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Stained Glass

Chapter Text



The front door slams and Beca sighs, tapping the phone on her chest to pause her music. So much for napping. She tucks her hands back behind her head, fluffing her pillow up a little so she can see the bedroom door. One...two...three...

The door flies open and red curls and denim jacket come bouncing through. “Oh, there you are!”

“Here I be.”

Chloe grins, shrugging out of her jacket and throwing it on the back of Beca’s desk chair, on top of the pink hoodie she’d left there the day before. Then she hops up on the bed, moves Beca’s phone from her chest to the nightstand, and plops herself down beside her. She flings a leg and an arm around the brunette, tugging her closer and resting her head on Beca’s shoulder.

“Oh, Jesus. You’re in a cuddle mood.”

“Shut up, you like it.” Chloe nuzzles even closer with an appreciative hum. Beca just rolls her eyes. “Actually… I need your help.”

Beca twists enough that she can look down at Chloe. “With what? Is that asshole at work messing with you again?”

Chloe giggles, her breath dancing over Beca’s collarbone where her t-shirt has pulled aside. “No, I think the slashed tires sent the message well enough. Thank you. No, with Aubrey’s wedding. You know, my friend from back home?”

“Oh, gross, yeah. The one you talk to every other day and always tell I say ‘hey’ when I don’t.” Beca turns a suspicious glare on her. “I am not doing wedding stuff.”

“You don’t have to!” Chloe quickly assures, patting Beca’s side. “No, no. It’s… Well. Aubrey called. And she said Jesse invited Tom to be in the wedding party…”

Something like fire crawls down Beca’s spine and her nose crinkles up. “That dumbfuck that cheated on you with the chick whose nipples looked like bologna?”

Chloe seems oddly pleased that Beca remembered. She pops up, turning onto her stomach and propping her chin up on Beca’s chest. Anyone else in the world would have gotten stabbed in the eye, getting this close, but it’s Chloe, so Beca just tilts her head back a bit so they aren’t breathing the same air. “That’s the one. He’s Jesse’s cousin, apparently, and his mom forced him to put him in the wedding. And he’s bringing his girlfriend. Barb. The nipples.”

“Mmm. And you want me to...severely injure you so you can’t make the wedding?”

Chloe’s snort bounces off the hollow of her throat and Beca uncrosses her legs to cross them the other way, body suddenly a little restless. “Please. Like you could actually hurt me.”

“I could take you.” Beca gives her best glare, which has never affected Chloe.

“Promises, promises,” Chloe says, winking.

She rolls her eyes. “Only you could turn a death threat into a come on.”

“I am vastly skilled.” Chloe’s voice drips with innuendo and Beca pulls a hand from behind her head to flop it over Chloe’s face and push her away.

“Gross, dude. Go to your room.”

Chloe rolls off of her, landing on her back with her hands folded over her stomach. She reaches out with her leg, resting her toes against Beca’s ankle. “Awww, but your room is so much better.”

“It’s literally not.” Beca glances around the tiny room, vaguely registering that she needs to do laundry. “Remember when we moved in, you looked in here and said, ‘Oh, an extra closet!’ then dashed off to snatch up your room?”

“Okay, no. I distinctly remember you insisting I take the other room. Like a true gentlewoman.” Her toes start tapping a rhythm against the top of Beca’s foot.

“No, I don’t remember that. Hm.”

“Shut up.” Chloe throws her arm out, smacking Beca in the stomach and pushing her breath out with an “Oof”. “We’re off topic.”

“Aren’t we always?”

“So, Tom is coming to the wedding. With his ‘totally hot, supermodel girlfriend’, as I hear.” She throws some air quotes around the description, blue eyes rolling back into her head for a second, tongue lolling out. Beca laughs. “And I need a date. Pronto. That is better than his date. So. I had an idea.”

Beca shifts onto her side, the bed creaking a bit. She narrows her eyes when Chloe meets them. “I’m already trying to jump ship on this, but sure. What’s this idea of yours?”

Chloe smiles, the way she does every time Beca goes along with something she’s scheming. It’s the smile that led to their bathroom being painted pale lavender with music notes along the borders and to their kitchen window being replaced with stained glass. It’s the smile that ended them up as roommates to begin with, honestly, and Beca sighs, resigning herself to whatever insane idea Chloe’s had now. Chloe rolls up onto her elbow, her knee hooking over Beca’s. “Okay. So. I put an ad in the paper for a fake date.”

For a moment, Beca thinks she misheard. She grabs her ear, tugging at it, her earrings jingling. “I’m sorry. Was that English?”

“Ugh, Becs.” Chloe nudges her side. “You heard me.”

“You’re going to take a complete stranger, who might be a psycho, as your fake date to your best friend’s wedding? Which you said you would be gone for a month for? To, what? Show up your ex from college? Whom you have claimed to have no feelings towards anymore, by the way.” Something about the thought of Chloe still liking that douche sets Beca’s teeth on edge. She just hates cheaters. A lot. That’s all.

“I don’t!” Chloe’s eyes grow wide and bright, like they do when she’s being completely sincere or looking at a puppy. “I just… I know it’s stupid, but he did hurt me. And I just want to seem like I’m doing better than him these days, you know? Just a little revenge.”

“You are, Chlo.” Beca huffs, taking her hands from behind her head and scooting up until she’s resting back on her elbows and can look Chloe in the eye. “You’re in vet school. You’re sitting pretty in your bank accounts. You work at the shelter. You have the most amazing roommate this side of the Atlantic.” She bobs her head side to side, smirking. “Colin Firth obviously being the only one better.”

Chloe hooks a finger in the hem of Beca’s shirt, leaning back as she laughs. The shirt pulls with her, stretching. “Well, you’re right about that. I do have the best roommate in the world, after Mr. Firth. Which is why…she’ll help me vet these potential dates?”

Beca’s smirk disappears. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Well, you said it. They’re strangers and could be insane. You’re a really good judge of character. So… Will you interview them with me?”

And perhaps it’s the hopeful glint in Chloe’s eyes or the fact that she really could be inviting psychos to spend weeks with her across the country, but Beca sighs. “God. Fine.” Chloe squeals. “Just so I know you’re not going with Hannibal Lecter’s protege or something.”

“Awww, you care.” Chloe throws her arms around Beca, forcing her elbows out from under her and pulling them back down. “Thanks, Becs! I owe you!”

Beca awkwardly pats Chloe’s back, straining to breathe in the redhead’s tight grip. “Yeah, yeah. Don’t kill me before your potential date can. Speaking of--I don’t think I should have to say it--but if your date kills me, that’s a veto from me.”

Chloe giggles, releasing her and rolling off the bed. “Okay, okay. I guess.” She snatches up Beca’s phone, typing in her passcode and scrolling through her playlist. After a moment, she smiles and taps the screen. “Love Lies” by Khalid and Normani starts playing and she leans over to rest the phone back on Beca’s sternum. “I’ll leave you to your afternoon. Dinner will be ready in an hour.”

“Thanks,” Beca says, settling back into the nap she’d been about to take before Chloe got home. She closes her eyes, letting the music fill her mind up until it’s all that’s left.

“Also, my first interview will be here in an hour and a half, ‘k, thanks!” Her bedroom door snaps closed.


 After ten minutes of lecturing Chloe on giving the weirdos that responded to her ad their address, Beca insists she be the one to answer the door, just in case. She yanks it open, best scowl in place.

The man on the doorstep peers straight over her head for a moment, blinking, then glances down. “Oh. Hi. Is there a Chloe here?”

Beca crosses her arms, settling against the threshold. “Who are you?”

“Uh, Tim.”

She nods, eyes narrowed. “Well, nope. No Chloe here. Sorry.” She kicks the door closed before he can get another word out.

In the living room, Chloe spreads her hands out, head pulling back a bit with a shake. “Beca. What the hell?”

“His name is Tim. You can’t introduce Tom to your boyfriend, Tim. What if you mess up? ‘Hey, Tom, this is Tom--I mean.’”

“Oh. Probably a good point.” Chloe grabs her phone, scrolling through her emails. “Well, okay. I’ll just tell the next interview to come early.”

Beca stops with one hand on the fridge handle. “There’s another interview tonight?”

“I’m very popular, it seems. I didn’t even know that many people read the newspaper.”

“It’s New York, Chlo. It’s a thing here.” The fridge has been freshly stocked with her favorite yogurt, the grape one that Chloe hates. She smiles, grabbing one. “Do you know this one’s name, before they get here and I have to be rude again?”

“Please, you love it.” Chloe doesn’t look up from her phone, smiling. “Her name’s...Ella.”

Beca pulls the top off her yogurt, hopping up to sit on one of the bar stools at their little island in the center of the kitchen. She spins around, legs extended until they bump into the other stool. “Hmm. Women are less likely to be serial killers, I think. Statistically.” She leans over to drop the top into the can beside the bar. “Or they’re better at not being caught.”

“You’re really so much fun,” Chloe says, dragging the last word out through her teeth, eyebrows lifting as she scrolls through her phone.

“Excuse me for trying to keep you safe,” Beca grumbles, reaching behind her to grab a spoon from the drying tray. “She could be a Juana Barraza.”

“A what?”

“Female serial killer? Professional wrestler, offed a bunch of old ladies? Got like, 800 years in prison, or something.”

Chloe finally looks up from her phone, lip curled and eyebrows furrowed. Beca thinks she’s supposed to look disgusted, but she just looks concerned. “I wish you didn’t know all the weird things you know.”

Beca shrugs, mouth full of yogurt, legs swinging. She knows Chloe loves it really. For some reason.

Chapter Text

Chloe crosses Ella off her list almost immediately after the girl walks in the door. She’s nice enough, but she keeps giving Beca far too appreciative glances. Chloe can’t bring a date that would be very obviously checking out other women there.

The next one, a woman named Alayna, actually has Beca retreating into the bathroom to escape her crude propositions for a threesome. It’s hilarious, really, but Chloe sees her out quickly anyways. She calls Stacie after and they have a good laugh about it. Beca hides in her room for two hours.

And when the next interviewee turns up at the door and curls his lip at Beca with a “Where the hell’s the hot chick from the picture?” Chloe doesn’t feel bad at all letting her slam the door in his face.

She sighs, flipping through the notecards she’d prepared for the interviews--if they made it past the introduction phase and were invited back--as Beca collapses beside her on the couch. Her legs sling up onto the coffee table and she snatches a card from the pile.

“‘Do you have any tattoos?’” Beca reads, eyebrow cocked up. “Who the hell is gonna ask about that?”

“Well,” Chloe takes the card back, smacking Beca’s arm with it. “You know my family is close to Aubrey’s. And now Jesse’s. Which means Tom. So it won’t just be him I’ll need to convince it’s real.” She shrugs. “And who knows with my family, honestly? I thought it best to be thorough. Aubrey actually sent me the questions.”

Beca blinks up at her, wrapping her arms around a throw pillow--one of the floral ones she’d spent a week complaining about when Chloe brought them home. “Aubrey knows?”

“Of course.” Chloe leans forward, grabbing her drink from the coffee table. “She’s laying the groundwork for me now.”

“What does that mean?”

“You know. Dropping vague hints about me having a significant other and being excited to meet them. So that nobody is completely surprised when I get there. I mean, it has to seem like it’s a semi-serious thing that’s been happening for a while, if I’m bringing them to my best friend’s wedding. For a month.” She laughs, lips pressed against the rim of her cup so it echoes inside. “My mom has been calling ever since Aubrey started, demanding to know who I’m with. I told her it’s a surprise.”

The coffee table rocks on its one short leg as Beca shifts her feet. “Aubrey knows, but your mom doesn’t?” Beca had met her once, when they were moving in together and Chloe’s mom had flown up to see the place. Chloe isn’t sure Beca’s fully recovered from all the hugs and cheek pats she’d gotten that weekend.

“My mother can’t keep a secret to save my life. And she loves me, like, a lot.”

“Okay, so you and Aubrey will know. And Stacie, I assume? She’s going, huh?”

Chloe smiles at the mention of her other best friend as she sets her drink down. They’d met in college and, by pure coincidence, they’d ended up in the same city, Stacie volunteering at the shelter Chloe worked at. “Of course. She’ll be helping me keep up appearances.”

“Great. You’ve got an entire team working undercover for you.” Beca rolls her eyes. “You would.”

Chloe laughs, flipping through her notecards. She holds one up, flicking the corner of it. “Miss Mitchell. Did you have any pets growing up?”

Beca’s head rolls to the side so she can peer up at Chloe through narrowed eyes. “This is dumb. I’m not doing it.”

“Oh, come on. I mean, I know a lot about you, but I don't know this one.” She pokes the card into Beca’s cheek and Beca bats it away, teeth bared. “Humor me.”

“I do. Constantly.” Beca huffs, but wraps her arms back around the throw pillow, idly fingering the lacy edge. “Okay, well. No. I used to catch rollie pollies and keep them in a shoebox under my bed, if that counts. They died.”

Chloe laughs, wrapping her fingers into the strap of Beca’s tanktop and tugging gently. “Oh my god, of course you did. A dog or a cat is too lame for Beca Mitchell.”

“I wanted a dog,” Beca says, shrugging. “Life’s a bitch.”

The cards slide in her lap as she turns and pulls her legs up onto the couch, shoving her feet under Beca’s thigh. “Okay.” She picks up another one. “Oh, this one again. Do you have any tattoos?”

Beca’s eyeroll almost hurts Chloe’s eyes. “You know I do. You can see them.” She holds out her arms, the throw pillow sliding into her lap. Chloe eyes the headphones and the grasshopper etched into Beca’s skin.

“Do you have any I haven’t seen?”

Beca hesitates.

Chloe gasps. “Oh my god, you totally do! Where? Are they scandalous? Can I see them?”

“Dude, no!” Beca crosses her arms, leaning away. “They’re just...not in plain sight.”

“Beca. Mitchell. Do you have an ass tattoo?”

“Okay, no.” Beca pushes the pillow off her lap and launches herself across the couch, grabbing a handful of cards. “We’re not talking about that anymore. It’s your turn.” She settles back on her haunches, riffling through them. Her knees are bracketing Chloe’s shin and she resists the urge to bend her foot back and kick Beca right where she's totes sure there's a tattoo now.

She frowns, head tilting. “My turn?”

Beca holds up a card. “Miss Beale,” she says, copying Chloe’s tone. Chloe presses her lips together to keep from smiling. “What is your--oh wait, I know this one. Favorite movie. Hang on.” She drops the card back into Chloe’s lap, digging through the others she’d taken.

Chloe blinks at her. “Wait, I don’t even know that one off the top of my head. There’s so many good movies!”

“It’s Mamma Mia, Chlo.” Beca throws aside another card, not looking up. “You have three copies of the DVD because you ‘lost’ it twice and couldn’t live without it, then found the first two again after you bought the third. Despite the fact that it’s on Netflix. And probably easy to find anywhere else online.” She glares over the cards, her eyes too narrow for the look to be real. “And you quote the movie. All the time. For no reason. You sing ‘Honey, Honey’ in the shower at least four times a week.”

Unable to stop her head from bobbing along to the song that’s suddenly filled her brain, Chloe shrugs. “Okay, that’s fair. My turn again.”

“Ah, I haven’t asked one.”

“You did too. You just answered it as well.” Chloe grabs a card that’s slipped off her lap and lodged between the couch cushions. “Oh, your favorite color.”

“Black,” Beca says at the same time Chloe says, “Purple.”

“Liar.” Chloe frisbees the card at Beca’s head, landing it on her shoulder as Beca blinks rapidly and jerks away from the attack. “It’s purple.”

Beca’s eyebrows furrow and her mouth drops open. “You can’t tell me what my favorite color is. It’s black.”

“Your three favorite articles of clothing are purple. Your laptop case has purple lining. You paint your nails purple more often than black. You got that purple water bottle to carry to work. Your Christmas stocking is purple.”

“You bought that for me!”

“Because your favorite color is purple!”

There’s a knock on the door and Beca pushes the cards back into her hands, hopping up. “Put those away. None of these weirdos have made it past the ‘Are you a psycho?’ round, so.”

Chloe gathers the cards and shoves them into the back of the notebook she’s been using for the interviews.

“Here we go again,” Beca mutters and pulls the door open, sliding around it and disappearing from Chloe’s view. “Sup?” Chloe hears her say and rolls her eyes, lips turning up.

“Um, hi. I’m Shay. I was here to see Chloe?” It’s a soft voice, deep and pleasant.

“Few questions first, bud. You a creep?”

“Not--not that I know of.”

“Where do you work?”

“Uh, the cafe on fourth and Chester. I’ve served you before. With Chloe. Beca, right?”

Beca hums for a second, probably pretending she can’t remember him. But Chloe remembers the tall man behind the counter that always gave her a smile with her coffee and blushed the one time she’d told him she liked his new haircut. He’d once written “Rebecca” on Beca’s cup and she’s never quite forgiven him for it.

She hops up, moving over behind Beca.

Shay is standing on the steps, hands tucked into his pockets and coat zipped nearly to his chin. He’s a good-looking guy, she thinks, eyeing his somewhat shaggy brown hair and his hazel eyes behind his horn-rimmed glasses. Native American. She can tell by his high cheekbones and the soft curve at the corner of his eyes. Tanned and broad-shouldered. Nice.

“Hi, Shay,” she says, smiling. Beca doesn’t look away from him.

Shay’s eyes slip over Beca’s shoulder and he grins, his one front tooth slightly crooked. “Hi. Hey, Chloe.”

“Come on in.” She tugs at the back of Beca’s tank top lightly and the girl backs away from the door, eyes still on Shay. “I thought your name was familiar in your email.”

“Oh, you remembered.” Shay steps in, shutting the door behind him and glancing around the space. “I didn’t realize you two…lived together.”

Something about the way he says it makes her think it’s not what he meant to say at first. But she shrugs it off, motioning for him to take a seat on the recliner--a somewhat newly acquired piece that Beca had “saved” from the backroom of a tiny furniture store uptown. She’d fallen asleep in it while Chloe was looking for a new coffee table and they’d left with the recliner instead.

She sees Beca bristle as Shay lowers himself into her precious chair, but she says nothing, sitting in her other favorite spot--the far end of the couch. Chloe sits at the end closest to Shay, smiling as he rubs his hands together and wets his lips.

“I was a little surprised to hear back from you, actually,” he says. “I mean, you’re just--I just. Was surprised.” He laughs, chin tucking down to his chest for a moment. “Sorry, I’m a little nervous.”

“It’s okay,” Chloe says, smiling. “We’re just going to do a basic couple of questions today and if I think it will work out, I’ll call you at the end of the week. That sound okay?”

“Sounds great.” He sits up straighter, long legs pushing the recliner into a gentle swing back and forth.

“Okay. So. I know what you do for a living.” Chloe ticks off the question in her notebook, feeling so much like Aubrey for a second that she laughs quietly. “I know you’re not likely to be a serial killer.” Beca goes “hmph”, but Chloe presses on. “So, first question. Why would you be willing to do this?”

Shay seems like he expected this question. His face brightens and he quickly says, “I want to help. I mean, I kinda know you. You come in all the time. You, uh, both do.” He glances at Beca and whatever he sees there makes his eyes widen. Chloe bets herself a small tub of ice cream that it’s the should-be-patented Beca glare before she turns her head to look at her roommate.

Sure enough, narrowed eyes, one cocked eyebrow, slightly curled lip. Arms crossed and fingers rolling back and forth, rings tinkling softly against each other.

“Well,” Shay says, pulling her attention back. “I just… You seem really nice. And I don’t really know the full story here, but it’s gotta be pretty bad if you’re looking for a fake date, you know?” He grimaces apologetically. “I thought maybe I could...offer some help. And I would be a complete gentleman.” His hands lift, palms toward her, and he shakes them back and forth for a second. “Just you know, whatever you need.”

Chloe smiles, watching his shoulders relax. “Thank you, Shay. That’s sweet. Now.” She glances down. Ah, one of the questions Aubrey had sent her. “What kind of things do you expect to do in your role as ‘fake boyfriend’?”

His brow furrows a bit and he blinks rapidly behind his glasses. “You mean, like?”

“Between us,” she says, nodding.

“Oh.” His cheeks turn red. “I guess, talk to your family and friends? Be nice to you. Um. This feels like a strange question.” He chuckles, adjusting his glasses on his nose.

She’d thought so too and had to clarify what Aubrey had meant, so she smiles at his answer and glances down at the list of questions. “Would you be okay with hand-holding?”

“Oh,” he says again, eyes round. “Yes. Definitely.”






He makes a strange, strangled sound just as Beca sits forward from her end of the couch, glaring over Chloe’s shoulder at the questions in the notebook. When she doesn’t find the one Chloe just asked, she turns the glare on Chloe, both eyebrows going up.

“I--” Shay says, face burning red. “I. Yes, that would be. Great. Not--not great, uh. Good. I can do that.”

She holds his gaze for a moment, but he looks away quickly, wetting his lips. Beca’s closer now. She can almost feel her warmth against her back and she turns a bit, letting Beca follow along in the notebook. “Would you be able to remember a made up backstory about us?”

“Yeah, I did drama club,” he says, sounding much more confident with this answer. “I wasn’t exactly Broadway, but I can remember lines pretty well.”

“You’d have to sell them too,” she says. “They need to believe you really like me.”

“No problem there, then.” He turns red again, but doesn’t look away, his smile close-lipped and kinda tilted.

Beside her, Beca’s eyes narrow even further.

“Well, he’s definitely top of the list so far.” Chloe happily circles his name in bright pink in her notebook. She’s pretty sure he’ll be the winner, but who knows. There’s still fifteen names on her list.

“Eh,” Beca says, going straight for the fridge. She emerges a second later with one of Chloe’s Capri Suns. She rips the plastic off the straw with her teeth and Chloe watches her try to get it off her tongue for a few moments, angrily scraping at it with her fingers.

“You didn’t like him?”

“Eh,” she says again, finally managing to spit out the bit of plastic. She shakes it off her fingers into the trash. “Don’t know. Something was off.”

Chloe drops her notebook on the table, stretching her arms up over her head. “I didn’t get anything weird from him.”

“Hey, good judge of character, remember?” Beca points to herself. “I say he seemed off. Like maybe he was just in this in the hopes of hooking up with you.”

“Possibly.” Chloe rises from the couch, moving around behind Beca and opening the fridge. “But I kinda figured that would happen with some of them.”

She practically hears Beca’s head snap around to her. “You’re okay with them just being in this to get in your pants?”

There’s no more of her teas, so Chloe grabs a Capri Sun too and turns around to find Beca staring at her, eyes wide, upper lip tugged up on one side in her “I’m super offended” way. “I mean, not if that’s the only reason. Which, with Shay, he kinda seemed to mean it when he said he wanted to help. But yes, I knew that could be a reason people replied to the ad.” She cocks a hip out, motioning up and down her frame. “I’m pretty confident about all this.”

“Ugh,” Beca rolls her eyes, catching her straw between her teeth. “You should be.”

Delighted, Chloe throws her arm around Beca’s waist and gives her a half hug. “You’re so sweet.”

“Shut the hell up, I am not.” Beca rolls her shoulders, knocking Chloe off, and stalks off to her bedroom.

“Thank you again, Becs! Love you! First interview tomorrow is at noon!”

Beca’s door slams shut and Chloe smiles.

Chapter Text


“No way. I know that guy. He almost ran me over the other day on my way to work. I’ll never forget his stupid face.”

“Where are you going?”

“To kill him? Wha--Let me go!”

“Well, she was a keeper. Think you got your fake girlfriend, Chlo.”

“God, is she gone?”

“Yeah, I escorted her all the way into her cab.”

“I can’t believe! ‘It’s like I’ve always known you.’ Jeez, she seemed fine through email!”

“You can’t see crazy eyes through email. Oh, can I keep this papier mache of your face?”


“He seemed nice.”

“Where’d your weird little plant by the door go?”


“It was here before I let him in. Dude, I think that guy stole your plant.”

“Beca! Get him!”

“She was gorgeous.”

“She was dumber than the plant that other guy stole.”

“Charles was very intelligent for a succulent, God rest his soul.”

“He’s not dead, Chlo. I will find him and the bastard that took him.”

“My hero.”

Beca collapses across the couch, slinging her feet up into Chloe’s lap. “God, no more. I’m done. I can’t take one more day.”

“It’s only been a week,” Chloe says, gripping her ankles and squeezing lightly.

“A week of morons and weirdos and freaks coming to the door, trying to be your not-boyfriend or girlfriend.” She watches Chloe’s fingers tap a rhythm on her ankle bone. “Don’t you have to make a decision today? That was the last one, right?”

Chloe nods, picking up her notebook. “Yep, now just gotta decide. We’ll need a little time to get to know each other and practice stuff. So. Here’s the list.” She holds it up so Beca can see the three circles on the entire page of crossed out names. “Shay, Donna, and Elise. We each get one veto.”

“I don’t like Shay.” It’s kind of a lie. She had liked Shay, before he’d shown up here. He’d always been nice to her at the cafe and never got her order wrong, despite the one time he’d written “Rebecca” on her cup. But something about that overeager energy he’d given off while sitting in her armchair had rubbed her wrong. She doesn’t trust him.

Chloe seems surprised, but she crosses the name off. “Okay. That’s your veto then. Weird, I really thought you’d pick him to be my date.”

Beca shrugs, not feeling like explaining the hot feeling in her gut when he’d stared at Chloe’s profile while she was turned to do something or the way he’d lit up when Chloe appeared at the door.

“I’m gonna cut...Donna. She was very nice and definitely seemed like she could act the part, but maybe too well? Does that make sense?”

“Little shady, mhmm. Yeah, I got that too.”

“Which leaves us with…” Chloe crosses out Donna’s name. “Elise! We liked her.”

“You liked her because she brought you flowers.” Beca wrinkles up her nose. “You definitely can’t go with her.” The way Chloe’s curls flip back as she tosses her head catches Beca’s eye for a moment and she doesn’t see the pen jabbing for her thigh. “Ow! Dude!”

“You already got your veto, Beca Mitchell.”

“Yeah, well, I want another. She was grilling me on fitness regimes as I walked her out. You can’t bring someone annoying as your date. It defeats the purpose.”

“Good thing I’m not bringing you then,” Chloe says, jabbing her again and turning back to her notebook.

Beca rolls off the couch and heads for the pantry. She’s been craving some raviolis since that last interviewee had walked in. As she reaches up for a bowl, arms wrap around her waist and she jumps. “Jesus! I’m putting a bell on you.”

“Becaaaaaa,” Chloe drawls in her ear with that very particular lilt she uses when she wants something.

“Dude, back off. This is my last can.”

“No, Becs.” Chloe tightens her hold for a moment. “What are you doing, say...from next week until mid-November?”

“Sitting by the phone, preparing myself to hear about your horrible, gruesome murder?”

Chloe laughs, the sound pressed into Beca’s shoulder. Wow, she is really taking up all of her “touching Beca” allowance today. “Or.”

Beca stops, fingers underneath the pull-tab of her raviolis. “Or?”

“Or. You could be my date?”

She turns, forcing Chloe back a step. “What?”

But Chloe isn’t really listening now, hands on her hips and head shaking. “God, I don’t know why I didn’t think of that in the first place. Of course I should have just asked you.”


“I mean, you work from home mostly anyways, so you could easily come. You’re the boss! They can’t tell you no to some time off. And I know you’re not a psycho. And my mother loves you--”


“And we wouldn’t even have to lie about things like how we met! You’re already all over my Instagram. Oh, I’m so stupid!”


Chloe’s hands leap from her hips to Beca’s cheeks with a resounding smack. She ignores Beca’s pained grunt. “Beca Mitchell, will you be my fake girlfriend?”

Beca just stares at her, still holding the can of raviolis between them. Then she blinks. “What? Dude, no. You said no wedding stuff. I hate weddings.”

“You don’t hate weddings!”

“No, I really do.” Beca shakes her head, knocking Chloe’s hands from her cheeks to her shoulders. “I actively try not to get invited to weddings. Really. And-and-and we just spent a week interviewing strangers for this.”

“And all along, you were here!” Chloe’s fingers trail over Beca’s earrings, which is something Beca wishes she wouldn’t do right now, because it kinda tingles and it’s distracting. “Come on, Becs. It’s a free vacay for you! And all you’ll have to do is dress up for the wedding and talk really nice about me to everyone. Not a hardship, right?” Chloe bats her eyelashes, shoulders lifting crookedly. “And I get to tell everyone I’m dating an amazing music producer!”

“Dude. I don’t do dressing up. Or wedding stuff.” Beca finally pulls the top off the raviolis and backs out of Chloe’s grip. She turns to find a bowl.

Chloe’s sigh is so heavy she feels it flutter her hair. “Well, fine. Then I’m calling Shay.”

“Wait--what?” Beca spins. “I vetoed him!”

“You changed your veto to Elise. You only get one.”


“And that leaves me with only one choice. Unless…” Chloe is walking backwards toward the living room, hands clasped behind her back. She stops at the edge of the couch, where her phone is perched and reaches for it slowly. Slowly enough that Beca knows that Chloe knows the outcome of this conversation already.

And Beca remembers again the weird vibe she’d gotten when Shay had smiled at Chloe, when he’d blushed and his eyes had lit up when she’d said there was a good chance she’d be calling him. Too eager. And Beca didn’t like that at all. She has a quick vision of Chloe in the airport bathroom, pleading for her life while Shay stands over her with a knife and--okay, Chloe was right about her needing to cut down on watching the ID channel when Chloe was at work and she was bored.

Chloe’s fingers brush over the phone screen. And she’s smiling. That stained glass, lavender-painted walls, “We can be roommates!” smile.

“God, fuck, FINE!” Beca slaps her hands over her face.

A moment later, Chloe barrels into her, wrapping her up in her arms. “Ah! Beca, thank you so so so much! I promise you won’t regret it! It’s going to be so much fun!” Chloe squeals, rocking them back and forth while Beca just groans into her hands.

Chapter Text

“You two are adorable,” Stacie says, dropping her bag by the door. She props her fists on her hips, eyeing them and nodding, like she’s grading a diamond. Her Residual Heat Recording Studios t-shirt strains over her chest as she leans back, as if to get a better view of them. “Yeah, this will work. I can totally see it.”

Chloe happily wiggles her fingers between Beca’s, grinning. She doesn’t have to look to know Beca is rolling her eyes. “Thanks, Stace!”

Stacie shoos them back into the living room. Beca crawls into her armchair, needing no further prompting, and Chloe and Stacie settle on the couch. “Okay, so. Let’s go over this.”

“Let’s not,” Beca mutters but Chloe ignores her, sitting up straighter, and Stacie just smiles.

“Beca,” Stacie says. “How did you two meet?”

“Dude. You introduced us. You know how we met.”

Chloe laughs as Stacie glares at Beca, crossing her ridiculously long legs. “Beca, you’re supposed to be acting like Stacie is anyone else at the wedding. Answer like you don’t know her.” She smiles as Beca rocks back in her chair, crossing her arms and looking for all the world like a petulant teenager.

“Okay, fine. Well, we had a mutual friend, Stacie , who introduced us.”

Stacie huffs, hands turning over palm-up in her lap. “That’s it? Bec, where’s the romance?”

“It wasn’t romantic. You dragged me to the coffee shop and went, ‘This is Chloe! Be friends!’. So we did.”

“Well,” Chloe says, leaning against the armrest closest to Beca’s chair. Beca’s gaze flickers to her, dark blue eyes narrowing. “I remember it a little different.”

“Tell us!” Stacie sits forward like she’s a thrilled spectator at a football game and there’s seconds left on the clock. Playing the perfect enraptured family member.

“I had just gotten off a shift at the shelter and I felt sort of gross. A dog at work had been sick all over everything and I’d been working all day cleaning it up. I was so tired. And I’d just finished my first week of vet school. It was rough,” she says, shaking her head. Her teacher had spent the first day simply lecturing them on how, sometimes, caring for the animals would make the job a thousand times harder so they would have to learn to compartmentalize. As if all their job would be was putting down puppies and amputating kitten legs. “I was honestly contemplating quitting. Everyone in my class seemed smarter than me and my teacher was one of those ‘If you can’t face the hard parts, then get out now’ types so he kept throwing out words like ‘euthanize’ and ‘unsaveable’. And that day, I was just...done.” She shrugs, watching Beca’s eyes follow the motion. She turns back to Stacie. “So when my friend, Stacie , texted me about coffee, I almost said no.”

Stacie’s eyebrows jump up and Chloe can tell the surprise is real. She’d never told anyone about thinking of quitting. It wasn’t a very Chloe thing to do, so she was kind of ashamed.

“And, you know...I know I would have met Beca some way or another. You--or, Stacie, I mean--would have introduced us another day, I’m sure. But I think I was meant to meet Beca that day.” She reaches out blindly, fingers curling around Beca’s wrist. She can feel her pulse beneath her thumb, the rhythm steady. “I was just sitting down when Stacie came in, Beca trailing behind her and looking like she had not meant to end up there at all.” She laughs. “And she was wearing that purple button-up and her black skinnies and these huge boots. Her ears were full of metal and her eyeliner was SO dark and she looked exactly like someone my father had always warned me about being friends with. I smiled at her and she grimaced. But her eyes were kind.”

Beca scoffs, rolling said eyes.

Chloe pinches her wrist, wrinkling her nose at her until Beca gives in and smiles. Just a little one, but still. “And I knew right then we’d be fast friends. I could just feel it.” She turns back to Stacie, catching the other girl grinning. “And we all sat down and ordered. Stacie introduced us. And she said, ‘Chloe is going to school to be a vet’. I was just debating whether or not that was true, and if I should say something about the doubts I was having, when Beca looked me up and down and went--” She presses her lips together tight and shrugs, bobbing her head to the side in a perfect imitation of Beca. “‘Yeah, I can see you bein’ a vet.’”

Stacie laughs, probably remembering the moment.

“And just like that, I knew she was right. If this girl I’d just met could see it, I should be able to too. So I didn’t quit. And after another week of school, it all seemed easier.” She smiles at Beca, squeezing her wrist. “It all just settled into place.”

Beca’s eyes are a little wider than normal, her brow furrowed like it always is when she “has emotion-y things”, as she calls it. The corner of her lips is turned up just enough to be a smile and her eyes, so much darker blue than Chloe’s, flicker down to where they’re still touching, Chloe’s fingers lying along her pulse, thumb rubbing back and forth.

“Okay, wow.” Stacie’s voice cuts through the moment. “You two missed your calling in Hollywood. That was awesome! This is gonna be a cakewalk.”

Beca’s hand pulls back and Chloe’s fingertips feel cold. She tucks her hands together between her knees, smiling as Stacie launches into travel plans and the other things they need to cover before they head out.

Chloe watches Stacie inhale an eggroll, shaking her head. As thin and toned as she is, Stacie can sure put away some food.

“And, of course, kissing--”

“Wait, what?” Beca looks up from her takeout, blinking rapidly. Stacie is paused mid-sentence, eyebrows up. “What did you say?”

“Kissing?” Stacie shrugs. “You’ll have to, you know. It’s a thing couples do. A lot. Especially ones that are happy to be at a wedding for their friends. Chloe?”

Chloe nods, rolling her lips together and releasing them with a “pop”. “She’s right, Bec. My family knows I’m affectionate. It would be weird if there weren’t some...intimacy.”

She wrinkles her nose at the word. “But. I mean, what if you just tell them I’m not really that into PDA?”

“Beca, have we met?” Chloe leans forward. She gives Beca her best playful wink.

Beca sighs. “Okay, good point. But still.”

“Still what?” Stacie settles deeper into the couch, a plate of the Chinese they’d ordered balanced on her cleavage. “Get to smoochin’!”

“Dude, no!” Beca shakes her head violently, turning to Chloe for help, eyes wide.

It’s hard to stop laughing, but she does when she meets Beca’s eyes, covering her grin with her fist. “Okay, Stace. Down, girl. That’s something Beca and I will discuss more later on.”

Stacie whines, like they’ve just told her Christmas isn’t happening this year. “You guys are killing my fantasies here.”

Beca gags. “Oh, gross. Please don’t fantasize about me in any capacity.”

“You’re my boss, Beca.” She tugs at her t-shirt, stretching the “R” in “Residual”. “It’s like a rule that I have to have at least one fantasy about you.”

“That’s not a thing. It’s not. Stop nodding--”

By the time they manage to make Stacie stop recounting every possible fantasy she could have about Beca (there are so many) and the smaller brunette’s stopped blushing, Chloe’s cheeks hurt from laughing. She nibbles on an eggroll, happily soaking in the easy companionship as an episode of “Reign” plays. Stacie and Chloe have both already seen it and Beca isn’t really a huge fan of TV (except, inexplicably, the dumb shows on ID), so none of them are really paying attention to it. Instead they chat about the shelter, about how things are going at Residual Heat, about the construction around the corner that keeps making them late to everything. And Chloe catches herself wondering if she can get away with crawling into Beca’s recliner with her.

It really is a very comfy chair and Beca’s allowed it before, with a lot of complaining. It’s getting late and she can see Beca’s eyes drooping every now and then.  And Sleepy Beca is very different from Awake Beca. So, while Stacie tells them about one of the techs she’d hooked up with (“Outside of work, Bec, of course. Not in the studio...anymore.”), Chloe sticks a foot out and nudges Beca’s knee with her toes.

Beca looks up, blinking a few times quickly. Chloe lifts her eyebrows, rocking forward a bit and staring pointedly at the small space that Beca has curled her legs up into. It takes a second, but Beca rolls her eyes and shuffles a bit, nodding. She reaches down and flips the lever, kicking the legs up. Chloe happily snatches a blanket from the back of the couch, hops up, and climbs right in, settling half on top of Beca and half tucked between her and the chair arm. Beca tucks her arms in across her chest, a somewhat stiff, pouting body pillow as Chloe drapes the blanket over them both.

Stacie smiles, pausing her story. “You two make me sick. If I’d known you were going to be the gross kinda friends that everyone hates, I wouldn’t have introduced you.”

“Shut up,” Chloe giggles. “You love us. Besides, we’re girlfriends now.” She winks dramatically.

“Oh, true.” Stacie stretches out across the now empty couch, her head propped on one arm, her feet on the other. “Sorry, continue being gooey. Now, where was I? Oh, so he had his pants around his ankles and the lights in the parking lot just suddenly come on.”

Beca groans, shaking her head and closing her eyes, as if that will block out the story.

At some point between Stacie detailing their run from security and her switching to talking about the other tech she’d gone out with, Beca falls asleep.

Chloe can feel the second it happens, because Beca’s whole body relaxes and her head lolls until her breath is fanning across Chloe’s temple. It makes her smile. A year ago, when they’d gotten the apartment, Beca had avoided any and all contact almost. They’d been friends for a few months by then and Beca had started allowing small touches in public, but when they all hung out--usually at Stacie’s apartment or Chloe’s old place--Beca would commandeer a corner of the couch and tensed up whenever anyone came close. So when they moved in together, Chloe had expected much of the same. She’d been correct. The first time Chloe came home from school and gave her a quick hug, Beca had stiffened, stuttered something about work, and ducked into her bedroom for two days.

It had started a long careful game of push and pull--everything from tiny brushes of the hand to the one time she’d literally held Beca down through an episode of Great British Baking Show and forced her to cuddle.

She’d come away with a bruise on her arm from Beca’s swinging elbow, but it had been worth it. The next morning, when Chloe had ducked in for her quick hug goodbye, Beca had barely flinched. And then it was like a switch had flipped and Chloe found Beca didn’t shy from her touch almost at all anymore. Sometimes she protested, but it never seemed to have that same adamant fire behind it that she’d gotten used to. Maybe she was just resigned to her fate or had decided that allowing all the little cuddles meant she could avoid another episode of GBBS pressed face-first into the couch cushions with the redhead sprawled across her back.

Beca’s still a little like a cat with everyone else, in that she has to be in the mood to be touched or you’ll get clawed, but she’s considerably more open to Chloe’s lack of personal space. She even lets Stacie hug her sometimes. And when Beca initiates any kind of touch? It’s Chloe’s favorite. It feels like what she imagines winning the lottery would feel like. Shocking, thrilling, and like she needs to find a witness immediately. Like she wants to run into the street, yelling, “Beca Mitchell touched my arm while I was cooking! Can you believe?”

She really likes winning.

But when she’s asleep, Beca is a different entity. One night, while they were sitting at separate ends of the couch, Chloe’s legs up in the distance between them, Beca had fallen asleep while reading. One second, Chloe was watching So You Think You Can Dance and the next, Beca was stretched across the couch, arms wrapped around Chloe’s legs and her face nuzzled into her thigh.

Chloe’s back had hurt like crazy the next day, but she’d refused to move and instead slept sitting up, one hand rested lightly on the back of Beca’s neck.

And it’s the same now. As Stacie and Chloe quietly chat, Beca twists a bit, her face resting against the crown of Chloe’s head, her hand snaring a bit of Chloe’s t-shirt.

“You guys are getting a little too convincing now,” Stacie says as she stands and stretches. All of the takeout is long gone and it’s dark outside. “You’re sure you’re not secretly married?”

Chloe rolls her eyes. Stacie asks once every few months and it’s turned into a running gag. She’s started to call them Mom and Dad behind Beca’s back and Chloe can’t wait for her to slip up and let the smaller brunette hear that. “No, Stacie. She’s just my bestie.” She squeezes Beca a little and the smaller girl huffs in her sleep. Stacie laughs and twists to crack her back, then bends to gather her phone and keys from the table. Chloe leans back as far as Beca’s grip on her t-shirt will allow. “You can stay, you know. It’s late. It’s New York.”

“I know, thanks. But I have someone coming over to the apartment early tomorrow to buy my table. Then I’m going pick up that cool one at the antique store. Gotta get home. I’ll text you as soon as I make it.” She plucks Chloe’s phone from the arm of the couch where she’d left it and passes it to her.

Chloe tucks it between her and Beca so she can grab Stacie’s hand. “Good. Be safe, Stace.” She tries to sit up to walk her out, but Stacie pats her shoulder.

“No worries. I’ll lock the door. Night.”

“Night.” She turns her head to smile at Stacie one last time as she steps out.

The door shuts and she settles back into Beca’s side.

It’s nice, when Beca lets her close. For a while, she’d been scared that they would never get to that point. For Chloe, touch is a huge part of all her relationships, friendly or otherwise. There’s just something about feeling someone’s laugh in their chest when they hug you or their pulse tapping under your fingers. Everything always means more when there’s warm skin against her own. She is, admittedly, a lot more touchy with Beca than anyone else, but that’s just because she’d spent so long getting Beca to let her close. She’s got time to make up for, right?

So she happily shuffles closer, tucking her face into the crook of Beca’s neck and tangling their legs together. Beca always smells like lavender.             

Chapter Text

Beca wakes to someone knocking on the door. She groans, burrowing deeper into the warm sleep she’d been pulled from, breathing in deep of strawberries and--


She cracks an eye open, blinking until her vision clears and she can make out the red curls tucked into her neck and chest. And the fuzzy warmth solidifies into a hand on her hip, just under the hem of her shirt, and breath on her collarbone. Chloe, pressed as close as she could get and fast asleep. And it’s strange for a moment, because even though they’ve fallen asleep around each other, they’d never fallen asleep together. If someone had asked her a few days ago, though, what it would be like sleeping beside Chloe Beale, she would have described probably this exact situation.

She doesn’t snore. Beca’s always kinda hated it, because, really, how is it fair that Chloe can be all the great things she is and not snore?

The knocks come again, louder. Chloe’s back arches as she breathes in deep, her nose in the crook of Beca’s neck and her toes dragging down Beca’s leg as she stretches. The blanket falls away and Beca’s sure the rush of cold air is why she shudders when Chloe’s fingers tighten around her hip for a moment.

Then Chloe is rolling out of the chair, careful not to tip it over, and padding for the door. Her shirt is twisted and partly tucked in on the side and her eyes are still mostly closed, but she grabs the knob on the first try and pulls the door open.

Beca closes her eyes, pulling the blanket back up as she listens to Chloe chat with what sounds like their neighbor (a very nice old lady that even Beca can’t help but be nothing but polite to). Where Chloe had been laying is so warm and she burrows into the spot.

“Bec, breakfast. From Ms. McKinney.” Chloe returns with the smell of French toast and Beca temporarily forgets she’s a grumpy morning person. It’s hard to be, when she’s warm and her favorite chair smells like her best friend (a title Chloe flaunts constantly) and said best friend is holding a plate of French toast and rubbing sleep from her eyes in a move that should not be as cute as it is on a grown ass woman.

So she follows Chloe to the kitchen for breakfast without complaint for probably the first time ever.

As Chloe plops the plate in the center of the bar and grabs forks for them, she says, “Thanks for the cuddles, roomie.”

Beca grunts, swinging up into one of their bar stools. “If anyone asks, those were forced under duress.”

“Oh, really?” Chloe slips closer, eyes shining. “And what duress did I put you under to make you cuddle me?” She says “duress” like it should be accompanied by a strip tease.

Beca tries. She really does. But she’s still warm and fuzzy. “...I’m not awake enough for banter. Gimme my fork.”

Chloe laughs, dropping immediately back into sweet and sleepy as she passes the utensil over, hopping into the other stool.

They eat in silence, both leaning forward over the single plate, their legs bumping between them. Chloe bats her toes against the bottoms of Beca’s feet. Beca steals pieces straight off Chloe’s fork every now and then, laughing when Chloe wrinkles her nose at the scrape of their forks. Chloe knees her in the thigh. Beca snatches the plate to steal the last bite.

Once the plate is empty, they sit back. Beca has her eyes closed, debating whether she should take another couple hours of sleep or get some work done. Chloe hums to herself, tapping her fork against Beca’s until she taps back and it turns into a miniature sword fight. “You know. You really don’t have to do this.”

Beca lifts her head from where she’s slumped it over the back of the stool. “Do what? This?” She jabs her fork at Chloe’s again.

Chloe laughs, catching her wrist. “No. Be my fake date.” Her shoulders lift and she rocks forward a bit. “I know it’s stupid.”

The morning light is shining through their stained glass kitchen window, sending streaks of red and purple and blue and green across the kitchen tiles. This is the time of day Beca likes the window the most, because everything close to the window gets quilted in color, including Chloe’s arm, lying across the countertop, and the plate of syrup between them. She plops her fork down in a ray of purple. “Well, you’ve had other ideas that could be considered dumb and they worked out pretty great. Come on. It’ll probably be fun.” She shrugs. “Lord knows I could use a vacation.”

Chloe’s smile is slow and half-hidden behind the fist she’s resting her chin against. Her nose wrinkles up. “It will be fun. Now that I’ve got the best roommate after Colin Firth as my date!” She reaches out, poking Beca’s cheek. “You’re gonna love Georgia! And--” she gasps. “My family’s place is so huge. And--I mean, it’s super hot, like, all the time. And dusty. And--”

“Chloe,” Beca says, propping a foot up on Chloe’s stool and spinning her side to side. Chloe giggles. “You do remember I grew up in Louisiana, don’t you?”

The way her eyes widen tells Beca she, in fact, did not remember. “Oh my GOD, that’s right! I totally forgot. It’s so hard to believe you’re from the South, you know? You’re so…” She waves her hands about, indicating all of Beca. “So northern-y.”

“That’s not a word.”

“You’re just so far from a Southern Belle, Becs.” Chloe shrugs, still letting Beca push her stool around.

“And you are the epitome of it. Opposites attract, right?” Beca winks, spinning her own stool away to hop off of it. She notes the thrilled smile on Chloe’s face when Beca’s comment registers. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should go get caught up on some work so nobody gets bitchy when I take a month off.”

“I owe you!”

“You bet your pretty ass you do!”

Chapter Text

They spend the next week working extra hours. Beca actually goes into the office for a lot of it, coming home at night with the smell of coffee and a beat humming from her lips. Stacie reports that all the producers under Beca’s command have been shaking in their boots. She guesses the boss being out often and then suddenly being there around the clock would make people a little jumpy. Chloe especially enjoys Stacie’s retelling of Beca walking in on two junior producers fiddling with a soundboard and the one of them jumping to attention like his drill sergeant just showed up. He’d knocked over his coffee, barely missing spilling it on the equipment. He and the other producer had spent the rest of the day covered in coffee, and ducking Beca like she was going to murder them.

According to Beca, if they had spilled on the board, she would have.

The artist her company is working with, Marc something, is supposedly very good but very distractible. His first single is “nearly done” Beca keeps saying as she rants about work over whatever Chloe or Stacie’s cooked for dinner. She spends every evening destressing on the couch with her headphones and her biggest hoodies on.

Chloe works opening to closing at the shelter every day, making it home long before Beca and usually having Stacie over to Skype Aubrey with her while they hash out wedding details. As the maid of honor, Chloe is happily preparing to take control of this wedding. And since Beca is going to be her date, she doesn’t feel any rush to get to know her better or to solidify their story, because she knows Beca. She has no problem holding her hand or telling her she loves her or even--though new territory--kissing her.

They haven’t brought it up again since Stacie did, but she’s sure it’s fine. Her stomach flutters when she thinks about it, but it’s definitely fine.

She posts maybe one more Instagram picture of Beca than she normally would, making sure to just caption it with a ton of heart emojis. While talking to her mother on the phone one night, she stage whispers, “Babe, can you grab me a drink?” without clarifying who she’s talking to when her mother asks. She decides not to mention that Beca, lost in her phone, doesn’t question the pet name at all and does indeed get her a drink. She steals Beca’s phone one night to change her lock screen to a picture of herself, but finds she’s already there. It’s a picture of Chloe and Stacie at the bar after Chloe had aced one of her exams and they’re dancing and reaching for the camera. At the very bottom of the screen is just the top of Beca’s head. She remembers arguing with her for an hour about whether or not it counts as a selfie. It’s all so simple that Chloe really barely thinks about it. She and Beca are going to sell this like nobody’s business.

The night before they’re all supposed to fly out, Chloe’s in the kitchen with Stacie, who’s sleeping over so they can all ride to the airport together in the morning.

Stacie’s cooking and they’re debating color themes for Aubrey’s bachelorette party when Beca comes home. Chloe puts down the color samples, smiling. She loves watching Beca’s just-got-home routine. The way she walks through the door and looks around the apartment until she meets Chloe’s eyes, every time. Then she makes a face. It differs day to day, depending on how the day went, but there’s always a face. Tonight it’s a crooked grin and a slight eye roll before she bends down and tugs at the laces of her boots until they come loose. She kicks them off, stacks them neatly beside the door, and starts shrugging out of her favorite leather jacket.

It had honestly been one of the more surprising things Chloe had learned when they’d become roommates--Beca is tidy. Not in an Aubrey-esque, “everything must be in place” kind of way, but in an “any area I share with anyone will be kept organized” way. Her room is a completely different story, but Beca never leaves her shoes lying around the living room or hair in the shower drain or junk cluttering the kitchen counters. With a grin, Chloe thinks she really is the best roommate this side of the Atlantic.

Beca hangs her jacket up and unbuttons her flannel, her black undershirt peeking through. “Ugh, I am done. No Marc for a month.” She complains about every artist she works with, but Chloe knows she loves it and--usually--them. “What’s cookin’, good lookin’?” She jabs Stacie lightly in the hip as she passes the stove to open the fridge.

“Chicken and veggies,” Stacie says. She pulls the lid off the pan and it steams up into her face. “Nearly done.”

“Good. I’m starving.” And Beca, bottle of water in hand, comes over behind Chloe and drops her chin onto her shoulder, looking down at the colors. It’s barely a touch at all, but Chloe’s stomach flips with excitement like it does every time Beca initiates contact and tips her head against Beca’s. “What’s all this?”

“Bachelorette party plans. We’re debating between green and gold, a call back to the Bellas--our old a capella group--or blue and silver, which Aubrey looks best in.”

Beca hums, the notes vibrating through Chloe’s shoulder. “Sounds like an easy decision. It’s her wedding, ain’t it?”

“She has a point,” Stacie says from the stove. " My point. That I’ve been making for hours. Just sayin’.”

“Oh, but Aubrey loves the Bellas so much. And they’re all going to be there!” Chloe gathers up the green and gold, holding them lightly in her palms. “Isn’t one last Bella hurrah what she would want?”

Something on the stove hisses as Stacie switches burners. “I think she’ll love either one. And we’ll all be Bellas whether we’re in school colors or not.”

“You can get ‘Bellas’ embroidered on the back of your dress,” Beca says, pulling away to go and collapse in her armchair. She gives what sounds like a strangled moan. “Oh, I’ve missed you.”

“You’re such an old man, Beca,” Stacie laughs.

Gathering the color samples, Chloe follows her and perches on the edge of the coffee table, facing her. “Beca. Close your eyes.”

“Gladly.” She immediately obeys, spreading out across her armchair happily.

“Keep them closed.” Chloe shuffles the colors around a few times, then places them in Beca’s lap. “Pick one.”

“What? Dude, no, I told you I’m not doing wedding stuff--”

“You’re not! You’re just helping me come to a decision about something I’m torn on. It’s for me, not the wedding.”

With her eyes closed, Beca scrunches up her nose and sighs. “Jeez.” She blindly pats the colors in her lap, finally grabbing one sitting on her left thigh. “This one.”

Chloe grabs the blue card and smiles when Beca peeks one eye open. “Blue and silver it is then. Thanks, Becs!” She shoots forward and presses a quick kiss into Beca’s temple, ignoring Beca’s hunched shoulders and “Ah, no!”. She gathers the colors and heads back into the kitchen.

A plate of food is waiting for her. Stacie is making another and shaking her head. “Two hours of debating and mocking up decoration ideas, and this is how we end it.”

“Gotta listen to my girlfriend , Stace.” Chloe winks, grabbing both plates Stacie’s prepared and moving back to the couch. Beca sits up straight to grab hers.

When they’d decided not to get a dining room table, Chloe had been a little put out. She’d pictured them having lots of friends over and playing cards and having big dinners on it. But she’d quickly realized she preferred the quiet mornings sitting at the kitchen island with Beca and the card nights spent huddled close around the coffee table, so that she always had to keep her cards held close to her chest so Stacie or one of their other friends wouldn’t look at them. There wasn’t really room for a dining table anyways.

She props her feet on the coffee table and balances her plate on her knees, grinning.

“You look happy,” Beca says around a bite of chicken.

“I am happy.” She practically wiggles in her seat. “I get to see Bree tomorrow and you get to meet my family and I love planes and--”

“Chloe, save the enthusiasm for the trip.” Stacie folds into the other corner of the couch, long bare legs and tiny sleep shorts. “I love you, but if you describe how cool flight attendants are one more time, I’m gonna throw you out the plane tomorrow.”

“...You know, I always wanted to go skydiving--”


It’s later, when she’s laying in the tub, relaxing after finishing all of her (and Beca’s, really) packing, that Chloe thinks about it.

Would kissing Beca be weird? They were both bi, so she didn’t think that would be a problem, but what if Beca found Chloe physically repulsive?

Okay, maybe that’s too far. She knows Beca doesn’t. Beca talks about how pretty she thinks Chloe is all the time. A lot more than she realized, she thinks, sinking lower into the water.

Oh, no. No, quit batting your eyelashes at me. I’m not going to paint your toenails. I won’t fall for your gorgeous, womanly charms like everyone else, dude.

Can you walk me to work, like, every day? Traffic just stops for you, ‘cause you’re beautiful. I have to play Frogger to get anywhere on my own. It’s not fair.

Get your stupid perfect face outta my face. I still have an hour to sleep.

Ugh, you’re lucky you’re that pretty.

And Beca is, if she honestly thinks about it, probably top of her list of people she’d like to try kissing. If someone asked her to put money on it, she’d bet Beca is a great kisser.

She’s startled out of thinking of Beca’s lips by knuckles rapping on the door.


“Hang on!” She sits up, grabbing the pliers on the side of the tub--a.k.a their cold water handle, since Beca broke off the old one. She shuts off the water so she can hear Beca more clearly. “It’s open.”

The door cracks open just an inch. “Of course it is,” Beca drawls. “Look, I just. When you’re done, could you come to my room?”

“Sure.” Her brow furrows and she wraps her arms around her knees. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. No worries. Just, uh, enjoy your bath, dude, or, whatever. It’s good. Uh, nevermind, actually. Night.” The door clicks shut.

But after that rambling mess, Chloe’s bath can’t be over quick enough. It’s always been a thing for her--if you have something to say, say it now. Waiting is the worst . She finishes up and wraps a towel around herself, hurrying down the hall. She pushes open Beca’s door. “Bec?”

“Dude!” Beca jumps, quickly tugging her shirt back down. “I’m changing!”

“You wanted to see me?”

“I--ah!” Beca’s eyes flick down to Chloe’s toes and back up. “I--you’re--you’re naked. We--dude!”

Chloe laughs, stepping into the room and shutting the door. Water drips over her collarbone and she wipes it away with her hand. “Not like you haven’t seen it before.”

“Well, yes.” Beca’s flustered face is one of Chloe’s favorites. Her ears get red and her eyes lock on the ceiling or the wall, whatever’s farthest from the thing flustering her--usually Chloe herself. Chloe remembers that exact expression from the first time she’d left her room naked to get a drink from the kitchen after they’d moved in. She had thought Beca was at work, but when she rounded the corner, there had been a choked sound from the couch and she’d turned to find Beca doing exactly what she’s doing now. “But I was--I don’t think this is a, uh, conversation I can have with you...nude.”

“Oh. Okay.” Chloe spins and slips into Beca’s closet, grabbing her favorite of Beca’s sweaters. It’s one that she’d accidentally bought the wrong size of online, but then was too lazy to return. Chloe drops her towel, tossing it out onto the floor outside the closet. She hears Beca make what sounds like the love child of a squeak and a cough.

The sweater is soft and just long enough to cover her to mid-thigh. She pulls the dark blue sleeves down around her hands, happily rubbing her bundled fists together as she steps back out.

If she wasn’t looking at Beca, she thinks she would have missed it.

The second Beca’s eyes land on her, they drop for just a second before Beca’s ears turn even redder and she looks away and up at the ceiling again. “Jesus. Okay. Um. So, like. We leave tomorrow.”

“We do.” Chloe reaches up to let her hair out of the bun she’d had it in while in the tub. She catches Beca’s gaze flickering to the hem of the sweater. Oh. She grins. Beca’s always been so uncomfortable with anything sexual. It’s why she was so surprised to find out Beca and Stacie were friends.

“And, like. We’ve gotta be...couple-y, I guess. And Stacie mentioned that if we hadn’t talked about...physical stuff yet, then we, uh. Should. We should.” Her hands flap about helplessly for a moment and then she shrugs. “Or something. Feel free to jump in any time here.”

Chloe smiles, running her fingers through her curls a few times. “Okay. Let’s talk. What are you okay with?”

“Uh, I don’t know?” It’s definitely more of a question.

“Hmm.” Chloe crosses her arms, thinking of the list Aubrey had sent her. “Would you be okay with hand-holding?”

“Like you ever give me a choice anyways.” Beca shrugs. “I’m used to that stuff. That’s the daily for anyone with you.”

Chloe bites her lip, thrilled when Beca’s eyes drop to the movement. It’s so fun to make Beca squirm. “Flirting?”

“You flirt constantly. How could I not be prepared for that?”

She laughs. Good point. “Dancing?”

Beca grimaces, but nods.

Chloe rocks up onto her toes. “Kissing?”

Already red, Beca’s ears turn nearly crimson. It’s the only way Beca ever blushes and Chloe thinks it’s adorable. But nothing else gives Beca away. “Sure, yeah,” she says, lips pressing into a thin line as she gives what is neither a full nod or a full shrug.

When Chloe steps closer, she leans away--not backs away, just sort of leans her upper half back a little. “So, if I were to kiss you right now?”

“Totally, uh, cool. All part of the job, right?” Beca’s nodding, as if answering herself.

Chloe narrows her eyes, lifting one eyebrow. “It wouldn’t be weird?”

“Wha--Why would--No, dude. It’s just kissing. My friend. Who is my, uh. Friend. And roommate. Like, we’ve used the same toothbrush before, you know. Whatever.” Beca’s nose wrinkles up and she shakes her head, as if clearing it. Chloe decides not to remind her that she’d been very upset about having to use Chloe’s toothbrush right before a big meeting at work because hers had fallen into the trash and been taken out. She can still hear Beca’s breathless voice over the phone. “It’s gross, man. I feel bad, ‘cause I’ve got coffee breath and I just ate a burrito. Like, I’ll buy you another one as soon as I get out of this thing today, I promise!”

“Would it make our friendship weird?” Chloe says it quietly, biting the inside of her cheek. It’s the one thing she’s really been worrying about since the idea came up, though she’s been shoving it down fairly well. “I could tell them you’re not a fan of PDA. I was joking before.”

If she were asked, she’d admit that Beca is extremely attractive. She’d even admit that, in the early days of their friendship, she might have thought Beca was dateable. But now? After two years of being best friends--because she had very quickly snatched that title and held onto it tightly, despite Beca’s constant grumblings. Now? Now, it could be weird. It could ruin everything.

Suddenly, she isn’t sure she’s ready. All the confidence from a moment before is gone, replaced with “what if”s and “but then”s. And she takes a deep breath, wondering if she should just call the whole thing off. They could probably still return Beca’s ticket. Because Beca really is her best friend in the whole world, even if she’d never tell Aubrey or Stacie that.

“Dude,” Beca says, voice softer than she expected. “I don’t think I could ditch you as a friend if I tried. You’re like velcro.”

And just like that, every worry is swept away. She puts a hand to her chest, faking offense. “ Velcro ?”

“Yeah. You stick to something until you’re pried off with brute force...kinda loud--”

She cuts off when Chloe slips into her space, making sure their chests are just brushing. “You haven’t seen me loud yet, Mitchell.”

If Beca’s ears had been red before, they’re neon now. The muscle in the side of her neck flexes and Chloe guesses her fight or flight response is kicking in. To her delight, fight seems to win this time. Beca leans in. “That an offer, Beale?”

“Mmm, I don’t know…” She can feel Beca’s breath on her chin and she dips her head until she feels it stop. Beca’s eyes are wide, dark blue irises nearly black in the dim light from her desk lamp. Chloe hovers a few inches away, watching Beca’s tongue dart out to wet her lips, her jaw shifting side to side once. Then she lurches forward and presses a wet, smacking kiss to Beca’s cheek before she can dodge.

“Ah! Dude, gross!” Beca stumbles back, swiping at her cheek with her sleeve.

Chloe giggles, backing toward the door. “I don’t think you could handle an offer, Becs. Mind if I borrow this?” She tugs at the sweater, not really waiting for an answer as she slips out.

“I hate you!” she calls just before the door closes.

Chloe expects Beca to pout or maybe overthink Chloe not kissing her. Honestly, she’d just thought teasing Beca was too fun to pass up. And maybe she wasn’t ready. Maybe she’d been a little scared. She doesn’t dwell on that though.

But Beca still comes out right before they all head to bed and she still allows Chloe to wrap her in a quick hug goodnight. She still swats Stacie’s hands away playfully as she comes around the couch to grab her headphones. So it’s all fine.

Which means it’s also fine that Chloe thinks about the almost kiss more than a few times. Beca had--not in so many words--asked her to kiss her. And everything was fine. They were still Beca and Chloe--roommates extraordinaire. Best friends. A small part of her wonders if that would be different if she had actually kissed Beca. But the majority of her is no longer worrying. In fact, she’s thinking this whole thing is just going to be a lot of fun--hanging with Aubrey and all the Bellas, wedding planning, and flustering Beca. Oh, she’s gonna have a great time.

It takes a long while to fall asleep, wrapped in just Beca’s hoodie and the memory of how Beca’s breath had stopped once there was little more than teasing words between them. She allows herself to wonder, just once before her eyes slip closed, if Beca had maybe been curious too.

Chapter Text

Beca gets a special Beale Breakfast Platter as soon as she wanders out of her room the next morning. It’s barely six and she navigates the hallway with her eyes closed, following the smell of bacon. She rounds the corner into the living room and runs smack into a pair of arms that wrap tight around her.

“Awww, sleepy Becs!” Stacie squeezes her once, rocking them back and forth. “Good morning!”

“Get off me,” she grunts, shoving at Stacie’s hips until she releases her. She spins out of the tall girl’s hold and right into Chloe’s.

“Morning, Bec.” Chloe squeezes her tight, hands stroking up and down her back.

And she’ll swear that she just used all her energy escaping Stacie, but really, Chloe’s hands feel amazing on her back (back rubs have always been her weakness) and she smells like her strawberry shampoo. So Beca just groans, letting the redhead take her morning hugs. When Chloe finally releases her with a chuckle, she slouches off to her armchair and rolls right into it, kicking the legs out.

Stacie hands her a plate brimming with bacon, pancakes, and sausage, and a glass of milk that Beca tucks between her knees and crosses her ankles to keep in place while she eats. In the kitchen, Chloe is humming “Versace on the Floor” and pots and pans are banging about.

God, she hates mornings, but, as she works her way through her ridiculously-fluffy pancakes, she thinks maybe Chloe makes them tolerable. Stacie, too, she guesses.

“Okay, shovel it down, missy. We’re heading out as soon as you’re done and dressed!”

Take that back, she’s the worst. Stacie makes mornings even worse than ever. Beca groans. “What? Can’t I wake up first?”

“Nope,” Chloe appears around the side of the armchair and snags the milk from between her knees. She takes a sip then carefully replaces it. “We’ve already eaten and taken the bags downstairs. Mr. Ackerman is watching them.”

“You took my bags?” Beca thinks for a moment, trying to remember if she saw them at the foot of her bed when she got up, but it’s hazy.

“Yes. And I laid out your outfit for today. You sleep like the dead, by the way.” Stacie points a finger at her as she moves past to close the blinds on the living room windows. “I had to make sure you’d look presentable for Chloe’s parents.”

Beca grimaces. She’s “met the parents” before with people she’d actually dated. It never went well. She’s just patently unlikeable, it seems. “I’m not taking out my piercings.”

“Of course you aren’t,” Chloe says, reaching out to run her finger down them. Beca shivers and covers it up by hissing and swatting at her. “I love them. You look adorable.”

“I--I look badass, excuse you? Adorable?” Beca drops her empty plate into her lap, fully ready to fight.

Stacie snatches the plate. “She’s done! Get her dressed!”

Chloe grabs the shoulders of Beca’s shirt, tugging it up. Air hits Beca’s stomach and she snatches for the hem. “Let’s go! Strip!”

“I can do it!” Beca smacks her hands away, grabbing her drink and wiggling out of her chair and around Chloe’s grasping hands. “Don’t touch me! I can dress myself!” She runs for her room, throwing her middle finger up behind her as Chloe and Stacie laugh. She really hates them.

But as she pulls on the skinny jeans Stacie had left out for her, she thinks again about the night before. It had been...good. Better than good. And they hadn’t even kissed. Just flirted and teased a little. But it had been good. Enjoyable. Memorable, even, if she had to describe it. But she won’t. Because she’s not thinking about this. Anyway.

She quickly fixes her makeup in the little mirror on her dresser. Once she’s satisfied with her eyeliner, (because that’s really the only makeup she wears) she throws on her favorite flannel, glad that Stacie hadn’t laid out a dress or something weird for her, and follows the sound of laughter and tinkling keys to the front door. Chloe is holding up her coat for her to slip into. If the redhead’s fingers brush against her neck when she lets go, she doesn’t seem to notice, so Beca pretends not to either.

They stop off twice--to drop a spare key with Ms. McKinney, who has agreed to water Chloe’s plants while they’re gone, and to grab their luggage from Mr. Ackerman, the tiny maintenance man who lives on the bottom floor. Stacie takes the front seat in the cab, like always, leaving Chloe and Beca and two of their suitcases in the back. Beca ends up in the middle of Chloe and the luggage, her knees practically tucked into her chest and her arms tightly folded. As Stacie strikes up conversation with the poor driver, Chloe turns and pulls open Beca’s coat. She rubs the hem of Beca’s flannel between her fingers. “Oh, look, purple. Your favorite color.”

