a truck pulling away from their house out of her mind.

Chloe couldn’t function without coffee, she was a human being, after all. Usually, she would pull herself from bed and jog to the nearest shop to pick up a large black for Beca and something filled with ropes of sugar for herself. But this morning was cold, cold and jarring. If it actually fell in Georgia, Chloe was sure snow would stick.

She had Beca pull her car up to the curb, the heat still blasting as she drummed her fingers against the leather steering wheel. The line was visible from outside and Chloe let out a small groan before pressing her lips against Beca’s and pushing herself out into the freezing wrath of nature.

Inside the coffee shop was much better; there were cute decorations on the wall and soft rock playing form the speakers. Wet jackets hung from the hook by the door. People talked quietly amongst themselves as they struggled to wake up for morning classes. More importantly, Emily stood in the back corner, right by the bathrooms.

She was scrolling through her phone, a cup placed in a tray. Two actually. Legacy had that dumb sort of grin on her lips that was only present during the utmost happiest moments of her life. It was dorky, and she would be frazzled if anyone said more than three words to her. Chloe placed her order, all the while, keeping an eye on the young woman.

“Emily, we didn’t hear you get up this morning.”

“Chloe,” She breathed out face draining of all color. “I’m just quiet, I guess.”

The bathroom door tried to push open, but Emily slammed her back against it, effectively pushing it shut with an easiness that Chloe wasn’t even sure she could pull off. It was a fluid motion, ending in a stifled grunt. “Didn’t expect to see you here, Chlo!”

She said it loud enough to stop the struggling from the other side of the door, it instantly quieted.

“You have two coffee’s, are you meeting someone?” Chloe asked cautiously

“Nope, just very thirsty.” She chuckled nervously. “You know me, can’t get enough coffee.”

Chloe pursed her lips and nodded, taking in the frazzled appearance of the girl in front of her. She had dated before but usually left them on the front porch with nothing more than a quick peck on the lips and a scarce wave goodbye. Chloe felt a type of familiarity stir up in her.

Beca had a point the other week at movie night, one that she was begrudged at. The two of them had hid their relationship for about half a year before the other Bella’s caught on. It consisted of early mornings and late nights- and purposely slamming the bathroom door on her date to keep her a secret. She felt something, fondness maybe.

“Alright, have a good morning, Em.”

“Wait, that’s it?” Emily asked, her shoulders slumping slightly. She was careful not to tip her coffee over. “You’re not going to… I mean I thought you would”

Chloe gave her a soft smile “It’s your business, yeah?  I can’t speak for the rest of the Bella’s, but you’ll talk in time.  If you want, that is.”

Her name rang throughout the coffee shop, probably written on the side of a cup spelled with a ‘K’. Her eyes cast over towards the barista with a tired and expected look on his face. “Make safe choices.”

Chloe let out the breath she didn’t’ know she was holding as she walked out of the coffee shop door, the harsh winter wind stinging her cheeks. She didn’t’ have much of a stomach for her drink anymore, half-heartedly passing Beca hers in a quiet fit of confusion.

Emily could still feel her heart in her throat, pounding against the inside of her wrist and making her breath feel short. She let out the sigh that she had been holding onto until her skin started to look a sickly gray. She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to ease a forming headache.

“Uh, Em?” A muffled voice startled her. She yelped, close to dropping the tray of drinks altogether as she shot forward, fingers rushing to keep the hot liquid steady. She put her free hand on the wall, breathing heavily as soft eyes met hers, peaking around the bathroom door that hadn’t be wiped down in ages.

The girl’s hair was long, flowing effortlessly in blonde tresses even in the off-putting bathroom lights. A scarf was hanging lazily over a black pea coat, a look of pure worry gracing features that were usually calm and put together. “Do you think she knows it was me?”

“No,” Emily breathed out, trying to gain her composure. “I don’t think so,”

“Good,” The girl let the bathroom door close behind her, moving close enough to smell the mint of the hot chocolate that Emily was sure to down before it cooled off in the slightest. She fluidly pressed her hand under the woman’s chin, guiding those earth-shattering eyes towards hers. “We’ll tell them eventually, you know? Whenever you’re ready.”

Emily leaned into the touch, letting the girl run her thumb over the coolness of her cheek in a calming fashion. “I think I’m ready, Aubrey.”        

Chapter Text

Beca frowned into the burnt cup of coffee. It left a tinted and flaky rim around the typical white mug. She had tasted it first, and then the smell hit her. It was sour and reminded her of the breath of a monster with dripping yellow fangs. Its spit thick like hot venom. The young detective decided to forego it as she set it back on the edge of her desk under the one desk lamp that remained on.

Her eyebrows knit against the paperwork on her desk. A printed version of the contents that littered the flash drive. Most of it was in code, or at least that’s what Beca thought. There were strings of numbers and letters that she couldn’t quite decipher. Maybe she should play by the rule of thumb and give her eyes a break from the nonsense, then it would culminate into something more.

She let out a deep breath and leaned back into her chair, letting it creak and groan under her weight. The station had cleared out earlier, an assistant and a security guard being the two other people on this floor.

The holding cells remained on the floors below, sometimes a drunken man would stumble over his feet and shout. It would travel up the stairs and give her a moment of pause, a moment of thought. She had half a mind to pour the whiskey in the bottom cabinet of her desk into the coffee. Maybe it would make it taste less stale.

The flash drive was the first step in something more. She had foolishly slammed a drink into a Stepford wives face. She could still smell the sickeningly sweet edge of coconut and blue food dye that stained her beautiful dress and the hotel floor. Her knuckles were still a deep violet that faded to an amber brown. The necklace in evidence somewhere. Nicki would never talk.

“You’re here late,”

Beca drew in a breath sharp enough to cut the inside of her throat. She reached blindly for the weapon on her leather belt. She had untucked her button down from the front buckle in an effort to make herself feel more comfortable. Instead, it kept the fabric pinned under her thumb as she shot her midnight eyes up to the surrounding desks around her. Even in the stray light from her own lamp, she could relax her shoulders.

Chloe Beale.

The detective stood awkwardly between the main aisle and her own desk; her fingers were clamped around her elbow as she rocked back and forth of the balls of her feet. She was holding a pair of heels that would give her significant height, a form-fitting black dress hugged every curve in her body perfectly. Her auburn hair was curled and rolling, bringing out the vibrancy in her eyes.

For the first time in Beca’s stint here, she could read how uncomfortable Chloe was. It radiated off of her like the hint of air freshener that hung in the air with its tropical scents.

“You look nice, Chloe.” Beca simply said, drawing the mug to her lips before forcing a deep gulp of scalding liquid. She flinched at the taste. Her eyebrows raised. “Hot date?”

“There was supposed to be one. He was drunk when I got there, though. Loves to cause a scene.”

“That’s a real shame.”

Beca felt a pang of guilt towards Chloe. She had been admittedly difficult since she had been assigned to this case. She was pulled from her home office in New Orleans and forced into a stuffy city with no sense of music a couple of months ago. Chloe hadn’t been so bad, if not, more personable than any New Yorker she had meant thus far.

Chloe was a good sport. She would keep their covers during assignments and bring homemade food to the stakeouts that crowded them in the back of white vans with a fake logo painted on the side. Certainly not the type of woman to be treated with a drunken welcome.

“It is,” She let out a deep sigh and fell into her own rolling chair, its springs groaned. “He’s downstairs now. Figured a night in a holding cell might sober him up.”

“Oh, that’s ruthless, Detective Beale.”  

Chloe smirked and pulled out the bottom case in her desk. The metal creaked and groaned as she breathed in evenly, flicking on her own desk lamp. In the light, Beca could evenly see her red painted lips and stunted highlighter. She looked beautiful, the backdrop of a normal agency behind her expertly curled hair. “Any luck on the flash drive?”

Beca didn’t’ answer right away. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to work out the lines of code that made her feel blue in the face anymore. Her eyes were trained on something more- something she hadn’t noticed before. Chloe Beale had always been the annoying partner that she had to play wife with dressed in obnoxious button downs.

“Beca?”

“hmm?” She leaned forward enough in her seat to put the soles of her shoes fully on the floor. “Oh, sorry. It’s not going… At least I don’t think it is. None of this makes sense.”

“Let me take a look,”

Before Beca could interject Chloe had gotten from her seat, her bare feet left heated marks against the floor. Her back was instantly warmed, Chloe pressing her whole front flush. She smelled like vanilla with a hint of champagne. Not enough to keep her from driving, or even give her a buzz. Beca froze.  

Chloe’s skin was hot against hers as she let out a guttural noise, scrunching her features up at the printed version of the flash drives contents. “Huh, odd. You have Lily take a look at these?”

“I sent them out this morning but thought I could get some headway.” Beca focused on each word, trying to make sure they sounded even.

She hated the feeling that bubbled up against her stomach. Beca Mitchell didn’t get fondness. She would always show up and be teamed with someone who couldn’t tell a 9mm. from a 12. When she met Chloe for the first time and shared a clammy handshake, she knew it would be no different- thought it wouldn’t’ be.

“Maybe she can give you some insight then, because this?” Chloe leaned even further into her “This is all nonsense.”

“It is, isn’t it?” Beca asked, making a brazen move as she turned around completely in her seat and moved it so Chloe was still left-leaning close to the desk, but not as mind-numbingly close. “Chief thinks this thing runs deeper than the drug trade on the Marina. I might be here longer than you wanted.”

“Than I wanted? You don’t’ step on my toes as often as you like to think, Detective Mitchell.”

Chloe seemed to stifle a laugh as she got a good look at the scowl on Beca’s features. She placed her palms on the edge of the desk and pulled herself onto its top, careful not to cross her ankles and cock an eyebrow.

“That so?”

“Mm, I get along with most people. Once we kick that smoking habit of yours, you’d be a delight.”

Beca scoffed, she should have been offended, buy the way Chloe said that, but that innocent yet smug smile on her lips was enough to turn Beca’s stomach over. It reminded her of a woman she met a few months back at a truck stop in Las Vegas. The waitress smelled like artificial strawberry and she stared Beca down as she tied the black stem of a cherry with nothing but her tongue. She waved it around like a white flag and Beca fucked her in the bathroom after her shift was over.

Her stomach felt like that stem. Chloe’s had evidently dropped itself by the sound of it. Her smirk faltered as it let out a tough growl in defiance.

“You didn’t get the chance to eat on that date of yours, did you?”

“I paid for his tab and left.” She drew in a breath “I was going to grab whatever left-over lunch Stacie left in the fridge.”  

“You’re nicer than I would have been.”

Beca stood then, picking up her jacket from the back of the chair. Chloe watched her with a tilted stare. “How do you feel about burgers? Do you boycott them as well?”

“Shove off, Mitchell.” Chloe Beale said easily, but with a smile.

Chapter Text

Chloe Beale’s ears had a tendency to ring. They always had. When she was eleven years old she flew in a plane for the first time- it was a quick flight from Atlanta to New York but it clogged her ears to the point of feeling like she had drowned in an icy lake. Her mother told her to chew gum, and Chloe wishes she had because now she never got a moment of silence without a dull noise in the shadows.

She had rolled her head back, feeling an intense pinch at the base of her skull as the ringing continued to grow louder in spurts. Chloe hadn’t opened her eyes yet, but she was sure it wouldn’t make a difference. The room was heavy, even without her senses she knew she was in cloying darkness.

Her breath was shuttered, but it quickened.

There was a tightness around her wrists and a similar one around her ankles. The rope was digging past her skin and wetness dug into her flesh. She had jolted at the sting and stopped moving after that, mind racing and stomach churning.

“Fuck,” her voice sounds foreign to her ears, Chloe decides, mouth like she had swallowed a penny that she found on the sidewalk. Her eyes struggled to blink open. That damned ringing taking precedence over her own breath.

She was right about it being dark, but not to the point of blindness. There was a slight glow to the room that she got used to- the window slapped up on the far wall had a bit of pale light peaking in through heavy blinds that only had one purpose; block out people who weren’t allowed access. It was night, it had to be.

Chloe resounded to tracing the little line of blue that stretched across four panels of wood. Hardwood that would make any home feel senseless and cold. She could recall crouching low on that floor- her heart had been pounding as sweeping lights moved across deadened grass. The house was supposed to be empty. Up for sale with a sign that creaked staked into the yard.

The urge to call out was clawing at the back of her throat and she suddenly understood why the perky white character of horror movies echoed their voices down long hallways.

She instantly stiffened as a door opened in front of her. She hadn’t noticed it before. Chloe’s eyes squinted. It was a simple lamp in a larger room, but it was enough to aggravate an existing headache in the base of her skull. She had been hit. Hard.

The figure was backlit, and Chloe blinked her eyes until it wasn’t so noticeable anymore. The door was quick to close, and it plunged her back into milky darkness- just not alone this time. Chloe figured herself scared, but her mind was too tired.

The trial was set in a months’ time.

Aubrey had plunged her life savings into enough bail to get her out of the dingy jail cell and the orange jumpsuit. Innocent until proven guilty. That’s what the blonde had told her when she convinced her father to run the trial. When he sat her down and explained that even with her word, it wouldn’t’ be enough. That she should enjoy the last month she had before being sent to the electric chair for a murder she didn’t’ commit. Chloe couldn’t bear it.

“Is your head okay?” The voice startled her, spiked her heartbeat. The only thing she could remember was heavy footfalls in a house that she had technically broken into. Not the melodic voice of another. It was gruff yet seeping with emotion. “I didn’t mean to hit you that hard.”

The figure walked across the room, her silhouette outlined in a fuzzy shadow. The curtains shifted as fingers clenched the fabric and moved them briefly to the side. It was night. A full moon was punched into the sky and provided enough light for a simple flash. Chloe tried to follow; The brown hair and the eyes that seemed to match the sky filled with stars.

“I’m taking your silence as a good sign.” She let out a deep sigh and turned, flicking on the light. It burned more than Chloe was expecting. She scrunched up her nose and let out a deep hiss. The skin against her neck pinched. “Sorry, I uh-“ the stranger let out a breath “I don’t know how to handle this situation.”

“You knocked me out,”

“You broke into my house.”

Chloe cracked an eye and took in the full length of the woman in front of her: Her brown locks flowed evenly over her shoulders, a black t-shirt hugging her frame against the bluest jeans that Chloe had ever seen. She was wearing fuzzy socks, her features smooth and kind in an odd type of way for someone who had just knocked her out.

If she had passed her in a café she would be enamored, pouring too much sugar into black coffee. At the city zoo, she would stall her steps and contemplate using the camera around her neck to snap a candid photo of New York City life.

“Follow my finger with your eyes?” The stranger was squatting down slightly, moving her hand in front of Chloe’s face, back and forth. Her breath smelled like lavender and was hot on Chloe’s chest. “Good. Your stare is gliding, not jittery. No concussions.”

She straightened herself up and glanced around the room. There was nothing there. One lone desk that had a few papers strewn across it. There wasn’t even a chair. Chloe guessed that it was the one she was tied to.  A lamp that the stranger flicked on was in the opposite corner. It was cold and the floor required socks at the very least.

“Can you untie me?” Chloe tried, eyeing the woman. “I’m not a danger to society-“

“Why did you break into my house?” She tried instead, starting to pace back and forth against the hardwood. She kept her stare on her feet. Glancing up at Chloe with an eyebrow raised. The tips of her fingers were grazing her lips. “Out of all the houses in this suburb. Why mine?”

“I don’t see how that-“Chloe stopped herself at the darkening stare, taking a deep and evening breath. “I’ve been in this neighborhood before, is all. Looking at Christmas lights. Stopping by friends. It’s the only house on this block that has always been for sale but has never gone off the market. Figured it would be empty. Easy to blend into.”

The woman nodded as she resumed her pacing. “Why were you hiding in the first place? From who?”

Chloe tensed her shoulders. It somehow made the ropes not as tight around her wrist. Her head was still pounding, and she could feel the heat rise close to her flushed skin. The woman had stopped again, this time crossing her arms across her chest with the same raised brow.

“I’ve been charged with the murder of Alexa Cooper. A murder I didn’t commit. Someone I didn’t even know.” She eased out, saying it aloud was odd and off-putting. “She went to the community center I volunteer at. Killed right down the street.”

She searched the woman’s features “I know the case. Conrad Posen is the lead defense. The trial is in a month.”

“That’s the one.”

The stout little woman knelt down and started working on the ropes that were so easily bound around Chloe’s ankles. “The evidence is a lot, isn’t it? The bank statements. The time stamps. The lack of proper witnesses to corroborate your story.”

“Right. It was easier to run, I suppose. To escape everything. How do you know so much about this?”

She glanced up, her eyes a deep navy compared to the sky. They were soft and caring, edging and warm. “I watch a lot of television.”

Chloe didn’t’ quite accept that as an answer, but the girl had untied the rope around her wrists. She was quick to pull her hands in front of her, rubbing the redness from her skin. She could almost feel the tension melt away to an off form of bliss. One that eased the ringing against her skull. The woman sat back on her heels.

“They set me up.”

“I know.” She dropped her shoulders. “The code… the one attached to your bank statements and the GPS. It’s not cohesive. It’s subtle but it’s there. A few chains are broken. A digital footprint that’s too big to ignore.”

Chloe narrowed her eyes, the stranger standing as she rubbed her hands together to get rid of the excess dirt. “You can prove that the evidence was tampered with?”

“Sure, I can. But I won’t.”  

Chapter Text

The flowers were dead. That’s the first thing that caught Beca Mitchell's eyes; their stems were a sickly grey. The green color had drained completely and left a white carcass behind in its wakes. Petals littered the counter.  They were once red like freshly drawn blood, a stark white that rattled into a pink-tipped form. Ghosts with no soul left to harvest.

She reached forward and palmed a petal. They sounded like deadened leaves under booted feet. The pad of her finger running evenly over it before it disintegrated into fine dust in her hand. She frowned at it.

Beca had a habit of looking for the flowers in any setting. They livened up the room or muted it depending on their own life span. Great designers would say that fresh set pieces could establish an atmosphere. Great florists would counter that it established good business.

She could feel the instant coolness of the room prickle goosebumps against her skin, even past the knitted grey sweater that hugged her frame expertly. She had been in interrogation rooms this cold before, but never a simple tattoo shop. The sound of needles buzzing against once clear skin echoed in her ears. Maybe this was a bad idea.

The room was painted a deep burgundy, a white crown molding so expertly untouched. There were paintings on the wall: close up black and white images of big cats in the wild and blank blades of grass. There was a wall of long stretched drawings in front of her. Too many for her to count. Generic images of dragons breathing fire and grim reapers wielding scythes.

Beca couldn’t’ help but admire the line work that went into them, the attention to detail and the way each picture had been meticulously drawn before being resized for human attention. She let her lips part and a lone breath tumble from them.

“Can I help you?”

She drew in a sharp breath at the edged voice. She had been so focused on the sheeted artwork that she hadn’t noticed the presence of another. A woman; stunning in a grunge type of way. A tight black t-shirt hugged her frame, showing off the expertly crafted tattoos that coated every inch of toned and exposed skin. Her blonde hair was tied back, a few strands falling into glowing green eyes. The open sign flicked a flash of red and blue periodically against her bored expression.

“If you want a tattoo you need to book an appointment with our receptionist. We don’t do walk-ins.”

“No,” Beca spoke evenly, the woman raising her eyebrow as she set her hand on the counter and tightened her stance, letting her fingers dance on the countertop. “I mean, I don’t want a tattoo. I just moved into the space next door and I think this is yours.”

She thrust out an envelope that was clearly marked The Crimson Door. It certainly wasn’t for her modest flower shop. She had mulled over the name a few times in her mind. The door to this place wasn’t even slathered in red, it was merely a foggy glass embossed in gold lettering. She decided not to bring it up.

“Oh, thank you.” The stranger took the envelope, softening in her abrasive stance. “We’ve talked to the post office so many times. They never seem to get it right.”

The woman let out a deep sigh and dropped the letter somewhere behind the desk that Beca didn’t’ stretch to see. She seemed to relax a bit, clearly having surprise visits from drunken patrons looking to get cheap ink more than once.

“That place used to be a Chinese restaurant, you know.” She continued, walking behind the counter as she leaned over the computer. Beca couldn’t see anything more than white reflected off forest irises. “I can’t tell you how glad I am that they left. Though, it’s unfortunate that we have to go across town for eggrolls now.”

“Yeah, it is.” Beca let a small scoff escape her lips. She wasn’t really sure what to say. It had been a hassle gutting the place. She remembered removing the grease trap from the back door, the way it stuck and clouded her lungs until she eventually hurled in the bushes that were adorned with beautiful yellow roses. “We’re quieter, I’m sure.”

“Smell better too.” She responded, straightening up as she clicked out of her program. “Well, welcome to the neighborhood. Just let us know if the music is too loud and try not to put your trash out before five on Thursdays.”

“Thank you, will do.”

Beca followed the girl’s movements for a moment more, she had clicked a black pen and was digging it into a yellow pad of post-it notes. Maybe it was Beca’s own name. A sly way to recall her if she had in fact, strayed to 4:59 on a Thursday evening. She took a few steps back before turning completely and walking into the chilling night air.

Their shops were the only two still casting pale rectangles against the sidewalk. Fairy lights were strung against trees for the impending winter, wreaths soon to follow in the coming months. Beca shoved her hands in her pockets and breathed out in a moment of peace for a moment.

Her place wasn’t so bad. They had gutted the Chinese décor and turned it into a simple shop with shelves built into white walls. They were lined with the freshest flowers daily- a back office gave her a break from the bustle of catering and funeral orders. It boasted a large window like a toy shop in the ’60s; embossed with gold lettering similar to the tattoo shop.

She was quick to flip the open sign to closed before the bell stopped chiming. It had been a quiet night. A Friday where people attended movies at the local theatre or the football game that took half of Hollyfield’s student population into its grasp.

“Was it scary in there? Oh my god, did you see that one woman covered in tattoos? I heard places like that are very cold. Did you need a coat?”

“Emily,” Beca breathed out evenly, shaking her head. Her assistant, her co-worker at that, was very excitable. She asked too many questions and had those beaming brown eyes that were impossible to say no to. Even now, when she glanced up from the book on the counter and hair fell lazily into her pouting stare. Her sleeves were pulled over her wrists and a pencil was tucked behind her ear. “Too many questions. I just brought over some mail.”

Of course, that didn’t’ exactly answer the question that Emily held at the tip of her tongue. Beca lifting an eyebrow as she pushed herself away from the door and walked over to the counter. She had had this place for a week and still never stood on the opposite side of the aptly painted counter.

“I did meet an interesting woman though. She was blonde. A lot of tattoos, obviously.”

“Yeah?” Emily’s cheeks heated up, her eyebrows rising. “What uh… what’d she say?”

The girl had run into some masked stranger when they were remolding. Emily was coated in white paint and was carrying a big gulp from the gas station down the street. She had recounted to Beca how she was leaning against the back of the brick and taking long drags of a cigarette. Emily stumbled over her words a bit before sighing and sulking back inside.

“Trash goes out on Thursday.”

Emily’s shoulders dropped as she let her head fall into her textbook. She dramatically stretched her arm out and groaned. “That’s all you found out about the love of my life? Beca, you were on an extraction mission.”

“No, I was on a drop off mission.”

She corrected, palming a bit of fabric on Emily’s arm before she lifted it briefly to stare at the text she was attempting to read. Psychology. It was too much for Beca, the actual schooling of it all. She commended Emily for wanting to further her education after high school- she was stronger than most.

Beca considered herself as doing well. She had run a flower van for two years before actually settling down in a space. It was a lot easier to push out orders for sweet sixteen’s when she was working out of a store and not the back of a truck with Emily strewn over the front seat. She spoke evenly, words muffled by her sweater.

“What was that, Em?”

“You’ve got to call back Lewis.” She picked up her head “He wants to cut some type of deal, you know.”

“That so?”

“Yeah. He left his number.”

Emily thrust out a sticky note that was her blue handwriting, so neat even though it was rushed. It had a ten-digit number written like she hadn’t known the area code from when she visited in the summers. She moved her pad against the sticky adhesive. “You know, the stranger next door uses the same type of post it’s?”

“She does?” Emily shot up, eyes widening “They’re yellow?”

“Yeah, Em. They’re yellow.”            

Chapter Text

Beca didnt hear the door open, or the footfalls that were void of any noise because Chloe Beale stripped her heels before she shoved her key into the lock.  The older woman was carrying a tin foil swan. It held an expensive steak that she had barely picked at and garlic mashed potatoes that she easily moved around her plate until it looked like she actually ate something.

Chloe’s body was tired, almost as tired as her mind; how are your classes going? Did you fail Russian lit again? What do you expect to do with another acapella final under your belt?

Her parents didn’t’ mean it in an offending way, really, they didn’t’. The two of them were worried about their daughter who hadn’t become a doctor yet, or a lawyer, or even a postal worker at this point. She had been lingering at college and their checkbooks had been catching onto it- not that it really mattered.

If it were up to Chloe, she would have chosen a nice burger joint that sold milkshakes you could barely suck through the straw. But instead, she slid on an uncomfortable maroon dress and heels that had more ties than a quilt. She let those drop with a clatter by the door.

Chloe walked into the kitchen, it was illuminated by the small bulb above the oven. It bathed the room in a deep golden glow and almost made Chloe miss the figure laying against the island, fingers stretching to one side. They curled around an apple with a sizeable bite taken out of it, the once white insides morphed to a mushy brown. Beca Mitchell snored, loudly at that, her nose pushed against the surface.

The older woman knit her eyebrows together, taking in her co-captain’s frame; lately, Beca had been falling asleep wherever she could. She had taken the liberty of cutting more than one practice and had resorted to wearing longer clothes even as the winter thawed out to a fine Georgia spring.

Now she had shed her leather jacket, it was draped across the back of her chair, a puddle of drool under her cheek. A white shirt hugged her frame, a dark brown splotch forming right against her side. Chloe drew in a breath, Beca smelled like sweat and blood, and a deep fear squirmed in her stomach.

Chloe set the tin foil swan down as carefully as she could before gently trying to wake Beca with a comforting hand against her shoulder. The woman flinched in her sleep, drawing in a sharp breath “Mm’ five more minutes.”

“Beca,” Her voice was tender. Still, the younger of the two stiffened instantly. She dragged her fingers down to the side of the island, shooting up with a shuddered breath and a stifled hiss of pain.

“Oh, wow.” She blinked a few times “mother fucker.”

Chloe let her mouth fall open unbridled; that ugly stain wasn’t from dropped food, it accompanied that metallic scent. Beca’s lip was split, a long mess of purple fading to black was stinging against flush skin. A darkened edge of blood was at her hairline and her knuckles were torn as if she had a fighting match with a brick wall. She flexed them sparingly.

“What the hell?” Chloe had left all heir of calm semi-nice. It wasn’t necessarily a hot rage, because she was well versed in repressing that, especially after a dinner with her parents. But Beca was hurt. Beca always seemed to be hurt. She would flinch away from human contact more than usual and has been going through Advil like Pez candy.

“Shit, what time is it?” Her eyes flashed towards the neon green numbers on the oven. It was a little after eleven. “I was supposed to-“

“To what, Beca?”

“To not be here when you got home.” She groaned, squeezing the bridge of her nose.

Chloe cocked an eyebrow, letting out an easy breath. The room smelled like antiseptic and a bandage was wrapped sloppily around Beca’s upper arm. Her stomach stirred again- Beca hadn’t made much of an effort to clean up bad wounds, so the one that she had tried to patch up must have been worse. It couldn’t have been better.

“Holy shit, Bec” Chloe wasn’t as gentle as she hoped to be as she grabbed Beca’s chin and got a good look at the side of her face. “What happened?”

It must have been a bar fight. It always was with this one. If they didn’t’ keep a keen eye on her then five drink Beca would pick a battle with anyone- it had started out with being bumped into or getting a heap of beer poured down her shirt. But lately, it had been for staring. People who couldn’t’ keep their eyes off of Chloe or take no for an answer often got a fist to the jaw. She had been good after more than one begging talk from Chloe that everything was fine.

“Not a bar fight. I swear, I told you I wouldn’t.”

Beca looked like a child that was being scolded, more than anything she looked like she was in pain, and Chloe wordlessly let her instincts take over as she popped open the first aid kit that Stacie insisted on keeping above the kitchen sink.

They were silent for a few moments as Chloe pulled up the other bar stood, shifting Beca until they were facing each other. Those midnight blues refused to look her in the eyes, instead trained on the decadent swan crafted out of foil.

“Is that food?”

“Steak, yeah.” She flipped a bottle onto a cotton pad, the scent of alcohol strong and dominating. “But steak is for people who tell me if they’ve been hit by a truck or not.”

“You went to the fancy place on fifth, the one with those cloth napkins?”

