Chloe wakes first when her phone goes off. She reaches out and swats it until the alarm stops blaring, then rolls back into the warmth beside her, blinking slowly.
Beca’s asleep on her back, head turned away, dark hair spilled across the pillow. It’s darker in the room now and Chloe guesses night’s just falling. In the dim light, she trails her eyes over the silver rings in Beca’s ear, down to the soft stretch of her neck, to the loose neckline of her t-shirt. And, like always when she looks at Beca, she wants to touch.
Not like always, she’s pretty sure she can now. So she grins and happily rolls over, body pinning Beca’s closest arm to the bed as she leans down and drags her teeth along exposed skin.
Beca wakes with a gasp that pulls at the base of Chloe’s spine, forcing her closer. Beca’s free hand is in her hair a second later, yanking and Chloe returns her own gasp. “Chlo,” Beca rasps, voice still mostly asleep and so incredibly sexy. So Chloe strains against the grip in her hair and catches Beca’s lips just as she drags her hand up Beca’s side and under her shirt. She dances her fingers over the taut skin there and Beca lets out a soft sound that Chloe never even imagined she could make.
Something inside Chloe’s chest releases and feels a lot like a leash snapping. She surges forward into Beca, slipping her tongue into Beca’s mouth easy as breathing, and Beca meets her kiss for kiss. Grumpy, sleepy, morning Beca is suddenly arching and groaning beneath her and it shoots thrills down Chloe’s spine. She shifts, hooking her leg over Beca’s hips to straddle her. Beca’s arm, freed from under Chloe, lifts and her fingers hook in the bottom of Chloe’s shirt. She pulls it up, nails dragging lightly over skin. “Beca,” Chloe whispers against her lips, just because she can.
The sudden smirk that appears on Beca’s face hits her like a sledgehammer. Because Beca’s always sexy. But with kiss-swollen lips and that smirk, she’s downright tantalizing. “Whatcha doin’, Beale?” And Chloe quickly realizes that learning this new side of Beca might be one of her favorite new pastimes, because this Beca is playful and teasing and dripping in quiet confidence.
Even when Chloe rakes her nails up Beca’s stomach and rocks her hips, Beca just keeps grinning. It’s sort of fascinating. Gone is the gaping girl Chloe left in the center of the room earlier, and in her place is this dark-eyed Beca whose thumb dips into the bend of Chloe’s hip just the right way to make her shiver. “Doing things out of order. That okay?”
“You need to ask?” Beca lifts her head and catches Chloe’s lip, all teeth, and Chloe reverses the direction of her hand, dragging it down Beca’s ribs, across her stomach and--
“WAKE UP, YOU LESBIANS!” Stacie’s voice cuts in and Chloe snorts, freezing.
“GO THE FUCK AWAY, CONRAD!” Beca screams back, looping her hand behind Chloe’s neck to kiss her again. But Chloe’s laughing and it’s hard to do more than press her smile against Beca’s.
“ARE YOU BANGING?” There’s a rapid patter of fists against the door downstairs, then along the wall. “WITHOUT ME?”
“I’m going to kill her,” Beca groans, head dropping back. Like Chloe, she must know that Stacie won’t let up now that she’s started. Beca’s hands slide up into her own hair, fisting at her crown, and she takes a deep breath, closing her eyes. Her skin is flushed, the side of her neck red where Chloe had bit.
And it might be Chloe’s favorite look on Beca. So she bends to give her another kiss--softer and sweeter than the ones before. “Come on, Becs. Dinner’s probably ready.”
Beca opens one eye. “Can’t we skip it?”
“It’s Stacie downstairs now, but if we did that, it would be Mamma.”
The look of terror that shoots across Beca’s face would have been more appropriate back the fish market, but it pulls a laugh from Chloe now. “Yeah, no, fuck that. Let’s go.”
“IS THAT A YES?” Stacie calls.
“THAT’S A YES!” Stacie’s cackle fades away a little and Chloe climbs off the bed--off Beca--to pull on her shoes. Getting dressed for dinner is too much to ask of her tired body. Straddling and making out with her girlfriend, no, but getting dressed? Yes.
Girlfriend. Chloe had decided, for now, that was the term she’d stick with. Until they were more ready. And as she watches Beca stretch languidly, shirt still pulled up where Chloe had left it, Chloe grins. “Hey, Becs. Will you be my girlfriend? My real one?”
Beca smiles bemusedly, brow furrowed. “Dude, duh. I thought we were already there.”
Chloe shrugs. “We are. I just wanted to be the one to ask. For the record, you know. I asked you out. You proposed to me.”