“I didn’t pick this outfit.” She would have. But only because this shirt is soft and well-worn. Not because it’s purple. “Stacie picked it.”

“Sure, sure.” Chloe hums noncommittally, then yawns. Behind her, the sun is just peeking between the skyscrapers in the distance. “God, it’s so early.”

“Whoa, Beale. I thought mornings were your favorite.”

“They are. But this is just a little too early for even me.” She twists a little, slipping into the gap she’s created in Beca’s coat and snuggling close. “Wake me when we get to the airport?”

Beca’s too tired to fight her off, so she just nods, letting her shoulders relax so Chloe isn’t sleeping on hard bone and tensed muscle. It’s barely a minute before Chloe is breathing softly into the curve of her neck. Stacie chatters away in the front seat, flirting outrageously with the cabbie, and Ed Sheeran is playing quietly on the radio. Cars are honking and roaring around them, but she’s used to the sounds of the city. The back of Chloe’s jacket is soft and she barely notices she’s running her fingers up and down it, tracing the edges of the embroidered birds along the spine. It’s Chloe’s favorite--bright pink and lined with faux-fur. It hurts Beca’s eyeballs just thinking about it. She lays her head back against the seat, thinking she can rest for just a minute--

Stacie’s leaned between the front seats, shaking her leg. “Come on, lovebirds. We’re here.” There’s something a little too knowing in her smirk and Beca’s first, fully awake thought is that she wants to smack it off of her. But she can’t, because Chloe has captured her hand sometime while they were asleep.

While Stacie rolls out of the cab, all legs and sensual grace, Beca pulls her hand free and grabs Chloe’s elbow, which is dug into her ribs. “Hey. Chlo, wake up.”

Chloe stirs, her eyes blinking open slowly. “Mm. I’m up, I’m up.” She nuzzles her face into Beca’s neck once more before she sits up and pushes the door open. Beca follows her out of the cab, rubbing the goosebumps from her arms. It’s so cold outside, she thinks, pulling her coat closed.

Their driver helps them pull their luggage from the trunk and the back seat before he quickly jumps off into traffic and leaves them, casting Stacie one last fearful glance. Stacie waves as he goes.

The airport is packed and it wakes Beca a bit, dodging men in thick overcoats and women dragging children by the hand. But she’s still on autopilot as Chloe leads the trio through luggage check and security and suddenly they’re sitting, waiting for their flight to be called. Chloe is across the way, getting them some drinks.

“You ready for this, Deejay?” Stacie says, crossing her legs and pulling out her phone.

Beca shrugs. “Yeah, flying ain’t nothin’. Gonna sleep the whole way if I can.”

The laugh Stacie lets out makes the two, dozing old men across the aisle glare. “I meant are you ready to be Chloe’s fake girlfriend?”

“Oh.” Beca shrugs, glancing at the redhead that is currently reaching for their drinks over the counter and chattering happily with the cashier. “Yeah, dude. I mean, if Chloe’s family is as trusting as she is, we don’t have to worry at all.” She shifts to pull her phone from her back pocket. “She’ll just say, ‘This is my girlfriend, Beca’ and they’ll run with it.”

“But what about Tom?”

“What about him?”

Stacie shrugs, watching Chloe approach. “He was never very...trusting.”

Before Beca can ask her to elaborate, Chloe drops into the seat on her other side. “Hey! Here, take this. I got you a brownie. Stacie, a scone.”

“Hell yes,” Stacie mutters, snatching the scone and dropping crumbs on Beca’s lap.

They sit, drinking their coffees quick and making their snacks last. Beca’s just shoving the last bit of brownie in her mouth when their flight is called. She grabs her bag and jumps a little when Chloe’s hand slips into hers.

“Here we go, girlfriend ,” Chloe says, bumping their shoulders together.

Beca wakes up in Georgia as the plane is bouncing down the tarmac. Chloe’s hand is on her thigh, gently squeezing.

“Bec? We’re landing.”

She nods, pushing up in her seat and scrubbing at her face. Stacie, who had claimed the window seat, swats Beca’s hands away and starts rubbing at her cheeks. “You’re messing up your makeup.”

“Get--I can--stop, I can do it--”

“Come on, let Mamma fix you up--”

“Do NOT call yourself that--”

“Would you prefer Daddy?”

They bicker all the way off the plane, Chloe chuckling ahead of them and occasionally hurrying them along. Without her, Beca’s not sure they would have made it through security and baggage claim.

But they make it. Stacie has an arm locked around Beca’s neck, tugging her side to side with every long-legged step she takes. Chloe is massively unhelpful beyond stuffing their coats into one of the suitcases so they don’t have to carry them.

The clip on her bag strap is digging into her armpit and Stacie pulls too hard one time, almost sending them both to the ground. The passersby ignore her protests and cries for help.

“This is--Get off me! I’m carrying my equipment!” Beca growls, twisting in Stacie’s hold as they step outside. The heat slaps her like a hammer, sweeping under her long sleeves and sitting heavy on the back of her neck. Stacie releases her and she spins, smacking her carry-on into the taller woman’s stomach.

Stacie’s breath hisses out and she coughs a quick laugh, grabbing the bag.

“You’re so hostile,” Chloe giggles, wrapping her arms around Beca’s waist and pulling her back into her chest. “How do you fit all that rage in this tiny body?” She lifts, taking Beca back a few steps from Stacie.

“Why does this always happen?” Beca huffs, her lungs squeezed tight. “Put me down!”

Chloe obeys, releasing her so suddenly that Beca has to grab her forearm with one hand--her computer bag with the other--to keep from falling to the ground. But as soon as Beca’s steady, Chloe is moving past her and straight into the arms of a tall, red headed man. “Uncle Lew!”

“Ladybug!” He swings her around in a wide arc, her feet lifting from the ground. “Oh, my god. You’re taller than me now!”

Chloe laughs as he drops her to her feet. “Nobody is taller than you. You’re a martian.”

His beard twitches as he grins, his bright blue eyes crinkling in the corners exactly like Chloe’s do when she’s unbearably happy. “Martian Lew!” He glances over Chloe’s head at Beca and Stacie, dipping into a quick bow. “At your service, Earthlings!”

People around them chuckle and Beca is struck with the horrifying realization that Chloe might not be the weirdest person in her family. And she’s the weirdest person Beca knows, including Stacie--the woman who checks her mail in her lingerie and bursts into song on the subway.

But before Beca can wrap her head around that, Lew is sweeping her into his arms and crushing her. It squeezes an “Oh, shit” out of her and he laughs, the sound echoing in his chest. She knows, because her ear is pressed against it.

“You’re Beca!” He lets go and she staggers back into Stacie. “We see you on Ladybug’s Instagram all the time. And Stacie!” He grabs her up next. He barely has a few inches on her, but Stacie still pops up on her toes to give him a tight hug.

“Hey, it’s been forever,” she says, patting his back.

“And…” Lew leans around them, looking back into the airport. “Where is he? She? They?”

She ,” Chloe says, laughing. “She’s right here.” She slips her hand into Beca’s and threads their fingers together. Beca really hopes she isn’t sweating as hard as she feels like she is.

Lew’s eyes light up--full Christmas tree--and he grabs her in yet another hug. Her back pops and she tries very hard but fails to strangle the whimper that slips through her teeth.

“Uncle Lew,” Chloe says, voice too warm for what she says next. “You’re killing her.”

“Oops.” He releases and she sucks in a breath. Chloe pats her back softly, grinning. “Sorry. I’m just so happy to see my girl happy.” His hand covers almost all of Chloe’s shoulder and he shakes it a little, still grinning at Beca. “And if you’re why, then I like you, kid.”

“Thank you, sir,” she says, one hand on her--probably cracked--ribs.

A car honks and Lew jumps, spinning. “Oh, we holdin’ up traffic. Come on, ladies. Load up. Gimme those bags. This is Georgia. I’ll get jumped if I don’t carry your stuff for you.”

Lew’s truck is a behemoth and Beca has to literally jump to get in. Stacie laughs as she grabs her hips, boosting her up. Chloe climbs into the front seat, chattering away about how their flight was as Lew peppers her with questions. He includes Stacie, asking about her job interning at the studio while she works on her Masters in Criminal Psychology. Even after years of knowing her, that bit of information still sometimes throws Beca for a loop.

“And Beca? What do you do?”

“With what?” She tunes back in, catching Lew’s eye in the rearview mirror.

“With your life, kid. Where you work?”

“Oh, uh. With-with Stacie.” She jerks a thumb at the woman next to her. “At Residual Heat Recording Studios.”

Lew hums along with the radio for a second, some upbeat country song. “Are you an intern too?”

Stacie snorts.

“No, I’m a, uh, producer.”

“She’s the head producer there,” Chloe corrects, turning in her seat to give her a proud smirk. “She’s pretty much everyone that works with the music’s boss.”

“Oooh,” Lew whistles appreciatively. “The boss, huh? So you make music? Anything I know?”

Beca slips her finger under one of the leather bands on her other arm, fiddling with it. It always makes her uncomfortable when people ask about her music, even for interviews that she agrees to attend. Chloe usually gives her great pep talks before those. “Um. Maybe… ‘I Think I’m Good’ by Luke Morgan?”

Lew slams the brakes and the three of them yelp, grabbing for the handles on the ceiling. The truck slides to a stop at the red light and Lew twists in his seat, eyes wide. It’s such a Chloe expression that she just blinks in the face of it. “ You made that? I love that song!” He turns back to the windshield, head bobbing as he sings in a surprisingly (maybe not surprisingly--he’s Chloe’s uncle) pleasant voice, “ Talk about me like I’m not hereeee … Man, I listen to that all the time. Wait ‘til Betty hears this, Ladybug. What else, kid?”

Chloe laughs, swatting his arm. “Give her a break. How is everyone? Did Seth get his license yet?”

“He did not, thankfully. Think I’d be on the road if he did?”

That distracts Lew enough that Beca can breathe again. When Chloe glances back at her, tucking red curls behind her ear, Beca offers a quick, grateful smile. They spend the rest of the ride out of the city with Lew, Chloe, and sometimes Stacie chattering away about the Beales and what they’ve been up to. Once the buildings disappear and the fields open up, though, Beca perks up.

It’s been a long time since she could see this far. Living in L.A., then New York, the horizon wasn’t something she thought about very often. Sometimes, when she took the ferry or when she was visiting her clients in their penthouse suites, she’d look out across the bays and the buildings at the lights from the other parts of the city and wish she could see past them. Just for a little while.

Back in Louisiana, the horizon was almost always there. This wide, painted expanse that led to nowhere but everywhere all at once. She’d spent a lot of time looking at it, picturing bright lights and skyscrapers.

She does her best not to jump when Chloe’s hand slides onto her knee. She looks away from the horizon and finds Chloe smiling at her from the front seat. She’s stolen a pair of sunglasses from the three sets on Lew’s visor and the blasting air conditioner blows some curls across her face.

Beca wonders for half a moment if it’s fair to be that pretty.

She lifts an eyebrow, glancing at the hand on her knee.

Chloe shrugs, squeezing once. She turns back to her uncle, answering whatever question he’d just asked. Her hand stays on Beca’s leg.

Chapter Text

Uncle Lew stops to fuel up an hour into the drive. The girls climb out to stretch their legs, arguing with him as he insists on buying them snacks.

“I’ve already got drinks,” he says, slapping a hand against the fender of his truck. “There’s an ice chest in the back so help yourselves.” He heads off inside, Stacie in tow.

“Well, I won’t turn that down,” Beca says, grabbing the tailgate and hopping up with an ease Chloe wasn’t expecting. She swings herself into the bed and bends down, popping the ice chest open. “Water?”

“Yes, please.” She moves to the back of the truck and hooks her arms over it as Beca rolls up her sleeves and digs into the chest. Her dark hair falls over her shoulder and Chloe catches a strand, twisting it around her finger. “You’re cute.”

Beca scoffs but doesn’t pull away. Her hand comes up wet and ice-red, a bottle of water dripping in her palm. A few drops land on her knee, dark spatter on her gray jeans. “Lew’s inside,” she says, her voice low.

Chloe gives her hair a soft tug. “I know. But you are cute. Just wanted to tell you that.” It’s one of her favorite things in the world, making Beca’s ears turn red by telling her the truth. Flustering her with flirty quips and blatant come-ons is funny, but flooring her by simply stating a fact? Chloe loves it. “Hey. Come here.”

Her brow furrows, but Beca leans in. Then leans more when Chloe tugs her hair again. “Chlo?”

“How are you? Slept okay on the flight? I didn’t get to ask.” They’re barely a few breaths away now, Beca’s hair hanging down like a curtain around them. Chloe pushes Lew’s sunglasses up onto her head so she can see the dark lines in Beca’s eyes clearly.

“Yeah, it was fine.” It’s a whisper, like someone could overhear even though they’re alone at the gas pumps. “Are we supposed to look like we’re making out if Lew looks out here?”

It makes her want to whisper too. “Maybe I just like looking at you.”

“Oh, well, you can look from back here then--Ooh!”

Chloe reaches out as Beca leans back, snatching the collar of her shirt and pulling her in. Beca laughs, overbalancing and tilting forward onto one knee, her elbows landing on the tailgate on either side of Chloe. The water bottle in her hand bumps against Chloe’s back and she can feel it soaking through her shirt. It’s the first time Chloe can remember having to actually bend her head back to look up at Beca. “I like looking from here though.” She purposely catches Beca’s gaze and rolls her bottom lip between her teeth, biting down.

It’s just a flicker of movement, but she thinks Beca’s eyes move to her lips. They’ve bounced off and moved to the storefront before Chloe can be sure. She shifts suddenly, her hand wrapping around Chloe’s elbow. “You know, you’re very convincing.”

There’s a subtle tug and Chloe follows it, her forehead bumping Beca’s. “So are you. Are you sure this is your first acting job, Mitchell?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

She would. She would also like to stop thinking about how soft Beca’s lips look. Because she’s sure it would freak Beca out if she mentioned it. As flirty as Beca could be, she was skittish when it came to anything more than playful innuendo. And it’s not like Chloe likes Beca. They’re just friends. But she could appreciate a friend’s lips, right? So Chloe just grins. “You know what you’d be good at? Role playing.” She bites her lip again, sliding her fingers along Beca’s collar. “Doctor? Pool girl? Oooh, my French maid?”

“Oh my god, shut up.” Beca actually pulls back this time. “You’re so weird.” She shoves the water into Chloe’s hand, turning back to the ice chest.

“And yet, here you are. Dating me.” The tailgate creaks as she leans forward just enough to catch Beca’s eye.

“Yeah, keep it up and I’ll dump your ass.”

For that, Chloe braces a knee on the bumper and pops up to slap Beca’s backside quickly. Her squeak echoes around the parking lot as Chloe skips away.


“Love you!”

Uncle Lew and Stacie are just coming out of the store and she catches Lew’s eye. From the crooked, too-wide smile on his face, she knows he must have seen something. He throws an arm around her shoulders as he moves to fill up. “She’s cute,” he mutters, shaking her back and forth.

She laughs. “Yeah, she is.”

“I like her.”

Chloe watches as Beca holds Stacie’s water up high in the air, laughing, one foot braced up on the tailgate. Stacie barely goes up on her toes to snatch it and Beca lets out a loud, “Ah, man!”

They laugh, Stacie playfully snatching at the tails of Beca’s shirt as Beca smacks at her.

“Yeah. Me too, Uncle Lew.”

Even after hitting the gas station bathroom and changing into shorts and her favorite, sleeveless floral button-up, it’s so hot, but Chloe really has missed Georgia. She peers out down the road, toward where she knows her family’s big white house is waiting. And Aubrey. All of her best friends from college. It’s enough to make her nearly vibrate with excitement.

Beca’s sitting on the ice chest when Uncle Lew finishes fueling up and waves his long arms in the air. “Alright! Here we go, ladies. Hop in. Or, well, Beca, if you’re comfy there, settle down. It’s only twenty minutes to the house. You can ride there.”

It’s like a switch being flipped. Beca--slouchy, sleepy, grumpy Beca--sits up completely straight, her eyes wide. “Yeah? Yeah, okay. I’ll just--” She hops off the ice chest and drops down into the bed, just her head sticking up over the tailgate. It’s so much like a child that had just been given ice cream without even asking for it that Chloe wants to hug her.

Resisting the urge, she pops open her door and pulls herself up onto the running board, grinning back at Beca. “You good, Mitchell?”

“I’m about to take a nap, Beale. Leave me alone.”

“Okay, okay,” she laughs. Beca’s so cute.

When they take off, Chloe leans to the side enough that she can see Beca in the side mirror. Her head is leaned back on the tailgate, her eyes closed, her hair whipping behind her. For someone so pale, who almost literally hisses when Chloe comes home and turns on the lights, Beca’s sure soaking up the sun. And damn if she doesn’t look good doing it. The wind slips into her flannel, billowing it like ship sails around her tank top, pulling it back enough that the sun pools in the dips of her collarbones and spills over the curves of her shoulders. Chloe can see the very ends of the flower tattoo on her right shoulder, the vines that creep over toward her chest. She wonders again where Beca’s secret tattoos are.

“Home sweet home.” Uncle Lew’s voice cuts through her wondering and she blinks, looking away from the rearview. Had it already been twenty minutes?

The truck is winding up her parents’ driveway, passing the flowerbeds her mother has been tending since she was a baby, the swing bench her father had hooked up under his favorite tree, the dented mailbox she’d backed into the first day she’d gotten her license.

And the house is exactly as she remembered it. Three stories of blue shutters and white paint, lattice covered in vines and flowers on either side of the steps. Her mother’s wicker chairs and her father’s poker table on the enclosed porch. All the same as it had ever been. It’s been over a year since she’s been here and she blinks against the sudden tears in her eyes. When the screen door on the porch swings open and her mother steps out, there’s not enough blinking to stop them.

The truck’s barely stopped before Chloe is out of it and running.

Her mother meets her halfway, slamming into her hard enough to knock the wind from her lungs. She folds her up tight in her arms, dropping her cheek onto the top of her mother’s head. She’d always been so small but Chloe feels like she’s even smaller this time, her thin arms pinching at Chloe’s waist.

“Oh, my baby girl,” she croons, her Southern Belle accent thicker with tears. “I missed you so much.”

“I missed you too, Mamma.” She squeezes tighter, letting her mother be the first to pull away.

When she does, not quite letting go, she peers up at Chloe with glimmering blue eyes. “My god, you look even taller than last time I saw you. What they feeding you up in New York?” Her hands pat along Chloe’s hips. “Are they feeding you anything? You’re so thin!”

“You say that every time you see any of us,” Stacie says, throwing her arm around Chloe’s shoulders. “Hey, Mamma Beale.”

Chloe takes a step back to let Mamma Beale fuss over Stacie, giving her the same pat down and questions with an added, “Have you been good though? Really, Stacie? Don’t you lie to me.”

“Come on, Mamma. I’m a grown woman--”

“And he’s a hunter, yes, yes, I know. My wild child--”

Beca is climbing down from the back of the truck, moving to help Uncle Lew with their bags. Chloe grins when she catches the shorter girl’s eye. She waves her over. Uncle Lew does the same, shooing Beca away from their luggage.

“Mamma,” Chloe says as Beca approaches. “I’d like to introduce you to my girlfriend.” She reaches out and feels Beca’s fingers slip between hers easily.

It might be her imagination, but Chloe thinks her mother’s never looked prouder. She puffs up as big as her 4’11 frame can and claps her hands together. “Oh, I was hoping it was you, Beca.”

Chloe dodges to the side to avoid being grabbed in her mother’s bear hug. Beca takes the full force of it, squeaking in a way that Chloe knows she’s already embarrassed about even as it slips through her teeth.

In peak awkward-Beca mode, Beca pats Mamma Beale’s back twice. Then her hands just twitch in the air behind her. “R-really? You were?”

“Yes!” Mamma releases her from her bear hug in favor of grabbing her by the shoulders. “You know, the second I met you, I could tell you loved my daughter. I could see it in your eyes.”

It’s hard not to burst into giggles as she watches Beca’s ears turn redder and redder. Nobody really stands a chance against her mother’s love, but watching finicky, “don’t touch me” Beca Mitchell try is hilarious.

“When Aubrey told me Chlo had found someone, you were my first thought.” She squishes Beca’s face. “And you!” Her focus slips to Chloe, letting Beca back quickly away. “When you wouldn’t give me any details, I knew! You thought you could surprise me?”

“How did you know?” Chloe says, trying not to roll her eyes. Even when it’s affectionate, it’s a gesture her mother hates.

“Who else would it be? She’s all you talk about!” Mamma Beale spins on her heel and heads for the porch. “Come on, girls! Go get settled in and meet back in the kitchen in twenty. We’ve got to finish dinner before everyone else gets here. Lew! Hurry up with them bags!”

“Yes, ma’am,” he calls back, straining under the weight of all their suitcases. Beca rushes to grab the case with her mixing equipment--arguably the heaviest.

Uncle Lew leads them inside, stopping off in a guest room on the bottom floor to drop off Stacie’s things. (“Ah! I’m rooming with Cynthia Rose? Oh, she is not ready.”) Then, with a quick wink, he gestures for Chloe and Beca to follow him out the back door.

Last time she’d visited, her old room had been filled with her mother’s exercise equipment. “Your gran hates hearing the elliptical at night, so I moved it all out there.” But when Uncle Lew juggles their bags around to open the side door on the garage, she bounces on her heels happily.

The bottom floor of the garage is taken up by her father’s old 1966 Shelby Cobra. It’s exactly where it’s been since she was a child, sneaking into the garage after her father and peering at herself in the shining gray paint. Pulling at his pants leg until he lifted her up into the passenger seat and let her watch him replace the radio. Handing him all kinds of tools he didn’t need as she chattered away about school and how stupid Mike Warren had pulled her hair again.

She runs her fingers along the car top, letting Uncle Lew and Beca go up the stairs in the corner first. There’s no dust. Her mother’s still cleaning it.

“Beale, they stuck you in the garage? How many siblings do you have?”

Uncle Lew’s chuckle echoes down to her. “She wanted the loft. Asked for years. I had to help them build the bathroom up here and the railings. Almost broke my hand installing the shower. Snatched it back at the last second.”

“Weak. Coulda got workman’s comp.”

When she reaches the tail end of the car, she lets go, hopping the steps two at a time to catch up.

Without the exercise equipment, the loft is back to exactly how Chloe had left it years ago. Her bed is tucked under the little porthole window up near the barn style roof, the sheets probably freshly cleaned, if she knows her mother. Her desk takes up the whole corner to the right of the bed, “Chloe Anne Beale” scratched into the wood. The mini-fridge at the top of the stairs is filled with waters and cokes, she’s happy to find. Her tiny bathroom is cleaned and stocked--her mother always was thorough. All her old framed pictures of the Bellas and her friends from middle school still cover the top of the dresser, surrounded by figurines of unicorns and fairies--gifts from her father, just like the loft she’d begged him for until her first year of college.

Uncle Lew drops their bags on the bed, rubbing his back. “Oh, I’m getting old.” He claps his hands together, heading for the stairs. “I’ll leave you ladies to settle in or whatever kids do these days. Everyone should be back from town by five thirty, your mom said. Your brother has been off the walls all morning.”

Chloe laughs, knowing exactly what he means. Eli’s been hyper since the day he was born and ten years hasn’t tempered that at all. He Skypes her at four in the morning sometimes to ramble about his newest video game or the friend he made at school. She can’t blame him, she was exactly the same growing up.

Uncle Lew leaves and she starts unpacking, filling the empty dresser drawers quickly--her stuff in the left drawers, Beca’s in the right.

Once the door closes below, Beca speaks. “We’re sharing a bed?”

It’s almost hilarious, the amount of panic in that one question. “We’re dating, Bec. And adults. Of course they’d assume we’ve shared a bed before and we’d want to do so again. Everybody’s getting roommates anyways.” She looks up from unpacking to watch Beca fiddle with her equipment bag. “You can set all that up on the desk. I won’t be using it as much as you.”

“Oh, uh. Thanks.” Beca moves to do exactly that, pulling boards and cords and her laptop from the bags with practiced ease. “But really. You cling so much in your sleep. They’re gonna find me dead up here one morning. Suffocated, probably.”

Chloe laughs, throwing a shirt at Beca’s back. “I’m not that bad. You’ll survive.”

“I don’t know. I’m pretty sure you’ve read my will, so. You stand to benefit if I drop dead. If I wake up with a pillow over my face, I won’t be surprised.”

“I have not read your will. What do I get?” She bends to shove the few pairs of shoes she brought under the dresser.

“Everything,” Beca laughs, bent over her computer, her back still to Chloe. “Who else would I leave my stuff to? Stacie?”

There’s a note in her voice--something too steady despite her laugh. Chloe stops. “Wait, seriously?”

Now Beca looks up, one eyebrow cocked. She stops messing with her equipment and turns to face Chloe. “Yeah? You’re my best friend, dude.” One of her eyes closes for a second. “Actually, I did leave something for Stacie. That lacy bra she likes so much.” She gestures, like she’s squeezing her boobs. “Not that it’ll fit, but maybe she’ll frame it. To remember me by. Sounds like some weird shit she’d find touching.”

But Chloe’s chest feels too tight for her to laugh right now. She crosses the room and throws her arms around Beca before the smaller girl can react.

“Chloe? Dude, are you crying?”

“Thank you,” she whispers into Beca’s ear, holding her tight. Beca’s hands flutter to a stop on her hips. “I’ll take care of it all, I promise.”

“Oh, man,” Beca whines. “It’s not a big deal, dude. It’s just junk. I’ll be dead. Just sell it all and take care of yourself.”

Chloe shakes her head, clutching tighter.

With a heavy sigh, Beca slides her arms up around Chloe, hugging her back. It’s not something she does often and Chloe sinks into it, taking every second she can.

Beca seems to sense that Chloe really needs this, because she stays still. Normally, after a few seconds, she gets antsy to escape whatever embrace she’s been pulled into. But she lets Chloe take all the time she needs, not even flinching when a tear escapes and drops onto her neck. Chloe sniffs and wipes it away with her thumb as she wraps her fingers in the back of Beca’s collar.

When her dad had died, he’d left everything to her mother. And Mamma had passed some of it on to Chloe and her brothers. Mickey took their father’s suits and headed off to college in Florida with them. He didn’t call anymore, but she saw him wearing them sometimes on Facebook. Eli was too young to understand that his dad would never come home again, much less that the set of baseball gloves and the jersey in Mamma’s closet were his. And Chloe had gone to college right near home, so she barely needed to use the Cobra Mamma gave her the keys and the paperwork to. She was always scared she’d wreck it, so she stuck with catching rides and borrowing Mamma’s car. But that thing that used to be his and was now hers made her feel like she could still reach out and grab his hand sometimes.

So to think that Beca would leave everything to her? Her mixing equipment, her massive boots, her Christmas stocking, her stack of journals back home with lyrics scribbled into every inch of page? It’s a lot all at once.

“I-uh-I just realized we’re talking like I’m for sure going to die first? Which is insane, because you’ve got years on me. And you jog. In New York. So I’m definitely outliving you.”

Chloe snorts, shoving Beca back into the desk. (“Ah! Watch the equipment!”) She swipes at her eyes, curling her fingers into the hem of Beca’s flannel. “Shut up. You eat like a child and I once saw you fall asleep on a bench at the park. You’re dying first.”

The righteous offense that flashes across Beca’s dark eyes barely lasts a second before she’s smirking again. “Brunettes live longer. There’s studies!”

“There are not!”

“Dude, there totally are--”

Chloe holds up a hand, listening closely. There’s a clatter downstairs and the garage door opens with a creak.

“Chlo? You up there?”

Oh, that’s a super familiar voice. “It’s my Aunt Dana!” Chloe hisses. Her father’s older sister and her favorite aunt. Her favorite aunt that really enjoys teasing her… An idea hits her lightning fast. “Ah! Hang on, Aunt Dana! Don’t come up!” she yells, knowing full well the woman won’t listen. She drops her voice again. “Play along!”

She whips off her shirt and throws it across the room. Beca’s eyes nearly bug out of her head, dropping to the purple bra Chloe had put on this morning. She opens her mouth, probably to ask what the hell Chloe’s doing, but when Chloe seizes her flannel and shoves it off her shoulders, whatever she was going to say is lost in an almost quiet gasp. It’s a sound Chloe decides to think on later, because she can hear Aunt Dana’s footsteps getting closer. Beca swallows it quickly anyways and nods.

As Chloe rushes across the room after her shirt, Beca shoves her hands into her hair and musses it.

Is it weird to say she’s a little proud?

Aunt Dana hops up the last step just as Chloe grabs her shirt from the floor and presses it to her chest.

“Oh!” Aunt Dana freezes, eyes flicking from Chloe to Beca and back before she spins and puts her back to them. “I’m so sorry! I thought you were just telling me not come up so I wouldn’t have to climb the stairs. I should have listened--”

“It’s fine, Aunt Dana,” Chloe says, pulling on her shirt. She glances over her shoulder. Beca is scrambling to fix her hair and straighten her clothes, her ears a very convincing shade of red. “You’re good now.”

Aunt Dana turns slowly, only one eye open. Once she sees them both dressed, her other eye opens. She grins and drawls, “Well, I was coming to offer you girls some sweet tea, but looks like you’re full up on sugar.”

Chloe laughs as Beca groans.

Chapter Text

Beca's in Hell. Her flight must have connected in the wrong place or something, because Hell is the place where Chloes and women who look like photocopies of Chloes laugh and make jokes about her sex life, (which doesn't exist, by the way) while Beca buttons up her shirt and shakes her hair over her ears to hide them.

Also, she's still trying to recover from Chloe ripping her shirt from her shoulders moments before. Beca's never considered herself a very sexual person, but there are certain things that get even her heart pumping. A beautiful woman ripping her shirt off is pretty high on that list. That the beautiful woman in question is her best friend is something she'll need to think about later. Because right now, she's being stared down by Chloe's aunt. And her gaze is an entirely different kind of piercing from the kind she's gotten used to with Chloe. This kind makes her feel like she's being evaluated head to toe in an instant.

Dana, an almost exact replica of Chloe but with more years lining her eyes and a more athletic swagger to her walk, crosses the room and slaps her hand into Beca's. It kinda hurts. "Beca Mitchell. I just got a whole rant about you from Cory."


"Mamma," Chloe supplies, smiling. Her hands are tucked neatly behind her and she's rocking back and forth on her toes.


"And Mamma," Dana says, yanking her into her side and wrapping a (very strong) arm around her shoulders. "Mamma likes you. A lot."

Beca laughs, hoping it sounds less uncomfortable to the other women. "I think Mamma Beale likes everyone."

Dana shrugs. "Fair enough." She pushes back her red curls, slightly shorter than Chloe's. "Come on. Let's go listen to her talk you up together."

That sounds not fun at all. Beca was kind of hoping to just fade into the background, but Dana-much like her niece-is deceptively strong. Before Beca can even think to protest, Dana is almost literally carrying her down the steps and out of the garage. Chloe follows behind them, her giggles making Beca feel even dumber than the frog march Dana is forcing her into does.

Dana kicks open the back door and leads them straight to the voices in the house-the kitchen.

Mamma Beale is standing at the stove, three pots going as she doles out orders like a staff sergeant to the other redheads in the room: Lew, a skinny teenage boy with the only brown eyes she's seen so far, and an elderly woman wielding a ladle like a sword from her spot sitting at the kitchen bar. The last's hair is streaked with white, but still beacon red for the most part. She spots them first.



The two snatch each other up in a hug that rocks them around half the kitchen. Dana ducks Gran's swinging ladle by barely an inch and Beca tries to shrink into the corner. No luck. Dana's grip on her tightens.

"Seth!" the teenager yells, throwing himself into the hug.

Chloe laughs, bending her arm back to pat his head. "Hi, Seth."

"Sup, Cuz? Missed you!"

"And your driver's license, I hear."

Seth spins away from the hug, all elbows and freckles. "Dad!" He smacks Lew's back. "You told her?"

Lew just laughs. He's bent over the sink, peeling potatoes and he kicks his foot up, pushing Seth back. "She asked. Probably for her safety."

Seth leaps onto his back and the kitchen dissolves into chaos. Gran starts wacking Seth with the ladle, cackling louder than everyone else. Mamma Beale shields the stove as Lew tries to pull his son off. Dana and Chloe try to restrain Gran half-heartedly.

Beca is pretty sure she's been dumped right into an episode of the Twilight Zone. For her, family time was quiet dinners with her mother in a hospital room and even quieter dinners with her father at home. And when they were together it was like sitting around a time bomb with the timer covered.

Honestly, she didn't think families like this were real. And if they were, she would have wanted no part of them growing up. Back when she'd wanted nothing more than her music and a quiet place to nap. But as she ducks Gran's ladle and Chloe leaps on her, yelling, "Get down!" between her laughs, she thinks maybe this could have been a good childhood too.

"Beca!" Mamma Beale yells, shoving Lew and Seth aside to grab for her. "Cease fire! Cease fire! We've got a guest!"

"Two guests," Stacie says, sweeping into the room.

Seth scrambles off his father's back and smacks his hands against his hair, straightening it. "Hey, Stacie." His voice sounds lower suddenly, but Beca can't be sure because everyone else is greeting Stacie too.

In the commotion, Beca doesn't notice Chloe slipping behind her until her arms wrap around Beca's waist and she pulls her in.

"Hey," she whispers. "You unharmed?"

"Your grandma almost took my head off with a ladle, but yes." She chuckles, turning her head to catch blue eyes. "You saved me, I think."

Chloe wrinkles her nose, shrugging. "I got you, baby."

Well, shit. Adding that to the list.

After a bit of arguing, Gran wins and claims Beca as her helper.

Which is fine by Beca, because Gran is a tiny woman with a huge grin and her official title is "taster". So while everyone else chops vegetables and gets to work on dishes, Gran puts Beca to work snatching spoonfuls of everything cooking. Nobody actually puts up a fight, but they pretend to. Mamma Beale smacks her with an apron, Lew tries to catch her in a headlock, Chloe seizes her belt loop as she dashes by with a chunk of boiled potato and very nearly topples them both. She's actually pretty good at her assigned duties. And all the while, Gran is laughing and calling out more orders.

It's actually pretty fun, Beca thinks, ducking Seth's bony elbow to slip Gran a couple pieces of cheese. Gran rewards her with a scoop of whatever sauce Mamma Beale has simmering on the back burner.

"You're turning my girlfriend into a thief, Gran." Chloe washes her hands and joins them on the far side of the bar. She wipes her wet hands down Beca's sleeve, ignoring her protests.

"I'm feeding her." Gran reaches out and pats Beca's stomach. She doesn't think she's ever been touched so much in her life. "You're obviously not!"

"She is well fed. She just has the metabolism of a hummingbird."

Maybe it's the presence of her touchy-feely family. Or maybe Chloe's just in an excellent mood, being back home. But she can't seem to keep her hands off Beca. It's nothing big-a hand on her lower back as she leans around her, a hip bump, a brush of fingers along her shoulder to get her attention. It's more than Beca's used to and all these Chloe clones are doing the same thing. Small touches, just keeping contact for no reason other than to do so. It's a little overwhelming.

Chloe's finger slips into her pocket, tugging gently. "Hey, you guys have got this. We're gonna go finish unpacking before everybody else gets home."

"Unpacking," Dana says, dragging the word out. "Sure looked like unpacking to me."

There's a collective "oooh" from the gathered family members (and Stacie, who is louder than everyone else and also looks offended somehow). Beca's ears burn, but she can't help the smile that pulls at her lips.

Chloe sticks her tongue out, biting down on it as she grabs Beca's other pocket and backs her out of the kitchen, away from the wolf whistles and cheers.

In the hallway, she lets go, still laughing.

"Your family is insane," Beca says, taking a deeper breath than she's felt like she could for the last hour.

"They'd thank you for that." Chloe leads the way out the back door and to the garage. She hops the stairs two at a time and Beca definitely doesn't watch her calves flex with each leap. "But you looked like you could use a break. Especially since everyone else will be here soon." She rounds the top of the stairs, turning to glance back over the railing at her. "Why don't you do some mixing while I finish unpacking?"

Years ago, Beca would have sworn she hated all people. She just wanted to make music and avoid speaking to anyone. When Stacie had all but manhandled her into having coffee with her and revealed she was actually really smart and pretty funny, Beca had decided maybe one person was okay. And then Stacie had brought her to Chloe.

And Chloe was so...real. When she said things, you could take them at face value. She loved as hard as she said she did and she was thoughtful. Like, the kind of thoughtful you only see on TV. It freaked Beca out at first. Honestly, she still wasn't quite used to it.

"No, dude. I'll help you unpack."

"Beca." Chloe seizes her elbows, stopping her at the top of the stairs. "You're about to spend the night surrounded by all my family members you just met plus some. You need to relax a bit first. I know dealing with a lot of people can tire you out."

She opens her mouth to protest again, but Chloe leans in close-so close Beca can see the lines in her eyes. Her thumbs rub circles into the soft bend of Beca's elbows.

"Bec. You're being very sweet even coming here for me. Take some time for you. It's fine." She tugs and Beca lurches forward, their bodies bumping together. She can feel Chloe's belt buckle pressed into her stomach, just below her bellybutton. "Besides. You're tiny. So your clothes are tiny. Putting them away won't take much effort."

Beca shoves her back, snorting. "I take back every nice thing I've ever said about you." The floorboards creak as she stomps over to the desk and grabs her headphones. Before she can put them on though, Chloe's hands slip over her shoulders and across the flat part of her chest. Slow fingertips gliding along the bottoms of her collarbones, barely a touch. Beca freezes as Chloe tugs gently at the top button of her shirt.

"You love me," she practically purrs, her voice far too close to Beca's ear.

Oh, shit, she's going to hyperventilate. Of all the things Chloe could have done, running her hands over her shoulders from behind is really the absolute worst. Her eyes flutter closed of their own accord and she feels herself lean back into the touch despite her entire brain screaming not to. Her headphones slip from her curling fingers, clattering back onto the desk, and everything in her stomach feels like it's caught fire.

Chloe gives a surprised but appreciative hum, her fingers pressing more surely into Beca. "Oooh, Be-ca?" she croons, breaking Beca's name in two, a teasing lilt in her voice. "Did I just find a hot spot?" She sounds victorious.

That's all it takes to pull Beca back to herself. She sits forward, shaking her shoulders and growling until Chloe releases her with a laugh. "No, shut up. You just surprised me."

"Surprised your hot spot," Chloe says, her voice moving away.

Beca slaps her headphones on, pretending not to hear her. She also pretends the base of her spine isn't still tingling. Chloe Beale is going to be the death of her.

She doesn't hear the voices coming up the stairs, but she does see Chloe pop out of the bathroom with the biggest grin on her face that Beca's seen since the stained glass window was installed in their kitchen. She slips off her headphones as Chloe races for the stairs and collides with a tall blonde woman wearing a deep blue sundress and an equally huge smile.

"Bree!" Chloe screeches, making Beca wish she'd waited a second before removing her headphones. Quickly, she saves her work and turns off her computer as the girls squeal and bounce in place, speaking too rapidly for Beca to really understand.

"Oh my god, Chlo-"

"You look so good! I-"

"All the Bellas-"

Chloe breaks away from the hug, grabbing the woman's hand instead. Aubrey, Beca realizes a moment before Chloe says it. There's a framed picture of her on the wall back home. "Beca!" Chloe says, bouncing on her toes. "This is Aubrey! Aubrey, Beca!"

"Ah, yes. The girlfriend." Aubrey gives what Beca assumes she thinks is a polite smile. "I've heard so much about you." She crosses the room and extends a hand. Beca suddenly feels like she's meeting a politician. She's heard about Aubrey plenty of times. Even through a Chloe-filter, Aubrey has always sounded like a control freak.

She takes the hand, giving it a quick two-pump shake. Her father had grilled her on those back when he thought she was going to college. Surprise, Dad.

Aubrey's eyebrow tips up in slight approval. "I look forward to getting to know you. I've been meaning to get up to New York again, since I missed you last time." She had come up for a week in January, but Beca had been back in Louisiana at that time. She won't say she purposely made sure that happened, but the way Chloe talked about Aubrey sort of made her nervous so she won't say she didn't purposely make that happen.

"Chloe!" A man leaps up the stairs and snatches Chloe up in a hug, spinning her around. He's tall, like Aubrey, with dark hair and eyes and a huge smile. Really, why does everyone Chloe knows smile so widely? It's freaky.

"Jesse!" Chloe calls back with the same energy, kicking her feet in the air.

He puts her down after they almost spin right into the dresser, laughing. Aubrey's hands twitch up, like she's going to grab them but changes her mind. Instead, she just smiles-more softly than she had at Beca. Jesse turns from Chloe, boyish grin in place.

But when he makes eye contact with Beca, she feels like she's just been slapped in the face. Because she knows his face. "Wait."

His jaw drops and his fists jump into the air like he's at a concert and she jerks back. That seems to thrill him more than anything. "Beca Mitchell!"

"Swanson?" she says, but before she can get out any more, she's being swept up into his arms and swung around just like Chloe had been. Her hands are caught between their chests so she can't shove him off. "No! Put me down!"

"Becaw!" His voice rings in her ears and she kicks at his shins. "Oh my god, I thought 'Beca' was like, 'Rebecca' or something! But it's you!"

"Let me go, Swanson! I'm going to bite you!"


Her foot connects with his knee and he grunts, dropping her. She staggers back into the computer chair, sending it rolling against the wall. Jesse grabs her elbow, keeping her standing. He just laughs as she growls at him.

"You know each other, I take it?" Aubrey cuts in, her voice a little higher than before.

Jesse spins toward her, happily wrapping an arm around her waist. "Yeah! You're not gonna believe this, but Beca here-" He jabs a thumb at her, gleeful. "Beca was my first girlfriend ever!"

She might murder him. If Aubrey doesn't kill her first, which her flaring nostrils say she might. Chloe just looks shocked. "It was in first grade, everyone. Calm down." She glares at him. "And I don't believe I ever actually said yes. He just followed me around calling me his girlfriend."

"We shared a juice box. It was love, Becaw."

"It was gross, is what it was."

"Awww," Jesse coos, tugging Aubrey closer. "If I remember correctly, that's the closest you get to compliments."

Chloe's laugh rings around the room. "Oh, you really do know each other."

"Shut up, Beale."

Aubrey's polite smile is back in place, though perhaps a little more real this time. "So, Chloe, you brought my fiance's ex-girlfriend to my wedding?"

Beca snorts. "Trust me, lady, you can have him. He's a snitch."

"Oh, come on-"

"Nope. We're not talking about it." Beca lifts a hand to shut him up. Thankfully, he complies. "How did you end up in Georgia?"

He shrugs, big smile widening. "I met Aubrey." It's gross, really, the way he smiles at her like she put all the stars in his sky or some other romantic shit Chloe would say.

Speaking of gross, Chloe is staring at them with glimmering eyes and her hands clasped beneath her chin. Chloe crying is one of the only things Beca can't handle, so she figures it's time to cut the reunion short. "Okay, okay. You're adorable and sappy. Save it for the chapel, please." She points at Chloe. "No waterworks, Beale."

"I'll try," she says, her voice wobbly.

Aubrey swoops in and wraps Chloe in a tight hug again. "I've missed you so much." That doesn't help the way Chloe's started blinking faster than normal.

Probably sensing the same thing as Beca-that they were intruding-Jesse swings a long arm around her shoulders and says, "Come on, Becaw. Let's go catch up."

She sort of hates leaving Chloe when she's crying, despite the fact that she hasn't a clue how to handle it, but she lets him steer her to the stairs and down them. Just before the garage door shuts, she hears a loud sniffle. God, she hates it when Chloe cries.

Chapter Text

She knows Beca hates seeing her cry, so she holds it together just long enough to hear the garage door snap shut. Then she’s bawling into Aubrey’s shoulder. Aubrey’s crying too. She can feel it in the shuddering breaths puffing against her temple. “Bree, I missed you so much.”

“I missed you too. I’m so glad you could make it. I couldn’t do this without you.”

She sniffles, pulling back enough to see Aubrey’s face. She wipes at Aubrey’s tears with her thumbs. “Of course I made it. I’d rather die than miss your wedding.”

Aubrey laughs. It’s a wider, more open laugh than Chloe remembers from college. Jesse really is good for her friend. “That’s exactly what you would have done if you missed it.” She playfully wraps her fingers around Chloe’s throat and shakes her.

Chloe chuckles, grabbing Aubrey’s wrists. “Are the other girls here already?”

Aubrey’s hands fall to her shoulders. “All except Lilly and Flo. They apparently went on a trip together and won’t be back in the country until next week.”

It feels like college all over again as Aubrey crosses the room and settles daintily onto the foot of Chloe’s bed. The years between them have disappeared, just like the miles. Her ribs ache, like there’s too much behind them. It’s a feeling she knows well. From the nights spent watching her parents through the slats on the stairs as they danced in the living room, when they thought everyone was asleep. From the Bellas first practice where they really nailed their routine and they’d stood in a circle, smiling like lunatics. From the day she’d stood in the doorway of her and Beca’s apartment for the first time after signing the lease, the hem of Beca’s jacket clutched between her fingers, because that was all the touch Beca had allowed back then. It’s her favorite ache in the whole world.

“God, this place is like a time capsule,” Aubrey says. She twists, glancing over the desk and all of Beca’s equipment. “Except for this.”

She wanders over, running her finger along the cord of Beca’s headphones. “Yeah, well you missed the time when Mamma turned this place into her exercise gym.”

Aubrey’s laugh echoing around the room feels a little like home. “So. Beca.”


“I know we’ve covered this many times, but are you sure you want to do this, Chloe?” Her hands are folded in her lap, her back rigid as ever. But she’s chewing on her lip in a very un-Aubrey-like way. “Look, you know I know more than anyone else about what happened with Tom back then--”

Chloe drops into her desk chair, spinning it around once. “I know. But I think it will be easier this way. You know how he is.”

Aubrey hums noncommittally. She really does know more than anyone else. “I don’t know if this will work. Maybe if you’d brought a guy--”

“It will work.” There’s not a lot that Chloe hates, but the way she feels when she thinks about Tom? That dark, twisty feeling in her stomach? Yeah, she hates that. “Enough about me. Is your father coming to the wedding? Last time we talked, you weren’t sure.”

There’s a moment where Chloe thinks Aubrey might tell her the truth. Her shoulders drop a little and her mouth opens, but before whatever she’s going to say can slip out, she snaps her mouth closed again. The General’s Daughter pops right back into place and Aubrey smiles. “Of course. He’s finishing up some things in Spain right now, then he’s headed right over.”

Instead of calling her out, Chloe just smiles back. “Will he be giving you away?”

“Ah, yes!” Her thumbs press together until the tips turn white. “He promised. Besides, who else would do it?”

Chloe shrugs. “Cynthia Rose?”

They laugh and Aubrey’s posture slumps a little. The relaxed, easy Aubrey from long college weekends where they’d needed to get away from school. “Is this where Stacie would make a Daddy joke?”

“Probably. Do you want to go ask her?”

“You know, I do think I saw her outside when we were headed up.”

Chloe laughs and moves from the chair, curling up on the bed and pressing into Aubrey’s side. “We can ask her later. For now, let’s catch up. You never finished telling me how Jesse proposed.”

“Oh, lord. Well, after he found his shirt--”

By the time Aubrey’s finished recounting the proposal and Chloe has ranted about school, it’s nearly dinner time.

“We better go. Mamma Beale will send the dogs for us if not.” Aubrey climbs off the bed, where they’d ended up propped against the headboard in a “cuddle puddle” as Chloe called it. “I should probably find my fiance, as well, before your girlfriend steals him.”

Chloe laughs. “I honestly don’t think Beca would know what to do with him if she got him. I’ve never seen her so much as blink at someone unless she had to.” She leads the way downstairs and out into the yard. The sun’s lower, sitting on the horizon and casting everything in a deep orange. Aubrey’s arm links through hers.

The backyard’s been filled with picnic tables, set up end to end. More of her family’s arrived and she gets stopped every few feet to say hello to cousins and “cousins” (which are really just old friends of the family or long-time neighbors). But then there’s a rousing cheer from the back porch and the Bellas come pouring down it, a tidal wave of somehow harmonizing screams.

“Chloe!” Emily screeches, reaching her first on her long legs and crashing into both Chloe and Aubrey. More bodies slam into the hug until they’re all tilting and stumbling to stay on their feet, laughs she hasn’t heard in a while echoing in her ears and in her chest. She grips every hand or shoulder she finds--and boob, once, but she isn’t sure whose it is and nobody complains. (So probably Stacie.)

“Ginger root, I can’t tell ya how good it is to squish you again,” Fat Amy says, her thick Australian accent pressed into Chloe’s hair.

Cynthia Rose’s hoarse chuckle is in her other ear. “New York treatin’ you good? Anybody we need to kill?”

Blinking through the tears, Chloe finds Ashley and Jessica’s faces, placing a hand on each. “No, no. No killing. You’d have to beat Beca to it anyways.”

“Speaking of,” Aubrey says, looking around. “Where is she?”

“Who’s Beca?” Fat Amy glances around, like she expects to find someone wearing a sign that says, “I’m Beca.”

“My roommate?”

“Oh, yeah. I just call her ‘Ginger’s mate’ or ‘Shortstack’ in my head.”

Mamma Beale appears in their Bella circle like magic, an arm around Cynthia Rose. “Beca rode into town with Jesse and Uncle Lew. Someone forgot to pick up more drinks at the store earlier.”

“In my defense,” Fat Amy says, hands up. “I thought about grabbing them, but then I thought about grabbing snack cakes. And here we are.”

Chloe pulls her phone from her back pocket and sure enough, there's a text from Beca. "Running into town with Snitchson and your crazy uncle. My will is with my lawyer." She laughs, sending a string of hearts back and looking up. Through a gap in the bodies surrounding her, Chloe catches sight of broad shoulders and dark hair bending over one of the picnic tables. His face turns just enough that she can see his playful grin, just as full of mischief as it had been since their first year of college. She looks away quickly.

Aubrey notices, because she always does, and she grips Chloe’s hand tightly, grinning. “Let’s get some seats before more of the clan shows up or something.”

“Excuse you, this is all I invited,” Mamma huffs. “My Chloe is home and everyone wanted to see her.” She cups Chloe’s cheeks, smiling so widely her eyes nearly disappear. “My Chloe.”

Mamma hugs her and the Bellas pile on for another group hug. God, she’s missed these.


The Bellas have dispersed and Mamma has snatched Aubrey for something inside. Chloe’s listening to her cousin Terry talk about his graduation party when someone taps her on the shoulder. She turns around, smiling, already leaning in for a hug.

But she pulls back a full step when she finds Tom grinning down at her, holding a red Solo cup against his chest. “Tom.”

“Hey, Chloe.” If he noticed her backing away, he doesn’t comment, but he does fill that space back up, stepping forward. “It’s been too long.”

She hums, forcing herself to smile. Someone calls Terry’s name and he excuses himself, leaving Chloe standing under the big red maple her father’s grandparents had planted when they were kids. She suddenly wishes she hadn’t strayed so far from the main group.

“I’ve missed you.” His voice is low, like he’s sharing a secret. Like they’re eighteen again and sneaking into each other’s dorms.

“You too,” she says, because she should. “Where’s Barb?”

He turns, looking around, and she takes another step away, back toward the tables. They’re not really far away, but far enough that the conversation feels private. And that makes her stomach twist painfully.

Tom turns back, blinking when she’s not where he left her and swinging a bit more around until he finds her. “Talking to your aunt by the food.”

“That’s nice. I should go say hi. I haven’t seen her since college.” She steps around him, fully intending to do just that, despite how much she dislikes Barb.

His hand closes around her arm and there’s a moment where she feels like it’s senior year again and he’s saying she’s being irrational as she tries to storm from his dorm after another of their fights. She tenses, turning back so fast that her curls fly out around her. “Tom--”

A truck horn blares and Tom jumps, letting her go as Uncle Lew’s truck comes sliding to a halt right beside the tree. People around them cheer as Uncle Lew waves from the driver’s seat.

But it’s the bed of the truck that Chloe’s looking at.

Because Jesse’s seated against the tailgate, his long arms wrapped over it and Beca is perched up on the big diamond-plated toolbox along the back window, her hair windswept, her cheeks red. And the truck’s barely stopped moving before she places a hand on the side and hops right out, heavy boots kicking up dust as she jogs over. It’s such a weird thing to see Beca doing--hopping out of trucks, jogging--that Chloe doesn’t realize right away that Beca’s headed for her.

Not until she’s there and plowing into Chloe hard enough to stagger her back a few feet, her hands on Chloe’s hips keeping them upright. Her laugh is low and Chloe almost misses it. But then it’s pressed against her lips and she doesn’t think she’s ever liked Beca’s laugh more.

It’s a weird thing to know about her best friend--that Beca kisses with slightly parted lips, that she breathes in through her nose as she changes the angle just a bit, that when Chloe gasps, she accepts it easily, swallowing the sound. That the muscles in her shoulders jump a little when Chloe presses back. Thumbs press into her hips and she can feel one of Beca’s fingers curl into a belt loop, tugging softly.

Despite being a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic, Chloe never thought those kisses in books were real. The ones where the character forgets there are other people around, where their entire body feels like it’s been set on fire and filled with warm water all at once.

But Beca’s lips slide soft across her own and all Chloe can focus on is running her hands up into Beca’s hair, her thumb drifting over the rapidly beating pulse in her neck. That soft hum in the back of Beca’s throat when Chloe’s nails drag across the base of her skull.

And maybe she should be surprised, shocked even. That Beca’s kissing her at all, that Beca initiated it. But Beca tastes like the caramel candies she likes to stash all over their apartment and it doesn’t feel surprising. It feels like home.

Chapter Text

It becomes apparent barely five minutes after they’ve left the garage that Jesse hasn’t changed a bit since high school. He’s still a complete goof with no sense of personal space and an inability to sit still. She’s sort of having high school flashbacks before Lew offers for them to ride along to get drinks, so she nods, texts Chloe, and quickly leaps into the back of the truck.

Jesse follows, so she moves to the other end of the truck bed, sitting up on the toolbox and propping one foot on the side of the truck to keep from sliding. The ride there is quiet aside from Jesse breaking into song halfway through, crooning, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” into the dust trail behind them. It reminds her of nights spent in the back of Mr. Leblanc’s truck as Brooke Leblanc drove them all out to the levee with stolen beers and ten teenagers piled in the back. She hated those nights most times, hated the kids that got too drunk and came up with worse ideas of what they could be doing. But Jesse had always been okay. Annoying, but okay.

So on the trip back, she calls out to him over the wind. “Do you know?”

He squints against the wind, blinking rapidly. She twists to the side so her hair all blows over one shoulder, out of her face. Then he yells back. “That you and Chloe aren’t…? Yeah, Aubrey told me.”

She nods, watching the trees flash past them. “Tell me about Tom.”

Jesse crawls closer, settling on the wheel well and dropping his arms back over the side of the truck. “He’s a dick!”

Her laugh whips away in the wind, but he must catch it, because he grins. “Isn’t he your cousin?”

“Yeah, but he’s still a dick.” He shrugs, the wind catching in his shirt and billowing it up off his shoulders. “He was never really nice to Chloe, I thought. We all went to college together. I didn’t really see what she saw in him. They broke up a lot and he always went back to her, begging and apologizing, but…” He shrugs again. “Still a dick.”

“Then why’d you agree to him being in your wedding?”

“My mom begged. I needed people to walk on my side anyways. Aubrey has all the Bellas,” he says, grinning like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard. “Which, of course, is wonderful. I’m glad they’re all gonna be in it. But I had to match, so. Had to pull in some extras.”

She chews on that for a minute, turning her face into the wind so Jesse can’t see it. Chloe had told her a few times about Tom cheating on her, about them breaking up multiple times. But Chloe has a tendency to make everything sound nicer than it really is, so Beca had taken it all with a grain of salt. “You think he’ll try to get back with her while we’re here?”

It’s impossible to hear what she thinks is him snorting, but she catches his eye roll. “Probably. Even with his fiancee here. He’s a--”

“Dick,” they finish together, laughing.

Lew turns into the driveway of the Beale house, slowing down enough that Beca can open her eyes fully and hear when Jesse goes, “Ah…”

She looks at him and he points to a large truck parked up on the grass, nearly in one of the flowerbeds lining the house.

“Tom’s here,” he says, moving back to the tailgate and sitting on the twelve-packs they’d picked up. “Look for me, but with hair gel and a greasy grin.”

You’ve got a greasy grin.”

“Ouch, Becaw. I missed you too.”

Lew leans out the window. “Yo, hold on tight! Gonna pull it around to the backyard!”

So she braces her foot on the side, her hands on the toolbox, and watches Jesse bounce on the drinks as they bump up into the grass. He winces and she snorts, ignoring his semi-glare.

As Lew heads straight for the big tree with the deep red leaves, she catches sight of Chloe. It’s a little difficult, for the first time ever, because she’s completely surrounded by other redheads. But like a sixth sense, she finds her on her second sweep of the yard. Standing under the tree. With a guy that looks kinda like Jesse, but with hair gel and a greasy grin. And he just grabbed her arm.

The truck stops and Beca’s moving before she really realizes she is. Over the side of the truck and onward, heading straight for the pair under the tree. She ignores the guy, completely, eyes only on her best friend.

She bumps into Chloe enough to move them away from Jesse’s dick cousin, to force Chloe’s arm out of his grip. And Chloe looks so surprised, her face lighting up as she grabs Beca’s shoulders to keep from falling and Beca laughs.

Maybe it’s because Beca just knocked her own wind out and she’s oxygen deprived. Maybe she’s running on a high from finally riding in the bed of a truck again--which she’d always loved. Maybe it’s the frown she sees out the corner of her eye. But whatever it is, it turns off every instinct but one. To protect Chloe from this jerk. Show that she has someone and she doesn’t need or want him. So she kisses Chloe.

She’d thought about it back in New York, that last night before their flight. She’d assumed it would be easy. Chloe would be a good kisser, because of course she would. And Beca knew she was no slob. They’d have a quick peck here and there to appease the family. Easy. Simple. In the years to come, they’d pick on each other about the few kisses they shared that one time and it would be whatever. At least, that’s what Chloe’s playful kiss on the cheek had told her.

But this?

When she was a teenager, she’d accidentally stuck her hand in the wrong part of the breaker box of their house. Her dad hadn’t been home and she thought she could flip the breaker on her own. But it was dark and she was annoyed and in a hurry because her parents’ bedroom kind of freaked her out when the lights were off. And she’d touched something she shouldn’t have and shocked herself right off the ground with a yelp. It was like every cell in her body had come to life and started vibrating in place, shaking her to the core. Like her very blood was buzzing.

And Chloe’s lips on hers feel like that, but softer. Steadier. So she pulls her closer, forgetting for a moment how they got here. When Chloe gasps quietly into her mouth, she almost takes advantage and deepens the kiss.

But then she realizes some of the buzzing in her ears is cheering. Loud, wild, wolf-whistles and whoops. So she breaks away just an inch, just enough to breathe. Enough to open her eyes and see red curls and flushed cheeks. To her utter shock though, Chloe rocks into her, as if she’s going to continue what Beca started. Then she stops, her eyes blinking open slowly. Hooded, bright, trained on Beca’s lips. The cheers seem to register with her too and she blinks again, looking around.

The family is cheering, none louder than a group of women at the last table--one of which is standing on the picnic bench and slapping her stomach like a drum. Beca catches Stacie’s eye and immediately wishes she hadn’t, because Stacie looks too happy. The kind of happy that always makes Beca suspicious.

But Chloe giggles and Beca looks away from Stacie. She’s never seen Chloe shy before, so it’s insane to her when Chloe’s entire face turns red and she buries it in Beca’s shoulder, wrapping her arms around her neck.

It feels like an achievement. Like winning a game she didn't know she was playing. And a laugh bubbles up and out of her before she can stop it. Chloe’s hand lightly smacks against her shoulder blade, making her laugh again as she wraps an arm around her waist and raises a hand to their audience.

The cheers get even louder and she hears Jesse scream, “Get a room!”

Everyone trails off, laughing as they return to the food piled on a table on the back porch. A line heads up the stairs to prepare themselves plates and Mamma Beale appears from the back door, waving around a fork. “Alright, get your plates and get outta my way! I’m starving!”

Chloe lifts her head at her mother’s voice. Her cheeks are still a little red, but she’s grinning. “Beca. Mitchell.”

She can’t help grinning back. “Hiya.”

“Where did that come from?”

“Oh, I picked it up in town.” She shrugs. Her arm is still wrapped around Chloe’s back, but Chloe’s leaning against it like it’s all that holding her up. “Looked like you could use it.” She glances over her shoulder and finds Jesse’s dick cousin is gone.

Chloe’s finger trails down her earrings and she shivers, turning back.

“Was there a two-for-one special, by chance?” And there’s the Chloe she knows, back in all her confident, flirty glory.

Beca’s feeling pretty confident herself, though. “You wish, Beale.” Slipping out of Chloe’s arms, she winks and digs her hands into her pockets.

Chloe catches her shirt before she can get too far though and tugs her back in. She studies Beca's face for a few seconds, her bottom lip held between her teeth. Then she sighs, “Yeah, Mitchell. Kinda.”

Just like that, Beca’s left with her jaw hanging and her voice lost somewhere between the butterflies in her stomach and the twisting ache in her chest. Her shirt slips out of Chloe’s fingers as the redhead turns and heads off toward Stacie’s table.

By the time Beca recovers enough to join Chloe at the table, she and the other girls with her are moving to join the line waiting to get food.

“Beca!” Stacie says, seizing her shoulders. In her ear, she hisses, “We are talking about that later.” Louder, she says, “Look who I found!”

She twists Beca around and she finds herself face to face with her second familiar person of the day. “What the-- Emily?”

“Hi!” Emily says, bouncing in place. Then, with more bravery than Beca had expected from her, Emily throws her arms around Beca in probably the briefest hug she’s ever received. Which is saying something, since she’s hugged her father. “Surprise!”

“What are you doing here, dude?”

Emily, one of the new voices at her studio, is a close friend of Chloe’s and Stacie’s because they’d been in the Bellas together. Beca knows that. But Stacie had told her that Emily wasn’t going to be able to make it for the wedding.

Emily shrugs, still bouncing. “I got some things moved around. My mom bought me the tickets. She had some flier miles, it turns out. I’ve got to go back for a week just before the wedding, but I’ll be here to walk in it!”

Beca laughs, clapping Emily on the shoulder. She’s pretty sure the girl almost faints right then and there. She’s always liked Emily, but wow, the girl is sometimes like a chihuahua. “That’s awesome! Good to have you here.”

“Is it?” She squints, tilting her head, even though she’s still smiling widely. “I mean, I know you guys weren’t expecting me. And like, I know, you know.” Her entire body drops with her voice until she’s practically crouching to Beca’s height. “And I’ve got your back, no worries, Beca. I mean, Stacie filled me in and I know you’re not really--But like, you totally sell it! Like I can totally see you two together. I always kinda could, you know? And--”

“Emily,” Beca says, finally catching up with her rambling and realizing what she’s saying. “Shut up.”

Emily nods so quickly Beca fears her head will fall off. “Yeah, yeah. Got it. Zipped.” She pretends to zip her mouth shut, folding her lips together and straightening to her full height, still nodding. Beca is forcibly reminded of the bobblehead doll her father kept on his desk when she was a kid.

“Also, calm down.” She reaches out to pat Emily’s arm, but thinks that might be too much for the poor girl right now. So she changes direction and catches Chloe’s sleeve where she’s standing behind Emily. “Yo, look. Emily.”

“I know!” Chloe happily squeezes Emily into her side as the line moves forward. “She texted me that she was catching a flight like an hour before us.”

“Your flight was full,” Emily says, lifting one shoulder.

“Well, thanks for never telling me anything, guys.”

“Aww. You know we just like surprising you.” Stacie wraps an arm around her neck, pulling her back into her boobs. This catches the attention of the other girls around them and suddenly she’s being introduced to each of them, barely able to hear their names with Stacie’s boobs pressed on either side of her head. She knows their faces. Chloe has framed photos of them everywhere. She misses which one is Ashley and which is Jessica, but she doesn’t get the chance to ask because they reach the front of the line and Stacie lets her go to grab a paper plate from the pile at the end of the table. She passes another one to Beca. “Eat up, Becs. You’re a growing girl.”

“Is she though?” Chloe says behind her, chuckling.

Beca tries to spin around, maybe to whack Chloe or just to give her a glare evil enough to back her off, but Chloe’s arms snake around her waist before she can turn and she squeezes tight.

“I’m just messin’, Bec,” she coos in her ear. “Get your food. Uncle Andy is behind us and he gets very angry when the line takes too long.”

“Well, here, pass him back a bread roll.” Beca snatches one of the small rolls from the basket at the end of the table and shoves it at Chloe’s face. Chloe just laughs, catching it between her teeth and releasing her to grab a plate.

There’s so much food that Beca barely knows what to grab. Not that she gets much choice, because Stacie keeps pointing out things in front of her that Beca “needs” to try and Chloe keeps piling things onto Beca’s plate when she isn’t looking.

She ends up with a small mountain on her plate that she has to use both hands to carry back to their table. She squeezes in between Stacie and Chloe.

Cynthia Rose sits across from her and jerks her chin up when they make eye contact. “Sup? Nice to finally meet you.”

Beca gives her a quick, tight-lipped smile. “Yeah, you too. Chloe talks about all of you a lot.”

“She doesn’t shut up about you, Shortstack,” Fat Amy says, settling in beside Cynthia Rose. “I think I know more about you than I do about dingoes. And I know a lot about dingoes.”

Beca just blinks, unsure how to take that. “That’s nice.”

“Becaw!” Jesse caws, appearing behind her with Aubrey, who sits on Chloe’s other side. Jesse taps a cold beer against Beca’s shoulder. “Brought you a drink.”

Beca snatches the bottle, using the edge of the picnic table to pop the cap off. “Thanks, dude.”

Jesse pats her head, moving to sit beside Aubrey.

Fat Amy launches into a wild story about crocodiles and exotic dancers that has the whole table cracking up, including Beca. She thinks maybe she misses some big chunks of the story, though, because at some point, Chloe’s hand slips onto her knee under the table. It’s very distracting every time she squeezes or swipes her thumb across Beca’s jean-clad leg.

She thinks Amy probably won’t mind repeating the story later.

Chapter Text

Just as Amy is finishing up her story, Mamma comes over with a tray of sweet rolls. She pauses beside them. “Eli will be down in just a minute. Fair warning.”

Chloe covers her mouth until she finishes chewing. “I was wondering where he was. Uncle Lew said he’s been excited all day but then I didn’t see him. Thought he’d forgotten I was coming home.”

Mamma laughs. “No. I just told him if he didn’t finish cleaning his room, he couldn’t go to the lake with you guys tomorrow. Hope you’ve been brushing up on your sign language.” She wanders off, following Uncle Andy’s call for more rolls.

“Sign language?” Beca whispers, sitting up straighter. “You never told me your brother’s deaf.”

Chloe smiles, twisting on the bench to face her better. There’s a bit of ketchup in the corner of Beca’s mouth. She grabs a napkin with one hand and Beca’s chin with the other. “He’s not.” She wipes the smear away, ignoring Beca’s squirming. “He just likes to learn things. Really throws himself into whatever he wants to pick up. And there’s a girl at school that he likes. She’s deaf so he’s been taking classes so he can flirt with her.”

“Oh my god,” Beca squints into the distance. “He sounds like you and Stacie’s love child.”

Stacie snorts, spraying beer across the table.

“Bitch, my hair!” Cynthia Rose growls, arms over her head.

“CHLOEEEE!” Eli’s screech echoes across the yard. He comes sprinting off the back porch, his red hair flopping across his freckled face, his blue eyes wide and shining.

“ELI!” Chloe leaps up, using Beca as an unwilling and protesting springboard. She meets him halfway, snatching him up in her arms. He’s gotten so tall since the last time she was home. His toes bump the top of her shins as she swings him around.