Chloe nodded and pressed the soaked surface against the lesion above her eyebrow. Beca let out a hiss and tried to recoil but was held in place. Her eyes were clenched, and she sniffed. “Yeah, too fancy if you ask me. Now, what happened?”

Beca let out a grumbling sigh, Chloe wasn’t going to let it go, instead, she ran the alcohol over the edge of the gash. “Chloe, the radio station doesn’t pay me.”

She hummed, pulling back as she struggled to get the paper away from the adhesive side of the bandage. Beca watched her in awe. She would always have to open jars or tighten the bolts on Chloe’s bike that she used to get across campus.

“Well, I kind of ran into a guy the other month. Not really ran into one, he sits behind me in Bio Chem. He handed me a flyer for this club and they needed someone who could do music or something-“She let out a sigh, snatching the bandage out of Chloe’s and as she peeled back the paper. She watched her. “When I got there, it was a different type of club…”

“What kind?” Chloe’s eyes were dark, eyebrow raised.

“They arrange fights.”

What?

Chloe wasn’t gentle with the bandage, instead, she slapped it on the wound, making Beca clench her jaw shut and growl in something purely primal. “Ow! Shit!”

“You deserved that!” Chloe said, “You’re fighting for money?”

Of sorts. Beca reached forward and grasped Chloe’s hands. She was fidgeting, and Chloe never did well when she couldn’t sit still. It brought their eyes together. “Listen to me, I never do anything I can’t handle. I need this.” 

Chloe drew in a compromising breath and sat back in her seat. She was fiddling with the excessive amount of wax paper that she had peeled away from the bandage. Beca looked so hurt, so worn down. Her usually sparkling midnight eyes were dull compared to the bruising that clouded around her skin. She ran her tongue over the split in her lip, biting back a hiss of pain.

The older woman relented and shoved the elegantly constructed swan across the granite countertop. She couldn’t stomach the taste of that fancy steak, and she knew Beca was probably starving. She raised a questioning eyebrow, earning a nod before ruining the masterpiece that their server had expertly crafted.

Money wasn’t something that the Bella’s talked about often, though it was apparent. Most of the girls would pour themselves into classes because they had scholarships to uphold. Beca was known to construct mixes for commercials and random companies for extra money here and there but it was never enough. Chloe kept silent about her own situation, but the girls knew. Her family was never in the red and it stung Chloe to see Beca hurting herself like this over something that should be so trivial, but meant so much.

Beca didn’t bother heating the steak up, instead, she took a small bite of it and chewed silently, thinking. “How’s Cathy?”

Chloe let a small smile pull at her lips. No matter how many times her mother had suggested that Beca calls her by her first name, she never would. But in the confines of their own kitchen, she knew just want to say to push past Chloe’s pensive thinking.

“Cathy wants to know what I’m doing with the rest of my life?”

“Ah, the moral question of it all.” Beca took another bite, “You know the answer to that one?”

“As a matter of fact, I do.” She reached forward and stole a grilled pepper from the sack of fancy food. The bird had been long destroyed. “Tonight, I am going to run you a bath and tomorrow I’m going to teach you how to punch.”

Beca stifled a groan. She hated being fussed over, but a warm bath did sound nice. For some reason whenever Chloe ran them they were heavenly; Epson salt and the heir of lavender that was so subtle no one would notice.  “I know how to punch, Chloe.”  

“Right.” Chloe rubbed her hands against her dress, not caring if it creased or got crumbs on it. “Then your thumb wouldn’t look like that.”

Beca knit her brow and stared down at it. It hurt too much to bend, the knuckle wasn’t busted like the rest of her hand was. No blood, no bruise, just raw and red. “What?”

“You’re going to break it next time, Rocky.” Chloe explained, “Come on, get upstairs.”

Chapter Text

 The hay tasted like a sweet relief against her tongue. It frayed as her teeth crunched down on it, its edge hanging lazily from her lips like a dully lit cigar with a fine paper wrapping. She considered it a mortal sin in some way or another if she were to smoke in this church. To spark something in a hot flame. Beca Mitchell wanted the smoke to curl into her lungs and lick the back of her throat, but instead, she settled for this.

Her arm was stretched against the back of the pew, it’s cooling wood soaking through not only her button-down but her fur lined jacket. She decided to focus on the leather-bound bible in front of her instead. Its words were embossed in gold, pages brown and some dog-eared. They had been owned before, donated, maybe.

Beca moved her ankle up to her knee, trying her hardest to pay attention to the man that commanded the church with such vigor and passion. She could swear he made eye contact with her more than once. The type of gaze that lingered in eternal judgment. She simply lowered her stare and blocked her view with the wide-brimmed Stetson, the black material stood out upon the pastel reinks of proper dress attire.  

“Where do you stand with God?” The stout little man walked across the carpeted stage. It muffled his boots, and he shoved his hands in his pockets in attempt to look more relaxed. “In this very moment, sitting in this church, on this sweltering day, I bet your answer would be good.”

The woman bit her tongue in attempt to stifle the scoff that pushed past her throat. Good? Her standing with the lord was close to non-existent at this point in her life. The patrons around her shifted uncomfortably and she couldn’t’ help but wonder what most of them were compensating for.

There was a young mom in the front row, hugging her baby close, trying to keep him quiet. She clung onto every single word that the pastor had to offer. A man sat behind her and kept a glowering expression on his face. His hands were soaked in grease despite the nice flannel he had buttoned up. To the right of him sat the rest of his family; the little girl read through a book that had a neon pink casing, clearly not the bible. The boy was weaving a rope against his fingers and nudging his sister to stick her hand through the center. It was the worst game of cats cradle that Beca had ever seen.

“You are a good law-abiding citizen. You place coins in strangers’ cups when they hold them out to you. You hold the door open and give a kind smile whenever eye contact is met. But none of you here…. None of you have a clear connection with God.” 

Beca Mitchell swallowed and let her vision center on the Bible once more. She had a habit of turning out the rest of any sermon that was thrown her way. This man knew nothing about God, almost as little as she did. The difference between the two of them lay in the masks. Beca didn’t’ have one, but this man did. This oily faced man who welcomed all sinners under his roof. He was sweating because of the heat, resisting the urge to swat away at the gnats that flew close to his reddened ears.

The little chapel cleared out fast after he closed his statements with a prayer and a half-hearted action from the chorus. They sang as beautifully as any small-town would. Their best singer was sure to get a job at a pub when she was old enough to stop lacing her boots to the tune of the gospel.

Beca had held her place in the back pew until everyone left, again, refusing to make obvious eye contact with anyone that this little place had to offer. They had one stop light, and their accents were thick enough to layer on sweet cream. She had no use for small minded people who followed a man like this, blindly, at that.

“Andrew Strickland?” She asked, accent strong. She had lifted her head up enough to give him a good view of midnight eyes. He was shuffling nervously with the papers on his podium, no doubt marked out with the spots of his sermon that he had to hit. He was shaking.

Beca Mitchell walked down the long-carpeted aisle between two columns of pews. They were coated in enough dust to create another desert. His skin was like leather and the closer she got the more she could smell his primal sweat.

She stopped at the edge of the first row, lifting her hat from her shoulders as she shifted the piece of sweet hay from one side of her teeth to another. “I think you owe my boss some money, sir.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He swallowed thickly. “Now, not that I don’t believe in talking to my followers. I must be going.”

He hastily walked along the stage before trying to edge around the woman. He was taller than her and his fingers were trembling worse than she had ever seen before. His breath was sour like dairy left out on a hot day such as this. “I think you know, them. The Posen’s? A very forgivin’ family.”

Pastor Andrew Strickland sucked in a heavy breath before he shook his head and sidestepped her completely, walking down the main aisle. He dropped a few papers, let them fall loudly without an attempt to turn and pick them up.

Beca rolled her eyes and placed her hat back on her head, reaching for the small pearl revolver that was holstered between the hot skin of her back and her jeans. She fished into her pockets and pulled out a single bullet, shelving it within the weapon. That’s all it took for her, just one. She aimed easily.

Shooting this man would be no worse than putting a wounded animal out of its misery. Andrew certainly wasn’t foaming at the mouth, though, and she had a strict policy about shooting a man when his back was turned. Instead, she cleared her throat and took a step forward, pushing the barrel back into place loud enough for him to recognize the sound with his insulant ears. 

He turned with those eyes that almost stared through her.

“Most of the time, that is.” She took another step forward “Sometimes they get impatient when they’re not given the money that they are so clearly owed.”

“Like I said, I don’t know what you’re talking about. So if you would kindly-“

“What does the Bible say about ignorance, Pastor?” Beca Mitchell was running her finger over the edge of the gun now “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. Or somethin’ like that.”

Maybe she had retained some things from the serpent eyed man that stood in front of her. Or the dozen’s of others that she had taken from this world. She had mulled over the first one but realized easily that they were all human. None were more divine than the other. This was simply her job. Her burden to carry.

“Ephesians 4:18, I’m aware.” He said, “I don’t have your money.”

“Then I’m afraid I can’t let you leave, Pastor.”   

She raised the gun once more, feeling a familiar ache in her arm. He stared her down with the deep gaze that was supposed to make her reconsider, to feel some type of mercy against the man. But none of that happened. Beca Mitchell squeezed the trigger.

“Wait!” His voice cracked. He was no longer the composed man who deemed himself worthy by judging others so cruelly. He grasped at the collars of her jacket. “I can get the money. Please. Just give me until the end of the day.”

Beca was stone-faced, his hands left sweaty prints on her coat. He was desperate, a thick brine of sweat soaking into her white t-shirt. There were terra cotta prints on the edges, yellowed stains under her arms. She wanted to cringe away from the man, begging didn’t’ fit anyone especially not him.

“You have until sundown.” She shoved him off, careful not to set off the gun. “You try to run, and I will find you. I don’t hesitate to shoot twice, Pastor.”

“Thank you, oh praise the Lord, thank you.”

She took a step back, letting him gather his papers before rushing into the sweltering day that awaited him. Beca chewed evenly on the hay. Her job was never to show any type of mercy, but she had a few hours to kill in this little dust town- there was no reason for her to not allow the pastor his earnest right of begging a dried-up bank for the money that he owed. The Posen’s held control over this place, including the tellers behind the bulletproof glass.

Beca shelved her gun once more, breathing in the musty air that the church had to offer. She cocked a brow, reaching into the closest pew, the very one that she sat at before. There must have been some type of hierarchy of sin that went into stealing a bible. It was thievery, but in the prospect of knowledge, Beca deemed it level.

She drummed her fingers on the cover and sunk down into the near middle of the pew, seemingly craving the coolness that the wood had to offer. The Stetson was removed, and she worked her hand through sweat bridled locks. Was it the New, or Old Testament that held more presence?

Instead, she flipped to the first page. It was musty and the read was droning on, but she had the time to kill. It was better than stacking up in the local pub and drowning her sorrows in liquor before a sloppy hit. Of course, if Pastor Andrew Strickland got the money, then she could be merrily on her way. She read about the creation of the earth sectioned into days.

“Let there be light, and there was light.”

The voice was airy, like light, so aptly mentioned,  itself. Warm and tantalizing. She lowered her feet to the floor and turned slightly in the pew, taking the hay from her mouth. She hadn’t heard the door open and even felt the heat that the day had to offer. Instead, there was a woman; A woman that didn’t’ seem to mind the summer atmosphere, her perfect copper ringlets falling over a long sleeve shirt, buttoned all the way to her throat. It was blue. Blue like her eyes and rolled up to accommodate for something. She held a plate of cookies. Chocolate chip, by the scent of it.  

“Ah,” She lifted her chin “Never quite understood why he divided’ it into darkness after that.”

“Philosopher, then?” The girl shifted her weight and gave a sort of a half-smile that was earth-shattering in its own right. A small-town girl that was a big fish in a little pond. Even now, Beca Mitchell could see that. She didn’t’ need a name, even though she craved it. “Have you seen Pastor Strickland anywhere?”

“Oh, you just missed him. He said he needed to run some errands.” Beca explained as she closed the Bible and set it back in its little slot. She was honest with herself- if she had stolen it, it would sit at the edge of her bookshelf reminding her that her sin wasn’t one contracted, but one decided. “Anything I can help you with?”        

“I’m not sure. My mother, own’s the bakery in town, said she owed somethin’ to the man so figured cookies were a good thing to level the field.” She laughed, angelically, “Debt is a funny thing.”

The stranger plopped down on the pew next to her, wafting a scent of lavender mixed with sweat, but it wasn’t the same way the pastor smelled. Instead, it was sweeter, and she worked the heat like it was a warm lump of clay. It was either that or the cookies.

“Want one?” She asked, moving the cellophane wrap away from the mound of baked goods “I promise you, there ain’t no poison in these.”

Beca lifted her eyebrow and cautiously took a cookie: here was this stranger, this woman who didn’t’ question her presence in an empty church or the fact that the man she was looking for had seemingly vanished. She was holding a blind trust and Beca was amused by it, taken aback. The people she worked for would never conjure up a simple act of kindness like this.

“Thank you,” She said evenly.

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

She grasped a cookie herself and set the plate to the side of her, letting the chips melt further in the heat of the day. The heat of a closed area that only had light streaming from expertly crafted stained glass windows. They left crimson splotches on the carpet.

“Fraid’ not. I’m here on business with Strickland myself.”  

Beca tried the cookie, biting down on it easily. The taste that filled her mouth may have been attributed to the long dust-wracked journey that curbed her appetite, or the simple fact that this strangers mother had a fantastic choice in career. It made her stomach churn as an undeniable moan sneaked it’s way past her lips.

It made the beautiful stranger giggle, a sound that was unfamiliar and made a smile pass over Beca’s lips “Sorry, Ma’am, this is just about the damn best cookie I’ve ever had.”

“None of that Ma’am stuff. You can call me Chloe.”

“Beca,” She shifted, leaning her arm against the back of the pew. “it’s not short for nothin’, my parents just don’t’ know how to finish their thoughts.”

“You’re funny,” Chloe took a bite of the cookie in her hand, not having the same reaction that Beca did. She was probably more than used to the gooey taste of sweets. “I like that. What kind of business does someone like you have with a man like Strickland?”

She hesitated at that, breathing in the hot air. A small strand of hair fell into Chloe’s ocean eyes. There weren’t waves around for miles, but Beca could swear upon the bible that she almost stole, that she could smell the salty shore and hear the seagulls beacon to one another the longer she stared. The longer she swam.

“Not my business really. Your kin owes him, and he owes my employers.” She explained, taking another bite of the baked good, this time fighting back a groan. “I’m just here collecting what’s been promised.”

“Ah, an eye for an eye and heart for a heart.” She tapped her temple, “I think the bible says something about that too.”

Beca scoffed and rolled her head back off the edge of the pew, stretching the sore muscles that wracked her. They were taught. She got a good look at the stained glass above them: A baby in a manger that slowly turns into a man hung from a cross with bloodied nails. It was a story displayed for all to see- a guilt trip, as far as she was concerned.

Chloe set the rest of her cookie down on the plate and wiped her hands against the fabric of her expertly woven pants. She laid her head back too, squinting at the visions of reds and blues that trapped them in a terrarium of religion and its mortal stories. “You know the story of baby Jesus?”

“Haven’t read that far, I’m afraid. I’m glad I’ve got the picture version to go by. You very religious, Chloe?”

“Livin’ in a world like this?” She scoffed, her breath hot and noticeable on Beca’s cheek, it sent shivers down her spine and made her stiffen. “Who can be?”  

Chapter Text

“Can you help me find my wings?” Beca Mitchell wasn’t quite sure if she heard the girl right. She wasn’t’ quite sure if she heard anything over the incessant ringing in her ears. It felt like she was underwater like she couldn’t catch her breath and forgot how her lungs worked in the first place.

The pavement was cold under her back, and there was a dull ache against her ribs. It throbbed with her heartbeat, and she couldn’t’ do anything more than let out a broken moan “Dude, what?”

Beca was staring up at the sky. The sky that was so uncharacteristically blue that it almost burned. She blinked a couple of times and flexed her fingers. There was a woman, one that had quite the shoulder on her, squatting next to her. She hadn’t at all been affected by the collision in front of the radio station or the dozens of other people that ignored the two of them on the sidewalk. Fucking New Yorkers.

“My wings, I lost them somewhere.”

“Ugh, can you?”

“Oh, sure!”

Beca reached her hand up and was lifted back to a standing position. She could practically taste the dirt in her mouth as she ran her fingers over her blazer, trying to get somewhat clean. This is what she gets for leaving the office for lunch instead of stealing the ramen that her assistant hid at the back of the fridge to keep her paws off of it.

The woman in front of her looked like she had crawled out of a Lifetime movie and into the dingy part of the city. She would have owned a bookshop that had a rival with a larger chain, only to fall in love with the person trying to take it all away from her in the first place. Beca imagined that they would combine their businesses and go further as a team (Like one does when they’re slaves on a television network infatuated with Christmas).

“My wings, have you seen them?” She asked, blue orbs sparkling with hope.

Beca scratched the back of her neck, trying to dull the pain that pinched so easily. She glanced around at the people around her. Some of them shot dirty looks at the pair who still stood in front of Legacy Studios. Beca took a step to the side, getting swallowed by the shadow of the building, the cold was cloying.

“Was it like a broch or something?” Beca squinted her eyes, trying to look at the ground that they once stood on. If it was a pin, then it would have been regretfully trampled by now. “Jewelry?”

“No,” She scrunched up her nose, “My wings. You know, to fly with? They sent me down here and I don’t have them anymore.”

Beca narrowed her eyes at the stranger who had run straight into her and knocked her off her feet. She works in the music industry: drugs ran through veins like blood. She had dutifully denied some of the harder stuff, and if she hadn’t known better, this girl was strung out.

She didn’t’ look like she was, though. Her hair was clean, and her simple jeans and t-shirt were even cleaner. This stranger looked fully aware, yet frantic. Her eyes were darting against the sidewalk and moving up and down Beca’s body like she was assessing her.

“I… I mean, good luck with that dude. Sorry I ran into you.”  

Beca shook her head and moved back onto the central part of the sidewalk. She had a clenching stomach to accompany her along with her steadfast headache. Being knocked on her ass hadn’t been in her plans during her lunch excursion. All she wanted was a good turkey sandwich from the deli down the street before important people realized she had ducked out.

“Hey, wait!”

The stranger with the strawberry hair caught up with her fairly easily. She kept the same pace and studied the way Beca kept her stance before shoving her own hands in her pockets. She rolled her shoulders back “What’s your name?”

The music producer stalled for a moment “Beca. Beca Mitchell.”

The woman’s eyes darkened “I’m Chloe. Don’t have a last name. That might be in the same place as my wings.”

Chloe let out an intoxicating giggle that made Beca swallow back a smile. This woman was gorgeous like she had fallen from heaven and fixed the halo on her head before strolling into her. Beca furrowed her brow. She could understand not having a middle name, she almost didn’t’ have one herself before her father wrote “Theo” in the little blank at the hospital.

“I’m going to regret this,” Beca mumbled more to herself “What wings?”

“Oh, my angel wings,” Chloe said, almost as if it was nothing. “I think you can help me find them.”

Beca stalled for a second in front of the little Deli. She could almost smell the broth of the soup that they served, her eyes swooping against the patio that contained people soaking up the bout of warm weather in New York City. It was almost picturesque if she wasn’t entertaining the idea of speaking to this woman.

“The big guy sent me down here to help you, help me,” Chloe said.

“Right,” Beca laughed, reaching for the door. She felt the instant blast of cooling air. “I get it.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, of course.” Beca held the door open out of habit, breathing in the thick scent of sweets and freshly risen bread. “You’re insane.”

“I’m not insane.” Beca was instantly met with another line of people and she fought back a groan. Instead, she stood there patiently as Chloe glared at her. She was considering dodging this place completely and going back to the office. She would end up stealing Emily’s lunch anyway. “You’ve never noticed anything weird about your life?”

“Other than my crippling social anxiety, no.”

“Nothing like your father being secretive? Or your Step Mom sneaking off to weekly meetings?”

Beca scrunched her face up into a frown. She had only known this woman for a few short moments, and ever the beauty she is, Chloe was starting to pluck at the wrong strings. It made her lose her appetite, and even more, her pension for this conversation. It didn’t’ matter that her father had a locked bottom compartment in his filing cabinet. Or that her Stepmother was never home on Wednesday and Beca refused to question a miracle.

“What are you saying? She had a conference with God?”

“No,” Chloe drew out the word “I’m saying that you’re apart of something way bigger than yourself. Something that involves you helping me find my wings.”

Beca eyed her for a few more seconds, turning as she sized the woman in front of her up. Chloe was taller, but she was also less intimidating. Even with her arms crossed over her chest and something of a scowl on her face.

“Dope.” Beca deadpanned, getting out of line and walking towards the entrance, abandoning her prospect for a turkey sandwich. “You have a good day, Chloe.”

The younger woman shook her head and walked back into the sun. There was a warmth against her skin as she shook her head and clicked her tongue. Angels? Wings? She was the one who got knocked on her ass to a near concussion, yet Chloe spoke in complete riddles.

“I ran into you out of courtesy.”

“Fuck!” Beca shouted as she collided with Chloe once more. Chloe who had been behind her seconds ago. “Jesus dude.”

“Are you ready to listen to me now?” Chloe asked, almost exhausted as she stood there. Beca glanced behind her and then back at the woman. “Because I need your help, and I’m pretty sure you need me too.”  

Chapter Text

The woman’s house smelled of vanilla and tobacco, it was something that was so sweet, yet carried a toxic edge of smoke. It looked nothing like Chloe had first thought, not that she imagined the way her neighbor would live. It was a calm chaos. An organized mess.

Her grey sectional was littered in mismatched pillows and a cold pizza box was resting on the wooden coffee table. It looked like it was empty, but not yet taken out. There were a few blankets piled up along the extended edge of the sofa like she had curled up in that spot instead of in one of the bedrooms that stretched down a nearby hallway.

There was a grand piano where the dining room table should be, and the floor, the floor was coated in different half-finished compositions, two stacks of copy boxes were placed in the corner and Chloe could only imagine how many more were filed away. The piano looked loved, looked utilized. Two guitars were hung against the wall, different posters of old bands and records unusable were scattered among gold plated ones that looked authentic. Looked recent.

“It’s a bit of a mess,” The stranger leaned down and collected the mail on her front porch before placing it on the end table. “I don’t get out much, as you’ve noticed.”

“I wasn’t trying to be creepy or anything.” Chloe stated, turning around to face her after she had sized up enough of the living area “I just… I hear you play a lot when you keep your window open in the spring. It’s soothing. Nice. And I got worried when you just stopped.”

“I’ll pretend like that’s not half-way to stalkerish.” She said, albeit with a smile as she walked towards the kitchen to start that coffee that she had mentioned before.

Chloe followed like an obedient dog, stopping at one of the golden records that hung up above a stereo. It was for a song called This Time Around. It was written by someone named Jessica Pratt and produced by Beca Mitchell. She scanned to the next one, another album. Another produced by Beca Mitchell.

“Your name is Beca, then?”

“Do I need to call the cops?”

Chloe chuckled and walked the rest of the way to the kitchen. She stood on the other side of the granite topped island. Beca wondered around the kitchen and eventually pooled a heaping of water into a coffee maker. She flicked it on, and it whirred to life.

“You’re a music producer?”

“I think I need to learn your name before I go into my life’s work. That’s only fair.”

“Chloe Beale, teacher extraordinaire.” She curled her fingers into her other hand, messing with the silver ring on her thumb. It had two parts that she would twirl when she got nervous. But Beca didn’t necessarily make her nervous. “Teenagers are assholes.”

Beca smiled at the use of the word and nodded with exaggeration. Chloe had noticed the way her eyes were a deep blue, something that was so sapphire that it almost looked like the inky water of a lake in the summer heat. They were outlined in silver, and they wrinkled at the corners when she grinned.

“I was a bit of an asshole myself when I was young. Took black eyeliner with a bit of a heavy hand.” She snorted at the memory. “Eventually I stopped fighting against the man though, thanks to my music teacher, no less… Teachers are important.”

It was Chloe’s turn to smile. The beeping of the coffee maker cut through the air. It startled them both. Beca reached towards the two mismatched mugs and pulled them down. “Do you take sugar? Cream?”

“Both, if you have it.”

Beca hummed in response and added a generous helping of both until the darkened caffeine was a milky white. It was a sharp contrast to the plain coffee that rivaled hers. It was bitter and rough- but she swallowed the heated liquid just fine before sliding a cup with the logo for Wicked across the side. Chloe wondered if she had a hand in it.

“So why did you, then?”

Beca lifted both eyebrows, the mug raised halfway to her lips “Hmm?”

“Why’d you stop playing? A week ago. It sounded like you were enjoying yourself and then suddenly it all just halted.”

The younger of the two decided to give up on taking a hot gulp of coffee as she set the glass down on the granite and let out a thick sigh. Chloe suddenly realized how invasive a question like this could be. What if someone died? She would get a call in the middle of her score before slamming white fingers onto the keys in frustration.  

Beca didn’t look sad in this moment. It was more like nostalgia, something she felt so thickly when she would pass a Corvette on the Georgia streets. Her first car when she was learning how to drive, something she and her father picked out at a junkyard and tinkered with until it was useable.

The music producer looked saddened, and yearning.

“I’ve been locked into deadlines for so long. Commercials, movie soundtracks, albums.” Her voice was hushed, not entirely forced. “I’m happy that I got this far, that I have these accomplishments. But last week… last week it got to be too much. Like I was forcing everything. It was enough for you to notice.”

Chloe frowned for a moment. Was it? She was three glasses deep in wine when Beca had sat down at her grand piano and started churning out music. But some of the notes did sound sour, even to her fuzzy hearing. Like she wasn’t enjoying the way the keys felt under her touch. Not like she usually did. “Yeah, it was. So, you’ve shut yourself away?”

“Not entirely.” Beca pointed an accusatory finger in Chloe’s direction “I talk to the same pizza guy once every few days and I tip generously.”

Chloe snorted “Right, that’s not acceptable and you know it. You purposely took a break from writing, from producing, and you’re just laying around here catching dust?”

“Well, what do you suppose I should do?”

Chloe thought for a moment and Beca turned the rest of her mug upside down in the sink. There wasn’t much coffee left, but it washed down the drain in a swirling mess of color. Chloe had barely touched hers, thumbing the glass edge of the cup.

“Well for one, you should get out of your house. A change of scenery could spark something more, you know?” Chloe pursed her lips “There’s this fantastic Italian restaurant, Scatori’s, right at the edge of town. They have more than pizza.”

Beca straightened her stance. “Miss Chloe Beale, are you taking advantage of my wallowing by asking me out on a date?”

She didn’t’ answer, instead raising the cup to her lips and downing three long gulps of scalding coffee. It hadn’t originally been that, though she wouldn’t have the nerve, she used to go the little Italian café to get some work done on her novel like every English teacher did.

Beca shook her head with that same starry smile. “I’ll take that as a yes.”  

Chapter Text

Beca froze as her stare caught the camera situated at the center of the liquor store. It was almost as if the blindingly fluorescent lights weren’t enough for her appearance. They had to situate one of those large and comical cameras right under a white television that hung from the ceiling. Usually, it was accompanied by a cheesy picture of a yellow smiling face. It read comically: smile, you’re on camera.

She knew it was meant to deter the criminals that tried to shove liquor bottles under oversized shirts. Teenagers that thought they were invincible enough to get away with a fake ID and puffing out their chests. Even the occasional frat boys who had studied the doors that opened outwards- a quick getaway that ended in a case of cheap diet beer.

Either way, she hated the way the lights felt hot against her skin. Hated, even more, the fact that the camera caught every inch of her sunny disposition the second she walked into the establishment. She knew it looked bad, but she shoved her hands into her jacket pockets and nodded towards the cashier. He lifted his gaze from his paper and nodded in response.

She wondered against the far edge of the shop, feeling the bitter chill from the coolers lined with Mike’s Lemonade and different kegs of beer that were too heavy for a girl of her stature to carry. Past the elegant packages of wine that were well into the hundreds, and the less elegant flavors of vodka that couples splurged on for Holidays. She ended up at the end of the aisle, staring at the bourbon like she didn’t know what she was searching for.

Beca palmed the weighted bottle of golden liquid, her fingers moving against the dripping red seal. It was waxy and felt familiar in her hand. Still, she flipped it over and ran the pads of her touch over the packaging.

“Makers. That’s interesting.”

She froze once again, but this time, not in the edge of the camera. It was a woman, one with stony blue eyes and a deep stare. She was dressed in mostly black, a deep maroon coat hugging her fit figure. Even past the black t-shirt, she could see the hands of ink stretch against perfect skin. Her hair fell in ringlets over her shoulders, a fire-filled mane that Beca could imaging tangling her hands through. She blinked the invasive thoughts away.

