Chloe blinks. “What am I doing down h-- What are you doing here?”
Flo shakes her head and lifts her hands, her accent thicker than usual as she huffs. The heavy, gray apron she's wearing, flaps around her legs as she moves. “What you told me to! Ashley said to go here and listen to the men waiting for us.” Her hands start to move faster as she continues, angry. “Now they have Lilly in the back, stuffing diamonds in fish!”
“Wait, what?” Chloe lets go of the crossbeam, the water bobbing up to her chin as she swims to the edge of the dock. “Keep your voice down. They’ve got her doing what?”
“Stuffing. Diamonds. In fish,” Flo enunciates slowly, rolling her eyes. “And I’m the one that has trouble with English. Oh, also, the fish have to be gutted first. Guess which job I got?” She grabs the tub at her feet and tilts it so Chloe can see the blood and guts floating around inside. Some splashes over the rim into the water. She grimaces. Flo drops the tub back down. “How is this supposed to help us find Aubrey?”
Chloe gapes at her. Because Flo is brilliant. She graduated college with one of the highest GPAs in the whole school. Chloe can easily remember her bursting into the Bella house with her honors stole, still carefully wrapped in plastic as she showed it off. She and Stacie had gone together to get their stoles embroidered with their names, so they wouldn’t get them mixed up on the day, when all the Bellas would be running around the house like maniacs.
But sometimes she and Stacie could really make Chloe do a double take. “Wait. Flo, we meant the FBI guys that we thought were here.”
Flo blinks. “These aren’t the FBI guys?”
“Oh my god. I’ve really gotta talk to Ashley about clear communication.” Quickly as possible, Chloe explains what Mel had told them, that there were no agents here yet, that Aubrey is definitely inside. When she’s done, she takes a deep breath. “I’m so glad you’re okay. What even happened?”
“We pulled up in the cab and we got out. There were men outside and we went to them and one started yelling about how we were late and how we needed to get inside and get to work and…” She stops, eyes widening. “Racist bastards! They thought we were just the help!” And she’s off, cursing up a storm in rapid Spanish.
“Flo, listen! We need to get out of here. Hop in. We can--”
Every muscle in Chloe’s body tenses as the voice rings out over the water, deep and sudden, coming from the market. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t react right away, doesn’t pull back under the dock. Maybe some part of her just knows she can’t outrun the three men that are clomping down the dock when she’s chin deep in water and fish guts. Whatever it is, she doesn’t move as the men crash into the water. Mickey’s yelling, Flo’s speaking such rapid Spanish that Chloe can’t keep up, and then there are hands around her upper arms, dragging her. And that’s when she starts to fight.
She kicks and scratches, bites any hand put near her face. One of them shakes her gruffly as he snatches her arms behind her back hard enough to burn in her shoulders. And then she’s being bodily lifted from the water and dragged toward the market. Ahead, Flo is being shoved back toward a door that Chloe vaguely remembers to be the main storage room. But they drag her and Mickey the opposite direction, toward the back offices and the other, smaller storage rooms. Past the cooler. Winding through the stalls, until one guy--a tall one with a square face and blue eyes--opens a door to the left and she’s being shoved through and forced into a chair. She’s still fighting, still twisting against their hold as best she can. She wrenches too hard one way and her elbow flares with pain. She hisses and one of the men laughs. The biggest one--the one that shook her--presses her wrists together and wraps something coarse around her wrists. Rope, she realizes as he pulls it tight. She winces.
She blinks, the blur of the last minute fading, leaving her winded and tense against the rope digging into her wrists. But over the pounding in her ears and her own gasping breaths, she hears it again.
“Chloe!” Aubrey’s voice.
Chloe twists as best she can. It’s a small room, just a storage closet really, with shelves lining the walls, stacked with wooden crates and plastic bags filled with aprons and rags. There are mops in the corner by the door, an overturned bucket beside them. Mickey is being tied to another chair with his back to the wall.
But one of the men is blocking her view of the rest of the room as he turns and speaks quietly to one of the others. For just a moment, she stops craning to find Aubrey. Because he’s speaking Russian and a thrill shoots through her.
“Watch the door. No one comes in until the boss gets here. If they get too annoying, start with their knees. The boss will be back in the hour to deal with them,” he says, and Chloe’s suddenly never been more thankful for college. Those Russian and Russian Lit classes she’d taken for fun are paying off in ways she never imagined.
There’s a crack and a loud curse and she snaps around. Mickey’s eyes are squeezed shut, his teeth bared. His forehead is already turning red, but the biggest man, who had been tying his torso to the chair, is now holding his nose and dripping blood on the floor.