“I’ve been trying to come see you all afternoon!” He wiggles until she drops him and squints for a second. Then he starts signing as he speaks, much faster than she expected. He’s only been taking classes for a month. “I’m glad you’re home. I missed you!”

“I missed you too, buddy.” She squeezes his cheeks, pushing his head back and forth.

He swats her away and twists his hands in more signs she doesn’t understand until he speaks. “Where’s your girlfriend? Uncle Lew said she’s a music producer?” His signs get a little slower toward the end, like he’s not sure he’s doing them correctly.

“Wow, okay. So glad you’re happy to see me, your only sister!”

His eyes widen and he drops the sign language, reaching for her arms. “No, no! No, I am happy to see you!” As if to prove it, he wraps himself around her waist and squeezes as tight as his ten-year-old frame can. “I am, Chlo!”

She laughs, rubbing his back. “I’m kidding. Come on. I’ll introduce you.” Leaning back, she catches his eye. “But, E, listen. She doesn’t really like being touched, so I’m gonna limit you to one hug, okay?”

That makes him pout, but he follows her back to her spot at the tables. Loud as he could be, he’s always been a little shy with new people, so she’s not surprised to feel his hand slip into her own.

Beca’s arguing with Stacie (“Dude, stop touching my plate--”, “I put those potatoes on there for me, not you!”). Chloe stops beside them, pulling Stacie’s ponytail.

Stacie gasps and leans her head back to glance up at Chloe. “Ma’am, your girlfriend is right here.”

Beca is too busy grabbing her potatoes back to notice.

“Beca?” She looks up, a potato chunk held between her teeth. “This is my little brother, Elijah.”

Beca nods, closing her mouth around the potato and sucking it into her cheek. Then, because she’s full of surprises today, Beca salutes. Then she slides her palms together, curls her hands into loose fists with her forefingers up and bumps them against each other, and points to Eli.

And Eli lights up like the Fourth of July sky. His hands are almost shaking as he lifts them and signs something back, too fast for Chloe to register.

Beca chuckles and responds, her long fingers twisting through the air deftly as she finishes chewing her food.

Eli goes silent, verbally and physically, just staring at Beca with a huge grin on his face. Since one of his top teeth started coming in crooked, he rarely smiles that big anymore.

“You speak sign language?” Chloe can feel her own face stretching into a matching smile.

Beca shrugs, her head bobbing to the side in one of her “I didn’t mean to make conversation about myself” ways. “My grandpa was deaf. On Mom’s side.” She lifts her eyebrows and signs something to Eli.

He busts out laughing, his whole body rocking back a step.

And as Beca smirks and translates for Chloe (“I said my grandpa never shut up.”), Chloe realizes she was wrong all those other times she thought she couldn’t love her best friend more.

Chloe spends the rest of the night swinging back and forth between greeting family members, clinging to each of the Bellas like a koala, and wrapping herself in every touch Beca lets her have.

While Chloe is catching up with her cousin, Todd, she leans back and Beca’s there, steady against her shoulder. Moving from one group of family members to another, Chloe slips her fingers through Beca’s and Beca just squeezes gently. When Chloe finds Beca talking to Cynthia Rose, who she seems to really have hit it off with, she wraps herself around Beca’s back and presses a quick kiss to the tip of her ear. And Beca doesn’t even blink. Just settles back against her as she and Cynthia Rose debate which keyboard is better--the Yamaha P115 or the Casio PX860. She loves it when Beca talks music.

So does Eli, it turns out. He’s barely left Beca’s side since they met. He politely lets them talk to every cousin and neighbor that comes by, but the second they’re gone he has rapid-fire questions about sign language, about music, about Beca’s job. And it warms something deep in her chest every time Beca patiently answers his questions or randomly thinks of a fact he’d like when they’re talking about something else. Eli also completely disregards his one hug limit, wrapping his arms around Beca almost every chance he gets. She can't really blame him. Despite Beca's many claims over the years that she doesn't like hugs, she's the most huggable person Chloe knows.

She sees Tom only once more, as he’s heading out. Barb is on his arm and, wow, she really does look different. Chloe had always thought she was pretty, but when Aubrey said she had become a supermodel, it had been a little hard to picture. It’s easy now, with her perfectly coiffed curls and her slender legs. She’s tanner and taller and her dress looks like it costs more than Chloe’s school tuition (which is A LOT). Tom glances her way as he climbs into his truck, grinning.

Chloe looks away, turning her back on him.

And Beca’s there, smirking as she holds out an open bottle of beer. “You know,” she says, stepping closer. “You don’t look drunk enough for a family reunion.”

This is one of the main reasons Beca’s her best friend. She’s always there when it matters. “I am four beers in already. Are you trying to get me drunk?”

Beca shrugs, shaking the bottle. “Drunk er , yeah. Chug, chug, chug,” she chants under her breath, bouncing on her heels. She must have had a few more than Chloe thought.

She grins and grabs the beer, taking a big swig.

“That’s more like it, Beale. Bottoms up!”

Chloe laughs and wraps her finger through Beca’s belt loop, tugging. “You just don’t want to be the only one drunk.”

“I am not drunk.” Beca stretches her arms out to the sides, then tucks one in at a time, touching her nose with a finger. She grins when Chloe giggles. “But I am working on it.”

Chloe tugs her belt loop harder and Beca staggers a step. “I’m liking this side of you today. It’s cute.”

“It is not, you take that back.” Beca bristles, chest puffing out. It completely ruins her argument.

“Nope. You’re adorable.”

“I’m not!” Beca laughs, one eye closing.

“You’re getting even cuter, Becs.”

“Wow, Beale. I’m really sorry.”

“For what?”

“That you’re single now.”


The Beales filter out fairly quickly once the dishes have been taken care of and goodbyes have been said. Chloe knows Beca’s overwhelmed and probably won’t remember a single name she’s learned today. But Beca smiles at every redhead that walks up to shake her hand or pull her into a hug. Chloe thinks she should get her some kind of gift to make up for what she’s sure Beca will later call “trauma”.

Once the last car leaves, Eli is detached from Beca’s hip, and Mamma Beale has retired to her “sweet, sweet dreams”, the Bellas--plus Beca and Jesse--gather in the backyard around the firepit. They settle on logs and sun chairs, on wide, wicker settees dragged from the back porch. Cynthia Rose and Ashley gather blankets from the closet in the garage and hand them out.

Chloe finds herself just a little drunk and tucked into Beca’s side on one of the settees. She adjusts the cushion behind her as Jesse passes them a blanket. “Thank you.” She spreads the blanket over herself and Beca, tucking it up around her shoulders. Beca must be drunker than she says she is, because she doesn’t even pretend to protest as Chloe slides down and rests her head on Beca’s chest.

Her heartbeat is steady beneath Chloe’s ear. She tries to count the beats, closing her eyes.

“So, Chloe. Why didn’t you mention sooner that your roommate was also your bedmate?” Cynthia Rose wiggles her eyebrows, kicking her feet up on the edge of their settee.

“Beca’s shy,” Chloe says, patting Beca’s stomach under the blanket.

“Yeah, I’m shy,” Beca adds amicably.

Stacie, sitting on a sun chair beside them, reaches out and pets Beca’s head. Under her, Beca growls and jerks away from Stacie. Which, coincidentally, pushes her farther into Chloe’s arms. Gift horse, she thinks.

“You know who’s not shy?” Stacie says. “Your cousin, Zack. He was hitting on me all night.”

Aubrey kicks Stacie’s ankle. “Don’t you dare.”

“Hey, he was hitting on me!”

Fat Amy snorts. “That’s usually all it takes, isn’t it?”

Stacie launches into a protest that literally all of the Bellas start shooting down.

Chloe giggles, listening to them throw around examples of all the times Stacie’s “hunter” got them into trouble and snuggling closer to Beca.

Nights in Georgia can get so cold and it’s chilly out, but Beca and their blanket are so warm. The buzz in her system is telling her to get closer to that warmth.

So she does. Before she can question it too much, she slips her hand into Beca’s flannel and pulls up the side of her tank top. When her fingertips brush Beca’s skin, the brunette gives a soft murmur. It’s quiet and lost in Chloe’s hair so nobody else hears. But Chloe takes it as permission and presses harder, drawing nonsensical patterns into Beca’s side. Over the curve of her hip, up to the base of her ribs.

Maybe it’s the alcohol. Maybe it’s the firelight and the laughs echoing in the now dark yard. Maybe it’s their warm little pocket of space under the thick, woolen blanket. Maybe it’s something else her brain doesn’t have the energy to think up right now. But whatever it is, Beca completely melts the second Chloe’s finger swirls over her skin. Her breath hisses out and her arm drops from the back of the settee onto Chloe’s side. Her other hand moves to Chloe’s elbow, just holding gently.

It’s thrilling. Like crossing a finish line. Chloe presses a smile into Beca’s collarbone.

They retire in pairs. Ashley and Jessica first, then Fat Amy and Cynthia Rose, all headed for the guest rooms inside. Beca’s dozed off, her head dropped back over the edge of the settee.

Stacie stands and stretches. “Okay. I’m out. Gimme her.” She wiggles her fingers at Beca. “I’ll put Dad to bed first.”

“‘Dad’?” Beca grunts, one eye popping open. “Did you just call me ‘Dad’?”

“Uh, of course not. I said ‘bad’. ‘Cause you’re a badass, Beca Mitchell.” Stacie catches Chloe’s eyes, widening her own.

“Oh. Okay.” Beca lets Stacie take her arm and pull her up. Chloe hides her smirk in the blanket as Beca tugs her shirt down. She spins around and grins. “Goodnight, Chlo.”

“Night, Bec. I’ll be up in a little bit.”

Beca shoots finger guns at her, one eye closed.

“Oh, god. She’s wasted.” Stacie carefully guides Beca around the firepit and toward the garage. “Come on. Let me take you to bed.”

“Don’t you threaten me, Conrad.”

Their voices fade as they cross the yard, leaving Chloe alone with Aubrey and Jesse.

They’re so cute, Chloe can barely handle them. Aubrey’s always been so uptight, so stiff and poised. Always prepared for her father to walk into the room, her therapist said. But here, bathed orange by the fire, she’s so soft. She’s curled into Jesse’s side, one hand resting on his chest. His arms are wrapped around her, a beer in each hand--one for each of them.

She remembers when she met Jesse, at the auditions for the a cappella groups at Barden. He stepped out on stage and Aubrey went more rigid than she’d ever seen her. By the time he finished singing, Chloe was planning their wedding.

Which, coincidentally, she is now helping with. “Bree, I’m so happy for you guys.”

“Mmm,” Aubrey murmurs, lifting her head from Jesse’s shoulder. “I am too.” Her voice is almost too quiet to hear over the crackling fire and she has eyes only for Jesse. She presses a kiss to his cheek, lingering. His eyes slide closed and that boyish grin of his breaks across his face like the sunrise--blinding and beautiful.

Okay, maybe Chloe’s a little more than a little drunk. She gives them a few quiet moments, wrapping her blanket tighter around her shoulders and pulling out her phone. There’s a couple Snapchats from Stacie.

The first is a video. Beca is sitting on the edge of Chloe’s bed, tugging at one of her boots. “--call yourself ‘Daddy’, Stacie. I really hate it. Like, it freaks me out, dude.” Her boot comes off and Beca grunts, falling back on the bed as the boot flies over her head. Stacie’s laugh echoes from the phone.

There’s another video of Beca in the bathroom. She’s changed into a large t-shirt and some plaid shorts, and she’s brushing her teeth, mumbling around the brush, “Like, I’m sure it works for other people. But I don’t like it.”

A picture of Beca follows, her face pressed into the pillow her arms are wrapped around. Her eyes are closed, her lips slightly parted. Chloe screenshots that one and shoots Stacie a quick thank you.

There’s also a text from Beca that just says, “ Tel Stac to leave me allone pls. Im tired.

“Chloe, you know, I think I like Beca.” Aubrey has pulled herself away from Jesse enough to smile over at her. “I didn’t think I would. I mean, she has moments where she seems kind of rude and sarcastic. But that’s mostly around Stacie, so that kind of makes sense.”

Jesse and Chloe both laugh. “In high school, Beca was like your worst nightmare, babe,” Jesse says, stroking her back. “Dark. Moody. Liable to bite.”

“Beca is so nice!” Chloe protests.

“To you,” Jesse says, lifting an eyebrow. “She’s polite to everyone else these days, it seems. She’s nice to you.” He pauses. “And Eli.”

Chloe smiles into her blanket. “I guess I’m just lucky then.” She kicks out her foot, slapping it against Jesse’s knee. “We’re all lucky here. I’m so ready for you guys to get married !” She gasps, sitting up. “What if we moved everything up to tomorrow?”

Aubrey purses her lips, running her fingers through Jesse’s hair. “Main problem with that is Lilly would miss it. Can you imagine?”

Chloe shivers. “No, okay. Let’s not do that. I’m still not completely sure she didn’t kill that guy that cut us in line at the movies freshman year.”

“Yeah, no. We can wait a month.”

Jesse’s whole body tilts a little, tipping into Aubrey. “I’d wait however long it takes.”

Aubrey smiles like she never smiles around anyone else and Chloe has to pull her knees up and curl around this warm, fuzzy feeling in her gut to hold it all in.

The loft is dark when Chloe makes it up there, so she leaves the light off, not wanting to disturb Beca. She slips into the bathroom with her bed clothes, changing into her favorite pink tank top and shorts. She finishes up in the bathroom, plugs her phone in on the bedside table, and slips under the covers.

Her eyes have adjusted to the dark now and she can see Beca is asleep on her side, facing Chloe’s side of the bed. So Chloe rolls over, putting her back to her and settling down. She’s still a little buzzed, just enough to find herself dozing off quickly.

But she’s awake enough to feel Beca’s arm slip around her and pull her in. Once Beca’s warmth spreads across her back and her breath puffs across her neck, Chloe whispers, “They’re so in love, Becs.”

Beca hums into the skin right beneath her ear, making her toes curl. Her hand pats against Chloe’s stomach. “Yeah, yeah. Love you too. Sleep now.”

Chapter Text

Beca wakes up on her stomach, her arms shoved up under her pillow and Chloe’s hand resting between her shoulder blades.

It’s so warm and she doesn’t want to move. Yesterday had been insane. Sure, she didn’t really mind Chloe’s family and friends hugging her hello. She’d prepared for that. But then they kept doing it. They kept grabbing her hands and patting her shoulders and children kept wrapping around her legs when she stopped moving. Chloe should have warned her that she came from a freakin’ clan.

But the person who’d touched her the most had been Chloe. And maybe it was because Beca was used to her being touchy-feely. Maybe it was just that she knew Chloe well. Maybe it was the alcohol, but she just didn’t mind when Chloe took her hand or stroked her hair.

Or maybe it was because they’d kissed, so everything else from Chloe felt tame.

She lifts her head, blowing a strand of hair from her face. The only light comes from the porthole window above them, spilling into the bed and lighting up the red curls splayed across the pillows. Chloe’s asleep on her side, facing Beca. Her toes are pressed against Beca’s ankle and the rest of her body is just close enough to not be touching. Except for her hand. Warm and steady on Beca’s back. Her lips are closed and Beca huffs a small breath through her nose, rolling her eyes. Because even in sleep, Chloe Beale smiles.

Speaking of Chloe’s lips. She glances at them and instantly she’s back under that red maple, pressing closer, tasting mint and something sweeter that she couldn’t name. She sort of spent the whole rest of the night tasting it. She’s not surprised, really. She knew Chloe was going to be a good kisser. Even if it was just a small kiss. Chaste, compared to the others she’s had in her life. Admittedly, there aren’t many, but still. It was just a press of lips, a few seconds of contact.

Yet now--sober--Beca realizes that kiss easily takes top spot. It was...sweet. Gentle. Fun. It was so Chloe . It was everything she’d expected.

It was also nothing like she expected, because she’s still thinking about it. While lying in bed beside Chloe’s sleeping form. Staring at her lips. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

There’s a tapping from downstairs, barely audible. It takes her a second to realize it’s someone knocking on the door. But it feels like good timing from the universe, because Beca’s being a creep, so she slides out from under Chloe’s hand and tiptoes to the stairs. She grabs the railings and swings her legs out over the last two steps, landing on the floor and bouncing once to the door. She unlocks and pulls it open.

And instantly regrets it, because it is fuckin’ bright outside.

She grunts, covering her eyes with her hands and blinking rapidly until she can make out more than sunlight.

Eli is standing there, his arms wrapped around a baseball glove and his eyes wider than the ball in his hand. “Hi!” He grins and she blinks against it, closing one eye. She likes him, he’s a cool little dude. But wow did he have to bring the sun with him?

“Hey, dude. Chloe’s not up yet.”

“Oh.” He glances over her shoulder into the dark garage. “That’s okay. Are you busy?”

“Uh, no? Guess not. Just woke up. You need something?”

Eli flushes red as his hair, squeezing his glove tighter and twisting the ball in his hand. “No, I was just--If you guys were up, I was gonna see if you wanted to, uh.” He shrugs, his face breaking into a close-lipped smile. One she knows well, because it’s the one Chloe uses when she’s kind of disappointed. “Mamma said if y’all were still sleeping to let you be. Sorry, I’ll see you later!” He spins on his heel and hurries back off toward the house.

She’ll blame it on the sun later, say it woke her up too much and she had known she couldn’t go back to sleep. But she knows damn well that it’s just because he looks so much like his sister, and nobody likes upsetting Chloe Beale. Or, apparently, Elijah Beale. Groaning, she leans out the door and shoots a quick whistle between her teeth.

Eli jerks to a halt and looks back.

“Let me get dressed. I’ll be out in a second.”

He perks up so much she thinks he might actually lift off the ground. Or worse, hug her. And she’s at capacity for hugs for a little bit. So she just nods and shuts the door.

She dresses as quietly as she can, digging her tennis shoes from under the dresser by phone light. She almost hadn’t brought them, but Chloe had assured her she’d need them. Stupid Chloe, always being right. As she’s coming out of the bathroom, tying her hair back, Chloe moves, her limbs pushing outward. Beca freezes.

But Chloe settles back down quickly, one arm splayed across Beca’s side of the bed, the covers kicked down to her hips.

Beca pulls them back up before she leaves.

“So, where are we going?” Beca had chosen jeans shorts, a black sports bra, and one of her workout tees--the red one that she let Stacie cut the sleeves off of last year. (And part of the sides, the bitch. “It’s fashionable, Beca!”) But it is HOT and she’s grateful for the breeze slipping into her shirt now.

Eli points to the trees lining the back of the property. “Mamma says to keep it near the trees. Mickey broke the window to Gran’s room one time and we never heard the end of it.”

She knows that name. Chloe’s older brother. Chloe always talks about him quietly, with that same little smile that had pulled Beca out of bed to hang out with Eli. The family doesn’t really talk to him anymore, she gathered, but she’s not sure why. She assumes that means he’s a total tool. Guess there’s gotta be one in every family--even the Beales.

He stops a few feet from the trees, handing her the extra glove he’d gotten her to grab from the garage. She slips it on, nodding approvingly at how easy it is to snap open and closed. It’s old and well-worn. The leather along the thumb is cracking, like it hasn’t been used in a long time. “Was this Mickey’s?” she says, pounding her fist into the pocket.

“Yeah.” Eli smacks his own glove against his chest as he backs away from her. “He didn’t keep it oiled and stuff. I take care of mine, though. Mamma taught me.” He skips a few steps--a real feat for someone moving backwards.

“Well, good.” She steps back farther, lifting her glove. “Now let’s see if you can play.”

His first throw is a little wide, probably because he’s bouncing up and down as he throws it.

She twists, snatching it out of the air. “Good, but, like. Throw to me next time, dude.”

“Sorry!” He doesn’t sound it as he grins and stops jumping.

She throws back to him softly, gauging if she needs to be underhanding him grounders for everyone’s sake. But he steps into it easily and opens his glove. He returns it and this time she barely hesitates between catching and throwing. He’s quick and good at keeping his eye on the ball. She grins. It’s been years since she played catch.

He steps back even more, throwing the ball up high and making her scuttle sideways to get under it. “So, do you love Chloe?”

She almost misses the ball. It catches on the outer tip of the glove and rolls off, so she grabs it with her bare hand before it can hit the ground. “What?”

“Chloe?” He gestures back toward the garage. “Mamma said you love her.”

This is why she limits the time she spends around kids. They just say  what they’re thinking. And she never knows how to respond. “I, uh. Yeah. Yeah, I do.” It’s not a lie. Chloe’s her best friend. She does love her. Hell, she’s here , isn’t she?

Eli nods and lifts his glove, snapping it closed a few times. “Okay, good.”

That seems to settle it and they fall back into catch and throw like it never happened. She kind of can’t stop thinking about it though, because something about Chloe’s little brother innocently asking if she loves her and that kiss under the red maple are ringing in her head, the underlying beats the same.

Eli’s fast and not afraid to charge for the ball. She thinks her old coach would have adored him. But he misses a few, dashing off after it like a retriever and returning even happier each time. The third one he chases bounces off into the trees and he high-knees it into the bushes, disappearing for a few moments.


She turns to find Emily and Stacie heading for her, both wearing running shoes and shorts that make their ridiculous legs look even more like they might be longer than her expected lifespan. “What’s up? Off to find a beanstalk?”

“Only if you promise to climb mine when I find it,” Stacie says, winking and biting her lip.

Beca snorts. “Tone it down. There are children here.”

Emily’s entire body lifts, like Beca had just jumped out at her from a dark hallway. “Oh! No, it’s totally cool. You should hear some of the stuff my parents say when they think I’m not there.” She pauses. “And when they know I’m there…”

“I meant Eli.” Beca points to where he’s stumbling back out of the bushes, the ball thrust into the air victoriously.

“Oh. Right.”

“Hey, Eli!” Stacie calls, waving. He comes running over, leaves caught in his collar and a twig sticking out of his hair. “You got Beca to play a sport ? How much are you paying her?”

He gives a frown exactly like Chloe’s. Which means it isn’t actually a frown at all. It’s a smile, but his eyebrows furrow and he tilts his head a little. Beca has to blink and focus to be certain Chloe hasn’t suddenly showed up in front of them. (With shorter hair and freckles, but oh my god, they look so much alike.) “She wanted to play. Right?”

The look he gives her is so similar to a kicked puppy that she almost punches Stacie straight in the face for making him make it. “Yeah, dude. Of course.”

His smile comes back full force. “And she’s good! Like, really good.”

Stacie pats his head and glances at Beca like she might pet hers too. Maybe she sees the murderous intent in Beca’s eyes though, because she refrains. “I’ll take your word for it, kid. We were just going to wake Chloe for a run. Wanna come, Bec?”

“Will you pay me?”

Stacie lifts an eyebrow and opens her mouth. But then she glances at Eli and closes it again. Beca would bet anything that it physically pains Stacie to kill whatever comment she was about to make. “Well, we’ll see you after then? Mamma’s cooking a Beale Breakfast.”

That grabs Beca’s attention completely. “A Beale Breakfast?” She slings an arm around Eli’s shoulders, aware that he starts practically vibrating with excitement. “Come on, Slugger. We can play again later. I’m getting first dibs on breakfast.”

Like she’s been holding it in, Emily suddenly bursts with an, “Oooh! Beca, you’re so cute with kids!”

Beca glares and Emily’s entire face rearranges itself into panic.

“Or not. No, definitely not. Nope.”

“That’s more like it, Junk. Enjoy your run.” She steers Eli back toward the house, turning to throw over her shoulder, “Put Stacie on a leash before you go. If she sees the mailman or something, you’ll never catch her.”

Stacie sighs heavily. “I have so many responses to that. I’ll text them to you.”

“Please don’t.”

Her phone buzzes almost the whole time she’s chowing down on bacon and eggs and pancakes and--

“What is this?” She holds up a spoonful of something vaguely yellow and kinda chunky. It smells good, but it looks like it might turn her into a mutant or something.

“Squirrel Brain Pudding,” Mamma Beale says, looking up from cutting Eli’s pancakes while Eli and Gran play rock, paper, scissors to see who gets the last chunk of pineapple. Dana leans forward from her seat next to Beca and grabs the last piece, silently popping it in her mouth.

Beca puts the spoon down but Mamma Beale quickly waves a hand at her. “There’s not actually any squirrel in it. When I was a little girl, Gran used to tell all the other kids that there were squirrel brains in it so that she and I could have it all.”

Gran slams a scissors on the table and whoops as Eli throws out paper. “Your brothers were always picking on you. They didn’t deserve pudding,” she says, patting Mamma Beale’s cheek. She reaches for the empty pineapple plate. “Wait. Where--?”

Dana stops mid-chew, pointing at Beca. Beca points back quickly, not wanting to be on the receiving end of Gran's ire.

“You sneak!” Gran throws a napkin across the table with more force than an old woman should be able to. Dana catches it, throwing it back. It hits Gran in the face.

Beca laughs, holding up an arm to fend off any more flying objects. “Did they ever find out? That it wasn’t squirrel brains?”

“Gran told Lew when he was leaving for college, I think.” Mamma Beale tilts her head back, narrowing her eyes at the ceiling as she thinks. She shrugs. “Now everyone knows. But the name stuck. So eat up. I have to go cut some more pineapple for everyone else, because my mother is a pig.”

“Eli ate most of it!” Gran protests.

“I did not!”

“Elijah Julien, are you calling your grandmother a liar?”

Beca finishes her pudding quickly, laughing as Dana and Eli take turns recounting exactly how many pieces of pineapple Gran ate. She pushes back from the table, grabbing her plates (God, she missed the south and their food) and brings them over to the sink. She’s barely turned the water on before Mamma Beale is there, shooing her away.

“Don’t you touch those! It’s Dana’s day.” She pats Beca’s cheek with the back of her hand, her fingers coated in pineapple juice. Touching Beca’s face seems to be one of her favorite things to do. Like mother, like daughter. “You and Chloe get dishes on Wednesday. There’s a chart on the fridge, dear.” With a final shoo, she turns back to cutting pineapples on the island.

“Oh, okay.” She steps back, rubbing her palms against her shorts. “Thank you. For, uh, breakfast. I don’t get how Beale Breakfasts are so good. It’s literally the same thing everyone makes for breakfast.”

“We add a little extra love is all,” Mamma Beale says, smiling so widely her eyes almost disappear. It forces Beca to smile too, because how can you not smile back at that?

“Beca!” Eli hops up from the table, running his dishes to the sink. “Wanna see my Dad’s piano?”

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Mamma Beale’s hands still. But when Beca looks up, she’s smiling down at Eli. “That sounds like a wonderful idea. Don’t be too long. Everyone else will be in here soon enough, I’m sure.”

“Yes, ma’am!” He grabs Beca’s wrist and tugs her toward the stairs. Two flights later, he drops it and skips down the hall, pushing open the door at the end.

It’s a small room--probably meant to be an office or something. But there’s nothing in it besides a baby grand piano in the center. The blue, lace curtains on the window are thrown open, letting the light spill in and play over the piano’s ebony top. It feels almost like the room isn’t even a part of the main house--like they’ve accidentally stepped into a different place entirely. A place where there’s nothing but this piano and dust particles dancing in the light.

“Dad named her Parker,” Eli says, his voice low, like speaking above a whisper in this room is something frowned upon. He hops up on the bench, sliding all the way to the other end. He pats the seat next to him. “Chloe told me you play?”

“She did?” Beca sits, drifting her fingers over the keys. It’s clean, like they regularly come in here to dust. She imagines Mamma Beale with a polishing rag, leaning over the piano back and humming softly as she cleans.

“Yeah. Chlo talks about you a lot.” Eli presses a key and the room fills with a deep chord that resonates deep in her chest. “When we Skype and stuff.”

“Oh.” She’s not sure what to say to that. She’d never really thought about what Chloe said during those. She knows they don’t Skype as often as Chloe would like. When Beca’s insomnia acts up and she roams the apartment looking for snacks, she sometimes hears Chloe’s quiet murmuring at four in the morning. And sometimes she glances in Chloe’s room and sees her sitting up in bed, legs crossed and her laptop in front of her, a pair of headphones she’d stolen from Beca perched over her ears. But none of that feels like a good response to Eli’s statement, so she answers his question instead. “Yeah, I play some. At work mostly.”

He nods, as if she’s just confirmed a suspicion he had. “Chloe said she’s never heard you play, but she’s pretty sure you’re awesome.” He signs the last part, grinning. His feet swing out, one of them bumping her leg as he kicks them back and forth.

She shrugs. “Never had a chance to. We don’t have one of these bad boys at home.” She pats the piano’s top.

Eli’s nose wrinkles up and he shakes his head. “She’s a girl.”

“Right. Parker.”


She sits up straight, rolling her shoulders back and stretching out her fingers. It’s been a little while since she played, but as soon as she touches the keys, it all floods back. She tilts her foot up over the pedals and breathes in deep, holding it for a three count. Eli leans into her side, his head resting softly against her upper arm and she breathes out, pressing the first few notes into the keys with practiced ease.

Chapter Text

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.  

Chapter Text

It’s her imagination, she’s sure. There’s no way Chloe’s gaze lingers on her lips as the last chords of the song fade away. No way she leans in just a little. It’s got to be a trick of the light or something, because there’s no way Chloe Beale wants to kiss her right now.

There’s no question that that’s exactly what she wants Chloe to do. And that’s so startling a realization that she nearly takes the leap, headlong off a cliff she didn’t know she was standing on.

“That was awesome!”

Eli’s voice breaks the moment and Beca rocks back from the piano--and Chloe--so violently she almost flips backward off the bench. Chloe gasps, snatching her forearms and pulling her back up straight. Her thumb brushes across the headphones on Beca’s wrist and the room suddenly feels a little too small.

“I’ve, uh. I’ve gotta--”

Chloe must see something in her darting gaze and quickened breathing, because she releases her and slides off the bench, backing up a few steps. “Did you eat yet?” She motions to Eli, calling him to her side. He doesn’t question it, hopping off the bench and joining her. Her hand lands on his head, fingers carding through his hair.

Beca takes a deeper breath. “Yeah, we ate.”

“Okay.” Chloe smiles. “I’m gonna go have breakfast. Feel free to play some more. It’s a nice piano.” Her eyes linger on the smooth black finish. “Nobody really plays it anymore. Mamma gets someone to keep it tuned but it could use some love.” She smiles brighter, pushing Eli’s head to the side. “We’ll see you after breakfast?”

“Yeah, I’ll be down in a bit.”

Eli smiles as he leaves, signing that they’ll play catch later. Chloe stays a moment longer, rocking forward on her toes like she wants to reach out. But she keeps her hands tucked behind her back. “Take your time.” She shuts the door behind her.

Beca inhales deeply, holding it for a seven count, then releasing for six. She loves that Chloe always seems to know when she needs a moment, a breath alone. Even when Chloe was on her mission to make Beca like cuddling, she’d never pushed her too far. Or she’d always known exactly how hard to push. It’s one of the reasons Beca accepted her as her best friend. Her only friend that really got it--that Beca doesn’t hate people and touch and closeness. She just can’t do it all the time. Sometimes it builds up. Too much noise, too much touching her, too much to take in and process. Overstimulated, her dad used to call it on the rare occasion he was up to talking. He even suggested a few times that she might fall somewhere on the autism spectrum.

Usually all it took to come down from what Stacie had coined, “a fit of ‘don’t fucking touch me’”, was a few minutes alone, a little quiet.

Admittedly, she has never minded if her alone time was spent with Chloe. Whenever she’d had too much back home, she would move to a corner or her room to breathe. And sometimes Chloe would follow, quietly settling nearby with a book or her phone. Never touched. Never tried to pull Beca out of it. Just gave her the minute she needed.

Which is why it’s super fucking inconvenient that she thinks she might like her.

Because Chloe is her best friend. And this is the worst possible time to be rereading over her feelings--that swoop in her stomach when Chloe gets home from work, the restless energy in her legs when Chloe laughs too close to her ear--because she is literally surrounded by Chloe’s family and friends. All of which think they’re dating . So she can’t exactly take a step back and figure all this shit out right now. She’s always had terrible timing, but damn! This takes the cake. The wedding cake, as it were.

She rolls her eyes at her own thoughts, leaning back over the piano. She picks her way through the beginning of “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, humming along.

She’s thinking herself in circles. Maybe she does like Chloe. Maybe it’s just that kiss yesterday messing with her head--because she knows for sure that that was good. Maybe it’s the atmosphere here in the Beale house, where she kind of feels like she can do anything and it would be fine.

None of that matters, though. Because there’s no way Chloe likes her. She’s Chloe . If she felt anything like that for Beca, she would have acted on it already. Chloe doesn’t hide how she feels or let something she wants pass by. She brings home stray animals and helps them with their broken wings and their mange or whatever. She stops random people on the street to tell them she loves their hair. She befriended Beca when all Beca wanted in the world was for people to leave her alone and let her make music.

But she’d walked all over Beca’s protests that she didn’t need friends, that she didn’t need a new apartment, that she didn’t want to cuddle. Because, somehow, she’d known none of it was true.

If she liked Beca, she would have said so. Right?

“So I remember we were driving, driving in your car,” Beca sings softly, closing her eyes and sinking into the piano’s dulcet tones, because she knows those. She’s sure of those.

Beca’s just hopped off the last stair when Dana sweeps into the foyer, tugging a baseball cap down over her red hair.

“Better hurry, soldier. Troops are moving out pretty soon.”

“I don’t know what that means, so...” Beca twists her face in a faux-apology.

Dana laughs, her grin a little more crooked than Chloe’s, but still so similar. “The lake? The girls are getting ready to head out. Better go get changed.” She kicks open the door and follows her leg out of it so fast that Beca’s not sure she didn’t fall out.

The kitchen is empty except for Jessica and Ashley, who are both dressed in bathing suit tops--green and blue, respectively--and basketball shorts. Ashley’s thumbs are flying over her phone so fast she can only be playing a game, while Jessica looks on. (She thinks she’s got their names correct.) She pauses. She’d met them both the day before and they seemed really nice. “Hey.”

Jessica (the blonde’s Jessica, right?) looks up from Ashley’s phone and grins. “Hi! Beca! Going get ready?”

“Uh, yeah.” She taps the tops of her thighs with the heels of her palms, one after the other. “Is Chloe--?”

Ashley, glancing up momentarily from her game to smile at her, says, “She’s getting changed. She said to tell you she’s waiting for you, if you came down.”

Beca bobs her head. “Okay, cool. Thanks. See you.” They wave the exact same way at the exact same time and Beca hurries out. After yesterday, she’s noticed that a lot of the Bellas do that--move and act in sync. Burst into song at the same moment. Make each other laugh with just a specific look. It’s a little creepy.

She’s starting to wonder if “a capella group” is codename for “cult”. Of all the people she knows, Chloe, Stacie, and Emily would be in a damn cult.

The garage door is unlocked, so she pushes it open and steps inside, shutting it with her heel. The lights are on upstairs and she can hear rustling and soft humming. “Chlo? You decent?”

The humming stops and suddenly Chloe’s top half is leaning out over the rail that lines the loft. “Define ‘decent’.”

She’s holding a shirt to her bare chest. Beca’s plaid button-up, she’s pretty sure.

And though she looks away immediately, throwing a hand over her eyes, it’s too late. There’s an imprint of Chloe’s bare shoulders and collarbones behind her eyelids, like the blue spots that linger after looking directly into a light. Beca shakes her head, blinking rapidly. “Dude! You could have just said no!”

Chloe’s laugh trips down the stairs to her, warming her cheeks. “Where’s the fun in that? Give me two seconds.” There’s some more rustling and the sound of a drawer shutting, then Chloe calls, “Okay, Mitchell. It’s safe to look now.”

Slowly, just in case Chloe is messing with her as she is wont to do, Beca climbs the stairs. At the top, she shuts her eyes and waits a breath before opening one.

Chloe’s dressed now, in a bright pink bathing suit top with a matching coverup knotted at her hip. And Beca realizes with a jolt that Chloe looks amazing in it. When she shifts, Beca can see the faint outline of her legs through the silky material. The knot in the coverup sits right in the soft curve of her hip bone and Beca trails that curve up and across Chloe’s flat stomach to the other little knot at the front of her top. It barely looks like it’s up to its job of holding together the two sides and Beca’s mouth suddenly feels a little dry. Chloe turns to tuck the clothes she’d been wearing into the bright blue laundry hamper by the bathroom door and Beca eyes where the thin shoulder straps are tied together at the base of her neck. Chloe’s hair is tied up in a loose bun and her back is bare, every dip and sweep of muscle on display. Beca’s gaze gets stuck somewhere between the dimples at the base of her spine and the bikini back and she stares, trying to remember why she came up here.

“See something you like?”

Chloe’s voice rips her from her daze--because, oh my god, that’s exactly what she’d been in--and she looks up, blinking rapidly. Chloe is smiling over her shoulder, her nose scrunched up.

“Wha--No, I was just--”

“Staring, Beca. You were staring.” Chloe turns on the spot, grinning in that way. That stained glass smile.

And Beca has no idea what she wants this time, but some very quiet voice in the back of her head tells her she’s absolutely willing to give it.

“If you’re done looking at the artwork,” Chloe says, tilting her hips back and forth playfully. Beca’s stomach twists along with them. “Then I have a request.”

“Ah,” Beca rocks back on her heels, tucking her hands in her back pockets so she doesn’t have to think about how clammy they feel. “I don’t know if you could afford me, Beale.”

Chloe’s head tilts back as she laughs and Beca absolutely does not run her eyes down the lines of her neck. Nope. Her head comes back forward and she saunters across the room--because “saunters” is really the only word for the way she’s moving, her toes peeking from under the coverup with every step, her hips swaying a little more than usual. “I’m sure we could set up a payment plan.”

Insanely, Beca wonders if she’d survive if she just leapt over the railing right now. It’s not that far to the ground and the Cobra would break her fall, right? “There’s a safety deposit,” she says, instead of trying. Because Chloe likes it when she plays along.

Chloe nods like she’s following the beat of a song. Her hands are clasped behind her back and Beca tries not to notice that her entire body subtly rolls along with her head nodding until it’s more like she’s dancing over to her than walking. Then Chloe is right in front of her, and still bobbing her head. Beca wonders what melody is playing in her head. “I can cover that.”

“Oh, okay then.” Beca finds herself nodding along, then stops, leaning back a little. “Wait, what did I just agree to?”

But Chloe just hums, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth as she reaches out and rests a flat palm over the curve of Beca’s collarbone. When Beca doesn’t pull away, she slips it up and over her shoulder. “Shoulda read the fine print, Becs.” And without warning--or maybe she just missed all the warning signs, too distracted by how ridiculously blue Chloe’s eyes are--Chloe slips her arms around Beca’s shoulders and pulls her in.

Chloe hugs differently from anyone else that Beca’s ever let close enough. Maybe lots of people in the world hug like this, but she only knows Chloe that presses in until their bodies are completely flush and there’s nothing for Beca except Chloe’s hair and the smell of sunscreen and syrup. Only Chloe sinks into hugs like hot baths and leaves them with the same reluctance.

Beca’s eyes flutter closed as Chloe turns her face into her neck and breathes deep. She hadn’t even realized her hands were on Chloe’s back until she feels the tension in her shoulders slide away, rippling through Beca’s fingers and down to her elbows. And Chloe always hugs like this but something feels off. “Are you okay?”

Against her neck, she feels Chloe’s lips pull up into a smile. And, wow, that list of hers is just getting longer every day. But this is really not the time. “I am now,” Chloe says, her voice almost lost in the bend of Beca’s shoulder. “We saw Tom at the gas station on our run.”

Flames lick at the inside of her rib cage and she wraps her arms more securely around Chloe, pulling an appreciative hum from her. She feels like there’s something missing, something she doesn’t know about Jesse’s dick cousin. Because Beca’s been cheated on before. She knows it sucks, knows that “I don’t want to be around them” feeling. But the way Stacie had hedged around talking about him at the airport and the way she’d seen Aubrey glaring at him yesterday and the way Chloe had originally told her about him ages ago are all striking the same chord inside her now. And it’s a tune that sounds familiar somehow.

Beca’s not a pusher. She doesn't care to know most of what people do tell her, much less what they don’t. But Chloe’s finger is absently following the line of her spine, dipping just below her t-shirt and coming back up and it pulls the question out before she can overthink it. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Chloe pulls back just enough to look her in the face, the rest of her still pressed as close as before, and her hand hooks around the back of Beca’s neck as if holding her up. Beca’s earrings tinkle as Chloe’s thumb brushes over them. She’s wearing a smile Beca doesn’t think she’s seen before, one that tilts a little as her eyebrows lift. “Really?”

Beca shrugs lightly, not wanting to jostle Chloe’s hold on her. “Yeah, dude. That’s what best friends are for, isn’t it?”

Now that smile, she knows. It’s the one Chloe wears when she comes home from work and talks about a puppy finding a great home, or when she aces an exam at school, or when one of her (many) favorite songs comes on the radio. And her hand flexes against Beca’s neck as she leans in.

It’s like every gear in Beca’s body grinds to a halt, leaving her lungs empty and a ringing in her ears. All systems shut down and she couldn’t react if she wanted to. Chloe’s eyes slip closed and Beca can’t look away. Because Chloe Beale is about to--

Chloe presses her lips to Beca’s cheekbone, forcing one eye closed as she lingers, her breath fanning over Beca’s skin. Then she tips backward out of Beca’s arms and her hands slide down to cup her shoulders and squeeze softly. “You’re sweet.”

It takes a moment to force the expected reply out because her body is just starting to work again, sluggish and unsure. “Shut the fuck up, I am not.”

Chloe laughs loud, one hand fluttering to her chest. “Yes, Beca. You are.” Her other hand slips away and Beca shivers against the cool of the room. It hadn’t been this cold when she arrived, had it? “And I would love to talk about it. But not today. We’ve got a lake party to get to!” She lifts her arms over her head and twists her hips in a way that belongs in a Shakira video. “Get dressed, Mitchell. We’re about to get wet!”

Just like that, she’s off, her coverup fluttering behind her as she slips on a pair of sandals and hops down the stairs, throwing a kiss over her shoulder.

And Beca sucks in a deep breath for a seven count, then lets it go for six. “Fuck.”

Chapter Text

The Bellas are piling into the back of Uncle Lew’s borrowed truck when Chloe joins them. Fat Amy, their usual driver, is standing beside the open driver’s door, shepherding the others into the backseat and the bed. “Alright, all aboard! Please keep your tits and bits inside the ride at all times. Stacie, I’m lookin’ at you!”

“Who isn’t?” Stacie winks, slinging her leg over the tailgate and perching on it while the others climb in. From somewhere behind the tailgate, Chloe hears Cynthia Rose sigh heavily.

Aubrey’s car pulls up into the grass beside them and Chloe rushes over to hug her. “The happy couple!” Jesse hops out of the passenger side, waving.

Aubrey doesn’t let her pull out of the hug right away and Chloe happily sinks into it, stroking her back. God, she’s missed her. “You okay?” Aubrey whispers, squeezing her. “I was so worried when Stacie called earlier. I couldn’t get away from work. If Jesse hadn’t been off, I would have just walked out.”

“Getting better and better. Don’t quit your job, Bree.” Chloe pulls back and loops her arm through Aubrey’s, leading her to the truck. Jesse’s standing in the bed, on the toolbox, bouncing the whole truck up and down as the Bellas laugh and cheer. As Chloe and Aubrey get near, he looks up and smiles at them, then looks over their heads.

“Oooh,” he coos, then throws his arms in the air. “Holy shit, it’s Beca ‘effin Mitchell! I’m having high school flashbacks!”

Chloe turns to lean against the bumper and almost misses the truck completely.

Because Beca is crossing the yard wearing black swim trunks, slung low on her hips, and a matching short-sleeved underarmor shirt that is tight enough Chloe can make out the ripple of muscle in her abdomen as she chuckles at Jesse. Her hair is down, tumbled around her shoulders. The shirt and shorts don’t quite meet, leaving a strip of pale skin that draws the eye and oh my god, has Beca always been that fit?

It’s like a model stepping off the cover of a surfing magazine. Chloe can admit she’d been a little excited to see Beca in a swimsuit--there’d never really been a chance for that in New York, even if Stacie always joked that Beca showers in her bathing suit ever since Chloe burst in on her. But she thinks maybe this is better. More Beca.

Also very attractive, it turns out. Chloe didn’t think she had a thing for surfers, but she’s been wrong before. And when Beca stops before her, lazily crossing her arms so that her shirt pulls up even further, Chloe knows she was wrong.

Then she remembers what Jesse said. “Wait, you wore this kinda thing in high school?” She reaches out, stroking the silky underarmor. And therefore Beca’s side, she realizes as Beca tips an eyebrow at her.

“I wore this in high school.” Beca lifts her shoulders and glances between her crossed arms at her outfit. “It’s not like I’ve grown.”

None of you has grown?” Stacie says, glancing very pointedly at Beca’s chest.

“Down, girl.” Beca smirks at Stacie and winks, though it’s Chloe that feels the expression all the way to her toes.

Cynthia Rose suddenly sits up from where she’d been laying in the bed. “Are you bitches done being flirty and cute? ‘Cause us single folk are ready for a swim.”

“Liar,” Stacie croons, pulling at the hem of her tank top. “You’re just ready for me to take this off.” She shimmies, showing more and more.

Cynthia Rose narrows her eyes, which are locked on the flashes of skin. “Girl, I plead the fifth.”

Fat Amy slaps the side of the truck and they all jump (except Beca, who simply leans around Chloe and Aubrey to glance at her). “Hey! Can you lesbos keep it in your flannels for ten minutes?” She climbs into the driver’s seat, muttering about “gay vibes” and “freakin’ surrounded”.

Aubrey squeezes Chloe’s arm. “I’ll ride up front so Amy doesn’t drive us into the lake instead of to it.”

The front door bangs open and Eli comes sprinting for the truck, wearing an outfit startlingly similar to Beca’s, except bright blue and green. He pauses long enough to hug Chloe and Beca (who awkwardly pets his head) before breathlessly leaping into the backseat next to Emily.

Mamma Beale waves from the porch. “Take care of him! And each other!”

“We will!” everyone choruses, waving.

When Chloe turns around, Beca’s already hopped up on the bumper, dodging Stacie’s grabby hands. “You riding back here, Chlo?”

Even if she hadn’t been planning to, the easy smirk on Beca’s face would have swayed her. “Yeah. Of course.”

They clamber in and Beca moves to the front, sitting on the floor and leaning her back against the toolbox. Jesse drops down to sit on it, his swinging leg whacking Beca’s arm. She shoves him away. Stacie settles across from Cynthia Rose while Jessica and Ashley sit beside her. Which means there’s a space between Beca and Cynthia Rose.

Instead of taking it, though, Chloe reaches down and pats Beca’s knees out of the way, then drops to settle between them, her back pressed to Beca’s chest. Which stops moving the second Chloe is pressed against it. She twists a little as Amy revs up the engine, tilting her head back to catch Beca’s eye. “This okay?”

“Mhmm.” Beca nods, breathing again. Then she turns her head away as Jesse starts chattering about the lake and how they used to go there in college. Amy takes off and Chloe slides down an inch to lay her head back on Beca’s shoulder. It’s much more comfortable than leaning against the walls of the truck bed and she happily commends herself for finding the best spot to sit.

They spend the ride laughing and fending off Stacie’s lewd comments to Cynthia Rose. As best they can. The truck bounces through a pothole and Beca’s hand falls to Chloe’s hip, bare skin to bare skin. And to Chloe’s surprise, she leaves it there. She’s laughing at Jesse singing “Feels Like the First Time” over the wind as he air guitars. And like she doesn’t even know she’s doing it, Beca’s fingers move across the dip of Chloe’s hip. She has a quick vision of Beca at her desk, hands poised over the soundboard, fingers pushing and pulling fader knobs up and down. And that’s exactly what it feels like she’s doing--absently making music against Chloe’s skin.

It shakes something deep in her core and she wraps her hand around Beca’s knee, trying to steady herself a bit.

Then Beca turns her head and her breath is warm on Chloe’s ear. She speaks low, so no one but Chloe can hear her over the wind. “Your friends are fuckin’ weird, dude.”

Chloe presses her lips together to keep from laughing. Jessica catches Stacie’s arm just as she starts to crawl forward toward Cynthia Rose, pulling her back.

“Are they a thing?” Beca says again, her lips brushing the shell of Chloe’s ear. “Because Stacie seems particularly set on making CR run for the hills. I thought she was bad with me .”

Her middle finger slides back as her fore and ring finger push forward. Chloe shivers.

“And Jessica and Ashley? You didn’t tell me this was a gays only event.”

Holding in her laugh is getting difficult. She can feel herself shaking.

“Oh my god. Please tell me Jesse is Aubrey’s beard!”

The laugh bubbles past her lips and Chloe bumps her head lightly against Beca’s, thrilled when she can feel Beca’s upturned lips against her ear.

“Can you two whisper sweet nothings later?” Stacie yells, kicking one long leg out to bump Chloe’s shin. “We’re here!”

The truck bounces down the side of a steep incline, cutting a path through the trees. It tilts and Jesse yelps, sliding across the toolbox. Beca snatches his shorts leg. He turns wide eyes and smile on her. “Awww, Becaw. You do still love me.”

She huffs and lets him go, pulling her hand back and laying it on Chloe’s stomach. “I’d just rather kill you myself. Drown you, maybe. Isn’t there a lake nearby?”

Jesse and the girls laugh.

Cynthia Rose slugs Beca lightly in the shoulder. “Man, I like you! You got a feisty one, Red!”

But Chloe can’t focus on anything besides the fingertips pressed to her skin. Because Beca is purposely, easily touching her. And she had let Chloe hug her back in the loft, even hugged her back, hugged her tighter. It’s like Beca’s time alone with the piano had put her at ease. Like she’s a whole different person.

Which Chloe doesn’t want. She loves Beca exactly how she is. She loves Beca’s cat-like distances and snarky comments. Her “don’t touch me” moments and her sleepy clinging. Her grumpy mornings and quiet nights. Those rare days when she’s hyped up on too much coffee and running around the apartment in Chloe’s bunny slippers, talking about runs and levels and harmonies. But she won’t lie and say that she isn’t enjoying this touchy Beca. She’s always wanted Beca to feel comfortable enough with her for things like this. And if she needs to buy them a piano for the apartment to keep her feeling this way, she absolutely will.

There’s a loud, rapid honking and Chloe twists to look over Beca’s shoulder. Another truck stops a little ways from them as Amy slows to a halt. The passenger door opens and Benji pops out of it, waving his arms over his head. “Bellas!”

“Trebles!” Stacie screams, standing and bouncing the truck.

More men that Chloe recognizes pour out of the truck, hooting and waving. The other Bellas rush to meet them. Chloe rolls to her knees and grabs Beca’s wrists, tugging her up. “Come on! You’ve gotta meet the boys!”

Beca scrunches her nose, going boneless. “Ew, boys. Hard pass.”

“Oh, shush. They’re great. You’ll like them.” She tugs again and Beca lurches forward, stopping herself with her elbows on her knees. Their faces are only inches apart now and Chloe grips her wrists tighter, suddenly finding it a little difficult to breathe beyond quick gasps of air.

“Hey, lady, I’ve got a girlfriend. Back off.” Beca grins, cocking her head to the side.

Chloe’s stomach flips and she eases forward. If Beca’s so open today, she’s going to soak it up. Just in case she can’t afford a piano for a while. Once she’s close enough to feel Beca’s breath on her lips, she stops. “You must like her a lot.”

It sends little jolts of lightning down her spine when Beca doesn’t pull away, just smirks. “Eh, she’s alright.”

Chloe growls and shoves her back, Beca laughing as she catches herself. “You’re such a jerk, Mitchell. I don’t need you here!” She pops up to her feet and climbs out of the truck. As she rounds the side, Beca gives a “hup!” and lands next to her.

“Liar.” She turns to walk backwards, tugging her shirt back down from where it had ridden up. “You adore me.” The heel of her sneaker catches on a rock and her arms windmill for a second. She manages to get her feet back under her before she bites the dust.

Chloe tries very hard not to laugh. She almost succeeds. “Yeah, Mitchell. Kinda.”

The Trebles haven’t changed a single bit. By the time the whole group has pushed through the last bit of trees to the lake, carrying snacks and speakers and pool noodles, the boys have ramped the Bellas up into a wild mess of hooting and horsing around.

Chloe ducks Donald’s swinging arm as she steps out of the trees with Beca and Eli. It’s exactly how she remembers it. The little boat dock still stands to their left, covered in strings of fishing line with bobbers tied down the whole length--redneck fairy lights run from support beam to support beam. The Jump Tree leans out over the water, the thick rope still hanging from one of the sturdy upper branches, swinging lightly in the breeze. Thick logs sit in the same circle they’d sat in during college, the small, rusted firepit somehow still standing in the center. Chloe takes a deep breath as all those nights spent here with the Bellas--and later on, the Trebles--comes rushing back. She squeezes Beca’s hand, pulling her forward.

As Jesse oversees the setup of the music on the dock, Aubrey and Emily take over the big tree stump by the water--the one that used to be their Jump Tree until it was hit by lightning her sophomore year and the Trebles had cut it down, sanded it, and sealed it to make them a table. Emily hefts a huge picnic basket onto it and Aubrey begins pulling things from it, dragging Stacie and Kolio in to help with a snap of her fingers.

Eli grabs Chloe’s arm just as Beca slips away, headed for the music system, attracted like a moth to a flame. She picks up a roll of speaker wire and stares at it like she’s not sure if it’s going to bite or not. Their “stereo system” is really just an old radio of Donald’s that runs on batteries and only plays CDs, hooked to some of Jesse’s old speakers. It’s old school, but it’s always worked for them. Jesse grabs the wire from Beca, talking quickly and pointing to it. Beca bares her teeth in what Chloe knows is her “I’m totally listening, yeah, yeah” smile.

“Can I swim now?” Eli says, tugging Chloe’s arm.

“Give me a second.” Chloe tugs at the knot at her hip, pulling off her coverup and tossing it over her favorite log by the fire, claiming her spot for later. “Okay, let’s go!” And she snatches him up, throwing him over her shoulder as she splashes into the lake. He’s gotten so heavy and she hugs his legs tighter. He squeals and slaps at her back.

The water is dark and she can only feel the rocks on the bottom, not see them. But it is also cold and she lets out a high-pitched screech as it closes around her hips, then her waist. She drops Eli and he sputters, gasping and flailing as he sinks to his neck. “Cold! Chloe! Ah!”

“EVERYBODY IN!” one of the Trebles screams and suddenly bodies are pouring into the water, screaming and cursing at the temperature. Chloe claps her hands over Eli’s ears until they settle down. Mamma lets them get away with a lot, but cursing is not one of those things.

When the splashing stops, Chloe looks up and finds everyone is in the water, except Beca who is still standing on the dock, pushing buttons on the radio. A second later, the opening chords of “Yeah!” by Usher ring out over the lake and everyone cheers. It’s like she’s been transported back to years ago as Aubrey crashes into her side and pulls her down into the water.

“Mitchell!” Stacie yells over the crowd. “Race me!”

“Race you?” Beca calls back, shaking her head.

Stacie pulls herself out of the water, attracting almost everyone’s attention as she rises to her full height on the dock, water droplets pouring down her insanely long legs. The fact that her bikini doesn’t look like it can actually do its job of keeping her covered probably also attracts looks. Chloe herself takes a moment to appreciate Stacie’s curves and straining bikini top as she breathes. The woman really is beautiful.

Then Stacie wraps her wet arms around Beca’s neck, hooking one wrist over the other, and bends forward until she’s eye level with her, her back arching down. The water doesn’t feel as cold anymore, so Chloe swims over and crosses her arms over the edge of the dock.

“Come on, Becs. Scared I’ll leave you and your tiny limbs treading water?” Stacie purses her lips at Beca, making smooching noises, then turns to smile as Cynthia Rose laughs.

So she doesn’t see what Chloe does: Beca glancing at Jesse and lifting one eyebrow.

Jesse pushes himself up onto Donald’s back and yells, “I’ve got ten on Beca!”

Stacie gasps, straightening up with both hands on her chest--not quite not cupping her breasts. “Jesse, I thought we were friends!”

“We are, Stace!” He pats Donald’s cheeks, grinning. “But I like an underdog.”

“Underdog?” Beca huffs, but Chloe can tell she doesn’t actually mean it. Her lips are turned down and her brow is furrowed. But when Beca frowns it’s more just a flat press of her lips and narrowed eyes.

More people start calling out bets and Cynthia Rose happily wades to shore to grab her phone and record them all. Meanwhile, Stacie starts stretching. Probably more for show than need, if her grin at the wolf whistles is anything to go by. Beca drops to sit beside Chloe’s arms on the dock, kicking water at Eli. He laughs and goes to splash her back but Unicycle appears and lifts him onto his shoulders and they’re off to play chicken with Emily and Fat Amy who is shouting something about “children fighting rings”.

Chloe slides to the side to cross her arms over Beca’s thighs instead, peering up at her. “What are you hiding, Mitchell?”

Her palms press down into the dock as she leans forward, her legs brushing either side of Chloe’s hips. “What makes you think I’m hiding something?”

“Your eyebrow.” Chloe reaches up to touch it, leaving drops of water that Beca closes her eye against. “You do a thing with it when you’re not saying something.”

Beca wipes the water drops away with the back of her hand. “You’re making that up.”

“I am not.”

“You can’t tell anything by my eyebrow.”

“I can tell a lot of things by your body, Becs.” She means it as a joke, but it’s kind of true. Beca’s easy to read for her.

That eyebrow twitches again. “That’s kind of stalker-y, Beale.”

“I just love you,” Chloe says, resting her chin on her arms and tilting her head to the side to keep eye contact. She catches the tips of Beca’s ears turning red and grins, squeezing her thighs. “You’re cute.”

“Shut the fuck up, I am not.”

“Alright, folks!” Cynthia Rose stomps down the dock, pausing to grab and shake Beca’s shoulders. “Bets are in! You all know the rules!”

“Uh, not all of us,” Beca protests, but Cynthia Rose is distracted by Stacie bending over to touch her toes.

So Chloe presses her arms into Beca’s thighs and lifts up a bit. “So. Races go from the dock to the rock and back.” She nods out toward the lake at the large boulder sticking up from the water maybe fifty feet out. “Simple.”

“Simple,” Beca parrots, nodding. Her eyes are still on the rock. “Who you betting on?”

“I didn’t bet.” The water splashes up Chloe’s back as Trebles pass by and she shivers. “Because you’re hiding something.”

Beca shrugs. “Maybe.”

“Come on, tiny DJ.” Cynthia Rose beckons to Beca, standing beside Stacie at the end of the dock.

“I’m up.” Beca’s thigh muscles tense but Chloe pushes herself higher out of the water, feeling playful.

“Kiss for luck?” She wrinkles her nose and grins, already sinking back down. Because as touchy as Beca’s been today, there’s no one around that needs convincing that they’re together. No Tom to run off. No reason for it to be anything but a joke.

But instead of rolling her eyes and pushing Chloe away, Beca follows. She tilts forward just enough to catch Chloe’s lips. And for the second time in two days, Chloe is too shocked to do anything but kiss back. Because even just this--just softly pressed lips and Beca’s soft exhale against her cheek--is good. Beca’s good at this.

Before Chloe can really do more than have the shape of Beca’s lips seared into her memory, Beca’s pulled back and sliding away. Chloe drops back into the water, the chill racing up her spine not completely from the lake. It was more of a firm peck than anything else, but it’s left Chloe kind of dizzy and shaken. Wanting, she realizes faintly, pressing her fingers to her tingling lips.

Beca and Stacie move to the end of the dock. Cynthia Rose steps between them, lifting her arms in the air. “Everybody ready?”

The Bellas and the Trebles burst into a long, harmonizing note that makes Beca jump. Eli’s warbly voice rises above the note. “GO, BECA!”

Chloe swims over beside Aubrey and Jesse. They’re standing near the front of the dock, Jesse wrapped around Aubrey’s back with his hands clasped over her belly, his chin on her shoulder. Chloe catches Aubrey’s eye and they share a smile. Aubrey’s hands slip over Jesse’s.

“Here we go, Aca-bitches! On the count of three!”

Stacie grabs Cynthia Rose’s arm. “Wait, on three or after three?”

Beca jumps again as everyone yells, “ON three!”

“Okay. One!” Cynthia Rose steps back to let Stacie and Beca take position. Stacie bends at the knees, glancing at Beca.

Something in Chloe’s stomach twists as Beca’s right foot slides back, the toes of her left foot just sticking over the wood and she curls over, her head near her knee. Her hands wrap around the edge of the dock as she waits. Stacie quickly adjusts, mirroring her position as best she can.


Beca turns her head just enough to catch Chloe’s eye. Then she winks . Chloe’s feels her jaw drop, but it’s really all she can do to remain standing right now. So she nearly misses Cynthia Rose scream, “Three!”

Beca and Stacie lunge forward at the same moment, disappearing in a resounding splash and cheer from the crowd.

Chapter Text

The second Beca pushes off, she knows she’s going to win. Her hands slice into the water and she tucks her head down, pulling herself forward stroke by stroke, not ending the stroke until it passes her hips. It’s textbook. It’s easy. It’s quiet. The cheers of the crowd were swallowed by the rushing water and now it’s just the muted hum of paddling hands and churning feet. She breathes out for a six count.

On her next stroke, she twists her head up for a quick breath, opening one eye to see that Stacie is keeping pace pretty well. She is abnormally long. But she’s windmilling her arms as fast as she can, kicking up waves in her wake. Powering through. And as graceful as she manages to look, Beca knows she isn’t pulling enough water to win.

Beca smiles as she turns her head back into her stroke, breathing out for six and pulling more water. On her next breath, she glances forward and finds the rock only a few feet away. She counts two more strokes and twists, bringing her legs around until her bare feet press against it. She kicks off and feels Stacie’s arm clip hers as they pass each other, going opposite directions. On her next breath, she can hear the cheering has started back up, louder than ever. And she really hated most of high school, but this reminds her of the good bits. She turns back into the water and breathes out for six.

Before she knows it, she looks up and finds the dock right there. Feeling cheeky, she slaps her hand onto the edge and hefts herself out of the water, spinning to drop heavily, her legs still dangling in the water. Stacie’s just over halfway back. Everyone is screaming--most that they were ripped off in their bet.

Cynthia Rose offers a hand, which Beca happily clasps, smirking. “You just made me so much money, tiny DJ. I think you’re my new best friend!”

A few feet away, Stacie looks up and catches sight of Beca sitting on the dock. She splashes to a halt, letting out an indignant cry. “What the hell, Mitchell!”

Beca shrugs but can’t rub her victory in Stacie’s face any more than that because Chloe chooses that moment to leap up and grab Beca’s collar, dragging her back down into the water. She surfaces, sputtering and shoving hair from her face. “Chlo!”

“Beca Mitchell,” Chloe hisses through her teeth, which are bared in an almost manic grin. “I knew you were hiding something!”

“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

Jesse splashes over, slapping Beca’s shoulder. “Beca was on the swim team at our school. Won medals and shit.”

Chloe gasps, throwing water in Beca’s face as she bats Jesse away. “Dude, come on! Just reveal my superhero identity too, while you’re at it, huh?”

He bobs away, grin dipping in and out of the water. “Come on, Becaw. Everyone already knows you’re Mighty Mouse.”

She’s gonna kill him. Which she lunges to do, but Chloe pulls her up short with her arms around her neck. And, oh, that’s close.

“You’re a dirty cheat,” Chloe says, her face only inches away.

It reminds Beca of that moment in the loft, when she’d thought for one stuttered heartbeat that Chloe was going to kiss her. And of the kiss Beca stole before the race. It had taken every ounce of confidence she had, but the look of thrilled surprise on Chloe’s face had been completely worth her organs playing musical chairs inside her. She knows it was probably just Chloe being shocked by Beca’s boldness, thrilled that Beca’s keeping up the charade for everyone. But she’d let herself believe for that second of time that it was because butterflies were also erupting from their cocoons in Chloe’s stomach.

It’s an easy thing to pretend when Chloe’s this close, trailing her fingers down her spine as she pulls her closer and loops her legs around Beca’s waist as they tread water, forcing Beca to hold her up.

“You never told me you were on the swim team.” There’s a vague trace of hurt somewhere in there, like Beca had hidden something important from her.

Which this totally was not. “Only for a year. It just never came up, I guess.”

“Uh huh.” Chloe presses her forearms into Beca’s shoulders, almost dunking her. “Anything else I should know? Captain of the chess team, perhaps? Drama club?” She gasps, her eyes widening until Beca can see white all the way around the piercing blue. “Glee club?” she happily squeals, digging her nails into Beca’s shoulder blade in what Beca assumes is supposed to be a threat for if she lies or an excited reflex at the idea that Beca might have been a singer.

Unfortunately, it just adds another bullet point on Beca’s seemingly ever-growing list of things that inconveniently turn her on.

“Gross, no.” She pretends to gag and Chloe giggles. “I was on the softball team though.”

Water drops fly as Chloe smacks her shoulder, more in excitement than admonishment, she thinks. “Oh my god, were you a jock, Beca? You were totes a jock!”

“I wasn’t!”

“Do you have a Letterman?” Chloe’s almost vibrating in her arms now, grin so wide her cheeks must hurt.

Beca scrunches her nose, thinking of the blue and gray jacket tucked in a box under her bed back home. “Maybe.”

“Beca!” Chloe squeals, actually dunking her this time. When she comes back up, spitting out water and blinking rapidly, Chloe runs her hands up from her shoulders, along the sides of her neck in a way that feels decidedly not friendly. The movement ends with Chloe’s fingers laced through the hair at the base of her skull and her thumbnails trailing slowly down Beca’s earrings. “You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you? I feel like I don’t know you at all.”

Maybe it’s because she’s just realized that she sort of loves it when Chloe’s happy or surprised or excited. And maybe she knows the truth always makes Chloe happier than any witty quip or well-placed joke. Maybe the lake water has infected her with some weird virus that makes her feel like being sincere , of all things. But she says, “You know me better than anyone, Chlo.” Her voice is soft and almost lost in the singing and chatter around them.

But Chloe’s smile softens and she pulls Beca closer to press her lips to her temple. And Beca thinks that, if Chloe does feel anything like the clenching pain she feels in her chest, this would be the moment she’d say something.

Instead, Chloe presses the heels of her palms into Beca’s collarbones and uses her to propel herself backwards. “Come on, jock. Fat Amy has already called dibs on you for the next game of Chicken.”

Beca breathes around the ache in her chest, swimming after her.

Fat Amy does, in fact, force Beca into a few games of Chicken. Perched on the Australian's shoulders, Beca takes down Emily, a dude named Unicycle, and Jessica (who, despite being thin and wispy looking, puts up the best fight). But when Jesse pops out of the water with Eli on his shoulders, Beca knows her winning streak is coming to an end.

Because he looks halfway terrified and simultaneously like he’s just been gifted a meeting with his idol. He squares up, eyes darting between Beca’s hands and her face.

“Ready, dude?” She slides back a little on Amy’s shoulders, putting herself off balance.

“You’re goin’ down, Mitchell!” he says loudly. Then, quieter, “Chloe told me to say that.”

Beca laughs, motioning for Jesse to bring it on. He rushes forward and Eli’s flailing hands aim for her torso. She buffets them away, giving back weak shoves and grabbing his shirt when he does tilt too far back, pulling him into a grapple. Jesse plows into Fat Amy, shoving her back. Unlike Beca, though, Amy doesn’t seem to realize what’s happening.

“I’m gonna shish kabob you, Treble! Hope your wedding presents are refundable!” She drives forward and Jesse staggers back.

So Beca, hating herself already for how stupid this all is, reaches down and grabs Amy’s face like she’s grasping for a hold to stay up. And when Eli’s hands connect solidly with her chest, she flips backward, yanking Amy’s head back with her. Amy screams what sounds like a war cry until the water swallows it and Beca crashes down, kicking away quickly. When she bobs up, Amy is already up again, declaring that they shouldn’t have lost because Eli, along with all the Beales, are freakishly strong and, therefore, unfair opponents.