“Oh, I’m not judging, trust me.” The stranger said. Beca wasn’t sure how long she had just been staring, but it was enough for the woman’s cheek to heat with an instant red. She leaned forward, close enough for Beca to feel her heat. The woman grasped a bottle that was a little bigger than her own. It was masked in a red label. Four Roses. “My taste isn’t much better.”

“It does the job,” she finally spoke, trying not to let her eyes linger on the ink that peaked out. She wanted to read every inch of it. A strange thing to instantly think of someone she didn’t’ know. She wondered if they hurt.

“That it does. What are you drinking to forget tonight? For me it’s the fact that people are straight assholes and have no idea what good customer service is, even when it hits them square in the jaw.”

Beca chuckled, shifting the bottle in her hand as she frowned at it. “Yeah, you know, I like your reasoning way better than mine. So, let’s just go with that.”

She didn’t want to get into it. Not with someone like Emily, who had done her best to make sure that she wasn’t as sad as usual. The depression thing coming in waves that were dulled by something that was 90 proof. Certainly not a captivating stranger, no matter how pretty.

The woman nodded with an enamored smile and ducked away.

Beca couldn’t help but watch her as she walked, the way her hips swayed, the way she kept a certain heir of confidence as opposed to how she shrunk away from the cameras that filmed her. She squinted past the row of bottles and watched this woman pay for her bottle of Four Roses while making polite small talk with the cashier who finally put down his copy of the New York Times.  

She accepted the black bag and sent Beca a wink before heading out the door into the chilled weather. It took a few moments for her to snap out of it. To ignore the lingering scent of spiced vanilla that complimented her choice in alcohol. Beca cleared her throat and walked towards the counter, trying to ignore the fact that she was still on camera.

The clipboard rested against her fingertips in its cool metal edge. She glared down at the order that was written clearly in black ink. It had taken years to get used to Emily’s handwriting, but she had been reading it for a long while now- and Beca Mitchell didn’t’ make mistakes. Not based on stupid little quantity arrangements.

“I was promised forty-three blue hydrangeas.” The woman reiterated, staring down at the boxes that were already loaded into the back of her SUV. She had turned three different shades of red in the past ten minutes, wicking her fingers through her hair enough to ruin that soccer mom cut she had going on. “And I won’t become victim to the utter incompetence of your employees.”

Beca raised a brow at that and let the paper fall evenly back into place. She had ordered the flowers, yes, but was here two days before the order was scheduled to be picked up. Her own supplier hadn’t delivered the rest.

“Miss Montgomery, you were scheduled to pick these up on the 29th. Now, I don’t mind you arriving earlier in the week, but you must understand the inconvenience that this puts us under. I gave you all the hydrangeas in the store.”

The florist kept a calm head about her. Mainly because she had broken an even sweat moving the cases of flowers they did have into this woman’s car. She had illegally parked in front of a fire hydrant behind a black pickup truck that was running on a meter. It was a busy city street- people were beginning to stare at the steadily raising voices.

“My daughter’s wedding is tomorrow, why in God’s name would I order flowers the day after the ceremony?”

Beca let out a tight sigh. She kept phone records, and even more, order copies. But part of her knew that she wouldn’t’ win this fight. It wasn’t a situation she could walk away from like her first job out of high school. This was her business, her reputation.

“The sheer and utter disregard is the reason this place will fail!” The woman shouted, and Beca winced.

She didn’t hear the door to the tattoo parlor open with its loud creaking, or the music that moved through the street that dulled back to silence when it swung shut. Even more, she didn’t notice careful blue eyes staring at the altercation, a bag of trash clutched firmly in one hand while the other rested on the stick of a grape lollipop that was tongued against her cheek.

“I apologize for the misunderstanding.” She willed on through clenched teeth. “Are there any other flowers that I can offer you today? Free of charge?”

“You’re damn right they’re free of charge.”

“Yes ma’am, why don’t you put in a new order with Emily. She’ll refund your card for the order.”

This seemed to please the beast that stood in front of her. She reached up and slammed the trunk of the car with a loud bang and rolled her shoulders back. If she pointed her nose up any more than it already was, it would be aimed at the sky. Beca let her own stance fall as she held open the door for the woman and let out a groan the second it closed. She felt an ache of remorse for locking Emily in with a bull in a china shop.

“Fuck,” She mumbled, leaning against the brick of the building as she worked her way over her hair. A few strands fell from her ponytail, and even with it up, she felt the sweat cling to the back of her neck. This woman would leave a bad review impossible to delete.

“Makers, right?”

Beca shot her eyes open. She knew that voice, and even more, she knew that scent. It was the girl from the liquor shop the night before. This time she wasn’t wearing a jacket- this time she had on a tight-fitting black shirt with a logo for the Crimson Door against the breast. There was a lingering smell of grape that had been pinned to the sucker between her lips.

“Four Roses… fancy meeting you here.” Beca tried not to stare at the interesting story of ink that was against the woman’s arms. She wanted to trace each design softly enough to draw out goosebumps. But that was insane, and she was staring again. “Sorry, you had to see that.”

“Oh no, you handled yourself very well, truly.” She said, shifting the candy to the other side of her mouth. “That woman needs some type of release.”

“Yeah? Like what?”

“A new haircut probably.” She shrugged her shoulders and a dark smirk suddenly took over her features. “An earth-shattering orgasm. Either one.”

Beca pondered that thought for a few moments. “Gross.”

She didn’t want to think about what Karen Montgomery did behind closed doors, but she liked talking to the girl with the tattoos. The one who stood way too close. Even with the heat of the sun, she forgot about the cold.

“You’re a tattoo artist then?” She decided to try.

“And you’re a florist.” The woman took a step back towards the alley, again leaving the conversation hanging in the air. “Seems like you’re the one that should be drinking Four Roses.”  

Chapter Text

Beca Mitchell was used to the smell of rain. She hated when people said that scents like that didn’t’ exist. There was a certain mist in the air, something that would cloud her lungs and remind her of a simpler time. It was a lighter smell than snow, but heavier than spring. So yes, she was used to it- and yes, she knew it clung to her clothes wherever she went.

The pizza shop was small and had the obnoxious lights that would buzz when they were flicked on. She ignored it as she shook her coat clear of any moisture, the thunder rumbling outside as rain collected in the gutters. She was well past smelling the electrical current that came with lightning. The music was drowned up by the sound.

All eyes were on her: forks stop scarping against plates (Seriously, who ate pizza with a fork anyway?) and people stopped chewing. One man in the corner was mid gulp of his generic brand Mountain Dew, yet, he still froze like a poorly drawn sketch. She didn’t acknowledge the heavy feeling in her chest. Instead, she walked towards the counter, shoes squelching.

The teenager behind the counter was wide eyes and greasy. His shirt was soaked through with either spilled water or an ungodly amount of sweat. He took an easy step away from the register when she approached and subtle whispers floated through the air. They were talking about her.

“Can I help you?”

He had politeness drilled into his brain. It didn’t matter about the rumors or the number of eyes that landed flat upon them. He was still in a name tag, and Beca was still a customer. “Yeah, I uh, I called in an order.”

She lived too far away for them to deliver, and rarely ever stepped foot past the town line anymore. The second she did she remembered why she had given up pizza altogether. Why she had steered clear of wandering eyes and impossible judgments. Right now, all Beca Mitchell wanted to do was crawl back into her home. They would have said no, anyway.

“Name?” His voice wavered. The break in speech meant he knew, but still, she repeated it and fished a twenty out of her soaked jacket. He set the only plastic bag there on the table and took a step and a half back.

“You can keep the change if you want.” She laid it on the counter. He didn’t’ reach for it. “Thank you.”

The service didn’t’ warrant an eleven-dollar tip. But she didn’t’ care, she wanted to leave the interaction just as much as he did. The bag crinkled as the lights buzzed and her shoes squeaked. She struggled to walk across the checkered floor with what little dignity she had left. She didn’t’ wait for the rain to slow it’s pace like she used to as a kid- her mom would laugh, and they would both get just as soaked as they would have if they made a run for it earlier.

The little bell above the glass door to Romero’s must have been a switch. The chatter quickly started again before she was even out of earshot before she had even stepped back into the howling wind and heavy mist. Her hair felt stringy and her skin felt hot.  

She had run into her with such force that Beca almost dropped the food that she had lost the appetite for in the first place. She was instinctual, her fingers clutching each side of the stranger’s arms to hold her upright in a tender way. Again, the room was silent and the paper bag shifted to her wrist.

“Oh my god, I am so sorry.”

Beca blinked a few times. Did this person just speak to her? She must have been disoriented from the prompt shoulder that had rammed into her chest, nearly knocking her off her feet. Must not have looked up from her muddy boots yet. Must have been out of her god damn mind.

No, she didn’t look like someone who had lost hold of her sanity. In fact, she looked like a stranger, a very beautiful stranger that was damp from the outside air. She had kind blue eyes and a dazzling smile directed at Beca. The two of them stood flush in the doorway and Beca didn’t exactly know how to calculate human contact- her brain was about to short circuit.

“What?” She whispered, voice hushed.

“I said I’m sorry… for running into you. Are you okay?”

“I- Yeah” She stood up straight, quickly retracting her hands and pressing her spine into the doorframe hard enough to draw blood. “Yes. Thank you.”

“Chloe!”

The two of them glanced towards the only bar that the little pizza place had. Aubrey Posen stood, looking even paler than usual. The local prosecution attorney was white-knuckling a pitcher of frothy beer. Three more women that Beca hadn’t seen since high school stood with mouths agape and pizza slices dripping with red grease.

She had hard and unripe eyes and an unwavering stiffness about her that scared Beca to the core. Chloe seemed to be unphased though, shooting her friend a slight smile and waving her off with as much kindness as she could.

“I’ve never seen you around before,” She said instead.

Beca cleared her throat and caught the off-putting glare of another patron. Chloe either didn’t’ notice, or she did and was overcome with curiosity. “I um, I don’t come to town often.”

“Oh, well. You should join us if you want?”

If she wanted to, she would. Or at least, she would try. But she’s pretty sure Aubrey Posen would murder her or turn her to stone with those demon eyes of hers. She’s also pretty sure Romero would kick her out in a split second. She had already overstayed her welcome, and she was letting in a draft.

“You know, I would love nothing more.” Beca finally said, swallowing back the taste of sarcasm in her mouth. “But your friends will crucify me. You have a good night, Chloe.”

“Wait,” her hand came up and grasped the collar of Beca’s jacket. It was subtle but ever noticeable to the whole room of patrons that were still chewing the same bite of food into mush. Slowly and on the edge of their seats. “What’s your name?”

Was this a trick question? Who had sent her?

“Beca,” She sounded out evenly. “Beca Mitchell, don’t google it.”    

Chapter Text

The busted pipe dripped in a rhythmic motion. It was rusted around the edge, creating a small discolored puddle against the wood. Beca had tried fixing it more than once, and it always sprung through its binds. She had grown used to the sound and the scent of metal. It came with the territory.

She stretched along the back of the couch, the fire crackling almost drowned out the water and the musty smell in the air, a book resting beneath her fingertips. She could taste the biting edge of the old pages, eyes scanning over ink that faded needlessly. She squinted at the words.

It was the Call of the Wild.

Beca had wandered into the thrift store and the old woman behind the counter either didn’t realize who she was or couldn’t tell through her thick bifocals. She probably didn’t’ read the news, anyway, turning her awful hoarding habit into a profitable business. Either way, Beca got a whole stack of books with darkened spines for only twenty dollars, and she was slowly making her way through them without cause.

When it was just her and her mother, they would go to the library, and she thinks that’s where she learned how to appreciate print. She had registered for a card and would sit in the back corner at one of the computers to fill out job applications. Beca would curl into a leather chair with cracked edges and the warmest air and the brightest sun. Her mom would let her take home one book, and then it changed to two, sometimes even three.  

Right now, it was cold. Everything about where she lived was. She had gotten used to the fact that there weren’t any windows here- and the air always smelled thickly of salt and sea life. The way no one else would hire her and now she would live out the rest of her days as a guard dog for a port with no ships in the night. She liked it this way- alone and desolate. The lull of crashing ocean waves pulled her into fitful sleep and seagulls would welcome her with a cup of coffee and a morning run on the black sand beaches before daybreak.

The walls seeped when it rained like this.

Beca reached over blindly and pulled a piece of cold pizza into her grasp. She had been living off of it for a couple of days now, and no way in hell was she heading back into town after the last reaction she got. It was easier to pop a slice in the microwave, even if the cheese had grown thick with sourness. She chewed slowly and leaned into the book before pulling her blanket further over her knees.

She almost didn’t’ hear the knock over the crash of the waves and the shattering of the thunder. Certainly, didn’t expect it, but her body stiffened, and she struggled to swallow the rest of the food that was against her lips. Was it a knock? There it is again, three more times yeah. Definitely a knock.  

The young woman peeled the blanket away from her suddenly sticky skin and walked across the creaky floorboards that reminded her of a short story where an old man had his heart nailed underneath the parlor. It was a tale of guilt and deceit and she remembered not being able to sleep for weeks afterward.

Beca could almost instantly taste the rain when she opened the door to the lighthouse. It soaked against her skin as the wind howled and the figure on her steps shifted, a raincoat around her bleedingly bright hair and contrasted eyes. Her lips were blue too, from the cold. A thin line of blood moved against her cheek and dripped like diluted mud. She recognized her from the pizza shop. A prying stranger.  

“Can I come in?” She called over the howling rain.

“What?”

“I said, can I come in? It’s freezing out here. I’m going to catch my death!”

Beca blinked wordlessly and stepped aside. The woman’s boots squished, and they were left in a muted silence when the door closed behind her. Chloe smelled like muck and metal, and a lot like that pipe that was busted in the corner but in the least offensive way possible. She hissed and shook out her cold hands.

“I’m sorry for barging in. My car, it broke down and well… it’s like that outside.” She gave a weak chuckle that was wracked in exhaustion. Beca just stared and Chloe forced an awkward smile. “You’re not very social, are you?”

“Forgive me, but the last time anyone knocked on my door I was dragged away in handcuffs.”

Chloe nodded like she understood, but she probably didn’t’. Beca didn’t’ know if she was trying to scare the woman away- but after the other night she was sure Aubrey Posen had warned the new girl in town to stay away from her. The rumors had bounced around, and the police reports were still easy enough to pull up online- she figured maybe, just maybe, if she was brazened enough then Chloe would fall in line with the rest- alienating and gone to the world.

“I googled you.”

“Which begs the question, why are you here?” Beca asked, scanning her up and down. She was doused in mud. “The police station is a block east. The storm shelter two blocks west.”

“And the grocery store North. I know, I know.” Chloe countered, sniffing back the cold. “You interest me. I’m intrigued.”

Beca leaned back on her heels and stared some more. She had done a bit of googling herself, of course, it was harder. She logged into an old Facebook account before clicking on Aubrey Posen’s smiling face, arm wrapped around her father that she still called Daddy even though they weren’t in the South anymore. From there- she found Chloe. Chloe Beale- reporter. It figures she couldn’t help putting her nose where it didn’t belong.

“You should sit by the fire, warm up before you really do catch your death. I’ll find you some dry clothes.”

Chloe didn’t’ seem to hesitate before walking close to the mantle and stretching her fingers out. Beca moved towards the iron steps, the second floor not much higher than the first. When she returned with a pair of grey sweat pants and an oversized t-shirt with a design of a palm tree on it, she found Chloe squinting at the pages of the book that was left on the coffee table.

“He was a killer, a thing that preyed, living on the things that lived, unaided, alone, by virtue of his own strength and prowess, surviving triumphantly in a hostile environment where only the strong survive.” Chloe read aloud, hearing the creak of the floorboards as Beca stopped on the last step.

“Is that supposed to be ironic?” Beca asked a wolfish and amused grin. Chloe was toying with her, setting the book back down as she took the clothes that were offered to her. She ran her fingers over the faded design on the t-shirt.

“No, not ironic. Not to you, anyway.”

Beca snorted before lifting her chin towards the hallway with the bathroom. She trusted Chloe to find it on her own. If she opened the door to the coat closet instead, she had a feeling the young journalist would snoop around- but somehow it didn’t’ bother her as much as it should. It would bother anyone, she reasoned with herself, but somehow this inept display of human interaction had her mind swimming and clouded.

Beca glared at the pages of the book when she flopped back down on the leather sofa and listened to the howling wind outside. She remembered reading this for high school- creating a diorama of the forest. It was mainly poorly sculpted clay and figurines that she found at a craft store. Minimal effort compared to the students that had their parents construct it for them.

Her mother and stepfather believed that if she really put her mind to it, she didn’t need their help. Of course, they taught her how to drive, how to file her taxes when she started her first job as a cashier at an ice cream shop. How to fix a flat and change a head gasket without going to a mechanic. Beca wondered if those parents who completed their kids’ projects did that, or if they would just pay to have it done in an air of panic.

Chloe looked scruffy and less put together in her clothes. She was hugging herself closer as she stood in the light of the fire. She had wiped away most of the mud and the gash at her hairline didn’t look so bad anymore, a simple blemish compared to the among of blood that dripped from it. Beca would beg the question that she looked like a lost puppy. Chloe would frown at her and flop down at the other end of the couch, shivering at the burst of heat.

“Does it get lonely? You know… up here all the time. No one to talk to.”

Beca frowned and glanced over at the woman. She wasn’t staring her way, instead, she was sadly gazing at the flames eating away at the log. “You know, most people just say thank you. Besides, I have a fish.”

She didn’t’ want to admit it, but she talked to the fish more than he listened. His blue fins would splay through the water and he would follow her finger if she dragged it against the glass. Going to the pet store was always a challenge, but she accepted it because it meant his well being was kept level. She let out a sigh and shifted against her edge of the couch, moving her arm against the back.

“Look, even if I wanted to leave this place for more than twenty minutes, you saw the way the town acted. I’m a pariah. It’s easier if I stay up here.”

“For who?”

“For everyone!” Beca huffed, deep blue orbs flashing towards her. “There is not one person in this town that believes that I’m innocent, alright? No one that I’m allowed to talk to anyway. To everyone here, I am a killer, and it’s better to let them think that.”

Beca remembered the jury, and the feeling of instant relief she got when they said she wasn’t innocent on all accounts. The heat of the courtroom was stifling but an instant cool washed over her bones. A metal fan was whirring in the corner and Aubrey Posen distinctly slammed her hand down on the table in front of her- but that didn’t’ stop the feeling of joy that was with her. The way her own lawyer pulled her in for an undeniable and well-deserved embrace.

“They proved you innocent.”

“Yeah, they did.”

She stared evenly at the flames, the way they ate away at the logs and hollowed them out until nothing, but undeniable heat remained. Beca had a panic attack the first time she had started it. But there was no heat up here and the winters were grueling. Snow would cap the rocks and shattered ice would collect at the base of the cliffs. Chloe very much could have caught her death.

“People want a villain.” Beca sounded out after a silence. “They want someone who is evil inside and out because that is way easier than believing in coincidence. Thinking that accidents do happen and there is no ulterior motive.”

“And you’re okay just… being that? Being the person that everyone hates?”

Beca pursed her lips and curled her fingers into the couch. At first, no, she wasn’t. She would feel that cold pain that crept into her chest and made her sob into a pillow in a nasty hotel room that smelled of urine and smoke. But now it was nearly peaceful. That is until Chloe showed up looking like a drowned rat. An irresponsible drowned rat.

“You can’t be.”

Beca swallowed thickly. “And so, what if I’m not? That shouldn’t be any of your concern. You don’t even know me.”

“I don’t think anyone does.” Chloe’s voice had gotten a bit louder, and she sounded like she was struggling to talk. Maybe it was her frozen vocal cords or the way she tucked her feet under herself as she turned to face Beca. “I read all the headlines, and I heard everything that Aubrey had to say. But none of that makes sense to me.”

“What’s not to get, Chloe? I’m just someone who wants to be left alone.”

“That’s not true.” She sniffed, cold, maybe “No one wants to be alone. Not forever.”  

Chapter Text

The scorching heat didn’t’ help. It never did. It clung to Chloe like a wet cloth, baking off the asphalt in nearly visible rays. She was drumming her thumbs against the steering wheel, letting the sweat collect in an even brine against her brow. She had turned the engine off an hour ago and still couldn’t bring herself to get out of her car.  

Chloe’s life had been ruined in one single race.

When she was in high school and had first gotten her license, she would shut the headlights for her car off. It plunged her into a cooling darkness. She would sit, listening to her engine purr and staring at the line of trees to make sure she was completely alone. The North Carolina nights damning and isolating.

Chloe revved her engine before pushing down hard on the gas. The wind would flood the cab and the scent of gas clouded her lungs. She would drive as fast as she could: The meter suddenly climbing from 60. Her fingers would tighten around the wheel. 75. The road would bend like a warped spine. 80.

For a while, it was the only high that mattered. The only way she could feel alive in her desolate town, with her overbearing parents and suffocating life responsibilities.  Just hit the gas. Keep riding until she would suddenly have to smash the brakes for an oncoming car that had no chance of seeing her in the first place.

That’s why she started racing when she moved out to the West Coast. They had full societies dedicated to lining up on empty tracks. Three lights and then hit the gas. It wasn’t the same as the woods, but it still pushed blood through her veins.

It’s how she lost her car- well, Aubrey’s car. Aubrey who had told her to take care of her place while she was on an important business trip in the city. Aubrey who had a nice Lexus and kept it pristine enough to be a makeshift Uber. Aubrey who would very much gut her like a fish the second she found out about the pink-slip race.

Someone knocked on the window of her beat up truck. Chloe jumped, anxiety pushing close to her throat as she let out a yelp of surprise and shifted her focus. A stranger, a young girl with a baseball cap on and a toothpick hanging out of her lips, gestured for her to roll down her window. Chloe did.  

“You’ve been sittin’ out here for a long while.” The girl said, pulling her baseball cap off. She had a lot of hair, the brown locks falling around a perfectly innocent face. Her forehead was coated in sweat, her shirt branded with an embroidered name. Emily. “Must be hot.”

“It is-I” Chloe quickly pulled her keys from the ignition and pushed out of the car. The girl took a wide step back and shifted the toothpick from one side of her mouth to the other. “This is… Beca Mitchell works here, doesn’t she?”

She slammed her door and stare the woman down. She wore something that was a mix between a smile and a grimace. Emily plucked the toothpick from her mouth and flicked it on the ground next to a few cigarette butts.

“She does, but it’s by appointment only. Your truck acting up on you? One of our other guys can take a look at it.”

“No, no it’s not that. It’s a personal matter.”

Emily looked like she wished she had kept the toothpick in her mouth. Like she was just as bothered by the heat as Chloe was. There was the sound of drilling coming from the open garages a few feet away. A few distant voices and the scent of motor oil. Chloe had half the mind to get back in her truck. To drive away and to figure out some other option for her predicament.

“Right, well. She’s in her office. Better than boiling like a lobster out here in your truck.”

Emily had a bit of charm to her that Chloe couldn’t’ quite figure out. She mocked a salute and walked back into the much cooler garage, she imagined, to find something else to chew on. Chloe still stood evenly by the side of her car for a few moments before she pulled her shoulders back and walked towards the front office of the little tire place.

She was instantly cooled off the moment the door opened, and a little bell sounded in response. There was a fan oscillating in the corner with a light buzz- a receptionist looking up from the little spot that she was perched at. Her dull green eyes flashing in annoyance for a split second before clearing up.

“Hi, do you have an appointment?”  

“No, I don’t.” She walked up to the counter, feeling the sweat on her forehead harden against the fans blast. She saw the girl grimace.

“We can set one up for you. Oil change? Tire replacement? How is Monday at eight?”

“I don’t need my car worked on,” Chloe cleared her throat and shifted on the balls of her feet. “I just need to talk to Beca- If that’s possible. It’s important. Really important.”

Chloe hadn’t realized how hard she was pressing against the counter, but her fingertips burned. She kept her eyes trained on the receptionist, the woman typing away a few things on her computer with a puzzled look on her face.

“I’m sorry, but you have to make an-“

“I don’t have time for an appointment!” Chloe said.

The girl with dull eyes leaned back evenly in her chair. It creaked up her weight as she rose a drawn-on eyebrow at Chloe. The answer would still be the same regardless of if she raised her voice or not. Chloe needed to make an appointment, and Beca would quickly dismiss it the second she saw the name on her schedule.

“There a problem, here, Tammy?”

Beca was leaning against the doorframe to what had to be her office. Triggered by the loud voices, or one voice, in particular, Chloe would never know. Her attention was sharp, her hair pulled into a loose ponytail, jumpsuit hanging tied and low around her waist. Her white shirt was stained and hugging her body close. Her stare didn’t soften at the sight of Chloe. In fact, it solidified. She dragged that midnight stare across her frame and Chloe swallowed back chills. The fan was directly on her. Tied string waving in the current.

“Not at all, Miss Mitchell. She was just leaving. Weren’t you?”

Chloe swallowed roughly and stared between the two women. Tammy, she could take. Her eyeliner was drawn on too thick and her lips were outlined in a shade that didn’t compliment her skin tone. Beca, on the other hand, was stretching the sleeves of her shirt, her arms crossed over her chest and a dark look shading her features.

“No. No, I wasn’t. Beca, I need to talk to you.”

“And I have no interest in speaking to you.”

“Please, it’s important.”

“That’s what everyone says, Red. Begging isn’t flattering.”

Beca turned to walk into her office, and Chloe followed close behind. The receptionist drew in a sharp and angry breath, close to reaching for the phone but she didn’t do anything. Instead, she watched as Beca slumped into her office chair and Chloe straddled the line of trespassing.

The mechanic struggled to ignore her. Picking up her ink pen and scribbling against the paperwork she was struggling to file. Chloe saw this as her chance, she figured Beca could multi-task just as well as she could.

“Last night Max got ahold of my car- well, not my car, but a car.” She started “I was so close, so fucking close, but my wheels stalled. They always stall. You know how he works, Beca. He won’t let me race for it again.”

There was a round of thick silence, but Beca’s pen stopped moving. She didn’t’ look up. “I didn’t’ think I would see the day when Chloe Mother Fucking Beale would turn up in my shop asking for help.”

“Is that a no?”

Beca stood and trained her full attention on Chloe, her fingers pressing into the top of the desk as she frowned at the girl. “You’re fucking stupid for racing against Max in a Pink Slip. You know that?”

“I know.”

“I’m out of the game, have been for years now. I don’t even think I could win against something like that anymore.”

“I know that too.” Chloe said daringly “But you’re my only hope.”

Chapter Text

Beca kicked the toe of her sneaker into the loose dirt lot. She could practically taste the earth as it mixed with freshly popped corn and dripping batter topped with powdered sugar. The scent coated her lungs and as her stomach clenched in hunger, she thought, maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

The lights were mesmerizing: twinkling against reflective signs advertising simple ring toss games that would win cheap stuffed animals. She wouldn’t admit that she wanted the purple tiger. There were greasy carnies that leaned heavily against bar stools that had the leather casing stripped off. They shouted things at people walking by- step right up, if you have what it takes! Think you can win the big prize? Why don’t you test your luck! Hey shorty, want to test yer’ strength?

Beca had glared at the last guy and he shut right up.

Jesse stuck the tip of his tongue out in concentration as he cocked his head and closed one eye completely. He tossed another ping pong ball and it bounced right off the water filled milk jugs with a clank. Beca cringed and Emily let out a heavy sigh.

“Too bad, Kid.” The Carney sneered, palming the little white ball. “That was your last shot.”

He frowned at the swimming fish that tapped against the jars and dug in his jeans pockets for another five dollars. Beca wanted to stop him, maybe tell him that these things were rigged and if Emily really wanted a fish this bad, she could go to the superstore in the center of town and get a 25-cent goldfish.

“Give me three more balls.”

“I’m not even sure if you have two.”

“What did you say?”

Beca grasped at his flannel and kept him from hopping over the counter as Emily let out a small grunt in response, pushing the boy away from the small little booth and the grinning high school dropout. “Alright, buddy, think you’ve had enough of that game.” Emily said, “Not that important.”

“Yeah, dude, I don’t think Em can take care of a fish anyway. You remember her cactus?”  

Emily took a moment to look offended. “Excuse me, I took very good care of Oscar.”

Jesse snorted and let the tension fall away from his body. They had pushed him far enough away from the stupid little game that he seemed to move onto something else, like the intoxicating scent of carnival food and the set of parents by the picnic table that struggled to wipe the dripping chocolate from their children’s chin. It was too late to have them out like this, but Beca couldn’t help and warm at the twinkle in their eyes.

“Yeah, until you overwatered it.”

he looked thirsty.”

