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Stained Glass

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Her head’s pounding a little as she opens her eyes and she realizes the pulsing is keeping time with a knocking on the door downstairs. Before her eyes even open, she thinks of Beca and how much she hates mornings. Especially waking up during them. So she sits up quickly, ignoring the pain behind her eyes, and glances back at Beca’s side of the bed to make sure she’s still asleep.

The bed is empty and it takes longer than it should for Chloe to actually register that fact.

She looks around the room. The bathroom door is open, so she knows Beca isn’t in there. She’s a “chronic bathroom door shutter”, as Stacie calls her. Beca doesn’t even like people seeing her brushing her teeth, which is one of the reasons why Stacie’s snap video the night before had been so funny.

“Becs?” she calls, throwing back the blankets. No answer except another knock on the door. So she stands, slipping on a pair of sandals from under the dresser. She hurries down the steps, realizing she can hear Stacie as she gets closer.

“--I used to have a key, but I don’t know where I put it. Look, Legacy, I’ll boost you up to the window over here and--”

“I’m afraid of heights, Stacie!”

How ?”

Chloe pulls the door open, closing her eyes against the bright sunlight.

“Jesus, there you are.” Stacie steps closer, her long frame blocking out the sun, mercifully. “I was about to catapult Emily through the window to get you.”

Emily waves from behind her. “Morning, Chloe!”

“Hey, Em. What’s up? Do you guys know where Beca is?”

Stacie jerks a thumb at the house. “She was outside, playing ball with Eli.”

Chloe blinks at her, not sure she heard correctly.

Stacie’s eyes widen and her shoulders lift one at a time. “I know. I didn’t believe it either. Maybe she was teaching him to fetch. That sounds more accurate. Either way, she’s up at the house now, waiting for Mamma to finish breakfast.”

Laughing, Chloe steps back into the garage, motioning for them to come in.

“Whoa, memories,” Emily says, spinning on the spot. They'd spent many a Bella night in here, piled inside the Cobra with no intention of going anywhere and laid about Chloe's room, singing into the wee hours of the morning.

“Memories we can relive later, when we’re drunker and wrapped in blankets. But now, running!” Stacie claps her hands together, laughing when Chloe jumps, squinting against the headache settling at the base of her skull. “Come on, Beale. Gotta get moving.” Her fingers fold together until only one is left standing and she points it at Chloe. Her eyes are alight with something Chloe immediately recognizes as mischief. “Unless Mitchell wore you out last night?”

Chloe rolls her eyes, but can’t help smiling. “Nothing happened, Stacie. Just like every other time you’ve ever asked.”

Stacie and Emily exchange a look that Chloe’s too tired to decipher, so she passes them, headed back upstairs. They follow, Stacie tapping the railings with her pinky ring. “I don’t know, Chlo. We all saw that kiss. If you tell me you two didn’t come back here last night and find out exactly how high her belt goes, I’m calling bullshit.”

That kiss.

Chloe would be lying if she said she hadn’t spent the whole rest of the day thinking about it. Logically, she realized pretty quickly what had happened. Beca must have seen her with Tom, Jesse must have told her who he was, and Beca had given her the escape she needed. It made sense. It was quick thinking on Beca’s part, really. The way she’d moved Chloe away under the pretense of a friendly tackle.

What didn’t make sense was how Chloe felt Beca’s lips for the rest of the night. Even as she’d crawled into bed, she’d been able to focus just a little and pull forth the exact feeling of Beca’s slightly parted lips slanting against hers. The exact pressure. The exact rush of heat from her toes to her scalp. And that noise Beca had made when Chloe’s nails dragged across her skin? It had been so unexpected, completely wiping away her thoughts of her family watching, of Tom standing nearby. And when all of that came rushing back, she had blushed . She could count on one hand how many times she’s full out blushed in her life. She just wasn’t the type. She never really got embarrassed or flustered. In fact, she prided herself on being a little unflappable, especially when it came to things like kissing. She wasn’t ashamed of her body or what she could do with it. Her sexuality had never been a huge issue for her. She just did and was and loved however she wanted.

But five seconds pressed against Beca’s lips--which were so soft , and that was unexpected too--and she was blushing like a schoolgirl getting her first Valentine. “Flustered” barely covered what she’d been. “Shook” was probably more fitting.

It had just been so...right. Chloe’s kissed plenty of people in her life and very rarely did she not need to adjust her kissing style to match them or teach her partner something for both of their sakes. But Beca had slipped right in, tilted her head just right, and stolen Chloe’s breath like she’d been trained to kiss her in particular.

“I think she’s dead. Grab her boob.”

Chloe blinks, arms automatically covering her chest. “What?”

Stacie, holding Emily’s hand up like she had been about to place it on Chloe, drops it and smiles. “Welcome back. Care to share with the class?”

She smirks, turning to her dresser to grab running clothes. “Don’t you wish?”

“With everything in me,” Stacie says sincerely, a hand over her heart. “What about you, Legacy? Interested in Chloe’s secret sapphic fantasies?”