But Eli hears none of it, too busy taking his victory lap of the group on Jesse’s shoulders, high-fiving whoever they pass.

Arms slip under Beca’s own, wrapping around her waist, and Chloe’s voice whispers in her ear. “He’s going to be insufferable now, I hope you know.”

Beca leans back into her grasp, letting Chloe hold her up as her legs float out in front of her. “Isn’t that just a Beale trait anyways?”

“They teach you how to survive a drowning on the swim team?” Chloe playfully growls, dipping them lower in the water.

Automatically, Beca grabs Chloe’s arms, pushing down to keep her head up. “If you try it, I’ll never speak to you again.”

“Of course not. You’d be dead.” Chloe laughs against her hair.

“You’d miss me,” she says, laying her head back on Chloe’s shoulder.

“Mmm,” Chloe hums, pressing her cheek to Beca’s and swaying them side to side. “Yeah, probably. Okay, I won’t drown you. But you have to participate in the riff off.”

Beca twists in her grip until she can meet Chloe’s eyes. “What the fuck is a riff off?”

Everyone crashes around in the water for most of the afternoon. The snacks Emily brought quickly disappear from the tree stump and people slowly start to trickle out of the water and onto the logs around the firepit. Unicycle and a guy she learns is Donald start the fire. Uni, who has taken quite a liking to Beca since she beat him at Chicken, steals the last finger sandwich and sneaks it to her when she takes her spot on the logs, beside Chloe’s discarded coverup. Seems Chloe was right. She could like these guys.

Jesse skips over to join her. He has spent the day happily bouncing back and forth between Aubrey, everyone else, and Beca. “It’s like every real friend I’ve ever had is here,” he says slinging an arm around her shoulders.

She snorts, shoving him off. “I didn’t even know your middle name until senior year, dude.”

He shrugs, letting her shove carry him away toward where Aubrey is talking to Stacie and Chloe. “Yeah, but I know that’s just how you do friendship, Becaw. It’s cool.” He twists on his heel and bounces off, puppy-like, to pounce on Aubrey. She squeals and tucks her head away from his kisses, but he’s relentless. Chloe and Stacie stare at them like proud parents, seeing their kids off to school for their first day. Or how Beca imagines that would look--starry-eyed and breathless.

What Jesse said sits heavily on her chest, reminding her that she had purposely stopped messaging him after high school. The second she’d climbed on that plane to L.A. for her first internship, she’d resolved to forget everything back home. It was just easier that way. To his credit, it took nearly a year for him to stop texting her. And it wasn't like she really did social media, so that was it. He still sent her weird gifs on her birthday each year and she sent him subdued, basic “Happy birthday” messages for his, but that was pretty much the extent of their contact. As she watches him grin against Aubrey’s lips, she thinks she shouldn’t have pushed him away. She’s missed so much. And he really is a good guy. Briefly, she wonders what it would be like if she’d stayed in contact.

Would he still consider her his “bestest friend in the universe”? Would she be walking in his wedding, complaining the whole way but secretly super happy for him? Would she have spent late nights at the studio on the phone with him as he rambled away about a capella and the Trebles? Would she have flown out to see him a few times? Met his friends, seen this Barden college everyone seems to love so much?

Would she have met Chloe sooner?

As if she can sense Beca’s thoughts, Chloe turns and catches her eye. Her face breaks into a wide grin and she sticks her hand out, wiggling her fingers. And Beca, despite being warm and comfy on her log, throws her legs over it and strides over to take Chloe’s hand.

Because she’s had a few beers and she’s feeling a little like she might never want to leave all of these fucking nerds.

It turns out she really didn’t want to know what a riff off was.

Uncle Lew passes by and picks up Eli at some point. He hugs Beca so tight that she’s sure something pops, but she pats his head and lets him have the embrace. Seth, who had tagged along, is hard to pull away from Stacie, but eventually they leave and everyone climbs from the water. As Bumper, Amy’s obnoxiously loud boyfriend, hops up to stand on the now-empty snack table, Beca settles down beside Chloe on the logs. The sun’s going down and the fire’s burning higher than before, painting everything and everyone orange. The Trebles produce blankets and towels from their truck, passing them around. Then they settle on the opposite side of the fire from the Bellas. Though they’d spent the day interwoven, they are now clearly two separate groups.

Uni stops by to drop a thick, woven poncho over Beca’s head, turning her into nothing but a walking blanket with a human head. “That’ll keep you warm, Little Bit.” He ruffles her hair, ignoring her hiss of warning, and hurries off.

She pulls the poncho off, shoving it at Chloe instead, who’s laughing at her. Chloe grabs it and lays it across both their legs, then wraps her coverup around her shoulders. The temperature is dropping with the sun, so Beca doesn’t think anything of it when Chloe leans into her side.

“Okay, so,” Bumper says, shaking a bowler hat around. “Since someone lost our damn category spinner--not naming any names, Amy--we’ve got our new category hat!” He points to the hat, then whips his finger up into the air and drops his arm back down so the finger is now pointing at his own face. “Which I will be pulling from, because it’s my hat. And I am the Master of Ceremonies this evening. So remember, three songs and we switch categories. If you mess up, you are--”

Beca’s heart nearly stops when the entire gathered group claps twice and screams, “CUT OFF!”

“What the fuck?”

“Language, Becs.” Chloe bumps her shoulder, smirking. Then she sighs. “I wish Lilly and Flo were here. We’re at a disadvantage without them. They’re a lot of our beats.”

“Here we go!” Bumper yells.

“Songs about sex, songs about sex,” Stacie chants under her breath, beating her fists against her bent knees. Beca leans around Cynthia Rose, who’s seated between them, to look down at Stacie. She likes that Stacie’s sitting on the ground with her back to the log. It makes her feel tall.

“Is that seriously a category?”

“Yes!” Stacie stares at her like she’s the dumb one. (Which she totally is, she knows, but not in this instance.) But her expression morphs quickly into a seductive smirk and she blinks up at Cynthia Rose. “Right, CR?”

“I haven’t had enough beers to deal with this bitch,” Cynthia Rose mutters, widening her eyes at Beca.

She laughs. “ Are there enough beers for that?”


Bumper rummages around in the hat for what seems like an inordinate amount of time, bending his legs in some weird ballet-like pose. Then he straightens up, thrusting a slip of paper into the air. “Songs by boy bands!”

There’s a gasping and scrambling and suddenly Emily is up on her very, very long legs and pelting out, “You’ve got no choice, babe! ” The Bellas light up with music and Beca’s more than a little stunned. Ashley starts beatboxing and Jessica’s lips curl around strange warping sounds. The other girls burst into harmonies and reverb and Emily continues singing. “But to move on, you know. There ain’t no time to waste.” Chloe turns to Beca, vocalizing at a pitch Beca didn’t know she could hit and swaying side to side. And she’s smiling that smile. Beca closes her eyes, thinking of stained glass. The girls’ voices mesh together insanely well, which she assumes is from years and years of practice. But Beca’s nothing if not good at mixing. So she nods along for a beat, listening to Emily sing. "Cause you’re just too blind-- ” And she finds that missing snare with the tip of her tongue and her teeth, adding it in. “To see--” She opens her eyes and finds Chloe’s having a hard time singing around her smile. “That in the end, you know it’s gonna be me.” More of the Bellas turn to her, surprised, but they adjust immediately, absorbing Beca’s beat into theirs. Emily sways her hips, arms over her head. “You can’t deny, so just tell me--

--me just one night! ” Jesse jumps up to meet Emily beside the fire. “Una noche! ” Seamlessly, the Trebles take the beat from the Bellas and twist it, adding in tinkling runs and breathy gasps. “A moment to be by your side,” Jesse sings, arms out as he dances with Emily, who just smiles and dances along. “Give me just one night, una noche! ” He points straight at Aubrey and winks. Beca rolls her eyes. What a ham. “I’ll give you--

--you now,” Chloe’s voice lifts beside Beca and she jumps. It’s strained and higher than normal. Her “Britney Spears” voice, Beca thinks, laughing. “There are prices to fame, alri-ight.” Like a tide, the music ebbs back to their side and Fat Amy takes it higher with her, “Bow, bow, bow wow. Bow wow wowow--” which Beca is pretty sure are not really the lyrics. Chloe follows the song up to her feet, the poncho sliding from her lap. “All of our time spent in flashes of light--” It should be illegal, how easily she twists her hips and shimmies her shoulders, her red hair loose and curling down her back. She dances with her coverup like it’s a shawl and it moves between Beca’s gaze and the fire so all Beca can see is the outline of Chloe’s body undulating to the beat through the gauzy pink material. Beca nearly misses jumping in when the rest of the girls burst into the chorus, following Ashley’s well-laid percussion. “All you people can’t you see, can’t you see? How your love’s affecting our--” She catches Stacie winking at Donald across the fire.

“DISNEY!” Bumper yells over the singing, another paper held up in his waving fist.

Like it’s been behind his teeth this whole time, a song bursts from the little guy, Benji, and he leaps forward. “--our lips! You’re in love! ” The Trebles follow him with falsettos and a bunch of them jump up to belly dance around the fire, poking at the Bellas they pass. Beca’s not even sure what the hell the song is, but Benji plows on, giving an awkward roll of his hips. “You’re way off base, I won’t say it! Get off my case, I won’t say it! ” His voice is incredible, his runs ridiculous. And it’s pretty hilarious to watch the other boys go, “Shoo do, shoo do” behind him.

She feels like she’s going to crack a rib when everyone behind him, including Bumper, choruses, “Girl, don’t be proud! It’s--

But Cynthia Rose jumps up before they can get any further, throwing on a perfect Jamaican accent. “--it’s better down where it’s wetter, take it from me!” There’s a cheer from the boys this time as the Bellas jump in. Beca watches Jessica make loud bubble popping noises by stretching her mouth open and smacking her own cheeks. It’s the most insane thing she’s ever seen. All of this is. “Up on the shore, they work all day--” Cynthia Rose croons, grabbing Stacie’s hands and pulling her up to dance. Beca jumps in with a harmony that she isn’t sure is really in the song, since she doesn’t know it, but it matches the trills Chloe’s making. “Out in--

--in Central Park--” Donald calls, jumping up on the tree stump with Bumper. The beats fade, change, and pick up as everyone adjusts. “Then I’m down on Delancey Street--” Chloe grabs Beca’s wrists and pulls her to her feet, laying one extended arm over her shoulder as she dances before her. And, oh wow, Beca was already a little lost in the shifting tunes. Add to that Chloe, her head tucked down and her lips pursed as she sways, tapping out the beat against her own hip? “Said, from the Bowery to St. Mark’s--” Donald dances backwards across the stump. “Heh, there’s a syncopated beat. Alright!

Everyone joins in for the next part, except Beca, who doesn’t know the song and can’t seem to look away from that hand drumming against Chloe’s hip anyways. “Said whoo-hoo-whoo-hoo-hoo!

“I’m streetwise!” Jesse sings. “I can improvise!

Said whoo-hoo-whoo-hoo-hoo!

Out the corner of her eye, she sees Amy clamber up and snatch the bowler hat from Bumper. He protests, but she’s already pulled a paper from it and is screaming over the harmonizing. “SONGS FEATURING KESHA, ACA-BITCHES!”

Just as Jesse sings, “I’m--” for his next line, Aubrey steps forward and slides her hands up his chest, effectively shutting him (and the Trebles) up. “I’m gonna be it tonight.

You can be cool!” Stacie picks it up, spinning into Uni and grinding in a way that should not be allowed in public. “You can be shy. Say what you want, say what you like--” She practically moans the lyrics and Uni looks like he might pass out. “'Cause--"

Oooh!” The Bellas throw their arms in the air, Chloe’s hand mercifully leaving its place on her hip.

Your body talks,” Aubrey sings, patting the beat onto Jesse’s chest. His smile is so wide Beca thinks it might rip something. “Your body talks! You can pretend you don’t want it now, but I--

I said no more teachers and no more books!” Jesse leans back out of Aubrey’s grip, his nose scrunching as he sings. “I got a kiss under the bleachers, hoping that nobody looks!” The Trebles clap in perfect synchronicity. “Lips like licorice, tongue like candy--

Bumper’s voice rises above the group as he gyrates at Amy. “Excuse me, miss, but can I get you out your panties?” Beca almost gags.

It’s Uni that takes the next part, his deeper voice ringing out right beside Beca. She hadn’t even realized he’d moved. “In the back of the car, on the way to the bar, I got you on my lips--” Chloe laughs as he crouches until he’s eye level with Beca and sings, “At the foot of the stairs, with my fingers in your hair--

It’s probably because he crouched down. Short jokes were always the worst. Or maybe it’s because Chloe’s laughing and nudging her side. Or maybe it’s because she catches sight of Stacie spinning by. Whatever it is, a song springs to Beca’s mind. So when Uni opens his mouth to sing, “Baby--”, she jumps in, lifting her hands to clap out her own beat, hoping the girls can pick it up.

Baby, don’t play, just do as I say and I promise I’ll turn you out.” A hush falls over the group just long enough to make Beca’s insides tense as she plows on. Rapping seemed like a good idea a second ago--fast and harder to jump in on--but now she’s not sure. One more line in, though, Jessica and Ashley join in, spitting bass and snare. And Beca suddenly thinks she might understand a capella. Because this is a rush. “They slip, I grip, that’s simple, that’s it. I’ma tell ya, off rip, let’s rip and dip. I’m wid’ it, you wid’ it, come on, baby, let’s dip. What you waitin’ for? Let’s roll like!” She sees the second the song registers on Stacie’s face and she grins, slipping past Uni to point at her. “Mami, you bi?

No, I’m tri, ” Stacie croons, turning away to grab Cynthia Rose by the chin. “I’ll try anything.

Trebles and Bellas alike burst into the repeating “Hey, oh way, oh way!” and Beca spins, fully planning to get in Uni’s face to sing her lines.

But it’s Chloe’s gaze she catches and Chloe’s not singing. She’s not even dancing. She’s just staring, jaw hanging. Not many people can strike Chloe Beale speechless and Beca smirks, moving into her space.

Talk to me...” she sings and Chloe’s entire body jolts as Beca, feeling bold, settles against her and slides her hands over her hips. Like in a trance, Chloe moves, arms looping over Beca’s shoulders. Any other time, this would have been terrifying, but there’s so much music around her that Beca doesn’t care. She just bobs her head through the next chorused line. “Tell me how you like it...” It’s so easy to drop her face into the dip of Chloe’s shoulder as they move together. “Talk to me…” Every synapse in her brain catches fire when a small suspiciously moan-like sound slips through Chloe’s lips and lands somewhere behind Beca’s ear. “Now give it to me--

Girls, girls, girls, girls, girls, girls--” The Trebles chant.

I like!” Emily cheers across the fire.

Girls, girls, girls, girls, girls, girls--” the Bellas call, their voices echoing over the lake.

I love!” Uni sings from somewhere behind Beca.

Girls, girls, girls, girls, girls, girls--” Trebles.

I need!” Stacie moans dramatically and Beca hears Cynthia Rose laugh.

Girls, girls, girls, girls, girls, girls--” Bellas.

And they continue, pounding out drum sounds and harmonizing around the beatboxers from both groups. Someone is beating on a log and people are bouncing to the rhythm. But Beca barely registers all that because Chloe’s pressed against her, their hips moving together mindlessly. Beca’s hand has settled at the base of Chloe’s spine somehow, her fingers dipped into the dimples there and pressing silent instructions into her skin. And Chloe follows every one, twisting and grinding exactly the way Beca wants her to. Breathing against her jaw. Curling her hand around the back of Beca’s neck. Pressing closer.

The tap on her shoulder rips her from the haze of swaying pink and red enough for her to look up at Jesse. He’s excitedly bouncing to the beat beside her. “Keep going!”

The interruption has pulled Chloe’s head up as well and Beca watches her blink quickly, like she’s just woken up from a nap. Then her lips break into a wide grin and she nods, dropping back just an inch with her body, giving them breathing space, and hooks her wrists behind Beca’s neck. Her hips move with more practiced purpose now and everyone around them is making music.

So Beca sings. “Baby, I go on and on and I don’t need ecstasy to get you rollin’!

Chapter Text

They’re picking their way back through the trees in the dark to pile into the trucks. The sun’s been down for hours and there was singing and dancing and catching up and reliving old war stories from the Barden a capella scene. Everyone decided to veto Stacie’s vote that they all go to karaoke, instead making plans to do so later in the week. Of the girls sober enough to drive home, Beca was the only one who knew how to drive a standard (surprising Chloe once again), so she had wrestled the keys from Amy.

They swing from her hand as she walks by phone light, the ring occasionally bumping Chloe’s leg as she follows. But Chloe barely notices because she thinks she’s in shock.

Beca . Beca, who gets awkward when she’s complimented. Who once came out of her room in a lacy tank top and when Stacie called her “sexy”, she immediately turned around and went to change into a bulky bomber jacket. Who takes the long way home so she doesn’t have to walk down packed streets just to avoid touching people. That Beca had stood in the middle of a group of people she barely knew and spit Pitbull like she was meant to. And then, because that wasn’t enough to fully short circuit Chloe’s brain, she’d turned on her and smirked, sliding right into Chloe’s space and pressing flush against her as she rasped lyrics into her ear.

Chloe’s never been ashamed to admit when she finds something sexy. She’s very open about the things that get her going. In fact, she and Stacie had first bonded back in college over how willing they were to talk about the things they liked. And, if she’s asked, Chloe would say that Beca is absolutely sexy. She’s got a quiet sort of swagger, a cheeky confidence, and a quick wit. And she’s gorgeous. Not in the overt, obvious way people like Stacie are, the kind of pretty that commands the attention of a room. No, Beca’s gorgeous in the way that at first glance you could miss how stunning her dark blue eyes are, how wicked her smirk can be, how sharp her jawline is. She doesn’t want the attention of the room, just the dark corner where the music is beating from. But the thing about Beca is, if she did want the room? It would be hers.

So, yeah, Beca’s sexy. She knows this. She’d tell anyone who asked that she thinks so.

But maybe she shouldn’t mention right now that Beca singing into her ear had really done a number on her. Because Beca is her best friend, like Stacie and Aubrey. Except she’s never had the sudden urge to shove Stacie or Aubrey against the nearest wall while they were singing. Beca’s voice had lit up every nerve in her body. It had tingled in her ear and down her neck, warm and dragging like fingertips down her spine.

Aside from her visceral reaction to Beca’s singing to her, watching Beca take over a riff off was insanely sexy. It was like a fantasy she hadn’t realized she had, coming true right in front of her. Beca’s voice had slipped into the Bellas’ rhythm and grabbed all of them, tying their sounds together. It had been so easy for the girls to follow her lead. Natural.

Chloe’s seen a lot of riff offs. She’s seen Jesse wipe the floor during them, seen Aubrey and Stacie and Cynthia Rose get a crowd moving with a single line. She’s even taken over herself a few times. It’s fun. It’s a rush. But watching Beca do it? That was a completely different type of rush. One she had never expected to feel for her best friend.

Yet, here she is, stumbling through the dark toward the truck and trying very hard to keep her hands to herself. Beca clicks a button and the truck lights flash. The Trebles tumble around, waving goodbye and catcalling as they get in their own vehicle. Jesse drunkenly kisses all of their cheeks, except Bumper, who is attached to Amy’s face. Then he bounces over and grabs Aubrey’s hands.

“Ride in the back with me?” he says, swaying slightly.

Aubrey sighs. Chloe knows she hates what the wind does to her hair. But she squeezes Jesse’s hands and nods, smiling anyways. “Chloe, are you okay enough to give Beca directions?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh, great. We’re gonna end up in Texas.”

Chloe smacks Beca’s arm with the back of her hand. Beca hisses in pain, grabbing the spot dramatically.

“Beca,” Aubrey says, lifting an eyebrow at the shorter girl. “You actually know how to drive this vehicle, correct?”

Beca doesn’t roll her eyes, but Chloe can see she really wants to by the tilt of her head. “Yes, Captain. I’ve got it. Just keep Drunky McGee in the truck.”

“Who?” Jesse tips forward on his toes, looming over Beca.

She pokes his chest, sending him wheeling back with a grin on his face. “You, dude.”

“I’m not drunk. You’re just blurry.”

Beca’s brow furrows and she turns an apologetic grimace on Aubrey. “There’s still time to back out, you know. We’ll get it.”

Aubrey laughs and Chloe’s insides feel even warmer. She had been worried about Beca and Aubrey getting along, honestly. Aubrey likes to control things and Beca hates being controlled. But Jesse’s been easing the reins from Aubrey’s hands since Freshman year and Beca doesn’t seem to mind Aubrey as much as Chloe feared she would. They seem good. Chloe thinks they could be really good friends with some time.

Before they take off, Chloe hops up on her toes to check the bed, ensuring they do, in fact, have everyone. Stacie is stretched out, asleep it looks like. (So much for Miss “KARAOKE, THOUGH, GUYS!”) Her feet are propped against Cynthia Rose’s side, who is also dozing off already, and her head is in Emily’s lap. Emily is running her fingers through Stacie’s hair, absently humming something Chloe doesn’t recognize. She smiles when Chloe catches her eye. Jesse is settled back with Aubrey wrapped tightly in his arms and he’s quietly singing, “You had my heart a long, long time agoooo--”. His pitch is all over the place and Aubrey’s eyes are closed, but she’s smiling wide enough that Chloe knows she’s awake.

Chloe rounds the truck to climb in as Beca starts it up. Jessica, Ashley, and the giant picnic basket take up the backseat and Fat Amy is giving Bumper one last kiss. She finishes and bounds over, grabbing the passenger door before Chloe can shut it. “Scooch, Ginge. I’m already full headlights here, I’m not sitting in the back.”

“Full headli--oh, never mind. I get it. Please don’t explain.” Beca turns up the radio before Amy can do more than motion to her breasts.

Chloe flips up the center console and slides over next to Beca, shifting her legs around to fit. Amy gets in and spreads out, grumbling about “needing tit space”.

She ends up farther over than she’d meant to, turned slightly sideways with her legs jammed down into the passenger area and Amy’s elbow stuck into her side. The coverup she’d tied back on her bottom half is twisted a bit and she shifts, trying to get comfortable. Beca clears her throat and grabs the gear shift, pushing it over so it taps Chloe’s leg. “You’re in my way, Beale. Put one of your legs on this side.”

“Are you telling me to straddle it, Mitchell?” It’s an automatic response, but Chloe feels her face go hot and is glad the truck is dark. Because she can still feel Beca’s breath on her ear and their shoulders are pressed together.

“Yeah, no. We’ll definitely get pulled over and my license is back at the house. Don’t tell Aubrey.” Beca’s teeth flash in the dim glow from the radio’s lit dials. “You will have to spread ‘em, though.”

“Aca-lesbians,” Amy sighs, reaching over to turn the radio up even more. Jessica and Ashley are singing along quietly in the backseat.

Beca just laughs, so Chloe shifts around, tugging her coverup to mid-thigh and slipping one leg over to Beca’s side. Beca nods, reaching over her to jiggle the gear shift. “Everyone in?”

“Yep. Head back over the hill and take a left at the road.”

“Here we go. What was it you said when we were leaving today, Ames?”

Chloe practically melts at the nickname. Beca getting along with the Bellas had been her hope. Beca becoming friends with them thrills her to no end.

“Tits and bits inside the ride at all times,” Amy says, sounding like she’s halfway to sleep.

Beca pushes the gear shift to the right and pulls it down. It presses into Chloe’s thigh, cool metal against warm skin. They back out and turn around. Beca shifts to the other side and up, taking off. For a slightly tipsy moment, Chloe thinks of asking Beca to teach her what she’s doing. But Amy’s snoring suddenly and she stays quiet, not wanting to disturb.

So they spend the ride home with Chloe quietly whispering directions, Jessica and Ashley’s soft voices filling the cab, and Beca’s hand perched on the gear shift between Chloe’s knees.

It’s nearly impossible for Chloe to do anything but watch as Beca fidgets, her fingers tapping to the song on the radio, thumb ring clinking against the gear shift. She works the truck like a soundboard, smoothly downshifting at red lights and revving the engine on long stretches of road. Once they get on the last road and Chloe says, “Straight on for ten miles, then the house is on the left.” Beca nods. And Chloe’s stomach flips as Beca’s arm relaxes, her fingers still lightly resting on the gear shift, but her elbow dropping onto Chloe’s thigh.

She places her hand carefully on Beca’s arm, unable to not touch her at that moment. Beca doesn’t pull away. And for ten miles, Chloe memorizes the inside of Beca’s forearm with soft fingertips. It’s with a good deal of reluctance that she pulls away as Beca cruises to a stop at the head of the driveway.

They shake the girls awake and work together to get all of them inside and into bed. Aubrey herds Jesse into their car and waves sleepily, assuring them she’ll be fine driving home and yes, she’ll text Chloe as soon as she pulls in. She hugs Chloe, and Beca to probably everyone’s surprise, if their faces are anything to go by. They stand together, watching Aubrey back out. Once her headlights turn away, Chloe takes a deep breath and faces Beca.

Her thumbs are hooked in the waistband of her trunks and she’s leaning back, her shoulders hunched forward. It’s a stance Chloe knows well, so she folds her own hands behind her back and glances up. The light’s still on in Mamma’s room.

“Do you want to go shower first? I’m gonna head up and tell Mamma goodnight.”

“Yeah, sure.” Beca bobs her head, stepping back. “Uh. Key?”

“By the backdoor. The one with the green tassels.”

Beca clicks her tongue and spins on one heel, watching her feet. “Okay. Tell your mom I said night.”

“I will.”

She follows Beca into the house and pauses on the stairs, watching her branch off into the kitchen. Once she’s out of sight, Chloe hurries up the steps. She pauses at Eli’s open door, sticking her head in.

He’s passed out on his back, his little bare chest rising and falling steadily. There’s a huge pair of headphones still cupped over his ears, the headband fallen forward over his eyes, the cord tangled around his arm. His pajama bottoms are the same midnight blue as his comforter and there’s an open book at the foot of the bed, a popsicle stick holding his place.

Chloe presses her lips together to keep from chuckling as she slips into the room. She picks up the book, closing it and glancing at the cover. Barron’s 500 Flash Cards of American Sign Language. She lays it on his desk beside a half done Lego model of a Ferris Wheel--her birthday present to him last month. It hadn’t really seemed like his thing at first, but then she’d seen it came with a motor and could actually run if put together correctly and she’d snatched it up.

He snuffles as she comes around the bed and starts untangling the headphone cord from his arm. When she carefully pulls the cups from his ears, she realizes she knows the tiny notes coming from them. Following the cord to his phone, she flips it over and grins when she finds she was right.

“Welcome to Spain” by Chicago and Zeke. Beca’s debut song as a producer. She’d hated the guy, Chicago, so much that--in a drunken rage one night--she’d sworn to never even go to the city of Chicago, because it would just make her angry. But the song was really good.

Chloe shuts down the music app and carefully coils his headphone wire like Beca had taught her the first week they knew each other. Then she pulls his blankets up and presses a kiss into his hair. He smells like the same strawberry shampoo Chloe uses, the kind Mamma always bought. She strokes his hair back from his face. He looks so much like their dad.

Mamma’s door is open too and she’s awake, sitting in the cushioned chair by the window with her glasses perched on the end of her nose and a quilt in her hands, a needle between her teeth. She tilts her head down and peers over the glasses as Chloe stops in the doorway. “Hey, baby,” she says, needle bouncing. “How was the lake? Eli said he had a great time.”

“I did too.” Like she used to, Chloe comes in and hops onto the foot of the bed, crossing her legs indian style. “He won at Chicken.”

“I heard. Many, many times.” She leans toward the little table under the window, holding the quilt up to the lamp. “He’s done nothing but talk about Beca all day. And yesterday.” She smiles and pulls the needle from her mouth, reaching for a spool of string on the windowsill.

Chloe laughs. “She likes him too, I think. She usually doesn’t like kids.”

“Your brother is a hard person to not like.” Mamma beams at her. “Just like you. Just like your father.”

It always aches a little when Mamma says that. Chloe pulls her knees up to her chest and rests her chin on them. “I think Dad would have liked Beca.”

“Oh, he would have loved her.” Mamma hangs the quilt over the arm of her chair and stands, coming over to cup Chloe’s face. “Because she makes you so happy.”

Her nose itches and her eyes burn and she knows she’s going to cry before she even feels the tears on her face. “Mamma--”

“My Chloe,” she coos, wrapping her up tight in her arms and letting Chloe sob into her chest. “You know.” She pats her back. “When you two moved in together and I flew up? I loved her right away.”

Chloe presses the back of her hand to her nose. It feels like it’s running. “Yeah?”

Mamma nods against her hair. “I got to the apartment just before you did, remember? You had class.” Chloe nods. “And there was this small girl outside, pulling suitcases from a cab with these massive headphones around her neck.”

Chloe laughs, because she can picture the scene perfectly.

“And I knew it was her, because I recognized the pink suitcase Aunt Dana got you. So I walked up and she looked--honestly--terrified that someone was approaching her.” She laughs, the sound rumbling in Chloe’s ear. “But then she really looked at me and she went, ‘Oh, Mrs. Beale?’ And I said yes and she started scrambling to put down some of her bags to shake my hand. It was too cute.”

“You didn’t tell her that, did you?” Chloe asks, leaning back and sucking in a shaky breath.

“No, no, of course not. She was so flustered, poor thing. I grabbed a couple of the bags and we got them upstairs together. Then she put everything down in the hall and sort of just stood there, outside the apartment door. And she said, ‘Chloe said she wanted to go in together the first time. Once it was ours. So.’” She bares her teeth in a fair imitation of awkward Beca.

Chloe remembers that. It had been a passing comment while they were doing the initial walkthrough of the place. She also remembers leaping from the cab and running upstairs to find Beca fiddling with the keys and her mother happily perched on a suitcase, waiting for her. She’d been so happy to see Mamma that she hadn’t thought about it at all when Beca just stood there, watching them tearfully reunite. She had just offered Chloe the key once they were done and Chloe had unlocked the door and grabbed the hem of Beca’s jacket, pulling her inside with her. She thought she’d made it home just in time. Something in her chest clenches in a familiar, but all new way when she thinks of Beca standing by the door, juggling her keys hand to hand. “I didn’t know she waited.”

“She asked me not to tell you. Embarrassed, poor baby.” Mamma chuckles. Then she tilts her head. “You know I think your father would have loved flustering her more than anything. Another thing you have in common. Oh, he used to get me so riled up, I tell you!” She launches into a story Chloe’s heard a million times before about her father showing up to their first date covered in scrapes and bruises and one, very quickly swelling. dog bite. And as her mother had freaked out and tried to force him into a car to go to the hospital, he’d smiled and handed her a bunch of flowers that he climbed the fence the dog was behind to get for her. “I was so worried he was going to lose his leg and he was so proud of those stupid flowers! And the more I freaked out, the more he just laughed and laughed.” But Chloe listens intently. It’s one of her favorites.

When she finishes the tale, they’re laughing, Chloe’s head tucked back under Mamma’s chin. And it feels like a moment to say something, anything, about this warm burn in her chest that she thinks she might have always had. But suddenly, it’s so obvious. Like a kitchen fire she didn’t notice until the curtains were alight and now that’s all she can focus on. “I think I like her a lot, Mamma.”

Mamma snorts, squeezing her tighter. “Well, I sure hope so. If you two break up, Eli might just leave us to go with her.”

Chloe laughs, rolling right off the bed and to her feet. Her nose doesn’t feel as stuffy anymore, but she’s ready for a shower and it’s cold in Mamma’s room. “He would not! He loves me!”

Mamma hums noncommittally, moving back to her quilt. Chloe tugs her braid once, sharply, like Gran used to do when Chloe wasn’t doing her homework. “Ow! You--!”

She dodges Mamma’s swing, dashing out of the room and down the hall.

“You’re grounded!” Mamma calls after her, laughing.

The door’s unlocked, so Chloe lets herself into the garage and locks it behind her. There’s music playing upstairs and she takes the stairs two at a time.

Beca’s stretched out in the desk chair, one arm hooked over the back and her other hand resting on her laptop keyboard as she stares at the screen. Work email, it looks like. Her hair is loose and still damp and she’s changed into a baggy t-shirt and sweatpants. And she looks just as good as she had in underarmor and swim trunks beside the firepit.

As Chloe hops up the last stair, Beca’s head drops back and she peers at Chloe upside down. “Hey, Beale. Was worried you got lost.”

“Mamma likes to talk,” she says, pulling at the knot of her coverup. Beca glances at her hands, then picks her head up, going back to work. “She likes you.”

“Duh, I’m the shit.” Beca closes the email, kicking off of Chloe’s desk to spin around, her heels dragging on the floor. She’s grinning and Chloe pauses as she drops her coverup in the laundry bin.

“Bec?” Her eyebrows tilt up in answer. “Can I touch you for a second?”

Now her brow furrows and she sits up, pulling both hands into her lap. Usually, when she’s overstimulated but trying to push through it, she does this small roll back with her left shoulder, as if settling a jacket on better. But her shoulders are still and she nods once, blinking.

So Chloe walks around the bed and bends down to press her lips to Beca’s cheek. She counts to three, then rocks back on her heels, still eye level.

Beca’s eyes are wide. “What was that for?”

Chloe shrugs. “For coming here with me. For being the best fake girlfriend ever.” Beca rolls her eyes. “For how you are with my family. It means a lot to me.”

She looks genuinely confused. “I--dude, I’m not doing anything, like, special or whatever. Your family’s cool.” She tilts her head, shoulders rocking forward. “I like them.”

“I know. They like you.” She hesitates only a second. “I like you.”

Beca’s lips curve in that confident smirk Chloe loves so much. “Trying to tell me something, Beale?”

And maybe she is. But not tonight. Even if she’s sure this feeling’s been there since day one, it’s new to Chloe and she needs some time to dwell on it. So she resorts to what she knows works for them. “Yes.” Beca’s eyes widen even more and Chloe leans in. “I…” She reaches over Beca to brace one hand on the back of the chair, tilting it a bit. In the same movement, she brings her knee up to rest in the space between Beca’s. “Really…” Beca rocks back with the chair, her hands pulling up to her chest like a kind of shield. “Want…” Her mouth pops open and Chloe grins, tilting her head and leaning closer. Then she shoves the chair back with her leg and it hits the wall. Beca gives an undignified squeak. “This song on my workout playlist. What is this?” Chloe turns and swoops down on Beca’s laptop, clicking the media player and not at all trying to hide the huge grin on her face.

“Dude!” Beca strikes out with her foot, catching the back of Chloe’s thigh.

“What’s wrong, Becs?”


Chloe grins, fully aware she’s still bent over the desk in just her bathing suit. “Did you want me to say something else?”

Beca’s ears flush red and she rolls her eyes, shoving past Chloe to collapse in the bed. “Shut up. No.”

Chloe laughs, leaving the laptop alone to move back to the bathroom. At the door, she spins around and says, “Did you wanna join me?”

“Get out!”

She starts laughing again as she shampoos her hair and something heavy hits the door, making her laugh harder.

Chapter Text

Beca wakes up alone this time.

She spends a good ten minutes just laying there, eyes still closed, completely sure she’s alone because she can only hear her own breathing. No humming. No careful footsteps. None of Chloe’s usual morning sounds. And the bed feels cool. She’s a little disappointed, but a much bigger part of her is relieved.

Because, yeah, she’s definitely got a thing for Chloe. A very massive, very real thing. It feels like she’s been staring at a painting for two years now and just finally turned her head the right way to make out what it was a painting of. And it looks a lot like she wants to hold Chloe’s hand and kiss her when no one is looking. When it’s not to keep up their story or to get her ex to back off. And, god, does she feel stupid. Because it was all so obvious. Of course she likes Chloe. How could anyone not? Hell, she might even lo--

Yeah, nope. Not going there. Too early in the morning to get that real with herself.

When she realizes she’s not going to sleep anymore, she blindly reaches out for her phone on the desk. She nearly knocks it to the floor instead, but manages to catch it by the charger and pull it up. Opening one eye, she types in her passcode and finds her phone has blown up overnight.

She catches Chloe’s name in the slew of unknown numbers and emails from work. She clicks that first. “Going bridesmaid dress hunting with Bree! Be back this afternoon probs. Luv u :) ” There’s no less than fifteen heart emojis after that. Beca tries not to think too much about it. Then, “The girls wanted ur # so, sorry not sorry but my gf is totes popular. Also, u look so cute when ur asleep btw. ”.

Now all the unknown numbers make sense. She rolls her eyes, rereading the message once before responding simply, “Shut the fuck up, no I don’t ”, then switching to her messages from Stacie.

Becs. ” Then, “Wake up.” and, “Chloe said I’m not allowed to knock or bust in there and wake u but we all know I’m bad at following instructions.” Then it’s just her name, over and over. Her last message says, “U have til 11, then I’m coming in with the cavalry.

It’s 10:49. She quickly shoots back a text that she’s up and will be out soon.

Emily has also texted her. Jesus, she really is popular. “Stacie’s planning to break into the garage and drag you from bed. Just thought you should know.” She texts her a thank you.

Jesse has sent her some weird gif of a woman twerking on the side of the highway. She has no idea what it means, so she doesn’t respond.

Her unknown messages make her smile more than she will ever admit to.

“Hey, tiny Dj, it’s CR. Hurry up out here. These bitches are trying to get everyone to sing Cotton Eye Joe and I ain’t here for it. Help!

Hi! It’s Ashley. Chloe gave me your num, so just saying hey!

Hey, Beca, this is Jessica! Just wanted to say you were KILLER at the riff off yesterday! ” Helpfully, she’s added a picture of herself giving a thumbs up. She’s glad she was right about which one was which. That would have been awkward.

Shortstack, do u think I could borrow $20? Every1 said no but thats just cuz they’r not real friends like us.” She scrolls down. “P.s. this is Fat Amy.

She snorts, dropping her phone on Chloe’s pillow and stretching out. Fucking nerds.

By the time she rolls out of bed and throws on some jeans and a button up, Stacie has made good on her threat and is pounding on the door.

“Mitchell! Get your ass up!”

She unlocks the door and pulls it open. “Whatever you’re selling, I can’t afford it.”

“Ain’t that the damn truth,” Stacie purrs, hands on her hips. She jabs a finger over her shoulder and Beca leans further out the door to find Lew standing there. “He needs his truck back. You’ve got the keys.”

“Oh. Yeah. Gimme a sec.” She sprints upstairs and snatches the keys from the headboard, rushing back down.

“Thanks,” Lew says, taking them. “I’ve got a ton of errands today. You didn’t leave any contraband in my truck, did you?”

“Eh,” Beca scrunches up her nose, tilting her head. “You know. Just a little cocaine and stuff. No big.”

Lew laughs, swinging the keys around his finger. “No big. Right. You kids be good today. Tell Ladybug I said hi.”

“Will do!” Stacie calls after him, watching him leave. She pulls her bottom lip between her teeth.

“Dude.” Beca jabs her in the ribs. “That’s Chloe’s uncle. Quit it.”

Stacie shrugs, only looking away once he’s rounded the side of the house. “Calm down, I’m not going to do anything. The Beales are just genetically gifted. I can’t help but look at them. They’re just so pretty.” She tosses her hair as she rounds on Beca. “You missed breakfast. Mamma put you a plate in the fridge. It’s bigger than you, I swear.”

Every Southern woman Beca has ever met had done the same thing. Her lunch ladies at school often put double helpings on her plate and didn’t charge her. At friends' houses, their parents would cluck about how small she was and bring her snacks and make her plates to bring home, even if she hadn’t come for dinner. Hell, she’s pretty sure Ms. McKinney back home only brings food over because she’d seen Beca while they were moving in.

Not that Beca ever complained. She ate it all, but never grew.

“Yo, tiny Dj!” Cynthia Rose waves from the back porch. “Eli wants you!”

“Comin’!” Beca calls back. Cynthia Rose ducks into the house and she turns to find Stacie smiling widely at her. “What?”

“Nothing.” Stacie pulls out her phone and starts texting, barely glancing at her again. “Emily and I are about to run to the store for Mamma. You wanna come?”

“Sure. Let me go see what Eli wants first. Gotta grab my wallet.”

“Okay, see you inside, boss!”

Beca locks up the garage and deposits the key by the back door, then stops in the kitchen. Just as Stacie said, there’s a ceran-wrapped plate in the fridge with a pink post-it that says, “Beca” with a chain of hearts underlining it. God, like mother, like daughter, indeed. She wants to shovel the whole thing down, but decides to wait until later. She does, however, snatch the bacon from the plate and microwave them on a paper towel. She quickly eats as she follows the sound of the Bellas talking to the living room.

They look up as she enters, all chorusing hellos and good mornings. She awkwardly lifts a hand in greeting. Eli, who’s sitting by the fireplace, leaps up and bounds over, jumping Cynthia Rose’s legs that are up on the coffee table. “Beca!”

“What’s up, Slugger?”

He grins, obviously pleased at the nickname. “Do you wanna come ride four-wheelers with me?”

Before she can do something embarrassing, like freak out about how much she loves four-wheelers, Mamma Beale sweeps into the room, a laundry basket under her arm. “Is that what you wanted to ask her? Young man, you have homework to finish for tomorrow. And we’re all going over to the Swansons’ for dinner. There’s no time for riding today.”

Beca tries not to look as put out as she feels. It’s probably close to how put out Eli looks. “Sorry, dude. Tomorrow, maybe.”

He grins and bounces in place. She grabs his shoulders, stilling him. He twists under her hands and leans his back against her stomach, arms crossed over his chest. Automatically, she drops her hands to his shoulders again. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Stacie holding her phone up, obviously taking a picture. She ignores her, but lifts one of her middle fingers surreptitiously.

“The Swansons, like Jesse’s parents? They live around here?”

“About thirty minutes away,” Mamma Beale says, settling between Cynthia Rose and Ashley on one of the couches. She puts the laundry basket between her feet and the girls near enough to reach all start folding. “They moved up here when Jesse was in his third year at Barden, I believe. Wonderful lot.”

Beca remembers them pretty well. The first time Jesse had brought her home to hang out, she’d nearly had a heart attack at the size of his house. Rich barely covered what the Swansons were. He was basically a clone of his father. His mother had been a little...energetic. A bit pushy. But nice enough. She hadn’t seen them since senior year.

“Ready, Bec?” Stacie is rising from the couch, towering over everyone in the room. “Em?” She holds out a hand daintily, wiggling her fingers. Emily blinks at it for a second before taking it. Stacie pulls her up and out the door.

Beca squeezes Eli’s shoulders. “Be back soon. Do your homework, dude.”

He nods, eyes wide. “Yeah, okay!” He dashes off up the stairs, barely touching them in his haste.

Mamma Beale shakes her head, folding a t-shirt into her lap. “Next time I can’t get him to listen, I’m just going to call you!”

The ride to the store is...interesting, to say the least. They take Mamma Beale’s little blue Honda and Beca lets Emily ride shotgun, despite her protests. (“Dude, your knees are gonna be in the front seat anyways, just take it.”) Which means Beca has full view of everything from her spot in the middle of the backseat, even slumped down as she is.

The first time, she thinks it’s an accident, barely registers it herself. Stacie drives with her arm up on the center console, her hand resting lightly on the gear shift. Emily, adjusting, leans against the console for a second and her knuckles brush Stacie’s wrist. But then when Emily changes the radio station, Beca clearly sees Stacie reach up as she draws her hand back. Her forefinger slides along the inside of Emily’s pinky, hooking for the briefest moment before Emily folds her hands in her lap again. Stacie turns the movement into adjusting the AC but it’s too late. Beca is locked on now.

She’s so focused on watching them glance at each other and the way Stacie’s hand has drifted off the gear shift to hang between it and the passenger seat, just inches from Emily’s thigh, that she almost misses her name. “Huh? Me? What?”

Stacie laughs, glancing in the rearview mirror. “Well, first off, I can’t even see you in the rearview. Jeez, you really are tiny.” Beca kicks the back of her seat. Then very quickly starts brushing the dirt off of it, remembering this is Mamma Beale’s car. “Second, I asked if you’re doing okay.”

Beca frowns, making sure her footprint is completely gone. “What do you mean?”

Emily twists around, her right hand settling on her left arm on the center console. Beca watches her fingers brush Stacie’s forearm. “Since it’s just us, we thought we should check on you. About you and Chloe. Since, like, we all know.”

It feels like she’s just been sat down to take a test for a class she’s never been to. She rubs her suddenly sweaty palms against her jeans. “What about us?” Us . Huh.

Stopped at a red light, Stacie turns around too, lifting an eyebrow. “Beca. We’re all friends here.” She and Emily exchange a glance. “We just think you and Chloe have been...very convincing.”

What is this? An intervention? Beca crosses her arms, squeezing until the tightness in her chest is actually physical. “We’re supposed to be, aren’t we?”

Stacie turns back to the road. “Well, yeah. We just were talking--”

“I bet,” Beca mutters, narrowing her eyes at their hands, hovering close to each other.

“And we think…” Emily stops, glancing at Stacie.

As usual, Stacie plows on without a blink. “We think you guys might be a little too convincing. But we are totally about it.”

Beca squeezes herself tighter, shifting to get more comfortable. It doesn’t work. “What are you saying?”

Stacie sighs, like Beca’s making her car ride super weird. “Jesus, okay. Be difficult.” She pulls into the parking lot of the grocery store and parks. Then turns in her seat and fixes Beca with the same look she gives Beca and Chloe’s toaster when it malfunctions--like she can make it do what she wants just by staring very intently. She had also taken it apart once and bashed one of the pieces against the counter, before putting it back together. It did work better for a little while, but now Beca wishes she could compare this look to literally anything else. “Beca, do you like Chloe? As in like like, not just like?”

Her first instinct is to deny it. To turn it around on Stacie and ask about those little touches between her and Emily. Point out that what she and Chloe have going on is all for show, for Jesse’s dick cousin and no other reason. Throw herself bodily from the car, maybe.

But then Stacie slips her arm between the seats and wraps her fingers around Beca’s leg, just below her knee. Her fingers press into Beca’s calf and it’s the first time Beca can remember Stacie’s touch not kind of scaring her (because it tended to go from innocent to grope-y in seconds). And Emily--sweet, rambly, naive Emily--is smiling at her from the passenger seat. And it kinda feels okay, right here in this car.

So she shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

She regrets it immediately because Emily squeals and grabs Stacie’s arm, shaking her and the entire car.

“Okay, shut up. I’m leaving--”

“Oh, Becs, it’s okay.” Stacie stills Emily with a hand on her shoulder. She squeezes Beca’s leg harder. “It’s okay, you know.”

She knows she probably looks like a sulking child, but she can’t seem to stop sinking lower in her seat, her chin tucked to her chest. “Is it?”

Stacie nods, smiling. “Come on, Bec. Chloe totally likes you back. I’ve never seen her with anyone the way she is with you.”


“Yeah.” Her hand is warm and her thumb strokes Beca’s shin idly. “And I’ve known her for a long time. She hasn’t even dated anyone since you two met. Did you not notice?”

Beca thinks about that. Now that Stacie mentions it, she can’t recall Chloe even going out with anyone for a date, ever. She’s heard stories about Chloe’s ex boy and girlfriends, but never met one. But still. Chloe would have said something. She’s Chloe. “She would have said something, wouldn’t she?”

Something passes over Stacie’s face too quick for Beca to catch. “This might surprise you, but Chloe’s a little, uh, careful with her feelings these days. Since, well. Since Tom.”

That tightness in her chest suddenly expands and she feels her ribs push out, breath whistling in through her nose. “Why?”

Stacie and Emily glance at each other again.

“He wasn’t...very trusting,” Emily says quietly. It’s the same thing Stacie said at the airport. Everything inside her feels like it’s burning now.

“What does that mean?”

Stacie shakes her head. “It’s really not our story to tell. I’m not surprised Chloe hasn’t brought it up, though. But ask her, Beca. She’ll tell you.”

“But if she doesn’t like talking about it--”

“She’ll tell you.” Stacie pulls her hand back, turning off the car and popping her door open. “She might like to talk it out with you. You’re her best friend.” She stops, throwing a quick glare over her shoulder. “After me, of course.”

She and Emily climb out of the car, laughing. Beca takes a moment without them to breathe in for a seven count, out for six. She’s angry, ready to tear something apart with her bare hands. But she’s also skating the line of ecstatic. What if they’re right? What if Chloe does like her? What the hell is she going to do with this information? She half wishes she had thrown herself from the car earlier, because that would have been easier.

But this feels like something to think on later, so she quickly slides out, hurrying to catch up with her friends’ longer legs.

“Okay, Beca. You take the things on the list that are on the lower shelves and--”

“Fuck you.” Beca snatches one of the parts of the list that Stacie has helpfully torn in three. She grabs a cart and rolls away from Stacie’s stupid laughter.

Generally, she likes grocery shopping. She usually brings her headphones and completely zones out, taking her time to walk down every aisle. Rarely does she make a list. It’s really only when Chloe sends her out that she shops quickly or with anything specific in mind to pick up. When it’s just her, grocery trips can turn into an hour long affair, just her strolling idly from aisle to aisle, bobbing her head to whatever beat she has playing in her headphones.

But now she walks quicker, following the signs to grab everything on her part of the list. Mamma Beale had really given them a long ass list. It had taken up almost a whole notebook page. So she pushes her cart to the back corner to start, picking at the loose bits along the perforation on the page. She picks up strawberries and bananas, Honeycomb, Cran-Grape (because that’s all Eli will drink, the note specifies). It takes a while to locate the bread crumbs, because of course they’re on the top shelf. She glances around to make sure no one is watching, then climbs up on her cart and stretches up. Still too high. She drops back down, debating if she should climb the shelves. Probably not a good idea. An employee on another aisle had already glared at her for simply knocking the box of cereal into her cart as she passed, because another one had fallen to the floor. She’d picked it up, but he had watched her until she exited the aisle. He probably wouldn’t appreciate Beca pulling down a whole shelf of stuff. She could call Stacie? No, she’d never hear the end of it. Emily? No, she’d make that “Oh my god, you’re so cute” face that Beca hates so much.

“Need those?” someone says behind her.

She turns to find a man standing there, pointing up at the bread crumbs. When he smiles, she realizes where she knows his face. Jesse’s dick cousin. God, white boys all just look the same.

“Here.” He steps around her and reaches up. She tries not to immediately punch him in the ribs, which he helpfully leaves wide open. But Chloe probably wouldn’t appreciate bailing her out of jail. Her father surely never had. Jesse’s dick cousin pulls down a pack of bread crumbs, but doesn’t hand it over. “You know, I know you.”

“Yeah?” She shoves her hands in her pockets, glaring up at him.

“Yeah. Beca. Chloe’s friend, right?” He smiles in what she assumes he thinks is a charming way.

“Her girlfriend.” Beca smiles back, close-lipped. “You’re Jesse’s, uh, cousin.”

“Tom.” He extends the hand not holding the bread crumbs. “I used to date Chloe, I’m sure you know.”

She’s so incredibly proud of herself for shaking his hand instead of biting it. She pulls back quickly. “Ah, it sounds familiar. She might have mentioned it.”

He nods, shaking the bag of bread crumbs. His stupid, too handsome face twists into a smirk and he leans in. She leans back. “Come on. You’re not dating Chloe.”

Ice spreads through her limbs and she curls her hands into fists in her pockets. “Excuse me?”

His eyes drag down to her toes, then back up, slowly. It’s like an ice bath and she can feel herself breathing harder, but can’t seem to stop. Everything her old therapist ever said about managing her anger suddenly rushes back and she breathes in for seven. He’s still looking her up and down when she breathes out. “You’re not really her type. That kiss under the tree was hot and all, but come on.” He tilts his head, smiling like they’re friends and he’s trying to help her out. “Chloe’s one of those girls that needs a man to really be happy, you know?”

In for seven. Out for six. She twists her fists in her pocket and realizes she’s crushed the grocery list. “I see.” She can tell he didn’t expect her to speak. His eyebrows jump up and he leans back just a little. She knows his game. She knows jerks like him. And she knows damn well that Chloe doesn’t need anything or anyone. So she leans into the space he’s given her, narrowing her eyes. “Well, next time she’s kissing me , I’ll be sure to let her know you said so.” She yanks the bread crumbs from his hand and winks as his face turns red. “Trust me.”

Chapter Text

They’re walking through their second store when Chloe gets the first message from Stacie. She opens it as Aubrey holds up two blue dresses, comparing shades.


“Who’s that?” Aubrey asks, moving on.

“Stacie. She bet me on the plane ride here that Beca had a secret southern accent that my family would draw out.” She pulls a lavender dress from the rack and holds it up against herself. Aubrey scrunches her nose up in a move that just screams Jesse. Chloe hangs it back up. “Did Jesse have an accent when you met him?”

“No, actually.” Aubrey thrusts a dress into Chloe’s arms. “Try this one on?” They move to the dressing rooms, Aubrey grabbing another dress on the way. “His parents worked very hard to make sure he didn’t have one. But occasionally he would say something that sounded very, very southern. He still does.”

Chloe giggles, imagining it as she juggles the dresses in her arms and slips into the dressing room. Aubrey stays outside, her feet pacing back and forth in front of the door. Chloe hangs up their selections and quickly strips down. Once the first dress is on, she opens the door. Aubrey immediately vetoes it, so she shuts the door and strips again. Her phone dings. Then dings again. And again.

Still in her underwear, she grabs her phone and finds Snapchats from Stacie, Jessica, and Fat Amy. They’re all variations of the same thing: Eli, leaning back against Beca, her hands resting on his shoulders. In Amy’s version, she’s drawn a big curly mustache on Beca. Stacie’s version is from the side and she can see Beca is subtly flipping her off. Jessica’s is her favorite. Eli’s head is turned, his hair sticking up in the back, and Beca is smiling. Warmth swells in her chest as she screenshots all three. She sets Jessica’s as her lock screen.

“Chloe? Do you need help?”

She quickly tosses her phone down and grabs the next dress. “No, sorry. Was answering some Snapchats.” This dress zips up the side and fits pretty snugly. She already knows Aubrey will say no before she opens the door. Because, wow, cleavage.

“No way,” Aubrey says the second she sees her. “People will be too busy staring at all the boobs. Just imagine Stacie in that! It’s my special day!” She laughs, dramatically clapping a hand to her chest. “Get back in there before you fall out of that thing.”

Chloe shuts the door, twisting to unzip it as Aubrey’s soft laugh still echoes through the door.

Then she hums thoughtfully. “You know, maybe you should buy that one though. For your girlfriend.”

Chloe pauses, zipper half undone, and looks at herself in the full-length mirror on the wall. The dress really does look good--a soft, dark blue thing that goes to her ankles and dips dangerously low in the front. Then she thinks again about what Aubrey said. “She’s not my girlfriend, Bree.”

“Hm. Does she know that?”

Pulling the zipper the rest of the way down, Chloe lets the dress pool at her feet. “She does.”

There’s a pause. Aubrey’s feet go still under the door. “Do you?”

Chloe opens the door and Aubrey almost falls through it, catching herself on the wall. “What?”

Aubrey straightens, brushing a hand over her perfectly curled hair. Aubrey always does that when she knows she’s right about something. “I saw that kiss at the lake, Chloe. There was no one around to convince.”

She knows that. She’s been thinking that since it happened. She thought about it all night while Beca’s soft breath filled the room and especially when Beca had rolled over in the early hours of the morning and laid a hand over Chloe’s stomach. And when she’d leaned over Beca to give her a quick peck on the cheek before she left, Beca had sighed just a little and her hand had twitched toward Chloe. She’d thought a lot about the kiss then.

Aubrey must take her silence as confusion. “Tom wasn’t there. Nobody that might have told him was there. And you knew that.” She clasps her hands together, watching Chloe’s face carefully. “But you kissed her anyways.”

And that’s what had Chloe up late thinking about it. Because she didn’t. “She kissed me, actually.”

It’s like Chloe just told her the perfect bridesmaid dress is half off. Aubrey’s face splits into a grin and she squeals a little, grabbing Chloe’s hands. “She kissed you!”

Aubrey’s grin has always been infectious. Chloe's loved it from the first time they’d spoken at that coffee shop on campus, when their orders had been mixed up. She’d originally joined the Bellas just because she wanted to keep Aubrey smiling like this. And it’s no different now. Chloe laughs, letting Aubrey shake her.

“Chloe, you’ve got to tell her!”

“Really?” It feels a little hard to catch her breath. She’s grinning so wide that her cheeks actually hurt. “I don’t know, Bree…”

Aubrey’s grip on her wrists tightens just a little. “Chloe, she kissed you. For no reason.”

“Maybe she thought she was supposed to. Maybe--”

“Why haven’t you told the Bellas?”

Chloe blinks, thrown by the sudden subject change. “I-I don’t know.” She had thought about it. Almost texted the group chat as a heads up. But then it had slipped her mind and then they were packing and travelling and everyone was there and Beca had kissed her under the red maple and-- She blinks. “After Beca kissed me the first time, I just didn’t think about it.”

Aubrey nods, slipping her hands down to intertwine their fingers. “...Were you maybe hoping you’d never have to?”

It takes a second for Aubrey’s meaning to sink in. And Chloe feels it settle in her gut, warm and heavy. Because it might be true. Aubrey knows her better than almost anyone. Better than she knows herself most times.

A guy passing by stops, blinking at them, then grins. “Hey.” Chloe realizes she’s still just in her underwear.

“Hey, perv. Do you like walking crooked?” Aubrey steps between them and draws herself up. The General’s daughter.

The guy moves on quickly. Once he’s gone, Chloe throws her arms around Aubrey and presses a kiss to her temple. “You’re the best, Bree.”

Scoffing, Aubrey hugs her back. “I know. So hurry up and find a dress for my wedding!”

But once she’s alone in the dressing room again, a thought occurs to her. She can’t deny she likes Beca. She loves Beca, everything about her. She’s one of the best friends Chloe’s ever had. She’s funny and smart and talented and so, so sweet, even if she denies it repeatedly.

Is Chloe in love with her though? It all sounds so easy when Aubrey says it. But there’s a tremble in her hands when she thinks of that kiss by the water. Because it had been more than easy. It had been simple. Beca hadn’t freaked out after and Chloe had been able to (mostly) function normally the rest of the night. And that kind of scares her. Because Beca is her best friend. Chloe can’t risk that for anything less than in love, no matter how easy it seems.

And the last time she’d thought she was in love hadn’t turned out very well.

They find the perfect dress at the third shop they visit. It’s royal blue, with silver embroidery and Aubrey cries when Chloe steps out of the dressing room in it. The woman behind the counter assures them that it comes in plenty of sizes. (“Mamma can take them in or anything we need, Bree.”) They also find a suit for Cynthia Rose that’s the same shade of blue. They purchase Chloe’s dress immediately and it takes a little convincing for Aubrey to make her not wear it home. They’re just climbing into the car when Chloe’s phone goes off again.

Stacie. It’s a Snapchat of Beca in the backseat of Mamma’s car, surrounded by grocery bags and holding her hand up to block the camera. The caption, in bright rainbow across the picture, says, “Ur gf just told off ur ex in the cookie aisle!

Chloe gasps and Aubrey stops, seatbelt only half pulled. “What? What happened?” She passes the phone to Aubrey and watches her eyes widen. “She told off Tom?”

It sounds like exactly the kind of thing Beca would do. She thinks of her old co-worker’s slashed tires and can’t decide if she’s thrilled or terrified. On one hand, she loves Beca’s protective streak. On the other, she really doesn’t want Beca to ever see Tom angry. Taking her phone back, Chloe quickly pulls up Stacie’s number and calls her. She answers on the first ring. “Stacie?”

“Chloe! Beca totally just went off on Doucheface! I saw him when he was walking out and he looked pissed!”

Beca’s voice is tiny in the background. “I did not! I barely spoke three sentences to him, Stace, I told you.”

“Well, whatever you said, you got his panties in a wad,” Stacie says, laughing. “What did you say?”

“Nothing, dude. Like, really, nothing happened.”

“Stacie!” Chloe says as Stacie presses Beca for more information. “Give Becs the phone.”

“Sure thing. Here’s your girlfriend!”

“Oh my god,” Beca mutters, her voice much closer now. “Hello?”

Chloe’s entire chest fills with butterflies. Which shouldn’t surprise her, because it’s always happened when she hears Beca’s voice. But now she’s paying attention to it. “What happened?”

Beca groans into the phone. “Like, he came up while I was getting bread crumbs and said some douchey stuff about you needing a man or whatever. So I just, like. I just told him I’d pass on the message.”

“That’s it?”

There’s a pause and she can just picture Beca gesturing aimlessly, one eye scrunched closed. “...I may have said I’d pass it on next time we were making out or whatever?”

There’s a screech from Beca’s end--Stacie, probably--and Chloe covers her mouth to attempt to contain her smile. “Beca. Mitchell.”

“Oh, dude, no. That’s your ‘I’m gonna glomp’ you voice. Come on.”

“Glomp” was not a word in Beca’s vocabulary until Chloe came along. She’s glad she’s taught her important things. “You’re definitely getting glomped, Becs. You defended my honor. My tiny knight.”

“Okay, you didn’t have to say ‘tiny’.”

She laughs. “Hey, Becs?”

Beca hums.

“I love you.”

Aubrey catches her eye and grins, her shoulders lifting nearly to her ears.

“Yeah, yeah, you too, dude,” Beca mutters, voice much quieter than before. Chloe wishes she were there with her, because embarrassed Beca is so adorable. She goes boneless and usually ends up slumped all the way down in whatever seat she can find, like she can just ooze down into the cracks of it and not have to talk to anyone anymore. “See you at home.”

That shouldn’t make her feel warm all the way to the tips of her toes, but it does. Beca hangs up as Stacie starts yelling again and Chloe puts her phone down, grinning at Aubrey.

Aubrey lifts an eyebrow.

“Shut up.” Chloe falls back in her seat, covering her face. It’s so easy.

It’s so scary.

They get back to the house and find complete chaos.

The Bellas are packed into the kitchen, digging through the grocery bags on the counter and throwing each other things to put up. Mamma is sitting at the dining room table, calling out the occasional direction and “Oh, be careful, don’t hurt yourselves!”. Aunt Dana is nearly inside the fridge, a Coke in one hand and a jug of milk in the other as she yells over the talking girls for anything else that goes in the fridge. Eli is sitting on the counter, holding a bag of apples and gently kicking whoever passes.

Inexplicably, Beca is on top of the kitchen island, kneeling among the grocery bags and passing things to the girls around her. She ducks a can of tomatoes that Stacie is throwing Jessica just as Chloe and Aubrey walk in. When she straightens, she catches Chloe’s gaze and grins. Wide and easy and a little wild. She looks sort of overwhelmed, but there’s none of the usual signs that she needs to escape, so Chloe just smiles back, crossing her arms over her stomach. She presses down on the flutters there, trying to keep them down.

“Red!” Cynthia Rose cheers, noticing her. “Captain! Y’all get in here and help us!”

Mamma reaches for the dress bag in Aubrey’s hands and disappears with it--probably upstairs--as they move to help. Squeezing through the crowd and avoiding being hit by flying vegetables, Chloe makes it to Beca’s side. Beca leans down a bit to hear her over Ashley yelling for Amy to not throw the bananas. “Having fun?”

Beca snorts. “Your people are insane. So, I shouldn’t be, but…” She shrugs one shoulder, rolling her eyes.

“Incoming, Shortstack!”

Beca twists just in time to catch the heavy bag of rice Amy couldn’t quite get to Emily. She huffs, falling back to sit on her feet. Automatically, Chloe grabs her hips to make sure she doesn’t fall off the counter. And Beca just leans into her, lolling back so that Chloe is practically holding her up, and she hefts the bag over her head into Emily’s arms. “Jesus, Ames, more warning next time!”

Amy hisses, holding up two cans of green beans. “Trying to keep you on your toes. How are you gonna survive visiting me in Australia if you can’t catch something flying at your head?”

“Is that something that happens often there?” Beca’s straightened up, but doesn’t make any move to pull away. So Chloe doesn’t either, simply holding her hips.

“Eh?” Amy tosses the cans to Jessica, who turns and puts them in the cupboard. “Maybe.”

Beca laughs and starts digging through the grocery bags again. She pulls out a couple bottles of shampoo. “Oh. Bathroom stuff. CR.” She drops them back in the bag and passes the whole thing to Ashley, who passes it to Cynthia Rose. She salutes Beca and slips out of the room.

“Empty bags!” Aubrey calls, clapping her hands. As one, the Bellas and Beca grab every empty bag they can, ball them up, and throw them at Aubrey. “No! One at a time!” Aubrey laughs, arms over her head.

Chloe can feel Beca’s laughter vibrating in her own chest and she presses forward a bit more to give Beca a quick peck behind her ear. Beca squirms, shoulder lifting and rubbing against the side of her head, as if it tickled, and then she turns to look back at her. She’s grinning as she pushes a strand of hair behind her ear, fingers lingering momentarily where Chloe had kissed.

“Hi,” Chloe says for no reason.

“Hey,” Beca presses her lips together, nose wrinkling up.

Chloe really wants to kiss her again.

By the time they peel themselves away from the group and make it up to the garage, Chloe is practically shaking from holding herself back. Because seeing Beca laugh and joke and work alongside the Bellas, Chloe’s family, just makes her want to wrap herself around her like a jacket and just watch.

Which is exactly what she does as Beca stops behind her, at the top of the garage stairs, to take off her boots and carefully place them beside the mini fridge. Once they’re off, Beca straightens and catches her looking. “What?”

Chloe blinks, clasping her hands in front of her. “Why were you on the counter?”

Beca chuckles, plucking at the buttons of her shirt. It isn’t until the third one slips free that Chloe realizes she’s unbuttoning it. “I was kinda getting lost in the crowd. Little, uh, overwhelmed.” She grins with all her teeth, like she does when she’s super uncomfortable, and shakes her hands around, wrists twisting. Her shirt falls open, revealing the black tank top underneath. Chloe pulls her bottom lip between her teeth. “Dana told me to hop up.”

“I see.” She spins around, looking for something else to put her hands on. She sees Beca’s laptop is still open and turns it on. “You fit in here. With the Bellas and my family.” Behind her, she hears Beca laugh.

“Yeah, I guess so. I mean, they’re all fucking weird. But they’re cool.”

Chloe drops into the desk chair and types in Beca’s password. She stares at the homescreen for a moment, pushing the mouse around. It’s a cute mouse that Chloe had stuck in Beca’s stocking last Christmas. It was their first Christmas living together and they had made a rule: one gift to each other. Then Chloe made the sub-rule that anything that fit in the stocking didn’t count as an actual gift and, therefore, didn’t break the first rule. So she’d been able to get Beca the jacket she’d been eyeing for months as well as a really nice button-up, a shower speaker, and the mouse. She has no doubt that’s the only reason Beca uses it, because it may be wireless and small enough for Beca to easily close her hand around, but it’s also bright, bubble-gum pink.

“You getting changed?” Beca says, voice farther away. Chloe turns around and finds her bent over the mini fridge, pulling out a bottle of water. “For the Swansons’? Your mom said we should.”

“You know them, right?” Chloe spins her chair slowly, letting it take her away from Beca.

“Yeah. Since third grade, I think? They’re alright.” The chair spins back and she sees Beca grimace. “A little touchy-feely. And his mom has always been a little weirdly...involved? I don’t know.”

She pushes her foot against the desk to keep spinning. “Well, I’m sure they’ll be happy to see you again.” As she passes the laptop, she has a sudden urge. It feels like a bad idea right now, but it’s a little overwhelming. So she stops herself with her foot and pulls up Beca’s music, scrolling through. “Hey, Becs?”

Beca doesn’t answer out loud, but there’s a soft tapping on wood. Beca’s “I’m listening but doing something” sound. She glances back and finds Beca drinking deeply from her water bottle, eyebrows up as she watches Chloe.

“Wanna dance?”