The tips of Beca’s ears go so red that Chloe can’t resist leaning over to kiss them. “Okay, okay, stop! I’m--” Beca groans, covering her face with both arms.
“My shy Becs,” Chloe laughs, tugging at her arms, but Beca doesn’t give. It’s such a stark contrast from the girl Chloe was just on top of and it warms every part of Chloe in a completely different way. She loves it. She loves her. “I love you.”
Beca’s arms part just enough that Chloe can see her eyes and the tops of her cheeks. Which are red. “I love you too. Go away.”
Chloe gasps, pulling harder. “Beca, are you blushing ? Like full-on blushing? Not just your ears?”
“No! Quit it!”
“Let me see!”
“No! Ow, dude, stop! Why are you so strong?”
“ARE YOU GUYS DONE YET?”
“FUCK OFF, STACIE, OH MY GOD!”
By the time Chloe manages to stop teasing Beca and drag her downstairs, the backyard’s been lined with tiki torches and the picnic tables have been pulled together. Uncle Lew is on the back porch, standing over a smoking grill and pointing out things for Eli to grab for him. Mamma is in and out the back door, hustling the Bellas along with quick claps of her hands. The sky is dark blue and rapidly fading.
Beca’s hand slips into hers and butterflies take flight in Chloe’s stomach. “I just realized I’m starving. Come on.” She lets Beca tug her over to the house, not really caring where they go, if this is how Beca brings her there.
There’s a rousing cheer when the girls spot them.
“Yo, it’s Babe Ruth!”
“Took y’all long enough, Red!”
“Sorry!” Chloe chirps, swinging Beca’s hand in hers. “Getting out of bed took a little more effort than we thought.”
“Gross,” Ashley laughs. “Your mom’s here, Chlo!”
“You know what I meant!”
Mamma hurries over with plates for them. “Eat! Here, dear. Aubrey, darling, do you need another plate?”
Aubrey smiles, touching Mamma’s shoulder. “Actually, I was hoping to talk to Chloe. If you have a moment?” She tilts her head and Chloe nods. She doesn’t really want to let go of Beca’s hand, but there’s something serious in Aubrey’s face that has her following. Fat Amy and Stacie immediately sweep a minimally protesting Beca away toward the food and Aubrey leads them a little ways from the circle of tiki torches.
“What’s up, Bree?”
Linking their arms, Aubrey keeps walking. It’s a slow, lazy stroll that doesn’t actually bring them anywhere, but Chloe gets the feeling that Aubrey just needs to keep moving. So they do, making a slow zigzag across the yard. “Since my father will...no longer be at the wedding, I was wondering what you’d think of, um.”
Chloe glances at her sharply. Aubrey doesn’t say, “Um.” It’s not in her vocabulary.
Aubrey blinks twice. “I was hoping to ask Mamma to give me away. If that’s okay with you.” Chloe gapes and Aubrey continues on quickly. “I just--I’ve spent a lot of time here and with your family. And they’ve always made me feel at home, like a part of the family. Ever since that first Christmas I spent here, I’ve never felt like a guest again, you know? And--”
“Bree,” Chloe says, stopping her. “Of course you can ask her. You think I’d say no to that? You’re my sister, in and out of the Bellas. Mamma considers all of us her kids.” She squeezes Aubrey’s arm. “You know she had half the town here this morning? She printed up pictures of you and set up search grids for everyone to take.”
A little teary, Aubrey glances back to where the Bellas are settling down with plates of food and Mamma is lording over them, fussing Lilly for trying to bite Amy. “She did?”
“Yeah.” Chloe reaches out, gripping Aubrey’s elbows. “And so many people showed up. And we had just barely realized you were missing!”
“Jesse feels so guilty about that,” Aubrey whispers, watching him try to talk Beca into giving him one of her bread rolls. Beca grabs Eli, who's sitting next to her, by the chin and turns his face away so she can flip Jesse off without him seeing. “When the boys dropped him off, he was so drunk and he didn’t want to wake me. So he slept on the couch instead of coming to bed. He kept saying ‘I could have realized you were gone sooner.’ He’s going to be beating himself up for a while, I think.”
“Then we just need to take his mind off of it!” Chloe draws herself up, happily leaning forward on her toes. “The wedding!”
“Ah, that’s another thing I wanted to talk to you about.” Aubrey lights up like she only does when she thinks about Jesse or the Bellas, like there’s so much love inside her that she can barely keep it contained. “I want to do it now. Well, as close to now as we can. I don’t want to wait anymore. I don’t care where or how. Just...now.”