True to form, Emily flushes to the tips of her ears and shakes her head rapidly. “No, no, no, that’s totally not my business. Also, like, aka-awkward, you know? ‘Cause Chloe’s like my sister.”

‘Like’ your sister?” Chloe gasps. “I am your sister!”

That seems to thrill her to no end and Emily bounces a little, hands meeting at the front hem of her shirt and pulling it down. “Yeah! Bellas forever!”

As Chloe steps into the bathroom to change and brush her teeth, Stacie slings an arm around Emily and drags her over into the doorway. “Speaking of Bellas forever, I say we go karaoke tonight.”

“I thought we were going to the lake today?” Emily leans into Stacie’s touch, Chloe notices, her arm wrapping around Stacie’s waist.

“I mean after. We go and get wet and wild, then we get drunk and sing until we drop.” Stacie’s eyes glaze over. “My dream life.”

Chloe rinses her mouth out, chuckling. “I’m sure the girls would love that, Stace. We can ask.”

“We can demand!” Stacie shimmies, gracefully twisting into Emily’s arms and dipping back until her hair brushes Chloe’s shoulder. Emily scrambles to grab her more securely so they don’t all topple over. “Take what you want, Chloe!”

It probably says something that her first thought after that is wondering what Beca’s up to, but Stacie whips herself back up so fast that her hair smacks the doorframe and Emily squeaks.

“Alright, ladies. Let’s run. To the gas station?” Their usual running route from back during college.

“Sounds good to me!” Chloe wipes her face on the towel hanging beside the mirror. “You two need a moment before we go?”

Emily, as if just realizing that she’s still holding Stacie’s hips, lets go with the speed of someone touching a hot stove and hurries out of the bathroom. Stacie throws Chloe a wink and follows, tossing her ponytail over her shoulder.

They jog to the end of the road, breaking into a sprint every few minutes. When the gas station comes into view, Stacie takes off ahead of them, long legs carrying her gracefully to the finish line. Chloe and Emily burst into a flat out run to catch up. But Stacie’s leg length leaves them both puffing up to her at the gas pumps a few seconds late.

“Undefeated champion, Stacie Conrad,” she says, swiping her palm across her sweating forehead in a move that should not be as dainty and elegant as it is.

“Your legs” Emily puffs, bent double. She motions at the offending appendages. “They’re like built-in stilts. Your stride is like twice mine.”

“And three times mine,” Chloe adds, clutching the stitch in her side. She leads the way into the station, pulling her debit card from her bra. They make a quick round of the shelves, catching their breath and each grabbing a water and a protein bar. Though it’s been years since they did this, it’s so routine that Chloe’s barely looking where she’s going as she stands up from grabbing her protein bar.

So she bumps directly into a man’s chest. Before she can apologize or even look at who she hit, Stacie’s grabbed her and pulled her into her side. Emily appears at her other elbow, arms folded neatly behind her back.

And Chloe realizes what they’re doing right away, because the man she bumped into is Tom.

He smiles like she’s not flanked by two outrageously tall and beautiful bodyguards. “Chlo. I didn’t think I’d see you ‘til the lake.”

“Oh,” she says, glancing around for Barb. She doesn’t see her. “I didn’t know you were going.”

Tom shrugs, tapping the brownie in his hand against his other palm. “Jesse mentioned it to Barb and we both have today off, so.” His grin widens, taking in their outfits. His face hasn’t changed a bit since college. It still looks like late nights in the quad and warm coffee before class. But she knows now that it sometimes looks like slamming doors and bruised wrists too. “Running, huh? Did you win again, Stacie?”

“Oh, shit, Tom. Look!” Stacie points over his shoulder at the register. “It’s something better to do. Must be off.” She wraps her arm tight around Chloe’s waist and pushes past him to drop her things on the counter by the register.

Sweet, usually oblivious, Emily moves up behind her, taking up the space between them and Tom. “Can I have a Snickers too?” She hooks a wrist over Chloe’s shoulder and points.

Chloe grabs the candy, handing it and her card over to the cashier. Stacie’s hand trails up and down her back. Emily reaches over her to grab their things. She leans into them, her eyes burning for a few blinks. Because she has the best friends in the world.

Behind them, Tom’s phone rings. She knows it’s his because he answers it before it can even really start ringing. “Hello? No, I’ve got… Can’t you call Carter? He’s always there… Okay, fine. I’ll be there. Right.”

Chloe turns, Stacie and Emily moving completely in sync with her like they had since the Bellas got together. If Aubrey’s anything, it’s good at drilling in synchronicity.

Tom’s standing between them and the door, frowning at his phone like it’s personally offended him. She knows that face too. He looks up as they pass. “Sorry, ladies. Turns out I won’t make it to the lake tonight. Got called in to work.”

“Good,” Stacie throws over her shoulder, barely looking at him. She loops her arm through Chloe’s and then they’re outside, the Georgia heat pressing back in on them. “Fucking asshole.”

Chloe squeezes her arm, smiling.

She doesn’t really feel like running back. It’s rare that Chloe runs out of energy for anything , so she knows Stacie and Emily are concerned when she suggests they call for a ride. But neither of them mention it. Stacie just whips out her phone and calls Aubrey.