The first time Chloe had come home from work crying because they’d had to put down one of the older dogs that wasn’t doing well, Beca had been completely lost. She’d fluttered about, unable to even understand what Chloe was trying to choke out, but completely ready to kill someone. It was back when Beca didn’t much like being touched and was still skittish about Chloe even being nice to her. But she’d awkwardly patted Chloe’s back and offered to get her a drink or to find whoever had upset her. When none of that worked, Beca had resorted to the only thing she knew. Music. She’d disappeared into her room and returned with her brand new shower speaker. She put on “When You Believe” by Whitney Houston and then carefully perched one cushion away on the couch, twisting her ring around her thumb. The first verse passed and Chloe’s crying slowed. She’d given Beca a quick, watery smile and Beca had returned it. Then wiggled her eyebrows and said, “Wanna dance?”

And Chloe had known she was joking, just trying to lighten the mood. But she’d stood and reached for Beca’s hands and Beca had let her pull her up. It was a little awkward, like a middle school dance. Beca’s hands barely resting on her hips, keeping her at arm’s length, Chloe’s hands perfectly still on her shoulders. But they’d laughed and danced for the short bit of the song left. Chloe had felt so much better, though she wasn’t surprised when Beca had holed herself up in her room or at work and Chloe didn’t see her for three days after.

The next time, Chloe had asked Beca. She’d gotten the highest grade in class on her last paper and she was so thrilled that she just needed to move. So she’d come home, thrown down her bag, and breathlessly asked Beca to dance. By then, Beca had already survived the “Great British Cuddling Session” as she called it, so she’d let Chloe loop her arms around her neck and pull her in, dancing to whatever new song Beca had been working on when she arrived.

And it had become a thing. Whenever Chloe was too happy or sad, she’d ask Beca to dance. Chloe didn’t ask often, but Beca never turned her down when she did.

So she’s already standing as she asks, knowing this time won’t be any different. And she smiles to let Beca know it’s a happy dance this time. Behind her, the first chords of “Love Me Harder” by Ariana Grande start playing.

Beca laughs, rolling her eyes, but Chloe knows it’s just for show, because Beca’s hips are already moving to the beat. She takes Chloe’s hand and, shocking every cell in her body, spins her once before pulling her in. Chloe goes with it, laughing as they settle against each other, one arm going around her neck, the other hand still in Beca’s. It’s a far cry from their first awkward dance and she takes full advantage, dropping her head into the crook of Beca’s neck to breathe her in. Beca’s a good dancer.

And when she begins to hum along with the chorus, Chloe has to squeeze her tighter to keep from surging forward into her. Instead, she just runs her fingers down Beca’s shoulder blade to rest right under it, feeling the rumble of the song deep beneath her ribs. They sway in place to the beat.

The song’s almost over somehow when Beca’s head turns just enough that her lips brush Chloe’s ear. Chloe takes a deep unsteady breath and closes her eyes. Their cheeks brush as Chloe slowly pulls back, blindly following that soft tingling in her stomach. Beca’s so warm and Chloe feels like she’s burning up, from the inside out. The song sounds louder, filling her ears and the open, trembling spaces between them. Beca’s breath touches the corner of her lips and Chloe holds her own, waiting.

“BELLAS ASSEMBLE IN TWENTY!” Fat Amy’s voice slices between them, sending Beca reeling back. Chloe blinks her eyes open, a little dazed. “The carriages are arriving! Finish your meet in the front yard!” There’s a banging on the wall downstairs and some laughter that Chloe recognizes as Aunt Dana’s. Then it’s gone and “Love Me Harder” is fading into the opening of “Anpanman” by BTS.

Beca recovers first, laughing. “Dude, I love this song.” She slips out of Chloe’s arms gently, an extra bounce in her step as she slips into the bathroom. The door closes and she can hear her sing, “I’m not a superhero…

Only once she’s alone does Chloe lift a hand to her racing heart, breathing in deeply. What was it that Beca said she did sometimes? In for seven, out for six?

Chapter Text

Conscious of how long the sink’s been running, Beca shuts it off, but stays bent over the basin, wet hands pressed to her cheeks. Her face feels hot, like she’s got a fever, though she knows she was fine a few minutes ago.

Before she’d almost kissed Chloe.

Because that’s exactly what she’d been intending to do. Chloe had pressed against her, her breath tickling Beca’s collarbone, and it had felt so good. And she had wondered how good it would feel to kiss her again, like she had under the tree. Except without an audience this time. Just them. Just because.

She grabs the edge of the sink and crosses her feet, leaning back until her arms are completely extended over her head. Her back pops. She switches her feet around and leans again until it pops. Then she stands and drops back against the bathroom wall, looking at herself in the mirror. Her face is flushed or maybe that’s from the cold water. Her eyeliner is smeared in one corner and she stands out--dark flannel and hair against the pale lavender bathroom walls. Quickly, she pulls her makeup bag from under the sink and sets about fixing herself up. “Sugar” by Maroon 5 is pumping through the bathroom door and she can hear Chloe singing along. It doesn’t help her keep her hands steady while she fixes her makeup.

When she steps out of the bathroom, Chloe is already changed into a sparkly, knee-length, green dress and cream heels. She looks amazing. Beca shoves her hands in her pockets. “You look amazing.” Son of a bitch, that’s not what she meant to say. Too much, Mitchell.

But Chloe’s entire face lights up and she drops her head, smoothing the dress over her flat stomach. “Yeah? It’s one of my old dresses I left here. I didn’t think it would still fit.” She cocks her hip out, striking a pose like she’s at the end of a runway.

Beca snorts, rolling her eyes. “Go fix your hair so it looks good too.”

Chloe gasps, smacking her arm as she passes. Beca laughs, not even bothering to dodge. Once the bathroom door is closed, she digs into her side of the dresser drawers. She knows she has it somewhere… Ah ha! She pulls out her dark green button-up that Stacie had bought her for her birthday. She changes into it and the one pair of slacks she’d brought for the wedding. She hadn’t been expecting to have dinner at Jesse’s rich ass family’s house, but now she’s really glad she packed a wedding outfit instead of buying one when she got here. Because, if she remembers correctly, Mrs. Swanson likes semi-formal dinners. The first time Jesse had invited her over for one, she’d actually had to borrow nice clothes from him.

She uses the smaller mirror over the dresser to fix her hair, tying the top back, but leaving most of it down and wavy. Then, feeling a little rebellious, she pops one more button on her shirt and leaves the leather bands around her wrists and her rings on. She rolls up the sleeves to her elbows and tucks the shirt in, then slips into her boots instead of the nice, wedding shoes under the dresser.

Semi-formal, right?

The bathroom door opens and Chloe steps out, running her fingers through her curls and shaking them out to fall around her shoulders. She’s gone minimum with her makeup, like Beca, just enough liner to make the blue of her eyes pop out more than usual. And she freezes when she sees Beca.

She wonders briefly if she should have gone with the shoes instead of the boots. The look on Chloe’s face is one she hasn’t seen before and she glances down at herself. “What? No good?”

“No,” Chloe jumps in, louder than Beca expected. “No, very good.” Her voice drops to a normal volume and she strides over, reaching out and smoothing her hands down Beca’s stomach, which does some pretty impressive acrobatics inside. “You look…” Chloe smirks, eyes twinkling as she pulls her hands back. “You look good. Got a hot date tonight, Mitchell?”

Stacie’s voice fills her head, telling her Chloe hasn’t dated anyone since they met. Smiling, Beca steps back toward the stairs and holds out a hand, purposely looking Chloe up and down. “Yeah, Beale. Kinda.”

The Bellas have gathered in the front yard. Dana is standing on the front porch and holding her keys out to Fat Amy. “If you wreck my mom van, I’ll get you deported.”

Amy snatches the keys, her silvery dress flashing as she moves backwards down the steps. “Don’t worry. I used to drive the safari truck for tourists and I only ever wrecked once. And that rhino came at me first.”

“Why do we let her be our driver again?” Cynthia Rose rasps, leaning against the side of the van. Beca’s glad to see she isn't the only one not wearing a dress. In fact, the sleeves of Cynthia Rose’s red button-up are also rolled up. Beca admires her black suit vest for a moment. "Dashing" was the word she wanted to use for her.

“None of that, Chocolate Tart!” Amy pulls open the driver’s door. “Get in! We’re off! Short gays in the back, tall gays in the front!”

“That’s us,” Cynthia Rose mutters, motioning for Chloe and Beca to climb in first. Beca lets Chloe go, totally not staring at her legs as she clambers over into the backseat. Once Chloe’s settled, she follows, trying not to get her foot caught in a seatbelt or anything. She twists and drops, sliding over against Chloe so Cynthia Rose has plenty of room to maneuver herself in. Chloe’s hand lands on her back and she tries not to shiver.

Stacie, Emily, and Jessica take the middle seats and Ashley gets shotgun. There’s a jostling and scrambling to get seatbelts on and Fat Amy takes off. In front of her, Beca sees Stacie and Emily bump shoulders and exchange a quick glance. Stacie smiles, Emily looks away. Beca stares at them so hard she thinks she might bore holes in them.

“So, movie night tonight? Right?” Ashley calls back from the front seat.

“Hell yeah!” Cynthia Rose says. “We gotta all just sit down together and relax before we head out.”

“Wait, who’s going where?” Beca asks, hoping she hasn’t missed something, or worse, agreed to something she didn’t mean to.

“Home,” Jessica answers, twisting in her seat. “Work, you know. But we’ll be back this weekend for karaoke and dress shopping!”

The girls start happily talking about the dress that Aubrey had apparently sent them a picture of, gushing about silver lining and what heels would work best for all of them. Stacie shifts and lays her long arm across the back of the seat, behind Emily. Beca watches it carefully.

She’s so intent on catching anything she can use against Stacie later that she doesn’t notice Chloe moving until her hand slides onto Beca’s thigh. She’s talking to Cynthia Rose--something about a suit, Beca can’t hear over the blood rushing in her ears--and her thumb starts stroking mindless circles into Beca’s leg.

Beca forces herself to tune into whatever they’re saying, ignoring the circle she’s pretty sure is being branded into her skin.

“--it was my favorite suit, man. I lost it, like, the week before I moved into the garage.”

“What garage?” Beca keeps her hands folded in her lap, willing herself to ignore Chloe’s touch. She’s failing.

“Chloe’s garage.” Cynthia Rose tips her chin toward Chloe. “I lived there for a year while I was in GA.” Probably seeing Beca’s carefully blank expression, she continues. “Gamblers Anonymous. Mamma let me stay there.”

“Oh.” Beca blinks. “I think Chloe mentioned that, yeah. That’s awesome. How, uh, how are you?”

Cynthia Rose laughs, slinging an arm along the back of the seat. “I’m good. Recovered.”

Stacie, overhearing, leans her head back, long hair falling down the seat back. “You were taking bets on our race at the lake.”

“I give myself one bet every few months, always small.” Cynthia Rose nods resolutely. “Keeps the edge off.”

Chloe’s hand shifts just a little, squeezing lightly. “You’re doing very well, Cynthia Rose. I’m proud of you.” It’s the kind of mindless touching Chloe does with everyone, Beca thinks, sliding her tongue between her teeth and biting down gently. It’s nothing.

“Aww, man, don’t get sappy on me, Red.” Cynthia Rose bumps into Beca, pushing her into Chloe, who giggles and uses the movement to slip her arm around Beca’s back.

It’s not particularly comfortable, leaning back on someone’s arm, but Chloe’s fingers are brushing lightly up and down her side, soothing as much as they’re burning.

“No, really! We’re all so proud. Right, Stacie?” Chloe trails her thumb back down Beca’s waist.

“Supremely,” Stacie says, picking her head up and throwing a wink over her shoulder. “Would you like a reward?”

Cynthia Rose groans, chuckling. “Girl, stop.”

Beca vaguely notes that Emily has turned in her seat, her back to Stacie so she can smile at them. But then Chloe’s trailing fingers dip low enough to trace the hem of her pants and Stacie and Emily are the furthest things from her mind.

She’s pretty sure she blacks out. There’s no other explanation for why they’re suddenly pulling up to the winged gates of a large Georgia manor house and it’s gotten a lot darker outside. But when Chloe shifts, pulling her arm away, Beca sits up straighter, blinking at Cynthia Rose.

She winks at Beca, smiling. Like she knows exactly what just happened. Beca feels her ears burning and looks away.

Fat Amy pulls through the opening gates and up the winding driveway, passing perfectly manicured hedges and a fucking fountain. Beca rolls her eyes. The Swansons really haven’t changed at all.

When Amy parks, there’s a rush to get out of the van. In her haste, though, Beca doesn’t miss Stacie’s hand trailing down Emily’s back as she climbs out.

Jesse’s waiting for them on the steps, in slacks and a soft, gray sweater. “Welcome, Bellas!” As if she’s included in that, he hops down the stairs to meet her and pull her into a bear hug. She grunts, arms stuck awkwardly at her sides. He drops her a moment later to hug Chloe and she rubs her ribs, maybe a little dramatically, but damn, he squeezes. Behind him, the doors open and Aubrey sweeps out of them like queen of the castle, wearing a simple black dress that goes to her ankles. She doesn’t hug Beca, thankfully, but she does wrap Chloe up tightly in her arms and smile over her shoulder at her. Beca smiles back, nodding.

With her is a woman Beca hasn’t seen in years, but she hasn’t changed much. Mrs. Swanson looks exactly like high school graduation, in her perfectly-ironed, off-the-shoulder sweater and her soft, grey slacks. Her hair is perfectly coiffed and her makeup is flawless. She’s lost some weight, but otherwise, she looks just the same.

And she’s locked her sights on Beca.

“Beca Mitchell, get up here and hug me!” She throws her arms out, flapping her hands like she might take off into flight. Beca hurries up the stairs before she can get liftoff. Mrs. Swanson wraps her in a hug nearly as tight as Jesse’s and Beca grits her teeth, giving her a quick pat on the back.

“Hey, Mrs. Swanson.”

“Oh, let me look at you.” She leans back, hands wrapped around Beca’s biceps. She gives her a quick once over. “You’re grown up so much!” Her nose scrunches and she tilts her head. “Well, not ‘up’, per se.”

“That’s nice.” Beca bares her teeth in what she hopes looks like a grin.

“Come now, I’m joking.” Mrs. Swanson gives her another hug. And when she pulls back, Beca takes an extra step away to keep it from happening again. A hand slips into hers.

“Hi, Mrs. Swanson!” Chloe bounces lightly on her toes, gripping Beca’s hand tight. Probably to keep her from running for the van or the woods behind the manor.

“Chloe!” Mrs. Swanson latches onto her, but Chloe doesn’t release Beca’s hand, threading their fingers together. “Oh, my girl! You look beautiful!” There’s a beat when she glances down at their joined hands and her eyes widen. “Are you--?”

“Together,” Chloe finishes, nodding and turning a brilliant smile on Beca, who can’t help but return it.

Mrs. Swanson looks like she’s on the edge of tears, which is a very strange response, Beca thinks. “My darlings, oh. Jesse’s childhood best friend and Aubrey’s best friend? Together? It’s like fate, isn’t it?” It’s Beca she’s addressing, for some reason. So Beca forces her mouth open.

“Uh, yes, ma’am. Something like that.”

Before Mrs. Swanson can go on to what Beca would bet her life was a “Bless your heart” or something similar, Mr. Swanson sweeps out of the house and spots them. “Beca! Chloe!” And for the fourth time in so many minutes, she’s being hugged.

But this time she’s being pressed farther into Chloe’s side, because Mr. Swanson has wrapped them both up in his crazy long arms. She doesn’t mind this hug so much.

“When Jesse said you’d be here, I couldn’t believe it.” His Scottish accent has softened over the years, barely there anymore. He claps a massive hand on Beca’s shoulder. Her spine protests. “How’s your father?”

Great. Happy. Got another kid that he actually likes. “Fine. He got tenure last year.”

“That’s great!” Mr. Swanson grins, his clean-shaven face so similar to Jesse’s, except it’s on a man the size of a grizzly bear. “A--”

“Fillin, let them come inside before you start talking ears off.” Mrs. Swanson says, looping her arm through his.

“Of course, Gabby.” He squeezes Beca’s shoulder once more. She may have an imprint. “Come on in, everyone! Dinner is just about ready. The boys are already here.”

Sure enough, as soon as they’re through the doors, the Trebles swarm them. Uni appears from nowhere and tries to drag Beca off to “shoot hoops out back, dude”, but she waves him off with a promise to play some other time, sticking by Chloe as she looks around.

She remembers their old house in Louisiana being huge, but this dwarfs her memories. The foyer opens onto a grand staircase that twists up into the house around a giant, shimmering chandelier, which is reflected in the swirled black and white marble floors. To their left is a sitting room with sofas she can tell are super soft even from here and a roaring fireplace. A bunch of the Trebles and Bellas have gathered around it, chatting and pointing out paintings and figurines on the mantel. She watches Bumper hold up a bust of someone’s head and Jesse swoops in and snatches it from him.

She’s glad she stayed with Chloe, because Aubrey rushes in a moment later and sweeps the crowd still moving around the foyer. When she spots them in the doorway of the sitting room, she hurries over.

“Tom’s here,” she hisses, putting herself between Chloe and the front door.

Beca watches Chloe’s entire face change. It’s not a noticeable shift to everyone, but Beca isn’t everyone. Chloe’s lips pinch together and her chin lowers just a little. Her forehead furrows just enough to deepen the scar on her brow. “I thought he wasn’t coming.”

“I thought so too.” Aubrey looks like she might rip something off the wall and start wailing on people with it. “He got out of work last minute. And he’s here alone. He just pulled up.”

Chloe’s fingers tighten around Beca’s. But not before Beca feels them shaking. “Okay. That’s fine. I mean, I was hoping to not see him again until the wedding, but.” She shrugs, smiling even though her eyes don’t seem to understand that’s what she’s doing. “Thank you, Bree.” But she sounds a little far away, which is really freaking Beca out, because Chloe’s the most present person she’s ever met. Beca’s the one that fades out and dissociates. She’s tense, nodding at nothing. Gripping Beca’s hand so hard that her fingers are going numb. Mostly, she looks fine. But she feels off.

Aubrey nods once, then looks straight at Beca. One eyebrow lifts and Beca gets it. It’s a question. Aubrey wants to know if she can take care of Chloe. She nods curtly and Aubrey returns it, spinning to go and find Jesse.

The second she’s gone, Beca tugs Chloe further into the room, putting her back to the wall beside a painting of a rain-washed street at night. She recognizes it as New Orleans, but doesn’t look at it much more, instead turning to step into Chloe’s space.

That seems to bring Chloe back and she blinks at Beca. She’s suddenly so glad she wore her boots and Chloe wore low heels, because they’re the same height now. “Hey.”

“Hi,” Chloe says, smiling more widely. “What are you doing?”

Beca shrugs, letting a slow smirk take over her lips. “Pushing my date into a dark corner of the room. I’ll give you two guesses, but you’re only gonna need one.” She pulls her hand from Chloe’s and places it on her hip instead. Chloe sucks in a breath, blinking rapidly as Beca leans in.


“Chlo.” She stops when she’s close enough that she can feel Chloe’s chest brushing her own as she breathes. And as much as she wants to continue their moment back in the loft, she knows there’s something more important to do right now. “You’re not telling me everything about Jesse’s dick cousin.”

Chloe’s eyes fly up from where they’d landed on Beca’s lips. What a fucking time to be a good friend.

“You can talk to me, you know?” Beca backs off a little, stroking her thumb over the warm skin at Chloe’s hip, her finger catching on the fabric of Chloe’s dress. She’s not great at this, but she knows Chloe lives on touch. And the tension is sliding out of her quickly. “I mean, not, like, right now. But whenever. Or...whatever.”

Brilliant. Speech of the year. But before she can really start to hate herself, Chloe’s hand comes up and presses against her stomach. Not pushing her back, just touching. And Chloe smiles. “I know, Becs. And I will. Later.” She takes a deep breath, her chest pushing into Beca’s and reminding her of how close they’re standing. “For now, just know that he was… He didn’t trust me. And he got angry about it a lot. We fought a lot.”

There’s something gnawing at Beca’s ribs, growling and snarling, and she has to ask. “Did he hurt you?”

Chloe’s eyes flicker back and forth between her own. “No. Not like you’re thinking.” Her fingers, still splayed across Beca’s stomach, curl in and grip her shirt. “I’ll explain everything later. I’m fine, really. He just makes me feel a little…” She shrugs. “I just don’t like being around him. And he likes to flirt with me whenever we run into each other. That’s why I wanted someone here.”

Whatever was trying to fight its way out of Beca’s rib cage has backed off, but it’s still prowling around in her gut, hot claws dragging. She slips her hand between them and lays it over Chloe’s where it grips her shirt. “I’ve got you.”

This time Chloe’s smile looks like it always does--like it could split her face if she gets any happier. “I know.”

“Good.” Beca squeezes her hand once, then lets it go. She takes a quick breath. “When I saw him at the grocery store, he said he didn’t think we were together.”

Chloe nods, like she expected that. “I told you. Not very trusting.”

“So what do you want to do?”

Chloe hesitates. Her hand presses back flat against Beca. Slowly, it slides down and Beca tries not to think of breaker boxes and red maples as Chloe hooks one finger through her belt loop and gives a gentle tug. Chloe’s lips turn up and her head tilts. “Be convincing.”

Chapter Text

“To be more realistic, though…” Chloe tugs Beca’s belt loop harder and spins, turning them so Beca falls back against the wall with an “oof”.

“Oh, so you’re the aggressor?” Beca’s smirking, already shaking her head. Chloe loves her smile. Loves the way it never really sits straight on her face, how it bares more teeth than it should, how it sometimes turns into her curling her lips in, like she's containing it instead of ending it. Making Beca smile is probably one of her favorite things to do in the world.

“Totes,” Chloe chuckles, leaning in just a bit, not realizing she’s bracing her hands on Beca’s hips until she feels the sharp jut of bone against her palms. And she knows she shouldn’t. Knows that it’s a bad idea until she’s had more time to look at her own feelings. Knows she really wants to. Knows she can’t. So she just stands there, wanting but scared. Because Beca’s friendship means everything to her. And she can’t risk it for anything less than in love.

And she knows all of this, but Chloe can’t remember the last time she felt so looked at. Beca’s gaze is still and so, so dark. Calm.

It shouldn’t surprise her as much as it does that Beca comes to her.

She straightens from the wall, rising to her full height. She sways forward, just an inch, and her fingers brush up the side of Chloe’s neck, careful and tapping, like Chloe’s made of glass and piano keys.

Then her hand is in Chloe’s hair and Beca’s lips are warm and soft against her own. And Chloe thinks about how she’s always wanted to make Beca smile. But then she decides no, this is what she wants to make Beca’s lips do. Press and slide and part.

She reaches out, catching Beca’s shoulders with her hooked wrists, possibly to keep her from running away. Because the ground feels a little unsteady right now and she knows Beca doesn’t do unsteady--she’s the most steady person Chloe knows. So if the earth is moving for Beca too, then she’s definitely a flight risk. But Beca is solid and kisses like they’ve got all night, slow and gentle. So gentle. And Chloe’s had soft kisses before and rough ones, drunken makeouts and chaste pecks, but never this. Beca’s kiss is light, but the rolling in her gut is violent and makes her knees weak, her hands shake.

Maybe that’s why she hangs on so tight when Beca dips her head and leans back, out of the kiss and against the wall. Her hand is still in Chloe’s hair, thumb idly running along the back of her ear. She smiles, not like before. Slower and a little crooked, like she knows something Chloe doesn’t.

Then, quick enough to give her whiplash, she’s smirking instead. “You’re pretty good at that, Beale.”

She knows she’s supposed to say something like, “You were okay” or “That was nothing”, but both are a lie, because it was everything and Beca is a great kisser. And, god, they hadn’t even used tongue. Can she pull it together? In love. Nothing less.

A soft voice somewhere in the back of her head whispers that this doesn’t feel like less.

Beca’s palm presses against Chloe’s hip, warm and distracting, and the thumb resting behind her ear taps once, pulling her attention. “You good?”

Chloe nods, shifting so her hands are resting on Beca’s shoulders, thumbs lying in the groove of her collarbones. The sounds of the Trebles and the Bellas come rushing back, though she isn’t sure when they left. She sucks in a quick breath through her nose and grins. “Well, you just said I was so...” She throws Beca a wink. “Pretty good, actually, I think you said.”

Beca drops her head back and laughs, loud and full. Easy. “I forgot I can’t compliment you. Give an inch, you take a highway.”

“You love it.”

Beca closes one eye and tilts her head a bit, scrunching up her nose. Chloe grabs one side of her shirt collar and gives it a sharp tug, narrowing her eyes in her best fake glare. Beca laughs again.

“Hey, lovebirds. This is a PG-13 party.” Cynthia Rose shoves a drink between them, which Beca lets go of Chloe’s neck to take before it spills down her cleavage. Of which there is quite a bit. Was there that much a minute ago? “As much as I fully support everything happening here, we’re not alone and I don’t think the boys will survive.”

“Oh, no, I’m totally good.” Uni drops an arm around Cynthia Rose, grinning. “Don’t worry about me at all.”

“Dude, shut up,” Beca says, shoving him away, but she’s smiling and the tips of her ears are red. Chloe snatches the drink from Beca’s hand and backs up before she takes another swing at him. Everything in her wants to pull Beca back and kiss her again, kiss her until she’s sure, kiss her until she doesn’t care. It’s like a burning in her chest that’s spreading down her limbs. So she does what she always does when she’s overwhelmed and unsure: she turns to Aubrey.

Aubrey catches her eye across the room, where she’s talking to Donald and Stacie, and Chloe smiles and waves her over. Aubrey excuses herself and pushes her way over, dropping an arm across Chloe’s shoulders.

Jesse appears at her side, happily cheering Beca on as she attempts to pull Uni into a headlock. She has to jump. It’s really adorable. Chloe leans her head on Aubrey’s shoulder, laughing.

“Get him, Becaw!”

“Son of a--bend down or something, dude, what the hell?”

“Oooh, kinky, Little Bit!” Uni ducks away, his curls flying as he laughs and grabs Benji to use as a shield. “Chloe! Leash your chihuahua!”

“Chihuahua?” Beca growls, hitting a little harder than before. Uni yelps and Benji flails for his life, eyes closed and face scrunched up. Chloe takes pity on them both, leaning forward to grab Beca by the belt and tug her away. She wraps her arms around Beca’s waist and, immediately, the fight goes out of her.

Cynthia Rose snorts, lifting her hand and cracking an imaginary whip. Beca glares at her, but just leans back into Chloe, her hands falling to rest on Chloe’s arms.

“So violent,” Aubrey huffs.

“Oh, you’ve got no idea,” Jesse says, grinning. He throws a quick punch in the air.

Beca’s glare swings to him. “Shut it, Snitchson.”

Jesse puckers his lips at her.

Just then, over Beca’s shoulder, Chloe sees Tom sweep into the room, Mrs. Swanson on his arm and talking a mile a minute. He’s wearing a perfectly tailored suit, his hair slicked back, his class ring glinting on his finger. It’s a little much for dinner and it makes him look like the host. Like he owns this magnificent house and belongs here, walking the marble floors and commanding the staff. She tucks her face down into Beca’s neck, breathing in caramel and that Hawaiian laundry detergent Beca insists on keeping the apartment stocked with. Beca doesn’t wear perfume, but she somehow always smells so good. Like stained glass and creaking armchairs and floral throw pillows. Like home.

Beca must see him too, because her thumb slips along the inside of Chloe’s forearm and she turns her head to speak directly into Chloe’s ear. Which she definitely should never do in a crowded room again, Chloe thinks, squeezing her tighter. “Hey, want a distraction?”

Chloe picks her head up and nods, afraid to speak because she knows her voice will shake.

Sighing heavily, Beca turns back to Jesse. “Okay, Jess. Tell them.”

It’s like his birthday has come early. Jesse starts to bounce in place, fists lifted to chest height, like he isn’t sure he can fully celebrate yet. “Really? Becaw?”

“I change my mind in ten seconds--”

“Okay!” Jesse throws his hands up, narrowly missing Uni’s chin with his fist.

“What are we doing?” Stacie slips into the circle, Jessica and Ashley right behind her. Emily joins them a moment later, stepping up next to Benji and throwing him a wide grin. He returns it, practically vibrating until Fat Amy shoves him aside.

“You aca-bitches having a meeting without me?”

Jesse is thrilled. He pushes up his sleeves and Chloe suddenly worries that whatever he’s about to tell everyone is going to get interactive. She pulls Beca closer, resting her chin on her shoulder. Beca’s hands have left hers so she can cross her arms. Chloe can’t really see her face anymore, but she can perfectly picture her eye roll when Jesse starts speaking.

“Okay,” he says, hands out like he’s stopping traffic. “So we were in, what, tenth grade?”

Beca nods.

“Right, tenth. And Beca has this fake ID, because she used to sneak into clubs and watch the DJs work.” He pauses. Chloe pictures a young Beca Mitchell (who really looks exactly the same in her mind) sitting in the corner of a club alone, just staring up at the DJ booth. “That’s kind of unrelated, but it’ll be important later. So, one night, we’re all hanging out by the levee. Brooke Lessard had brought us all out there in her dad’s truck and we were just chillin’, nursing our tiny, pitiful bonfire.”

She feels Beca scoff more than she hears it.

Jesse ignores her. “So, this other group of guys show up and they’re trying to make us leave because that was their hangout spot or whatever. And one of them starts getting in my face. There’s yelling and some shoving and somebody must have called the cops, because there’s suddenly blue lights and a cop car is rolling down the levee toward us.” He takes a deep breath, grinning widely at Beca. “But the guy yelling at me won’t back off. Like he doesn’t see the cops or something. And Beca, here!” He points to her, head tilting. “This whole time she’s been sitting in the back of the truck, just ignoring everything. But the guy gets right up on me and shoves me. And suddenly, there’s little bitty Beca, and she just--” He slams his fist into his palm with a resounding smack. Emily jumps. Cynthia Rose gasps happily. “Pops him right in the face. He goes down. Nose broken. And the cops grab her and march her off. So, we all get in trouble. Our parents get called. People are going to the hospital and stuff. But Beca has her fake ID on her.”

Beca’s sigh travels all the way to Chloe’s toes and she just hugs her tighter, completely focused on Jesse’s gesturing hands as he continues. She can picture it all and it’s not helping her urge to kiss the soft skin at the junction of Beca’s neck and shoulder.

“So they throw her in a cop car and take her to jail.”

Beca jolts at that. “It was not jail, dude--”

“But I called her dad when they told me to call my parents.”


“And he picks me up and we head over there for him to get her out. There’s a huge fuss. Beca gets in major trouble for having a fake ID, they don’t want to let her go, paperwork, paperwork, yadda yadda.” Jesse waves his hand over his shoulder. “All that. Then we finally get her out and Beca is super mad at me--”

“Because you’re a snitch--”

“But finally, months later, I got her to forgive me.” He clasps his hands over his heart, batting his eyelashes at her.

Beca shakes her head, her jaw bumping Chloe’s cheek lightly. “I needed you to let me copy your history homework.”

Jesse laughs. “Which I did. And then, I said…” He stops, looking pointedly at Beca. She doesn’t move. He rolls his eyes and says, “I said, ‘Welcome back, my little jailbird. I’m gonna call you Becaw from now on.’ And we were friends again, like nothing had happened.” On that finishing note, he wraps his arms around Aubrey and happily nuzzles her ear.

This time, Beca shifts in her grasp, throwing out an accusatory finger. “I had a curfew until I graduated, you dick!”

“Which you listened to how many times?”

Cynthia Rose laughs, slapping a hand onto Beca’s shoulder. “Oh, girl, you didn’t tell us you did time!”

“Dude, it was like two hours--”

“Shawshank in the house!” Amy bellows, thrusting her arms into the air. “Did you get any tattoos?”

Cynthia Rose wiggles her eyebrows. “Did you get a bitch?”

“Or a hot cop’s phone number at least?” Stacie sounds way too eager, like maybe she thinks Beca still has the alleged number and will share.

Beca doesn’t try to answer any of them, just shaking her head and Chloe can feel her laughing and it makes her smile. She catches Aubrey grinning too and knows she feels it too--that it’s so good to have the Bellas back together. And it feels even better with Beca pressed flush against her, laughing with them all. It feels right. Like maybe Beca’s supposed to be there.

It’s not until Mrs. Swanson actually calls them all into the dining hall to sit down that Chloe even thinks of Tom again. She catches a glimpse of him up ahead and steels herself, taking a quick breath. It’s just dinner.

She nearly gasps as Beca’s fingers slide down her palm, winding with her own. She looks up and Beca’s smirking. “Bet I can eat more than you.”

Chloe laughs. “Yeah, no. I’m not taking that bet. You eat like you’re never going to see food again.”

“I’ll take it,” Cynthia Rose says, bumping shoulders with Beca. “Any excuse to eat way too much of this good ass food we ‘bout to have.”

“Oh, you’re on, dude.” Beca grins, tugging Chloe into the dining room.

They take their places up near the head of the table. Mrs. Swanson sits in pride of place, as she always did when Chloe came over back in college. Mr. Swanson ends up across from Jesse and Aubrey quickly motions Chloe over to the seat next to hers. Beca’s just settling down on her other side when Tom drops into the seat beside Mr. Swanson, directly across from Aubrey.

Stacie, as if by magic, pops up behind him and bats her eyelashes at Donald, who happily moves down a seat for her. She sits daintily, ignoring Tom completely, even though she’s right beside him. Catching Chloe’s eye, she winks, then glances at Beca and nods. Beca nods back, as if in approval. Chloe kind of feels like she’s missing something, but it’s hard to care when Beca’s booted foot is tapping lightly against the side of her leg, then retreating. It’s the most physically playful she’s been since that day she was stung by a bee and Chloe had forced her to take a Benadryl, just in case. She’d bounced around the apartment for a good hour, batting at anything that came near her, then passed out on the rug in front of the TV.

Chloe taps back and Beca gives her a barely heated warning glare.

The staff, all dressed in fine, white button-ups and black slacks, pour in from the side doors, laying out dish after dish down the long table. Somewhere near the end, she hears Fat Amy exclaim, “I forgot heaven was back here in good old Georgia!”

The staff files back out and everyone starts grabbing for food. Beca knocks Cynthia Rose’s arm out of the way to grab the biggest chicken leg from the plate in front of them. Cynthia Rose responds by standing up, placing a hand on Beca’s bent back, and shoving her into the table as she leans over her to skewer a hunk of what Chloe thinks is ham. Beca grunts, nearly dropping her chicken leg.

Chloe covers her mouth to hide her laugh as Cynthia Rose drops back and Beca pops up, glaring. She must not do a very good job, because Beca’s hair flies as she whips around to fix her glare on Chloe instead.

“What’s funny, Beale?”

Chloe just shakes her head, reaching out to fix Beca’s hair in the back. “Nothing, baby.” She didn’t mean for the term of endearment to slip out, but Beca’s ears flush red immediately and Cynthia Rose makes a hacking sound.

Beca spins on her. “Shut up, dude.”

“I’m glad to see you so happy, Chloe.” She’d almost forgotten he was there. He leans back in his seat, running a hand down his tie and smiling at her like freshman year, when he was nothing but a cute guy across the quad. His suit’s so much nicer than the torn t-shirt he’d been wearing that day, when he’d walked over and introduced himself and asked her out in the same breath. It’s a confidence she used to find sexy, but now it looks cheap on him, even if the suit doesn’t. “I’m surprised, though.” Chloe sees Aubrey’s hand clench around the cloth napkin in her lap. “Pleasantly, of course.” He smiles at Beca, blinking like he just realized she’s there. “You seem good together.”

She knows that emphasis he places on “together”. It’s the exact same emphasis he used to place on things like, “Oh, you and Aubrey were just hanging out” or “Right, practice ran late.” And it’s been years, but that familiar guilty tightness in her chest rushes back like no time has passed at all. She bites down on the “I’m sorry” so hard that her teeth literally click together and her jaw aches as she keeps it held there.

He smiles, all dimples and charm. Then suddenly yelps and yanks his hand back from the table.

Stacie, still holding up her fork, winces apologetically. “Sorry. I was aiming for the ham. Did I get you?”

“It's fine,” Tom snaps, rubbing the back of his hand where Chloe can see the clear imprint of four prongs.

“You know, I’m surprised too,” Mrs. Swanson cuts in. “It’s really such a small world, isn’t it? How did you two even meet?”

Stacie locks eyes with Chloe and nods, just a little. They’ve answered this question. It’s a good answer. It’s convincing. But Chloe can’t open her mouth, because she’s still got that apology trapped there.

Beca’s hand slides onto her thigh and it’s soft, but it moves her nearly as much as her half-tackle under the red maple. “Actually, can I tell it this time? You always tell it.”

Chloe nods, nearly choking on apologies and surprise.

Half the table goes quiet as Beca takes a breath and she stops, glancing around. “Okay, not all of you have to listen in.” She shoos them, fingers twisting through the air.

“Fat chance, Shawshank,” Fat Amy says around a bite of what looks like mashed potatoes.

Beca grimaces, her hand fluttering to one of her very red ears for a moment. Then she rolls her eyes and turns back to Mrs. Swanson. “Okay, so. Stacie and I work together and she introduced us--” Stacie opens her mouth, but Beca plows on. “But I actually met Chloe before that. Just once.”

“You did?” It takes a second for Chloe to realize she’s the one that spoke. But Beca’s looking at her now, dark blue eyes flickering back and forth between her own.

“Yeah. It was almost nighttime. You were leaving school, I think, because you had your scrubs on. And, like, I’m not surprised you don’t remember, because it was cold as balls out--uh, sorry, Mrs. S.” Mrs. Swanson just laughs, motioning for her to go on. “Well it was, uh, super cold. And I was wrapped in, like, six scarves just to weigh me down so the wind didn’t carry me away.” There’s some laughter from the Trebles and Bellas. Beca smiles, sitting farther forward. “It was a few days before Stacie introduced us. And you were on the subway.” Her hand, still on Chloe’s thigh, twitches a little and Chloe, unthinking, lays her own hand over it. “You got one of the seats across from me. And I had my headphones on, but I wasn’t actually listening to anything. My phone was dead. I just didn’t want the guy next to me talking to me.” Her nose scrunches up and Chloe has to try very hard not to touch it. “You were on the phone with someone and you mentioned your stop. But then when you hung up, you fell asleep.”

Chloe watches Beca’s earrings swing as she talks, trying to remember. That would have been her first week of school and she had been incredibly exhausted that whole time. It was kind of a blur.

“The lady next to you got off at the next stop and the creep next to me started eyeing the seat, so I--” She shrugs, making a gesture like she's passing a basketball. “I just threw my bag into the seat and then, like, sat on it. Which was super uncomfortable, but. Well, you know me.” She rolls her eyes and returns Chloe’s smile. “And when your stop came, I woke you up.”

Like a camera flash, Chloe sees the scarf-laden stranger that had shaken her awake that night and waved off her quickly babbled thanks, just for a moment. She’d been so tired and hurrying to get off before the doors shut that she hadn’t asked for a name. “That was you?”

Beca shrugs again, lips tilting in a crooked grin. “Yeah. Like I said, I was rocking the Lenny Kravitz circa 2012 look, so.”

“I remember you.” Chloe slides her thumb between Beca’s pinky and ring finger, feeling the faint pulse there. “You were adorable.”

Beca’s gaze narrows and flicks to Mrs. Swanson and back. Her lips press tight together and she rolls her eyes, but Chloe hears it anyways. Shut the fuck up, no, I wasn’t.

“Fillin,” Mrs. Swanson says and the attention of the table shifts. “How did we meet? Tell us.” She leans one elbow on the table and rests her chin on a fist, smiling up at him.

Mr. Swanson throws Beca a playful glare. “Thanks a lot. I’ll never hear the end of this.”

Everyone laughs and Chloe lets her laugh carry her forward to press a soft kiss to Beca’s jaw. Beca’s hand on her thigh squeezes.

Tom doesn’t talk for the rest of dinner.

Chapter Text

Beca’s torn.

She knows Chloe is one of those people that, once she decides on something, throws herself fully into it. Like being a convincing fake girlfriend. So was that why she’d practically melted into their kiss? Was that why she’d held onto Beca like she was all that was keeping her standing? Like she was so intent on the press of their lips that she couldn’t function outside of it? Or was all of that real?

Because Beca totally understands, if that’s the case. Without the wall, she would have ended up puddled at Chloe’s feet, she’s sure of it. And if she knew for sure that Chloe was into it too?

It’s a lot to process. But she’s able to shove all of that aside the second she sees Chloe flinch back a bit when Tom reaches across the table for a slice of ham.

Because she wants to ask Chloe if she was the only one that had trembled inside when they kissed, but first, they need to talk about Jesse’s dick cousin.

So when dinner ends and everyone starts pouring out the doors, Beca makes sure they’re the first to hug Mr. and Mrs. Swanson, then Jesse, then Aubrey (who will be joining them back at the Beales’ later), and they’re out the doors and to the van before Amy’s even unlocked it. Beca turns and puts her back to the van so she can watch the doors. Chloe stops nearby, hands folded neatly in front of her, smiling and nodding at the Trebles that are tumbling down the steps and toward their vehicles. She’s calm and composed as usual, but more subdued, like her mind’s far away. And Beca can’t stand it.

“Chlo.” She waits for Chloe to look at her, eyebrows up. “Want a hug?”

For a moment, she doesn’t move or react. Then she smiles, taking half a step closer. “You’re very touchy-feely tonight, Becs.” Her hand flutters up and she lays the back of her fingers against Beca’s forehead. “Hmmm. No fever.”

“Shut up and get in here, Beale. Before I change my mind and cuddle CR the whole way home.” Beca hooks her hand over Chloe’s elbow, pulling down and in until Chloe’s stumbling into her space and catching herself on the van, hands on either side of Beca, just shy of being pressed against her. “I thought this is what you’ve been working on.”

“It is,” Chloe giggles, her chest brushing Beca’s.

“Well?” She drops farther down against the van, boots on either side of Chloe’s heels, and turns her palms out, shrugging. “Aren’t you going to celebrate your victory? I, Beca Mitchell, just asked for a hug.”

Chloe closes her eyes, leaning her head back a little, her smile wide. “Who was it that said, ‘I don’t know, I never thought I’d get this far’? Plankton?”

“I have no clue what you’re talking about.” But she can’t think much past the pale slope of Chloe’s neck or the small sapphire pendant resting between her collarbones so. “But I do know you had a rough night.”

Chloe’s eyes open and her face goes carefully blank.

“Don’t do that.” Beca isn’t sure it’s the right thing to do, but she reaches out for Chloe’s hips and just holds her. Chloe doesn’t pull away. “You never do that.”

“Do what?”

“Shut people out.”

A car honks and Chloe glances at it, waving at Uni in the driver’s seat as he pulls away. Then she sighs and pulls her hands from the van, dropping her weight onto Beca’s chest, which suddenly fills with flames. Chloe’s fingers slide up the back of Beca’s arms until she can hook them over her shoulders from behind. It’s natural for Beca’s hands to settle against the dimples in Chloe’s lower back and she threads her fingers together to keep them from shaking.

It looks uncomfortable, though, the way Chloe’s pressed into her but her head is pulled back, neck straining enough to keep their faces apart. Beca lets her head clunk against the van window so Chloe has room to breathe or move. She doesn’t seem to want to do either.

“I’m sorry,” Chloe says. “For not telling you everything sooner. I will. Tonight.” Her eyes are drifting across Beca’s face, like she’s mapping it out--slow and methodical.

Beca frowns. She’s heard Chloe say some weird shit over the years, but this is the weirdest, she thinks. “Dude, no. Don’t be sorry. You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. Ever.” Chloe’s brow is furrowed, her scar dark in the shadows of the driveway. “Really. I only mentioned it because, like. If I can help or whatever… You don’t have to tell me anything except, like, what I can do, I guess.” She lifts one shoulder and Chloe’s fingers slip off of it to trail down her shoulder blade. It all sounds stupid to her and she isn’t really sure what she even said.

Chloe’s smiling again, so close. And her fingertips are light as they trace the curve of Beca’s shoulder blade, dipping down toward her ribs. “I know, Bec. You’re the best, you know.”

Beca scoffs. “Of course I am. Nobody else is even in the running.”

Laughing, Chloe digs her nails in just as her fingers reach Beca’s rib cage. It sends tiny shocks through her torso, tensing and releasing every muscle so fast that it leaves her a little breathless. “You’re a nerd, Beca Mitchell. I love you.”

It’s not an unusual thing for Chloe to say. She says it all the time--when Beca brings her lunch at work, when she’s going to bed at night sometimes, when Beca takes a nap instead of folding the laundry and wakes up with the basket being dumped on her face and Chloe playfully scolding her. And she says it to strangers and puppies and Stacie and Emily and that old lady that bags groceries at the corner store. In fact, she’s pretty sure she’s heard Chloe say it to every Bella within the last two days. But this time it pulls at something in Beca’s chest and physically moves her forward. She has just a second to register the startled look in Chloe’s eyes before she closes her own and leans into her, lifting her chin to reach for Chloe’s lips.


She jerks back and her head thunks against the van. She groans, closing one eye against the pain crawling down her neck and she reaches for it, pressing on the spot that’s flaring the most.

“Beca!” Chloe gasps, hands immediately moving to pull her own away so she can inspect the damage.

“Son of a bitch,” Beca grunts, looking up through one watering eye to find Jesse hopping off the last step, teeth bared in an apologetic grimace.

“I’m sorry,” he says, leaning in to look at the back of her head too. “I didn’t mean to disturb.”

“And yet,” Beca snaps, trying to take her hands back from Chloe’s to rub her skull. But Chloe holds firm, both of Beca’s wrists trapped in one hand as the fingers of her other hand dance lightly through Beca’s hair. Actually, that kinda feels better. She stops fighting.

The other Bellas have arrived, moving around Jesse to pull open the van doors and pile in. He hugs Emily, returning her massive grin. Seriously, how does she smile that much? Then he turns back to Beca. “Yeah, sorry. But Aubrey is going to be following you guys back for movie night and I’m going out with the boys. Was coming to tell you guys to take care of my lady, you know? I know how Bella movie nights can turn into unplanned trips to music festivals in other states and running out of gas in the middle of a scene from Jeepers Creepers or something.” He shrugs, big stupid grin still on his face.

“Of course we’ll take care of her, Jesse. And that was just once!” Chloe’s fingers have magically found the exact spot the pain is radiating from and they rub small circles into it. Beca tries not to moan. “I’ll make sure she texts you when we make it and when she leaves to head home.”

“I’ll walk her out to the car my damn self, if you promise never to scream at me again,” Beca grumbles, glaring up at him.

He nods happily as he backs away, nearly skipping. “Deal, Becaw. Have fun!”

She flips him off. Chloe waves. “Bye, Jesse! Be safe! Take care of yourself and the boys!”

His salute spins his whole body around and he bounces off toward one of the cars idling nearby.

“Come on, let’s get you home and ice this.” Chloe releases Beca’s wrists and leans in, pressing a soft kiss to the still throbbing back of her head. It helps. Aubrey’s little car pulls up next to them and she honks once. That doesn’t help. Amy honks back. Beca wants to bash both of their faces in.

Cynthia Rose is still waiting outside the van for them to climb in first. They tumble in, Beca accidentally clipping Jessica’s shoulder with her foot and not so accidentally pulling Stacie’s hair on the way. Once they’re settled, Chloe twists and wraps her arm around Beca’s shoulders, sliding her fingers up into her hair to continue softly rubbing what Beca assumes is going to be a knot later. She sighs and sinks into the touch, not sure when her hand landed on Chloe’s thigh. But Chloe’s other hand has found it and she’s playing with her fingers, tapping across her knuckles to a beat Beca doesn’t know. Her head stops hurting before they’re even on the road.

“So then we called the Trebles and it turns out they had also decided to road trip randomly to the music festival. Luckily, they were nearby and picked us up.” Stacie laughs, reaching forward to smack Amy’s arm. “We never let Amy fuel up on her own again.”

“Okay, I definitely put the thingy in the tank hole. I remember that part.”

“Don’t call it a ‘tank hole’,” Beca groans.

“But then Emily was babbling something stupid about a man being on fire or something--”

“He was! There was a guy across the road burning wood and his sleeve caught fire!”

“Which he put out!” Amy huffs, slapping the wheel. “But the point is, you distracted me and I forgot to actually do the rest of the fueling up thing. It’s not my fault. It’s Legacy’s.”

Emily twists in her seat to throw Chloe a desperate puppy dog look. Chloe lets go of Beca’s hand for the first time since they left the Swansons’ to pat Emily’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Emily. We know it wasn’t your fault.”

Fat Amy parks up on the grass and the Bellas start pushing to get out, groaning and hiking up their dresses. Beca ends up bouncing on one leg, her other foot caught in Jessica’s seatbelt, and Cynthia Rose grabs her under the arms to keep her up.

Once they’ve all tumbled out, Aubrey parks behind them and Chloe waves her over. She trots up with a small tote bag in hand, “Barden Bellas” emblazoned on the side. “Come on, Bree. You can change in the garage with Beca and me.”

So they split, the rest of the Bellas running to claim the bathrooms inside to change into movie night attire. (“Out of the way, less talented folk! I call bathroom first! These panties have been climbing up all night!”) Beca follows Chloe and Aubrey through the house and out into the backyard. They’re chattering animatedly about something wedding related, Beca thinks, because they keep mentioning bouquets, so she hangs back and lets them talk, pulling her shirt free of her pants.

Chloe lets them into the garage and offers the bathroom to Aubrey first, who graciously accepts. Once the door shuts, Chloe grabs Beca’s shoulders and whips her around to sit on the bed.

Beca winces as her head throbs with the movement, leaning back on her loosely-curled fists. “Ow, dude. Is this how you give puppies their shots? Because I’m filing a complaint.”

“Hush, you.” Chloe’s hands cup her face and for a wild moment, Beca thinks she’s going to kiss her. Right here in the loft, with Aubrey barely ten feet away, behind a very thin bathroom door.  But then Chloe’s fingers slip up into her hair and start feeling for the bump. “How’s your head?”

“Better now that I’ve been thrown down on a bed.”

Chloe pauses just long enough for Beca to notice and look up. But once their eyes meet, Chloe smirks and whispers breathily, “You want me to show you being thrown down on a bed, Mitchell?”

As appealing as that sounds, teasing back sounds even better to her right now. So she purposely takes a deep breath and lets it out in a sigh. “Oh, Beale. It’s cute that you think you’d be the one doing the throwing. I was a pitcher.”

A light flickers to life in Chloe’s eyes that she can’t quite name. Her lips spread in a sinfully slow smile and her fingers dip down into the back of Beca’s collar. “Were you really?”

Beca tilts her head, lifting an eyebrow. “You sound surprised.”

Chloe shrugs, fingers dancing distractingly around to her collarbones. Her bottom lip disappears between her teeth. “I...would have assumed a different position.”

Well, that’s an innuendo if she’s ever heard one. A blatant, clear come on. And it is ridiculously sexy. It takes a couple moments longer than Beca would like to force out her next question. “What position?”

Chloe’s gaze has dropped to her mouth and she can’t help but copy her, watching Chloe’s teeth work over her own lip for a moment before releasing it with a soft sigh. “Shortstop.”

She’s laughing at her own joke before Beca can even clock what she said. She swats at her, but Chloe dances back a few steps, bare feet patting on the hardwood floor. “Dude, not cool!” She falls back across the bed to grab a pillow and launch it at her.

“Come on, it was funny! Admit it!” Chloe catches the pillow, using it as a shield against the next one.


“Beca! Say I’m funny!”

“I’m not in the habit of lying, Beale.”

“Mitchell!” Chloe hits her with her shield pillow and Beca curls into a ball to defend herself, yelping.

The bathroom door opens and Aubrey steps out, wearing a pair of pajamas that kind of look like a business suit, except pale blue. She smiles at them. “Bathroom’s open.”

Chloe hits Beca one more time and leaves the pillow where it lands, grabbing some clothes from the top drawer and closing herself in the bathroom, but not before sticking her tongue out at Beca.

Beca pushes the pillow off, glaring at Aubrey’s grin. “She started it.”

Aubrey shrugs. “Are we surprised?”

“No, definitely not.”

They laugh and Aubrey settles in the desk chair, back straight and one leg crossed over the other, hands cupped around her knee. It’s quiet for a few awkward seconds and Beca studies Aubrey’s profile. Chloe’s told her so much about this girl that Beca feels like she knows her. The General’s daughter. The fearless leader of the Bellas. The girl that can projectile vomit across rooms. Okay, maybe she knows a little too much about her. She thinks for a moment about a story Chloe particularly loves retelling where Aubrey got drunk and went toe to toe with a bear in the middle of the resort she runs. She’s scanning actual Aubrey into her imagining of it--her blonde bun wobbling dangerously on her head as she waves around a shotgun and yells, “My father always said, ‘If you can’t punch them, shoot them in the face!’”--when Aubrey speaks, jolting her out of it.

“Is this really all you need to produce music?” Her eyes trail across the large headphones hooked over the laptop screen and the Maschine sitting beside the mouse.

Beca shrugs even as she shakes her head. “There’s a ton more stuff, but this is all I needed for the work I’ll be doing here, you know?”

The desk chair creaks a little as Aubrey turns, nodding and still eyeing the equipment. “It’s really nice of you, to be here for Chloe.”

Unsure how to respond, Beca turns her gaze to her boots, tapping them together. She finds the words somewhere between taps four and five. “I’m glad I came.”

The chair creaks again. “You know, when Chloe first told me about you, she said you were bitchy and mad at the world.”

Beca stops tapping her feet.

“Of course, she used much nicer words.” Aubrey’s smiling now. “I was...wary, the first time we met. And I was fully prepared to have to fight you. Because Chloe makes wars sound like playground disputes, so I had this whole idea of you. Much darker and ruder than Chloe’s version. But then I saw Jesse’s reaction.” Her smile turns softer, her eyes locked on the little porthole window above the bed. “If the two people I love most in the world both love you… Well.”

Emotional stuff makes her queasy. (Unless it’s Chloe, but that’s a completely different, very unfair matter.) She bends down and starts unlacing her boots, speaking to them, because that’s easier. “Yeah, well. I was expecting a control freak with a weak ass gag reflex. But you’re pretty alright too.” That might have been too much, but Aubrey laughs.

“I feel like, in another life, we would have been enemies.”

Beca sits up, kicking her boots off and carrying them over to their spot by the fridge. She risks looking up, hoping not to catch Aubrey’s eye. It’s weird, talking like this to someone she barely knows. “Well, I’m glad we’re in this one.”

Aubrey nods formally, looking at Beca’s equipment again. “Me too, Beca.”

Chapter Text

Chloe ends up taking a quick shower. When she emerges from the bathroom, it’s to Aubrey in the desk chair, wearing Beca’s purple headphones and nodding along as Beca leans back against the headboard, tapping out a beat on her Maschine.

She stops and leans her hip against the door frame, rubbing her curls with a towel, just watching them.

“So, you can make any kind of noise on that thing?” Aubrey asks, lifting one of the cups from her ear.

Beca’s nose twitches up like it does when she doesn’t quite know how to answer a question. “Sort of? I mean, probably not any kind. I couldn’t recreate Jesse’s weird screech singing on it, for example.”

“Oh, so you’ve heard it too? He likes to do it in the shower. I’ve left the house before.”

“He performed during a pep rally once.” Beca shakes her head, laughing. “Our school had this weird rivalry between the grades. And our class was particularly against the seniors that year, for whatever reason. So he sang the Alma Mater, then at the end, turned to the seniors and just started screeching and pointing at them all.”

“It’s not a sound a human should make.”

“Dude.” Beca agrees, her head rocking back, her eyes widening for a second. Then, like a magnet, her gaze pulls up and locks on Chloe’s. It’s something she’s been doing a lot tonight and it’s squeezing something deep in Chloe’s gut.

Because Beca had almost kissed her by the van. She knows it. And maybe Beca just sensed how tense Chloe had been all night. Maybe she had seen Tom over Chloe’s shoulder. Maybe she was just trying to do what Chloe had told her to--be convincing. But Chloe is having a hard time caring why Beca did it, just that she hadn’t been able to follow through.

Chloe’s always liked Jesse, but he totes wasn’t her favorite tonight.

Aubrey, though. Aubrey was always one of Chloe’s favorites. She was the first person Chloe texted when big things happened to her. When she got into vet school, when she got the job at the shelter, when she found her first apartment in New York. When she’d met Beca.

She’d spent so many nights up late, planning for the Bellas with just Aubrey and a cranky old laptop perched on top of an even crankier piano in the rehearsal room. They’d talked about their bright futures and love and the Bellas like that was all there was. Together, they’d chosen the other girls that became their family. When Aubrey’s dad didn’t return phone calls for days, when Mickey left town, they had each other.

Beca had very quickly become one of Chloe’s favorites too, even if she’d fought it for a while. Chloe would pass a test and text Aubrey, then call Mamma, then text the Bellas’ group chat, then call Beca. Beca would congratulate her in her awkward, stilted way she does when she’s not sure her input matters, then quickly make an excuse about work and hang up. Chloe would meet an adorable dog at work and send a pic to Aubrey and Mamma, then the Bellas, then to Beca, who would send back responses like, “Nice.” or “Cute, dude.” It had been so little, but Chloe kind of loved those little things. She loved it even more when those things became texts like, “Dude, that dog looks like Bob Ross. Why’d you do that to his hair?” or phone conversations that consisted of, “Highest grade in class again! Did you tell that nerd guy that freaked out about his B last time to suck it? No? Well, gimme his number.”

Now, here they are. Beca and Aubrey, sitting together and talking about music (Chloe’s other favorite). It fills every corner of her to the brim with what feels like sunshine through fall leaves--bright and red and orange and blinding. And like most things that make Chloe feel that happy, she lets it take her. It carries her onto the bed and wraps her arms around Beca, tucking her face down into Beca’s neck so she can breathe her in.

“Chloe, are you okay?” Aubrey asks, her hand rubbing up Chloe’s back. She knows it’s Aubrey’s because Beca’s hands are on Chloe’s arms, lightly gripping.

“Yeah,” Chloe says into Beca’s shoulder. She reaches blindly for Aubrey’s hand, catching it on her first swipe. Or maybe Aubrey catches hers. “I just love you guys. I’m glad you’re friends now.”

“Eh,” they both say, protests jumping from their lips.

“I don’t know about friends, really--”

“I mean, we just met, dude, and--”

“Nope.” Chloe silences them, lifting her head to press her cheek to Beca’s, who grumbles. “You’re friends. Best friends.”

“Oh, come on--”

“Chloe, you can’t just make us--”

She hops up to her knees, bouncing down the bed. She still has Aubrey’s hand and her entire body jerks along with Chloe’s bounces, but she doesn’t pull away. “Beca! Go get changed! It’s Bella movie night!”

Beca obliges, still grumbling about “pushy redheads” and “more ‘fast friends’ crap”.

Chloe kind of loves her a lot.

“You know,” Amy says from the armchair. “I really think you guys should have asked Jesse before having a ménage à trois with his soon-to-be ball and chain. Just saying.”

Aubrey rolls her eyes, perching daintily beside Cynthia Rose on the love seat. Stacie, Jessica, and Ashley are rolled up in blankets and sleeping bags on the floor, while Emily sits alone at one end of the couch. Stacie’s leaning back against her legs and Chloe sees Beca pause to stare at them for a moment before placing her hand on Stacie’s head and climbing directly over her, up onto the couch. She puts her arms out, wobbling her way to the opposite end and dropping into the waiting pile of blankets. With her still damp hair, oversized t-shirt falling off one shoulder, and her sweatpants so long they cover her feet, it’s really one of the cutest things Chloe’s ever seen. She, much more politely, steps over Stacie and drops between Beca and Emily on the couch.

“About time,” Cynthia Rose gripes, pushing herself up to grab the remote. She’s wearing her light blue, matching puppy pajamas and Chloe’s heart feels tight for a second. It’s just like college nights in the Bella house.

Eli bounces into the room, leading Mamma, and goes, “Hup!” right before he flips over the back of the couch and lands across Chloe’s lap. “Hi!” he gasps breathlessly, his feet landing on Emily’s leg. She grabs for them, tickling, and he flinches away, laughing.

“Slugger,” Beca says, reaching out of her blankets to muss his hair. “You watching with us?”

“No way, dude!” Chloe isn’t sure she’s ever heard him say “dude” before. “Y’all are gonna watch something scary! And I’ve got school.” He rolls his eyes.

Mamma reaches over the back of the couch to smack him right between his rolling eyes. “Young man, watch the eye rolls. Now say goodnight.”

“Goodnight!” he cheers loudly, rolling off Chloe’s lap to tumble around the room, hugging all of them before jetting up the stairs with more energy than Chloe can remember having at his age. Or any age.

“Let me get a picture, before I go,” Mamma says, moving around the coffee table to stand in front of the TV. She pulls out her phone, squinting at the screen. “Almost all of my Bellas together again. One of you can ShopPhoto Lilly and Flo in or something.” No one corrects her.

Beca fidgets, like she’s trying to climb out of the blanket nest she’s tangled herself in, and Chloe grabs her arm, pulling her back down. “Where are you going?”

“It’s--It’s a Bellas photo, dude. I’m just going right there.” She gestures vaguely to the part of the room not in the shot.

“Oh, shove it.” Fat Amy flaps a hand at them. “You did a riff off with us. You’re like an honorary Bella. Right, Captain?”

Aubrey nods sagely, laying an arm over Cynthia Rose’s shoulders. “It’s true. Please, Beca. Stay.”

Ashley tilts her head back, smiling. “Besides that, you’re with Chloe. You’re one of us.”

Beca’s wide eyes flit from Ashley to Chloe and she can see the hesitation still there. So she tugs her hard enough to drag her back, into Chloe’s side. “Yeah, Mitchell,” she whispers into her ear. “You’re with me.” She really hopes she doesn’t imagine the shudder that races down Beca’s spine.

But Beca stays, letting Chloe wrap her arms around her. And Chloe, knowing how Beca likes to take pictures (stone-faced), waits until Mamma hits the count of two, then turns her head and presses a feather-light kiss against the shell of Beca’s ear at the same time as she digs her fingers into Beca’s hip--her only known ticklish spot. Beca laughs, curling up to protect herself just as Mamma takes the picture.

“Oh my goodness,” Mamma breathes, smiling down at her phone. “I’m putting this one on the mantelpiece. You girls have a good night.” Mamma makes the rounds, giving each of the Bellas a kiss on the forehead. Beca’s eyes flutter closed for just an instant when Mamma gives her a kiss too, but Chloe doesn’t point it out.

“So, scary movie, huh?” Beca says as Mamma disappear upstairs and Chloe suspects she’s trying to draw attention away from her red ears. “I expected--”

“Don’t say rom-com,” Chloe cuts her off, tucking her legs up under her. “We’re not rom-com people. As a group anyways.”

“I was going to say cartoons.”

“That’s rude, Shawshank.” Fat Amy kicks up the feet of the armchair, narrowly missing Ashley. “We’re an intellectual gaggle of gals. Right, Tits McGee?”

“Right!” Stacie nods, raising an imaginary glass.

Cynthia Rose chooses something from Netflix and Ashley hops up to turn off the lights.

They barely make it through the first scene before Chloe is urging Beca to shift around so she can slip between her and the couch back. Beca, not a fan of movies and looking a little sleepy, complies easily. They end up stretched across their two allotted cushions--Beca on her back, her head propped against the arm of the couch and one of Mamma’s floral throw pillows, and Chloe tucked under her arm, head resting on Beca’s shoulder, her feet squished behind Emily to keep them warm.

She tugs the blanket further under her chin and lets her hand drift down to rest lightly on Beca’s stomach. Beca doesn’t react, staring blankly at the TV. Chloe has no doubt she hasn’t taken in a single thing.

Which isn’t to say she has, because she absolutely hasn’t. It’s hard to focus on whether or not the girl in the movie’s boyfriend is cheating on her when the light from the TV is pooling in Beca’s collarbone right in front of Chloe’s eyes.

Beca’s t-shirt collar was dragged lower when they shifted, leaving bare the stretch from her ear to the very edge of her shoulder cap. The end of the cotton is pressed against Chloe’s cheek, just higher than her lips, and she wonders what it would be like to lift her head just enough for skin to meet skin. To just take that leap. Would Beca be as soft as she looks? Would those dancing lights on her skin taste like caramel too?

Her gaze wanders up the slant of Beca’s neck, pausing in the shadows beneath her jawline. And Chloe’s never really been a fan of the dark. People call her “all sunshine and rainbows” and they’re not wrong. But this darkness calls to her.

It’s the first time the killer shows up onscreen, standing silently in the background while the lead characters argue about whatever thing one of them said, when Beca’s hand finds hers under the blanket.

It’s just a brush of skin, just the tip of her thumb sliding over Chloe’s knuckle as Beca rests her hand on her stomach too, but Chloe feels it all the way to her shoulder. Beca’s already moved away, but Chloe follows, hooking her pinky around Beca’s forefinger. And just like that, everything narrows to their hands.

Chloe closes her eyes as the pad of Beca’s thumb traces her pinky nail, slips under her ring finger. And Chloe touches back, flipping Beca’s hand over to find the grooves in her palm, trailing down them to the tensing muscles in her wrist. Slowly, so slowly, she follows veins she can’t see up Beca’s forearm, into the dip of her elbow, and she opens her eyes.

Beca’s are closed, her head tilted away from the TV. But she’s definitely awake, because her hand closes around Chloe’s forearm, not stopping her, just holding on. So Chloe continues her journey up Beca’s arm, fingers spreading out to trace patterns into soft skin until she’s dipping into cotton and pushing it aside to find more of Beca to touch. Beca’s sleeve bunches at Chloe’s wrist as she walks her fingers over the curve of a shoulder, then slips right over the strap of Beca’s sports bra and into the drop of her collarbone.

She doesn’t move, but Beca’s nostrils flare as the TV paints and strips her face of flashing blues and greens. It thrills her that Beca hasn’t stopped her. Excites her. Terrifies her.

This doesn’t feel like less.

It’s impossible to tell how long she spends just walking her fingers back and forth in the valley of Beca’s collarbone, but when her nails drag along Beca’s skin, moving closer to the hollow of her throat, Beca’s mouth opens just enough to let out a quiet exhale, like she’d been holding it in. And it’s nearly silent, but Chloe hears it like her favorite song on the radio--she knows every note of it and the second it ends, she wants it repeated. So she gives in to that urge that’s been pulling at her since they laid down and shifts her chin up just enough that she can brush her lips against Beca’s bared shoulder.

There’s an inhale this time, but Beca stays still. In fact, she’s so still that it’s like she didn’t even notice. Like she didn’t feel that tiny rush of skin over skin like a freight truck hitting her, the way Chloe did. Like maybe she’s asleep. But her other hand, the one that’s been resting between Chloe and the couch, is too tense for her to be out. Beca sinks into sleep like melting chocolate. There’s no way she’s asleep.

It occurs to her then that maybe Beca thinks it was an accident. Maybe she’s giving Chloe a chance to pull back and pretend it didn’t happen. Maybe, like Chloe, she’s scared.

And Chloe thinks of taking it back. Of pretending to be asleep herself. It would be believable. Beca knows she’s touchy in her sleep. She could write it off as an accident. Just shifting to get comfortable.

But this really doesn’t feel like less. So Chloe turns her head and presses a firmer kiss to the farthest reach of Beca’s collarbone. There’s no mistaking it for anything other than what it is this time and the reaction is instantaneous.

Beca’s hand on her back moves, sliding up her spine and into her curls with a deftness that she wasn’t expecting, and strong fingers press just slightly into her scalp. Encouraging.

Every inch of Chloe’s skin is warm suddenly and she’s barely aware enough of the room around them to stop the moan that sits behind her teeth as she presses another kiss right beside the first.

They both jump when there’s a knock on the door and half the room breaks out in screams.