“Valentin,” the tall man with the square face snaps. His accent is strange, more clipped than his colleagues’. “Quit playing around. Let’s go.”
Valentin grunts, dropping his hands and Chloe cringes at the weird bend in his nose. “Fuck you, Pieter.” Then, without warning, he strikes. His fist smacks into Mickey’s face, snapping his head back. Chloe hears Aubrey gasp and she pitches forward against her ropes. She can’t get to him, she knows. She still pulls until her wrists ache. But Mickey tilts his head back up quickly, lips pressed tight together. Blood bubbles between them and it feels like someone is clawing at Chloe’s insides, tearing them apart.
Pieter sniffs and rolls his eyes. “Enough. Get out.” In English, she immediately recognizes his accent. German. The same as Kommissar. The other men file out until it’s just Pieter, standing in front of them. And once they’ve cleared out, she can see Aubrey.
She’s against the other wall, tied to her own chair. Her ponytail is tilted and half pulled out, a purple bruise lays across her cheekbone and it makes Chloe’s blood boil. But before she can do more than gasp Aubrey’s name, Pieter leans down into her face.
“Where are the others?”
For the briefest moment, she thinks he means the Bellas. She thinks he knows all about them, perched on the hills, watching. About Beca and Mel and Cynthia Rose sneaking down to check out the car. But then again, he just asked where they are, so he must not know that much. “Others?” she repeats.
“Whoever you came with, girl. You are not police. You fight like a kitten.” He turns to glance at Mickey, who is spitting blood into his lap. “So why are you here?”
“She’s here to save her friend,” a familiar voice says from the doorway.
Pieter steps aside. And Chloe’s forcefully reminded of the time when she was just learning how to drive and she’d turned the wrong way down a one-way street. Because that same horrible, fluttering shock locks up her muscles and tightens around her spine as Tom steps into the room. He saunters right over and stops in front of her, hands in the pockets of his perfectly pressed slacks. The ones he’d been wearing earlier, when he’d showed up at the Beale house to volunteer to search for Aubrey. The son of a bitch, Beca’s voice says somewhere in the back of her head.
“Isn’t that right, Chlo? You came for Aubrey?” He grins that big, boyish grin that had drawn her across the quad when they’d first met. “And with just your junkie brother in tow, huh? He doesn’t look much like the pictures you showed me when we were dating. Promise him some pills if he helped out?” He ignores Mickey’s violent struggles to free himself and attack. Chloe ignores it too, focusing on Tom’s dark eyes. “Did you even tell your girlfriend you were coming here?”
When she’d taken that wrong turn, pointing the Cobra into oncoming traffic, she’d frozen. And her dad, calm as could be in the passenger seat, had just simply said, “Do something.” So she had. She’d driven straight through the median and sped onto the right road, palms sweating and a squeal squeezing through her teeth as she forced the wheel straight and tried to calm her racing, stumbling heart. And her dad had smiled and reached over to rest his hand on the back of her clammy neck. “You may not do the right thing, Ladybug, but never freeze up. Gotta do something.” And so she does.
She presses her wrists down into the ropes, heaves her entire body up, and slams her leg up between Tom’s. All those years of forcing herself out of bed to go jogging suddenly feel so worth it, because the blood drains from Tom’s face faster than she can retract her foot and it gets caught between his knees as he buckles in on himself and collapses. She yanks it free and brings both feet down on his hip.
“Get him, Sissy!” Mickey cheers, whooping loudly. “Touch a Beale and get beat, dude!” In the doorway, Pieter yells for help and two other men rush into the room and drag Tom to his feet and out the door.
“Tie their feet,” Pieter snaps in Russian when they return. And they do, tightly. Chloe winces as the ropes are yanked along the bare skin of her ankles.
They don’t speak and as soon as the last knot is pulled tight, they’re gone. The door slams closed and there’s just Mickey’s quiet panting and the deep breath Aubrey takes.
“Bree,” Chloe says, leaning as far forward as she can. “We’ve been so worried! Are you okay? What happened to your face?”
“I’m fine, everything’s fine.” Aubrey strains forward too, but away from her, turning her ear to the door. “Listen carefully. They are not planning to give us back.”
“No shit,” Mickey growls. He tucks his nose down against his shoulder and squeezes his eyes shut. He spits blood into his lap. “Ugh, my nose itches.”
“What do you mean?”