Beca tuned the rest of the argument between her friends out and shoved her hands into her pockets. Her fingers were cold and felt almost numb. She could never warm them. The colors of the Ferris Wheel reflected across the food cars and the metal casing on the boat ride. It went up and down and the metal screeched, probably cold itself.

She squinted against the edge of tents, through the screaming kids and exhausted parents. There was a tent, something small compared to the others. Something darker. It was a deep violet instead of the standard pinstriped red and white. Its flaps were closed, zipped even, and a neon light up sign of a crystal ball was buzzing like incessant mosquitos hovering against stagnant water. Find your one true love. It read in a lurid green.  

“Oh no, we’ve lost her.”

“I’m just happy we got this far.”

Beca blinked a few times and glared at her friends. They were both stocky and awkward. Jesse’s features were shaded in a deep blue and red each time a new light cycle moved across the Ferris Wheel, and Emily still peered over at the little goldfish that swan in glass jars, turning her attention to Beca.

“No- I just… That place looks interesting.” She lifted her chin towards the little purple tent.

“The one thing that doesn’t have a line?” Jesse said.

“No, no, I like that about it. I think we should check it out. You go get us funnel cake.”

Jesse sputtered out something for a few seconds before his own hunger got the best of him. The scent of freshly fried dough had won his inner battle and he saluted at Emily before trudging off to stand at the end of a long line. Beca bit her tongue and decided against asking for a diet lemonade. Emily pulled her close and Beca let out a small grunt. “Let’s go get our palms read, shall we?”  

Beca was beginning to regret even making the suggestion as they wandered closer to the violet tent. And Jesse did make a point, it was the only place in this whole entire carnival that didn’t’ have a line, or even a single soul waiting to see what was behind the sheet of fabric. She dragged her feet in the dirt and stilled herself as they stood in front of the opening.

“You first, dude.”

“No way,” Emily whispered back harshly “This was your idea. Not like they’re going to tell you that you’re going to die or anything.”

“I didn’t think they were going to until just now.” Beca bit back, but she stepped inside of the dark tent regardless. She was overtaken immediately by the scent of roses, a dark coolness combating the mid-summer heat. It wasn’t like the other tents. There were only two lights, one hanging from the very center as it swung back and forth, the other situated against the fabric of a table. Beca was expecting to see a crystal ball or something. Not just a fold out surface with a patterned cloth over it. The place was empty.

“Oh, they’re not home.” Beca mumbled, “It’s not meant to be.”  

She felt Emily dig her elbow into her ribs and it kept her from taking a step backward. She breathed in another heaping of flowery air before letting her shoulders drop as she glanced towards the table. “Hello?”

A few beats of silence. “Okay, maybe you’re right. This place seems empty. No wonder there wasn’t a line-“

“People tend not to appreciate my services.”

Beca let out a gasp, while Emily stifled her own screech of fear by pushing her fingers against her lips and stumbling into the center of the room that the tent harvested. Beca instinctively shot her hand out in front of Emily, stiffening her own stance as she took in the stranger.

Her eyes were limey green, illuminated in the lantern that sat on the table, her hair such a jet black that it nearly blended in with the surroundings. She was dressed casually, as casually as a circus-like this would allow. The woman reminded Beca of a cat, her stare close to half moons as she forced a toothy smile. Her canines were pointed, and it gave Beca chills.

“I’m Scarlet, I’m a seer.”

“Oh,” Emily cautiously let her shoulders relax “I’m Emily, and this is Beca. But I’m sure you already knew that.”

Scarlet chuckled and the sound made her seem less intimidating. It released the tension in the air “That’s not quite how it works. It’s nice to meet the both of you. Please, sit.”

Beca gave Emily an apprehensive look before the three of them settled around the small rounded table. That floral scent was ever encompassing now, but it was soothing. She was sitting up straight in the uncomfortable chairs, none of them matching the surface in front of them. She sat in one that had peeling yellow paint, letting her hands rest in front of her.

“You’re not very open to this, are you, Beca?”

She wondered if it was her stance, or maybe the way her eyes were darkened the second they made contact with scarlets. Either way, her skin buzzed with the heat of the carnival and she was pretty sure she could smell her own sweat. The question rubbed her the wrong way.

“No, I just don’t know what any of this is.” She adjusted her stance, lessening the harshness of her voice when Emily snapped her eyes towards her. “Sorry, I just- this is kind of insane.”

Scarlet chuckled softly, reaching her hand forward and curling her fingers a few times as if begging for Beca’s own touch. It was what she did, and the older girl relented as she finally trusted her enough to grasp it.  It was cold compared to the sticky air.

“I’m not going to tell you you’re going to die or anything, it doesn’t work like that. I won’t tell you anything you’re not ready to hear.”

Emily nudged her shoulder. “That’s reassuring, right Bec’s?”

She wouldn’t quite use reassuring as the word. Comforting, maybe, but not enough to quell the uneasy feeling in her stomach. Still, she saw the way the pretty young woman flexed her fingers, waiting for Beca to grasp it. She breathed in the incense and finally did.

The woman tensed up in a way that made Beca’s stomach drop even more than it had in the first place. Scarlet’s touch reminded her of the way her doctor used to wrap that rubber band around her upper arm and tap a vein. It would pinch against her skin and the painted black nails of the seer did the exact same.

“Oh.”

“Oh?”

Beca cast a paled look at Emily who simply shrugged and gave her a sheepish smile. Maybe this was apart of the theatrics. The reason people tended not to visit a psychic in the middle of a fun fair. Her grasp tightened a little more before she scooted closer to the table, her face contorted into a frown.

“What? What is it?” Emily burst at the seams.

“There’s someone in your future. Someone dark and powerful.”

“Like… a businesswoman?” Beca asked carefully.

“Like a queen.”

She couldn’t’ help the scoff that moved past her lips. This was the 80’s. As far as she was concerned, the closest queen was hundreds of miles and an ocean away. Certainly, nowhere near her future. This was a load of chalked up stories, notecards that Scarlet probably kept taped under the table, hidden by a sequin table cloth.

“Beca, listen to me.” Her eyes were suddenly open, emerald and sparkling. She had pulled the girl closer and the wicked smile on her face was wiped away. She could smell the pungent odor of her breath, feel it on her cool cheek. “This is no joke. When you meet this woman- you mustn’t let her take control of your soul. Not the one part of light that you have left. No matter how captivating, how innocent she may appear- do not let her in. It could destroy us all!”

“Oookay,” She drew out the word after a long round of silence. She took her hands back in the gentlest way possible, as not to offend the woman. “Thank you for thatWhatever that was. But we should be going. I’m sure our friend is worried about us”  

Beca didn’t wait for Emily to get her reading, because the open tent was suddenly feeling very claustrophobic. Instead, she let the chair scrape against the loose dirt, scrambling for the flap in place of the door. Emily digging through her bag for some type of compensation before she burst into the open space of the fair.

It was dark.

The Ferris Wheel had stopped turning, it’s lights shut off completely, looming structure shaking as the wind howled, cold and unforgiving. The stands had shut off their own lights, the scent of greasy food still there, but barely. Litter floated around in the breeze and the music had given way to crickets and bullfrogs singing their symphony.

“Beca, I am so sorr-“Emily ran straight into her, the air knocking from her lungs as she cut off her own speech. “What the hell? I swear we weren’t I there for more than a few minutes.”

She glanced around, the moonlight stark and jarring compared to how lively it was once was a few moments ago. She stiffened herself. “We should get back to the car. Let Jesse know that we made it home.”

Emily swallowed dryly but quickly agreed as she shoved her hands in her pockets. Beca was careful not to step in any trash, forgotten paper plates, and Styrofoam cups. It gave her some type of odd comfort- knowing that there was, in fact, some life here before. Emily walked closer than before but Beca didn’t’ mind. Not when the world felt like this: Empty and desolate.

“What she said back there… I’m sorry. I thought it would be fun.”  

“About an evil queen popping up in my life? Please, Em, that was fun. You don’t really believe that stuff, do you?”

“Well, you’ve got to admit, the world is too black and white to not have a little gray around the edges.”

Beca scoffed for what seemed to be the second time tonight, maybe even the third. Emily had that childlike wonder in her eyes, even as they walked to the dirt packed parking lot. Her crimson red firebird was the only thing in the stretch of land. They both drew in simultaneous breaths.

“What are you two doing out here?”

Emily stiffened and Beca tightened her grasp around her keys, not turning around, not yet. That voice was a dark and low purr. Something that made her blood flicker with ice and it wasn’t just the roaching cold. Soft but something completely in control.

She was short compared to Emily, but everyone was. Her shoulders drawn back and a crew shirt hugging her into the darkness. The girl’s eyes were a crisp blue like freshly frozen over ice. Waves that broke apart the sheets and created an electric current. She had a smile that was close to demon-like, even in the hissing light of the above lamp post. Beca didn’t’ even realize it was buzzing until now. Like the second stage of a plague. She had a toothpick shoved between her lips.

“Sorry, we uh- we were caught up in that psychic tent over there.” Beca made a general motion towards where they had just come from. “We didn’t’ realize how late it was. We’re leaving now, though.”

“Yeah? Madame Scarlet right?” The strangers’ voice became somewhat comical as she waved her hands in the air and scrunched her face up. “First time I met her she said I would get a dog, well- find one on the railroad tracks.”

“Did you ever?” Emily asked, piping up. “Find a dog, I mean.”

“No, I’m afraid not. Shockingly enough, I don’t wander around tracks in towns I don’t know.” She smiled broadly at that, working her hand through locks of fire-filled curls. It looked almost effortless. The girl moved the toothpick from her mouth. “Anyway, you two be safe. Don’t cheat on Scarlet with any other psychic’s alright?”

“No promises,” Beca found herself saying, running her thumb against the edge of her key, but loosening her grip. The girl raked her electric blues up and down her body, taking in the chills that wracked her body, but she could easily blame that on the cold. “have a good night.”

“You too.” She placed the toothpick back between her lips, narrowing her eyes before turning on her heels and walking back towards the direction she came. Beca watched her every move before she cleared her throat and turned towards her car.

“What the hell was that?”

Chapter Text

The heat coiled around every inch of Beca Mitchell, who was at this point, regretting her choice of attire. The jeans were excusable, but the black t-shirt was like a beacon for the sun. It made any exposed skin sweat and her mouth dry as she squinted at the stage.

It had been constructed well, to a certain degree. The wood could hold the weight of all the campers that dared step foot upon it, even though it groaned in protest. A white banner was sloppily painted on the words Talent Show slathered in forest green. Little handprints were pressed around the words in primary colors and Beca found it endearing for the most part- if not for the heat.

She had sat through a couple of singing acts. A girl with a pet tea-cup pig that she had trained to jump through a low-hanging hoop. And a very painful magic act that had everyone shielding their eyes before her little sister took the stage. Beca instantly bubbled with pride as the first few notes of the song they had spent hours practicing silenced the audience.

Thea Mitchell was a natural.

Everyone stood and applauded, and she beamed while tucking her hands behind her back and rocking on the balls of her feet. Beca had placed two fingers in her mouth and let out a loud whistle for her younger sister- the girl so hellbent on blowing everyone out of the water for her day camps talent show. It paid off, just seeing the pure glint in her eyes.

The MC strolled back on stage, ushering her sister towards the edge of the stage while the crowd of parents with video cameras heckled her for an encore that Beca was sure would be the same exact some. (It was the only one she taught her, but after today, that was sure to change.)

“let me see your face?” Beca had dropped to one knee on the grassy area the second she was allowed. Thea had pushed the guitar around to her back- it was almost as big as she was, being tiny for six, just like Beca had been when she attended day camp here. The world was swarming around her, parents producing flowers and the magician searching around his velvet hat for a bunny that Beca prayed had escaped. “Come on, let me see it.”

Beca cupped her little sisters face gently and tilted it to one side, making a huge show of squinting at her sun-reddened cheeks before moving to the other side. “hmm,”

“Get off, what are you doing?” Thea used her hands to shove Beca off with annoyance. She folded her hands over her chest and pouted her lips. Beca lifted her own hands in surrender as she leaned back on one ankle.

“Oh, just checking for the lipstick marks of all your adoring fans, T.” Beca stated, giving off a childish grin. “No seriously, you were great! Better than great. I think you took Peter and his magic act to school.”

Thea giggled as Beca rose to her feet and ruffled the kid’s hair to push her even further. That was one of Beca’s earliest memories, her father always scuffing up her perfect curls until she found it less annoying and more endearing. Thea still found it irritating apparent by the huff of air and work through she gave her locks.

“To be fair, anything was better than Peter rustling up that rabbit.”

Beca glanced behind her. A woman: a woman that wasn’t carrying a paisley print bag and an extra bucket of sunscreen for her kid. Not someone with braces and a logoed shirt either- this was an honest to God woman and a hot one at that.  

Her hair was like fire, burning so bright it could shift to blue. It cascaded along her shoulders and popped against the dark yellow t-shirt that hugged her frame. A logo that looked like it was painted by the same hands as the banner sprawled close to her chest. She beamed, maybe even brighter than the sun.

“Hi, I’m Chloe.” She held out her hand. “I’m the music director here.”

Beca straightened her stance completely. This was the Chloe that Thea wouldn’t stop talking about ever. She would hum along and dish out mashed potatoes and cut up her sisters’ chicken while she went on and on about how good Chloe was at singing. How she wanted to impress Chloe with what she learned- how she undoubtedly had.

She thought Chloe would be some upper-aged woman with four cats and a kind voice. The latter was correct, but the rest was- the rest was obscure to who she was staring at now.

“Beca Mitchell” She managed. She took Chloe’s hand in hers and tried to silence her brain, the only thought that echoed was about how soft her touch was. “So, you’re the camp counselor my little sister keeps talking about.”

“Then that must make you the hot shot producer Thea talks up.” Chloe shot back effortlessly as he retreated her touch and shoved her hands into her pockets. “You’ve got yourself an excellent wing woman there, Beca.”

She rose both eyebrows and felt the subtle tug of her pant leg. Thea looked up at her with deep midnight eyes and a sly smile on her face. That little devil knew exactly what she was doing- but Beca couldn’t help but be mad when the guitar on her back was nearly weighing her down with effort.

“Can I go say goodbye to Abby and Heather?” She said, voice cheerful.

Beca barely got a chance to nod before her sister was off, suddenly less slowed by the instrument as she called out behind her, telling her to stay in sight range. She got a half-hearted response before watching as she dashed off completely to be with another counselor and her two friends. Her chest swelled once more at how easy it was for Thea to actually acquire acquaintances. Not like her at that age. She barely registered Chloe saying something.

“Huh?” She finally blinked. Okay, maybe not at this age either.

Chloe laughed, an angelic sound. “I was saying that you’re really good with her.”

“Thanks,” she found her voice once more. “She’s a good kind, considering.”

There wasn’t much to consider at this point: Beca moving back to Georgia short notice after a call from child protective services. Her father in some ten-step program that she didn’t put much faith into- and her mother unreachable. Thea had been through enough.  The least she could do was give her a normal childhood.

“I wasn’t lying when she said she talked you up.” Chloe started, lifting her chin towards the tables lined with cheap plastic sheets. They blew in the wind, held down by stacks of napkins and little foil wrapped weights with confetti. Artificial orange juice sat in plastic cups and sleeves of cookies waited to be digested. “She thinks very highly of you.”

“Of me? Please, I’m pretty sure you’re the main topic of dinner conversation every night. The kid doesn’t shut up.”

“Juice?”

“Sure, thanks.”

She remembered the taste, the artificial orange that took her back to camps like this. But it went down smoothly, no matter how much she wished it was spiked with something. Getting one look at the volunteers face she knew that she was pining for the same thing.

“I heard you have a very nice singing voice, Chloe.”

“mm, it’s nothing to cry home about.” She swallowed a gulp of the neon drink. “I think anything will sound good to a group of six-year-olds.”

Beca scoffed and ran her thumb down the cooled grooved edge of the plastic cup. She didn’t think she could stomach the sugary drink much longer, not in this heat. “I highly doubt that, Chloe. I’m pretty sure a music teacher needs to have some decent vocals.”

“Huh, supposed you’re not wrong.” There was a beat of silence before she narrowed her eyes “Pretty bold of you to teach a kid another one bites the dust. It’s a good karaoke song, though.”

“Damn straight,” Beca puffed out her chest. You couldn’t’ go wrong with Queen. Not now, or ever, though she made it a point not to teach Thea the lyrics. “Is that your go to?”

Chloe nodded with a broadened smile and Beca could imagine her wrapping the mic cord around her fist and happily belting out the words while people cheered, and fairy lights twinkled behind her. She would bet a pretty penny that Chloe didn’t’ even need the teleprompter. “The best karaoke song, hands down.”

Beca again lifted her eyebrows at the woman. “Here hold this.”  

“What are you doing?” Chloe asked, taking the plastic cup filled with juice.

“Walking away from someone who doesn’t know the best song is Ring of Fire.”

The camp counselor stepped in front of her, and Beca smiled at the quick movement, not calculated, but still careful not to spill anything. “Want to test that theory then?”

“What? Right here? Because I would hate to knock Peter down a few pegs with the judges. He’s only a kid, you know?”

“No,” She laughed playfully “Tomorrow night. If you’re up for the challenge.”

Beca stared at the woman, so effortlessly gorgeous against the heat of the summer day. A woman she had heard so much about, but never had the pleasure to meet. A girl she absolutely wanted to school in the art of Karaoke. “Well, how could I say no?”

Chapter Text

Beca had shut off the engine and it bathed them in nothing but stark silence. An instant cold crept through the windows and into the cab of the car. Still, she didn’t reach for the silver keys with a little metal chain in the shape of a palm tree on it. Her fingers were wrapped around the wheel, thumb tracing over the leather grooves.

“This is an awful idea.” Emily broke the silence, breath forming in short puff of condensation.

“It’s not.”

“Then why haven’t you moved?”

The older woman pursed her lips and adjusted her hold on the wheel. Usually, there was a process for this type of thing. They would sit idly by until a call would come through on a phone they would just have to destroy later. Something Beca had picked up at a gas station with nothing more than a few bucks of recycled cash. This was a different type of connection, though. This had been through a private site and private contractors.

“They haven’t called in months, Emily. How else are we supposed to pay rent?”

“I don’t know, get a real job?”

She snorted at that, finally moving her hands from the wheel long enough to feel the heat of her palm against her jeans. She had tried normal jobs before- flipping burgers and sorting through racks of clothes until her fingers lost feeling. Even delivering food to rooms in a nursing home, but normal had never been her thing. Even now she would risk walking into this suburban nightmare instead of putting on a monochrome shirt to mop dirty floors.

Emily made a face at her own suggestion and let out a breath thick enough to cut through the ice that was collecting at the base of the windows at this point. Beca had never pried as to why her partner had given up her high paying position at a recording agency for a life like this. Maybe it was the adrenaline or the family calling that came with the last name. But that was barbaric now. It was a profession you chose now, completely optional if not secretive.

“We can’t sit in the car forever-“

“I know.”  

She didn’t wait to hear, or even see, the look of annoyance that Emily carried before she pushed the creaking door of the El Dorado. It was black like the night and stood out among the brightly colored cars that lined the street. A silver convertible for the man next door, and rose bushes waiting for spring. A yellow hummer for the woman that didn’t’ know what to do with money- her lawn just as pristine, even as snow coated every inch. Beca noticed the statues of the angles.

She slid her jacket on and grasped the leather book that rested against the edge of the door before she closed it. Emily flattened the collar of her own jacket, tucking her book under her arm with the slam of the passenger side door. They both sported ties and white button downs- looking the part, as Emily would so kindly put it. Beca wouldn’t even open the door for herself.

“This is all a little domestic, right?” She spoke when Beca joined her at the end of the walkway. They both stared up at the yellow house that stood out against the white of the snow. The shutters were painted forest green and a makeshift light pole was fashioned in the middle of the yard. It was a lawn ornament, never lit but always resting. “People tend to notice a missing housewife.”

“She’s not a housewife.” Beca pointed out. “She’s not even human. It’s just like any job we’ve ever done before.”

Emily swallowed but nodded nonetheless before taking the first steps towards the green door. And Beca half-expected the mail slot to open and ask for a password. Neither of them would know it. But she tightened her grasp on the leather book regardless.

Beca was the first to knock, her hand cold against the surface as she took a generous step back. Emily adjusted the white collar of her shirt like any of this mattered. It made Beca flush and glance down at the black tie that was up to her neck.

The door opened with a long creak and they were welcomed with the warm smell of fried apples. It reminded Beca of Cracker Barrel, or at the very least, the little shop with the overpriced cards that everyone walked through while faux southern comfort coursed through their veins. The woman who opened the door was an exact copy of a step ford wife.

Her strawberry locks were shaped with hairspray, crystal eyes popping against the snow. She wore a dress despite the cold, an apron tied around her waist. Her features were sharp and dark all at once and Beca lost her nerve to talk for nothing short of a second.

“Hi,” Emily took over, her own smile broad. “Do you have a moment to talk about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?”

The woman adjusted her hold against the door and shifted it against herself. Beca got a better look at the house. It was quaint, filled with pastel colors and potted plants that somehow caught every ray of light that the January day had to offer. There was a throw against the back of the leather couch and stairs leading up to more of the picturesque middle-class home. The scent of cinnamon tickled at the back of her throat and almost made her eyes water.

“Oh?” She pulled back and the door creaked with it. The woman eyed Beca with a certain intent. It was laden with lust and the young hunter reached up to her neck, fiddling with the knot at the top of her tie. “well… I don’t see why not. It is a bit cold out there. You two are liable to catch your death.”

Emily let out a little chuckle as the woman stepped aside, and suddenly Beca wasn’t so confident, and that was a rarity. She had slain a cockatrice in the alleys of Baltimore single-handedly- and that was something that could kill her with a single stare. But she was sure a legendary demon like Aggath wouldn’t’ go down without a fight- but Aggath also happened to live in the suburbs.

Her partner nudged her shoulder and was the first to take her steps into the house. Beca crossed the threshold and gained some confidence back- it was just like a normal living area. There was no alter dedicated to a lower power or blood dripping down the walls- in fact, there were a few family photos. This woman looked like the youngest of three sisters.

Was this something she always was? Or something she traded to become?

Either way, she was suddenly sitting on an uncomfortable leather sofa with a plate of steaming chocolate chip cookies placed in front of her. It made the pit in her stomach grow fonder. She ignored that too and politely declined the tea that was offered in its place.

“So, what church do you two work for?” She had settled herself on a patterned chair across from them. The pillows on the couch matched the deep scarlet.

“The church of… Christ?” Emily said.

“Ah, you don’t seem so sure of yourself. You can take off your jackets if you want. Make yourselves at home. It doesn’t look like the snow is slowing down anytime soon.”

Beca shifted in her seat. Large flakes had started to fall from the sky. It was cold enough for it to stick to the already coated grass. It collected at the corners of the windows and made her younger companion draw in a sharp breath. There wasn’t a chance of snow today. Cold, but clear skies.

“No thank you, we’re fine.” Beca struggled to voice. “You know, I think I will take you up on that offer for tea if it’s not too much trouble?”

Indigo eyes scanned her once more and this time Beca felt her stomach twist and heat up. They looked like they were rimmed in gold. A deep color that was usually reserved for the rich. “Of course.”

As soon as the woman was out of earshot Emily grasped hungrily at the corner of her jacket and pulled her close enough to feel the heat of her breath. “We have to get out of here. Now. I’m not comfortable with murdering her. She’s got a family. Whoever called you must have been wrong.”

“It’s all fabricated. It has to be, Em. Remember- she’s a demon? We kill them for a living and-“ She stopped, grasping the nearest photo. The woman with the icy eyes stood with a man. His arms were around her and she looked a bit younger than she did now. They were in front of a waterfall. “I’m not about to get swayed by a few portraits.”

“Niagara Falls, 2014.”

Both women snapped their heads up. She stood, leaning against the doorframe- She was holding a tin tray with two mismatched mugs and a little cup of sugar. There was steam rising into the air.

“That’s my brother, actually. He’s in the service now, been on tour for the second time in the past five years.” She smiled fondly and placed the tea down in front of them. “He’s got a lot of faith though and I think that’s what gets him through- either of you take sugar?”

“Please,” Emily said. Beca nodded.

They watched transfixed as she tilted the kettle and two streams of hot water filled the mugs before she placed darkened bags of herbs. The strings hung over the side.

“That day was nice; it was pretty cold. But we stood close enough to the edge of the railing to actually feel the mist and it was… I don’t know, once you see something like that it’s hard to forget. You just kind of have to feel it. To live it.” She let out a breath “He told us that night that he enlisted.”

Beca stared at the photo, squinting at the way they looked so happy. Thinking about how he hid it so well- the anxiety of talking to his family about something so utterly life-changing. She thumbed the gold picture frame before placing it back on the side table where it belonged. Emily squeezed her leg, one brow lifted.

“You know, we’re just trying to meet a quota here,” Beca said, glancing back up at the woman. “I feel like you have enough faith to last a lifetime- you don’t need to hear what we have to say.”

The demon, the thing that was supposed to be a demon anyway, was staring at them curiously. The hunter had heard tales of this before: regular people catching wind of what they did only to hire them as some hack job hitman instead of a trained professional who dealt with so much worse. But that didn’t make them hero’s- it made them killers. Hired killers.

“We should really get going,” Emily said, “Thank you for your hospitality….”

“Chloe,” The woman said finally. “It’s still snowing pretty hard. You won’t be able to see a damn thing.”

Beca stretched over the back of the couch again. All she could see was pure white. Her back ached from the chill that seeped through the window. Though she would personally feel better waiting in the car with her fingers hovering over the heater, they certainly didn’t’ have the gas to spare. The darkened liquid had dripped through the tea bag in a splayed mess. It colored the water thickly and lapped at the edge of the mug.

“What about the two of you, any siblings?”

“I have a little sister,” Emily said cautiously. “She actually just started kindergarten in the fall. Absolutely hates it. She begs us to put her back in preschool at every family dinner.”

Beca listened to her partners' story fondly and wondered once more why she would choose this life over the one she had culminated for herself. She reached forward out of habit- and maybe even courtesy and took three even gulps of the sugary tea that was offered to her moments ago. It was floral and reminded her of her grandmother’s house. Tasting like the daisies plastered on the white walls.

“She’ll get used to it though. I never liked school when I was a kid either and she’s got this infectious personality. No trouble making friends at all…”

Emily’s voice began to fade away from her as she leaned forward and placed the half-empty mug back on the metal tray- her fingertips drifted along the cooling edge of the leather couch as she blinked away the fuzzy feeling in her mind.

“What about you, Beca?” The woman was suddenly asking her, and she shifted her gaze up. Trying, and trying to focus on the way her lips moved and the way her blue eyes darkened. “Do you have a brother? A sister?”

“An older sister- I’m sorry, but what kind of tea is this?”

“Herbal.” Chloe waved her off. “A mix of jasmine and honey, I think. Tends to mix the ketamine well. Don’t you think?”

Beca straightened up and glanced over at Emily. The hunter was leaning against the back of the sofa, her eyes glossy and her chest moving up and down in a rapid motion. She was staring past their host. Beca felt drowsy. Then she felt nothing at all.

She awoke to a heat. It clung to every inch of her, making it hard to breathe, hard to pull an inch of air into shaking lungs. A thick layer of sweat coated every inch of her body, soaking through the stained white button down that hugged her figure. The book she had clutched so strongly to her chest was just barely out of reach of twitching fingers.

Beca was on a hardwood floor that reminded her of a sleepover. More splintered and rotted through. The dull orange hue from a flickering streetlamp streamed through a dusty window. The outline of a cross was molded into the faded wallpaper.

There was no furniture aside from a broken rocking chair in the corner, aptly covered in a shifted white sheet that was as stained as her attire. A tin tray was coated in rust, shattered mugs scattered around it with a simple metal spoon perfect for sugar.

She let out a groan as she sat up, eyes flicking back to the window. No snow- just heat, the sound of crickets chirping and the black El Dorado sitting idly by. Crimson roses decorated the once vacant bushes, clipped like the wings of a bird.

“Illusion is the first of all pleasures.”

Beca turned quickly to face the voice. The woman who had so kindly offered them a drink. The one that had pictures scattered across the walls of her family. Niagara Falls and a brother who served. She looked different- still pristine and clean, still sporting a nice patterned dress. Beca settled on the fact that it was her eyes. Darker. Meaner.

“L'illusion est le premier Plaisir” Beca scoffed “They made us read The Maid of New Orleans my junior year of high school.”

She turned completely, listening to the way the floor threatened to buckle underneath her. Chloe, Aggath, whatever it was, stared at her fondly. Just like the smile she had pushed earlier. Beca felt like a toy, something to be played with.