“Bitch, I knew you were scared,” Cynthia Rose hisses at Amy, who definitely screamed the loudest and longest.

Beca’s hand retreats from her hair, pressing into the couch back so she can crane her head around to look at the front door. Chloe retracts her hand from Beca’s sleeve and uses the other woman’s stomach to anchor herself up. “Who is it?” she calls. No answer.

“Oh, hell no,” Stacie mutters, pushing to her feet. “No answer totally means serial killer, right?”

“Everyone calm down.” Aubrey, (almost) always the levelheaded leader, stands and moves around the couch toward the door. “It’s probably just Dana or the Trebles or...the wrong house, maybe?”

Emily whines a little, her long legs pulled up to her chest. “But, like, what if it is a serial killer?” Aubrey’s steps slow just a bit.

“Then we’ve got them outnumbered, dude.” Beca shuffles out from under Chloe and rolls to her feet. Chloe follows, tugging the sleeves of her shirt down over her hands. Together, Chloe, Beca, and Aubrey move to the front door.

Aubrey flips on the porch light and Beca peers out the window beside the door. “Is that Lew?”

Chloe takes a deep breath, almost sure she hears everyone else do the same, and turns the deadbolt. She pulls the door open enough that Beca could launch herself out of it if she wanted to. (Because, really, if they’re being attacked, that will be the first thing that happens. Beca’s scrappy.) She swings her head around the door, hoping she’s not about to lose it. “Hello?”

The man on the porch spins around, arms lifting and falling with the force of his turn. Chloe gasps. He grins. “Chloe!”


Chapter Text

The movie night ends pretty abruptly after that. Someone fetches Mamma Beale and she sweeps downstairs in her nightgown to hurry them all to bed as she shuts herself, Chloe, and Mickey in the kitchen.

Just before the door closes behind her, Chloe catches Beca’s eye and gives her a quick, close-lipped smile. It rips at something inside Beca so hard that she almost follows. But it’s a family thing. She kinda remembers what that’s like.

The other girls attempt to pile up by the door and listen in, but Aubrey and Beca wrangle them together and force them into their rooms. Aubrey delivers some truly spectacular threats to Fat Amy to keep her there. Then Beca follows through on her promise to Jesse and walks Aubrey out to her car.

It’s cold out and the big slippers Beca stole from by the door (Dana’s or Gran’s, she thinks) are warm, but the rest of her is shivering by the time they reach Aubrey’s car. Instead of climbing in and driving away, Aubrey motions for Beca to get in. So she hops into the passenger seat as Aubrey cranks the car up and turns the heater on. Beca rubs her hands together in front of the vent, pushing out a deep breath.

Neither of them speak for a minute, letting the heat sink into their skin.

“Mickey left for college the year before I met Chloe.” Aubrey’s voice is quiet and Beca has to strain to hear it over the roaring heater.

“Yeah, she told me.” Beca looks over just as Aubrey does, her eyebrows up. Surprised. “She said he left and for a bit it was fine. But then he stopped calling or answering. Didn’t come home for holidays.” She shrugs. “She didn’t say why.”

Aubrey nods thoughtfully, eyes on the house again. “Well, I’m not entirely sure either. But…” She stops, takes a deep breath, and folds her hands in her lap. “I just want to make sure you’ve got Chloe’s back for this.”

It doesn’t make sense to Beca--the idea that she wouldn’t have Chloe’s back, on anything. “Of course I do.”

“Good. You...make her happy.” It sounds like it’s difficult for her to say, like the words catch in her throat. “I’m just… I’d like to reiterate that I’m glad it’s you and not some rando from the newspaper. Especially now.” Aubrey drops her head back against her seat, rolling her eyes. “Chloe and her ridiculous ideas.”

Beca laughs, rubbing her palms together idly, even though they’re a little too warm now. “When Chloe wants something…”

The radio’s a low hum under the heater and Beca sits back, sliding her feet around in the borrowed slippers. Finally, Aubrey speaks. “You look at her like Jesse looks at me.”

It feels like someone’s kicked her in the gut and suddenly she’s back on the couch, soft lips pressing firmly to her shoulder and red hair spilling across her chest, tangling around her fingers. And the thought’s been on her mind all night, but it slips down and past her lips before she can trap it. “I don’t think it’s Tom that’s starting to believe it.”

Aubrey’s smiling when she looks up. “Maybe you should tell her that.”

Spilling her guts to an almost stranger was not on Beca’s to-do list today and now she feels weird--raw and exposed. So she crosses her arms and awkwardly uses her left hand to pull the door handle, even though it’s tucked under her right arm. “Well. Not tonight, Control Freak.”

“Yes, that’s probably for the best, Bitchy.” Aubrey grins around the last word, flicking the back of her fingers at Beca’s arm. Beca hisses and curls away from the swat, flattening herself against the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Tell Chloe I said goodbye?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Beca climbs out, already missing the car interior as a cold breeze slips up her sleeve. It reminds her of Chloe’s hand doing the same thing earlier. But now’s not the time for that, so she just waves as Aubrey backs down the driveway. It occurs to her that Chloe had promised to make Aubrey text Jesse when she was leaving. And Aubrey seems like the type that would remember on her own. But, just in case.

Yo, Snitch. Your girl is on her way home.” She types the message as she climbs the porch steps and she has a response by the time she finishes kicking off the slippers.

It’s the same stupid gif of the woman twerking by the highway and, “Thx Becawwwww i luv u”.

She scrunches her nose at the text. “Don’t be a fucking weirdo, dude.

The kitchen is empty when she passes through it. Which is lucky, because she really has no idea what she would have done if it wasn’t. The key to the garage is gone, so she lets herself out the back door, locking it, and hurries across the yard, her bare feet protesting the chilly grass. She wrenches the door open and throws herself through it, cursing under her breath and pressing her feet into the (slightly) warmer concrete floor until the stinging stops. Why the hell didn’t she wear shoes to the house the first time?


It’s a soft call, but it hits her hard, straightening her spine and pulling her up the stairs two at a time. Because it’s the voice Chloe uses when she’s certain the exam the next day is going to beat her, when a kitten is brought into the shelter and they aren’t sure if it’s going to make it through the night.

She’s not crying when Beca makes it up the stairs, skidding to a halt. But her lip is trembling like she could be any second and when she sees Beca, she breathes in so deeply that it lifts her shoulders to her ears. Beca doesn’t know why she’s shrugging and she doubts Chloe does either.

The second Beca steps forward though, Chloe closes her eyes and tears that weren’t there a second ago are suddenly racing for her chin. And they tangle around Beca’s feet, stumbling her forward. She doesn’t know how to do this. Her family never cried when she was growing up. Her father shot himself in the thumb with a nail gun once and his eyes barely watered. Her mother did chemo and surgery and death all without crying. It just wasn’t what they did. So Beca avoids crying people like the plague. It’s kind of a rule: Beca Mitchell doesn’t do crying.

But this is Chloe and she’s been the exception to every rule Beca’s ever had, including this one. So she’s across the room before Chloe’s first ragged breath slips out and Beca catches it in her cupped hands, dragging her thumbs across wet cheeks. “Hey, babe, it’s okay.” Chloe starts a little at the word, but Beca ignores that. There’s time to feel awkward and weird about things she says later. “Do you, uh.” She rolls her eyes at her own inability to string together a sentence in the face of a crying Chloe Beale. “Like, we can talk. About it. If you want.”

Chloe’s smile is unsteady, but it brushes against the heel of Beca’s palm and she wraps her fingers around Beca’s wrists. “Not tonight?”

Beca has no idea why it comes out as a question, but she nods in answer anyways. Then, because it’s what they do and all she can think of to follow up with, she says, “Wanna dance?”

Chloe nods into her palms and Beca drops them to grab Chloe’s wrists and pull her up. She unfolds from the bed more gracefully than Beca could ever hope to. Once she’s standing, Beca pulls her hands back and twists her wrists around, popping them. She pulls out her phone to put on music. Maybe some Matchbox Twenty. Chloe likes their softer songs when she’s sad.

Before she can choose one, Chloe pulls the phone from her hand and tosses it onto the bed as she closes the distance between them. She wraps her arms around Beca’s neck and pulls her in until there’s no space between them. Automatically, Beca slips her hands around to Chloe’s back, laying them one after the other down her spine.

They sway in place, no music, no set beat beyond the pounding in her chest. She isn’t sure it’s actually hers or if it’s Chloe’s. But it’s rapid and kind of hurts, though she can’t bring herself to worry about it. Because Chloe turns her head just as the tension in her chest gets to be too much and she places a soft kiss just behind Beca’s ear.

“Can we talk tomorrow? About everything?”

Everything. She knows Chloe means about Jesse’s dick cousin and her brother and why she’s sad, but right now Chloe’s breath on her neck and her toes resting lightly on top of Beca’s as they dance to nothing feels like everything. So she just nods. “Yeah. Of course, Chlo.”

Turns out “tomorrow” doesn’t mean “as soon as we wake up” like Beca was hoping. Instead, she wakes up to Chloe quietly slipping down the stairs and Stacie and Emily standing at the foot of the bed, both wearing torn jean shorts and tank tops.

“Good morning, Boss.” Stacie holds up what Beca recognizes as her own shirt--the red one Stacie had torn up--and waves it like a flag. “Up you get. We’re on Eli duty.”

“Why does that require you to wave my clothing around at the crack of dawn?” Beca shoves herself back into the pillows until they nearly cover her face. “Where’s Chloe goin’?”

Stacie takes a deep breath and Beca suddenly feels like she’s in danger. Sure enough, Stacie launches herself onto the bed--no, sorry, onto Beca--and settles down happily. “Well, first off, it’s almost noon. The other girls have already left. And Chloe is going have a family meeting.” She ignores Beca’s groaning and pained protests, shifting to get more comfortable. Which digs her elbow into Beca’s gut. “So we’re babysitting. He’s taking us ride four-wheelers.”

That wakes Beca up. She presses her heels into the bed and bucks up, tossing Stacie off, and scrambles away, nearly falling to the floor. Emily catches her. Barely.

“Okay, okay, I’m up.” Beca straightens, spinning out of Emily’s hold and pulling her t-shirt back into place. “Get out. I’ll meet you downstairs.”

Stacie, who somehow landed like she was posing for an artist, huffs. “We don’t get to watch? Beca, why don’t you love us?”

“Because you ask why you can’t watch me change. Get out.”

By the time Beca has changed into the one pair of basketball shorts she brought and the shirt Stacie had been waving around, given up on taming her hair, pulled on a baseball cap she finds in a drawer, and answered her work emails, Stacie has rounded up Eli and four-wheelers for all of them: two green, a red, and a bright pink one that Beca would bet her life belonged to Chloe at one point.

Speaking of Chloe. Beca glances at the house. Mamma Beale’s profile passes in front of the kitchen window, gone too fast to catch her expression.

Eli is standing on the seat of the green bike, bouncing from foot to foot, a thick black helmet strapped to his head. When she walks out, he excitedly starts signing to her, pausing in the middle to figure out how to say it all. I’m going to run Stacie off the road when we race.

She snorts, signing back. I’m going to video it.

“Okay, quit talking about me.” Stacie throws her ridiculously long leg over the bright pink four-wheeler. Her stupid feet touch the ground on both sides. Beca kind of hates her.

“How’d you know?”

“What else could you possibly be talking about?” She flips her ponytail and leans back on her hands, winking.

Beca pretends to gag as she climbs on the other green one. “Where did these even come from?”

“Oh, sure, change the subject--”

“They keep them in the shed on the other side of the house.” Emily hops on the red one. Her feet also touch the ground on both sides. Beca doesn’t hate her as much though. She’s got that sweet and innocent baby giraffe thing going. It’s hard to hate baby giraffes, even for Beca.

“They have a shed and a garage?” Beca turns the key and cranks up her four-wheeler. “How rich are you guys?” she asks Eli.

He kicks his own four-wheeler on, revving it. “Mamma says ‘not rich’ when I ask that. Dad built the shed.”

“And the four-wheelers?”

“Presents from Aunt Dana!” He drives in a slow circle around them, yelling over the sound of the bikes. “She accidentally told Uncle Silas what Mamma was getting him for his birthday one year and she felt real bad, so she got these!”

Beca turns to Stacie. “How do I get Dana to spill my secrets to the family?”

“Tell them to her?” Stacie shrugs, laughing. “Let’s go! Follow the short one, Emily! Oh, sorry, I mean the short two!”

Beca flips her off the second Eli turns around.

They ride down the treeline until it breaks and they’re flying over hills and through dried river beds, kicking dust and rocks up behind them. Eli takes it kind of easy, no doubt under his mother’s orders, and Emily seems content to follow his lead.

Which leaves Beca and Stacie careening ahead, riding up embankments until the threat of tipping sideways and flipping is a very real one. Stacie pulls ahead going downhill and Beca nearly rear ends her as she zips around. They’re laughing and trash talking. It reminds Beca so heavily of her childhood, doing this same thing with Jesse through the back acres of the Swansons' place, that she twists the throttle harder, flashing past Stacie and whooping loudly. The wind rips into her shirt, billowing it out like ship sails. Stacie cheers behind her. She wishes Chloe had come with them.

By the time they slow to a stop at the top of a hill, Beca’s bare arms and legs are covered in mud and bits of grass. Her clothes are soaked from a puddle she’d crashed through because Stacie had blocked her off from swerving away.

Beca parks and spins around to watch Eli and Emily carefully follow their tire tracks up to them. Beside her, Stacie is running her fingers through her hair and picking grass out of her cleavage. Eli stops, pointing to something on the ground in front of his four-wheeler and Emily joins him, leaning down to squint at it.

Alone for the moment, Beca glances at Stacie. Her blood is still running hot from the ride, but something's been sitting heavy on her chest since they left. “She was crying.”

Stacie looks up, fingers still down her shirt, one hand cupping her boob. “Hm?”

“Chloe. When we got back to the garage.” She looks away as Stacie starts digging in her shirt again. Emily is off her bike now, crouching in front of Eli’s. “I don’t like leaving her if that’s what he does to her.”

Triumphantly, Stacie pulls a rock from her bra and chucks it at Beca’s leg where it leaves a stinging red mark. Beca hisses, jerking away. “She’ll be okay. He’s her brother. Family sucks sometimes.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.” Beca rubs her leg. Emily is now on all fours, smacking around in the thick grass. She thinks about asking what she’s doing, but Eli is wrapped forward over his handlebars, pointing, and it looks like he’s giving her directions. So it’s probably fine.

“Chloe totally has a toner for you?” Stacie says it so nonchalantly that it takes Beca a second to even remember what a “toner” is.

“Dude, what?” She blinks rapidly, barely catching Stacie’s smirk.

“You said to tell you something you don’t know.” She shrugs, brushing grass from her knees with quick slaps. “I don’t know if you know that one or not yet. But, whoa, y’all were getting hot last night!”

Beca sputters, unsure how to even pretend she’s not freaking out. “We-I-You saw?”

Stacie’s jaw drops and Beca knows she’s fucked up. “Saw ?” Stacie trills, launching forward to grab for Beca’s arm. “Beca Mitchell, what would I have seen?”

“Nothing!” Beca scrambles away, scooching to sit on the steel rack on the back of the four-wheeler, her knees pulled to her chest to keep Stacie at bay. “You said--”

“I said you were hot last night!” Stacie settles for gripping the edge of the rack, a few inches from Beca’s leg. Her eyes are wide and so very green in the sunlight. “You know I see sexual chi--”

“Oh my god, this again--”

“And I meant you guys’ chi was hot last night.” Stacie’s lips peel back into the biggest grin Beca’s ever seen. “But what would I have seen if I’d really looked, Boss?”

“Nothing!” Beca growls, pulling her toes back so she can easily launch a kick at Stacie if she gets closer. “And Chloe--”

“Has a toner for you. Yes. Very obvious.”

“No.” She doesn’t really believe her own denial, but Stacie looks smug and Beca hates it.



“Beca.” Stacie narrows her eyes, yanking enough to shake the bike. “I’m not dumb, remember?”

She remembers. Stacie’s incredibly intelligent and observant and quick to learn. It’s why she’d done so well when she’d started as an intern at Residual Heat. It’s what had brought them together as friends in the first place. (After Stacie had attempted to get her number multiple times and Beca had shut her down over and over.) That and a good ear for music as well as a better ear for listening when someone needed to talk.

Not that Beca has ever taken her up on that before. Chloe is the one she talks to.

But now it’s Chloe she wants to talk about. And Stacie is ridiculous. But she’s brilliant too and honestly one of the best friends Beca’s ever had. So she sighs and looks away. “She sort of kissed me.” Emily has emerged from the grass, holding up what looks like a gigantic lizard and Eli is petting its head.

The four-wheeler rocks as Stacie hops onto it, sitting backwards on the seat to face Beca. (Who very nearly backflips into the grass, because, Jesus, Stacie is like a ninja sometimes.) Her hands land on Beca’s shins, fingers wrapping around to her calves, probably to keep her from escaping. “Becs. First off, I need vivid details later--”


“Okay, a vague summary that I will fill in the blanks of. But second,” Stacie shakes her, slapping her knees together painfully. “What did you do?”

Beca shrugs, not sure how to describe it. Kinda died? Kinda lit up like a Christmas tree? Kinda dug her fingers into Chloe’s hair and urged her to continue whatever she was doing? “I don’t know?”

Stacie’s grip tightens and she squeals so loud that Beca winces. “Beca!”

“Why must you touch me--”

“This is amazing!” Stacie talks right over her, rocking the four-wheeler back and forth with her wiggling. “When are you telling her you love her?”

Everything in Beca’s stomach starts a rousing game of musical chairs and she pulls in a suddenly much needed breath. “Dude, I’m-I just-it’s been--”

“Oh my god,” Stacie releases her legs and Beca can still feel the indents of her fingers. “Confess by singing her ‘Chloe’ by Emblem3!”

Instead of immediately shutting Stacie down, Beca’s brain jumps on that, running through her mental music library. “Is that the one that goes, Chloe --” Stacie sings along with her. “I know your sister turns everyone on, but you’re the one I want.


“No.” Beca rolls her eyes. “You are running away with this. Chloe doesn’t even have a sister.”

Stacie straightens, arms out. “Hello! She has so many sisters!” Her smirk slides back into place. “I’m the one that song’s talking about obviously.”

Beca barely has time to fake gag before Emily and Eli are riding up beside them.

“We found a lizard!” Eli yells, breathless. “We named him Olly and let him go--”

The muffled chorus of “No Diggity” starts playing from Beca’s pocket and Eli politely pauses as she fishes out the Ziploc bag Stacie had given her to stash her phone in before they left. She answers without looking. “Hey, Chlo.”

“Beca, where are you?” Her voice is strained and quiet. All of Beca’s senses go on alert.

“Uh.” Beca turns the phone away from her mouth. “Where are we?”

“Riker Hill,” Emily says quickly.

“Riker Hill. What’s wrong?”

Chloe’s breath whistles through the phone for a second. “Who’s with you?”

“Just Emily, Stacie, and Eli. Why?”

“Can you head back this way?”

Beca hears voices in the background and it all sits wrong with her. Chloe doesn’t avoid answering direct questions. In fact, she’s usually giving far too much information. “Chloe, what’s wrong?”

“Bec... Aubrey’s missing.”

Chapter Text

Chloe misses saying goodbye to the girls.

She really means to get up and see them off. She won’t see them again until the weekend. She’ll miss them. But when she shuts her alarm off and rolls over to make sure it didn’t wake Beca, all of that goes out the window.

Because at some point during the night, Beca’s shirt has ridden up.

She’s on her stomach, arms up, face so buried in the pillow that Chloe is concerned whether or not she can breathe. The blanket is wrapped around her legs and tugged down to her hips. And her shirt is up, nearly around her shoulders. She can just see the bottom of the pink lotuses and vines that grow up her shoulder blade. And there, right across the center of her spine, is a tattoo Chloe hasn’t seen before.

Equalizer bars. Music, right there on her skin.

And before she can think better of it, Chloe’s tracing the lines.

Beca’s skin is so soft under her fingers. As soft as it had been under her lips the night before.

Chloe follows the rising and falling lines of ink, propping herself up on an elbow to get a better look. She wonders if it’s a specific beat, what it means to Beca. If it’s the only tattoo she hasn’t seen. When her fingertip reaches the end of the tattoo, she smoothes her entire hand flat across it, covering it completely. Beca doesn’t budge. And Chloe moves on autopilot, her hand sliding down the curve of Beca’s back, thumb following the gentle bumps of her spine to her waistband and back up. Her fingers fan out across Beca’s side, hovering over the spaces between her ribs, the dip of her waist. Not quite touching. And she thinks this should be weird. Creepy, even.

But she remembers the insistent press of Beca’s fingers in her hair. She’d wanted Chloe to continue. She’d liked it, just like Chloe had. And that had really sealed everything into place for her.

She likes Beca. Loves her and every one of her quirks and charms. Is very possibly in love with her. And Beca has kissed her multiple times since they arrived here. Beca kissed her. Honestly, she’d expected any kisses they shared during this trip to be brief and chaste, all initiated by herself, and followed up by some time peeling Beca off the ceiling. But instead, Beca had kissed her under the red maple like it was something they had always done. Familiar and comfortable and solid. And then she’d been perfectly normal after. Maybe a little peppier than normal Beca, but still.

Then she’d kissed her at the Swansons’ and barely batted an eye about it. Which is insane, because Chloe’s still reeling from it.

But that kiss at the lake had really shaken her to the core. Because it wasn’t necessary. And she knew Beca knew that. And it had been so small in comparison to their other kisses, but it had knocked the wind out of her sails.

She’s not sure how long she lays there, tracing Beca’s newly revealed tattoo and her spine and the small scars peppered over her skin.

The three slashes a few inches from her waistband where she’d been scratched by her aunt’s cat when she was a teenager. She smiles, remembering Beca recounting the story and twisting to show her the three white lines on her back. “And the little bastard jumped right out of the Christmas tree and attacked me! I told her he had it out for me!” It takes a few minutes to drag her fingers away from those scars.

The hooked one on her hip. A trophy of a particularly amusing fight with a metal clothing hanger while she was breaking into her own car after locking herself out. “And then I tried to turn and the end got caught in my shirt and then in my skin and I just ended up calling my dad. And then he took me to the emergency room because we couldn’t get it out.

The white line down her side where her friend from high school--Jesse probably, Chloe realizes--accidentally shoved her into a set of shelves. “I had to get stitches. My mom made them put me in the stupid hospital gown so we could take pictures in our ‘matching outfits’. ...I kept the gown, though. Those things are comfortable as hell.

It thrills her that she can name where every line came from. That Beca’s opened up enough since they moved in together to tell her these things. She wants to kiss every jagged white line, every splash of ink.

But first, she has to deal with Mickey. Then, once that’s settled, she’s going to drag Beca back up here, lock the door, and kiss her.

For now, though, she runs her fingers once more over the equalizer bars, then grips the edge of Beca’s shirt and tugs it back down. Beca’s barely moved at all, but her head is turned enough that her ear is peeking from her hair. So Chloe rests a hand on Beca’s back and leans in to press a soft kiss to the tip.

Beca breathes deep suddenly and rolls until she’s facing Chloe, her arms awkwardly crossed over each other and thrust down into the space between them. Even in sleep, Beca has no idea what to do with her limbs sometimes. She doesn’t wake. Just adjusts and settles back into place, the back of her fingers brushing the top of Chloe’s thigh. And Chloe wants to wake her and ask if she feels this too--this sparking, rushing thing between her ribs whenever Beca’s near her, touching her, kissing her. When she’s helping Eli practice sign language. When she’s playfully taking Cynthia Rose’s five dollars because she won their “who can eat the most” bet. When she’s showing Aubrey her equipment. When she’s pushing Stacie over on the couch back home so Chloe has enough room to spread out, then tumbling into her armchair and napping all afternoon. When she’s standing behind Emily at the coffee shop and grumpily complaining that she looks like her daughter.

It’s not less, Chloe thinks. So she rolls out of bed and dresses quickly. Soon, she'll talk to her. But for now, she lets Beca sleep.

She has missed calls and texts from nearly all of the girls and Mamma. Quickly, she reads Mamma’s messages, which are asking her to come over once everyone has gone home so they can deal with Mickey. She texts back, then asks Stacie to come over and get Beca and entertain Eli for a while.

She’s just pulling on her socks when Stacie and Emily arrive. She lets them in and runs back up for her shoes. Stacie immediately starts digging through drawers and talking loudly about rooming with Cynthia Rose while Emily shushes her and keeps worriedly glancing at Beca’s prone form. At some point, she’d rolled onto her back and her arms are crossed over her chest. She kind of looks dead. Chloe pauses to stare at her. No, her chest is moving. All good.

Mamma texts her again, asking if she’s coming over, so she hurries out, trusting Stacie to be able to wake Beca.

Eli’s sitting on the back porch and he grins when he sees her crossing the yard. “Chlo!” He hops up to meet her halfway, throwing his arms around her waist.

“Hey, E. What you doing?” She strokes his hair back, trying to flatten it. She fails.

“Mamma said Stace and Em and Beca could take me riding.” His smile slips, brow furrowing. “Are you going talk to Mickey too?”

She sighs, cupping his freckled cheeks. He probably doesn’t remember Mickey that well. Eli had been four when Mickey left for college. “Yeah. Did you see him?”

Eli shrugs, picking at the hem of her shirt. “I saw him down the hall when Mamma was sending me out.” He pauses. “He looks like Dad.”

Something about that chafes at her. Something about Eli saying it is wrong. She squeezes his face, rocking his head side to side so his hair flops around. “You look like Dad.” Continuing to drag his head back and forth, she starts moving toward the porch.

“Ah, Chloe! Stop!” He laughs, twisting out of her hold, his hair wildly mussed now.

She grins. “Be safe. Wear your helmet this time.”

Running back up on the porch, he grabs the thick black helmet off the bench Uncle Lew had built to go under their kitchen window. “Got it!” He jams it on his head and jumps the stairs, running off toward the garage with the clips still hanging around his ears.

Taking a moment before she has to go inside, she watches him run across the yard, jumping invisible obstacles and carefully avoiding a patch of little white flowers. She wishes she could go with them.

The back door opens and Mamma sticks her head out. “Chloe? Ready?”

She watches Eli bend over to tie his shoelace, his helmet falling off. “Yeah. Ready.”

Mickey does look like their dad. He’s got the same thin face and scruffy chin. The same eyes, more gray than blue. The same thick eyebrows and dark red hair, even if it’s longer that Dad ever kept his. It brushes his collar when he moves.

But he doesn’t smile the same. He barely smiles at all as he sits at the dining room table, watching Mamma bustle around in the kitchen. Chloe sits across from him, her hands tucked into the pockets of her light jacket. There’s a string loose in the left pocket and she tugs at it.

Mickey looks at her briefly, eyes darting down to the mug in his hands and back to Mamma. “Sorry for last night. I didn’t mean to yell.”

“It’s fine,” Chloe says. It’s not.

“It is not,” Mamma snaps, slamming a mug down in front of her a little too hard. Coffee drops hit the counter and Mamma hurries away to get a paper towel. “I said it last night and I’ll say it again. If you start yelling, we’re done talking. And this time, you can leave as well.” She returns, wiping up the table with quick, jerky movements. “I won’t have it.”

Chloe thinks about arguing with her, saying he can’t help it. But she watches his hands tremble on the tabletop instead and doesn’t say anything.

“Let’s try this one more time.” Mamma settles down beside her, hand automatically moving to grab Chloe’s. She pulls it from her pocket and lets Mamma take it. “Why are you here, Michail?”

Mickey flinches at the name. Chloe’s only ever heard it before when Mickey was in trouble--over the PA at school when he was called to the office, under her father’s breath when Mickey wrecked his first car, at the top of her mother’s lungs when he punched cousin Terry at the family reunion.

He taps his fingers along the rim of his cup, biting his lip. It’s scarred, right where he’s digging his teeth in, and she wonders if it’s from him biting it too much. “I want to come home.”

Mamma’s thumb strokes the back of Chloe’s hand, comforting even though she’s the one that’s tense and breathing sharply through her nose. “We asked you to come home years ago.”

“I know.” His gaze has drifted, catching the dust particles dancing near the kitchen window.


He blinks and refocuses, sniffing. “I’m here.”

The kitchen is quiet and Chloe sees his attention waning again. “Mickey, where have you been?”

His eyes land on her and stick, more alert now. “Chlo.” His lips press together in a flat line that might look like a smile to some people. “Uh. Florida. Just, all around there, I guess.”

She knows that. His rare Facebook posts all came from Florida, though, admittedly, she mostly saw him on Facebook in the memories. Pictures of him at graduation, lifting his then-best friend, Jasper, into the air. Quick shots of him sleeping in his crib from Mamma’s albums. Him in Dad’s suits before he left--his shoulders too small to fill them out completely. Football team pictures reposted by his old friends. “Yes, but where have you been?”

He shrugs, sighing through his nose and shaking his hair back. “In and out of friends’ places. Does it matter?” There’s an edge to his voice now, clipped and warning her off.

“Watch it,” Mamma growls, quiet, and Mickey sits up straighter. Even after all these years, he seems to remember that Mamma rarely gets angry enough to yell. But when she’s angry and quiet, that’s when someone’s really in trouble.

He sneers. It’s a strange look to see on a face so like her father’s. “You wanted me home and I’m home. Why’s it matter where I was?”

“Because I don’t want where you were to follow you here,” Mamma says, tapping the table with her knuckle.

There’s an awkward pause where Chloe’s sure Mickey’s forgotten they were even talking. He’s staring at the kitchen window again. Then he speaks. “Eli’s gotten so big.”

His name on Mickey’s lips trails flames down Chloe’s throat. “Yeah, that happens in six and a half years.” Mamma squeezes her hand tightly. But Chloe’s back in that car, driving around downtown Miami, trying to find a guy named “P-Dot”, hoping he would know where Mickey’s gone. “He also speaks full sentences that make sense now. And he is learning sign language and he’s part of the drama club at school and--”


She’s crying. She knows she is, but she can barely feel it, and everything is pouring out of her mouth without permission. “And he keeps begging Mamma to teach him how to drive already and he likes Ed Sheeran because ‘his lyrics are the best’.” She chokes on the words. Mickey’s eyes are wide and fixed on her.

“Baby--” Mamma wraps an arm around her.

“And he asks about you!” Chloe’s the one yelling now. “All the time! He wants to know if he’s anything like you, if you’re going to visit, if you know his soccer team won the championship.” It’s getting hard to breathe and she pulls her hands from Mamma’s, flapping them around, trying to calm down. Talking this loud hurts her throat, even all these years after her nodes surgery.

Mamma’s rubbing up and down her arms, speaking quietly in her ear, but Chloe can’t tell what she’s saying. It’s too much. Chloe closes her eyes. Freshman year, Aubrey had taught her to handle things that upset her by focusing on something that makes her ridiculously, blindingly happy without fail.

It’s Beca that comes to mind first. Beca in her armchair, half asleep and humming along with the radio on top of their fridge. Beca speed walking down the street toward the subway, pressing close to Chloe’s side to avoid elbows and purses and children. Beca leaning off the balcony of Stacie’s apartment, dropping grapes on people passing below. Beca asleep beside her, music-inked skin bared.

“My Chloe,” Mamma says softly, running her nails across Chloe’s scalp. It helps. “Come on. Let’s take a minute. Go breathe.” She ushers Chloe up and toward the living room. “You stay here. I’ll be back in a second,” she says to Mickey. He doesn’t reply.

Mamma leaves her in the living room and Chloe curls into the corner of the couch, wrapping her arms around her legs and turning her head to lay her cheek on her knees. She closes her eyes and thinks about Beca and the Bellas and the stained glass window above their sink back home.

After a while, she sits up, inhaling slowly. She pulls her phone from her pocket. There’s more messages from the girls, telling her they’ve made it home or to work, then some missed calls from each of them. And a missed call and text from Jesse. She frowns at that one and calls him back. “Jesse?”

“Chloe!” He sounds a little breathless, like he’s been jogging. “Is Aubrey with you?”

“No?” She thinks back to her messages from this morning. “I haven’t heard from her since she got home last night. She texted me she made it.”

“Me too.” His voice trembles a little. “And I came home and passed out on the couch. I thought she went to work, but her car’s still here, Chlo. And her phone. And she’s not at work--”

“Whoa, Jesse, slow down.” She listens to him take a deep breath. “She’s not there or at work and her phone and car are?” He confirms it and her stomach twists painfully. It’s not like Aubrey to leave her phone anywhere or to go off without letting someone know where she’s going. The General’s daughter always checks in. “Did you call all the girls? All her other friends?”

“Yes, yeah. I texted you first, but you didn’t answer, so I texted the Bellas. And they weren’t answering fast enough, so I called them. Amy said they all left this morning, so I called you. I texted Beca, even, but she didn’t answer. I--”

“Okay.” Chloe jumps in before he runs out of breath. “Okay, look. I’ll call Beca and see if she knows anything. You’re sure she’s not at work?”

“The Lodge said they haven’t seen her since Friday, Chloe. I’m--” He takes a breath. “Chloe, I’m freaking out.”

Logically, she knows she should suggest cold feet or maybe Aubrey just needs some time to herself before the wedding. But she knows neither are true. This is Aubrey Posen. Always ready to take on the world, Aubrey Posen. Completely and madly in love with Jesse Swanson, Aubrey Posen. Solid, dependable, always checks in, Aubrey Posen.

“I know. Just hold on. I’ll call Beca. If she doesn’t know...maybe you should…” She hesitates, placing a hand over the clenching in her stomach. “You should call…”

“The police?” It’s barely a whisper and she knows he hadn’t wanted to say it any more than her.

“Yeah. Better safe, you know?”

“Yeah. Okay, I’ll call them. Let me know if Beca answers you.”

“Of course. I’ll call you right back.” She hangs up and quickly dials Beca. That twisting in her stomach is back and it forces her up and back into the kitchen.

Aubrey doesn’t do things like this. And Chloe’s shaking by the time Beca picks up.

Chapter Text

The four-wheeler tilts dangerously as Beca slides to a halt at the foot of the porch stairs, but she just lets that carry her sideways and off of it, staggering a few crooked steps. She leaves it running and hops up the stairs to wrench the door open.

Chloe’s in her arms before she can fully clear the threshold, her face buried in Beca’s neck. She can’t tell if it’s tears or sweat running down her neck, but she holds on tightly either way. “Chlo.”

“Jesse’s called the police. They’re headed to his house,” Mamma says, coming over to rub a hand down Chloe’s shaking back. In her other hand, she’s holding the keys to her car. She passes them to Beca. “Take it. Be safe.”

“Thanks, Mamma Beale.”

“Just Mamma, Beca.” She leans in and presses her lips to Beca’s temple, then to Chloe’s hair, and releases them.

Beca hooks her thumb in the back of Chloe’s collar and tugs gently. “Come on. Let’s go.”

Chloe straightens, nodding even as tears fall from her eyes.

“Come on,” Beca says again, even though Chloe is following now. Mickey is sitting at the kitchen table and Beca gets her first good look at him. At the way his hands shake and his nose shifts like he’s sniffing even when he doesn’t make a noise. He’s staring at the kitchen window. And Beca thinks she gets what’s going on here, but she pushes that aside. Aubrey first.

Stacie and Emily catch up to them at the car and they all pile in. Beca starts up the car and looks to Chloe. “Tell me where to go.”

She looks away from the air vent, where she’d been fixated, and blinks once. Then nods. “Take a left out of the driveway.”

The ride is quiet. A few quick questions from Stacie and Emily. A few hopeful suggestions for where she could be. A soft, “We’ll find her, guys” from Stacie as she squeezes Chloe’s shoulder.

At some point, Chloe picks up Beca’s hand and holds it tight. Only then does Beca realize she’s still covered in drying mud and grass. Chloe spends half the ride picking the blades from her skin and dropping them to the floor of the passenger seat.

“Last house before the docks,” Chloe says and Beca nods, tapping her forefinger against Chloe’s palm once. She didn’t really have to tell her that part. There are two cop cars sitting in front of the house. Aubrey’s car is in the driveway.

She parks in the street, behind one of the cruisers, and they climb out, hurrying to the door.

Chloe knocks, then pushes it open, apparently unable to wait for it to be answered.

Jesse is sitting on the living room couch, his hair standing straight up, like he’d been running his hands through it repeatedly. One cop, a small, tan woman with dark hair cropped close to her scalp on the sides and dyed blonde and styled on top, is sitting beside Jesse and scribbling furiously in a notebook.

Another officer, this one tall and thin with her short brown hair pushed back behind her ears, is leaning over the kitchen counter to look out the window at the driveway.

Jesse leaps up when they enter, opening his arms just before Chloe barrels into them. She pulls away quickly.

“Have you found her?” Chloe’s shaking, so Jesse keeps his arm around her shoulders. Beca moves to her other side and catches his eye. He gives her a quick smile and she nods back.

“No,” the officer at the kitchen window says, straightening up and coming over. “We’re still trying to figure out what’s even happened here. I’m Officer Calamity.” She shakes Chloe’s hand, then reaches for Beca’s.

“Ah,” Beca holds up her hands, one significantly less grassy than the other now. “We were riding four-wheelers when we got the call. We haven’t had time to uh, clean up.”

Officer Calamity nods, glancing at Emily and Stacie who are just as dirty as Beca. “You’re friends of Mr. Swanson?”

“And Aubrey,” Chloe says. She quickly introduces them and how they know Aubrey and Jesse as Beca takes a moment to look around the room.

It’s such a Jesse space, but there’s so clearly Aubrey’s touch everywhere. The shelves on either side of the TV are filled to bursting with DVDs, which is exactly how Jesse’s childhood room was set up, but she can see that they’re filed alphabetically now. There’s framed photos all across the far wall and she’d bet her life that Jesse was the one that suggested buying white and black frames and setting them up to look like piano keys lining the room. The desk in the corner is perfectly kept and covered in files and post-its written in careful type-like print that say things like, “Reset bear traps in west field” and “See about group from Google extending stay”. One, in a different, loopier handwriting, says, “Morning, I love you.” with a scribbled heart.

“Miss Mitchell?”

She looks up, realizing she had tuned out the conversation for a second and mentally kicking herself. This is important. “Yes?”

Officer Calamity glances at the other cop. (Officer Serenity, she thinks she heard). “Miss Beale said you’re childhood friends with Mr. Swanson. I asked how long you’ve known him.”

Beca tries to mentally calculate it, but gives up. She hates math. “Since first grade. We haven’t been in touch since high school, though.”

Officer Serenity looks down, writing quickly, and Beca has the strange sensation that she’s taking a test and failing. Her therapist used to do that too. Ask a question, listen, then write. And it used to set Beca off, shooting her anxiety through the roof. They’d learned quickly that Beca preferred she not take notes until the session was over, unless necessary.

She shoves her hands in her pockets, watching the pen tick back and forth.

“But you’re here for his wedding?” Officer Calamity has a tattoo along the side of her neck and Beca focuses on it as she answers, because the woman’s eyes are a strange light green that unsettles her. Some kind of script. She can't read it. 

“Uh, yeah. I’m here with Chloe.”

“She’s my girlfriend.” Before Beca can protest, (not that she knows she would have) Chloe’s hand slips into Beca’s pocket and takes hers, pulling it out to thread their fingers together. “We live together in New York. She came as my date. We didn’t realize she knew Jesse until we were here.”

“Ah.” Officer Serenity looks up from her notes. “So you really didn’t keep in touch after high school, huh?”

Beca wants to slap her with her own notebook. “I don’t really do social media and no. We didn’t talk much at all.” The guilt of that rises again in her stomach and she resists glancing apologetically at Jesse.

“What does this have to do with Aubrey?” Emily says, her voice quiet and squeaking when Officer Calamity’s gaze sweeps to her.

She shrugs, hooking her thumbs in her gun belt. Her hands are also covered in tattoos. “We’re just gathering all the information we can.” She turns back to Beca briefly, then says to the room at large, “Can you all tell me the last time you saw Miss Posen?”

“Last night,” they all say, almost in unison.

Chloe clears her throat and continues. “Last night. We went to Jesse’s parents’ house for dinner, then all the girls went back to my family’s house to watch a movie.”

Officer Serenity stands up as Officer Calamity wanders away to look at the DVD collection. Beca fights the urge to glare after her. How can she admire Jesse’s stupid collection while a woman could be in trouble somewhere? Officer Serenity taps her pen against her wrist, watching them. “So, Miss Beale. When, exactly, is the last time you saw Miss Posen?”

Chloe takes a deep breath, glancing at the ceiling for a moment. “Last night around...eleven thirty, maybe? We were watching a movie and then…” She shakes her head a little. “I had a family emergency and we ended the movie night. Aubrey left while I went to handle that.”

“That’s the last time any of us saw her, right?” Emily says, glancing at Stacie, who has been strangely quiet. Stacie just nods.

Officer Serenity scribbles for a moment. “What kind of family emergency?”

“My-my brother showed back up. He’s been gone for a few years and we’re not on the best terms.” Chloe’s grip on her hand tightens.

Beca squeezes back.

“Can you give us a more certain time that she left?”

Everyone pauses, glancing at each other. “Uh.” The attention swivels to Beca and she swallows, pulling out her phone and scrolling through her messages quickly. “Eleven forty-seven.”

Officer Calamity looks up from the copy of Jaws she’s pulled from the shelf.

Officer Serenity stops scribbling. “That’s very specific.”

Beca shrugs, waving her phone. “I walked her to her car when she left. And as she was pulling out, I texted Jesse that she was on her way home. Just in case.” The room is quiet and it makes Beca’s stomach twist. Everyone is looking at her. “What?”

Officer Serenity holds up her hands, like she’s surrendering, and Beca glances at the scribbled black lines in her notebook. It’s too cramped to read. “We’re just trying to establish a timeline, ma’am. It’s good that you have a specific time.”

“Mr. Swanson,” Officer Calamity says, sliding Jaws back into its place. “You said her work and relatives haven’t heard from her?”

Jesse blinks. His eyes are red-rimmed and wide. His hand flutters off Chloe’s shoulder and into his own hair. “I mean, it’s just her father. And he’s overseas. Military.” He pushes out a quick breath through his nose. “But he said he hasn’t heard from her in a few days. So, no. If she had just gone somewhere, she would have told one of us, at least.” He motions to Chloe and himself. “Aubrey doesn’t just go places. It’s not who she is.”

Officer Serenity speaks to her notebook, head tucked back down. “Not who she is or not how you guys work?”

It’s like Jesse’s been slapped across the face. He even turns red. “What?”

“It’s not who she is,” Stacie says, stepping forward suddenly. She draws herself up to her full height and Beca wonders if she usually slouches, because she seems to take up the whole room now. Even covered in dried mud, she commands attention. She fixes Officer Serenity with a steady gaze. “She grew up with a general for a father and a mother who was OCD and distant when Aubrey didn’t do exactly what she was told to do. So she checks in. She plans trips to the last dotted ‘I’ and crossed ‘T’. She lays out her outfit for work the night before. Disappearing isn’t who she is.”

The room is silent. Officer Serenity’s eyes narrow, skipping across each of them, and Beca does her very best not to glare back.

Stacie isn’t done though. “So, she’ll be entered into NCIC within the hour, yes?”

Both officers blink and straighten up. It takes a second, but Beca suddenly understands what Stacie’s saying and everything starts to click into place. She glances at the others and finds them staring blankly at Stacie, but Officer Serenity slaps her little notebook closed.

“Yes, ma’am.” Officer Calamity nods once, stepping back.

“Good. We’ll give you our information and you can call any one of us if you find anything.”

Stacie leads the way, giving them her full name and phone number. The address where she’s staying. And Beca, Chloe, and Emily follow suit. It feels like she blinks and the officers are leaving, Stacie shutting the door behind them.

She sighs, peering through the little diamond-shaped window in the door. Then she turns to face them. “Fuck.”

Beca leans over the kitchen sink, scrubbing her face.

All those shows on ID had given her a little idea what was happening. She knew what Stacie had meant by NCIC. She knew the officers had been digging to see if Jesse was controlling in his relationship with Aubrey. She had even figured Jesse would be a suspect. He’s the soon-to-be spouse. A woman goes missing, that’s always the first person the police look at. But it’s insane. It’s Jesse. Once, when they were in high school, he accidentally stole someone else's pencil case and he spent the whole weekend freaking out about it. He ended up baking muffins and returning the case with a basket of the damn things. She turns off the water, letting her face drip over the basin for a moment. A towel flops over her arm and she looks up, blinking. Chloe smiles, though it doesn’t reach her eyes. Beca grips her wrist for a moment before she starts to dry off her face and arms.

“Don’t worry, Jesse,” Stacie says from the living room, patting her own face and arms dry. “They’ll figure out quickly enough you have nothing to do with this. And we’ll find her. Plus, Beca." She looks up. "You've got an alibi, right?"

Beca blinks. Oh shit. "Yeah, I was with Chloe."

"Alibi?" Chloe glances between them. "What did I miss?"

Stacie gives a quick sigh, rubbing her chin with the heel of her palm. "Beca was the last person to see Aubrey. She's going to be a suspect if they determine Aubrey isn't just hiding out at a resort somewhere. It makes sense, but you've got an alibi."

Externally, she just rolls her eyes and leans back against the counter. Internally, she's already seething. These cops are going to waste time looking into her and Jesse, of all people, while Aubrey is missing. 

Jesse nods, bouncing on the balls of his feet, like a runner preparing for a sprint. “Okay, but what was that NCIS stuff?”

“NCIC,” Stacie corrects. “It’s a database for all law enforcement to use. It’s things like the sex offender registry, protection orders, foreign fugitives. It’s what cops run your license plate through when they stop you, to see if the vehicle is reported stolen or anything. All missing persons are added to it within two hours of them being reported missing.”

Jesse stares at her. Chloe and Emily look at each other. Beca wipes water from her neck. “Did you guys forget she’s got a Bachelors in Criminal Justice and Criminal Psychology?” She watches all three of their faces rapidly change.

“Oh, yeah!”

“I-I totally knew that. I just--”

“I’m sorry, Stacie!”

“Jeez,” Stacie pouts, lips quirking up in a half smile. “Who would have thought Beca would remember my shit? I went to college with you guys.”

Jesse sighs, returning the almost smile. “I’m sorry, Stacie. I’m just.” He drops onto the couch, his head falling into his hands. “What do we do? I’ve-I’ve called all the hospitals around here and everyone I could think of that she might have talked to...” He laughs suddenly and it’s such a strange sound to hear right now that Beca jumps. Jesse picks his head up. “If Aubrey were here, she’d know exactly what to do.”

Beside her, Chloe exhales loudly. Beca tries to think of something to say besides the stupid facts she’s learned from watching Investigation Discovery.

The first 48 hours are the most essential. After that, the possibility of the missing being dead goes up exponentially.

There’s an estimated 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally.

Ariel Castro kept his victims chained up in his basement for years.

So she says nothing, just stares down at her dirty outfit self-consciously.

“It’s going to be okay.” Stacie is speaking again and Beca looks up, crossing her arms over her chest just to have something to do with them. It dirties her just cleaned skin, but she doesn’t care. “You filed the report, right?” Jesse nods. “They came out, did a basic look at the house and car, I assume. Did you give them a picture?”

“Yeah.” Jesse motions to the frames on the wall. One is empty, Beca sees. “From last summer. The one in her green dress.”

Beca doesn’t know the picture, but the other girls all nod. Chloe takes a ragged breath and slips her fingers between Beca’s crossed arms, holding on.

Stacie nods, drawing herself up again. “Okay. They’ll do a bare minimum search. Go check out her work and places she normally hangs out. Friends' houses. The easy things to check into. Meanwhile, we--” She ticks her finger around the room. “We will go home. Shower. Call the other girls. And we will search too.”

But Jesse’s shaking his head. “It’s-She--” He stops, visibly collecting himself. “She wouldn’t just go somewhere. This is--”

“I know,” Stacie says over him. “But we’ll look anyways. Maybe she just caught a cab to the spa because she was feeling lazy and forgot her phone. Maybe she went for a jog and sat down somewhere and fell asleep. It could be anything.”

None of them respond right away and Beca knows they’re all thinking the same thing. Hell, she barely knows Aubrey, but it feels funky to her. Like a beat that doesn’t belong in the song, crashing the melodies together too hard and ruining the sound. But nobody seems to want to say it. So she doesn’t either.

“Come on.” She pushes off the counter with her spine, unfolding her arms only once Chloe has released her. “You heard the lady. We’ve got a plan. Let’s go.”

“I’ll come with you.” Jesse stands.

Beca nods curtly and turns to lead the way out of the house. Jesse goes to his car, parked beside Aubrey’s in the driveway, and the girls pile into Mamma’s car, dusting off the seats pointlessly before sitting. As she turns the key, though, Chloe says it.

“Guys.” Her voice shakes. “Has Aubrey been kidnapped?”

The backseat is quiet. Theory of a Deadman plays low on the radio. Jesse backs out past them and takes off.

Beca puts the car back in park and reaches over to grab the back of Chloe’s neck. She wants to make sure Chloe’s looking at her for this. That she understands this is more than a platitude. It’s a promise. Chloe’s eyes are wide and wet and she blinks quickly as Beca pulls her closer, until they’re breathing the same air. “Chloe. It doesn’t matter what happened. We’re going to find her. And she’s going to go back to alphabetizing Jesse’s DVDs and chastising Stacie for groping herself in public and annoying me by calling you at eight in the morning to talk about outfits or, or--” The corner of Chloe’s mouth is turning up, so Beca plows on. “Or about how she thinks you need a less bitchy roommate. And she’ll be rounding up the Bellas like a goddamn sheepdog on crack.” Stacie snorts in the backseat. Chloe presses her lips together, her eyes tracking across Beca’s face. There’s a wrinkle between her eyebrows now and it’s the same one she gets when she sees a puppy on the street. “Besides, I barely know her, but I know Aubrey Posen would maul anything that tried to keep her from her wedding day. She seems like a bridezilla, no offense.”

“Truth,” Emily says unexpectedly and Stacie bursts into laughter, shaking the whole car. She reaches out and grabs Emily’s hand, pulling it into her own lap as she laughs.

Chloe wraps gentle fingers around Beca’s wrist, smiling softly. Beca returns it, lifting an eyebrow. Chloe nods and turns her head to place a quick kiss against Beca’s wrist.

“Alright.” Beca squeezes the back of Chloe’s neck once and takes her hand back. “Let’s go find her.”

Chapter Text

By the time they get back to the house, there are nearly a dozen cars parked up in the grass and lining the road. People are milling about on the lawn and the porch. Chloe sits forward as she recognizes some of them. Neighbors and family friends. Cousins. The old bagger from the grocery store that always insists on walking people to their cars even though his left leg gives him trouble. “Oh my god.”

“What the hell?” Beca parks at the front of the driveway, as close to the porch steps as she can get. She twists around, staring at all the cars and people. “Who called in the cavalry?”

“Mamma,” Chloe says at the same time as Stacie and Emily.

Sure enough, the front door opens and Mamma bustles out, holding a stack of what Chloe thinks are pictures. She starts handing them out to the people in the yard, talking rapidly.

“Let’s go.” Chloe hops out and hurries over.

Mamma spots her and holds up the stack. They are pictures. Of Aubrey. “Tell me I printed all of these for nothing, please.”

Shaking her head, Chloe pulls her into a quick hug. She doesn’t let herself sink into it like usual, because she knows she won’t be able to stop. And there isn’t time for that right now.

Mamma seems to know it too, because she roughly claps a hand on Chloe’s shoulder, jolting her. Rough shoulder smacks are Aunt Dana’s thing. “Alright. Go get some pants on. We’ll be searching the woods and everything. Get the girls cleaned up a bit. I’ll get everyone out here wrangled. Hey.” She catches Chloe’s eyes and lifts her eyebrows. “We’ve done this before. You know what to do. We’ll find her.”

It’s different this time. When Mickey had pulled his disappearing acts, she’d never known if she really wanted to find him. It tore at her, to think that of her own brother. But this is Aubrey and she wants her back so badly it hurts. It’s barely been any time at all, but it’s too long without knowing Aubrey is safe and sound. Mickey had walked into his dangers of his own free will. Aubrey hadn’t and she knows that. Unlike Mickey, wherever she is, Aubrey wants them to find her.

So she nods and spins on her heel, heading through the house toward the garage. Beca falls into step beside her easily and they dodge through the living room. Everyone is there: Uncle Lew and Seth, Fillin and Gabriela Swanson, some of the Trebles, Aunt Dana and Gran.

And when Stacie opens the door to her room to grab clothes, there’s Cynthia Rose, dropping a duffel bag on the second bed.

“CR!” Chloe gasps, rushing to hug her. “You’re here!”

“Of course,” she grunts, patting Chloe’s back. “I left as soon as you texted me this morning.”

“Thank you.” Chloe squeezes her tighter, then backs off.

“Any news?” Cynthia Rose crosses her arms, glancing back and forth between them all.

Stacie sighs. “They haven’t even established she’s actually missing yet. But we’re not waiting for them to figure out what we already know.”

Cynthia Rose nods sharply. “Got it. Who’s running this gig?”

“Mamma will have planned groups and places to search already, I'm sure,” Chloe says, not mentioning that they have a a map of this town and the two closest ones in a drawer in Mamma’s desk, search grids drawn on them years ago.

“You guys go all in, huh?” Cynthia Rose laughs.

“Budge up, Aca-bitches.” Fat Amy pushes into the room, almost upending poor Beca, and yanks Chloe into a tight hug, nearly smothering her with her chest. “I’m here, Gingey. Don’t worry now. I’ve already reached out to my contacts with the Australian mafia. We’re gonna find Captain Posen before you can say, ‘No, please don’t stick that up my bum’, yeah?”

“Why would we have to say that?” Emily whispers somewhere behind her.

Amy pats Chloe’s head before releasing her. Which is good, because breathing was becoming a problem.

Beca, who had caught herself on the dresser, straightens up. “What is the Australian mafia doing in Georgia?”

Amy hums for a long moment, then shrugs, speaking quickly out the side of her mouth. “Looking for their former a capella group leader? Maybe?”

Before Beca can do more than gape at Amy, Ashley and Jessica appear in the doorway.

“Sorry we’re late,” Ashley says, dropping her bag. “Traffic.”

“Which Ashley completely disregarded to drive down the shoulder of the highway.” Jessica pulls Chloe into a hug.

Ashley joins in. “Hey, if I’m going to abuse my volunteer firefighter lights and sirens for anything, it’ll be this.”

And Chloe really doesn’t want to cry right now, because just like hugging Mamma, she might not be able to stop. But they’re here. Almost all of them. With nothing more than a few worried texts and phone calls, they’ve showed up. So she buries her face in Jessica’s neck and squeezes her eyes shut, sniffling. Fat Amy’s arms sling around them and she’s being bumped back and forth as the other girls all join in.

A hand slides around her side to rest lightly on her stomach and she knows it’s Beca. She drops her own hand to it.

After a moment, Amy clears her throat. “As much as Cynthia Rose loves all these lezzie vibes, we should get going.”

Chloe keeps her head ducked as the group hug breaks up. She feels less like she’s about to float away at any second. Beca’s hand lingers on her hip a moment longer. She wipes hastily at the tears and nods. “We’ll be back in a few minutes. Meet you all out front?”

Emily heads off for her own room and Beca leads Chloe out the back door, nearly breaking into a jog as she gets closer to the garage. She’s unlocked the door and is halfway up the steps by the time Chloe closes it behind them. Private, “don’t look at me, thanks”, Beca already has her shirt off by the time she reaches the top of the stairs. Chloe catches just a glimpse of equalizer bars and lotuses before Beca’s moving for the bathroom. The shower turns on almost immediately.

Chloe hurries after her, remembering briefly that she had planned to bring Beca back here the second they could get a moment alone. To kiss her. To tell her there’s more between them than a shared apartment and a mutual love of music. To ask if maybe Beca thinks they’re worth trying too.

She contemplates telling her right now anyways. Because Aubrey is missing and Mickey is back and everything feels wrong, but Beca has always felt right. And the world has been upside down since she left the garage this morning. She just needs a minute like the one this morning, when she’d laid for who knows how long, tracing Beca’s tattoos and listening to her breathe. Where it had been nothing but them and she hadn’t been scared to reach out. It seems like so long ago now.

The bathroom door opens and Beca steps out, hair dripping down the back of her still unbuttoned flannel as she hurries out, barely glancing at Chloe. Who, she suddenly realizes, hasn’t moved from the top of the stairs yet. She’s just standing there, staring at the strip of exposed skin down Beca’s front as Beca shoves her hands in the pockets of her jeans to straighten them out. So she shakes herself mentally and moves for the dresser.

But somehow, halfway there, she gets derailed and instead it’s Beca that her hands land on, slipping into the open front of her shirt to grasp her bare waist and press her back against the wall.

Beca grunts, eyes flying up from the floor where they’d been fixed and she opens her mouth to speak. But whatever she was going to say is lost in the insistent press of Chloe’s lips. Somewhere deep in her throat, Beca hums and her hands are suddenly in Chloe’s hair, pulling an answering groan from her.

To her surprise, Beca takes full advantage of that and her tongue slips past Chloe’s lips with an ease that she would think was practiced if they’d ever done this before. Her hands move to Beca’s back and find it arched off the wall, pressing them closer together and she gasps as Beca’s teeth catch her bottom lip just hard enough to sting. She feels the sharp nip all the way to her stomach and it shoves her forward until her hands are pinned between Beca and the wall. Beca breathes sharp into her, fingers twitching in her hair.

And Beca sighs a sigh that sounds like stained glass reflected in syrup and oversized sweaters and “Kiss for luck?”. Chloe thinks maybe that’s what she can play this off as. A kiss for luck before they go out searching. But when Beca breaks away and drops her head back, eyes closed and lips twisted into a crooked smile, Chloe knows there’s no playing this off. She just kissed Beca. For no reason other than to do so. She knows it. Beca knows it. God, it’s hard not to do it again.

Beca’s eyes are still closed and she inhales through her nose slowly. Chloe counts to seven and then Beca exhales, opening her eyes.

For a moment, they just look at each other. And Chloe thinks suddenly of a late night four months after they had moved in together. They’d been laying on the floor at Chloe’s insistence, feet up on the windowsill in the living room, looking up at the stars outside. Beca, with a bowl of raviolis balanced on her stomach, had been dozing off and on as Chloe chattered about work and school. Then Chloe had turned to her and asked something she’d been worrying about. “Are you happy we moved in together?”

Beca had blinked a few times, her sleepy, hooded eyes opening fully. And Chloe had waited for the smirk and the sarcastic jab that Chloe would take to mean, “I’m so happy, but I’m too cool to just say that.” But instead, Beca had smiled and just said, “Yes.” Then lifted her fork, a ravioli speared on the end, and promptly dropped it on her own face. Chloe had laughed for hours.

She’s smiling the same way now as she had then. “Hiya.”

Chloe presses her lips together, sinking her teeth into the bottom one right where Beca had. And she glances down, finding Beca’s shirt wide open, her black bra a stark contrast to the pale skin of her torso. “Hi,” she says to Beca’s collarbone, pulling her hands around to smooth them over Beca’s abs. The muscles beneath her fingers clench for half a moment.

“Are you okay?” Beca's voice is soft, the words ghosting over Chloe's cheekbone.

“Better now,” Chloe whispers, looking up.

“I think we should, uh.” Beca rolls her eyes and scoffs, at herself, probably. Chloe feels the movement under her palms. “Uh. Talk. Later.”

Beca’s still smiling. And Chloe would love to talk. To do more than talk. But Beca’s right. Later. Aubrey needs them.

She feels more grounded as she steps back, making sure to leave her hands on Beca as long as possible. “Later,” she repeats, nodding. “I need to change. I’ll meet you at the house.”

Beca nods and starts buttoning her shirt, starting on the wrong button. Chloe doesn’t correct her, just watches her push off the wall and put on her boots before hopping down the stairs.

She moves to the railing to watch her go. Beca stops at the door, glaring down at her buttons and her quiet, “Son of a bitch” echoes back up the stairs. Chloe bites her lip to keep from making a noise. Even now, Beca makes her laugh.

Chloe’s just buttoning her pants when her phone buzzes. She grabs it from the dresser top and unlocks it, hoping against all hope that it’s Jesse saying Aubrey’s showed up. That she had just walked into one of her own crazy net traps at the lodge and nobody had known she was there, but they found her. Or she’d gone for a walk and gotten lost. Anything.

But it’s two texts. The first from Tom. “Hey, we’re coming to help. Don’t worry, Chlo. We’ll find her.” Instinctively, she goes to text him that she doesn’t need him there. With everything going on, dealing with him is the last thing she wants to add to her list. But then she thinks of Aubrey sitting at the piano in the rehearsal room, talking about her first date with Jesse with carefully controlled enthusiasm. Trying to be nonchalant, even though her face kept bursting into a smile so wide it had hurt Chloe’s cheeks. 

So she texts him back, “Thank you. Just talk to Mamma when you get here.

The second text is from a number she doesn’t recognize. She’s just about to click on it when the door opens down below and Mickey steps in.

She locks her phone and puts in in her back pocket. “Mickey.”

“Chloe.” He’s wearing a jacket now, even though it’s warmed up significantly outside from this morning. The sleeves are tugged over his hands, the tips of his fingers holding them down. “I, um. I was coming to see if there was...anything I could do, I guess?” He swings his arms around, fists connecting behind his back, then swinging back to do the same in the front. “I mean, like, I’m gonna go out with everyone. To look and stuff. But if there’s anything...else. I don’t know.” He frowns down at the Cobra, like he’s just realizing it’s there.

She watches his swinging arms. “No.” He looks up. “Thank you,” she adds. “Helping look is enough.”

He nods, nose scrunching for a moment. “Okay. Just, if there is. Anything, I mean. Lemme know, Sissy.”

Sissy. It was his first word. They were born less than a year apart and, by all accounts, he’d adored her the moment they brought her home. He used to tell everyone he met that he was a big brother, even when he was in high school and his cool friends were around, he’d call her “Sissy” and punch anyone who made fun of him for it. And he’d been her Bubba. Her first word.

She hasn’t heard that name in so long that she almost doesn’t realize what he even said. He’s still looking at her, fists bumping softly behind him, in front, behind. She clears her throat. “Thanks, Mickey. I will.”

His fists miss the next time he brings them forward and he swings them up to wrap around himself instead. He nods and smiles quickly, slipping back out the door.

Her phone buzzes again. It’s Tom. “Of course, Chlo. Anything for you.

She ignores that, scrolling to the unknown number. One message. “BFL”. Nothing else. She almost drops the phone. Because she knows immediately what those letters are. They were carved over the doorway of the Bella house back in college. Aubrey had gotten them emblazoned on sweaters for all of them one year. They were penned across the front of all of Chloe’s binders and notebooks.

Bellas For Life.

It’s Aubrey. And the relief nearly buckles her knees and she grasps the railing to stay standing, staring at the text. It’s a thought she hasn’t let herself have, that Aubrey might not be… But, no. Aubrey’s alive. She knows it.

Chapter Text

Well. That’s another thing to put on Beca’s (used to be very short) list of things that turn her on. She may never wear her shirt buttoned up again, because Chloe’s hands pushing the sides apart to glide over her bare skin?

Okay, wow, not the time. Beca physically shakes herself at the back door, bouncing on her heels. She stretches down and grabs her toes, pulling until her calves burn. She used to do this before every game back during softball season. It hurts more now than it used to. Maybe she should start working out again.

She snorts at the thought and straightens up. Not happening. Chloe’s the one that jogs and does yoga in the living room. Beca’s the one that naps in the armchair and sneaks full cakes into her room late at night.

The back door opens before she can grab the handle and Mickey steps out. She sidesteps so he doesn’t run into her.

“Shit, sorry,” he mutters, tugging at his jacket and backing away from her.

“No prob, dude.” Beca eyes his long sleeves. “You alright?”

“Yeah, yeah, no.” He nods, flashing a quick smile that is eerily reminiscent of Chloe. She kind of hates it. “Is Chloe in the garage?” She nods and he nods back, turning to hop down the stairs. She watches him cross the yard, wondering if she should go warn Chloe. But she decides to give them a minute. Chloe hasn’t gotten a chance to tell her how this morning went, so who knows? Maybe they’re doing better now.

But if Chloe doesn’t come up to the house within a few minutes, she’s going to go get her.

The Bellas are gathered in the kitchen and Fat Amy loops an arm around her neck to pull her into their circle. “Shawshank! Missed me?”

“Who are you again?”

Amy grins and squeezes her a little too hard. “I’m keeping this one,” she announces to the others and Beca ducks out from under her arm, laughing.

Cynthia Rose holds up a sheet of paper with their names on it and a list of places. “Mamma’s assigned us these places to check out. So I think we should split it up, take different cars and meet up later--”

“Half of the people we’d be going to talk to are already here,” Stacie interjects. “The second Mamma sent up the bat signal, they came pouring in. We need to talk to the volunteers--”

Jessica shakes her head. “The police will already have hit a few of these places, won’t they? You said that’s what they’re doing, Stacie--”

“But we might be able to get more from them.”

“Yeah, we know Aubrey!” Emily nods along, glancing at Stacie.

Ashley takes the list from Cynthia Rose. “Bree wouldn’t even go to half of these places. We could just knock some out now.”

“I’m not going to the fish market,” Amy says, looking over Ashley’s shoulder. “That weird guy in the corner, with the one eye, he proposes to me every time I go. We don’t have time for that.”

“We should--”

“Yo, okay!” Beca snatches the list from Ashley and holds it up, stepping into the middle of the circle. The other girls blink down at her. “Okay, look. Emily’s right.” Emily practically bounces in place, grinning wildly at her. “You guys know Aubrey best. You know the places on here that Aubrey would never go. So you’ll know it’s weird if Aubrey did go there.” A few of them nod, catching on. “So we need to check everywhere. No...stone unturned or whatever. Right?” They’re all nodding now. 

The back door opens and Chloe steps in, halting when she sees them. There's a brief pause while she stares at them, then she’s hurrying into the center of the circle with Beca and holding up her phone. “She’s alive.”

Confused and elated, the other girls all start speaking at once, asking how she knows, asking if she knows more. And it’s a bit too much sound all at once for Beca. It makes her want to twitch and shake her head and cover her ears until it stops. But that's not something normal people do. Instead, she holds up a hand, hoping to maybe chill one or two of them out.

To her surprise, they all fall silent immediately and Chloe flashes her a grin. Beca awkwardly tucks her hand down into her pocket. That was super weird.

Chloe holds out her phone to Stacie, who reads it and passes it on to Emily immediately, smiling. “BFL.”

“BFL,” Chloe agrees, nodding. “It’s from an unknown number. She must not have had time to send anything else.” Beca hasn’t a clue what’s happening. But everyone is smiling now.

Stacie’s nodding rapidly, eyes on the ceiling. “Okay, okay, so. She sends something quick, something she knows you’ll understand, to let you know she’s alive.”

“And we can give this to the police and maybe they can trace it or something?”

“Maybe so!”

“Wait, wait.” Beca glances down at the text as Ashley and Jessica look at it. “What is ‘BFL’?”

“Bellas For Life,” they all chorus, nearly making her jump out of her socks.

“Right,” she says, pushing the word through her teeth. “I totally knew that.”

“So, whoever is holding her--” Chloe says, glancing around the circle.

“They messed up.” Jessica’s grinning now too, like everyone else, and Beca finds herself joining in, even though she’s confused. “They left her with a phone.”

“Right.” Chloe nods vigorously. “I didn’t text back, just in case. She obviously didn’t have much time--”

“Or she would have told us where she is, right?” Emily blurts out. She’s shaking like a chihuahua with a guest in the house and Beca reaches out to grip her forearms, hoping she doesn’t start vibrating across the floor or something.

Cynthia Rose holds up her hands, shaking her head. “Okay, but wait. So she’s definitely been kidnapped? Is that what we’re saying?”

“Yes!” Chloe says.