Aubrey sits back up. “They let us see their faces, Chlo. Kidnapper 101. Don’t let them see your face unless you don’t intend to let them live.”
Ice streaks through Chloe’s veins, pulling her voice higher and tearing at the edges of her calm. “Oh, well, I didn’t know you were an expert in kidnapping!” She yanks at the ropes around her wrist and they don’t give at all. The fluttering in her chest takes up any space she had for air and she tilts her head back, knowing she’s starting to hyperventilate. But she can’t panic right now. They have to get out. “What do we do?” she gasps.
“First, we calm down.” Aubrey takes a deep breath and Chloe follows suit, matching their breathing up. “There you go. Easy. Now, we’re going to get out of here. But there’s something you need to know first. About who’s behind all this.”
Mickey’s chair scrapes across the floor as he violently scrubs his nose against his shoulder. Chloe focuses on the bruise on Aubrey’s cheek. “Who is it? Because we’re pretty sure some of the FBI are in on it and they think you’ve got something to do with it because of some ticket to Belgium--”
“It’s my dad,” Aubrey says, voice breaking softly on the last word. “My dad is smuggling diamonds out of the country.”
Being tied to a chair in a storage closet with her estranged brother and her best friend had not been high on Chloe’s list of things to do today. Especially not with Aubrey eerily calm as she explains that her own father is one of the bad guys and Mickey nearly dislocating his shoulders to try and scratch his face. But nothing about this trip seems to be going the way she expected it to. She’d given a short summary of what’s happened since Aubrey went missing, but it somehow all feels so small now, with Aubrey in front of her, silently nodding. She hasn’t spoken for a few minutes and Chloe is getting restless, listening to the muffled voices and footsteps that occasionally pass by outside.
“He was at my house.” Aubrey draws herself up, at full attention. The General’s daughter. “When I got home after the movie. He was waiting for me. To surprise me, I thought.” She blows a heavy breath through her nose, shaking her head. “I had this wild moment where I thought we were more alike than I’d thought. The ticket to Belgium? I was going to surprise him. He’s supposed to be transferred there next month, if everything worked out the way he wanted. So I got an open ended ticket and was going to go after the honeymoon and surprise him.”
Chloe’s chest tightens as Aubrey blinks a few times, too quickly. “Why didn’t you tell me? Or Jesse? The FBI thinks you were planning to run out on him or that you’ve got something to do with this diamond stuff. Aunt Dana had one of her agents question us about it!”
Aubrey frowns. “Dana?”
“Oh, she’s an FBI agent.” She almost laughs at the absurdity of it all. Aunt Dana’s an FBI agent. Aubrey’s dad is part of this diamond smuggling operation. Mickey’s here. Two days ago, she couldn’t even have imagined any of those things being true.
Aubrey’s staring at the wall above Mickey’s head. “I wish I could be more surprised, but I just found out last night that my father is smuggling diamonds out of the country and I’ve been kidnapped, so.” She shrugs. “Sure, Dana’s FBI. Okay.”
Chloe snorts, pulling at her ropes again. Nothing. “Trust me, the last couple days have been completely insane.”
“Yes, well.” Aubrey clears her throat, meeting her eyes. “To answer your question, I didn’t tell you guys because I was embarrassed.” Her lips purse tightly for a moment. “Dad told me he really wasn’t sure he’d be able to make the wedding. So I’ve been lying about that. Saying he said he’ll definitely try or that I hadn’t heard anything about it since the last time Jesse asked. But I knew there was very little chance. So I thought the only time I’d see him was when I showed up at the base in Belgium, after he was transferred. I didn’t want to admit that my own father didn’t seem interested in showing up for his only daughter’s wedding.”
But Aubrey continues before she can say more. “But he was at my house and I thought for a minute that maybe he had been just throwing me off with his messages that he probably wouldn’t make it. I was so happy and I was hugging him right there in the yard. He said he couldn’t stay long and wouldn’t make the wedding, but he was here so I didn’t care.” She clears her throat again. “But then there was this banging from the fish market and he said it was probably nothing. I insisted we call the cops. You know kids come down here all the time and mess around.” Her eyes narrow, as if staring down delinquent teenagers with cans of spray paint. “So I went back to the car to get my phone and he grabbed me, pretty much ordering me not to. But I wasn’t listening so he said he wished it didn’t have to be this way. And Pieter, the tall guy, climbed out of the car that I thought was Dad’s and grabbed me. I tried to yell, but they covered my mouth. Got me in the car. And here we are.” She lifts her shoulders and rolls them back, gesturing as grandly as she can around the closet. "I haven't seen him since."