Chloe tries to keep her squeal quiet, but knows she fails when half the Bellas turn to look at them. She covers her mouth with both hands, shaking her head at them. They go back to their food and she grabs Aubrey’s arms again. “Okay, so. Day after tomorrow! That will give us a day to get everything ready. We can run to grab dresses and such and set something simple up. Um. Do you think we could book a hall this close? Or--” She gasps, fully aware that Aubrey is giving her patented “Oh, Chloe” look. “Here! We can do it here! Oh my god, we have so many chairs stored away for family reunions! And Uncle Lew could build an arch in, like, ten minutes probably! I could maybe call my cousin, Tod. I think he’s a minister now or something!”
“Ashley’s ordained.” Aubrey turns in a slow circle, taking in the dark yard.
“Is she?” Chloe blinks. “Great! Okay, so Ashley… Jesse can handle the boys. Oh, bachelorette party!”
“Actually,” Aubrey says with a laugh.
Chloe laughs too, rolling her eyes. “For someone who ‘doesn’t care where or how’, you have a lot of ideas all set up. What are you thinking?”
“Well, how about we just have a get together with the girls? Just a night in to play games and catch up and hang out?” She grins. “I can’t see Jesse the night before anyways, so we can have a sleepover, like the old days.”
It’s hard to control her enthusiasm for the idea, because it feels like tiny rockets have attached to Chloe’s feet and she can’t seem to keep them on the ground as she bounces in place. “Yes! Bellas sleepover! And that way, we can make sure you don’t get too wasted before your BIG DAY!” She squeals the last two words, giving Aubrey’s arm a couple happy tugs.
Aubrey’s smile suddenly turns a little warmer and she pulls them even farther from the light of the tiki torches. “I don’t think we have to worry about that.”
“Well, of course not. You’re totes the responsible one, but don’t worry, I will keep all the Bellas in check! As Maid of Honor, it’s my duty to--”
“Chloe.” Aubrey catches her flailing hands and pulls them into her chest, forcing Chloe a little closer. She giggles and Aubrey grins. “I won’t be drinking. Because...” Chloe’s stomach clenches and she feels her jaw drop.
Aubrey squeezes her hands. “I just found out, like, yesterday. Our secret, for now. I haven't told Jesse yet. Okay?”
Chloe frees her hands to wind her pinky around Aubrey’s. “Absolutely. Our secret.” Giddy giggles burst from her lips. “Oh my god. Bree.”
“I know.” Aubrey laughs--that carefree, easy laugh she always said Chloe had taught her. “Come on. Let’s go eat. Your girlfriend looks like she needs saving.”
Chloe glances back to find Beca has been hoisted over Amy’s shoulder, a bread roll in one hand and a fork in the other that she is threatening to shank Amy with. As Chloe races over to save her, Aubrey at her side, she thinks she couldn’t possibly be happier than she is at this very moment.
She’s wrong, of course, because an hour later, she’s settled on the couch in the living room with Beca snoring lightly on her chest and Eli stretched across both their laps, drooling on Beca’s knee.
Mamma passes behind her and leans her forearms on the back of the couch to talk quietly. “You look comfy, baby girl.”
Mamma slides a little lower, resting her cheek on the couch back as she strokes Chloe’s hair from her forehead. “I’m proud of you, you know?”
Chloe smiles, scrunching up her nose. “For what?”
“For being who you are. Loving who you want to love.” Her eyes slip to Beca for a moment. “For taking such good care of your friends, even when you worry me to the point of ripping my hair out.” She gives a glare with no heat and Chloe laughs. “For being a good big sister and little sister.”
Chloe takes a deep breath around the lump in her throat. “How is he?”
Mamma sighs through her nose. “He’s okay. He’s taking a shower before Lew takes him in. He wants to see you before he goes.”
“Okay. Here, help me.” Chloe shifts a little, motioning to Eli. He mumbles as Mamma comes around and scoops him up with a soft grunt. “You’ve got him?”
“Of course I do. He’s my baby. I’ll never not have him.” Mamma scoffs playfully. “I could carry you up to your bed too, if I wanted.”
“Okay, Mamma,” Chloe laughs, watching her leave. Eli’s foot bangs against the wall and Mamma winces, turning sideways to take the stairs. Once she’s gone, Chloe leans down and presses her lips to Beca’s cheek. “Becs.”
“Mm?” Beca doesn’t move.
Chloe plants more soft kisses across her face, craning to catch the tip of her nose. Beca’s whole face scrunches up and her brow furrows. It’s adorable. “Baby. It’s time for bed.”
