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Mel (Beca’s decided she was talking to all of them when she said to call her that) has been ignoring them. She doesn’t look mad, which Beca finds strange, because she’d be pissed if some crazy chicks in a van had kidnapped her and were holding her up with her own gun. Speaking of, if they don’t all go to jail, Beca is totally buying Cynthia Rose a beer first thing after this. Or maybe a whole pack. Hell, she’s getting her smashed as soon as everyone is home and safe.

Chloe shifts under her, tangling her fingers in the front of Beca’s shirt.

Okay, maybe she’ll get CR drunk second thing after all this.

But despite everything, Mel just looks bored. And then she’s sighing heavily, turning to Chloe. “I need to call D. She’s supposed to be distracting Kommissar long enough for me to question you guys. Not long enough for you and your flunkies to run a rescue op on your own.”

Chloe glances up, catching Beca’s eye, and Beca nods. Whatever Chloe wants to do, she’s got her back. Since they’re all going to prison together, probably, she better. Chloe’s thumb swipes across her navel as she pulls her hand back. “I’ll call her.”

“Make sure you mention you’ve kidnapped her friend,” Mel mutters through a yawn.

A soft scoff slips past Chloe’s lips as she takes out her phone, but Beca knows she feels bad for this. She’s Chloe. She hates upsetting people and Beca thinks this might upset Dana a little bit. Chloe tucks the phone to her ear and Beca shifts closer so she can listen in.

“Chloe?” Dana answers and Beca strains to hear better.

“Aunt Dana, hey.” Blue eyes flicker up and Chloe mouths wordlessly for a second, searching Beca’s face. Beca just lifts an eyebrow. “Hey, so. We’re here with Agent Callis? Mel?”

“She told you everything?” Dana’s voice is quiet, so Beca tilts her head against Chloe’s, the phone and Chloe's hand between them. She’s not sure Chloe even realizes she does it, but one of her fingers hooks behind Beca’s ear, resting gently against the sensitive skin there.

“Yes, she did. Um. We didn’t have any information for her.”

“I told her. Had to be sure. Okay, hurry back. And I know this is a lot, Chlo. I promise we can talk when all this is over, I just--”

“Actually, uh, Aunt Dana? We’re going to the fish market to get Aubrey?” Her voice tilts up at the end and Beca can’t see her face, but she knows Chloe’s teeth are bared in an apologetic grimace. Her finger twitches behind Beca’s ear.

“...You’re what?”

“We accidentally sent Lilly and Flo there, before we knew we weren’t actually supposed to be going there, and we can’t reach them to stop them and--”

“Jesus, Chloe, what? Give the phone to Mel. What the hell is she thinking taking civilians with her?”

“Yeah. About that. Mel's not really taking us there...” Chloe glances at Mel and the agent rolls her eyes, leaning forward.

“They took my gun, D. They’ve straight up kidnapped a federal agent.” She glares around at all of them. “If they weren’t your nieces, I swear--"

“We’re not gonna hurt her or anything!” Chloe rushes to explain when Dana gasps. “We just, like.” She shakes her head a little, her free hand twisting aimlessly in the air. It’s something she does a lot when she’s explaining the harder parts of her job or the intricate plotlines of her newest favorite TV show. Usually, she’s tucked into the corner of their couch with dinner balanced on the arm of it, while Beca lies in her armchair or across the rest of the couch, listening.

Beca wishes they were there now, when Amy takes a ninety degree turn so sharply that the van tilts. Everyone gasps, grabbing the walls and ceiling. Beca puts a foot against Jessica’s headrest, bracing herself. Chloe’s fingers dig into her thigh. Stacie twists enough to wrap one long arm back around Beca’s waist, her other hand fisting in the shoulder of Emily’s shirt. “Shit, Ames, slow down!” Beca growls once she’s sure they’re not going over.

“Can’t hear you, Shawshank!”

Chloe takes a deep breath, pulling the phone back to her ear. Beca leans in again.

“--oe? Are you okay? What’s happening?”

“We’re fine, Aunt Dana. Look, Mel said we can’t trust the FBI and maybe we can catch Lilly and Flo before they get there and--”

“Son of a bitch, Cory’s gonna kill me…” Dana’s voice fades away for a second and Beca can hear rustling and banging. Then she’s back, a little more breathless. “You need to get back here. Mel and I will go get your friends.”

“We’re already almost there.”

Beca glances up and sees they’re driving along the side of a wide river now, huge trees hanging over the banks and dipping down to touch the surface.