“That’s quite a dark choice for an intermediate English program.” She walked closer, dragging her finger over the end table, collecting dust. The paint was peeling and the photos that were once there simply weren’t. “Do you know who hired you to kill me? Or at least had you make a feeble attempt.”

“It was anonymous.” She found herself saying glancing around the room as the summer heat bit at every inch of her. Her temple ached. Burned as her skin pinched around dried blood. “They didn’t’ say much. Just an address, just a name.”

Chloe was close now, and she still smelled of cinnamon. The only thing from the illusion that hung in the air morosely. Beca had questions- so many questions that she knew would go unanswered. Her partner. The absence of snow. The heat the built up in the pit of her stomach like rolling lava.

“This is the part where you beg for something.” The demon said, smile dark. “Your life would be the main compensation, but I’ve heard everything at this point. Anything to keep me from mutilating a young hunter such as yourself.”

“If you’re going to kill me, you would have done it by now.”

“What makes you so sure?”

Beca lifted her chin, felt a bead of sweat drip down the center of her back. Her tie hung low and her breath was shallow, yet she didn’t’ back away. Not from this. “You hired me yourself, didn’t you? Like a twisted game shrouded in illusion. A witch in a candy house.”

Chloe laughed loudly then, and it was nothing short of angelic. “Grimm’s Fairy Tales is a far cry from Voltaire.”

“I’m well versed.”

“So, it seems.” She glanced around once more. “I thought you would put up more of a fight. Your companion did.”

Beca swallowed thickly. L'illusion est le premier Plaisir. “Emily had more to fight for, I’m afraid.”

Chapter Text

Hospital coffee had a distinct rating between gas station brew and muddy water found in a suburban ditch. It carried the same crunchy consistency as gray water and run-off. She didn’t expect much from a vending machine that offered a hot beverage, but Doctor Chloe Beale still cringed away from the bitter scent that pulled at the back of her throat.

She was running on fumes.

There had been a crash. A tour bus and a gas tanker- one had passed a red light, or the other hadn’t bothered to stop. The details were blurred and frankly didn’t matter. It had filled her emergency room with broken arms and a few cases of shrapnel piercing skin. She had learned not to ask questions: Just do. Stitch up a wound before dropping shattered glass into a bedpan coated in a fine casing of crimson.

Chloe pressed her back against the brick wall of the eerily quiet hallway. Her scrubs were splattered with fluids she didn’t pay much mind to, and her ears rung in an innate silence. She felt guilty, guilty for feeling annoyed- her first job had been at a sandwich shop when she was sixteen. A tour bus would ruin her day then, and it would inconvenience it now.

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

The doctor pushed a breath into her coffee, hot liquid splattering against her cheeks as she cringed away from it altogether. “Jesus Christ!” She held her arm out, trying to get away from the toxic drink while using her arm to wipe away the scalding drops.

Chloe managed to raise a dangerous stare to the stranger who had disturbed her thoughts: She was standing in the middle of the hallway, wearing a pair of stained blue jeans and black t-shirt. Dirt and ash were smeared against her dark features like war paint. A gash ran close to her hairline, brunette locks falling over broad shoulders. Her fingers clenched blindly at a wound on her upper right arm. Blood dripped to the tile floor- a makeshift tourniquet doing nothing to quell the flow.

“I hate to bother you,” She continued, “But I think I may need some help.”

“Wha- yeah, yes.” She blinked a few times, staring at the slowly darkening puddle of blood. “Why aren’t you in the ER with everyone else?”

“It’s not for me. It’s for my client- no one can know she’s here. If they see me, they’ll know she is.” She swallowed thickly. “I just need someone to stitch me up. I would do it myself but it’s a bit of a far reach and my hands aren’t as steady.” 

Chloe looked dumbly at her. She had probably nipped an artery in the crash. She was losing blood fast, yet so concerned for the safety of another. She wracked her brain with possibilities, finger resting on the edge of her pager. She could hit the little red button on the side and beacon for security to the west wing of the hospital. Or she could force the stranger into the closest exam room and quell the gushing wound.

“No, please, just… we can go in here and I can help.”

The stranger nodded and she dropped the rest of the untouched coffee in the closest metal trashcan with a splattered thud. She glanced sparingly at the room number before pushing into the dark area. The woman followed her, and she flicked on the light for the x-ray frame gave off a dull white light that wasn’t enough to be noticeable but gave her enough visibility.

She drew in a hissed breath as she hoisted herself up onto the exam table. She looked smaller, her booted feet somehow not touching the metal step stool. A small child that Chloe would give a grape flavored sucker to calm down. But this woman didn’t look to be in pain, despite her t-shirt growing sopping wet with blood.

“You were in that bus crash?”

“What gave it away?”

Chloe snorted as she startled to rifle through the different cabinets that the room had to offer. There wasn’t much but she found a suture kit and placed it on the metal rolling table before dripping her hands under the water of a running sink.

“I don’t’ really remember much if I’m being honest. I don’t have my guard up when we’re on the bus. It’s not my job to protect someone who is already so well protected by the driver and the rest of the crew.” She continued. “One minute we were watching a movie on my laptop and the next, the bus was on it’s side in the middle of an intersection. There was glass and metal everywhere.”

Chloe turned then and stared at her. It must have been traumatic. She had hit a fire hydrant when she was first learning how to drive. It coated her fathers’ truck in crass yellow paint and filled the whole street with running water. She dried off her hands and slid on a pair of latex gloves. 

“Can you take off your shirt for me?” She swallowed and nodded, doing her best to grasp the one side. She pulled the fabric over her head, stalling when she reached the shoulder she was clutching. “Can I help you?”

She got a nod in return. The girl’s breath was suddenly hot on her chest where her sea green scrubs dipped down. Chloe finally noticed her eyes- a deep navy blue that almost shifted to black in the dull light the frame gave off. Little specks of gold danced around the iris’s like fairies in a secret garden. Chloe tore her stare away and edged the rest of the shirt off.

“How did you get out?”

“Hmm?”

“The bus… did someone pull you out?”

The stranger shook her head. “The windows were busted so I crawled through the rubble until I could see the sky and not just… fire.”

Chloe swallowed back the dry feeling in her throat and pulled over the rolling chair, dragging the metal tray with it. “I uh, I couldn’t find any pain reliever. This room’s not really equipped for this kind of thing-“

“Don’t worry about it.” She said, squaring her shoulders and drawing in a breath. Chloe had a feeling that she had been through much worse than this, but she didn’t pry. Instead, she grasped the needle and hovered it overexposed skin for a moment. “You might feel a slight pinch.”

“okay.”

The girl still jumped when the needle went in, but Chloe could hardly blame her. Instead, she put her free hand on her shaking knee and tried to focus on something else. Anything else. “So where was it you were heading?”

“that’s classified.”

“Who are you protecting?”

“Also classified.”

“What’s your name, then?”

She blinked a few times and scanned over Chloe with those dangerous eyes of hers. The doctor struggled to focus and instead cleared her throat before adjusting her position in the chair and reaching for the pair of surgical scissors to her right. “Or is that classified too?”

“My name is Beca. And you’re Doctor Chloe Beale, according to that fancy badge of yours. What’d that cost you? Twelve years in medical school and a kidney?”

“Both actually.” Chloe smiled and used a cloth to wipe away the russet blood that had dried against the now stitched room. “And my gallbladder.”

Beca snorted this time, running her fingers over a freshly placed bandage out of habit before she reached for her shirt. “Thank you,” She said softly. “For helping me… is there any way I can treat you to a hospital cafeteria sandwich.”

Chloe cocked her head to the side and stared at the girl. “I should really get back to work. But thank you for the offer, Beca.” She peeled her gloves from her hands and dropped them in the nearby trashcan before reaching to the door. She felt a sense of dread, not wanting to shatter this small atmosphere. The real world with the real bus crash and the real people needed her, though.

“Can I at least get your number?”

“That’s classified.” 

Chapter Text

Beca thumbed the key in her left hand like it was keeping her afloat in a rocky sea. She couldn’t’ tell where the metal ended and where her sweaty palm began anymore. It was all one, a nervous habit that made her want to scoff and throw it into the ocean, or a tall field of grass that swayed in the wind.

She was 256 years old, for fuck's sake, something as little as this shouldn’t’ have her stomach in knots. It was a simple parent-teacher conference, one that the superintendant had called her specifically to arrange yesterday morning. It was abrupt, but the man explained that he needed them both there. Chloe took a long lunch from the hospital, and Beca sat in her car with the engine shut off and the key in her hand.  

Beca had fought wars, she had trudged through mud and slick ice had pushed past the fear of death and outlived hundreds. Outshined the hunger that always nagged at the back of her throat, threatening to resurface the minute someone got a papercut or slammed their hand too hard in a car door. But she had never been a mother- not until fifteen years ago when they adopted Florence.

She was well behaved, her teaches having nothing but rave reviews about her posture, and how into gothic literature she had become. Her nose was always in a book, and when it wasn’t, she was charming and smart, and Beca never thought any less of her. Certainly, never spurring an early morning summons by an English teacher that Beca had yet to meet.

Three sharp knocks to her window pulled a sharp breath into her lungs, dark eyes flashing over to the woman leaning up against the side of her truck. A mused look on that immortally entrancing face. Beca thought the turn of the century fit Chloe well- every era did, but this was one of her favorites, she had decided. Her hair pulled up in a curly bun and suit jacket removed to show a silky purple blouse. She never got tired of those crystal eyes, or the way she smiled- especially around their youngest.

“You’d think you would hear me coming a mile away,” Chloe said the second the door creaked open, Beca met with the slight chill that early October carried. 

“My love, I regret to inform you that I’m catatonic when I’m thinking too hard.”

Chloe let out a grunt at that, but she understood. Never interrupting Beca when her thoughts ran wild, if not to set a cup of scalding tea in front of her, or to finally pull her to bed because even those without a beating heart needed to rest at some point.

The taller of the pair started walking towards the looming building. Beca could already smell the macaroni art and cheap juice that they poured into plastic cups. Delia would come home with an orange rim around her mouth that made her bounce off the walls, the school not concerned with the gas they put in the engine.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Chloe soothed, pondering herself “There’s nothing we can’t handle that we haven’t before.”

“Please, Florence was an absolute saint at this age. Are we even sure she’s ours?”

“Positive, dear. She just takes after me.”

Beca drew in a breath to protest but let the comment hang in the air. She pulled the door to the elementary school open and followed her wife with her head held high. She remembers a therapist in the 80’s telling her to practice confidence without defense. Something she still struggled with thirty-six years later.

The woman behind the desk was stout. She had a pretty face with kind features, wearing a bright blouse that worked for her in all the right ways. She stood the second she saw Chloe, like old friends. She never understood how her wife did it- keeping up appearances and working a full-time job at the hospital.

“Mrs. Beale,” She beamed “And you must be Mrs. Mitchell”

She took the woman’s hand and shook it with a smile. This was progress. Not that Beca hadn’t interacted with people before, hadn’t charmed her way through casinos and past the nastiest of threats, but somehow this was different. It made her nervous.

The woman had them sign in on a sheet of paper with the time next to it before sending them to the small waiting room that had out of date magazines and the sounds of flutes playing from a speaker hidden somewhere in the corridor. Everything felt out of date, the metal chairs digging into her back as Chloe grasped one of those magazines and flipped through the pages. Beca crossed her arms over her chest and stared ahead.

“What do you think it’s about?”

“Maybe she’s doing so well they wanted to commend you on your control and flawless parenting style.” She flipped the page.

“Funny. But really, what do you think she did?”

Chloe let out a thick sigh, leaning forward to place the magazine on the coffee table before turning to her wife with a tender look on those delicate features. Even just a slight glance washed a wave of comfort over her like a shiver. “Beca, whatever it is, we will deal with it. Delia has a bit of that same spark that you do, it will undoubtedly but her into hot water more than once. But that’s who she is- who you are. You’ll both be fine.”

Beca furrowed her brow and stared for a minute, scanning Chloe’s features and mulling over the words she had left out in the open like this. From the minute Delia was born, Beca knew that she would be a handful- Hell, she was one herself. But it was a different time, certainly not one filled with parent-teacher conferences.

“Chloe,” A man walked into the waiting room. They both stood hastily, a bit of doubt even creeping into her wife’s confidant gaze. “And I assume you’re Beca? I don’t’ think we’ve had the pleasure. Not in person anyway.”

He was younger than Beca was expecting, maybe two or three years out of school. He had tried shaving this morning, cutting his chin and exposing a dot of red to the world. His collar was stained with the scent. Clumsy and unruly but exactly how she assumed he would appear. His hair curly and brown and his shirt untucked.

“Please, follow me”

Chloe lifted a brow at her wife before doing as she was told. They ended up in a conference room with a long table- only occupying the far end. Mr. Ramone sat at one side of the table while Chloe and Beca took camp at the other. There was an odd silence that filled the room.

“I’m sorry for all the theatrics,” He explained, spreading his fingers against the tabletop. “But there was a matter I wanted to discuss with the both of you about Delia.”

“Is she in trouble?” Beca asked, Chloe, placing her hand on her knee. “You sounded serious on the phone.”

“Not necessarily, Mrs. Mitchell, I don’t’ want you to worry too much. She’s just displaying a habit that we would like to get ahead of before it gets worse, with your permission, of course.” His chair creaked under his shifting weight. “Delia seems to have developed a biting problem.”

There was a thick silence in the room that enveloped all three of them. Beca could hear his heart pounding, and the coffee machine that was a few rooms over. The secretary that welcomed them in was playing Solitaire on her browser- and Chloe was suddenly giggling uncontrollably.

Beca stared at her, mouth ajar, and so did Mr. Ramone. A little more reserved but eyebrows raised. They waited for her to finish, snorting as she struggled to gain control. “No, no, I’m sorry- I’m listening, I just… continue, please.”

“Okay,” He sounded out the word. “Like I was saying, she hasn’t bitten down hard enough to break skin yet. But we don’t want it to escalate to that.”

Ramone slid a paper over to the two of them. One that Beca took possession. Chloe grinning like a jester as she looked over the girl's shoulder. There were a couple of books on how to get a child to stop biting and different methods that they can try.

“we have people here specifically trained to quell this too.” He said, glancing at Chloe as she pressed her fingers against her lips to hold back a building laugh. “But we usually let the parents try their own methods first.”

Beca nodded “Thank you, Mr. Ramone. We’ll get right on this, right Chloe?”

“Yeah, yes.” She nodded innocently. “Thank you for calling this to our attention.”

Chloe had waited until they got all the way back to let another outburst escape her lips, tears in her eyes as she chuckled to herself. Beca was not able to stifle her own smile. “Chloe this isn’t funny. She clearly learned the habit from us-“

“It’s a little funny!” She sniffed “Come on, dear. We are quite literally blood-sucking demons. I’m quite shocked Florence didn’t’ pick up on the habit too.”

Beca let out a small groan before shoving the paper that Mr. Ramone had given them into her wife’s grasp. Chloe frowning down at the book suggestions that were scrawled in black ink. “I’ll meet you back at home, then? After you go get those.”

“How did I get stuck with this?”

“Simple,” Beca beamed, slinking her arms over Chloe’s shoulders with a demonic smile “For once in my eternal life I controlled myself in there, and you didn’t.

Chapter Text

The basement smelled strongly of must, air heavy and thick with age. Rusted pipes were dripping in a rhythmic fashion, creating pools of red liquid against the cement ground. A small bulb was screwed into a support beam, creating a yellow circle light that the small windows didn’t offer. Beca Mitchell was impossibly tired of basements.

They all looked the same to her, all smelled the same. Basements carried secrets and water-logged boxes that held baby clothes or old hold décor that had been circulated out for something new. If she was lucky there would be something more: a wine cellar, or maybe an escape bunker lined with nonperishable food in case of nuclear war. Those were fun, those gave her a little peak into crazy.

The girls sat on the cement floor in the corner, next to a brick wall dripping with condensation. A few candles shaded their features, wax adhering them to the floor. A wooden Ouija Board sat in between the three of them- fingers trained on the planchette.

Beca cleared her throat, arms crossed over her chest and eyebrows raised.

They startled, all pulling their hands away from what should be considered as a children’s game. Beca found the use of an Ouija Board insulting and childish by a bunch of witches, Georgia Witches at that. She figured they would use a blood spell. That’s what caught her attention more than a simple toy. But still, she was curious and willed herself here.

“Oh my god, it worked.” The tallest of the group spoke first. Soft brown eyes and sharp features. They contrasted nicely, her back pushed against the brick wall.

The redheaded one spoke next “You don’t look like a demon”

She had heard that before, maybe not so bluntly. She was technically a stranger being conjured. The shock of her appearance being so… normal. It was a tactic, she supposed. If she revealed herself with a backdrop of flames, neither party would get what they want. She learned that centuries ago.

“We can skip all of that,” Beca took a few steps forward, her boots muted against the floor “You guys used a summoning spell, clearly wanting something, and poof. I’m here.”

“Right,” A woman who had remained silent spoke first, her striking unripe eyes sparked with worry and anxiety. There was always one. One from the group that thought all of this was a bad idea. Maybe after a few strong drinks and the promise that it would work out, would she agree.

“So, what is it, that you want, then? I’ve got other witches to attend to.” She said “Are you searching for someone to fall in love with, the perfect partner? Oh, or maybe riches stronger than any other desire you could conjure.”

“No, we uh…” The redheaded one hesitated “We want you to bring someone back from the dead.”

She audibly scoffed at that, nothing about the request was simple or practical. Beca Mitchell had run into death more than once, had even had drinks with the guy last Halloween while they met at a crossroads. What she could accomplish always had the heir of being temporary. But death? Death was something permanent and concrete. She couldn’t just bring someone back because these witches asked. It didn’t work that way.

“Our friend Stacie, she passed away a few months ago. And we’ve tried absolutely everything.” The brunette rambled “We’ve talked with the ancestors and begged them to bring her back. But earth magic isn’t enough. Not anymore.”

“Which is why you summoned me,” Beca concluded. “Girls, it’s not that simple. Something as big is necromancy needs to be met with an equally valuable sacrifice.”

“Like… a goat or something?” The blonde asked.

“Oh sure, if you’ve got about fifty.” Beca shoved her hands into her pockets. “To bring your witch friend back from the clutches of death, it needs to be one of you.”

A silence fell over the basement, the water tapping against the floor in the corner. Beca counted the drips, watched the unreadable expressions. One stared darkly at the Ouija Board, crystal eyes flicking over the painted letters. One held their fingers over the flames of a nearby candle, pulling them away each time the heat became too much. The final gazed at Beca, angry and confused. Regretting this fully now.

“You,” Beca pointed at the girl with the dark blue eyes, shaded by the candlelight. “You’re the strongest here. I could feel your power the second I got here.”

She could see it too, a pure radiative light that buzzed off her. A warmth of power that filled the entire basement. There was an innate power with the other two as well, but it wasn’t the same. The redheaded one was innocent and tame, but dark and dangerous all at once. Beca could admit to herself quickly that she was captivating.

That very fire flicked the second she made her demand. A life for a life. One forgotten for one desperate enough to fight in order to get it back. “Or, you could always change your wish to something a little less detrimental. Maybe that money that I mentioned earlier.”

“No.” The blonde said finitely “We’re not changing the wish. But Chloe is not going with you either.”

“Those are the terms of the deal, Sweetheart.” Beca waved her hand in the air absently “Go on, discuss amongst yourselves.”

Beca turned her back to the group and gave herself a self-tour of the basement. Reading the text on the damaged boxes. Most of them were books and old clothes. She grasped a novel from the top of an opened one- some cheesy love story that had a shirtless man on the cover. The pages were damp, and after skimming a few paragraphs she knew why it was boxed up down here in the first place.

She cringed as she read about a male protagonist lead a girl through the pouring rain an into a barn, the storm prohibiting them from taking the main roads back to town. Both were equally soaked in stale water, light leaking in through the creaking structure. Their breath mingled together as she leaned into the farm boy.

Chloe, she presumed, cleared her throat next to her. Having gotten up from the circle of friends and made her way to the far end of the basement. Beca lifted her gaze to the woman, slamming the book shut and dropping it back onto the pile that it came from. She took note of the way she pulled her shoulders back in an act of intimidation. Her posture strong. How her crystal eyes were hard, and her stone jaw remained clenched. She smelled sweet like lavender, a direct contrast to the musty basement.

“Where will you take me?” She asked.

“Nowhere, not right away,” Beca answered, turning her body slightly. “I can own your soul and not you. Not in the moment. Think of it as a contract with interest. I can call on you whenever I need you- but you can remain here if you’d like.”

“And if I don’t want to?” Chloe asked, voice rigid.

“No one has put anything into ink yet, sweetheart. You don’t have to sign a thing unless you want to.”

“That’s not what I meant. If I sign this deal and don’t want to stay here, in this house, with my coven. Then what?”

Beca lifted an eyebrow at that. That was intriguing. Usually, she bartered for a first-born child, or for the services that a witch could provide. Having a powerful one ‘on-call’ at any time was always a benefit for her. Boundary spells and rings with mystical powers. All were a positive of getting this young sorcerer to sign her life over.

“Oh? Well. You could come with me if you want to. Though, I don’t see why one would give up a plush life in the South for one on the road.” Beca narrowed her stare, “unless, you’re the reason your little witch friend is six feet under in the first place.”

Chloe stiffened her stance, crossing her arms tightly over her chest like Beca struck a nerve. She purposely was digging close to them- in sighting the chaos. Though, what kind of demon would she be if she didn’t stir the pot enough to disturb whoever called upon her.

“I’ll go with you.” She finally declared tightly. “Where do I sign?”

Chapter Text

By the time the sky faded to lilac, Chloe Beale felt drunk on her own confidence. Her suitcase plowing along on the gravel path towards a quaint little cabin on the edge of a lake. A lake her father used to bring her to when it was just the two of them- before he got remarried and they would just sit in a small fishing boat in the utter silence. Splitting a peanut butter sandwich and sharing in the quiet until a fish sunk its lips around a metal hook.

Those were simpler times. Times when the world didn’t get a chance to dig its steel-toed boot right under her ribs and flex its sickly bones in her side. Like when her publisher could pull out of a book deal last minute, leaving the manuscript untouched and dusty on top of her bookcase. When she had to cave and take her old job back at a department store in the perfume department.  When her car sputtered to a final stop seven blocks from her driveway.

Chloe decided that coming here was a good idea.

Getting back to her roots on the lake in a cabin that was tiny and secluded. It was only a short trip, a month away from work that her pension could cover if she timed it exactly right (and it was Chloe, so she had). A place where she could breathe in the fresh mountain air and clear her mind of everything that made it so hard to write in the city.

The cabin was tiny, a one-bedroom with a large deck around the back and a string of fairy lights that radiated once the sun ducked down behind the horizon completely. A canopy of stars and a cup of hot cocoa made her pick up her pace. There was an old beat-up truck out front, probably the landlord doing one more sweep of the place before leaving for the next thirty days.

Chloe Beale was confident because she had done this all by herself. Had decided to pull herself away from work, and hand rented a cabin similar to her childhood one- all on her own. All without the help of some greasy mechanic who overcharged her, or a terrible boss who would walk her through how to ring up every purchase.

She heard it then; the rhythmic splitting of wood, and a couple of soft grunts coming from the side of the cabin. The one facing a large row of pine trees that gave way to an extensive forest filled with creatures and plants of all shapes and sizes.

A woman- shorter by about two inches from where Chloe was standing lifted a large shining ax above her defined shoulders. Chloe stopped at the edge of the grass. She brought the sharpened edge into the center of the log, splitting it into three even pieces. It sounded like a bowling ball hitting the just the right pins before a long sweeper came and knocked down the rest.

Her brunette hair was tied into a messy bun and sweat coated strands fell into midnight eyes, completely focused on the task at hand. She had headphones in and a focused look on her face. She had sweat through her white t-shirt, dirtied with mud.

“Excuse me,” Chloe waved meekly, trying to get the woman’s attention. She tried once more “Excuse me!”

The stranger drew in a bout of air and stopped, the axe in mid-air. It glinted off the orange sun. Chloe couldn’t tell if she had worked her features into annoyance or if she generally looked like that on a normal basis. Her earbuds hung around her shoulders now, eyes sweeping over Chloe’s figure.

“Sorry, I didn’t expect anyone else to be out here.” She panted.

Chloe nodded solemnly “Are you the handyman around here?”

The stranger laughed then, light and airy and done with her entire body. She let the ax drop to her side, taking in the appearance of Chloe all together. Her fingers were neatly painted, and she wore a nice blouse. She had barely even broken a sweat.

“No, kitten, I’m renting out the place.”

“I- that’s impossible.” Chloe huffed out, the back of her neck burned. “I paid the landlord for the rest of the month. Cabin 7A.”

“Yeah, me too, and I got here first, so it looks like you’ll have to find other arrangements.”

Chloe tried to keep her composure, tried to swallow that anger down but that stupid smirking face of this… this heathen was biting back at her like a mosquito just looking to tap a vein. She reached down and piled a few pieces of chopped wood into her grasp, walking towards the front of the cabin. 

“It took an entire day to get up here and I refuse to go back!” Chloe followed her, pulling that suitcase after her like a shadow.

“You’re more than welcome to stay outside if you’d like. I won’t call the sheriff on you Kitten, promise.”

She kicked open the screen door with her booted foot and set the wood next to the large stone fireplace. Everything was just like the brochure- the nice leather couches and gorgeous wood finish. There was a large set of stairs leading up to a loft and the one-bedroom the place had to offer. A moose head that Chloe could do without was situated right near the second landing, staring blankly at her.

The stranger wiped her hands down her jeans, leaving streaky marks as she let out a sigh and faced Chloe, quirking a brow at the woman who rested in the doorway. Waiting for an invitation in, one that she wasn’t going to get.

“Look, Red, I’ll call the landlord right now. We’ll get it situated.”

Chloe seemed to be happy enough with that answer as she took the last dastardly step into the place and set her suitcase by the door. She ran her fingers against the furniture, feeling the cool leather and the grooved wood as the woman called. She could hear the muffled conversation from the kitchen but not well enough.

She didn’t know where the sudden change of heart came from- but she didn’t question it. Maybe it was the deep-rooted need for both of them to not share a cabin for the next month. Especially one that only came equipped with one bedroom and not a very big bathroom. Chloe should have booked a trip to Cabo, but instead, she traded the luxury for childhood memories.

“Well, bad news and good news.” She exited the kitchen, shutting the phone off with a muted beep. “We are double-booked for the month.”

Chloe took a steady breath “And the good news?”

“You’re not the one who fucked it all up- they are.” She crossed her arms over her chest and moved that terribly cold stare from Chloe’s feet all the way to her own eyes. “But… I’ll take the couch for the first week.”

“You think I’m staying here with you?” She asked.

“Well Kitten I don’t see much of another choice. Unless you want to brave the road back to town, and I don’t see much sense in trying. There’s a big storm coming. Don’t you watch the news?”

No, she hadn’t. But she could feel the electricity sparking in the air the second she stepped off the bus at the base of the long drive. Large oak trees were swaying in the hot slight breeze, their leaves overturned to display the meek belly of green. A sign that the tides were turning and that it was best to stock up on bread, milk, and evidently firewood, that would be too soaked to ignite if she had waited any longer.

Chloe conceded and let the screen door slide shut behind her before she flopped down on the nearest leather couch. How was she supposed to get any writing done now?

“Dinner’s ready, Red.” The stranger spoke from the doorway, and Chloe’s stomach clenched. The sun had pulled behind the base of the water hours ago and the wind had picked up speed as it yowled like a wounded animal. Chloe had pooled herself at the end of the sofa, a fire warming the side of her face as she watched the flames dance across the pages of the nearest book she had pilfered.

She didn’t want to eat the stranger’s food- didn’t’ want to admit that the stew she had been cooking for the last five hours actually smelled good. It’s broth salty and contrasting to large chunks of sautéed meat and potato. But her stomach growled and tightened and she couldn’t focus on Rudyard Kipling’s words anymore.

“I promise I didn’t slip any arsenic in here.” The stranger continued “Though, I would love to have this place all to myself.”

Chloe scoffed but peeled back the blanket draped over her legs and made her way to the kitchen. It was smaller than she remembered, or maybe she was just the small one and it was always a one-lane room that forced the two of them closer together than she ever wanted to be. The woman ladled a good helping into two bowls and slid one across the island, passing Chloe a spoon.

She waited until the first bite was taken, steamy broth warming her cheeks as she watched the woman chew triumphantly. Refusing to break eye contact. “See, no poison Kitten.”

“I have a name, you know.”

“I haven’t had the pleasure of coming by it.”

The woman glared “Chloe.”