“Okay, so go t' sleep,” Beca grumbles, weakly swatting at her.
“We’re not in bed.”
Beca opens one eye, slowly focusing on the room they’re in. The other Bellas have retired already and Aunt Dana is passed out in the armchair, covered in a pink blanket. “Oh, yeah. Okay. Let’s go.” She tries to sit up twice, groaning, before Chloe takes pity and gives her a soft push. “Thanks.”
“You go ahead. I’m gonna see Mickey off.”
Beca blinks a few times, opening and closing her mouth like she’s tasting the air. “Hm. Rehab, huh?”
“Yeah.” Chloe crosses her arms over the warmth in her chest. Because she’s so proud of Mickey. He’d come over during dinner and asked Uncle Lew to drive him there. “I think he’ll be okay. In the long run, you know?”
“Definitely.” There’s no hesitation in Beca’s answer. She nods once, her eyes falling closed and not quite making it back open. “Mm, okay. Bed. I’m going. Tell Mickey he’s got this shit.”
Chloe chuckles, watching Beca lurch to her feet and sway a little. “I will. Thanks, Becs.”
Beca nods, plodding around the couch toward the kitchen. “Love you.”
It’s just two words, but they tumble through her, sparking off her bones and settling deep in her stomach. Because as grumpy and jaded to life as Beca claims to be, she loves her enough to casually say it as she heads off to her bed. Their bed.
Chloe thinks idly of their apartment and wonders if Beca would mind consolidating their sleeping spaces. She’s not sure she can go back to sleeping without Beca, now that she’s had a taste of it.
There’s a bang from the kitchen and she hears, “OW, fuck. I’m okay.” before the back door opens. Chloe presses her smile into her palm, shaking her head.
Mickey’s on the porch when she finds him. “Hey, Sissy.” He’s shaking harder than ever and his lips are dry and cracked, but he smiles when she steps out to join him, wrapping one of Aunt Dana’s jackets tighter around herself.
“Hey. You ready?”
He shrugs. “I guess, yeah. Sorry I’ll be missing the wedding.”
She crosses her arms to keep away the chill a bit. “It’s okay. It’s just thirty days, right?”
“Right. But I can’t, like, use the phone for the first few days. But, um. When I do get to make calls and stuff, can I call you?” Mickey tugs at his sleeves, covering his trembling hands. “Or I could write you or something, I think.”
“Are you cold?” she asks, watching him shake.
He deflates just a little, looking down at his shoes. “I’m always cold.” He laughs and it almost sounds like it used to, when he’d chase Eli around the living room or when their dad would grab him in a headlock as they made dinner together.
It wraps around Chloe’s wrists and pulls her forward until she’s standing in front of him, rubbing her hands up and down his arms roughly, trying to warm him. “Yes, you can call me. Uncle Lew has my number. Get it from him before you go in.”
He lifts one of his fists to his mouth, but his eyes crinkle and she knows he’s smiling. “Okay. Okay, I will.”
The front door opens and Uncle Lew steps out, pulling on his coat. “Ready, Mick? I’ve got an archway to go build, apparently.” He sighs dramatically, but he’s grinning as he gives Chloe a hug. “Night, Ladybug. See you tomorrow.”
“See you, Uncle Lew.”
Uncle Lew drops a kiss on top her head and hops the stairs, whistling merrily as he literally skips off toward his truck, swinging his long arms. Chloe laughs, watching him go before turning back to Mickey.
He sways forward a little, like he might hug her, then changes his mind and rocks back on his heels. “So, two things before I go.” He shuffles around her, sniffing. “One, since Mamma isn’t running around and screaming about it, I assume you and Beca being engaged is a secret?”
She stares at him, suddenly remembering he was there when she’d answered Beca, lying in the grass beside her. After taking a bullet that could have been meant for her.
He grins, not waiting for her answer. “Got it. Safe with me. I mean, I can’t even call anyone for a few days at least, so.” He rolls his eyes, shrugging and dropping his head limply to the side. It’s a startlingly familiar move and she finds herself smiling back.
“Thank you. We’re waiting a while, so I would appreciate that.” Just hearing someone else acknowledge it sends her stomach fluttering though.
“Yeah, yeah, got you.” He turns and hops down the stairs, tugging at his sleeves again.
“Hey.” He keeps walking, but glances back at her. “What’s the second thing?”
“Oh.” Mickey spins until he’s walking backwards. Then he grins, so bright and simple that she forgets for a second that it’s been years since she’s seen it. “Thank you.”
“I heard you call me Bubba today.” He sniffs once and waves, hurrying off to Uncle Lew’s truck.