“Shit. Okay, listen to me.” There’s a creaking. “Stay back from the building. Park far away. If you don’t see Lilly and Flo, just stay put until I get there. Listen to everything Mel tells you to do. And for heaven’s sakes, give her back her gun before one of you shoots yourself in the foot or something. I’m on my way. Do not--are you listening?--DO NOT go in that building!”

“Yes, Aunt Dana.”

“I’ll be there soon.” A pause. “Be safe, Ladybug. Okay?”

“We will.” Chloe’s voice breaks on the second word and she quickly hangs up, clearing her throat. “Give her back her gun, C. Aunt Dana said she’s on her way. And we’re supposed to listen to Mel until she gets there.”

Slowly, Cynthia Rose turns the gun over and hands it back. Mel takes it and shoves it back in the holster, narrowed eyes on her, like she might steal it again. “You’re lucky you’re cute.” Cynthia Rose’s jaw drops, but Mel’s already turned back to Chloe. “Okay. This is not a rescue. We are not going in. If your friends aren’t outside and somewhere safe, you leave. Let me and D handle it. Am I clear?”

There’s a pause, then a general murmuring of agreement. Beca notices Amy doesn’t say anything and can’t bring herself to be surprised, honestly. Stacie is also suspiciously quiet, so she’s pretty sure they’re about to dive headfirst into something they definitely shouldn’t. But she lifts her eyebrows and nods when Mel meets her gaze. “Got it, dude, yeah.”

Mel rolls her eyes. “I’m so getting fired.”


They park in front of Aubrey and Jesse’s house.

She hadn’t realized this morning, (God, had it only been this morning?) but the house is set on a hill above the river. It’s the last house on the road before a steep drop to a set of docks, jutting out into the widest part of the river in rows, small motor boats and dinghies bobbing between them. The fish market is in what looks like a hollowed out warehouse, the water-facing wall torn down and replaced with steel beams. Stalls fill the building, open-topped coolers and rickety tables set up under hanging dome lights. The gravel parking lot next to it has one little pickup truck parked close to the water and a large, black passenger van pulled right up to the open side door of the building. As she watches, a couple women come out, carrying plastic bins that they take down to the river.

“Market’s only open Thursday to Sunday,” Stacie says quietly as Amy turns off the van. “Nobody should be there.”

“Caretakers, maybe?” Mel shrugs. “Whoever they are, we treat them all as hostiles until we’re sure of what’s going on. Do you see your friends?”

Beca, no clue who they’re looking for, looks instead at the slope of the hill as the girls shake their heads and crane around each other for a better view. Across the street from the market, there’s something blue tucked into the thick trees there. A car trunk? “Whose car did they take?”

“They were in a cab,” Ashley says. “They’ve been on vacation for a couple weeks so they didn’t want to leave one of their cars at the airport that long.”

“Then whose car is that?” She points.

Mel stands up, back curved against the van ceiling. She squints. “Know anybody that drives a blue Subaru?”

“Every lesbian I’ve ever met?” Cynthia Rose suggests, shrugging. Ashley snorts.

“Hmm. Alright, everyone out. This is too much contact for me.” Mel drops back into her seat, shooing them. Jessica opens the door and they all tumble out, moving to stand on the opposite side of the van from the market.

Beca joins the huddle and feels Chloe’s hand slip into her own. She squeezes it.

Mel’s looking at her phone and she nods, putting it away. “Okay. Here’s the plan.” Mel slips off her suit jacket, leaving her in just a plain black t-shirt, and hands the jacket off to Cynthia Rose, who makes a face and passes it on to Emily. Emily just stares at it. “My team is on their way. They should be here in an hour. But since somebody-- ” She glares at Amy, who blinks innocently, “--decided to go rogue, Kommissar will probably come looking for us soon. Can’t wait. So I’m going to sneak down and take a look around. The rest of you stay here and do literally nothing until D shows up. Okay? Cool, go team.” She gives a half-hearted fist pump and spins on her heel, but barely gets two paces away before they’re all talking at once.

“Hey, we can help!” Chloe protests.

“We’ve all been here before,” Stacie says, waving an arm toward the bottom of the hill. “We know the layout of the building. Did you know there are rooms in the back? Offices?”

Mel nods curtly, only half turned back to them. “I do now. Thanks. Stay here.”

“We can watch your back!” Emily squeaks, holding up the jacket like a terrified matador when Mel rounds on her, glowering.