She shoved the spoon in her mouth then, taking in the sudden burst of flavor that washed over her taste buds. Chloe let the moan escape her throat without even thinking, chewing thoughtfully before getting a good look at the cocky smile that the stranger had to offer. Degrading.

“Good right? It was my mother’s recipe- but I’ve tweaked it a little.”

Chloe nodded slowly and dipped the spoon back into the bowl for another taste. “You haven’t told me your name.”

“Beca Mitchell.”

Beca Mitchell- seemed familiar in a way of passing that Chloe couldn’t quite pinpoint yet. Something she could recognize in passing. Skimming the magazines at checkout, recalling that one random fact about how fast a jellyfish could swim, or the size of an average elephant foot. She would smile at the cashier and replace the small pad of paper instead of putting it on the black belt, just like the one in front of her did, and the one behind her as well.

“I used to come up here with my father.” Chloe said after the silence “That’s the only reason I’m here. To clear my head, get some clarity for my new book- and trust me this is less than ideal for all of us.”

“Mm, you’re a writer?”

Beca didn’t’ offer up her own reason for isolating herself in a cabin for upwards of a month, though Chloe could admit that she had some questions herself. Figured that if she put her reason out on the clothesline to dangle in the wind- then maybe the stranger would follow suit. Preferably before she had to fall asleep in the same house as her.

Chloe took another bite of the stew and chewed slowly “I’d like to call myself one, yes. This year has been a little rough, the business side of things. But I’ve had my fair share of New York Times Best Sellers.”

Beca lifted her eyebrows and set her mostly empty bowl in the metal sink. “That sounds like more than a hobby, Chloe. Impressive.”

“What about you, then?” Chloe leaned forward, running her fingers over the spoon. “What brings you up to the beautiful seclusion of the forest?”

She chuckled at that, leaning both of her palms against the edge of the sink. She watched Chloe with accuracy, who watched her right back. Waiting for an answer- one that was better than a simple ‘to escape’. That she was used to giving people.

“I’m a chef. I was a chef until the restaurant I worked at burned down. They’re trying to rebuild, offered me another contract and everything.” She worked out slowly “I have it with me and I don’t know if I’m ready to sign it yet. Hence the isolation. I needed to figure things out.”

“If your stew is telling of the rest of your food, then I think you should. What’s stopping you?”

Beca’s cheeks heated from the compliment, usually something written in the newspaper or given through tight-lipped smiles of those around her. Those who cared too much about the parties and the diamonds that were around their necks and bound to their wrists.

“The luxury of a life like that,” She started, frowning down at the intricate patterns on the granite countertop. “Is overwhelming to every sense you can possibly possess. You have the people who are rich enough to act the way that they do, and those who are trying hard to get to the level that everyone else around them is at.”

“And you’re neither?”

“I’m neither.” Beca let out a small sigh “I just think that life like that- life that needs to be bathed in luxury, and fancy cuisine… I started out making cheesesteaks in a small restaurant by the beach. And I was content.”

Chloe nodded thoughtfully “I was too. Writing for the local paper, you know? Covering little stories about local businesses and bake sales. All of it was simple and beautiful.”

“What’s stopping you from going back?”

“Recognition, mostly. After I wrote that first book- I don’t know. It gained me a lot of attention, a contract that was broken because I have writer's block. The worst type of writer's block that isn’t spurred by a lack of inspiration. It’s the kind that has everything to do with pressure. With a lack of enjoyment.”

Beca didn’t say anything, then. She turned to face away from Chloe and started to rummage through the cabinets, not caring much for order. She produced a bottle of half-finished white wine and two mismatched mugs that had different states printed on the side.

“What are you doing?” Chloe chuckled.

“Sounds like both of us are fucked. And the only thing people who are this lost in life can do is drink.”

“That sounds like the start of a lot of my problems, not the end of them.”

Beca unscrewed the metal top, pouring a generous amount into both glasses before she shoved one across the counter to the young writer. “Yeah, well, we might as well make some use of the time we have up here. Work out what we’re going to do. Who knows, maybe you’ll find some weird type of inspiration in the… near solitude.”

Chloe grasped the baby blue mug and took even sips of the wine. It was sour and tasted flat but made her stomach feel fuzzy all the same. She watched as the chef gathered up the dishes and went to wash them in the sink. Hair falling into dark eyes and a tune hummed on her lips. Chloe thought, for just a moment, that maybe she had found inspiration somewhere.

Chapter Text

Chilled air snaked through her clothes, Jack Frost refusing any mercy on the small crowd of people that had gathered close to the opening of the tent. It was a large and ghastly thing, painted in pinstripes that dripped like crimson. Beca Mitchell had always thought that was the big myth about circuses. The gimmick that was printed onto the side of cookie boxes and cemented into Disney Animation.

It wasn’t though, a gimmick; The big top stretched into the darkened sky, snow threatening to fall from grey clouds painted onto a canvas. The sound of passing traffic filled the line with anticipation, anticipation to get out of the cold and into the quickly shaded area. Even the scent, damn, that scent was intoxicating; a mix between freshly pulled hay and cotton candy.

Beca had to admit, it was a sight to see. One that made her forget about her hands curled into her pockets for warmth or the equally as cozy bed that was awaiting her at home. Anywhere else but here would have been nice- nose raw and runny from the hour and a half that she had been standing out here.

Her jaw was clenched, stare trained on the black opening that was slowly getting closer with each step. They were letting people in one by one. Beca pretending not to be annoyed by the shrill screams of the children around her. Of course, there were kids, it was a circus after all. But she couldn’t’ help to despise the parents that let their offspring stay up into the late hours of the night hopped up on sugar and screeching like mythical lore.

“Lighten up, short-stack.” The tender hand suddenly clamped on her shoulder brought a sharp intake of breath into her lungs. “You can enjoy yourself here.”

“Not possible,” Beca faltered “There’s no alcohol here, so how can I possibly have fun?”

She earned a good-natured huff from the taller woman at her side. Amy had good intentions, really, she did. Her roommate had tried (And failed) to get Beca away from the mixing equipment and into the real world for a better half of two months. Once Beca became infatuated with something, it was all she could think about. All she could eat, and sleep, and breathe. Right now, music was that thing.

“Mm, fair point.” Amy took an exaggerated step forward, edging their place in line closer to the stadium-like seating.

Beca glanced around, tacking her bottom lip between her teeth. She had been used to her friend’s antics, and of all places, this is where she would most fit in. But she still couldn’t’ shake the feeling of embarrassment from flushing against her chest. Maybe Amy was right, maybe she did just need to let loose and have fun without caring too much about not caring at all.  She let her shoulders drop slightly.

“What are you most excited to see?”

“The tigers.”

“I don’t know if circuses have tigers anymore, Bec’s.”

“Lions?”

“Bears! Oh My!”

She snorted, honest to god, snorted at the woman’s measly attempt at a quote from a movie Beca had finally gotten a chance to sit through. She had to admit, the Wizard of Oz wasn’t that bad. But she still didn’t understand the logic behind it. If she had a chance to throw everything away and start new in a mystical world- she wouldn’t’ pass it by in an attempt to get back home. Home was familiar, and everything she didn’t’ care for- but Oz? Oz had danger.

Their conversation was cut short the second they got up to the front of the tent- Beca standing on the tips of her toes to peer into the dimly lit area in front of them before her stare flashed lazily over to the woman with a giant plastic bucket of red tickets. She was nothing short of gorgeous, really, blonde hair and grey eyes, a black button-down hugging her curves- her name, Jessica, embroidered into the fresh fabric. She beamed at the pair.

“Tickets, please!”

Beca shoved her hand into the pocket of her jacket, not entirely sure if she would actually find the little slip of paper that the spunky woman was hunting for. She did feel a few pieces of lint, and maybe even a left-over wrapper from a mint- but her hand finally clenched around the ticket before pulling it out in victory.

The blonde was watching her with an amused smile, her head tilted as Amy produced a less damaged version of the admission. She took both of them reaching behind her as she placed them in a plastic bin behind her. “Have fun you too.”

She had to bite back her bitter remarks as she trudged under the threshold of the tent. The last thing that Beca wanted was to hold up the line, to draw any type of attention to herself. Her eyes flicked around the large big top, and she had to admit, it was nothing shy of impressive.

There was a ring; a large one that divided staggered bleachers from the performance area. It was scarlet like the stripes on the tarp. Beca had only been to one circus in her lifetime, and she remembered vividly cowering behind her mother as she clung onto the pleated pant leg for dear life. She was afraid that the long metal pole in the middle of the tent would crumble, trapping hoards of people under a giant sheet that canceled out all fresh air.

Now she was rational. Now she swallowed back the shiver that rushed against her spine as she glanced up at the ropes holding their makeshift building. Her fingers pulled at the bunched-up edge of her sweatshirt sleeve. There were large wooden poles, ones holding up a tightrope that didn’t’ even dare a mesh net underneath them. Not yet, anyway.

Amy shoved her elbow into Beca’s side softly, not enough to insight a glare, but enough to capture her attention. It was a way of showing her where to sit- the brunette stepping up on the second bleacher to the bottom. She walked all the way to the end, not bothering to tremble at the shaky structure as she plopped down at the end. Her friend warm against her side as she settled herself.

“We got good seats, Bec’s.” She exclaimed, “We’re not going to miss a thing.”

“What a shame.”

She found herself running her palms tightly over her jeans. It created some form of heat and took care of her sopping wet hands. She sweats despite the cold, despite not having a real fear of clowns or public crowds. They could be the same thing, she thought bitterly. Amy decided to ignore the cynical comment she made as she squinted up at the bright lights illuminating the large stretch of wire.

People were still shoving their way into the bleachers. They were carrying bags of popcorn, and large tufts of cotton candy both electric blue and baby pink. It all mixed together in Beca’s lungs like a sickly-sweet mess. Her stomach churned at the thought of swallowing that much junk food in a single sitting, but again, she thanked a higher power that she was sitting on the end. If it got to be too much, too overwhelming, it would be easy to slip out the back door.

Beca did find herself relaxing a bit as the lights started to lower and a climactic edge of drums blasted from hidden speakers placed strategically throughout the tent. It had grown dark, coating the girl in an edge of shadows as she breathed out deeply.

“Ladies and Gentlemen!”

The voice was booming. Amy grasped Beca’s hand in excitement, giving it a little squeeze as the smaller woman smiled at her friend. This was an uncomfortable situation, but it was nice seeing a little steam blown off. Even Beca leaned in as the ring leader stepped into a large milky circle projected from a stage light.

Her coat was dazzling; complete with thick rows of crimson sequins that matched the pinstripes on the tent. The tails hung low past black slacks, a white button-down was fastened against her fit chest. She had earth-shattering blonde hair, holding a staff close within her grasp as the light reflected off every inch of her being. She craved the spotlight, thrived in it, as a ring leader should.

“Welcome to the show.”

There was a bit of a demonic bite to her words, Beca scooted closer to the edge of her seat as she rested the bulk of her arms over her knees. The show looked standard to her- a strong leader, the mention of a few comical performers with too much access to face paint, a duo of actors that could test their act on a wire (without a net). And much to Beca’s delight, an actual lion tamer with a few beasts of his own.

She didn’t’ quite watch in awe, instead, it was curiosity. They were good, but part of her thought she was too old for this. Maybe she was. Still- it was more than impressive to gage into the reactions of the crowd, and the small brunette wasn’t against herself having a bit of infatuation. Before she knew it, the show had ended- and she was warmer than before.

“Hold up,” She grasped onto Amy’s jacket as she stood to leave, “We shouldn’t leave yet. All we’ll hit is traffic.”

The blonde surveyed the area. Parents with sleepy children passed out from a sugar high were all filing out of the tent. The same woman who had let them in was dutifully holding the flap of the tent back to allow them back out to the parking area, even cutting through the middle of the ring. Beca was right, they would end up trapped in their car for hours on end. “But your car has heat.”

“Mm,” Beca hummed, standing as her whole entire body groaned in protest. She let her boots plop down against the dusty ground. “God, these benches are hell. They expect you to sit through a show like that and not have extra padding?”

“You liked it, though. The show?”

“Yeah, Ame’s.” She relented, not wanting to disappoint her friend. “I did.”

This earned a smile as the DJ leaned heavily against the barrier of the ring. She was shocked by how the fold-up material held under her weight. Her midnight eyes continued to scan the mass of people walking to where they needed to go in the space under unnaturally horrid lights. They were somehow not bumping into one another, moving with a current as she squinted her eyes- and froze.

Right in the middle of the crowd something; someone caught her gaze. They say when you meet the love of your life, time stops, and that’s true. The ring leader was leaned up against a pole, lips parted as if she was making a point to a woman in a purple spandex suit. A woman leaned her head on a man’s shoulder, her engagement ring sparkling so bright Beca wished she could blink. A small child was throwing popcorn into the air, waiting for it to reach his grasp- but that never happened.

She was standing in the middle of all of it; skin fair and hair a contrasting fire. She was graceful, stopped like the spotlight was made just for her- perhaps it was. The commotion didn’t seem to sway the cobalt gaze she carried or the folds of her button-down. She didn’t look like a performer. She didn’t’ look like anything less than perfection.

What they don’t tell you is that when time start’s again, it moves extra fast to catch up.

Beca’s breath leaving her lungs as the crowd quickly cleared. The boy chomped down on his popcorn. The ring leader stared directly at her with pins in her eyes, and the woman pulled the man’s arm over her shoulders to hug him closer. But the girl… the girl was gone. Vanished in front of her with the simple click of a fast forward button.

“Beca,” There was a hand on her shoulder. One that startled her to the point of burning the inside of her throat with the quick inhale. “We should go.”

She cast her gaze to Amy. She wasn’t exactly sure how long she had been standing, how long she had kept her eyes on the girl that escaped her grasp. But it didn’t seem to matter, because Beca wasn’t so cold anymore. Her nose was still raw, and her fingertips begged to be let up- but still, she tore her shoulder away from her concerned friend and easily pitched herself over the side of the ring.

“What the hell, Shawshank?”   

She ignored the woman’s call as she steadied herself against the packed dirt floor. The woman; the ring leader that she watched shroud her utter confidence for the past two hours of her life, watched her carefully- with curiosity. The woman next to her shifted uncomfortably- spandex pulling in all the right places as the leggy brunette looked at her leader as if to see the next move.

“Show’s over, tiny.” The blonde sneered.

Beca shook off the comment as she made her way to the middle of the ring, the woman in the red coat lilting her head to the side as she almost met her half-way, doing nothing more than turning her stance to face the girl. She hadn’t realized how hot the stage lights really were. She pulled at her collar awkwardly.

“Who was that girl?” Beca croaked out, a bit frantic. Her voice didn’t’ even match her stature. “The one in the blue and white shirt.”

The ring leader pursed her lips as she thought, genuinely tried to put two pieces together for the hell of it. She looked tired, her voice raw and her hand still resting on the staff of a walking stick that was all for show- but of course she kept the snide look on her face.

“Why?”

“I think she’s the love of my life.”

Unripe eyes looked her up and down, searched the length of her before a devilish smile broke off against expertly painted lips. “Trust me, a woman like that is not going to fall for a small-town girl like you.”

She swallowed back the discontent. “Then you do know her?”      

She pursed her lips and thought, twirling the staff into the dirt as if she had a nervous habit of her own. Beca could see the sweat that glossed her collar bone, smell the effects of the show. This woman was strong-willed, angry, almost. “She’s been a family friend for a while, yes. But I’m not about to give up information to a stranger. Not someone like you.”

“What if I work for you?” Beca pleaded, voice cracking.

A laugh caught in the ring leader's throat as Amy mumbled something along the lines of Beca being insane from the sidelines. The woman who stood behind her boss squinted her chocolate-colored eyes as she watched the daring feat of a stranger to a human so stone-like. “Sorry. I’m not hiring.”

She turned, boots making a small indent in the soft dirt. She gestured with her hand for the woman to follow, but she didn’t’ make a move. Instead, she stared at Beca with a bit of unshaven pity. Something that was seeped with so much emotion that a knife could cut through the charged air. Her breath shuddered. The one chance, the single most important person in her life right now, was slipping through her fingers because of an entrepreneur who thought her life wasn’t up to par.

“I’ll do it for free!” This halted the woman, her back still turned “If you tell me who she is, then I will work myself dead for free.”

If she was dead, she would never get a chance to know the girl. Never feel the woman’s touch or learn her name- but none of that mattered because she had to get to the moment in time again. The one that stopped so suddenly and awakened with such passion that she lost the sight of those eyes- those oceanic eyes.   

“Have you lost your goddamn mind?” Amy called out, earning a sad glance, but nothing more before Beca turned back around to face the ring leader. The one who eyed her with such intensity that it was earth-shattering.

“Okay,” She said, turning fully towards the girl as she took a step. “Okay, fine.”

“Really?” Beca squeaked. “I didn’t’ think I would get this far.”

“For every month that you work for me, I’ll tell you something about her.” The ring leader said. “Where she goes to school, her hobbies, where she grew up.” She paused “But we leave tonight.”

Beca nodded, swallowing back the drying feeling in her throat as she fished into her pockets for the one thing that she was looking for. Her keys. They were cold against her grasp and rattled in the near-silent tent. She couldn’t’ believe she was doing this- couldn’t understand the thoughts moving through her head. But she knew this was right. She knew this is what she had to do.

In one fluid motion, she tossed the metal keys towards Amy, who, despite her awkward and clunky gaze, caught them with ease. Beca would never let her touch the car, the same car her mother got her for her 18th birthday years ago. “You’re serious about this?”

She nodded slowly, offering another sad gaze before stilling herself and staring back at the ring leader. “What’s first?”

  She had never been more serious about anything in her life. 

Chapter Text

She didn’t remember getting hit with an arrow; not the way it pushed into her skin evenly and produced an even bout of pain. It was more of an annoyance, really, like a mosquito who had barely tapped a vein before she swatted it away- smearing the brown and bubbling guts on the wall.

Her room was hot that day, and even with the fan pointed directly at the bare mattress that rested on the floor, she was washed with discomfort.  Beca had kicked the sheets that usually covered her away- and hadn’t even noticed the soaked fabric was ruined with anything but her own sweat.

But by the time the alarm on her phone started going off, she knew something was wrong; the loud clang of something metal and weighted falling from her bed did nothing but confirm that the thickness of the room wasn’t her imagination.

Her downstairs neighbor pushed the blunt end of a broom against their ceiling in response to the clatter and Beca figured that that served as enough of a wakeup call. It was already past noon- she could tell by the lattice design of the sun streaming through her blinds.

Beca reached blindly until her fingers wrapped around the cold shaft of metal that had so rudely pulled her from her slumber. She moved her thumb against it- not a phone, not a pair of expensive headphones. No- it was an arrow.

From where- she wasn’t sure. There was no broken glass in her apartment, no more than usual. And she would have noticed, even in a drunken slumber, if one had come crashing through the window. She lived on the fifth floor of a shitty city building.

She sat up and groaned at the pinching on the back of her thigh, the way it burned and pulsed with her own heart. The arrow was plated and gold and heavier than she thought it would be. There was an expertly crafted heart on one end, the shaft cutting right through it. Its point was coated in a rust-colored liquid.

Too weird- she decided, too early for this.

She had a lot to drink last night and probably pulled this from one of the stupid holiday displays that they had laying around the city for some agro art project. That’s what she gets, she supposed, for picking a place to live on the same block as a prestigious art school.

Beca stood and limped to the dining room, setting the bloodied arrow down on the table before grasping at the nearest cup that looked somewhat clean. She didn’t wait for the sink water to chill before gulping down a full glass and going for a second one. The warm liquid soaked into the collar of her shirt.

She hadn’t noticed it at first, not clouded by her own thirst, but she had set the arrow down next to a small card. Something that would be left in a bouquet of roses, but bigger. It created a little tent and cast a shadow next to the gold. She plucked it from the table.

Beca,

I struggle not to speak in riddles, as I’m sure you don’t remember much from last night. But the two of us had quite the boasting match. Turns out I, in fact, can drink you under the table. So- as a consolation prize for your good efforts, I’ve left you something of mine.

She frowned. It was well written in a curled type of script that would take anyone a number of hours. Her head was screaming at her and her leg was hissing. Beca remembers finishing up a set and taking whatever free drinks the patrons thought to buy her. And a woman, glowering at her across the bar.  She flipped the card over, looking for more fine print. 

This arrow has the effect of undying love, something you mumbled about never being able to find. This should help to a certain extent- but be forewarned; a similar arrow built of lead was left in the possession of another. Find that arrow, find your love. Cure them.

All the best,

C.

Oh… oh, this had to be absolute bullshit. There was no way some stranger that was lingering in the darkest and dankest bar in Manhattan had followed her to her apartment and stabbed her. People didn’t just do that. They didn’t’ leave cryptic notes or gold-plated arrows because someone like Beca Mitchell had half the mind to pawn it off.

Who was C?

She flopped down in the nearest chair, letting the arrow fall to the ground once more. It clattered, even on the carpet- and as if on cue, her downstairs neighbor pushed the broom against the ceiling- as if that would stop Beca’s hangover, or her struggle to piece together missing time.

“Oh, shut up!” she shouted back, pushing her heel into the floor.

She usually never fought back. There was never a reason to. Beca carried late and odd hours, and she often found herself treading lightly- even if she was a bit buzzed. But right now the pulsing in her thigh and the blurred intentions of the letter ate away at any resolve she hoped to carry. So she stomped three times and palmed the arrow.

Her neighbor slammed the top of the broom in response and Beca let out a groan before standing, ignoring the sharp pain in her leg. She pulled open the door and registered the musty scent that the hallway carried.

Beca’s steps were muffled in her socked feet, even as she trudged past the elevator with the “Out of Order” Sign that was tacked on the metal front. The cement floor of the stairwell was cold and unforgiving against her soles. She didn’t stop until she found the exact puke-green door that she was looking for. Beca even knocked before she lost a bit of her nerve.  

Then the door swung open and the crisp scent of vanilla cut through her own rancid mix of sweat and lingering whiskey. A girl stood in front of her, blonde hair pulled into a tight bun and a fancy blouse hugging her curves. She had a fire in her eyes- but Beca had an arrow, and that was enough for her.

“I’m guessing you’re our upstairs neighbor considering your heavy-handed knock?”

God, who talks like that? “Spot on, sweetie. You pulled the stick out of your ass long enough to bang it against the ceiling, huh?”

The woman huffed and pulled the door open even more. Not allowing an entrance or even offering. She put more room between the two of them, taller and meaner. “Look, just keep it down, alright? You clamoring home at two in the morning is annoying enough. I don’t need mid-afternoon too.”

“I pay rent too, you know, I can stomp around as much as I like. Not everyone keeps a normal schedule.”

She found herself using the tip of the golden arrow as a buffer, it’s point still rusted in crimson. The stranger flicked her unripe stare against it and straightened up, fingers tightening against the doorframe.

“Where’d you get that?”

“I found it, “Beca frowned “listen, that’s not the point. I will start trying to be quieter if you just stop banging the ceiling-“  

“No, seriously, where did you find this?”

She was being ignored entirely, the woman plucked the arrow from her fingers and walked into her apartment, leaving the door wide open. Beca sighed heavily and followed her in with her slight limp. If she was going to be murdered, at least it would be in her own apartment building, anything to reason her actions.

It was nicer here; with soft lavender curtains and pictures hanging on the wall. Beca had gotten all of her furniture from thrift shops and friends cleaning out storage units. It was like a home goods catalog, everything smelling sweet and more importantly, clean. She was suddenly nervous to track blood on the carpet.

“Chloe!” The woman shouted, voice echoing off the hallway, she turned her back to Beca, running her fingers over the metal “This was just in your apartment?”

“Sort of, I guess. It was in my leg. I pulled it out right before you started drumming on the walls.”

She nodded and went back to studying the object, not offering up any answers. But Beca didn’t’ have much focus on her anymore; instead, she was drawn inexplicably to the woman who must be Chloe. She walked with a certain grace about her- hair messy and curled like fire. Her eyes were a striking ocean blue and every inch of her sparked like broken waves.

The girl held a towel to her arm, soaked in red and dripping. She had scrubbed most of the blood away but held pressure against her wound before stopping and scrutinizing Beca. Her nose crinkled. “Who’s this?”

“What’s your name?” The blonde asked.

“Aubrey, you invited a stranger into the apartment?” Chloe glared “She’s dirty.”

She snorted “Hi, hello, right here. If I can just get my arrow back you gracious goddess, I’ll get out of your hair.”

What the fuck was that?  

“Gross.” There was a round of silence, Chloe was staring at the carpet and Aubrey was tempted to do what Beca had asked. But none of them moved, not for a bit. Chloe was the first to speak. “Your arrow?”

“Not mine technically. But it lodged itself into my thigh this morning so I think that gives me some jurisdiction over it- now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go to an urgent care.”

“No, don’t go.” Chloe clenched her jaw, and the words seemed to settle in Beca's stomach like a rock “I got one too. It’s not gold, not like that- but it’s black.”

“It’s lead.” Aubrey corrected. “Do either of you know what that means?”

Beca’s head was pounding and she wasn’t sure if it was from the sickeningly sweet scent of the apartment or the way her heart beat faster against her throat each time Chloe moved. The sun seemed to hit her in the right way and a deafening lightness filled her at each glance. She wanted to run her fingers against her skin, feel lips against her own and, she sighed heavily “You’re so pretty,”

“Focus, please.” Aubrey snapped “I had to take a class on Greek Mythology last semester. I remember this specific story about Daphne and Apollo. Cupid shot them both with arrows after a pissing match with Apollo, and one gained the overwhelming sense of love while the other”

Aubrey trailed off and furrowed her brow.

“The other what, Bree?”

“The other grew to hate the idea of it altogether.”

“That explains why the sight of this… this girl makes me want to claw my own eyes out.” Chloe’s breath was unsteady, but still, she smelled of lemons, and her lips pursed in the perfect way.

“That’s okay, my love, I would still die for you.” Beca pressed her fingers against her lips and let out a muffled growl in frustration. “Okay, that needs to stop, now. Unless that’s not what you want Chloe-“

Chloe groaned, “Any chance you remember how to fix it?”

“I got a note, with the arrow.”

“You didn’t think to mention that sooner?”

“I was a little blind-sided by how stunning you are, forgive me.” Beca wanted to bite her tongue until it bleed. But instead, she searched her hazy mind for what the letter said. It rested on her kitchen table and she didn’t think she could get up there with the amount of pain pushing past her knee and ending at the gash in her thigh. “it said I have to cure you.”

Aubrey’s eyes widened “Chloe, I think she has to stab you with her arrow. Theoretically, that would reverse the amount of disdain in you. It would balance it out.”

“And the amount of infatuation in her?”

“I suppose it could work both ways.”

The thought of diving the metal-tipped arrow into Chloe made her sick to her stomach.  A rolling that started at the back of her neck and culminated in nausea, so thick and strong it felt as if she had been drugged. She essentially had been. One small part of Beca remembers the way she challenged the woman at the bar to a drinking competition, high on her own ego.

She would never bow to a challenge, never lose without losing herself first. But this arrow; its effects would let her kneel in front of this perfect stranger without a second thought. There was no way she could bring her shaky fingers to wrap around the shaft of the arrow, only to push it into the woman’s skin.  

There was a sudden blinding pain against her shoulder, a white-hot metal. “OW! Fuck!”

Beca grasped at the warmth, fingers coated with liquid as she stared at the black arrow in the better part of her shoulder, she hadn’t noticed Chloe grab the lead object. “Dude, what the hell?” She yanked it away, grunting because it somehow hurt worse on the way out.

“What? No sly comment about my insatiable beauty?” Chloe smiled, and though it was charming, it didn’t make her heart stop. In fact, part of her found it more annoying than interesting and keen.

Beca hissed through clenched teeth “Give me the arrow.”

And Aubrey obliged. Somehow it felt heavier in her grasp. Beca had half the mind to go for the shoulder too, but the way Chloe was nursing her other arm made her reconsider. She let out a small breath and slid the pointed end of the object into the side of her leg, right near her hip, hesitating a bit.

“Mother of God,” Chloe’s voice shook, “How did neither of us notice that the first time?”

Beca could blame the alcohol and the way she was knocked out cold after her display at a local bar. But she decided to keep that to herself. She mercifully removed the object and set it on the counter next to the other arrow.  

Aubrey lifted both eyebrows “How do you feel?”

“Like I’m losing a lot of blood.” She swallowed thickly, “And not like I want to shove the arrow somewhere completely different.”

Beca winced “Oh, ouch.”

The blonde reached around the other end of the counter and produced a pair of keys, just as perfectly organized as the rest of her, a look of annoyance and relief against her features. “I think we should get you both to a hospital. And then we bury those things forever, agreed?”

That seemed like the only thing that made sense all day.