"One of the guys said the boss will be back within the hour," Chloe says, suddenly remembering. "Could they mean him?"
Aubrey sighs. "I think so."
“Okay, guys, seriously?” Mickey’s nearly in tears, shaking in his seat. “I’m loving the reunion, but two things. One, Chloe we are absolutely talking about you dating one of our kidnappers later. Two, I’m going to go insane if I can’t scratch my nose soon. So escape plan now, discussions later?”
“Oh. Here.” Aubrey shifts and pulls her hands free of her ropes.
“What the fuck?” Mickey whispers as she bends to untie her feet. But Chloe’s already smiling. Because of course Aubrey Posen didn’t spend all night here without figuring some way out of her bindings. The ropes fall away and Aubrey moves around behind Mickey to untie his hands. The second he’s free, he slaps both hands to his face and starts scratching until the skin around his nose and cheeks is red. He sighs happily. “I thought I was going to die,” he groans.
Aubrey quickly unties Chloe too, then loops the rope back around and ties it into loose handcuffs. “If they come back, just slide your hands into it and hang on. I’ll loosen your legs.”
“You’re brilliant, Bree.” Chloe grabs Aubrey tightly before she can even touch the ropes digging into Chloe’s ankles. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”
“I’d be more okay if you let me loosen you up so we can move quickly if we get the chance,” Aubrey huffs, but she squeezes back just as tight. “Nice to meet you, by the way,” she throws at Mickey.
“Likewise,” he says, bending to pull at the knots around his legs.
“Okay.” Aubrey pushes Chloe back and starts working on the ropes. “There’s always a guard at the door unless something goes wrong outside, which sounds like it happens a lot. I guess my father didn’t hire the most intelligent people.” She spits the last sentence at Chloe’s knees, eyes down, on her rapidly moving hands. “All we have to do is wait for Dana’s FBI friends to show up and we’ll be out of--”
The door opens before Aubrey can do more than leap back from Chloe and raise her fists. Chloe frantically pulls her legs free.
“You aca-bitches can come out of the closet now. We all know you’re gay as shit.” Fat Amy leans against the door frame, grinning.
“Amy!” Aubrey hugs her while Mickey quickly unties his legs completely. Chloe rushes to hug both of the girls. “What are you doing here?”
“Feds were taking too long and I’m never any good at keeping to a plan.” She shrugs. “Meant to just sneak in and get a look around, but these guys fight like toothless crocs on roller skates.” There’s a moan from behind her and Chloe looks down to see one of the men that had tied them up lying on the ground under one of the shopping stalls. “Saw them bring you in. Waited ‘til he was alone and pounced. Like I do.” She curls her fingers into claws and growls dramatically. Despite the fact that they’re practically in the open and another guard could turn up any second, Chloe has to laugh.
It’s cut short by the gunshot that rips through the air.
It’s Mickey that shoves Chloe to the floor, hovering over her. “Sounds like the FBI is here.” He pulls the door to the storage closet closed behind them. Fat Amy ends up flat on her back beside the guard she took out and Aubrey scurries to crouch under a nearby stall. There’s shouting from outside and from the hallway where the offices are. Men come running from the docks, passing too close for Chloe’s comfort as they funnel into the hall. She spots Pieter, behind the rest, a gun in his hand.
“We need to get away from here,” she hisses as more shots go off, echoing off the metal walls so loud she isn’t sure they heard her. But Aubrey is nodding and Amy starts rolling across the floor. “To the docks!”
There’s a scream and more shots and Chloe swears she recognizes that voice that yells, “Down!” But then a door a few feet away is opening and Chloe freezes, still crouched on the floor.
One of the bigger Russians that had tied them up rushes out, gun raised, and stops when he sees them. She suddenly wishes they had all just stood up and run, because half kneeling before a man with a gun is not how she would choose to die.
But before he can shoot them or whatever he’d been planning to do, there’s a blur of color behind him and he goes crashing over a stall table, Lilly attached to his back and hissing loudly.
“Get him, Lilly!” Flo cries, rushing out too, waving around a boning knife.
Chloe leaps to her feet just in time to see Lilly wrap her arms around the man’s neck and squeeze hard. His gun slides across the floor and Amy snatches it up. She thinks about jumping in to help, but Lilly seems to have the upper hand. The man struggles and gasps for breath, clawing at her arms and rolling on top of her to try and crush her. But Lilly doesn’t let go, tiny frame shifting so she can wrap her legs around his chest. Her feet don’t even meet each other, he’s so large, and after several long, tense moments, the man starts to slump. Chloe watches his hands drop to his chest, then slide down to the floor, palms up. His eyes roll back and he goes limp.