“And what training do you have for that? None. You’re a bunch of civilians with emotional stakes here. How can I trust you to watch my back?”

Before she can stop herself, Beca says, “I don’t.”

“You don’t what?”

“Have emotional stakes here.” Everyone is looking at her now and she squirms, digging the heel of her boot into the road. “I don’t know Lilly or Flo. I barely know Aubrey.”

Mel’s stopped now, her arms crossed over her chest, narrowed gaze flicking up and down Beca’s body. “Then why would you even want to help?”

“For…” She stops, because she was definitely lying. There are emotional stakes for her here. There are all kinds of things, like Stacie’s arm across her waist in the van, Cynthia Rose’s immediate understanding of her subtle nod to the gun. Even in a crisis, these girls are solid. And beyond that, there’s Fat Amy in the lake, sweeping Beca onto her shoulders to play Chicken.

There’s Jessica and Ashley layering snare and bass for her by firelight, like they’d planned it.

There’s Emily kneeling in the grass to catch a lizard for Eli.

There’s Aubrey’s quiet, “Well, I’m glad we’re in this one.”

There’s Jesse’s loud, echoing, “BECAW!”

And there’s Chloe. All of her.

“Okay, so. I do have emotional stakes here.” Mel’s already nodding, so Beca presses on. “But I really don’t know Lilly or Flo. So, I guess, like...I have less emotional stakes here? And you shouldn’t go in alone, dude. So I’ll come with you.”

“And we won’t stay here,” Stacie says, crossing her arms to mirror Mel. “So either you let us help or deal with the consequences of setting us free up here. I wouldn’t put it past Amy to just drive the van into the market, screaming demands.”

The very small smirk on Mel’s face falls away. Then she bares her teeth and growls. “Fine. Okay, fine. I’ll take the tater tot and…” She glances around the circle and her gaze settles on Cynthia Rose. “You. We’ll head down through the treeline and look at the car. The two Amazons go with the psycho driver and take the van past the market. Don’t slow down, just pass it up and find a spot on the next hill over to watch from. Big Red, take Mary-Kate and Ashley and scope out a place behind these houses here to watch from.”

“It’s Jessica,” Jessica murmurs as everyone nods.

“Do not leave your posts. You’re our eyes. If anyone comes out headed for that car, you have to warn us. And, for the love of everything holy, please silence your cellphones.” Mel waits until they’ve all done just that. “Keep trying to call your friends. Maybe they just haven’t arrived yet. Beale, call D and let her know what we’re doing.” She sighs. “Okay. Head out.” She stomps off, muttering under her breath.

Cynthia Rose goes with her, but Chloe tugs Beca’s hand as she tries to follow. The other girls have split off already--Amy, Stacie, and Emily climbing back into the van, Jessica and Ashley waiting on the curb for Chloe.

Chloe’s looking at her the same way she does when there’s a big storm outside and Beca’s about to retire for bed. It had taken her a couple downpours to figure out what the look was, because Chloe never voiced it, but she knows now that it means Chloe wants her to stay. And there’s been many nights where that look had Beca staying up late, sitting at the foot of Chloe’s bed until she had fallen asleep. But this time, she shakes her head.

“I’ll be okay. Everybody will, dude. Just chill up here and--”

Chloe’s fingers thread through the buttons of her shirt and she leans in, holding her still as she presses firm lips to Beca’s, stealing her breath and the rest of her words. Her other hand comes up to cup the side of Beca’s face and Beca leans into it, forgetting for a moment that she’s about to follow an FBI agent into the woods as she grips Chloe’s hips. Because Chloe isn’t kissing softly. This isn’t just a good luck kiss. It’s quick, wet, and quickly shutting down all of Beca’s systems until all she can focus on is the insistent press of lips on hers and the scrape of jeans against her palms. “You’ll be back,” Chloe whispers against her mouth.

“Wha-I--”

“You’ll be back,” Chloe repeats, biting the words into her lip, pressing them through her teeth over and over until Beca’s nodding and saying them back.

“I’ll be back.”

Chloe pulls back just far enough to say, “Okay.” Her lips brush Beca’s and, instinctively, she follows them, but Chloe’s stepping away.

A little dazed, Beca opens her eyes to find Chloe’s back, heading away from her to meet Jessica and Ashley. Cynthia Rose calls out to her from the trees and she blinks rapidly, trying to think past the warmth in her chest and the slight sting in her bottom lip.