Chapter Text

Beca looked around the office through the thick lenses on her glasses. Whoever had summoned her here had a flare for comfort; there was a leather office chair with a fuzzy turquoise pillow. A vase of lilies sat at the edge of the wood next to photos that Beca couldn’t decide were family or friends. She scrutinized the smiling faces and tried haplessly to guess which one was running late to their own meeting.

Beca picked up one of the stress balls that were on the edge of the desk and gave it a squeeze. It was well worn, and practically putty in her hands. She flipped it over and read the advertisement for some dentist downtown before she set it down and lowered herself in the seat even further. Her stare found a gold plated name: CHLOE BEALE

It was embarrassing, being called to the marketing floor, like this. She cared about the interworking’s of their projects, not the shiny ads that they printed on the sides of buses, or the giant PR parties that quickly followed a new release. No one else in her department had been phoned, but they all watched as she walked, red-faced, to the elevator.

The door creaked open and she found herself straightening her posture with a heavy breath. She had no one to impress here, not a single person, but still- she wanted to make a solid impression. Maybe one with a firm handshake and a questioning stare.

“I am so sorry I’m late.” The woman spoke before showing her face. She set down a big mug of what looked like chocolate, or maybe Coffee that wasn’t actually coffee. Her features were shrouded with copper locks, barely tamed. She let a large stack of flyers hit the desk with a muted thump. “You’re probably confused. I would be too.”

The woman sat down in the chair and smiled brightly. She had soft features cut with startling blue eyes. It was a nice smile, Beca decided. She was confused, however, but mostly intrigued. “That’s okay,”

“I’m not very punctual. I put out the fires that are burning the fastest, you know?”

“Sure,” Beca shifted herself in the chair “Does that make me a fire?”

“Mmm, a sparkler, maybe. Controlled.”

A controlled fire, that was better than nothing. Beca hadn’t seen a title on this woman’s door. Maybe she was the supervisor for PR, or just in Human Resources. She was comfortable, taking a sip of her drink and then cringing away from the heat.

“That wasn’t the right way to start. You’re not a fire.” Chloe grimaced and pulled a file out of the bottom drawer of her desk “It looks like you’re the most talented coder on your floor. Graduated Yale with a 4.0, which is super impressive. You’re efficient, Beca.”

She lifted a brow at this. She knew all of this, she stayed late into the night to make sure that she had the best numbers in her quadrant, even if it did sacrifice most of her personal time. Even still, hearing her accomplishments come out of this woman’s mouth made her stomach flutter. She wished she hadn’t put the stress ball back.

“Thank you,” She said.

“On paper, you’re perfect.”

“And not on paper?”

She sighed and threw the file onto the desk without reading the rest. “Frankly, we’ve gotten a few complaints.”

What was that supposed to mean? Sure she kept to herself, often eating her lunch in the corner of the break room with her headphones in. Sometimes, if it was warm enough, she would sit in her car and flip through whatever book she had forgotten to haul back up to her apartment. But she never caused trouble.

“You missed the last meeting,” She tried gently “Which raised a couple of red flags.”

Beca scoffed and sat forward “It was about the Christmas party. It didn’t’ seem important. The app did.”

“The app could have waited.”

“Funny, considering the whole company depends on the newest technology possible. If you all would rather play pin the tail on the Hanukah Donkey, that’s fine.”

She crossed her arms over her chest and schooled her expression like she couldn’t feel her heart in her throat. The way Chloe stared at her could stop a train dead on its tracks. She still couldn’t’ read the expression, and maybe that was a little scarier than being able to.

“You’re determined, and I like you.”

“I’m sensing a but.”

But this company is based on inclusion. We try to make sure that everyone feels welcome. From what I’ve heard, you’ve been invited to Happy Hour multiple times and you refuse every effort.”

“This is about my social life?”

“Lack thereof,”   

Beca leaned forward again, this time not hesitating to grab the neon yellow ball. She squeezed it twice without consequence. Chloe took three more gulps of her drink before pushing it to the side. She cupped her hands together as if to pray “people are concerned.”

“Well, they shouldn’t be. I like to keep to myself. It’s not a big deal.”

“You don’t even go to birthday parties!”

“I didn’t know there were any.” She shot back.

“You’ve worked here for three years, Beca. Do people just not age?”

She smiled at that, but then let the grin drop to a scowl. This was about principle. The company that she worked for shouldn’t have a say in what she did after hours, because they already controlled what she did from 9 to 5.

“I have a proposition for you.”

Beca sighed heavily “I’m listening.”

Chloe grasped one of the flyers on the desk and slid it towards Beca. It was glossy and overdone. The background was a dark red with sharp gold writing. A masquerade ball to advertise the new VPN that they had been developing for months now. It was a little too on the nose.

“You have to come with me to this ball.”

“Do I, now?” She glanced up from the paper, stare heavy “Look, Chloe, even if I was into social interaction, which I’m not”

“Cleary.”

“I wouldn’t start dipping my toes in with a classy masquerade ball where all of these big execs are going to mix drinks. I don’t even think programmers are invited to these things.”

“Which is why you’re my plus one. I planned the entire thing. The way I figure it, if you can fake your way through one night of glam and glitz, you can at least pretend to like sharing cake in the break room.”

She let out a long sigh and squeezed the stress ball a few more times. The woman across from her was staring expectantly. Maybe she had been a little standoffish since she started here. Right now, she cursed herself for not agreeing to one drink every once and awhile.

“One night?”

Chloe nodded with exaggeration “One night, and we’ll never bother you again.”

Beca narrowed her eyes “I don’t have a dress.”

“I do.”

Chapter Text

Chloe could read the discomfort on Beca Mitchell’s face as soon as she unzipped the bag that she had picked up from the dry cleaners. She was struck with the instant scent of lavender detergent, fanning her hand over the outfit like she was picking the next lucky number for the lottery.

Beca had her hand on her chin, a flash of red made her head spin. She was in sweatpants and a grease-stained shirt. She figured that if she had ignored the date on the bottom of the flyer long enough, maybe Chloe would just forget.

No such luck.

“How did you find my apartment?” She asked, clinging to the door.

“It was in your file.”

“I feel like this is slightly illegal.”

“Slightly,” Chloe pushed her way through the door and looked around the apartment. It was kept in a shockingly messy state. Beca presented herself as someone who dotted every ‘I’ and crossed every ‘T’. At least, that’s how she was at work. But there was a leaning tower of pizza boxes and a couple of record sleeves strewn across the room. “You’re not even close to ready.”

“I forgot,” She let the door swing closed “what if we just ignore this PR bullshit and watch a movie instead. Technically I’m still socializing.”

Chloe turned on her heel and scanned Beca up and down. She hugged the bag close to her. “It would look horrible for me to ditch a party I planned.”

“Then you go. I’ll keep watch here.”

“Beca,”

The coder flopped down onto the pile of blankets at the far end of the sofa. She crossed her socked feet and waved her hand in the air as if asking Chloe to continue. For the first time tonight, she noticed the makeup and the slim fitted dress that hugged every inch of the woman’s curves. The black material made the sharp disdain in her eyes glow even further.

But goddamn it, if she wasn’t absolutely captivating. And she smelled lie oranges. Beca had half the mind to stealthy survey her fingers for any trace of a ring. She hadn’t done so in the office, but there was no man to be seen in them. She had blown her chance, she figured, by being her authentic self.

“Red isn’t my color.” She stared at the dress. It had a plunging neckline and would make her look pale. She wasn’t working with much, Chloe was kidding herself. She was also here three full hours before the dreaded thing was supposed to start.

“Just give it a shot. You promised.”

“Wrong. I considered.”

Chloe tossed the bag at her. The fabric was nice, soft against her fingers. She stared at the slight bit of lace and the little bag of gold jewelry that the woman had attached. A few rings and a necklace tipped with a triangle that practically pointed at her cleavage.

“Alright, whatever. I’ll shower.”

She hoisted herself from the couch and tried not to stare too long at the look of triumph on Chloe’s face. It was equally as infuriating as it was attractive. She grabbed a towel from the pile of unfolded clothes on the other end of the sofa and vanished into the back hallway.

Chloe stood like a statue until she heard the water running. Then her curiosity got the better of her and she started to glace around the space; the walls were slathered in charcoal grey and a few album covers were framed and tacked up. Beca had a record player and an extensive library of music. It seemed to be the only tidy thing in here.

She walked over to the couch and picked up one of the blankets. It smelled like detergent and whatever musk Beca radiated herself. She started absently folding, chewing the inside of her lip, so deep in thought that she hadn’t even realized that the shower had shut off and Beca padded into the room in nothing but a towel, still soaked to the bone.

She cleared her throat “Did you clean up?”  

“It’s a nervous habit,” Chloe turned and tried not to let her breath catch. The employee usually stuck with baggy sweatpants and even baggier shirts. They didn’t’ have a dress code at work and she border-lined pajamas with her outfit choices. But Beca? Beca had a figure. “You ready?”

“I’m at your mercy.” She grumbled, “But no eyeliner.”

“oh, come on.”

“You’re not getting close to my eye with a pencil, forget it.” She crossed her arms over her chest, not letting the towel slip in the slightest “Fine. But I’m doing it. Stop pouting.”

Chloe begged to differ. She didn’t pout. She didn’t’ want to push it any further though, so she nodded and grasped the dress before letting Beca lead the way to her room.

            Beca tugged uncomfortably at the hem of her dress as they exited the car. It had hiked up as soon as she sat down, but at that point, she didn’t’ care. The weather had taken a turn to the colder side and she just wanted feeling in her legs. A light dusting of snow had forced their driver to flick on the wipers and move closer to the glass to see past the haze of headlights.

Chloe grasped at her wrist absently, forcing her to stop shifting the fabric. Her hand was warm enough to shock her into complying, but not without a glare. They looked like quite the pair; Beca was almost the same height as Chloe with the heels that were supplied, and she stood out horridly. Red like blood on the snow after a fresh hunt.

The company had spared no expense with the carpet, purple like their logo and leading into a lavish lobby in a hotel that Beca had never been in. She was sure they would throw her out if she walked in and asked to use the bathroom with fancy soap. But when Chloe was at her side, looping her arm through her own, she could pass instantly.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Chloe read the blush on the woman’s cheeks “I’m sure if I weren’t holding onto you, you’d be face down on the floor by now. Take it slow.”

“You sound like a stage mom.”

“In that case,” she frowned “You’re a horrible student.”

Beca scoffed but was secretly thankful for the human crutch. Chloe had an easy way of walking about her, she pulled her shoulders back and lifted her chin, and acted like she owned the whole building. It was one foot in front of the other, and Beca wobbled on the first few, but eventually evened out. Maybe the stance was a tactical thing- to keep the balance.

They walked through the doors and Beca instantly felt her legs wobble at the direct warmth. There was a clothed table by the entrance, lined with identical masks. Chloe plucked a red one off the table and passed Beca a black one, looking at her expectantly.

“The whole purpose of this is for you to get comfortable being around people. Maybe you can do that if they can’t see the top half of your face.” She spoke with ease as she knotted her own mask. And she had to admit, even though this was utterly stupid, she wouldn’t have recognized Chloe in a crowd. Not if she hadn’t spent the last four hours with her.

She fastened her own mask and took Chloe’s outstretched hand, begrudgingly but thankful at the same time; the ballroom was equally as impressive, violet lights on an installed dance floor and clothed tables with little favors and plates. It looked like a wedding for bank robbers, but Beca couldn’t help letting her mouth prop open.

“Shocked?” Chloe asked, scanning the décor “I do know how to throw a hell of a party.”

“The last party I went to was not this classy.” Beca breathed “We did have bongs made out of apples though, so I’m going to need you to step up your game.”

Chloe smiled, it looked brighter under her mask. She leads them towards a table in the corner and plucked two flutes of champagne from the passing waiter. Alcohol. That was something that Beca wasn’t opposed to. She finished it in two long gulps.

She hovered awkwardly by as the woman who had dragged her here in the first place spoke with a couple of people that she wouldn’t have recognized even if they were shrouded by masks. They shouted over the music; a man in a snazzy looking suit questioned her presence.

“This is one of the most talented coders we have!” Chloe shouted over the sound of the base “Almost single-handedly created the VPN.”

“You’re impressive!” He called out to her “Such a pretty date too!”

Chloe just laughed and Beca thanked him over the bass. He squeezed Chloe’s shoulder before vanishing into the crowd. She leaned close then, her breath hot against Beca’s collarbone, and that familiar floral scent clouded her lungs and judgment. “See, that wasn’t so hard. You’re a natural. Want to dance?”

She did not, in fact, want to dance. But Chloe pulled her onto the floor almost as smoothly as the champagne glasses. Beca was glad that she had swallowed it so quickly. It made the idea of dancing seem more appealing. And Chloe did have good taste in music.

They worked themselves into the crowd and Beca let the sound flow through her. She ignored all of the people, for the most part. Chloe was painfully obvious behind her, grinding close, running her hands across the dress that she had picked out. Beca felt like she was back in college- and she had to admit, she was having fun.

She lost track of how many songs they had danced to, but eventually, the DJ lowered the music and spoke into the microphone. “Alright folks, we having fun? I hope so! I want to interrupt your masquerade for just a moment.”  

There were a few groans from the crowd, but none of them sincere.

“Now, I know you’re all being secretive about your identities tonight. But I want to pull the one and only Chloe Beale onto the stage. Y’all okay with that?”

There were a few shouts from the people around her, followed by applause as Chloe gave Beca’s arm a squeeze and maneuvered her way through the crowd. A woman in an even tighter navy blue dress helped her up the stage and Beca clapped along, lilting her head as she watched, captivated like the rest of the room.

This didn’t’ feel customary, bringing the party planner up to say a few words. Not when it was essentially a giant PR event for a tech company. Beca crossed her arms over her chest as Chloe captivated an entire crowd.

“I’m glad you’re all having fun under the cover of the night,” She lowered her voice dramatically, flashing that brilliant smile. “And we’re so happy to unveil our new VPN, that everyone has been working so hard on.”

It had been months of coding, Beca having to fix so many bugs that the 0’s and 1’s ran circles around her head. Hearing praise from Chloe’s lips made her tingly- or maybe that was the buzzing of her skin after eating cold pizza for breakfast and drinking on a nearly empty stomach.

“We strive for innovation and protection, and our new product can give you just that.” She gripped the podium and waited for a few cheers to settle “When I first started this company in my parent's basement, which doubled as our laundry room, I never imagined this. Thank you, and enjoy the party!”

Beca’s heart had seized in her chest then, as the music started up and the people around her moved with the rhythm once more. She let them bump into her as she mindlessly walked to the edge of the lit-up floor, towards Chloe.

This made sense to her, finally, it made sense. The reason why she was pushing her so hard to interact with other people in the office, why she didn’t have a title on her door. Chloe was the boss. Chloe had seen her ratty apartment and, oh my god, Chloe knows she smokes weed.

The woman in the navy dress talked animatedly to the woman at the side of the stage, nodding and gesturing to the rest of the room. Chloe looked pensive, she mumbled something under her breath and immediately turned towards Beca.

“Dude, what the hell?” She asked, sounding less elegant than she’d hoped.

Chloe shrugged “Stacie from HR wanted to talk to you first but I thought I’d give it a shot.”

“This is literally your party.”

“Yes?”

“Like in your honor. Not something you planned.”

“Well, I did that too.” She shrugged nonchalantly as Beca gaped at her “Look, Beca. I like you, okay? You’re one stubborn girl. And I wanted to spend a night with you, is all. When the report about your lack of social skills happened across my desk, I took a chance.”

She felt her cheeks heat up “You could have just asked me, you know?”

“Would you have said yes?”

“Absolutely not,” She pointed her finger “But only because you’re making me wear a dress. Maybe next time, we could just settle for street tacos or something?”

Chloe laughed, and it was a beautiful sound that mixed so perfectly with the music. “Next time?”

Chapter Text

Chloe let the red wine wash over her tongue, a single line dripping past her lips and falling from her chin. She cringed away from the sour taste because it was cheap and from a cardboard box that sat at the back of their fridge for months on end. But it didn’t’ stop her from drinking it- no, it made her reach for a second one as she tipped the large container and watched the crimson color slosh around a soap-stained glass.

It didn’t’ matter, none of it mattered because her cheeks were already blossoming with blush and she had stripped halfway from her elegant dress that caught all the right edges of the moonlight. Her skin prickled from the cold on her bare arms and her ankles were sore from the heels she had palmed and then left by the door with her keys.

She stumbled to the large windows that faced the ocean and stared out at it. The waves were black like the ink on the pages strewn across the piano and the sand was bleached white like the paper it was written on. She could see a few blurry shapes crowded around the low light of a bonfire and two young girls screaming at the cold of the breaking water.

Chloe wanted to slam her fist into the window until it matched the color of her wine. She wanted to scream at them that they were foolish and that young love never lasted until her throat was raw and bloodied with distaste. But she didn’t. They wouldn’t hear her anyway.

Chloe turned from the beach and placed the half-empty glass on the top of the piano. She hit the shrillest note with her finger and frowned. Beca could make it sound so effortless; the way her touch would glide across the keys and make something more. It was the creativity that got them this house, that had won her gold records and even a few platinum ones. It got her a Grammy tonight too.

So did the light touches that she ran across her executives back, and the way she leaned in and laughed with alcohol on her breath. Beca Mitchell was Hollywood’s heartthrob and she could play into the role like a violinist that had the strings sewn into the pads of their fingers.

She wasn’t one for jealousy.

Not at first. Chloe had been secure in their relationship through college, and the years they lived in a shitty one-bedroom apartment above an Indian place that always smelled of spice and sweetness. She knew Beca would come home after her shift at the station, and pull her close after sliding a simple golden band around her finger. They were married on the beach, that shown of black waves and white sand.

But things were different now- things were glamorous and expensive and Chloe clung on as hard as she could. She taught with her maiden name at a local elementary school and wore sunglasses and low-bearing hats to ward off the people that hid in the bushes, and all of that was manageable because Beca was faithful.  

Chloe finished off her second glass of wine in three gulps.

She sat down on the piano bench and scratched at her bare collarbone. The sleeves of her dress hung low around her waist and touched the back of her ankles but she made no move to shift them. She watched as the fire down the shore dimmed and the girls moved their shivering bodies back to the warm sand, still holding the heat of the day.

She didn’t’ hear the door open or close. Her blood was rushing past her ears and her fingers were twitching as if she wanted to hit the strongest key again, but she could barely muster the softest. The moon was full and that meant something more.

“You’re sitting in the dark.”

Chloe didn’t’ dignify it with an answer. She wanted to reach to her side and pull another sip from the glass of wine but there was nothing to swallow but her own words. Her bones ached and her skin was cold and she didn’t shift when Beca sat down next to her on the piano bench.

Her wife hit the deepest note three times, right where the groove of her fingers usually fit. She balled her hand into a fist and swallowed and didn’t’ dare let out a sigh. “Chloe, I know you’re upset.”

She had half expected Beca to follow her from the award show and the after-party that was littered with white powder and little tabs that you slipped under your tongue. It seemed to go hand in hand with the gold statues and the bubbling champagne. Chloe had had four glasses and called a taxi and didn’t’ bother squeezing her wife’s hand before stumbling up their front steps and stripping, only halfway, out of the gown that was given to them.

Those six drinks were throbbing against her temple now. She gave a watery laugh “What gave it away?”

“I knew I fucked up the moment I said it. Or didn’t’ say it. And you were upset then, I saw it all over your face. You said you were fine and I knew you weren’t fine.” She took an even sigh “But I was caught up in everything… the lights and the drugs and,”

Chloe turned to face her. The woman’s cheeks were wet with tears and they reflected the color of her velvet eyes. There was a twinge of guilt that was outweighed by the pain and anger of earlier. That urge to grab her face and kiss the pain away was only there momentarily.

“Do you remember the first apartment we were in?” When Chloe didn’t’ respond, Beca continued softly. “You came home from work and looked exhausted, and I wanted to cook you dinner. But we couldn’t afford pots and pans yet so I promised the food place downstairs that we would pay them back.”

Chloe lifted her chin “We ate curry on plastic chairs with our fingers.”

“Yeah,” she smiled and sniffed “Yeah we did and it was messy, and kind of gross. But I- I miss that. I miss not having to fight every single day to fit in with these people. I never had to try to fit in with you.”

“Then why didn’t you say it?”

“Because I’m a fucking tool, Chloe. You married a douche bag that forgets to thank her wife in her awards speech even though she practiced it a million times in the mirror.”

Chloe stared at the way her face softened and then hardened again in thought. The way her fingers were twitching but not fully pressing the keys. Their bones ached and their breath mingled with the scent of alcohol and mint mojito gum.

Her heart burned with jealousy, and she still wanted to hit the glass that trapped them in this extravagant house. But instead, she intertwined her fingers with Beca and moved until her head was on her wife’s shoulder. They sighed into the slight touch, each of them for entirely different reasons.

Chapter Text

Beca was always the first to stir in the morning. It wasn’t by the light that streamed through the blinds, but her own biological clock that did it. A seven am on the dot, she would wake and stretch and feel her fingers met with the cold of the house. The blinds were drawn and a little slit of yellow, or sometimes gray depending on the weather, mapped itself on the wooden floor.

They hadn’t done much to the old Victorian manor at the edge of town. It came furnished and the only thing they bothered changing was the sheets on the four-post bed and the towels in the closet. They smelled so thickly of must that Beca made the begrudging trip into town for supplies.

Beca would pad down to the kitchen on the creaky wooden stairs and flicked on the coffee maker. She reveled in the darkness, in the cool relief from the South Carolina air. They kept the central unit on high and thick curtains over nearly every pane of glass in the house.

Chloe would stir an hour after her wife.

Maybe it was the absence of heat or her own lungs filling with dark roast. She followed the scent and grasped at the paper set on the kitchen table. She would skip to the sports section first but would always return to the front page for whatever story they deemed import enough.

“Ah, a firefighter with a cat.” She creased the paper “Charming and quaint.”

Beca grunted as she stood on her toes to grasp two mugs. They also came with the house, covered in dust until she scrubbed them. A cartoonish illustration of teddy bears dawned the front and she couldn’t bring herself to read the cheesy sayings past their first week in the Victorian.

She didn’t’ want to get to know the people in town. It was small enough that she got questioning stares from the gas station clerk whenever they ran out of allergy medication or on the rare occasion, milk. He bit his tongue but studied her face. Doveport South Carolina. Not even on the map.

Chloe figured that this is where people went to disappear. Not when they had fresh blood on their palms and dirt under their nails, but when the dust had settled, and they needed a place to ride out the storm. People lived on boats and deep in the swampy woods. They bought foreclosed homes with cash. They barely went outside, and hell- the air was too stiff.

“Did he pull it from a tree?” Beca asked.

“A storm drain, actually,” Chloe said.

The shorter of the two set down a steaming cup in front of her wife. It was loaded with French vanilla creamer and too much sugar for Beca to stomach. She swallowed two gulps of black coffee and cupped her hands around it to keep in the warmth. The house had to be cold. Though, her nose suffered the most from the stark temperature.

Chloe hummed into the steam rising from her drink “Coleman is supposed to drop of the sample today.”

“Coleman is s douche.”

“A douche with a sample. And besides, he won’t even come into the house. The light is too much for anyone to handle, much less the test slides. He’ll drop it by the greenhouse and be on his way.”

“I don’t even want him in my vicinity, Chlo. His male testosterone permeates the air.”

Chloe didn’t’ dignify Beca’s dramatics with a response. It reminded her of the days when she would run around on playgrounds, crunching over mulch and trying to get away from the boys with cooties. But then she had become a biochemist and even well before that, knew that that’s not how things spread.

Not cooties anyway. Maybe the flu or a common cold, but the only thing men were good for in this century was transporting what they needed. People in Doveport never gave a man a second look. Not when they dawned a hat and had grease on their hands. They wouldn’t question his duffel bag or the scent of gunpowder.

Beca went to take another sip of her coffee but stopped mid gulp when the familiar hum of the central cooling system sputtered to a stop. They had grown so used to the noise and the icy atmosphere. She exchanged a worried look with her wife and lowered the cup. “Well shit.”

“Was it supposed to storm today?”

“No. I checked.” Beca tapped the paper absently before pulling herself from the kitchen table. They didn’t’ have much time before their backup generators would kick on. But those hadn’t either. Not yet. Why hadn’t they? Fuck.

Chloe must have had the same thought. Worry crossed her features before she padded across the kitchen and pulled the door to the basement open. She creaked down the steps and was instantly overwhelmed by the heat that had already begun to fill the sod-coated room.

There weren’t basements in the south. Not usually but they had chosen the old Victorian because it had one in the first place. She walked towards the line of tables that were usually lit by a bluish-purple light. Those had gone off too.

In the stumbling darkness she grasped the samples carefully and placed them in the large freezer under the stairs. The ice that incrusted it wouldn’t’ last long but hopefully this power outage wouldn’t either.  She sealed it. She prayed about it too but wouldn’t’ let Beca know about that.

Science was magic and magic was science and religion fell somewhere in between but it eased her mind to speak to a higher power regardless.

“Chlo! I think you should see this!”

She didn’t waste any time sprinting up the slotted stairs and leaving the musty basement behind. Sweat had formed against her cheeks and made her skin tight when it hit whatever cold air was left in the nearly empty living room. Beca had peeled the blackout curtain back and the light stung her eyes.

“You opened the window?” Chloe asked.

“I was curious.” Beca Said.

Chloe sighed and squeezed close to her partner before she herself pulled back the dark cloth just an inch. Her heart rushes faster and there was a heat leaking through the windows. She hated the south and the lack of silence that it held onto.

It was the same street that she saw once or twice a month when she ventured from the house. There was another house across the way that had been empty since they arrived. There was a cop that lived next door and a nice family adjacent to them. But right now- there was blood.

The patrol car that usually sat in the driveway was turned on its side and a mass of guts and blood and teeth stirred in the front driveway. She saw fingers flick and smelled fire, or gas, or a mix of both. It made her throat burn.

A stranger, a man in fishing waders had half of his face missing and a dead look behind his yellowed eyes. He limped and groaned tepidly, continuing like he was going on a stroll. His jaw swung back and forth as a clock and Chloe grimaced.

“Well damn.” She let the curtain fall, “This is bullshit we were so close.”

“I know, but someone else was closer.”

Beca walked back towards the kitchen and grasped her now chilled cup of coffee. She finished it off and grabbed the newspaper, looking at the smiling face of the firefighter with a burnt-looking cat in his arms. It was filthy and its fur was matted. She frowned and placed it back on the table.

“Damn government funding. If I could have just gotten my hands on the Amscope.” She grimaced “we’re going to buy you a whole house but you can use a magnifying glass to create a zombie virus.”

“The institution is counting on you, Miss Mitchell.” Chloe mocked.

“Doctor Mitchell, I swear, they always forget that part. You know what we can’t forget? The nine years of our life that we spent getting degrees in science and then another three years held up in this place creating a bioweapon that we didn’t even get to release.”

Chloe lifted her eyebrows and leaned against the adjacent kitchen wall. She had to admit, it was a little disappointing. A letdown after all of this time. But she felt a bit of relief well up inside of her. They would send an extraction team for them at some point and then maybe they would be directed to create a cure. Maybe.

“I think we should get a cat,” Chloe said, picking up the paper and wiggling it towards her wife. “Look at his cute little face.”

“Mm, before or after the apocalypse?” Beca asked.

“During, probably,” Chloe said. “I’d consider a dog.”  

Chapter Text

She heard it before she saw it, the incessant chattering of her male coworkers. It was the same every single morning; a bunch of men with half-suits, or suit jackets, or loose ties, standing around a coffee machine that whirred and sputtered. They didn’t’ have a literal water cooler, but Beca knew if they did, they would be swarming like gnats to honey-soaked bread.  

“Look what I have?” Jason said.

“Oh, shit dude,” Rick said.

Beca clenched the corner of the fridge tighter and leaned into the cold scent of cheese and half-rotted vegetables. She scanned the Tupperware containers that were stacked liked Tetris and tried to hear them over the hum of the Maytag. It was hard, but not impossible.

“She is… well, she is magnificent.”

She. Well, that didn’t’ narrow anything down. It could be a boat or a car or even a damn pool noodle. Anything that they could objectify and name and own. And really it was just as degrading as it sounded but in this case, they seemed to be talking about a magazine. A playboy that had the back folded over.

Her fellow Coders leaned with their backs to the coffee machine, each in pale button-downs, each practically drooling over whatever page they had turned to. Beca clenched her jaw and let the fridge fall shut with a muffled bang. Not muffled enough to keep her usually unnoticed presence under wraps.

They looked like well-groomed deer in headlights.