Lilly slides out from under him easily, rolling to her feet and dusting off her backside. Then she spots Chloe and her already wide eyes widen even further. Her lips move and then she’s there, wrapping herself around Chloe’s waist, her cheek pressing into Chloe’s hipbone as she makes small whining sounds. God, Chloe missed her.
“It’s okay, Lilly. It’s okay.” She strokes the girl’s back, hugging her back as best she can with the girl bent double. “You did good. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
They pass the door Lilly and Flo had come from and Chloe sees the room is full of women, all Hispanic or Asian and wearing large gloves and aprons, craning their heads to see what’s happening. Flo hesitates. “We can’t leave them here! What if the fighting moves in here?”
“Jesus,” Aubrey snaps, leaning into the room to look around. “Fine. Get them together and get them weapons. If it’s clear, we can take them up the hill to my house until this is over.”
Flo starts yelling in Spanish. The women start nodding, turning to each other to translate, and they all start gathering up knives. One woman picks up a fish in each hand, brandishing them. “Go, go!” Flo says, ushering them along.
They run for the docks and the women pour from the room behind them. Chloe finds herself next to Aubrey at the head of the pack and catches a flash of metal in her hand. “Where did you get a gun?”
“I took it from Amy. For everyone’s safety,” Aubrey puffs.
They skid to a stop at the edge of the building. The docks are clear and there’s still yelling and gunfire from the offices, so Chloe risks stepping out to look around the parking lot. It’s clear. “I’ll go check if the front is clear.”
“We will,” Mickey corrects, stepping forward. She doesn’t have time to think much about the warmth spreading through her chest as he grabs her hand and they hurry across the parking lot, following the wall of the building. Just as they hit the corner, though, someone comes barreling around it and plows right into Mickey, sending him stumbling back. He straightens quickly, fists coming up, but Chloe would know that whipping brown hair and “Fuck, dude!” anywhere. Beca’s barely recovered from the collision when Chloe throws her arms around her neck.
“Chloe?” Beca’s muffled voice says against her shoulder, warm breath pressing through her shirt as her arms wrap tight around Chloe’s waist. There’s something hard and cold in her hand, but Chloe doesn’t care about that right now. “Oh my god! Are you okay?”
Chloe pulls back just enough to meet her eyes. It’s barely been an hour since she saw them last, but she never wants to look away again. Because since the moment she’d been snatched from the water, she’s been trying not to think about them. About how disappointed they’d look if Beca knew what she’d done. About how she might not see them again at all. And she thought she’d done well, focusing on the task at hand. But now, with Beca tight against her, breathing the same air, she realizes Beca’s eyes have been at the back of her mind the whole time. Maybe they always are. And there's no disappointment, no anger. Beca's eyes are just darting around Chloe's face, as if memorizing it. “You’re here.”
“Of course I am,” Beca scoffs, but she can’t keep the grin off her face, though Chloe can tell she’s trying. “I got back to Aubrey’s and they told me you’d been kidnapped too. You think I was just gonna sit there after that?”
She can’t help it. Not with Beca saying that. She leans in and presses her lips to Beca’s hard, thrills shooting down her spine when Beca presses back just as firmly, one hand sliding up into Chloe’s hair.
It’s all too brief, but there’s more gunshots and Chloe breaks away, surprised to find herself a little breathless. Beca’s eyes flutter open and she’s grinning again, fingers curling just a little against Chloe’s scalp. And just like the kiss, Chloe doesn’t mean to, but she says, “I love you.” She had thought it would be terrifying to finally say that to Beca like this, when it means what it does now. What it's meant for a long time, even though Chloe didn't realize it. Not just the way she means it when Beca has dinner waiting for her after a hard day at work or when Beca is grumpy and trying to avoid cuddles, those soft, friendly "I love you"s. But the way she had meant it when Beca asked her to dance that first time. When Beca had spent hours grumbling and painting their bathroom a color she didn't particularly like, just because Chloe liked it. When Beca had let her change their kitchen window out for stained glass.
Beca’s ears go red and her grin widens even further, all teeth. Chloe can feel her face doing the same and a giggle bursts from her lips before she can stop it. Beca’s nose scrunches at the sound. “I love you too,” she says, voice so soft and out of place with the background chaos. “Which I’m glad you said, because I have to ask you something.”
“Will you marry me, dude?”