“Then why are we all grinning?” Beca glances around, feeling a little like the only doctor in the insane asylum. But her cheeks are starting to hurt with how hard she’s smiling, so maybe she’s insane too. Either way, Chloe is grinning at her and her hands are soft when she cups Beca’s cheeks.

“Because she’s alive,” Chloe says. “And we’re going to find her. Come on!”

It’s vastly different from the shaken Chloe that had climbed out of the car earlier and run to her mother. This Chloe strides onto the porch with purpose, peering around until she spots the cop car pulling up near the mailbox.

Chloe breaks into a jog and Beca huffs, but follows. To her left, Amy mutters something about “fucking cardio”.

It’s Officers Calamity and Serenity that climb from the vehicle, both looking a little surprised at everyone gathered on the lawn. There’s less cars and people now, so Beca assumes some groups have already headed out to search. Jesse’s dick cousin is there, though, and he’s moving toward them as Chloe reaches the officers.

“Officer Calamity,” Chloe says, stopping right in front of her.

Officer Calamity blinks, leaning back. “Um. Miss Beale?”

“We have something.” She passes her phone over. “We were just about to call you.”

The officer stares down at the phone, frowning. “What is this?”

“It stands for Bellas For Life,” Stacie says, crossing her arms. “Bellas is our a capella group from college. Us.” She motions to the others that have joined them. “It’s Aubrey.”

Beca understands why the officers look so skeptical. A few days ago, she also would have written this off as a keyboard smash that they were assigning too much meaning to. But after watching them together, seeing the way they move and speak in harmony, she’s pretty sure Aubrey could have sent a single letter and these girls would have known exactly what it meant. “You can track this number, right?” Beca steps up, crossing her arms. “See who it belongs to or whatever?”

The officers hesitate, but then Officer Serenity nods. “Sure. We can look into it.”

Officer Calamity pulls out her notebook to write the number down. Chloe's hand lands on Beca's back and trails down, it then up. Comforting others is how Chloe comforts herself sometimes. Beca knows that, so she stays still, letting Chloe trace her spine over and over. She only moves when Tom steps up next to them. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees his hand reach out for Chloe. Anger twists hot in her stomach and she steps back, putting herself between them, and wraps her arm around Chloe’s waist, looking up at her. “You okay, babe?”

The surprise flickers across Chloe’s face so fast that Beca knows she’s the only one that catches it. Then Chloe is smiling, her hand stopping right between Beca’s shoulder blades, warm and heavy. “Yeah,” she whispers, her fingers tensing against Beca’s back just enough to be felt.

Officer Calamity is handing the phone back to Chloe when Jesse comes flying through the group, skidding to a stop in a hail of dirt and dust. “Wait, wait, stop, everyone stop.” He holds up his phone and puts it on speaker. “How much?”

“50,000,” a deep, distorted voice says and Officer Calamity’s finger shoots to her lips. Everyone near them falls silent and the silence spreads out over the yard rapidly. “Tomorrow night. No cops. No FBI. Nonconsecutive bills. No dye bags. No tricks or she dies.”

Jesse’s breathing hard, but he stops completely at that. Chloe’s nails dig into Beca’s back.

“We’ll call you tomorrow with a location.” There’s a click and that’s it.

Officer Calamity snatches the phone from Jesse’s hand and starts reading out the number to Officer Serenity. “Get on that,” she snaps and Officer Serenity ducks back into the cruiser. “Mr. Swanson, we’ll need to talk to you.”

“You can use the house,” Mamma says. Beca’s not sure when she got there, but her hand lands on the back of Beca’s neck. It's a move she remembers her own mother making, usually when they were in a crowd and she didn't want to lose Beca. “Anything you need.”

Officer Calamity nods, then flicks a hand around the yard. “Get this lot cleared out. We’d like to speak with just immediate family for now. Including your parents, Mr. Swanson.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He hurries off, to find them, Beca assumes, and Mamma sweeps around and lays into the crowd like a hurricane. A very polite, very grateful hurricane, but she has people evacuating immediately.

“So, do you believe us now?” Cynthia Rose says, motioning to Chloe’s phone.

Officer Calamity has the decency to smile apologetically. “We’ll get the information on the number that texted you ASAP, ma’am. Until then, I’d like all of you ladies to stick around as well.”

“Duh,” Stacie says, looping her arms around Emily and Jessica. “You said immediate family.”

Beca drops onto the bench swing as they watch the volunteers leave from the covered porch, the screen door propped open. Mamma has herded the girls and the Swansons inside with the police and it’s just her and Chloe on the porch now.

She presses the heels of her boots down and sends the swing rocking. Chloe’s wandered over to the rickety old poker table in the corner, running her fingers over the faded felt. She pushes and it tilts on one too-short leg. 

Beca waves back to Lew as he climbs into his truck. “Well, this was useless.”

Chloe stops, looking up. “What was?”

“All these people coming out.” She jerks her chin at all the cars maneuvering around each other and filing down the driveway.

“It wasn’t useless.” Chloe takes a couple steps and twists on her toes, dropping onto the swing beside Beca. It upsets the rhythm she had going and the swing tilts out of alignment for a moment until Chloe gets her legs under them and steadies it.

Beca’s boots scrape across the porch. “They didn’t do anything.” She looks at Chloe.

The sun’s high above them and the porch is cool and shadowed. The swing chains squeak every time they rock back. Chloe’s smiling softly. She’s beautiful and Beca kind of can’t help but stare. And then she’s turning to look at her, blue eyes alight. Her shoulders lift and she tucks her chin down into the one closest to Beca. “They showed up.”

And that’s it, right there. The thing that had made Chloe stand out from the others Stacie had tried to introduce her to when she decided Beca needed “more people in her miserable life”. Chloe simply loves, with only the bare minimum motivation to do so.

Beca knows she’s not the most likable. She’s awkward and snarky and sometimes downright rude to people. She’s better now, but back when they’d met, she could hardly stand to be in the same room with someone as bright as Chloe. But Chloe had a knack for making her feel like, just maybe, she was kind of bright too. Even when Beca had been nothing but a ball of anxious energy just looking for the closest exit, Chloe had made her feel important. Like she was doing well. Like she could do even better, if she tried a little.

So she had. She’d started to give a damn about someone besides herself. She'd packed everything up from the little apartment she’d been living in since she moved to New York and trekked it across town to their place. She’d gotten her favorite pair of comfy jeans covered in lavender paint as they redid the bathroom and just rolled her eyes when Chloe pointed it out. She’d sat on the kitchen island and watched the guy install the stained glass window with only a few sarcastic quips about it. And she’d let Chloe closer and closer.

Because it wasn’t as easy for her as it was for Chloe, but Beca had wanted to love too.

She’s pretty sure she does now. So she leans back and slings her arm along the back of the bench, letting Chloe tuck into her side. And she presses a kiss to Chloe’s hair and soaks up the little hum Chloe gives her back.

Chapter Text

When the Bellas were backstage for their very first ICCA that they ended up winning, Chloe had felt like she was invincible. She’d been surrounded by the girls she loved most in the world, perfectly sore from all their practices, and just filled to the brim with music. She’d known they were going to win before they even stepped on stage.

She feels the same way now, sitting in the living room, sandwiched between Cynthia Rose and Emily. Even though they’re all waiting to be questioned by police--after they’re done with the Swansons--she isn’t nervous at all. They’re going to find Aubrey. She’s going to have the best wedding. And Chloe is going to kiss Beca like there’s no tomorrow.

Speaking of which.

Beca is across the room, seated on the raised brick of the hearth, back to the cold fire logs. Eli is beside her and they’re signing back and forth. He had showed up in the living room just after the cops came in, looking a little nervous. And before Chloe could do more than smooth his hair down, Beca had hooked an arm around his neck and dragged him off to talk about softball. She’d given Chloe a wink then that’s still sitting warm in her belly as she watches them talk.

They’re going to win.

There’s a ruckus at the front door and Aunt Dana slips inside. “FBI is here.” She hurries past, into the kitchen where the police have set up while they talk to the Swansons. A moment later, she returns with Mamma. “Now, listen, Cory. Don’t offer them tea or cookies or whatever. They’re here to work.”

“I know, D,” Mamma huffs, smacking her. Aunt Dana laughs.

Everyone stands as the front door opens and Mamma ushers in a tall blonde woman in an immaculate suit.

“Hello,” the woman says, her German accent a little subdued. “I am Special Agent Anderson. This is Special Agent Callis.” She motions to the dark-skinned woman behind her, who kind of looks like she could bench press Agent Anderson. “We were told you wanted to set up here?”

“Yes,” Aunt Dana says, pulling Mamma aside so that more FBI agents can make their way inside, carrying black cases. “In the kitchen. Just through there.”

Agent Anderson nods and they follow the line of agents out of the room. Just as they’re leaving, Chloe hears Mamma and Dana.

“Can I get any of you tea or anything?”


“Chloe Beale.” Agent Callis’ voice is monotone, low. Almost bored. She stands with her hands clasped in front of her, a plain black bag hanging from them. “Is there somewhere we can talk?”

Chloe looks up from Beca’s palm, where’s she’s been absently tracing her name for the last half hour. The second Cynthia Rose had distracted Eli by talking about some new video game, Chloe had taken his spot next to Beca. The brick hearth isn’t exactly comfortable, but Beca’s leaned forward, one elbow propped on her knee, one hand lying in Chloe’s lap. Barely five minutes after Chloe had claimed it and begun tracing the lines in her palm, Beca had zoned out. Her eyes are only half open and she’s been staring at one of the legs of the coffee table for a while now, but when Agent Callis speaks, she sits up, completely alert.

“Um,” Chloe pushes herself up, keeping Beca’s hand in hers. “Out front?”

Agent Callis simply nods, motioning for Chloe to go first. She squeezes Beca’s hand once before letting it go. Beca folds it in against her stomach and nods, one eyebrow lifting. Chloe slips her a quick smile.

The porch is hot now, the afternoon sun dipping down into it and filling the wicker chairs. She takes one at the old poker table and Agent Callis sits across from her, unbuttoning her suit jacket before lowering herself into the seat. She places her bag on the table. Chloe’s not sure she likes her very much. Her dark, tightly curled hair is pinned back from her face and Chloe can see every deep cut frown line. She looks mean, plain and simple.

“Do you mind if I record this?” Chloe shakes her head and Agent Callis pulls her phone out and clicks around for a second, then lays it on the table. She watches the little pulsating circle as Agent Callis starts speaking. “How long have you known Miss Posen?”

Chloe doesn’t have to think about it. These are the kind of things she just knows. “Five and half years, about.”

“How would you describe your relationship?”

“We’re best friends.” She thinks of Aubrey sitting at the foot of the giant Christmas tree Uncle Lew had set up in the Beale house their freshman year. It was only the second year Chloe’s father hadn’t done it and Aubrey’s dad had canceled their plans last minute. So she’d invited Aubrey home and Mamma had put her in charge of doling out presents.

Aubrey had cried when she pulled out a pile of presents labelled to her from Mamma, Aunt Dana, and Gran.

“Mm,” Agent Callis nodded, face unchanging. “And how long have you known Mr. Swanson?”

“Five and a half years. He started at Barden at the same time as us. We all auditioned for the a capella groups together.”

“Right. Mr. Swanson mentioned. But he met Miss Posen the year before that, correct?”

Chloe nods, smiling. “Their dojos met at a judo tournament up north. She threw him clear out of the ring and when he tried to get her number, she threatened to do it again.” She could swear Agent Callis’ lips twitch up at that. “Then he showed up at Barden. Destiny.”

The poker table rocks as Agent Callis crosses her arms on it. “Sounds like a fairy tale start,” she says dryly. “What about after that? How would you describe their relationship?”

“Perfect,” Chloe says without missing a beat. “Inspirational. Totes goals. I can never tell which one of them loves the other one most.”

“They never had any problems?”

“They had the usual spats people have. Whose turn to do the dishes, why won’t you eat healthier, that kinda stuff. But, no. I can’t think of a single big issue they’ve ever had.” She shrugs. “Like I said, goals.”

Agent Callis grunts somewhere deep in her throat. “Is it possible Miss Posen just didn’t tell you about issues they might have had?”

“Aubrey tells me everything.” Frankly, she’s offended the woman would even suggest otherwise.

“I see.” Agent Callis reaches into her bag and pulls out an Ipad, placing it between them. “So she told you about the open-ended ticket to Belgium that she bought last week?”

“What?” It’s like missing a step going downstairs. Her breath catches and every hair on her body feels like it stands on end. Her hands flutter to the table top, the smooth felt warm under her palms.

“Miss Posen purchased one open-ended ticket to Belgium. She was set to leave two weeks after returning from her honeymoon with Mr. Swanson.”

No. Aubrey would have told her something that big. And why would she go to Belgium? Her father is stationed in Italy. “There’s--that’s--it has to be a mistake!”

Agent Callis spins the Ipad around on the table and pushes it over, pressing a button on the side. There it is, in Aubrey’s name, a transaction receipt for one open-ended ticket to Belgium. Chloe grabs the Ipad, zooming in. That’s the last four numbers of Aubrey’s credit card. Agent Callis just watches her. “So, Miss Beale. Are you sure Miss Posen tells you everything?”

Agent Callis escorts her back into the house and the Bellas are waiting. As soon as the agent leaves the room, they’re there, asking if she’s okay, asking what happened. But Chloe can’t seem to focus on their questions.

Why would Aubrey be going to Belgium? Why wouldn’t she tell Chloe? They tell each other everything. And Chloe assumes the police have already talked to Jesse about this. They’ve had him in the kitchen since they arrived. So does Jesse not know?

“Chlo.” Stacie’s hands are on her shoulders, squeezing. “Hey, are you okay?”

She blinks around at the other girls, all looking at her like maybe they expect her to pass out. She frowns, realizing who’s missing. “Where’s Beca?”

“The German lady took her,” Cynthia Rose says, jerking her chin toward the kitchen. “Right after Mean Mug took you.”

“What about Jesse?” Chloe takes a deep breath, trying to release some of the tightness in her chest. “Have you seen him?”

Emily hums, rocking back on her heels. “Still in the kitchen, I think.”

Before they can say anything else, Chloe ducks out of the circle, brushing away Stacie’s hands. She strides straight into the kitchen and stops in the doorway.

Jesse’s standing at the island, his hands clasped behind his head, eyes focused somewhere above the fridge. Mr. and Mrs. Swanson are across from him with Mamma, speaking in low voices. Aunt Dana is at the kitchen table with the FBI agents, watching them set up a case of equipment. Chloe stares at it for a moment, wondering what it could be for, but then Jesse spots her and hurries over.

“Can I talk to you?” she says, folding her arms and pressing them into the churning in her gut.

Agent Callis catches his arm. “Actually, Mr. Swanson should remain here for now. We still have a lot to cover. Can you talk here?”

Chloe glances at Jesse. His hair is sticking up in clumps and he looks so tired. He shrugs, shaking his head. “I guess so.” Agent Callis releases Jesse, but doesn’t move away, just turns her back, giving them the illusion of privacy. Chloe exhales through her nose, stepping closer to him. “Jesse, did you know about Belgium?”

“No.” His hands flutter up to his hair again and she worries he’s going to start ripping it out soon. “No, she never mentioned. What was she going to Belgium for?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t tell me about it.”

“She didn’t tell you?” His level of disbelief is pretty close to her own.

She shakes her head and his face falls, crumpling in on itself. “Does she know anyone there?”

“No! I don’t know…” He cups his hands over his mouth and sighs into them. She thinks he might be shaking, but he’s shifting from foot to foot too fast to be sure. “I don’t know, Chloe.” It’s almost a whine. She reaches out and catches his elbows.

“Hey. It’s okay. We’re gonna figure this out. We’re gonna find her. Okay?” It’s weaker than it was earlier, but her certainty is still there and she presses it into his arms, squeezing tight. They're going to win.

Jesse’s always been so sure. Once, after a huge Treble party, he’d drunkenly told Chloe he was going to marry Aubrey. She hadn’t even agreed to date him yet. He'd stood on the steps of the old Bella house and loudly declared that he was in love with Aubrey and he knew she loved him too. He'd started introducing her as his "last girlfriend ever" by their second date. And now, even with this ticket to Belgium, Aubrey missing, and Jesse so obviously stressed, he nods steadily. The ground is roiling, but he’s still standing. Sure as ever. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

Beca had been secretly hoping they wouldn’t question her. A lofty dream, she knows, but cops haven’t exactly been her favorite people since senior year. So she’s a little disappointed when one of the agents comes to get her and takes her out back to talk.

She’s even more disappointed when the woman asks her basically the same things Officers Calamity and Serenity had.

So you don’t really know Miss Posen?

And you haven’t spoken to Mr. Swanson since when?

You were invited to his wedding?

And also Agent Anderson is, like, super pretty. Not in the way Chloe or Stacie are--that beauty that makes someone want to share it with everyone, want to parade them down the street and create an Instagram just to show them off (which Beca totally did not do when she moved in with Chloe. She’d had her Insta for ages. Just...hadn’t used it…). But she’s a dangerous kind of pretty. The kind that very clearly says everyone around her is out of her league and she knows it. So Beca’s not surprised that she stumbles through the questioning, giving what she hopes are somewhat coherent answers, but highly suspects are not.

This is confirmed near the end. Agent Anderson leans in, nearly towering over Beca, and her voice drops lower, her accent thickening. “Are you nervous, Little Mouse?”

“I-I-you--” Beca nearly swallows her tongue, choking for a second. She’s pretty sure this is not standard questioning procedure at the FBI.

Agent Anderson suddenly grins. “Don’t be nervous. Your alibi checks out, no? You were with your girlfriend?”

“I-yes! Girlfriend! I have a girlfriend!” Beca hopes her voice isn’t as high-pitched as it sounds to her. “And I was with her.” She doesn’t mean to make every word sound like a sentence on its own, so she clears her throat and pushes into the next bit. “All night. In our bed. We share a bed.”

“I see. So you really know nothing about where Miss Posen may have gone?”

“No, dude.” Beca shakes her head emphatically. Pretty or not, the woman is starting to creep her out. Has she blinked at all? Beca doesn’t think so.

Nodding, Agent Anderson leans back and Beca takes a breath that didn’t seem to be there a second ago. “Thank you, Miss Mitchell. That will be all for now.”

Once she’s escorted back into the living room, it’s like someone’s just turned the sound back on and she blinks until Chloe’s face is clear in front of her.

“Bec?” Her hands are warm, resting on Beca’s collarbones. “What happened?”

“I--” She blinks again. “Uh, she just. She’s, like, super intense. Asked the same stuff the cops did.” She grips Chloe’s hip, which she’s just realized she’s holding. She reaches for the other one and pulls her closer. “What about you? How’d it go?”

Chloe sighs, curls flinging as she shakes her head. “Aubrey bought a ticket to Belgium. Nobody knows why.”

“The fuck is in Belgium?”

“That’s what we’ve been wondering,” Jessica says.

“Her dad is stationed in Italy.” Cynthia Rose shrugs. “And she doesn’t know anybody there.”

“So why Belgium?”

“Belgian chocolate straight from the source?” Fat Amy suggests.

Behind her, Stacie rolls her eyes. “Thanks for that super helpful idea. Anybody have any actual thoughts on Belgium?”

Beca thinks for a few seconds as the girls mutter and shrug around her. “Antwerp, Belgium? It’s the diamond capital of the world. They have, like, a whole district devoted to it.”

Everyone freezes, staring at her.

“How the aca-hell do you know that?” Amy’s eyes are wide and Beca has the strangest feeling the blonde girl might slap her. She steps closer to Chloe.

“I, uh.” Everyone’s still looking at her and she stumbles over her words. “I watch...a lot of Investigation Discovery? There was an episode about diamond heists?”

She squeaks (though she’ll never admit it) when Chloe’s lips press against her cheek suddenly. “You know the weirdest things,” she whispers against Beca’s skin. Which really shouldn’t sound like a come on, but it really does. She catches Emily’s eye and immediately wishes she hadn’t, because Emily gives her a very unsubtle thumbs up.  

Even in the midst of a crisis, these girls are ridiculous.

“Okay, forget this Belgium shit. We can ask Aubrey about it when we find her. I’m sure there’s a perfectly Aubrey-logical explanation.” Stacie throws up her hands. “Look, Jesse’s a suspect. He’s the spouse. His alibi is shaky, because he can’t remember some of the night. They’re gonna be sitting on him. This whole plane ticket thing is gonna throw more suspicion on the whole thing.” The attention has shifted to her and Beca breathes a little easier. “They’re so wrapped up looking into him and Aubrey that they’re not actually looking for her. They’re just waiting for the ransom call and trying to figure out if it’s some elaborate money grab. Jesse’s parents are loaded, so it makes sense, but--” She cuts off with a sigh, crossing her arms.

“They’re not looking for her?” Emily’s voice is almost a whisper.

Stacie lifts one shoulder. “They’ll have agents out questioning people, but their main focus will be here.” She huffs as an agent pushes past them.

Chloe’s brow furrows suddenly and she releases Beca to dig into her back pocket, pulling out her phone. She swipes the screen and holds it to her ear. Beca, standing close, hears a tiny, “Sissy?”

“Mickey?” Chloe steps back a little, her other hand coming up to plug her unoccupied ear. “Hello?”

Another agent passes through and Cynthia Rose coughs loudly--and dramatically, in Beca’s opinion--as the girls close rank around Chloe. Beca hurries to take her spot in the circle, not sure why they’re being secretive.

“What? Where are you?” Chloe’s voice has jumped up an octave. “That’s-Mickey, how? Okay, okay, let me just-- What? Okay, I’ll let them know… Thank you.” She hangs up.

“What was that?” Ashley whispers. Oh, great, now they’re whispering. Beca leans in to hear better and suddenly feels like she’s in a football team huddle. Like maybe one of them will suddenly scream, “BREAK!” and everyone will take off to tackle people. She honestly wouldn’t be that surprised.

Chloe’s still staring at her phone, unblinking. Beca reaches out and taps her fingers along Chloe’s wrist, pulling her head up. Chloe’s hand squeezes around her phone and she clears her throat. “Sorry, um. That was Mickey. He said… He said he thinks he’s found Aubrey.”

They run smack into Dana in the hall and she throws her arms out, blocking the stampede. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, ladies. What in the world--”

“Mickey called,” Chloe says and Dana motions for her to drop her voice some. Chloe does. “He said he thinks he knows where Aubrey is.”

Dana’s eyes widen and, to Beca’s surprise, she starts pushing them back toward the living room, away from the feds. “Okay, listen. Calm down a second.” She gets them all herded back around the coffee table and wraps long fingers around Chloe’s arm. “It’s Mickey, Chlo… Do you trust him?”

Chloe hesitates, which is the weirdest thing Beca’s ever seen Chloe do. And she’s seen her paint her toenails while laying upside down on the couch and watching cartoons at four a.m. Then Chloe shrugs. “I don’t know. But they can check it out, right?”

Dana clicks her teeth together a few times, her jaw shifting out to the side as she glances around the group. It’s still so weird to see a face so similar to Chloe’s doing things that Chloe does when she’s thinking. “Okay. Okay, look. Where did he say she is?”

“The fish market.”

Amy suddenly gasps and whispers, “Fucking One-Eye!”

Nodding, Dana squeezes Chloe’s arm. “Okay. I’m gonna go tell the agents. You guys stay here. I’ll be right back. Just… Breathe a little, Chlo.” She claps Cynthia Rose on the shoulder. Cynthia Rose grunts. “All of you.”

She hurries away and the girls seem to take her advice to heart. They split up, moving to take seats around the room in twos and threes. Beca notes that Stacie and Emily sit together on the couch, thighs touching. Stacie’s hand slips behind Emily and she leans in to whisper something.

Beca squints. Did Stacie’s lips just brush Emily’s ear?

“Baby,” Chloe whispers, close to her neck.

Oh, that’s a feeling. Lightning shivering down her spine and into her fingertips, flexing them out involuntarily, then curling them back into fists. She turns and Chloe is right there, a small smile pulling at her mouth. “Yeah?” It’s a strangled word and Beca nearly growls, because why the hell can’t she be not awkward for just a minute? A second, even.

“We’re gonna find her.” Chloe’s voice is soft, comforting. She looks so certain.

So Beca is too. She nods. “We will, dude, yeah. Soon as Dana gets back with the feds.”

Chloe nods along with her, following her rhythm, but suddenly she’s much closer and Beca feels warm fingertips slide along the front of her shirt. She knew she should have left it unbuttoned, son of a bitch. Then Chloe’s speaking, her voice suddenly rougher and scraping at something inside Beca’s chest. “Once we do, I’m going to kiss you until you can’t remember your name.”

It’s a sarcastic response that falls from Beca’s lips, because her brain has quit working beyond default settings. “Are we planning out our fake relationship now? I thought we were kinda winging it.” She knows there’s more here than pretend dating. She can feel it in every breath Chloe gives and she takes. Because there’s no reason right now for them to be this close. No reason for that kiss in the loft. No reason for this twisting and burning in her gut.

And yet, there’s so many reasons. All of them glaringly obvious and multi-faceted. Stained glass, Beca thinks as Chloe’s smile turns into a full-blown grin.

“Yeah, about that.” Her fingers spread out, palms pressing flat to Beca’s stomach. “I’m thinking we should talk about that ‘fake’ part.”

“Oh.” Like hot chocolate on cold New York nights, Chloe’s words spread through her, fill her up, sit sweet between her teeth as she grins back. Because this is real. She was right and it’s not just her that feels this. And she wants to name it now. To just lay everything out and see if Chloe agrees. But it’s not really the time and she kind of already knows she does. “Would you prefer, um.” She pretends to think. “Artificial? Make-believe? Uh, fictitious?”

“Oh my god.” Chloe shoves lightly and Beca rocks back. Before she can step away though, Chloe’s fingers wrap into her shirt and she’s pulling her in again. “You’re a jerk.”

Beca bobs her head, unable to argue with that. Unable to do anything, really, because Chloe’s smile is pressed to her jaw and her voice is soft in Beca’s ear.

“Thanks, Becs. For everything.”

Beca catches Stacie’s eye and that knowing spark she finds there makes it feel like her skin is shaking. It hunches her shoulders, forcing Chloe’s face away, and Beca steps back, scratching at the tingling skin of her jawline. “Dude, save that sappy shit for when we find Aubrey.”

True to form, Chloe doesn’t even blink at the sudden distance. She just tugs once, where her fingers are still wrapped in Beca’s shirt, then lets her go.

Dana returns alone. “Okay, take this.” She presses keys into Chloe’s hand. She’s talking fast and ushering them toward the door. “The FBI are already headed to the docks. But Aubrey will want you there when they find her. Take my van. Be quick, okay?”

“But, Aunt Dana--”

“I’ll be right behind you guys and there will be agents waiting for you. Hurry.”

Beca wants to ask more, because this is weird, right? But the Bellas are already moving around her. She’s not sure Dana meant all of them, but that doesn’t stop Fat Amy from slapping her hands onto Beca’s shoulders and following her out.

The yard is mostly empty now, all the volunteers gone, the FBI’s hulking vehicles lined up in the grass. Dana’s van is on the other side of the driveway, next to Mamma Beale’s car, and she sends them toward it with a flick of her wrists. “Be safe. You’ll see the agents. Follow their instructions.” Then she’s ducking back into the house and Beca’s left crossing the yard with the others in tow.

“Lilly and Flo are on their way,” Ashley says, holding up her phone. “Should I tell them to meet us at the fish market?”

“Yes!” Chloe pulls open the back door of the van. “Thank god they’re finally here. When this is over, I need all my Bellas.”

“You got it, Mom,” Stacie says, jumping into the van.

Beca follows Chloe in, Cynthia Rose behind her. Chloe passes the keys forward and Amy cranks up the engine, taking off like a maniac.

Cynthia Rose snatches Beca’s sleeve, growling. Her other hand slaps against the window.  “Bitch, don’t kill us before we get there!”

“Just hang on, Black Beauty! I’ve got this!” Amy skids out of the driveway and Beca’s almost certain they’re going to flip. They don’t, thankfully, but wow, now Beca’s a little scared.

It’s Stacie that voices the weird churning in Beca’s gut. “This is weird, right?” She twists in her seat to look back at them. “Like, they should have sent an agent with us, shouldn’t they?”

Emily twists around too, talking quickly. “Maybe they’re too busy? Or they’re not worried about it, because they’ve got everything under control? I mean, they’re FBI!” When nobody immediately agrees, her hopeful smile slips. “Or we’re totally driving into danger alone.” Her face completely falls then, eyes wide and round. “Oh my god, why would Aunt Dana send us out here alone? We’re gonna get kidnapped and sold for parts. Oh my god. My mom totally told me this kind of stuff could happen!” Stacie wraps an arm around her shoulders, shaking her a little as Emily’s breathing quickens.

Amy narrowly misses a mailbox. “Legacy, that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard you say, and you once suggested I wear underwear for a competition.” She swerves onto another road, sending everyone scrambling for purchase. Beca thinks she hears Ashley praying in the passenger seat. “Nobody’s going to steal your kidneys or Stacie’s fake boobs. We’re all getting out of this in one piece!”

“Hopefully,” a voice growls loudly from behind the backseat.

Everyone screams.

Chapter Text

Chloe’s optimistic. It’s just how she’s wired. She runs on light and positivity. She believes in the best possible outcome for everything. Sure, sometimes she gets a little scared, a little unsure. Moments of weakness. And, yes, Mickey makes her unsure. But she always swings back to optimistic. Everything will work out if she just keeps going. It’s a mindset that got her through college, that moved her to New York all on her own, that kept her contacting Beca back when all she got in response were clipped messages and awkward phone calls. It’s what has kept her mostly upright since she found out Aubrey was missing.

It’s what has her reaching out to Beca and promising her a kiss. Because Dana is going get the FBI and they’re going get Aubrey. So that’s where Chloe’s focus goes--straight to a happy ending. To Aubrey being home, the family being together again, and everything after that. Which, for her, is Beca. A kiss. A talk. Just a little thing, some plan for when all of this is over.

Something solid to hang onto.

Physically hanging onto this solid thing, though, proves to be a little difficult when Agent Callis pops up from behind the back seat, because Beca nearly climbs over the seat in front of them, ending up practically sitting on Emily and Jessica’s shoulders.

“DUDE!” She shrieks, yanking at Chloe’s arm, as if to pull her to safety as well. But, unlike Beca, Chloe had buckled up, so she just ends up being wrenched forward.

Agent Callis’ deadpan face peers between the back headrests. “Chill out, Shortcake. I don’t bite unless you pay me to.”

Stacie gives a quiet, surprised, “Oh” to that and Chloe, ridiculously, tries not to laugh. Because they are on their way to where their friend has been kidnapped and there’s an FBI agent hiding in the back of her aunt’s van to--Wait.

“Why are you back there?” she asks just as Agent Callis decides to clamber over into the seat Beca had vacated, very nearly kicking Chloe in the head and pressing far closer to Cynthia Rose than she thinks is actually necessary.

Beca, left with nowhere to sit, and obviously embarrassed about trying to climb poor Emily, awkwardly shuffles around, so Chloe pulls her down into her lap and wraps her arms tight around her middle. She can see Beca’s ears are bright red and when she speaks, her voice is a little too nonchalant. “So, uh,” Beca clears her throat. “You here to chaperone us or what?”

“Hell no. Pull over. We’re not going to the fish market.” Agent Callis points to a supermarket parking lot up ahead. Amy pulls into it, after a quick glance back at them all, and parks near the exit. Once the van is off and everyone has twisted in their seats to look at her, Agent Callis nods. “Okay. Let’s get real here. Nothing said in this vehicle goes any further, got it?”

Amy hums noncommittally. “And if it did by, like, accident? Would we be under arrest?”

“No,” Agent Callis says, fixing her glare on the blonde. “I would just shoot you.”

Amy nods. “Right. I was just asking for...Legacy’s sake.”

Eyes widening in panic, Emily rushes to reassure Agent Callis. “Whoa, no, I’m-I’m not going to tell anyone! Accidentally or otherwise! Totally a sealed vault here. Like, I never told anyone about my mom’s nose job or anything!” A beat. “Shit, please don’t shoot me.”

“Okay, Chandler Bing, chill.” Agent Callis holds up a hand. “D’s pretty adamant that you guys don’t know anything about what’s going on here, but if she’s wrong, I need to know now. Is your friend Aubrey involved? If so, we can talk deals or something, but--”

Chloe frowns. “Aunt Dana, you mean? What does she have to do with this? Is Aubrey involved in what?”

Agent Callis hesitates. “She said she’d talk to you before she sent you out. Guess she didn’t have time.” She huffs, crossing her arms. Her biceps strain against her suit jacket and Chloe catches Cynthia Rose’s eyebrows lifting. “Okay, so. Don’t freak out and do any--” she waves a hand about aimlessly and narrows her eyes at them. “Any girly squealing or anything. But Dana’s an FBI agent. This is her case she’s been working for over a year.”

For a moment, there’s no “girly squealing” and Agent Callis looks relieved. But then everyone except Beca and Chloe is launching into disbelieving gasps and protests. They’ve all known Aunt Dana since their freshman years at Barden. It was kind of a thing--meeting and being adopted into the Beale family. Bella tradition. Stacie’s staring at her lap, brow furrowed. Jessica is adamantly pointing out all the reasons Aunt Dana can’t be FBI. Fat Amy is assuring everyone that Aunt Dana once helped her fudge some paperwork for school, which was totally illegal and not FBI kind of stuff, right? Agent Callis sighs heavily.

But Chloe is looking at Beca, who is staring at her. Which makes sense. Beca doesn’t know Aunt Dana that well. She would look to Chloe for some kind of confirmation that the girls are right. That this is crazy.

Chloe’s just not sure it is.

Because Aunt Dana’s never been very forthcoming with the particulars of her job as a travelling fitness instructor. Vague stories about meditation circles in Colorado, backpacking trips across Europe, or stints in Korea for “the cultural experience”. She’s always just been the wayward aunt--always off on some random adventure or another, turning up for a couple weeks at a time to tease Chloe and help Mamma after Chloe’s dad died. And Chloe’s never questioned it. Hell, she sort of strove to be like that when she was growing up--free and willing to go where the world took her. But now that she thinks about it, little things are suddenly lining up.

Her late night phone calls, her sudden departures, the heavy locks on her bedroom door when no one else in the house even shut their doors much. In fact, Chloe can’t picture what her room looks like at all. Had she ever been inside? That’s probably normal for most people, but not Chloe’s family.

She's not saying she believes it, but...she doesn't not believe it. 

And then a memory floats to the front of her mind from quite a few years back.

Aunt Dana on the front porch with Chloe’s dad. They’d been playing poker on the little table, throwing chips at each other and both cheating their asses off. Chloe had been sitting a few chairs away from the sibling battle, doing her math homework for Mrs. Grinski--the worst 10th grade teacher in the world.

Her dad had just thrown down his cards, laughing as he lifted his leg under the table and kicked Aunt Dana’s chair hard enough to tilt it back. She’d squeaked, arms flying out to catch herself before she fell back. “Jackie!”

He grabbed her cards from the table. With an indignant huff, he dropped them. “I knew you were bluffing!”

“Don’t kill me because I’m better at lying than you are.” Aunt Dana righted her chair and started gathering the cards to shuffle again while Chloe’s dad bent down to pick up the ones that had fallen to the floor. Chloe watched them both, smiling. Aunt Dana flashed her a wink.

Her dad handed over the cards he’d picked up, coughing into his elbow a few times. “Yeah, yeah, good at lying, good for you. But I got all the good-looking genes, don’t forget.” He reached up, pushing back his mop of wild red hair and wiggling his eyebrows.

“Oh, little brother.” Aunt Dana shuffled quickly, barely glancing at him. “At least you’re good at lying to yourself.”

He bounced a poker chip off her forehead.

Chloe had just stopped laughing long enough to focus on her math when her dad coughed again and said, “I’m glad you could make it this weekend.”

“Duh.” Aunt Dana dealt their hands out. “Nothing could keep me away.”

“Not even your fancy new job at the--ow! I was joking!”

Chloe looked up in time to see Aunt Dana’s leg lowering and her dad hissing, holding his shin.

“Jesus, you and Cory are made for each other. Neither of you can keep your trap shut,” Aunt Dana muttered.

“You got a new job?” Chloe asked.

Her dad’s nose was scrunched up as he rubbed his leg. Aunt Dana smiled wide, a Beale smile. “Yeah. It was supposed to be a surprise.” She threw a glare at Chloe’s dad, who stuck out his tongue in response. “I’m gonna be a travelling fitness instructor. So I get to go on lots of vacations and teach classes and stuff.” She smirked, fanning herself with her cards dramatically. “You have to tell everyone you have the coolest aunt in the world now.”

“I already do!”

Her dad snorted and Aunt Dana kicked him again, grinning.

Agent Callis’ hand waving in front of her face brings her back to the conversation. “Beale? You in there?”

“What?” She blinks. The girls are all staring at her. “Yes, I’m here. I’m... Aunt Dana?”

Agent Callis sighs again and reaches into her suit jacket, pulling out her phone. She clicks around for a few seconds, then holds it up. And there’s Aunt Dana, standing in front of a very official looking building, wearing a suit, her arm around Agent Callis, who’s dressed in khakis and a gray t-shirt. Both of them have guns strapped to their hips. Both are smirking at the camera. “My last day at the academy,” she says. “D stopped by to congratulate me. She was one of our trainers for a few weeks. We hit it off, became friends. Ended up working some cases together after.”

It’s a lot to wrap her mind around at once. Beca’s hand lands on the back of her neck and squeezes lightly. It calms the strange floating feeling in her stomach a little, but doesn’t completely make her feel like she isn’t on a roller coaster that just hit a curve.

Agent Callis takes her phone back, checking the time before putting it away. “Okay, we don’t have time for this, so here’s a brief rundown. D got a tip that there was smuggling operation taking place up north, she went to Kommissar about it.”

“Kommi-who?” Cynthia Rose said, leaning forward to meet Chloe’s eyes, like maybe she knows.

“Agent Anderson. That’s what we call her.” Agent Callis rolls her dark eyes. “She’s a massive bitch. But she’s above us. D took her the tip she got and Kommissar just waved it off. Said she’d look into it, but never did. In fact, she’s been pulling teams near where we think the smugglers have been working for all kinds of reasons. So D decided we can’t trust her and called me. We’ve been looking into it alone. And her tip was right. We found out there’s a group of wealthy dudes overseas that have been funding this smuggling gig. Rich dicks with too much time on their hands. We’ve followed a couple shipments around and found they’re passing through small towns to avoid drawing too much attention, but we haven’t been able to get close enough to get much physical evidence yet. We got a tip they might be around these parts the day before your friend went missing.”

“And you think your Kommissar lady has something to do with them?” Cynthia Rose asks.

“We haven’t ruled it out.”

“What are they smuggling?” Stacie’s confusion seems to have disappeared in the face of her curiosity.

Agent Callis shrugs. “All kinda stuff. But more recently, diamonds.”

All eyes turn to Beca and Chloe feels her tense up in her lap. “Oh, dudes, don’t look at me just because I knew a random fact about diamonds.”

“What random fact?” Agent Callis glares Beca down and that does nothing to ease the tightness of the muscles Chloe has her hands pressed to.

But Beca glares right back. “Just that Belgium is a big place for diamonds, I don’t know! That’s all I know!”

Not looking entirely convinced, Agent Callis turns her glare on Chloe. “And Posen? What’s she got to do with all this? Tell me now. Because we got information that says the smugglers are working from a warehouse clear across town. But Posen’s got a ticket to Belgium, she disappears the day after we get a tip, and then your brother shows up out of nowhere after years, and says she’s at the fish market. You see why we find this a little too...fishy.”

Fat Amy snorts and everyone in the car glares at her. “Sorry. Inappropriate. Right.”

Agent Callis huffs through her nose. “We have a couple agents going check out the fish market now, so we’ll know soon enough if your friend is really there or not. But if she is and if she has something to do with the smugglers, you need to tell me. The only reason we’re sitting here is so you guys can tell me what you know before they’re dragging your buddy in by her handcuffs. It’ll be better for her if we know now.”

“There’s nothing to tell!” Chloe says, and she’s completely certain of that. Yes, Aubrey hadn’t told her about the plane ticket, but there had to be an explanation. Aubrey Posen wasn’t smuggling diamonds, that’s for sure. She didn’t even break the speed limit. And Mickey… Well, she believes him. Which makes no sense, really, but she does. He wouldn’t lie about this. “Aubrey has nothing to do with any smuggling or-or-or anything! She’s been kidnapped!”

“You’re absolutely sure?”

“Yes!” She takes a quick breath, making sure her next words come out just as steady. “And if Mickey says she’s there, she is.”

Agent Callis takes a moment to make eye contact with each of them. “Okay. Fine. Then bring us back to the house. My agents should be in contact soon.”

“Wait.” Ashley holds up a hand. “We’re not going to the fish market?”

“No, I just needed to talk to you all alone, without Kommissar looming over us. There are agents headed--”

“Lilly and Flo are on their way there already.”

Agent Callis’ eyes widen and she leans forward. Emily flinches back, though the agent doesn’t seem to even notice her. “You sent civilians to a place where there may be potentially hostile kidnappers?”

“We thought you were sending civilians there!” Jessica says, hands up like she’s surrendering under Agent Callis’ fierce gaze.

“Well, call them! Stop them!”

Ashley nods, quickly lifting the phone to her ear. Everyone waits and Chloe’s pretty sure no one is breathing. She knows Beca isn’t. She can feel it.

Finally, Ashley pulls the phone away and hits a few buttons before lifting it again. Then she shakes her head. “Lilly isn’t answering. Flo’s is going straight to voicemail.”

“Shit.” Agent Callis pulls out her own phone. “I have to call my agents. Keep calling them.” She dials quickly and whoever is on the other end picks up just as fast. “Jen? Jen, listen, there are two civilians en route to the fish market. I’ll--”

“They’re still not answering,” Ashley says, voice shaking. The other girls have pulled out their phones and started calling as well.

Chloe can feel the panic rising in the car and it reminds her suddenly, stupidly, of their first performance together at one of the frat houses on campus. It had not gone as planned and Aubrey--kind of a tyrant back then--had not reacted well. The girls had all turned to Chloe once Aubrey was gone, looking for reassurance that is wasn’t that bad, looking for her to say that they could get better. Looking for hope. So she puts down her own phone, Lilly’s contact info still pulled up. “Girls!” Heads snap up and Beca jumps a little in her lap. “We need to stay calm. Ashley, Jessica. Keep trying to call them. Panicking will get us nowhere!”

She has a horrible sinking feeling the second Amy shifts around in her seat. They’ve been called a hive mind before, and she’s always kind of laughed that off before. But when she sees Ashley settle back into her own seat, Emily pull her seatbelt tighter, and Stacie’s long fingers grip the driver’s seat headrest tight, she thinks maybe those people that called them a hive mind might have been right. Because she knows these girls and she knows exactly what’s about to happen.

Somehow, Beca must too, because she wraps one arm around Chloe’s shoulders and braces her other hand on the ceiling. Chloe catches her widening her eyes at Cynthia Rose and nodding subtly down. But before Chloe can figure out what they’re trying to say, Amy speaks.

“You know what will get us somewhere…” And just like that, Amy cranks the engine and takes off out of the parking lot, throwing gravel.

Agent Callis, thrown sideways into Cynthia Rose, drops her phone and yells, “What the HELL?”

“We’re going get our girls!” Amy takes a curve so fast that Jessica screams. A car horn blares and Chloe clutches Beca tighter to keep her from flying across the van. “Full offense, but we can’t trust you FBI types. You said so yourself. These kidnappers have already got our captain, they can’t have our tiny foreigners!”

“I’m pretty sure Lilly is from Nevada,” Emily says. Chloe isn’t sure anyone else hears her though, because everyone is busy bracing themselves as Amy nears an intersection with no visible intent of slowing down.

“Pull over!” Agent Callis’ hand flies to her belt, but comes back empty. She pulls her suit jacket aside, glancing down. And that’s when Chloe sees the gun in Cynthia Rose’s hand. Pointed at the agent.

“Sorry, Agent Callis. But she’s right. Our friends need help and we can’t trust your people.”

For a moment, the agent just glares down at the gun. Then she lunges forward. Cynthia Rose tenses--everyone tenses--but Agent Callis just grabs her phone from the floor and shoves it back into her jacket, seemingly unfazed by the weapon pointed at her. “I guess that’s fair. But don’t come crying to me when you get arrested for kidnapping a federal agent. Your friends better be worth it.” She crosses her arms again, settling back in her seat comfortably. Then she turns her gaze on Cynthia Rose, a smirk pulling at her lips. “And you can call me Mel.”

Chapter Text

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.


“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.

Chapter Text

She hangs up with Aunt Dana just as they find a spot in the bushes behind Aubrey’s house.

“How’d she take it?” Jessica whispers as they settle onto the ground. She hisses, leaning to the side to pull a stick from under her.

“She’s not happy,” Chloe says, which is an understatement. Aunt Dana had sounded very angry and also very breathless, like maybe she was running here. Considering they had taken her van, she might be, for all Chloe knows.

“We’re so all getting grounded.” Ashley chuckles. “We’re nearly thirty. And we’re definitely going to get grounded.”

Chloe smiles as they laugh, because she’s right. Mamma is going to throw a fit and probably never let any of them leave the house again. At this point, though, Chloe wouldn’t mind that at all. She just wants all of her girls together again, piled in front of the TV or a bonfire. She wants Amy to argue with Lilly about mafia tactics, Cynthia Rose to braid Ashley’s hair while Jessica reads funny recaps of their favorite TV show, Flo to practice cartwheels with Eli, Stacie and Emily to stop pretending they don’t have something going on. Because they have not been subtle. Even Chloe, who is, admittedly, not the quickest to pick up on some things, has known for a while that there was something there.

She wants Aubrey to listen to more of Beca’s music, to see more of what made Chloe fall for--

Oh, wow, what a time to have that thought.

Chloe tunes back in to what Ashley and Jessica are saying, trying not to think about how she feels a little like she just hit the drop on a roller coaster.  

“--I don’t see anyone inside anymore. They must all be in the back rooms.” Jessica leans further out of the bush to squint at the market.

“Do you see Beca or CR?” Chloe pushes aside a couple branches to take a look too. Nothing moves below them.


“Good.” She lets out a quick breath, gritting her teeth and eyeing the treeline herself.

All three of them jump when something crunches back near the house.

She rolls up to one knee, putting a finger to her lips. Jessica and Ashley follow her lead and rise to half-crouches behind her. But before they can do more than creep a few paces toward the house, Mickey steps around the corner, onto the back patio. His jeans and shoes are caked with dried mud and his jacket sleeve is torn at the elbow. There’s mud under his chin.

He stops. “Sissy?”

“Mickey?” She motions for him to get down. She knows there’s really no obvious reason to be whispering or even hiding. They could just be a group of people hanging out in their backyard. But Aubrey was probably kidnapped from this very house and supposedly being held in the very fish market it overlooks, so she stays low and motions for Mickey to get down. He does, blinking owlishly.

“What are you doing here?” He tugs at his sleeves, crouching so his knees are pressed to his chest and his hands meet in front of his ankles. It’s strange, how much smaller he looks than she remembers him. “Where are the cops?”

“What are you doing here?” She ignores his second question. “You said you saw Aubrey in the market and you got away from here.”

“I did.” He pauses to wrap his fingers around the toes of his sneakers. “But I came back. In case you needed me.”

She hates that she doesn’t immediately accept that, but she trusted him before. She’s here. So she finds that again and nods. “How did you find her?”

“I was looking. When the cops showed up, I got Uncle Lew to give me a ride to town. Asked around.” His nose scrunches suddenly, like he might sneeze. “Asked a bunch of people you wouldn’t like me talking to...but I found her!”

“Did you actually see her?”

“Yeah, yeah. I, um. Look.” He rocks forward onto his hands and knees and crawls past her, following the line of bushes to the end of the backyard, where the ground drops away suddenly, headed for the river bank below. She remembers Aubrey saying something about it not being a “child or pet friendly” property when they’d first gotten the house. But she’d loved the view of the bustling market on the weekends and the bay windows in the office so much that Jesse had sworn he’d build the sturdiest fence in the world the second one of those things came along.

But now, it’s basically a cliffside. The drop isn’t actually that far, but she leans back from it anyways.

Mickey twists around, pulling a folded piece of paper from his pocket and opening it. It’s one of the pictures Mamma was handing out to the volunteers. “Old boy Shek said he saw her at the market when he came to get some, uh.” He glances at her. “Some tuna or some shit, I don't know. But he went in and he swore he saw a girl that looked like her in one of the back rooms when they opened the door. I wanted to be sure before I called you guys though, so I came here and one of the ladies said they were closed. So I came up here and nobody seemed to be home at this place.” He gestures vaguely to the house, closing one eye and Chloe realizes he doesn't know whose house it is. “So I snuck back here and slid down to the water. It’s real shallow. Walked close as I could and hid under the docks.”

She eyes his jeans again, and the dried flakes of mud that crack off every time he shifts.

“They were moving her from one room to another and had her hands tied, Sissy.” He thrusts the crumpled picture at her. “I only saw her for a second, but it’s definitely her.”

She takes the picture, glancing down at Aubrey’s smiling face. She’s riding on Jesse’s back, her chin resting on his head. Jesse’s smiling too, his eyes closed, his fingers resting on the forearm she has wrapped around his neck.

Mickey tugs his sleeves down over his hands as soon as they’re empty.

“You don’t even know Aubrey. You’ve never met her.” She holds up the picture. “Are you sure it was her?”

He nods, no hesitation. “I’ve seen her before. On your Facebook. I look sometimes.” Her nose itches and she blinks quickly, hoping it will stop. “But it’s her. So I got out of there and called you.” His eyes are wide, adamant, begging her to believe him.

She takes a deep breath, folding the picture up and slipping it into her own pocket. “Okay. You know I had to ask. After everything.” After all the years of him lying to her, to Mamma, to everyone. After years of him not talking to them at all.

Pausing, he clicks his teeth together a few times, his jaw shifting out to the side. “Why’d you come?”


“Why’d you come? If you don’t trust me.” There’s no anger there, just a quiet sort of acceptance. It’s just a fact. She doesn’t trust him. She has good reason not to and they both know it.

But Chloe’s here. She trusts him with this. “You wouldn’t lie to me about this.” He flinches a little when she reaches out and presses a closed fist against his bent knee. “I just had to know how sure you were that you’re right.”

“Should we call Beca and CR?” Ashley says, hushed, but Chloe still almost jumps. She’d nearly forgotten they were there.

“Yeah, they should know Aubrey’s definitely inside.” She pulls out her phone, already dialing.

“Where are they?” Mickey turns around, like he expects them to climb out of the bushes they were hiding behind when he arrived or come out of the house.

“They went down the hill to check things out,” Jessica says.

Chloe listens to the phone ring a few times before she hears her own voice say, “You’ve reached Beca Mitchell’s phone! She’s unavailable right now, but leave a message and she’ll get right back to you!” She hangs up. She’d fought Beca for hours to let her record that voicemail.

Mickey reaches out, tapping a dirt-crusted nail against the edge of her phone once. “You can’t call her then. Phones don’t work down there.”

“Yes, they do.” Chloe calls Cynthia Rose. A few rings, then a husky, “Yo, it’s CR. Leave it after the beep.” She frowns, hanging up. “I’ve been there plenty of times. I’ve never had a problem before.”

Mickey shrugs. “I know. Me too. But my phone wouldn’t work when I was down there. Didn’t start working again until I was, like, halfway up the hill.”

“Shit.” Chloe presses the edge of the phone into her thigh, focusing on the slight pinch in her skin instead of the anxious bubbling in her chest. “So we can’t reach them if something happens. Shit.”

Ashley takes out her own phone. “Maybe that’s why we couldn’t get a hold of Lilly and Flo. Do you think they're down there?”

“Call Stacie,” Jessica says. Ashley nods and quickly starts dialing, putting it on speaker.

She answers on the first ring. “Hey! I was just about to call you, what a coincidence, um--”

She’s talking too fast and it strikes a warning bell somewhere in the back of Chloe’s head. “Stacie,” she says, cutting her off. “What happened?”

“Okay, so. We’re up the hill, sitting in the van. And, uh. Well, Amy said she saw something and so Legacy and I were looking. But then I turned around and…”

“Amy was gone,” Chloe sighs, running her hands back into her hair. “Oh my god, of course she is. Listen, Stacie. Mickey’s here. He says that phones don’t work down by the market. We can’t call Beca and them if something happens.”

“Shit,” Stacie’s voice crackles at the end, slipping into white noise for a second. “--we need to let them know. Somebody should--”

But Chloe isn’t listening anymore. Because a woman has come out of the market below, headed for the water. She squints, unsure if she’s really seeing what she thinks she is. But then the small woman drops her plastic tub on one of the docks and tosses her hair in such a familiar way that Chloe gasps. “Flo!”

The water is warm as she slides quietly into it. Her back is aching and she's a little shaky from their slide down the drop off from Aubrey's place. She's pretty sure she left behind a few layers of skin along the way. Mickey keeps hold of her hands until he’s sure her feet are steady. Then he pulls out his cell and holds it over his head as he wades deeper. There are a few trees between them and the docks, but not enough to really hide them if anyone should come out, so Chloe follows him, glad she left her phone with Jessica and Ashley.

Beca’s going to kill her, she thinks as the water rises past her waist and lifts the hem of her shirt to lap at her stomach and back. Of course, there’s a very long list of people that will kill her when they find out what she’s doing, but she thinks Beca might be tied for number one spot with Mamma, Stacie, and Aubrey. She’s going to be murdered four ways to Sunday.

So long as she doesn’t get herself actually murdered by a water moccasin or something else in this river. Or by kidnappers. Because she really should have waited until Mel came back or Aunt Dana arrived, but it’s Flo. And she’s inside. So Lilly must be too, she hopes. But what the hell are they doing in there?

The water’s at her chest now and she grimaces, brushing aside a beetle floating in the water as she follows Mickey toward the docks. Flo’s gone back in already and everything is still again. She hopes Stacie managed to find Beca and the others before they return to Aubrey’s house and find her gone. She hasn’t even gotten to ask Beca out officially and she’s so going to be in the dog house.

Mickey leaves the shallows and swims under the first dock, reaching up to catch one of the crossbeams to keep the water from bobbing him away. She copies him, flicking wet hair off her chin. The air under the dock is heavy and rancid, burning at her nostrils and eyes. Fish guts, she thinks, looking down toward the third dock, the one Flo and those women earlier had been on. “Now what?” she whispers, turning her nose into her arm to breathe against her sleeve.

He closes one eye and grins so suddenly that she momentarily forgets to breathe. Because he looks so much like their dad. If he had on a backwards baseball cap and a grease-covered t-shirt, she wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. “We hang out until your friend comes back.” He swishes his hips side to side to demonstrate that he is actually just hanging from the crossbeam, not floating in the water.

“Oh my god. You’re an idiot,” she hisses at him.

His grin morphs into more of a twisted grimace and he shrugs as best as he can with both arms above his head. “Yeah. Kind of.” His nose scrunches. “So. Beca.”

She knows that tone. It’s the same tone Uncle Lew had used when Chloe had first brought Tom around. Of course, he’d been right to be suspicious, but it had annoyed Chloe then. Back when she thought Tom was a sweetheart with romantic move after romantic move up his sleeves. And it annoys her now too, but differently. Because Beca is not Tom. She’d barely known Tom when she started bringing him around, all young and stupid in love. But she knows Beca better than she knows herself sometimes. Tom was made of lies and distrust so she never ended up with a complete picture of him in her head. Everything was always a little blurry with him. But Beca is solid. She’s purple and music and afternoon naps. She’s that disgusting grape yogurt she loves and random facts about everything. She’s secretly softball and swimming and sudden Pitbull lyrics. She’s hidden equalizer bars and slow dances when Chloe’s too full of emotion to speak. She’s the best damn roommate this side of the Atlantic and Chloe will be damned if anyone tries to question her.

Especially Mickey, with his many years of silence floating between them. And she’s just opened her mouth to say so when he continues.

“She seems cool.” He readjusts his grip. “I mean, I only saw her for, like, a second in the kitchen and when I got to the house. But she looks like she takes good care of you.”

Oh. She blinks at him, rethinking the tone she thought she’d heard.

He must take her lack of a response as not believing him, because he turns to catch her eye. “‘Cause you were crying about Aubrey? And she did the whole hugging and reassuring thing pretty well.” A frog croaks somewhere. “Sorry I didn’t do that stuff. I was kind of out of it.”

She listens to the water slap at the dock’s support beams for a few moments, then whispers, “Withdrawal can do that to you, I hear.”

Mickey doesn’t respond, so she focuses on wondering if whatever she just felt brush her leg was a fish or a water moccasin. She hates snakes. Or, oh my god, what if it was an alligator? There’s fish guts in the water. That should attract alligators, right? Why didn’t she think about this before she got into the river?

To be fair, she hadn’t known there were fish guts floating under the docks, but she maybe should have. This is a fish market.

She hears a muffled voice from somewhere above them and goes still, listening. She knows that voice, muttering quietly in Spanish. There’s no other voices, so she risks leaning her head out a little.

Flo’s alone, heading for the third dock again, carrying another large plastic tub, which Chloe can now see if full of fish guts. She puts it down on the edge of the dock, still ranting away to herself in Spanish.

“Flo!” Chloe hisses, then a little louder when Flo doesn’t answer.

She looks up, plastic tub half-tilted toward the water as she frowns around the docks. Finally, she spots Chloe. With an indignant huff, she rights the tub and straightens, hands on her hips. “Chloe! It’s about damn time you get here!” She pauses. “What are you doing down there?”

Chapter Text

Chloe’s lips were so soft. Even pressed as firmly as they were to Beca’s, they were soft. And the way they’d parted and coaxed every breath from Beca’s body as teeth sank into her lip? She’s still a little shaken and the sting in her lip is gone, but the impression of Chloe’s kiss still sits heavy on her mind. And on her skin. She’s sure she’s licked her lips enough times now that Chloe’s taste should be gone, but it’s still there every time.

“Mitchell, you here?”

Oops. No. “Yeah. What?”

Mel’s stopped a few feet ahead, pulling the collar of her shirt up to wipe sweat from her face. The Georgia heat seems even thicker in the trees and Beca realizes she’s also sweating heavily. She pulls at her flannel, wishing she’d worn an undershirt so she could take it off. Mel sniffs, one hand landing on her gun. “We’re here.” She motions forward. The little blue car is just ahead. “I need your head in the game.”

Cynthia Rose smacks Beca’s shoulder with the back of her hand. “You good, B?”

“Yeah. Just worried about the girls.” And she means it. She’s worried about all of them. Especially Cynthia Rose and herself, seeing as they’re the closest to possible danger. At least the others are somewhat far away. She can just picture Chloe, sitting somewhere up on the hill, chewing on her lip as she watches the market and the woods and worries about them, about her.

Whatever strange bit of selflessness led her down here is quickly shrinking away as she glances through the trees at the back entrance of the market. The big, sliding delivery door is closed and she breathes a sigh of relief. There’s no one in sight.

“Don’t worry. Your girl will be fine,” Cynthia Rose says as Mel pushes through the underbrush to peer into the car windows. Beca glances back at her. “I’ve seen her flip a biker over her shoulder without even spilling her drink.”

That’s a story she hasn’t heard before. “She what?”

“Yeah, man.” Cynthia Rose watches Mel carefully bump the car. No alarm goes off and Beca relaxes muscles she hadn’t realized were tensed. “Senior year. We were all out getting trashed before graduation. And this guy comes up and starts hitting on Chloe.” Mel moves around to the other side of the car. Beca glances at the market. All still. “She keeps telling him no and she is wasted. Bitch was barely standing.” She laughs quietly. “And this guy grabs her shoulder when she turns away from him and--I swear, I have no idea how she did it--but she bends forward and suddenly this dude is flipping right over her and onto the floor.” She mimes hefting something large over her shoulder with a small explosion sound, cheeks puffing out.

“She never mentioned.”

“She doesn’t remember and refuses to believe us, I think.” She chuckles. “That was the night she turned to Aubrey and said, ‘I think I’m going to pass out.’ And Bree was like, ‘Nah, you’re fine.’ But then Chloe said, ‘No, I’m gonna. But I can’t. I’m in a mini-skirt.’ And then she fell to her knees, sat on her feet, and laid forward over her legs and passed out. Folded like an accordion, bruh. But, hey, nobody saw up her skirt!” She wipes sweat from her chin, squinting one eye as she watches Mel fumble with her sock. “Funniest shit I’ve ever seen, drunk Chloe Beale.”

Mel pulls a long, thin rod from her (very high) sock and Beca frowns, momentarily distracted from the image of Chloe folded up on the floor, passed out, drink still in hand. “Dude, is that a slim jim? Are you fucking running around with a slim jim in your sock?”

“Yeah.” Mel waves it back and forth. “You don’t do that?” Before Beca can answer, she turns back to the car and sets to fitting the slim jim behind the rubber seal at the base of the window.

“It’s not just me, right?” Cynthia Rose suddenly whispers, closer to Beca’s ear than she expected. “She’s…”

Beca holds her gaze just long enough for Cynthia Rose to widen her eyes and tilt her head back a little. Then she hums a little. “Only a lesbian or a criminal would carry around a slim jim in their sock.”

There’s a pop and Mel wiggles the tool back out, bending down to store it back in its--oh my god, she has a fucking holster for it inside her sock. Cynthia Rose nods, eyebrows up as she admires what Beca can only assume is NOT her breaking into cars technique. “Okay, cool.”

The roar of an engine drops all three of them to a knee, Mel’s hand still on the door handle. A truck passes by, not even ten feet from their little hiding spot, leaving behind a cloud of exhaust. Its sound fades away and they all watch the delivery door and the smaller, regular door off to the side. Neither opens. So Mel pops the car door.

As she slips inside, Beca turns to Cynthia Rose. “Speaking of getting super drunk, though.” Cynthia Rose’s eyebrows lift, but she doesn’t look away from the market. “I’m taking you to the bar when all this is over, dude. As, like. I don’t know.” It sounds stupid out loud. She wishes Cynthia Rose would just keep looking at the market, but she can feel she isn’t anymore. So Beca does instead, staring at the closed doors. “For back in the car. For getting my meaning.”

“Oh.” She shrugs one shoulder. “You were either telling me to grab her gun or her crotch. I took a gamble.”

“As adorable as your little bonding session is, I found something.” Mel stands, hooking her arms over the car door and wagging a wallet and what looks like the car’s registration at them. They step closer. “Anyone you know?” She flips the wallet open and holds it out.

The flame that lights in Beca’s chest slips between her ribs and up into her throat so fast that she sucks in a breath to cool it. Instead, it just feeds the fire until she’s sure it’s licking at the back of her teeth when she snatches the wallet, thumb swiping over the ID inside and the man’s greasy grin. She grabs the registration too. The names match.

“Son of a bitch,” Cynthia Rose hisses over her shoulder. “Son of a fucking-- ” Her voice fades away, spitting obscenities that even Beca would usually flinch at.

But now she’s steady as she hands the wallet back to Mel. “That’s Tom. Chloe’s piece of shit ex-boyfriend.”

They’re halfway back up the hill when the van passes by.

Beca’s busy vividly picturing herself beating Jesse’s dick cousin with her favorite bat from back home--the red one that her mom got her when her team won their first championship. The one with her name engraved on the barrel. So she can leave it imprinted on his face.

It’s Cynthia Rose that spots the van through the trees and halts. “Girl, was that our ride?”

She and Mel stop, pushing aside branches to look. “Where the hell are they going?” Mel growls, going back to climbing the hill, faster now.

They reach the peak panting and sweating furiously, sacrificing quiet for speed. Beca’s just stumbled out of the bushes onto the street when she sees Stacie waving frantically from the van’s open side door. They quickly pile in and Stacie climbs back into the front seat to give them room. She’s the only one there. “Where is everyone?”

“Uh, well.” Beca’s stomach sinks. “Emily is still on the other hill, watching out. Amy’s kind of...gone rogue?”

“Color me shocked,” Mel says dryly.

“And…” Stacie pauses, green eyes flickering to Beca’s quickly, then away.

“Where is she?” Because that look can only mean one thing.

Stacie sighs. “Last I talked to her, she was planning to go with Mickey.” She stops again, mouth still slightly open, then spits out the rest. “Down to the market.”

“She what?” Beca reaches over Cynthia Rose for the door she closed when they climbed in, trying to wrench it open, but Stacie grabs her arm.

“They’re already down there. Trust me, I tried to talk her out of it, but she wasn’t having it. Apparently Mickey went down there once already and saw Aubrey. So Chloe said to tell you Bree is definitely inside and phones don’t work down there. They’re in the river, swimming down to look into the market, because they saw Flo inside and they’re going to try and talk to her.”

Mel pulls out her phone, frowning, but Beca is still wrestling with the door. Cynthia Rose has stretched herself across it, apologetically grimacing as Beca shoves elbows into her ribs to get to the door handle. “Dude, move!”

“Bec, she’s already down there.” Stacie’s hands are wrapped in the back of her flannel now, pulling. “Stop, there’s nothing we can do.”

“I can go down there and drag her stupid ass back up here!” She’s starting to feel a little claustrophobic, heart racing as she shoves at Cynthia Rose.

“Stop,” Mel orders and it calms her enough that she doesn’t punch Cynthia Rose directly in the face. It’s a close one though. “They’re already down there, can’t do anything about that.” She slides her phone back in her pocket. “Especially if phones don’t work. Is that usual?"

"No," Stacie says.

Mel grunts. "Maybe they've got a jammer. It's what I'd do." She pauses. "What about your other friend? Flo? What’s she doing down there?”

Stacie shrugs, still holding onto Beca’s shirt, even though she’s stopped fighting. “That’s what they’re hoping to figure out. They said Flo keeps coming out to the river so they were gonna swim under the docks and try to get her attention to ask what was going on.”

Mel’s nostrils flare as she sighs. “D is going to kill us all.”

“She can get in line,” Beca snarls, glaring at Cynthia Rose. The other girl shrugs, half squared up already, in case Beca should lunge for the door again.

“Okay. New plan--”

Something slams into the side of the van right behind Cynthia Rose and they all jump. Beca yelps as Mel snatches her collar and pulls her down to the floor, yanking her gun out in the same motion. Cynthia Rose rolls into the backseat. Stacie leans forward to look out. “It’s Jessica! Down, Rambo.” She waves at the window, hand rolling through the air. Jessica tugs the door open and blinks at the gun still pointed at her. Mel lowers it.

“What the hell, dude?” Beca groans from the floor well, reaching up to grab the back of Stacie’s seat, wrapping her other arm up over Mel’s knee to try and pull herself up.

“They-they--” Jessica’s panting a little, her eyes wide. “They’ve got them.”

“Who?” Mel snaps.

Jessica hisses through her teeth, head tilting to the side. “Chloe and Mickey. They found them.”

They settle into the bushes and Beca pushes a branch aside to see better. Sure enough, the docks are occupied now, men moving back and forth along the water in pairs, hands on their waistbands. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out they’re armed. Two more men have appeared in front of the market, guarding the small door on that side.

“Shit,” Mel mutters, jabbing at her phone. “Where the hell are you guys?”

“Where’s Dana?” Stacie says, peering around the bush she’s crouched behind on all fours.

“I don’t know.” Mel huffs. “She should be here by now. And my team isn’t answering the damn phone, so I don’t know how long until we can go in.”

“Wait, wait, wait.” Beca turns on Jessica and Ashley. “So what happened again? Exactly.”

Jessica sighs, having already answered the question back at the van. “Chloe and Mickey slid down into the river and followed it to the docks. They hid under one and Flo came outside. We could see her talking for a few minutes, then these guys came rushing outside and jumped in the water. They pulled out Chloe and Mickey and dragged them and Flo inside.”

“So they’ve got Chloe, Aubrey, Mickey, and Flo now,” Beca says. “Probably Lilly and Amy too.” She lets go of the branch to glare at Mel. “We need to do something.”