Jesse pulls up five minutes later in Aubrey’s little hatchback. Stacie, by right of having the longest body, gets the front seat and Chloe and Emily squeeze into the back.

“Where to, dolls?” Jesse says in his best Brooklyn accent.

“Home, James.” Stacie tosses her hair, regally pointing out the windshield. “Thanks for the ride, Jess.”

He reaches up and tips the flat cap perched jauntily on his head. He's taken to wearing them since college and Chloe remembers a few long rants about them from Aubrey. But she grew to love them. “I was passing this way anyways. Going pick up RSVPs from the post office. Bree wants the guest list finalized by this weekend.” Stacie just nods, so Jesse turns up the radio and they spend the short ride back singing along and harmonizing. Halfway through “Time After Time”, Emily’s hand slips into Chloe’s and she grips it tight, smiling at the younger girl. Emily’s face splits in a huge grin as she moves into the next verse and sways side to side in her seat.

He drops them off by the porch and they watch him back himself down the driveway and onto the road again, waving as he speeds off.

As soon as Chloe pushes the house door open, Cynthia Rose appears and grabs her shoulder. “Bruh, you didn’t tell us your girlfriend could sing.”

Beca’s singing? Chloe knows she can, of course. She nearly scared Beca to death a month into their living together because she’d heard Beca singing in the shower and burst right in to tell her how amazing she was. Chloe had also been naked at the time, having just taken a shower herself. Maybe she understands why Beca’s a chronic bathroom door shutter. But she had just sounded so good!

But Beca didn’t really sing in front of other people too often. Occasionally Chloe would catch her singing while she did the dishes or when she was working in her room at night. “She was singing?”

Cynthia Rose motions for them to follow her, hopping up the stairs.

On the second flight of stairs, they stagger to a halt because Chloe’s entire immediate family, plus Jessica, Ashley, and Fat Amy are standing on the steps, their ears turned to the hallway. Chloe’s about to ask what in the world they’re all doing, piled on top of each other in the middle of the stairs, when she hears the piano.

And Beca’s voice, clearer and louder than she’s heard it in a while. She suddenly realizes she’s missed it. It takes a few lines for her to realize it’s a soft, slower version of “Titanium” by David Guetta and Sia.

Like she’s on autopilot, Chloe pushes through the group and steps into the hallway. Because Beca has always had a pull on Chloe. Something about her makes Chloe want to look closer, learn more, feel more. But her voice vibrating around the notes of “I’m bulletproof” hooks around something in Chloe’s gut and physically moves her. Draws her in. And Chloe’s never been one to say no to her impulses when it comes to Beca, never had a reason to, so she follows. Into a room she hasn’t been in for years.

Beca’s sitting on Parker’s bench, eyes focused on the black and white keys. She sways gently forward and back, pressing into the keys with her entire body as she pulls note after note from the piano and matches them with her voice, filling the room with chords and runs that aren’t in the original version. Beside her, Eli looks up and notices Chloe in the doorway. He grins, lifting his head from where it was resting on Beca’s arm and something in Chloe’s chest seizes for a heartbeat.

Then Beca is looking up and catching her eye. And Chloe thinks that’s it. The music will grind to a halt and Beca’s ears will turn red and she’ll scamper away like she usually does when Chloe catches her singing.

But instead, she shifts just a little on the bench, making space.

So Chloe slides in next to her just as Beca comes back around to the chorus. And, like most things Beca, Chloe wants to be a part of it. So she opens her mouth and joins in.

Beca’s eyes fly up from the keys and lock on her own, but she doesn’t miss a note. The corners of her lips turn up. Her leg brushes Chloe’s as she shifts her foot on the pedals, changing the tone of the song just enough to fit Chloe’s higher voice.

She’s seen Beca mix before, watched the lines and bars on her computer change without any clue what they meant. She’s listened in as Beca laid pre-made beats over harmonies that she never would have thought fit together, but somehow she makes them work. And she’s heard the finished products, on thumb drives left in her purse or on her nightstand for her birthday and Christmas and “because it’s Monday and you like Mondays or some shit, ‘cause you’re a quack”. But it’s a completely different thing to watch Beca adjust music she’s currently making to fit Chloe. To hear exactly how she drops an octave to balance them out. To see her hands shift on the piano, bringing the key a note higher to match Chloe. It’s like how it was singing with the Bellas, but quieter. Closer. Intimate in a way that makes her fingers curl into the front of her shirt just to keep them to herself.

And they sound good together. That first time she’d caught Beca singing in the shower, she’d tried to make Beca sing for her, to sing with her. But Beca had been too busy scrambling for cover and throwing shampoo bottles at her to comply. So she’d finally given up and retreated. But if she’d known they’d sound like this ? Like their voices were made to fit together as well as their lips had the day before?

She knows she’s staring--at the dark blue of Beca’s eyes, at the grin she’s singing through, at the way her head bobs along gently to the beat--but she can’t look away. She doesn’t want to.

So she doesn’t. Just holds her gaze and sings along. Because Beca is so beautiful with music on her lips and at her fingertips.