Jason snatched the magazine from his counterpart and hid it behind his back. Color blossomed against his cheeks and he started to squirm. “Nothing,”

“Nothing? Because it looks like a porn magazine to me.” She held her hand out and flexed her fingers. It was the universal sign for wanting him to hand over whatever wasn’t there. He eyed her suspiciously, then looked at Rick, then back at Beca before he shoved it forward.

She smiled and flipped right to the page that they were gawking at. Because not only did she feel kind of excluded from a mostly male office, but she also liked the deflated expressions that Rick and Jason wore like masks.

The picture was a mostly modest one if you didn’t count the placement of the woman. Most of this stuff was online now and it was rare to see a magazine in the first place. But this dawned a classic centerfold image of a woman. Her legs spread and the part that kept everyone guessing cut expertly with the spine. There was tan skin and curly russet hair, hand fingers dawned in gold rings.

She lifted an eyebrow because this was the thing her coworkers were gawking at? Not even a full picture. But it was enough to get them embarrassed and aroused and she never really understood why. Her eyes flicked down to the corner; in neat cursive writing, sat a name. Chloe Beale.  

Beca had to stifle a cough, more of a choke after her throat dried entirely. She had to keep a cool face, but some red color must have gotten to her cheeks because now Jason was grinning like a fool again. He shoved his elbow into Rick’s arm.

“Nice, huh?”

“Yeah,” Beca croaked. She shut the magazine “Mind if I keep this? Just for a bit?”

Rick spoke to his friend “I mean sure, just don’t forget to lock the bathroom door behind you.”

Beca fought the urge to roll her eyes, but she did anyway. “Yeah, whatever.”

She tucked the magazine under her arm and left the breakroom then. There was a cacophony of typing and she nodded at a few people that offered her smiles as she walked towards her corner office. She beckoned her assistant as she walked with her free hand and closed the door behind them.

They had given her the space for “Human Relations” but the main reason for the privacy lay in the fact that Beca knew how to calmly talk down anyone, except for herself. She would have them leaving with a smile and a feeling of accomplishment even if she spun the bad news about sales in a different way. It was all about perspective, and right now her perspective was in shambles.

Emily closed the door behind them and stood there expectantly. She watched as Beca drew the blinds on the windows leading towards the office. She paced a few times, magazine in hand before stopping and staring at her assistant.

“Are you going to fire me?” Emily asked “Because if you are, just rip the bandage off Beca. I can take it.”

“I’m not going to fire you, Em”

There was a thick sigh of relief. It didn’t’ last long. Beca turned the page to the centerfold image once more and shoved it towards her friend. She frowned at it for a moment. “Oh?”

It took Emily the same amount of time to figure out the caption. She had turned the magazine vertically, her deep eyes widening and her mouth forming a thin line. “Oh! Oh my god.”

“It’s Chloe,”

“Your Chloe.”

Yes, her Chloe. Not anymore- it had been years since they had seen each other and even more time since they had spoken more than two sentences. But Beca didn’t’ think her childhood flame would turn towards nude modeling, and she didn’t’ figure that she would be the watercooler discussion of the day.

Her blood was running cold and she had to sit down. Instead, she settled for leaning against the edge of the desk and squeezing the bridge of her nose. She didn’t’ want to look at it, she didn’t’ want to think about her first girlfriend posing like that.

I mean- Chloe had every right to do so but that didn’t’ make her jaw drop any higher. “She looks nice,”

“Not helping, Emily.”

“Sorry, it’s just” The girl threw the magazine back on the desk. “You should reach out to her. The two of you… God the two of you had everything. There wasn’t’ one kid who didn’t idolize what you had.”

Beca nodded. She knew that, to a certain degree. They had met in middle school and stayed together until College. God, college was an absolute dampener and long-distance didn’t’ work for anyone, not even the strongest of people. They had been named homecoming queens both Junior and Senior year, only to break up on Beca’s porch in the stifling summer heat months later.

Emily the wide-eyed freshmen, the innocent friend. The one who Beca went to when she needed cheering up. They mixed all the flavors of Slurpee together at the local 7/11 and made something they called the Frankenice. It was stupid and tasted horrible but it made her feel better, and then it made her feel worse enough to throw up on the sidewalk.

That was years ago, and they had grown into adults. Beca didn’t’ try to contact Chloe, but she did look up her socials in vain. She was pretty; gorgeous and interesting and nothing ever hinted towards this. Not that it was bad and not that she disapproved of the lifestyle, but it made her ache. It made her regret not reaching out sooner. And that made her want to throw the magazine across the room.

“Wouldn’t it be kind of… I don’t know, obvious if I message her right after this thing printed?”

“Half the city is probably messaging her right now,” Emily blew air out of her nose but settled at the pointed glare she received “Look- she probably misses you. You guys didn’t end on bad terms, right? Just not ideal ones.”

Beca rounded her desk and flopped down in her chair. She pulled open her laptop, not blinking an eye when Emily pressed against her back and stared as she pulled open the tab for Instagram. She typed in Chloe Beale and her profile popped up along with four or five fan accounts for her. And Beca had been stupid not to do this before.

They pulled up her feed and Beca felt like she was intruding, but she wasn’t. This was a public and popular profile with pictures of Chloe in bikinis smiling widely and then a few of her at the mansion itself. But most were just joyous and filled her with warmth. She clicked on the messages, open to the public. She typed something and let it linger.

Emily scoffed, hitting the back of the chair. “Hey?... Really? That’s what you’re going with? What are you, Ten?”

“Okay, okay! What would you write?”

“Move please,” Emily shoved Beca to the side and spoke while her fingers worked against the keyboard. “Hey Chloe, how have you been? I know we haven’t spoken in years, but I would love to catch up. If you’re ever in New York, we should grab a drink or coffee.”

She sent it before Beca could object about it being too formal, or not formal enough. Emily shut the laptop and stood back. She was proud of herself and wore the smile that showed it. “Don’t touch that until tomorrow. Play hard to get even though you’re the one initiating conversation.”

“I-“

“No buts, even if she messages back right now, you don’t touch. No.” Emily pointed a finger at her. “I know how this works, I’m still in the dating scene.”

“And I’m not?” Beca asked incredulously

“Please,” Emily scoffed “if you were, you wouldn’t have a magazine with Chloe as the Centerfold.”

Chapter Text

Beca Mitchell’s phone was a box of constant communication. She had her emails redirected so that she could feel every single time she needed to address something at the office, even if she was there and the soft pinging culminated in the very screen she stared at. She had a multitude of contacts and would video chat with the team in Italy, and sometimes L.A.

So, what she knew deep down, was that it was impossible for her not to look at her phone all day. Physically she had to check the notifications to keep her world running. Emily intercepted most of them, keeping her deep stare on her own screen before glancing up at her boss every couple of minutes. They were both on edge and Beca didn’t much appreciate the tension that sparked between them.

She held her breathe each time a new ping sounded off until eventually that lull of anxiety was hushed to a dull ache in the pit of her chest. She went through her morning meets and a new presentation to her team about how their coding for a new watch wasn’t up to parr- they had a few days to fix it before it dropped, and the CEO made sure she knew that.

When the notification from Chloe did finally come through, Beca almost didn’t’ notice. She registered the pink of the logo that slowly shifted to a deep purple. But the name? Oh, the name she hadn’t clocked for a few seconds after that. And even then, Chloe Beale? Her Chloe, actually responded.

Beca lilted the computer screen and frantically looked up at Emily, who was already at her door. She didn’t bother to knock. Instead, she situated the office and closed the blinds and very coolly, but not so coolly, pressed her back against the wood and breathed.

“Dude,” Beca said.

“I know,” Emily said “Did you read it?”

She hadn’t read it. She hadn’t even thought to read it because her mind got stuck behind the massive roadblock that was Chloe Beale and her stupid pun username. She opened the application and hesitated over the message icon. She was supposed to be playing it hard to get like she didn’t’ care if she even got a response. But she did care and apparently so did her assistant because she was right behind her, blindly gawking like her halo fell into her eyes and blinded her from right and wrong.

“If I click this she’ll see that I read it and then there’s no going back.”

“You don’t want to go back, do you?”

“You told me to keep her guessing,”

“Truthfully, I didn’t think you’d even get a response.” Emily shrugged sheepishly “Figured you would forget about it in a few days and… open it.”  

Beca frowned but hovered the mouse over the message. She wanted to close her eyes but felt like she was watching a car accident, complete with the red and blue flashing lights and the metallic crunch of metal. Either way, she couldn't avert her stare. She didn’t want to.

Chloe: Hey stranger. I must admit that I was never expecting to hear from you again, big shot manager. I’ve kept my tabs on you… New York is my home, so if you’re serious about coffee, so am I.

Her breath caught in her throat. Chloe Fucking Beale had said yes. Her childhood love had agreed to coffee that neither of them could probably stomach. Chloe Fucking Beale who was a playboy model with more than a million Instagram followers, and Chloe Fucking Beale who she was pretty sure she still loved.

There had been other people, men, and women that she had thought she fell for. She folded into soft touches and stronger commands. She was happy for months at a time and on one rare occasion a full year with a man who ran his own tours of the city. But none of those relationships had ever been like the one she had with Chloe.  

 Beca pulled in a long breath that filled her lungs with stale coffee and copy paper. She tilted her lid and looked to Emily because she was the expert. And Beca was frozen. That same cold excitement filled her and it also rocked her ever-loving shit. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t think.

Emily looked at the darkened screen, then at her boss, then back at the screen before lunging forward and typing back a reply. Perfect. Are you free this Saturday?

It turns out that Chloe was free that Saturday and if she wasn’t, she didn’t’ say a word and quietly cleared her schedule. The day was quickly approaching and Beca really wanted to know why the New York Branch put her in charge of everything when she could barely figure out what to wear to a simple cup of coffee.

This felt more like a simple cup of coffee.

Emily eventually got tired of the barrage of pictures she was getting and took a cab to Beca’s apartment an hour before the actual date. They settled on black jeans and a blue button-down that Emily pulled closer to her chest for extra measure because according to her “You look good in anything and Chloe won’t be able to make eye contact with you.”

Then she was on a subway that smelled like stale snow and hot morning breath. They picked a small shop downtown that not many people knew about. It was a feat in the city to find a place that wasn’t packed like a sardine can and Beca trusted Chloe’s judgment tenfold.

Beca got there first, and her palms were sweating despite the cool atmosphere that swept through the little shop each time the door opened. It was a meta cross between a thrifted bookstore and a café. People sat and ate and read and the scent of what Beca imagined old magic to be, mingled well with coffee grinds and fresh pastries.

She ordered a simple black americano and settled by the front window, the glass fogged from a warm contrast with the cold of the busy street and curved lettering faced the patrons. There was a simple logo and one barista behind the counter. She chose a random book and pretended to read, but only skimmed the same paragraph over and over again.

Her main focus was on the door and the bell that chimed each time it was opened. One of those times, after a businessman and a hipster kid hugging his laptop close to his chest, it was Chloe. Soft and vibrant compared to the rest of the dim academic setting.

Her hair was pulled behind her ears and a pair of golden framed glasses rested on her nose. She had aged like wine and the wind that blew in behind her carried the sweet scent of southern peaches through the front door. She wore a white sweater with a plaid peacoat and high wasted jeans, and Beca knew she was staring.

Everyone was, they couldn’t’ help it. She overtook the room with a warm and sparked presence. If anyone recognized her they didn’t’ say a thing, out of saving their own face or because the girl in the centerfold of the latest playboy was wildly different than the one standing in front of her. This… this was her Chloe.

She didn’t’ know if she could hug Chloe, if touching was okay, but as she stood to greet her, she was pulled into the warmth of the woman. She was wrapped in overwhelming touch and emotion and she buried her nose into Chloe’s hair as they held onto each other, not quite willing to let go of the familiarity before realizing that it was inappropriate not to.

“Wow,” Chloe ran her hands down Beca’s arms, stopping at her elbows “You haven’t aged a day, have you?”

“It’s the lighting in here, I think it’s one step up from basement overhead.”

Chloe laughed and it was a magical sound. The only thing more intoxicating was her smile, which never seemed to leave her lips as she ordered her own drink, something loaded with sugar and caramel, and leaned forward across the table to get a better look at her date.

Beca sipped her coffee and quirked an eyebrow “What?”

“I haven’t seen you in ten years, I think it’s perfectly acceptable for me to study you.”

“There’ll be plenty of time for that,” She tested “What have you been up to all these years?”

Chloe leaned back in her seat and cupped her mug. It was a russet red and steam rose from the pale liquid that soaked inside. There was a sickeningly sweet odor to it and part of Beca regretted ordering nothing but a black coffee. It seemed like a disservice to the atmosphere of the shop.

“Oh, a bunch of stuff here and there. I used to be based out of LA, I did a lot of acting there. Little stuff like soap operas and a couple of commercials. It wasn’t for me, though so I moved here to pursue modeling and it’s been going well. Really well.”

Beca didn’t’ want to mention the playboy magazine or the curve of Chloe’s legs and the way her skin shown under the bright summer sun. She never returned it to Jason because he never asked for it back. It was an unspoken solidarity between the two.

“That’s amazing,” Beca smiled, feeling excitement in her chest “Anything I would recognize?”

Chloe hummed into her drink “Mm, maybe a few things. It depends on how you feel about Playboy. I never thought you were much of a reader.”

Beca looked down dejectedly at the old spined book to her right. It was true, she hadn’t read the Catcher in the Rye and she barely got through the introduction paragraph because of the nerves and the heartbeat that beat so strongly against the inside of her wrist right now.

“I’m not usually. But I do enjoy looking at the pictures.” Beca flicked her stare back towards the woman across from her “Though, that’s not the reason I reached out to you.”

“Truth is, I’ve always wanted to message you, but you looked like you were doing so well. Like you were so happy. I didn’t want to throw you off or seem like I was chasing something that we used to have.” She said, “So I waited.”

It was Beca’s turn to laugh, “I felt the same exact way. We’re both pretty stupid, then huh? Waiting like this for something we knew… for something we knew we wanted.”

Chloe smiled wider and clinked her mug against Beca’s yellow one, not spilling any of the mostly full drink. “To being stupid. And getting to know each other all over again.”

And that’s exactly what they did. They sat and talked until they were the only two in the coffee shop and Beca even dared to kiss Chloe when they got to the subway platform.  She tasted like caramel and sunshine if such a thing was even possible.

But it was because she had found Chloe. Centerfold Chloe. High school Chloe, and most importantly, her Chloe.

Chapter Text

The first thing Beca Mitchell realized, was that the ground was still frozen. Even though it was well into May and a subtle sweat was dripping its way down her back, it seemed as if the soil in St. Joseph cemetery didn’t’ get the memo- and if it did, it had been swiftly ignored.

She had almost fallen over, sticking the tip of the iron shovel just below the grass before balancing on its wings and nearly toppling into the marker that was just to the right of the one she had positioned herself on top of- and really, Beca Mitchell wasn’t built to rob graves. She wasn’t built to do anything except for curl up and sleep.

It was well past three am and her exhaustion was still clinging to her just like the scent of freshly turned dirt filled the air. And this was stupid, truly, it was. Because the last thing she ever wanted to do was dig up the grave of some old bat because her gold-plated watch had a gold-plated map on the bottom that would lead to even more gold.

Someone else had probably, probably dug this up before. But the coordinates that she stumbled upon on the campus library had an unbroken seal. So, she thought that maybe it was possible that the famous Beale treasure was still here, still hidden, and still buried under feet of half-frozen mud.

Beca got the first layer of mottled dirt and grey grass away from the opening before she decided to catch her breath. Her shoulders ached and she was sure that a splinter was wedged into the palm of her hand at this point. Her exhale clouded in front of her.

Gravediggers had some gull, she decided, to do this for a living. But she was also sure when no one was watching they brought out a machine that did this for them. It was horrible work- horrible needless work. She was a history major, a stupid history major that just got into cryptography because of an undergrad, and fell into a deep dark hole of lies and codes and deceit.

The Beale family really was at the center of it all. Their names were on several of the buildings on campus and there was an ominous oil painting of Mr. Thomas Beale in the science wing. He wore a lavish blue coat that must have been a fortune in those days and scowled down at the students hunched over different mixtures.

She had already committed some… crimes, or vandalism when she snuck into the dark hallways and took a pocketknife to the back of the dusty canvas. She didn’t’ press hard enough to break into the layer that faced the world, but she hoped vainly that whoever dusted around it next didn’t hold it up to the sun because there would be a very precise square missing from the middle.

The map in the book had led her to the painting and the painting had lead her to Chloe Elizabeth Beale’s grave, which she was now more than halfway through. She could smell the wet overturned soil and her own sweat, and the blood from the blisters on her palms.

A golden light swept across the campus cemetery and Beca didn’t’ waste any time dropping into the hole in the ground that she had just upturned. She held her breath as if the person wasn’t just a passing stranger in their car or some students leaning into one another with the smokey stone park as a backdrop.

She was on her back, trying to ignore the prospect of worms squirming under her clothes. She watched the light and fought the urge to drift off because the dirt was shockingly comfy and warm after a while. The lull of the nearby engine was enough to seduce anyone.  

“Why are you robbing a dead woman?” A voice whispered.

Beca shot her eyes open and a scream threatened to form in her throat before passing her lips. But before she could a hand clamped over her mouth, strong and cold and also tasting of soil. She breathed in thickly and darted her eyes towards her left.

For all intents and purposes, Beca Mitchell figured that she was alone in the graveyard. She had been alone while digging and alone while researching where to dig. More importantly, she had been completely and utterly alone while she ducked and flattened herself on top of the soil.

But a woman was next to her, so close that she should be able to feel body heat and she should be able to notice something other than her stunning, ghostly, looks. Her red ringlets of hair and the way little specks of black sludge against rosy, white skin. There were freckles, soft and subtle ones that would be void for not the fleeting headlights still shining through the markers.

“You shouldn't do that, I don’t know who’s in that car but they won’t take kindly of you robbing a dead woman. Why are you doing that, by the way? Robbing a dead woman?”

The girl frowned as if she realized Beca couldn’t answer with a hand over her mouth and pulled back, her breath was just as cold as her skin, even as it pushed against Beca’s collar bone and made her hair raise.

The historian made an uneducated leap. “Why did you die rich enough to rob?”

She had never seen valid photos of Thomas Beale’s wife, but it was only rational, or irrational, to figure that this was her. She hadn’t even hit wood yet and ghosts… ghosts weren’t technically real, not that she could prove or disprove.

But this woman, beautiful and dark and light all at once, didn’t disprove her theory. In fact, she smiled as if it were more than just assumption. Her white teeth were glistening under the moonlight as it mingled with the rest of the world.

“Oh, you know you’re not the first person to attempt this?” She said, turning from her side so her dark blue eyes faced the sky and the stars within it. Beca was torn between watching her and watching the constellations but figured they were the same thing- really. “The whole grave robbing thing is a bit barbaric though. Started in the nineteenth century when medical students stole bodies to perform dissections.”

“History buff, are we?” Beca asked, trying to gauge the engine of the car turning over again.

“Thomas didn’t think women should be able to learn but I spent most of my time reading regardless. He was quite barbaric too.” She scoffed “Liked to make people fight for their next move. Did he hide treasure, then? No one has ever gotten this far before.”

“Other’s have tried?”

“Plenty. You got the painting, though. Smart. I like smart.”

Beca grimaced and tore her eyes away from the sky. She found that Chloe Elizabeth Beale stared at her now too. They didn’t’ say anything, not for a few moments. She didn’t look dead or dying, she looked preserved, she looked captivating.

“What killed you, then?” Beca asked despite herself, curious “If I’m to rob a dead woman I might as well know what made her that way.”

Chloe had a bit of a smile to her voice; it was a soft sideways grin and it made Beca warm in a cold grave. “Consumption. They said it was consumption anyway, with it’s blood and mass destruction. But it never lined up for me and by the time I had enough sense to refuse the whiskey’s that Thomas poured it was too late. Arsenic really has no taste. Did you know that?”

“Can’t say I did,”

“Thomas was always one for his riddles. He thought it would be poetic to hide the next clue within a cage, buried under dirt and a gold wedding ring that was much too weighty to carry. Once some poor fool got all the way to my finger and figured that was the treasure.”

It was Beca’s turn to smile. “Oh? So if I ever get a chance to clear the dirt, there’s going to be something more?”

“mm,” She hummed, breath not showing as Beca’s did in the slowly dimming night “Maybe. Let me know if you ever get the chance. I’d love to know if there’s any truth to the myth. The legend… something worth dying for.”

Chapter Text

The test tube shattered before anyone could catch it. Not like their reflexes were perfect, or even adequate, but they were sharp enough to notice when the sample got too close to the edge of the counter- and cunning enough to know when it wasn’t good that glass splayed across the tile floor.

Because the truth of the matter was, they didn’t know what it was. It had been labeled by a resident the week before after a woman was wheeled into the ICU and died two days later after her symptoms reached a peak and she coded. And now… well now her blood was among the shards and the metallic scent that filled the air slowly bubbled in the room.

Beca had just taken a mouthful of sandwich and bit down hard on the mix of deli meat and mustard. She chewed slowly, meeting the eyes of the only other woman in the lab; a pediatrician from a few floors down that had been searching for a tiger topped tube.

She swallowed the bit of food on her tongue “Uh oh,”

“You shouldn’t say uh oh in medicine.” The woman glanced down at the sample that splattered the edges of her shoes. “What exactly was in that?”

The woman set down her lunch and stood from her seat before walking to the door and closing it. There was a contamination button right next to the side, and it would seal the base of the door and alert the security department to the fact that there may have been a possible quarantine situation in progress.

She pressed it and turned to face her counterpart. She had seen her in the hallways before, in passing and always found her captivating in a collective type of way. She was good with children, had to be, and had such striking eyes that were pooled with worry at this point. Beca crossed her arms over her chest.

“A blood sample from the woman they brought into the ICU a few days ago, it’s the only thing left of her.”

“Oh… the one that they couldn’t figure out in time?”

“The one that we still can’t figure out.”

Beca crossed the room and shoved the rest of her lunch into the little trashcan next to the lab table she most definitely wasn’t supposed to be eating at. Doctor Chloe Beale watched her all the while, paying most attention to the heavy sound of a deadbolt and the way the blood crept towards the drain.

She never had much trouble eating in the morgue before, and she certainly didn’t’ expect a fiery-haired peds physician to come down here rooting through the rest of the medical supplies that they shouldered off on the less desirable rooms in this place. Overcrowded, understaffed.

It was easy to stay among the dead; the rows of silver drawers and quiet tick of the sink that was broken in the corner. But now they had blood, exposed blood that she was supposed to examine for particulates because no one could figure out what had killed this woman.

“What does that mean for us?” She lifted her eyebrows, taking a tentative step from the slathered rustic color.

“Quarantine,” Beca said.

“Quarantine? I… I have to split an arm, and draw a blood sample from a two-year-old with gastrointestinal discomfort, she can’t even keep Pedialyte down and her parents are not patient.”

“A tiger on a two-year-old? Yikes. Don’t you have interns for that kind of thing?”

She scoffed and leaned against the metal counter. The wall phone started its rhythmic ring and Beca wasted no time picking it up. The security team had gotten back to them, and a dull buzz of activity started outside.

Beca was told not to touch the blood that had spilled on the floor. She was also told that it wouldn’t’ be too long before the CDC came in and checked their levels with their much fancier machines and important equipment, and quite honestly, they could have taken the sample and given the hospital a full answer before they passed it down to a coroner that had little to no knowledge on disease control.

She hung up the phone with a sigh “Do you want the good news or the bad news?”

“Hit me with both,” Doctor Beale held her hands up in surrender “I’m a big girl.”

“Bad news is, we have to stay in here until they figure out what exactly killed that woman, and if we’re also in danger of dying from said thing…” She sounded out carefully “Good news is, most of the company I have down here don’t talk back, so I have exactly three decks of cards, a stress ball, and a lot of snacks.”

“I’m a mean card shark, I have fantastic hand-eye coordination, and I can’t fathom how you eat down here.”

Beca smiled back and rooted around in the bottom drawer among the rubber bands and the paperclips, and a wrapped snack cake that had been there since before she started. One of the interns had even scrawled the date on the plastic wrapping but she couldn’t’ recall it, not with the pediatrician staring her down like this.

She pulled out the cards and gestured for the woman to pull her stool closer. There was nothing else they could do, not really unless they wanted to pull the body of Mr. Hodges from the bottom right tray and perform the county autopsy that she was putting off until the end of the day.

“It’s not that bad, I just can’t like… look at them or anything. Really the morgue is peaceful and it’s the only place in the hospital that legally has to stay at a cool temperature. So I get great air conditioning.”

“Touché. The peds floor is like a sauna this time of year, which really doesn’t’ help fussy kids. Nothing does unless it’s a popsicle or a toy… or superheroes- you know, air condition probably would be nice.”

She was rambling, flustered by either the scent of blood or being in the basement of the hospital with a strange and small doctor who held a pack of cards between her hands, dainty and steady. Beca found it cute, endearing, really.

“How do you fair at poker?” Beca asked, sparing her.

“Mm, not well. I’ve never played.”

“Cribbage?”

“No,”

“Rummy?”

“Yeah… no” 

“Go fish?”

“That’s one I know,” She clapped her hands as if getting an answer right on jeopardy. “Quite good at that one, actually. Card Shark.”

Beca blew air out of her nose and had to stifle a smile. She could see why she chose the profession she did and could see even more why children liked her. Beca tended to not have the best wrap sheet with tiny humans, in fact, some would call her bad at it all together. But she still tried, and happily dealt the two of them even piles of playing cards.

They played for a few minutes, Chloe getting an accurate pile of cards because she was shockingly crushing this game. It took a bit for her to frown and set the fan of cards down on the silver-topped table. She leaned forward, onto her palms, and let out a sigh. There was an overwhelmingly comforting scent of lemon and mint that radiated from her.

“Do you have a will?” she asked.

“I don’t,” Beca frowned “Do you have any seven’s?”

She didn’t’ get an answer, just a hard glare that sent shivers down her spine so she set her own pile down and focused her full attention on the woman in front of her. It wasn’t’ that hard to do, not in the slightest. Not with the way, Chloe’s eyes shined under the lights and the ghost of a constellation moved across her dainty nose and sprawling cheeks.

“Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know I just… Even though this game of Go Fish is rousing, It has me thinking; if I died right now because of whatever is in that blood sample, I wouldn’t want my last memory to be of playing a children’s card game in a creepy basement.” She flushed then, glancing down “With a very beautiful hermit who practically lives in said small basement, but still.”

“No, I get it. Mortality is subjective and when you’re trapped in a room because said chance of survival just got cut in half… it’s not encouraging.” Beca leaned back in her chair and took in her surroundings.

“Right.” She nodded slowly “I work with children, I chose that specialty for a reason. It’s sadder when they die, but it’s rare that they do. Whereas you’re surrounded by it all day and- seriously I don’t know how you eat down here. Or how you’re staying so calm.”

“Doctor Beale,” She laughed, something soft and waning “someone down here opens up a test tube of smallpox or TB every other day down here. I have yet to draw up a will, and frankly… well frankly I don’t think we have anything to worry about.” 

The phone rang again, this time it was loud enough to startle them both, neither breaking eye contact with one another until that very moment. Beca stood and pointed to the cards “Don’t you dare cheat, Doctor Beale, I have eyes on the back of my head.”

She answered and let out a stale sigh of relief because they were going to be fine, and that was something good. But she had also been right about the CDC and their ungodly speed. This was considerably better than being trapped in the room with the old man who trained her in the first place. She hung up the phone and turned to face the woman who was lifting up the edge of her cards.

“I didn’t do it,” She put both hands in the air once more. “What’d they say?”

“You’re off the hook this time. Whatever killed her has nothing to do with bloodwork, so it’s just blood. Not poison. Which means you get away with cheating this entire time at Go Fish.”

“The whole time? I didn’t cheat the whole time.”

She stood and crossed the room to where Beca was standing. She just noticed that the woman was a bit taller than her, and again that sharp scent of mint and lemon from tea coated her throat. It was better than the blood and the chemicals of the lab.

“I’ll uh, I’ll try to be down here the next time someone opens up a vile of consumption. We can have a rematch.”

“That would be nice, I’ll keep an eye on you, though. You’ve got sticky fingers.”

Doctor Beale smiled and grasped the tiger tube that she had come in to get in the first place. She slipped it into her pocket and kept her hand there before taking a small step back away from the spilled blood and the drain that it dripped into.

“I think you’re beautiful too, by the way,” Beca said as the woman reached for the door.

“What?”

“Earlier…  you said I was beautiful.”

“Huh,” She smiled coyly, lilting her head to the side “Did I?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m very observant. You called me a hermit too, but I’ll let that one slide.”