“We’ve done what we can. More than that. We know who the car is for and that Aubrey is definitely here and that they’ve taken two more hostages. I’ll pass that on to my people when they get here and we’ll go in to handle it.” She rises to her feet, still crouching low. “Stay here. I’ll go try to call again.” She crawls back toward the house and rounds the corner out of sight.

She’s barely gone a few moments before Stacie sits back on her feet and crosses her arms. “Tell me we’re not waiting for these people to get here. Because they’ve been on their way for ages now and they have at least four of our friends in there. And I doubt they’re just keeping them locked in the breakroom until they’re gone.”  

“Hell no. Call Emily. Does she know what’s going on?”

“I texted her, yeah. She’s caught up.”

“Okay. We need to plan.” Beca glances at the house. “Does anyone have a key before I go breaking into Aubrey and Jesse’s house?”

“I do,” Stacie says, phone to her ear. “But I left it at the house. What? Hello? No, hold on, Em.” She puts the phone on speaker.

“What’s happening?” Emily’s voice crackles a little.

“We’re pulling an Amy,” Beca says and Ashley snorts. “Have you seen anything?”

“Nope. All quiet on the western front!”

Beca bites her lip, glancing around the group. “Okay. Here’s the deal. Anybody here got fighting experience?”

Cynthia Rose and, to apparently everyone’s surprise, Jessica raise their hands. She catches their wide-eyed looks. “I’m a black belt. You guys knew that.” Ashley nods beside her, brow furrowed.

“I always thought you were joking, girl.” Cynthia Rose leans over and slaps her raised hand against Jessica’s. “Nice! I’ve just gotten into a few scraps at the bar, you know.”

“Okay, so we’ve got a black belt.” Beca nods. “So I say we bust into this house, grab any weapons we can, and sneak in. We get our people, we get out, and we hop in the van and get the hell out of here.” She waits for them to agree, vaguely noting that there are a TON of holes in her plan. “Whatever else they’re doing in there? Let the FBI handle that. We’re here for our friends.”

Emily’s voice rises from the phone. “On the plus side, if they catch just a few more of us, we’ll probably outnumber them then.”

“‘We’ nothing,” Stacie says, leaning closer to the speaker. “You stay put.”


“No. You stay where you are and keep a lookout.” Stacie’s voice is firm and when Emily goes to protest again, she says, “I swear to god, Emily Junk, if you show up anywhere near the market, I’m breaking up with you.”

There’s a silence, both on the phone and not. Beca catches Cynthia Rose’s eyes and lifts an eyebrow. Cynthia Rose shakes her head back, shrugging.

“Okay,” Emily finally says with a sigh. “Just be careful, please? All of you?”

“Always. You too, Em.” Stacie hangs up and finds all of them staring at her. “What?”

“Nothing,” they chorus and Beca realizes she’s somehow been swept up into this weird perfect harmony these girls have when they talk sometimes. A week ago, she might have minded. But now, sitting in the grass while they all watch Stacie, of all people, turn red, she doesn’t mind one bit.

Stacie rolls her eyes. “Okay, well, back to infiltration planning?”

“Right. Totes.” Beca grimaces at the word even as it leaves her mouth. “So we get weapons. Then we need an in. Any ideas?”

Stacie straightens, lifting a hand suddenly. “Oh!”

“Any other ideas?”

“No, really, Beca! Listen.” Stacie points through the bushes. “They’re guarding the waterside, the open side, mostly. But there’s only one door on the roadside of the building and only two guards. That door leads into the hallway where the offices are. It’s where you go to place orders and stuff. Mamma’s taken us there before. That’s probably where they have the girls. And Mickey,” she adds. “The only other place would be in the storage cooler or in the actual marketplace.”

“Okay. So Ashley and Emily will be our lookouts.” She waits for Ashley to nod in agreement.  “Stacie, you distract the dudes at the door.” Beca peers through the bushes at the two men. They’re leaning casually against the wall on either side of the door, talking. “How?”

Stacie actually scoffs. “They’re men. How else?” She grabs her boobs and Beca groans, looking away.

Cynthia Rose, however, just nods and stares. “Yeah, that’ll totally work. She’s got this.”

“Okay. And what if they’re gay?”

She shrugs. “Then I brain them with the nearest rock and run away.”

“And if you do distract them? What will you do with them?”

“Brain them with the nearest rock and run away.”

Beca sighs, rubbing her temples. A headache is starting behind her eyes and she just wants to take a long, hot shower back home in her own apartment while Chloe sings Goo Goo Dolls in the kitchen and Stacie and Emily argue over TV shows on the couch. “I know I should be more freaked out that we’re totally all going to get brutally murdered today, but…” She sighs, dropping her hands and opening her eyes to find the other girls looking at her. “I guess if I’m going to get killed with anyone… I’m glad it’s you guys.”

Jessica’s smile nearly lights up the yard and Cynthia Rose reaches over to slug her good-naturedly in the shoulder. Stacie smiles. “Awww, Becs loves us.”

“Don’t ever tell Amy,” Beca says. “She’ll never shut up about it.”

Breaking into Jesse and Aubrey’s house turns out to be easier than Beca expected, because the little bedroom window isn’t locked. As the smallest, she’s the one hoisted up on Stacie’s shoulders and pushed through. She manages not to break anything, hooking one arm around the windowsill and rolling over to find the headboard with her feet. Why anyone would have such a small window so high on their wall, Beca has no idea. She prefers her bedrooms without windows. No sun while she’s trying to sleep, thank you very much. The whole room is perfectly kept, like the living room had been--bed made to military standards, clothes in the open closet color coded. Control freak, indeed.

She takes the opportunity to jump off the headboard and bounce down the bed before landing quietly on the carpet. Aubrey would probably not appreciate it, but Beca thoroughly enjoys it. She winds through the house to the back door and unlocks it before starting her hunt for weapons. What the hell do you carry with you when infiltrating a kidnappers lair? Probably not sewing scissors, she thinks, closing the door of what looks like a craft room.

Stacie, Cynthia Rose, and Jessica file in quickly and they all fan out, agreeing to meet back in the kitchen with their hauls.

Beca heads back to the bedroom and pulls the nightstand over to climb on while she digs in the top of the closet. She isn’t really expecting to find a gun. Jesse’s always been very against them. But, hey, it’s been years. So she pushes aside extra bed sheets and a shoebox completely full of movie ticket stubs.

And there, against the back wall, steel blue and black grip, is Jesse’s old baseball bat. The one he’d gotten just to help her practice even though she’d assured him he didn’t need it. She recognizes it by the strip of neon pink tape around the top of the grip. “Boys can like pink too,” he had said, hefting it over his shoulder and accidentally knocking his cap off. It had been too big for him, too heavy, but by the end of that summer, he’d been fairly decent at using it. She thinks it would probably be too small for him now. The random memory leaves her throat a little tight and she clears it as she pulls the bat down and hops to the floor.

She stands it up against her leg. It reaches a little higher than her hip, a few inches too long for her, but not bad. She holds it out to the side. Not too heavy, though. Good. She can work with this.

There’s nothing else in the bedroom worth taking, so she checks the hall closet, nodding at Stacie as they pass each other. There’s nothing there either, so she heads to the kitchen. The other girls have dumped all of the kitchen knives onto the counter and one wicked-looking hunting knife. There’s also a pair of brass knuckles and a hatchet in what looks like a leg holster. “What the fuck?” She picks up the hatchet.

“Aubrey’s dad sends her stuff sometimes.” Jessica hefts the hunting knife, spinning it to lay against her forearm, testing its weight. Apparently satisfied, she grins her megawatt smile and it clashes horribly with the sharpened steel in her hand.

“I’m officially terrified of you,” Beca says, pointing the bat at her.

“Wait ‘til you meet Lilly,” Cynthia Rose rasps, taking the brass knuckles and slipping them on. Then she nods to the hatchet. “Stacie gonna go as Lizzie Borden?”

“Please, I don’t need that stuff.” Stacie emerges from the bedroom and Beca’s jaw drops, because she’s changed into a very short pair of running shorts and a sports bra that barely looks like it’s going to be able to do the job. Cynthia Rose’s brass knuckles clink to the counter and she hisses in pain. Stacie grins at the reaction. “I am a weapon.”

“Okay, well. Still.” Beca spins away from the expanse of skin on display. “You should take a knife or something anyways. I’ll take the hatchet. Also.” Beca quickly unbuttons her flannel and slips out of it, shoving it at Stacie. “For when you need to be not distracting and help us. Also, I’m burning up in it.”

Stacie takes the shirt, tying it around her waist. “Not how I thought I’d get you shirtless one day, Mitchell, but I’ll take it.” She smirks. “Nice bra, by the way. You look cute.”

Beca glances down at the dark red sports bra she’d thrown on earlier. “Shut the hell up, no I don’t.” She grabs the hatchet and shoves past her to the bedroom, digging through the closet to find a plain black t-shirt. Aubrey’s, she assumes, because it’s just a little long on her. She tucks it into her jeans and straps the hatchet to her left thigh.

The second that weight settles on her leg, the reality of it all settles a little too. It’s felt kind of like a dream, the seriousness of it all just a little out of her reach. But as she tests the button holding the hatchet in place to make sure it isn’t too hard to pop free, she realizes she very well might need to use it. She hopes not. She’s gone this long without murdering anyone and she’d like to keep it that way.

But if anyone’s hurt Chloe? She pops the button once more, then clicks it back into place.

Stacie’s found an armband for her phone and a pair of headphones when she meets them at the front door. “Ashley’s going to wait in the van. If any of us come out, she’ll drive down and snatch them and haul ass.”

“Good idea.” Beca hefts her bat, rolling it between her palms. “Now, who’s gonna tell Mel?”

“Oooh,” Cynthia Rose’s nose scrunches up and she points toward the living room. “About that.”

Mel’s seated on the couch, messing with the laces of her boot and glaring at them all. “You guys are slow as hell, you know that?” She stands, tossing her curls back over her shoulder. “My team’s still a ways out and Dana isn’t answering. But one of my buddies back at Beale’s house said Kommissar is gone and they don’t know where to. We can’t wait anymore. But--” She holds up a finger imperiously. “If one of you gets me killed, I will haunt your entire family line.”

Beca has no doubt that’s true. “Oh, hey, Mel. We were totally coming to invite you to join us--”

“Can it, Bite Size. And please tell me none of you has a gun.” They shake their heads. “Good. Besides the very high probability that one of you will shoot me or yourselves, it’s too much noise. We’re going stealth. The second that door is clear, I’ll head in. All of you stay behind me and keep the path back out clear. Got it?”

The other girls nod. A little offended, Beca mutters, “I mean, that was kinda the plan already, but--”

“So if you can’t use your gun…” Jessica hesitates, glancing at the kitchen table and all the paring and bread knives scattered across it.

Mel pulls something from her back pocket and flicks it. There’s a slither of metal on metal and suddenly she’s holding a very tiny crossbow. A fucking crossbow. “I’ve got this princess. Carbon-fiber lens, 80-pound draw weight, capable of shooting 160 feet per second.” Mel admires the weapon, sucking in a breath through her teeth. Then, in an outrageously soft voice, she says, “I call her Gertrude.”

Everyone just stares at her. Cynthia Rose gulps a little too loudly. Beca’s pretty sure she did something very fucked up in a past life, because this cannot be happening. But then Mel is motioning to the door with her fucking crossbow and Stacie is nodding and slipping outside and Beca follows, sighing through her teeth.

They backtrack down the road until they can’t see the market anymore, then cross over and slip behind a house with a very old dog sleeping on the back porch. They move into the trees and head back down until they reach the end of the row of houses. Mel motions for them to follow her as Stacie breaks off from the group, but Beca hesitates when Stacie catches her eye and lifts an eyebrow. The others press on and she moves with Stacie to the edge of the trees. The van is parked across the street and she can see the top of Ashley’s head in the driver’s seat.

Stacie takes a deep breath, tightening her armband and putting one of her headphones in. “Listen, Bec. I need you to do me a favor.”

It all feels very last request-y, so Beca’s already shaking her head when Stacie grabs her shoulders.

“If anything happens--”

“Dude, no--”

If anything happens.” Stacie gives her a quick shake. “Tell Em I love her.” She rolls her eyes a little, lips quirking up as she fake gags. “Ugh, that’s the first time I’ve said it out loud.”

She laughs and it eases the panic in Beca’s chest enough that she can point a stern finger at Stacie. “After this is over, you are telling her that. And then you are telling me everything. I can’t believe you’ve been hiding this from us.”

“Sorry, Dad.”

Beca slugs her in the arm and Stacie just laughs. “Bitch.” Stacie was her first actual friend in New York. And just like with Chloe, Beca had fought it. Stacie had backed off more than Chloe had, but she’d still shown up to work with coffee for Beca when she didn’t ask for it. She still stayed late to make sure Beca didn’t walk to her car alone after dark. She still sought Beca out in the breakroom to share whatever wild story she had that day. And Beca had softened to her presence as best she could, letting the girl barge into her office whenever she wanted and letting her come over to borrow her internet when Stacie’s electricity was out during that big storm a few years ago and she had homework to do. And maybe it’s that image, of Stacie’s way too long legs propped up on her old coffee table as she chewed her thumbnail and stared at the insane amount of notes on her laptop screen, a storm raging outside and Beca as far across the room as she could politely get. Maybe that’s what has Beca reaching out to pull Stacie into a quick, somewhat awkward hug. Stacie stiffens, surprised, but returns it. They pull away and Beca scratches her nose, taking an extra step back. “Be safe, dude.”

“Duh,” Stacie says, a little too quietly. Then she grins, voice rising back to normal volume. “These boys won’t know what hit them.” She winks and slips her other headphone in before turning and jogging out onto the road. Her ponytail and Beca’s flannel bounce behind her and she watches as the men below immediately notice her. One of them raises a fist to his mouth and nods pointedly. The other spins around, already smiling.

Beca smirks, turning to hurry after the others. “Watch out, boys, she’ll chew you up,” she sings under her breath.

Chapter Text

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.

“Good idea!”

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?”

Chapter Text

Stacie had disappeared into the trees a little ways down the road with the two guards a (somehow) very long few minutes ago and Mel had gone after them.

But Beca’s getting antsy. She tugs at the clip for the hatchet strapped to her thigh, biting the tip of her tongue. “It’s been too long. Right? I don’t know why I was expecting her to just, like, get them to look away while we snuck in behind them, but I don’t like this.” Jessica puts a calming hand on her shoulder, but it doesn’t stop Beca’s fingers from tapping along the bat handle.

“Chill, girl,” Cynthia Rose huffs. “Stacie’s smarter than all of us. She’s got this handled. She’s improvising. And Mel went after her. We just wait for them.”

She’s barely finished speaking when there’s a rustling and a quiet curse. Mel pops out from behind Jesse’s dick cousin’s car, Stacie and a shame-faced Emily right behind her. Stacie is fuming, Beca can tell. Her arms are crossed over the flannel she’s now wearing. It doesn’t button all the way up, but that’s not surprising. Not everyone is as gifted as Stacie in the chest department. Her jaw is clenched so tight, Beca’s a little worried about her teeth.

“Dude, what happened?”

Mel sighs, tapping her crossbow against her forehead. Beca wonders if she’s contemplating if she could kill them all with it before they can team up on her. “Sex kitten got the goons into the trees and I was about to jump them when G.I. Jane here bashed one of them’s head in with a rock. He’ll live, but Jesus. You guys are insane. Listen, if the cops turn up later, you guys ran in there before I could stop you and I followed to save you. Clear? Five minutes with you and they'll believe it.”

Cynthia Rose and Jessica nod but Beca gasps, turning on the younger girl who flinches away. “Emily!” She smacks her shoulder. Sweet, stuttering Emily who catches bugs that get into her apartment and brings them outside to save them. “That’s awesome!”

“It is not awesome!” Stacie snaps, also rounding on Emily. Behind her, Beca gives Emily an enthusiastic thumbs up, remembering Emily doing the same to her back at the Beale house. Emily grimaces and Beca grins. What goes around, comes around, she thinks. “I told you to stay up the hill. You’re supposed to be watching out for us!”

Beca’s never seen Emily angry, but this is probably as close to it as she’ll ever get. Emily straightens up and mirrors Stacie, crossing her arms too. “Well, you didn’t tell me part of the plan was my girlfriend jogging straight into danger and leading men off into the woods alone! Of course I came running!” She freezes, eyes widening. What little anger had been tightening the corners of her lips evaporates and her shoulders sag. It’s like watching someone tell a child Santa doesn’t really exist. At least, what Beca imagines that would look like. She’d never believed in that kind of stuff. “I can still say that, right? ‘Girlfriend’? I know you said--”

“Em.” Stacie sighs heavily and drops her arms, catching Emily’s crossed ones with her fingertips. Her voice drops lower and Beca suddenly feels like she’s intruding. “Of course you can. I just wish you’d stayed safe.”

Emily shrugs. “I was worried.”

“I know, baby.” Stacie tugs once and Emily goes easily into her arms, letting Stacie press a kiss into her temple.

The top of the tree to her right suddenly looks super interesting, so Beca studies that while Cynthia Rose and Jessica turn completely around.

“Oh my god,” Mel growls. “Can we save the romance for when we’re not in imminent danger? You guys are worse than Vampirella and Hollis.”

“Who?” Jessica asks.

“Friends of mine. Come on. Let’s get this over with.” She stomps right out of the trees and onto the road, crossbow raised to chest height.

Like before a softball game or a swim meet, every muscle in Beca’s body starts buzzing, almost shaking right out of her skin. And she bounces with it, shaking her hands out as she switches the bat hand to hand.

“Get back up the hill,” Stacie whispers to Emily as Beca passes. “We’ll be back soon.”

Mel’s waiting for them at the door, her back to the wall beside it. She motions for Beca to take the other side. “Alright, listen up, gang. We go in quiet, silence anyone we come across.” She pauses. “By which, I mean, I will handle anyone we come across. We take any of our crew we can find, and get out. Whatever means necessary. For the sake of paperwork, please don’t kill anyone. If bullets start flying, the cops will be here in minutes and these guys inside will do whatever it takes to get away quick.” She makes sure to meet each of their eyes. “That includes killing a bunch of civilians and the FBI agent who’s definitely getting fired after this. And if one of you bitches gets me pulled into some black-girl-dies-first bullshit, I’ll use you as a human shield. Got it?”

Beca grins. “I bet they get you to give all the pep talks before missions, don’t they?”

Mel’s eyes narrow. “Do exactly as I say and stay behind me.”

“Unless we’re being used as a human shield.”

“Right.” Mel braces herself and nods to the door. Beca glances back at the other girls.

Stacie’s pulled a knife from who knows where, Jessica is holding her hunting knife out in an eerily professional grip even though she’s smiling nervously, and Cynthia Rose is squared up and bouncing on her toes. Not a single one of them looks up for what’s about to happen, like they’ve just wandered into an action movie from the set next door. It’s utterly ridiculous, but Beca is suddenly wildly proud of them. “Hey. You guys are pretty awesome. Just, you know. In case we die or whatever.”

“We love you too, Becs.” Stacie winks.

Mel pretends to hurl and Beca kind of agrees. “Okay, don’t get gross, Conrad.” She reaches forward and twists the door knob, pulling it open. Mel slips through, crossbow first, and Jessica follows her. Stacie takes the rear, ushering Cynthia Rose and Beca ahead of her.

The hall is empty and turns the corner up ahead, deeper into the building. There are two doors, one on either side of them. Mel holds up a fist and the group stops. She catches Jessica’s eye and motions to the door on the right, lifting a fist as if knocking. Jessica nods as Mel moves to the other side of it. Once Mel is still, Jessica knocks softly. Beca flattens herself to the wall between Cynthia Rose and Stacie as the door opens.

It’s over in a second, but she sees it all as if in slow motion.

A man steps out and Mel, on the opposite side of the door from everyone else, says, “Hey.” He turns to look at her and Mel lifts her crossbow, but Jessica moves first. Her foot slips between the (very large) man’s legs and knocks his knee to the side. He stumbles forward and Jessica drags her hunting knife across the back of his thigh, dropping him to his knees. She lands a quick hit to the side of his neck. He sprawls on the floor and doesn’t move. Another man appears in the door and barely has time to gasp, “Antoni!” when Mel uppercuts him back into the room. There’s a dull thump and no one moves, listening. Nothing.

Several breathless moments later, Mel nods to Jessica and they move to the second door. Beca hurries to press herself to the other wall, accidentally elbowing Stacie in the boob. They have a brief but violent slapping match as Jessica knocks on the door. This time, Beca isn’t even sure she sees Jessica move, but she’s suddenly lowering a man to the floor and he’s bleeding from a gash across his leg. Mel glances into the room. “Clear.”

“Jessica, what the fuck?” Stacie whispers, slightly strangled.

Mel shakes her head, checking the pulses of the men on the floor. “Okay. You just became second-in-command, Goldilocks.”

Jessica turns to flash them all a grin and Beca tries not to flinch back into Stacie.

Mel and Cynthia Rose lift the men in the hallway and drag them into the first room, shutting the door behind them. “First leg of the journey done,” Mel whispers. “Good job not dying yet, everyone. Let’s go.”

“There's a closet on the left at the corner,” Stacie hisses over Beca’s head. “Then another straight shot to the right, with offices on each side.”

Beca glances up at her. “Did Mamma Beale take you on the grand tour of this place or something?”

Stacie mouths wordlessly for a second, then presses her lips tightly together, closing one eye. “Okay, maybe I also fooled around with one of the stockers for a while. I may or may not know every broom closet in this whole place.”

“That makes more sense,” Cynthia Rose says.

“Yeah, I was wondering.” Jessica nods, hands on her hips.

“The Hunter to the rescue,” Beca mutters.

“Fuck all of you.” Stacie shoves Beca into the wall.

“You would.”

Mel, apparently having had enough, slices her hand through the air and they fall silent. She hurries to the corner and carefully glances around it. It must be clear, because she’s slips away. Jessica and Cynthia Rose hurry to catch up.

When they round the corner, the hall is empty. Beca stops, Stacie bumping into her back. The door to the right is open, the left slightly ajar. Mel quickly clears the room on the right, then slips into the other room with Cynthia Rose and Jessica hot on her heels. But just as Beca’s moving for the door on the left, there’s a voice at the end of the hall. Stacie’s hand wraps around her belt and she’s tugged backwards into the door on the right. Stacie shuts it and lifts a finger to her mouth. Beca glances around and finds they’re in a tiny back office, crammed into the little space between the heavy wooden desk and the door. It’s dark, the room only lit by a small lamp in the corner. It’s quiet, but suddenly, as footsteps grow closer, Beca feels like she needs to speak. Like this might be her only chance to. The words tingle on her tongue and she opens her mouth to spit them out. “Stace.”

Stacie glares at her, but leans down to give Beca her ear, keeping one hand pressed to the door.

Beca licks her dry lips. “Dude, you know how you had stuff to tell Emily? Just in case?” Stacie nods. “Just. If, uh. You know.” She waits for Stacie to nod, but nothing comes. Even in the face of being found by men who very well might kill them, Stacie Conrad is difficult. She should have known. So she sighs and says it. “Tell Chloe I love her. Like, in love, love her.”

Stacie’s smile brightens the room more than the lamp and Beca feels her ears grow hot. Then Stacie opens her mouth and says probably the worst thing she could have. “Awww.”

“Shut the fuck up.” Beca resists punching her in the throat because the footsteps are almost right outside now. She lifts her bat, watching the light under the door. A shadow passes once, then passes back, and a voice speaks in a language she doesn’t recognize. Then it’s gone. The footsteps fade back the way they came and Stacie presses her ear to the door.

“I think they left,” she breathes, but then there’s another clattering of boots, more than before. “Fuck.”

Beca’s insides flutter to the beat of the approaching steps and she shakes out her hands, one at a time to keep the bat up. “Stacie, I’m gonna die before I can even ask Chloe out. Are you fucking kidding me? This was so stupid! What are we doing?” She’s rambling, which isn’t something she does often, but now she can’t stop.

“Calm down, Becs,” Stacie hisses, ear still to the door. “We’ll be fine.” The steps pause and there’s faint, muffled speech. Stacie’s eyes flicker between the door and Beca, as if deciding if she should keep listening or calm Beca down. With an almost silent huff, she turns to face Beca and grabs her shoulders. Her hands are warm and it immediately stills the churning in Beca’s gut. “Look. We’re gonna be fine. You’ll ask Chloe out. She’ll say, ‘Duh, dipshit’ but in a more polite, Chloe-like way, and everyone will be fine. Hell, you might as well ask her to marry you by this point!” Her eye roll is one Beca would normally be proud of. “You’ve been living together, neither of you have looked at another soul since you met. Like, let’s just quit beating around the bush, am I right?” She grins.

Beca knows what she’s doing. Stacie’s done it before. She’s taking Beca’s mind off of the fear gripping her ribs by turning the topic to something completely ridiculous. But somehow, right now, leather rolling between her palms and ears straining for any sound outside of their own breathing, it doesn’t sound completely ridiculous.

Because she loves Chloe. She’s probably loved her since that night on the subway. Definitely loved her since their first night in the apartment, when Chloe had been bouncing around, opening every drawer and cabinet and door just to look inside. “Just because it’s ours,” she’d said, balanced on the counter to pull open the highest cabinet above the stove and Beca's stomach had filled with faint flutters that she'd chalked up to new apartment jitters. And Stacie’s completely right. She hasn’t even batted an eye at anyone else since Chloe strolled into her life and started getting her to actually fold her laundry and snagging one of her headphones on the subway each morning. Beca has been so blind, but suddenly Stacie’s eyes have never looked so green and the fear curled in the pit of her stomach feels more like fire. Stacie, apparently satisfied with Beca’s silence, has moved back to the door and the footsteps are getting closer. “You’re right.”

“Wait, I’m what?”

“I’m gonna ask her to marry me.”

“You’re what?”

But then a voice speaks that Beca recognizes and she can tell Stacie does too, because her grip on the knife goes white and her entire body pulls up to full height. Son of a bitch...

“That fucking bitch will get what’s coming to her. When the boat gets here, I want her on it with the shipment, got it? Make an extra couple bucks. They love redheads in Belgium. Fuck, give me a second.” He hisses like he’s in pain and something in Beca’s chest roars and claws at her lungs, shortening her breaths until she’s shaking and clenching her jaw so tight it aches in her ears. She nods to Stacie and knows they’re both on the same page when Stacie silently turns the door knob and nods back. There’s really no other response to what they just heard. She tightens her grip on the bat and breathes in for seven, then out for six. Nods again.

Stacie opens the door just a crack, peering out, then pushes it open more. Beca slips under her arm and into the hall.

And there’s Jesse’s dick cousin--bent double, with one hand on the wall and one between his legs, back to Beca. There’s a large man standing beside him with his arms crossed and a gun on his hip. Beca wonders briefly if this is worth getting shot for.

The second the bat connects with Tom’s ribs with an insanely satisfying smack, she knows it is.

Tom gasps, thrown back by the blow and Stacie tackles the big man before he can turn on Beca. He yelps as he goes down, twisting in her hold, but Beca pays them no mind, stepping into her next swing like it’s the last pitch of the game and the bases are loaded. Tom’s just looked up when the tip of the barrel catches him under the chin and sends him sprawling onto his back with a sharp crack.

Stacie’s up beside her, knife in her left hand now as she levels the big man’s own gun on him. He’s holding his slashed face, but when Stacie takes a half step closer, he lifts his hands in surrender. Tom moans on the floor beside him, clutching his mouth. Something falls from between his fingers and bounces off his chest, skidding out on the floor. One of his stupid, perfect teeth, Beca realizes with a feral sort of glee. And she might have hit him again, just to see how many more she could knock out, if hands hadn’t closed around her elbows and yanked her away.

“What the hell, Tiny Terror?” Mel hisses in her face, forcing Beca back another step. “Didn’t I say don’t kill anyone? Come on! We have to go!”

“That’s Tom,” Beca says as Cynthia Rose and Jessica slip out of the room across the hall. “Chloe’s ex. Did you hear what he said?”

Mel’s shoving her past Tom and the guard now, back toward the entrance. “I did. Go, they’re coming!”

Only then does she hear the clomping steps approaching and someone yelling.

“Here!” Tom suddenly screams and Cynthia Rose lashes out, brass knuckles smacking into his jaw. He crumples and doesn’t move. She pulls her hand back, hissing in pain.

Before the other man can even open his mouth, Jessica drives a knee into the bend of his neck and shoulder and twists her thigh into the side of his face hard, slamming his head into the floor and knocking him out. She pops back to her feet in the same move.

“Who the hell are you people?” Mel shakes herself and shoves Beca again. “Come on!”

They race for the corner and just before Beca can throw herself around it there’s a shout and an impossibly loud bang. Wood explodes from the wall above her head and she drops, tucking her shoulder forward as she rolls around the corner.

“Shit!” Cynthia Rose yells as more shots ring out. Someone yanks at Beca’s collar and gets her to her feet. Mel presses herself to the corner, pauses for a breath, then lunges around it and shoots her fucking crossbow toward the shouts at the other end of the hall. Someone screams. Stacie lifts the gun she’d taken from the downed man and Mel snatches it.

“Get out of here! Back to the woods! There’s too many of them!” Another hail of bullets tears through the wall beside her and she grunts, yanking her arm away. Red spreads quickly through the fabric of her sleeve. “I’ll hold them off!” She twists and fires three quick shots. There’s another scream, shouts in that language Beca doesn’t know, and a returning volley. Mel dives back, nearly tripping over Jessica.


Beca spins on her heel, bat lifting automatically, but Mel hoots happily as a short blonde in a perfectly pressed suit hurries down the hall toward them. Another small woman with long, dark hair follows, gun already drawn.

“Goddamn, Hollis, finally!”

Hollis huffs, pulling a gun from her hip. “You always start the party without us. You’re worse than Kirsch!”

The other agent grabs Stacie’s elbow. “Come on. Out!”

More shots ring out, closer, Beca thinks, but she can’t be sure because her ears are ringing. Hollis drops to one knee and Mel moves to stand over her as they both lean out to take a few shots.

The third agent presses a hand to Beca’s shoulder and pushes. “Go!”

So Beca does, racing for the door. Stacie overtakes her easily and pushes it open, holding it as they file out after her. From outside, the shots sound almost far away, like they could be coming from any direction. There’s a dark sedan pulled haphazardly onto the curb, but no one else in sight. Every breath she sucks in burns a little and her palms are sweating so much that the bat slips in her grasp. She shuffles it around to wipe her palms on her jeans. “We have to get Chloe and the others. They’re shooting up the place in there. We can’t leave them!”

Stacie’s already nodding, all of her teeth bared as she pants and clutches her side. “We’ll go around the other side, see if the guards on the waterside have moved. Come on.”

Beca outpaces her this time, running full out for the other end of the building. It’s been years since she’s run so much, but the turn at the corner without slowing down comes back easily. She hits the edge of the building and twists around it like it’s third base and it’s sending her home.

But then she slams into someone hard enough to stagger them back and force a “Fuck, dude!” from her own lips. Every alarm in her body goes off. It’s too close to swing and, almost without thinking, she drops the bat and pops the hatchet free before she’s even fully gotten her feet back under her. But before she can lift it, red curls swing across her face and Chloe’s there. In her arms, digging her nails into her shoulder blades. “Chloe?” she gasps. All thoughts of the danger they’re in fall away and Beca wraps her arms around the trembling girl, breathing her in. She smells disgusting, really--like fish that’s been left out too long. But underneath that, she smells like home. Like afternoon naps and creaky armchairs and stained glass reflected in syrup. Beca holds on tighter. “Oh my god! Are you okay?”

Chloe pulls back, hands sliding up onto Beca’s shoulders, though she doesn’t move far away. Her eyes are a little glassy and Beca scans her quickly for any sign of injury. There are rings of raw skin around her wrists, but otherwise she looks fine. A little ruffled, and wearing damp clothes, but fine. Beca lets out the breath she’d been holding when Chloe speaks. “You’re here.”

“Of course I am,” she says immediately, trying not to grin, because she wants Chloe to know she hates that Chloe would even question that. But, god, Chloe’s here and safe. She can’t help but smile. Chloe’s eyes narrow a little and Beca thinks she might start crying. She doesn’t think she can handle that on top of everything else right now, so she lifts an eyebrow and shoots for joking when she says, “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?”

Then Chloe’s kissing her and all Beca can do is hang on, slip a hand into red curls, and kiss back. Because what else is there to do when Chloe Beale decides to kiss her? More shots ring out and Chloe tilts her head forward, forehead pushing against Beca’s until their lips are no longer touching. Then she pulls back from that too, taking a deep breath. She smiles. “I love you.”

Whatever had roared in Beca’s chest earlier purrs now, curling tightly around itself. Her cheeks burn when she grins and she wonders if she looks a little manic. Stacie’s words dance through her mind and when Chloe giggles, Beca goes for it. Why not? “I love you too. Which I’m glad you said, because I have to ask you something.”


“Will you marry me, dude?”

Chapter Text

Yes. Absolutely. Is that really a question? Is this really happening? I love you! This is insane!

Every answer that springs immediately to mind, Chloe ropes and tucks down. Because Beca’s grinning like she knows the answer and she absolutely adores this confident, wild Beca. But this is insane, right? Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn’t feel it, like she thinks it should. Either way, she tamps down the flame dancing up her spine and smiles. “Ask me again when this is over.”

She groans. “You’re killing me, Beale.” But Beca breaks away, still grinning, and bends to grab the bat she dropped. There’s a hatchet in her left hand, a holster strapped to her thigh, and a spattering of what looks like blood across her forearms and neck.

This is probably a very inappropriate moment to find her as sexy as Chloe does, but she can’t help reaching out to stroke a hand down Beca’s side as she moves past.

Stacie wraps her in a quick hug. “Jesus, it’s good to see you. Let’s get the hell out of here.” She spots Aubrey and hurries to throw her arms around her, lifting her off the ground.

“Hey, Stacie,” Aubrey sighs into her hair, hugging her tight.

Stacie puts her down and glances around. “Leave it to Aubrey Posen to get kidnapped and emerge with an army.” She eyes the woman wielding two fish warily. “What are we doing?”

“We’re getting these ladies up the hill to my house. Away from this.” She motions back to the market that’s still ringing with shots.

“You must be Beca.” Chloe turns to find Flo grabbing Beca in a quick hug, avoiding the hatchet. “I’m Flo. You look whiter than in your pictures!”

“Uh, I’m...sorry?” Beca awkwardly shrugs.

“It’s okay. Now, don’t blink too much. She doesn’t like that.”

“Who doesn’t like wha--”

But then Flo steps aside and Lilly takes her place, leaning forward over Beca until she’s forced to arch her head back to avoid touching. Chloe places a hand between Beca’s shoulder blades to let her know it’s okay. Beca relaxes minutely, but still flinches pretty hard when Lilly sticks out her tongue and boops the tip of Beca’s nose with it. Then she smiles and grabs Beca’s hand with the hatchet and just holds it. It’s Lilly’s “I’m happy” face, but Beca looks like she’s just been told the date and time of her death and she has no idea what to do with the information.

Chloe laughs. “She likes you.”

Beca turns to glare at her, a plea for help in the twist of her lips. “I, uh, like her too,” she says as Lilly waves the hatchet-filled hand she’s captured around a little.

“Alright! Up the hill, ladies! Get up there and stay together! Don’t let anything stop you! Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” Flo’s translating, but it’s Aubrey in her element, commanding a huge group of women, and Chloe moves to her side to help her usher the group along. It feels weirdly like Bella practice back in college.

Except for the gunshots and screaming.

Stacie takes the lead at Aubrey’s command, taking off at a fast jog up the hill. Cynthia Rose and Jessica stand on either side of the group, circling their arms to get the women moving faster. The last woman’s just cleared the parking lot when Chloe turns to do a quick headcount before they follow. Lilly isn’t there. She spins around, staring at the twenty or so women running up the hill, waving around knives and fish, following Stacie. “Where is Lilly?”

Beca blinks and looks down at her hand. “I swear, she was just holding my hand.”

“Sissy?” Mickey’s back near the docks, arm raised to point. She hurries over and follows his gaze just in time to see Lilly slink into the hallway all the way across the building where the shots are still echoing from.

“Oooh, they’re ‘bout to get it,” Amy sings.

The screaming grows louder and Chloe winces, grabbing Aubrey’s arm. “We can’t leave Lilly.”

“I really don’t think Lilly needs our help, Chlo.” But Aubrey stays put. “We should--”

“Incoming!” Amy points up the hill where a four-wheeler is barreling toward them. “Take cover!” Amy takes off like a linebacker, headed for the little pickup parked near the water. But Chloe doesn’t follow, because she recognizes the whipping red hair easily.

“It’s Aunt Dana!”

“About time,” Beca growls, waving her bat in the air.

Aunt Dana slides to a halt in the gravel. Behind her, looking like he might throw up, is Jesse. As soon as she stops, he rolls off shakily and staggers a few steps away, taking a deep breath through his nose. But then he spots Aubrey, who’s already pushing through the group to get to him, and all unsteadiness disappears. They collide hard, barely keeping their feet.

“Bree,” he gasps, fists wrapped in the back of her shirt.

“Reunions after we get all of you out of here? Please?” Aunt Dana leaps off the four-wheeler. “Aubrey, I’m thrilled to see you, but we have a problem.” There’s another spurt of gunfire and she sighs. “Another problem. Kommissar is on her way here, right behind us. She’s figured out my team is here. You guys have to go. Come on.”

“Lilly’s still inside,” Jessica says, stepping forward.

Aunt Dana eyes the bloodstained hunting knife in her grip. “I swear, I leave you guys alone for ten minutes! I’ll get Lilly. You go.” She hurries past them and around the corner into the market, pulling a gun from her waistband. It jolts something in Chloe’s stomach to see Aunt Dana checking the clip with quick, easy movements. After the last couple days, she kinda thought nothing could surprise her anymore.

“Does anyone else hear an engine?” Amy asks, forearms leaned on the hood of the pickup. “Just me?”

As soon as she says it, Chloe hears the building hum, growing louder fast. Flo points up the hill and Chloe turns just as a dark Suburban flies over the crest, bouncing so hard that sparks fly from the front bumper as it drags the concrete. The Bellas scramble back, behind the pickup, onto the docks, against the building. Beca’s hand closes around Chloe’s elbow and tugs her back toward the water, until they’re standing on the grassy bank, as far from the gravel of the parking lot as they can get. Mickey appears at her other side, shaking hard and rubbing the heels of his palms down his thighs over and over, like they hurt. Chloe grabs his arm to try and steady him.

But then Beca is slipping the hatchet into Chloe’s right hand and moving between her and the parking lot. She twists her wrist, then flicks it, spinning the bat handle in the circle of her fingers again and again anxiously. Chloe can almost picture her at the plate, stands filled with cheering spectators and Beca alone in the dirt, psyching herself up for the first pitch.

The Suburban skids off the road and into the parking lot. The driver's door opens and Agent Anderson--Kommissar--jumps out, gun drawn. Aubrey lifts her own gun and ice crackles under Chloe’s skin as the two women face off.

“You don’t want to do this, little girl.” Kommissar stays half behind the door of her Suburban. Her accent is thicker than it was at the house and Chloe wonders if anything about this woman had been real. “I have been trained for years with this.”

“So have I,” Aubrey calls back, unmoving.

“Is your skill so sure that you would risk your fiance’s life?”

It’s only then that Chloe realizes, with a sinking feeling, that Kommissar is aiming beside Aubrey. At unarmed Jesse. For a man facing down a gun, he looks remarkably calm, but Aubrey takes a small step to the side toward him.

Kommissar’s gun hand twitches a little. It’s hard to tell from this distance, but Chloe thinks her finger tightens around the trigger. “Ah! Nein, you stay where you are. Humans are so easy for bullets to pass through. It makes no sense to use yourself as a shield.”

In front of her, Beca’s feet shift a little, placing herself more firmly between Chloe and Kommissar.

“Now. Put the gun down. Ah, slower. Yes. Put it down and kick it here.” Aubrey complies, cheeks pulled in like she’s biting them. It’s a face Chloe used to see in Bella practice, when Aubrey was doing her best to stay calm. The gun slides through the gravel and Kommissar ducks out to grab it, her own gun never wavering. She tucks the second gun into her pants and kicks the Suburban’s door shut. Her grin is perfectly even and white and Chloe really hates it. “It seems that was your only gun or you would not have given it up so easily. Good. Now, all of you, backs to the building.”

But before they can move, Mel comes around the corner, gun raised. “Gun down, bitch!” Only then does Chloe realize that the building is quiet.

Kommissar’s gun swings around to her instead. “Melanippe. So good of you to join us.”

“Put the gun down, Kommissar.” Mel’s voice and hands are steady, despite the blood caked around her sleeve and splattered across her legs. “Nobody else has to die here.”

Aunt Dana and two other agents step out from behind her, guns leveled and expressions calm. The dark-haired one moves until she’s standing beside Beca. They share a quick glance and nod, like they know each other.

But Kommissar just laughs. “Oh, Melanippe. You are wrong again. Even without my branch of the operation, business will continue. You have done nothing here today but slow the people I work for down.” She turns her other hand over and reveals a small metal ball with a red button in the center. Her thumb lays over the button and the dark-haired agent beside Beca stiffens. “I’m afraid everybody else has to die here. Blowing up the place and everyone in it was a backup plan I wasn't too thrilled about, but here we are.”

There’s a sudden string of quiet, angry Spanish from under the pickup and Amy calls out, “I would like a second opinion!”

Mel and her agents lower their guns just a fraction. “Look, just let the civilians go and we can talk,” Mel says, voice softer. She releases her gun, letting it spin on her finger as she lifts her hands to the side. “Okay? This doesn’t have to go down this way, Greta.”

Kommissar sighs and Chloe notices a flicker of movement behind her, on the road. Lilly, on all fours, slinking toward the Suburban. The other two agents slowly lower their guns to the ground and lift their hands. Aunt Dana doesn’t budge.

Kommissar turns then, gun shifting from Mel, and Chloe finds herself looking straight down the barrel. “Come now, Dana.”

Beca’s still in front of her, but where it had warmed her insides before, that thought terrifies Chloe now. She drops the hatchet she'd forgotten she was even holding and grabs Beca’s shirt, tugging her back until Beca’s back bumps her front. Chloe slides out to the side a little, enough that Beca’s no longer really blocking her. The gun shifts to follow her at the same time Beca does, but Kommissar bares her teeth. “Quit moving, Little Mouse. Dana and I both know who the better shot is.”

“Okay,” Aunt Dana suddenly says, lifting her hands. She crouches and places her gun on the ground.

“Kick them into the water,” Kommissar commands, weapon swinging back around to the agents. They comply, though Chloe hears the little blonde mutter something that sounds like, “I just got this one” before she toes her gun off the riverbank. Kommissar nods. “Now. I’m sorry it had to be this way. But I really do not like the idea of your American prisons.” She lifts the metal ball above her head.

Lilly appears atop the Suburban like magic and launches herself onto Kommissar’s back, taking her to the ground. The metal ball goes flying and Jesse leaps on top of it, almost cat-like. Kommissar screams and Lilly hisses and the gun goes off.

Mickey slams into Chloe’s side with a grunt. Beca catches her and then they’re all falling, Mickey hitting the ground and rolling a few feet away. Everything stops when Chloe sees the patch of red left in the grass where Mickey landed. “Mickey?” He doesn’t answer and it’s all too similar to those nights in the car, driving around Florida with the windows down, screaming his name. It feels like her heart’s been sucked into her head and she can feel it beating in her ears, too loud to hear anything but the fact that she can’t hear Mickey. “Bubba!”

He groans, facedown in the dirt, and Chloe scrambles to his side to turn him over, air filling her burning lungs painfully fast. Mickey’s face has bits of grass stuck to it and he spits out some more. “Ow,” he says, glancing down at the red patch spreading down his side.

Chloe yanks his shirt up and the rapid drumbeat in her ears slows drastically, because Mickey’s side is bleeding, but it looks like the bullet barely grazed him. “Jesus, Bubba. It’s okay, you’re okay. It’s just a scratch.” She tugs his shirt back down and presses it against the wound.

“I’ve got it,” Mickey insists, moving her hand to press his own there.

“No! Beca!” Jesse yells.

Chloe spins, fear gripping at her ribs all over again. Somehow, in her distraction, everyone has moved. Beca is a few feet away, scrambling to her feet. Most of the girls are on their knees or flat on the ground, Lilly is curled up in a ball beside the Suburban, Aunt Dana is knelt beside her, and the little blonde agent is supporting the dark-haired one, who looks dazed. Blood drips down her forehead.

Mel’s arms are wrapped around Kommissar’s waist, trying to keep her away from Jesse, who is backed up against the building. But Mel’s arm is dripping red and Kommissar digs her fingers viciously into the wound. Mel screams and Kommissar breaks away.

“Jess!” Beca’s voice echoes around the parking lot and she takes a few steps forward, nodding. The bat swings up over her shoulder and Chloe realizes what’s happening a split second before Jesse pitches the small, gray ball at Beca.

“No!” one of the agents yells, but it’s too late.

Beca moves, stepping into the swing like a professional, her back foot ripping grass out of the ground as she twists and brings the bat singing through the air with a powerful yank. The swing connects with a sharp crack and the device goes flying far over the parking lot and disappears into the trees across the road. Everyone goes still for a moment, Kommissar paused with hands wrapped in the front of Jesse’s shirt.

The building doesn’t blow up for a good fives seconds and the relief in the group is tangible. Beca, frozen at the end of her swing, bat hanging from her hand, slumps. Aunt Dana’s eyes slip closed and her head drops forward. There are sighs all around and someone--Jessica, Chloe thinks--whispers, “I think I peed my pants.”

Cynthia Rose leaps onto Kommissar’s back in the moment of quiet and brings her crashing down, face first into the gravel. Mel hurries to help her and Aubrey throws herself across Kommissar’s kicking legs.

A police siren sounds somewhere close by and every bit of tension slides from Chloe’s body when she sees blue and red lights racing over the hill toward them. She looks around, doing a quick headcount.

Lilly is sitting up against the Suburban now, nursing a bloody nose with Aunt Dana checking on her. Aubrey and Jesse are together, helping hold down Kommissar who is writhing and spitting in German. Cynthia Rose is sitting on Kommissar’s back, talking to Mel, who’s smirking and nodding along. Amy is standing nearby, watching Flo climb out from under the pickup. Jessica is with the little blonde agent, helping her tend to the cut on the other agent’s forehead. Stacie, Emily, and Ashley are up in the hills, safe.

Beca’s head is tilted back toward the sky, eyes closed. Deep breaths lift her chest as she taps the bat against her leg and Chloe counts with her. In for seven, out for six.

Chloe drops down into the grass beside Mickey, sucking in a shaky breath of her own. There’s laughter bubbling in her chest and she can’t bring herself to keep it down. So she laughs, a little high-pitched and hysterical. But it feels good. She’s shaking, but everything just feels good. It’s over. Her girls are alive and safe and it’s all over. Everything will go back to normal. Aubrey’s going to get married and-- Chloe opens her eyes at the thought, grinning.

Beca leans over her, face upside down, dark hair hanging around her. She tucks a strand behind her ear and smirks. “You okay, Beale?”

Chloe laughs again, because Beca is beautiful and blood-spattered and leaning casually on a baseball bat and everything is just funny and feels so right. “You’ll have to stop calling me that.”

One of Beca’s eyebrows lifts. “What? ‘Beale’?”

“Yeah.” Chloe lifts a hand and Beca lays the bat on the ground to crouch so Chloe can reach her cheek. “I think I’ll take your name.”

Beca’s eyes widen and Chloe vaguely notes Mickey’s head lifting from the ground to turn toward them. “Dude, is that-- Are you--? You don’t have to--”

“Yes, Beca Mitchell.” Chloe laughs, dropping her hands to her stomach as it flutters. “I’ll marry you.”

Chapter Text

They’re still questioning Chloe when the officer tells Beca she’s free to go, so she heads over to the pickup truck and hops up to sit on the dropped tailgate, swinging her legs and watching the bomb squad finish packing their gear. It’s been a nonstop whirlwind the last few days, but now it’s quiet. The girls are all spread out, being questioned or tended to by EMTs. The building is still being emptied of Kommissar’s men and an impressive amount of diamonds and fish. There are news crews being held at bay atop the hill, but Beca can still see camera flashes out of the corner of her eye. Man, her boss is gonna get a kick out of this one.

But even with the flashing lights and the officers and federal agents calling to each other, it is quiet. And it leaves Beca far too much time to think about Chloe’s answer.

Because she’d said yes. Oh my god, she said yes. Which, like, is totally the answer Beca wanted. But she can barely get over her own asking, because that’s insane enough. But Chloe had said yes. Lying in the grass, blood on her hands and shirt, smile wider than Beca’s ever seen it, and a bomb in the building behind them.

Which is really what’s giving Beca pause. Because what if Chloe had just said yes because they had almost died like twenty times today? She knew that wasn’t why she’d asked. She’d asked because when Stacie joked about it, it didn’t feel like a joke. It felt right. It felt good. And when Chloe had said yes, her entire insides had gone crazy, playing musical chairs all around her ribcage. So, shocking as it is, she knows she meant it. But did Chloe?

She’s spared going over the whole thing again by Agent Hollis coming over from where EMTs are tending to Mel and the dark-haired agent. “Miss Mitchell?”

“Uh, yeah?”

Agent Hollis extends a hand. “I just wanted to say good work in there. I’m sorry we didn’t arrive sooner so you didn’t have to go through that.”

Beca shrugs, shaking her hand quickly. “I mean, I can probably skip anger management for a couple classes so. That’s nice.” Agent Hollis laughs. “How’s your partner?” She points to her own forehead.

“Oh, Carm’s fine.” Agent Hollis grins. “It’ll take more than being slammed into a car door to break that hard head, let me tell ya!” She glances back and Beca catches the dark-haired agent snapping something at the EMT trying press gauze to her head, her teeth bared. Agent Hollis sucks in a quick breath. “I better go. Nice to meet you. And killer swing!”

She hurries off, but Beca isn’t alone long. Aubrey jumps up beside her, their knees bumping lightly. She doesn’t look at Beca, eyes still on Jesse, who is talking with Aunt Dana and a tall blonde in a suit, her hair in a tight bun. Beca nudges her with her knee. “Control Freak.”

Aubrey’s lips twitch up. “Bitchy.”

“Glad you made it out alive. And in one piece. I was totally expecting your finger in the mail.”

“Chloe’s right. You need to stop watching so much ID.” She takes a deep breath and lets it out through her nose. She’s tense and Beca leans back on her hands, waiting for her to continue. “They found my father, it seems. He was on his way here and they intercepted him barely minutes after I told them what I knew.”

She’d heard most of Aubrey’s statement while she was being checked over by a way too enthusiastic EMT. She nods. “Sorry, dude. Dads suck sometimes.”

Aubrey doesn’t reply, simply crosses her ankles over each other and stares down at her lap.

The silence is a little uncomfortable, so Beca casts around for something to break it. “Where’s Stacie when you actually want a good Daddy joke?”

Aubrey snorts and finally turns to look at her, smiling. “I’m not surprised the two of you are friends. You’re both inappropriate and immature.”

Beca grins. “That’s, like, a direct quote from one of my old teachers, dude.”

“Well, inappropriate and immature or not,” Aubrey pauses, chewing the inside of her cheeks for a moment. “I came over here to ask you a question.”

“Shoot.” Beca widens her eyes dramatically. “Wait, don’t shoot. I’ve had enough gun stuff today.”

“Oh my god, never mind, I’ll just--”

“No, dude, ask me.”

“No, dude, you’re being ridiculous. You don’t--”

“Aubrey, ask me the damn question, I swear--”

“Fine.” Aubrey huffs, crossing her arms. “I always said that when I got married, I would have all of my Bellas up there with me. And, after the events of the last few days, I find that when I think of the Bellas…” Beca’s too busy trying not to laugh at Aubrey’s incredibly formal speech to realize where she’s going with this. “I find you are included. In the Bellas, I mean.”

Beca blinks. “Dude, what?”

“Don’t make me repeat myself, Mitchell.” Aubrey fidgets in place, rolling her eyes. “You helped save my life, so will you walk in my damn wedding?”

She looks out over the police cars and FBI Suburbans, watching Chloe get her wrists checked out on the back of an ambulance while she chats with an officer. “Do I have to wear a dress?”

“Of course not. Cynthia Rose isn’t either.” Aubrey hesitates. “And I haven’t spoken with Jesse just yet, but I’m sure he won’t mind moving the wedding up. Without my father to wait for, there’s no reason to hold off.” Beca looks up in time to catch the soft smile that slides onto her face. “I’m ready to be married to him now. That’s all I thought about the entire time I was in there alone. That I hadn’t gotten to say ‘I do’ to him yet.”

It’s soft and sincere and makes Beca feel weird as fuck. All warm and gooey and gross. So she does what she does best. Smirks and says, “That’s gay.”

Aubrey shoves her clean off the tailgate.

She’s sitting on the ground, still laughing when Lilly and Jesse approach. Lilly trots over and rolls right into the gravel, laying her head on Beca’s ankle and dragging her fingers through the rocks beneath them. Beca tries not to move. She looks up at Jesse and Aubrey. “Should I, like, pet her? I don’t know.”

“I wouldn’t,” they say together.

Jesse smiles and drops his open hand into Aubrey’s lap. She wraps both hands around it, lifting it to her lips to kiss his knuckles. Beca goes back to watching Lilly draw designs in the gravel.

“Hey, Bec.” Jesse tears his eyes from Aubrey’s face with what looks like incredible difficulty. “Nice hit earlier. All those years of practice with me paid off, it looks like.”

She laughs. “Thanks for not actually throwing the detonator at me.” Granted, the plain, gray rock had been almost all the way to her before she’d realized what it was, but she’d been immensely relieved as she swung. Because if it had been the detonator, knowing their luck, she would have hit right on the button and blown them all sky high.

“Yeah, they took it from me when they questioned me. Which sucks. I was totally gonna put it in a shadow box on the wall or something.” He pouts a little and Aubrey wraps her arms around his, resting her chin on his shoulder.

There’s a commotion across the parking lot as a couple EMTs try to load Jesse’s dick cousin into an ambulance. The grin that spreads across Beca’s lips is probably a little feral, but she doesn’t bother hiding it as she rolls to her feet. Lilly rolls with her, like she knew exactly where they were going, and follows.

“Beca!” Jesse calls. “Wait, I was gonna ask you to walk in my wedding, since Tom’s out!”

Without stopping, she spins to face him and grimaces apologetically. “Your lady already snatched me, Snitchson. Sorry!”

Jesse gasps, too dramatic to actually be affronted, and rounds on Aubrey, who just laughs.

She hurries up to the stretcher they’ve got Tom handcuffed to. He’s sitting all the way up, head tilted forward, blood dried across his chin and chest. His face is swollen nearly twice its normal size, his lips crooked to the side. There’s a large strip of gauze wrapped around his jaw and up to the top of his head and Beca’s thrilled to find that whoever put it there has tied a large, poofy bow on top. “Oooh, that looks painful.”

“Broken jaw, we’re pretty sure,” one of the EMTs says. “We need to get him to the hospital quick. Excuse me.” He pushes past her and Beca lets him, nodding.

“Shit, Tom. But hey, don’t worry. You’re not one of those guys that needs a perfect jawline to really be happy, you know?” She pats his leg and his glare nearly burns her skin. “Trust me.”

Tom suddenly launches himself forward, growling through his bloody teeth, but the EMTs and his handcuffs keep him at bay. Beca winks and saunters away, Lilly happily skipping along behind, shooting an imaginary gun at him.

Stacie pulls up with the van a few seconds after the ambulance pulls away and she’s out of it quickly, glancing around. Beca smirks and points to one of the cop cars where Emily is nervously ringing her hands and listening to Jessica talk to an officer. Stacie nods and rushes past her to sweep Emily into her arms. Beca thinks about going over to eavesdrop or tease them, but then Chloe’s standing from the bumper of the other ambulance and heading toward her at a power walk speed.

So Beca stays where she is and lets Chloe close the distance between them. And close it she does, because Chloe doesn’t stop until they’re chest to chest and she can wrap her hands around the back of Beca’s neck.



Chloe grins, nose crinkling. “I love you.” Her grip tightens a little. “I’m in love with you, Beca Mitchell. Nothing less. And I think I have been for a while.”

All those anxiety-riddled questions from earlier that have been sitting at the base of her skull go up in flames. Chloe said yes. Chloe loves her. Chloe’s in love with her. She purses her lips to keep from grinning. “Yeah, I kinda got that.” She laughs as Chloe pulls back a hand to jab her in the ribs. “I love you too, dude.” It feels weird saying it, because it doesn’t actually feel weird at all. It’s not a phrase she uses often, about anything or anyone. “I’m in love with you.” She can feel her ears burning and it’s confirmed when Chloe reaches up to trail a finger around the shell of one of them.

“We have a lot to talk about,” she whispers and Beca nods.


“Tonight.” Chloe slips both hands back into her hair and tugs her closer. “I love you.”

Beca groans, even though her chest is filled with butterflies and her smile is sort of unstoppable. “Is this like a thing we do now?”

“I love you,” Chloe repeats against her lips.

Beca’s breath catches and she can’t bring herself to tease any longer. “I love you too, Chloe.”

Chloe kisses her, arms sliding around her shoulders to hold her tight. Beca grips at her hips, unsure the ground’s even still beneath them as they sway a little.

Fat Amy drives them all back to the Beale house at a much slower pace than she got them to the market. That might have something to do with the FBI vehicle following them with the rest of their people, but it could also be the exhaustion that seems to be setting in for everyone. Emily is fast asleep, curled into Stacie’s side as she traces absent patterns across Emily’s back. Jessica’s head is laid back on the seat and she hasn’t moved since they took off. Ashley’s slumped in the passenger seat. Beca thinks Lilly’s asleep in the seat where Cynthia Rose had been riding before, but every now and then she lifts her hands and rubs them together, so she’s not sure.

Chloe is snuggled close, breath tickling Beca’s neck as she dozes off and on, stirring occasionally to stroke her hand around the curve of Beca’s bicep or to place a soft kiss beneath her jaw. And it’s ridiculously sweet and innocent and everything Beca’s never thought of associating with. But now she just kind of wishes Amy would drive slower. For just another few minutes like this.

“You always smell like lavender,” Chloe whispers just as the Beale house comes into view.

“You smell like strawberries,” Beca whispers back. “And fish guts.”

Chloe chuckles as she turns her face into Beca’s neck, but then suddenly she sinks her teeth into the soft skin there and Beca yelps.

Stacie throws her a glare over Emily’s head.

“Dude, she bit me!”

“Well, keep your sex noises down for now, okay?”

“It hurt!”

“Sure, Jan.”

Amy parks and they clamber out, Beca dodging Chloe’s hands and laughter as she jogs for the porch steps. Before she can get past the first one, Mamma Beale comes bursting through the door and sweeps her into a hug so tight she sees stars.

“Oh my god,” Mamma Beale groans into her hair. “My babies. You’re all okay. Come here, all of you.” Beca’s left gasping for the breath that was knocked from her as Mamma Beale grabs the next nearest Bella and gives them the same treatment. When she reaches Chloe, she holds on longer, tighter. “My Chloe,” she says so reverently that Beca looks away to give them a moment.

Stacie drops an arm around her shoulders and leads her into the house. “They’re gonna be a little bit. Come on. I need food.”

“Where’s Eli?” Beca looks around. She’d expected him to at least be waiting for them. Aunt Dana had called ahead to let Mamma Beale know they were all safe and on their way.

Lew, emerging from the kitchen with Seth in tow, points to the stairs. “In his room. He’s pretty upset that you guys went to rescue Aubrey without him, I think.” With a wide grin, he crushes her to him and Beca thinks, mildly, that the Beales must be related to boa constrictors or something. Because they all hug like this.

Seth, thankfully, does not hug her, because he’s too busy greeting Stacie. Emily’s wearing an honest to god smirk and Beca coughs to hide her laughter as she heads for the stairs. There are too many people in the living room now, crowded around and hugging and talking. She thinks Eli might have the right idea.

He’s sitting at his desk when she stops in the doorway, fitting a piece into a nearly finished Lego model of a Ferris Wheel. “Hey, Slugger.”

His head pops up and his eyes widen, but he doesn’t get up. “Oh. Hey.”

“No hug?” She pushes off the threshold with a bit of difficulty. Her body is tired. He closes one eye when she lays the back of her fingers across his forehead. “You sick or something, dude?”

“No.” He waves her hand away, picking up another piece from the desktop.

“Your sister’s downstairs. Your brother too.” He just nods, so she continues. “I’m sure they wanna see you. It’s been a rough day.”

“Yeah, I heard.” He doesn’t look at her.

Beca sighs and takes a seat on the edge of his bed, stretching her legs out. She’s never been good with kids and Eli’s pretty much the opposite of her as a child. But she thinks she knows what this is. She’d treated her dad the same way when her mother first started going to the hospital and she couldn’t be there all the time like he was. “Eli. Look at me.” He does, after finishing with the piece he was working on. But his gaze flits over her shoulder nearly as soon as he does and she lifts an eyebrow, waiting for him to look at her again. “You couldn’t have done anything out there, kid.”

And she knows she was right, because his eyes immediately fill with tears that he stubbornly tries to blink away. He opens his mouth once, twice. Closes it and purses his lips, tilting his head to blink at the ceiling. Then, shaking his head, he signs, I wanted to help.

I know, she answers. “But you couldn’t have done anything there. We needed you here.” It’s an answer she always hated hearing, even though it made her feel less guilty for not spending nights at the hospital. So she’s not surprised when Eli frowns, eyes narrowing. She sighs deeply. “I wouldn’t have trusted anybody else to keep an eye on Mamma Beale. And Gran? Can you imagine if she’d been left alone, dude?” She widens her eyes and his lips twitch a little. “We wouldn’t have had a house to come back to.”

“She’s not that bad,” he insists quietly.

Beca kicks his chair lightly, spinning him. “Not with you watching her.”

He lets himself spin completely around, then catches her leg with his feet to stop himself. “She did catch the kitchen on fire one time while helping me with homework.”

Beca laughs. “What kinda homework leads to fire?”

“Math, apparently.”

She snorts and a grin spreads across his face too quick to suppress. She hops up and ruffles his hair. “Come on, Slugger. Chloe’s gonna want to glomp you.”

He groans.

Chloe does indeed glomp him. And Beca. And Aubrey. And Gran. And Seth, who hisses like a cat, but cannot resist. She only stops when she catches Beca standing off to the side, wrapped in Fat Amy’s arms and grimacing. With whatever weird Chloe magic she uses, she seems to sense that Beca is getting a little claustrophobic and sweeps in to rescue her.

“Nap!” she calls over the ruckus. “I think we all need showers and naps.”

“Good idea!” Mamma Beale calls, immediately bustling into action. All 4’11 of her starts herding girls into rooms. “Aubrey, Jesse, you can’t go back to your house just yet, can you? Not with all the fuss going on there. You take one of the rooms upstairs. Go on. I’ll get some clothes for you. Let’s go, Bellas! Dana, get dinner started!”

“What? Cory, I need to shower too--”

“Excuse me, Miss FBI agent, I thought--”

Chloe tugs Beca through the kitchen and out the back door before they can really get going. She’s giggling as they hurry across the yard, her hand still warm in Beca’s own. “Aunt Dana is totes getting grounded.”

“I think we all are, once your mom gets over her happiness that we're alive.”

Chloe lets them into the garage and hurries for the stairs, calling, “Dibs on the shower!” Beca laughs, shutting and locking the door behind them. But when she turns around, Chloe is not up the stairs, but right in Beca’s face, leaning in to place a hand on the door on either side of her. “Unless you wanna join me?”

It’s hard to look anywhere besides the teeth sunk into Chloe’s lower lip, but Beca forces her gaze up to blue eyes. “Yeaaaah, no, you still smell like fish. No sexy showers for you.”

Every shower I’m in is sexy, Mitchell.” Chloe winks and it’s sort of ridiculous that this girl looks semi-exhausted with the smudged makeup in the corners of her eyes and her hair a tangled mess on her head, and smells horrid, but she’s still the sexiest thing Beca’s ever seen. Chloe pushes off the door and Beca catches herself as her body automatically tries to follow. Instead, she stays where she is as Chloe hops up the stairs two at a time. Only once she hears the water running does she move.

There’s a bone-deep ache in her legs and she’s pretty sure she pulled a muscle with that swing earlier. It’s been many years since she even held a bat, but she’s still got it. She smirks as she toes off her boots and drops them beside the mini-fridge. Her back twinges a bit as she turns and she winces. It’s been such a long day. Has it only been a day? She pulls out her phone and checks the time. It’s barely been half a day. And she has a ton of emails and missed calls from work. Shit.

She throws the phone on the desk. It can wait until she’s napped and eaten something. It’s not like they can fire her. At least she’s pretty sure there’s a law somewhere that says they can’t fire an employee for missing work calls while they were facing off against diamond-smuggling Germans and their henchmen in a fish market. Right? ...She’ll ask Stacie later.

Her jeans are covered in dirt and blood, because she’d let Chloe wipe her hands off on them earlier. So she stays standing in the center of the room, slowly stretching out every throbbing muscle and listening to Chloe hum in the shower.

Chloe. Her girlfriend? Fiancee? Oh god, what does she call her now? They were fake girlfriends yesterday but now Chloe’s said yes so… But were they really fake? It didn’t feel like it. It hasn't since the beginning. Since the moment Chloe had the idea, it’s been so easy. So simple. So completely the same as normal, except now she’s allowed to kiss Chloe. Hold her hand. Press her against a wall and flirt with her. Right?

“You look pensive.” Chloe’s standing in the bathroom doorway, tying her wet hair up in a messy bun, and Beca realizes she’s probably been zoned out for a while. That’s the last logical thing Beca’s brain supplies, however, because Chloe is wearing only a towel and water drops. Beca forces her mouth shut, but Chloe’s already smirking as she crosses the room, hips swaying more than Beca thinks is normal. She can’t be sure because Chloe wastes no time in stepping up to her. Chest to chest. Close enough to smell strawberry and mint toothpaste.

Beca suddenly feels even dirtier than before. “Sorry. Was zoning out.”

Chloe just smiles, blue eyes trailing lazily down Beca’s face to her lips.

Beca’s ears burn and she opens her mouth to say anything except what she does say. “Are we moving too fast?”

Chloe’s gaze flickers back up and holds hers. Nothing else on her face changes and it calms the churning in Beca’s chest enough that she can speak around it.

“I mean, we were fake girlfriends yesterday. But then I asked you to marry me, which, like, I totally would be, uh. Cool...with...happening.” Chloe’s smile grows the more Beca rambles and she can feel her own lips doing the same. “But, like, we were in the middle of World War Bellas and I don’t know, maybe you weren’t thinking clearly and should take some time to think about it? Or I should change the question to, ‘Do you even wanna date me, maybe?’ or--”

Chloe captures her lips mid-sentence and everything else Beca had been ready to say melts away. Her skin is still damp--warm and soft. Something akin to lava fills the spaces between Beca’s ribs and drips down into her stomach, burning everything in its path, when Chloe catches Beca’s lower lip with her teeth and pulls a startled, barely-strangled moan from her. “Mmmm,” Chloe hums, releasing her, but not moving away. “Yes, I want to date you. Yes, I want to marry you. Yes, we’re doing this all out of order. So, listen to me, Beca.” Her words have a vague haze around them that tastes something like Chloe’s kiss, but Beca forces herself to take in every word as they’re breathed against her lips. “We’re not getting married tomorrow, okay? Just because I said yes? It doesn’t have to mean anything until we want it to. It will be our secret until we’ve done all the things we need to catch up on. Like…” She presses a firm kiss to Beca’s lips. “Our first date...” She tilts her head and this time kisses just the corner of Beca’s mouth. “Our second date…” Her stomach flips right over as Chloe leans forward and her breath fills Beca’s ear. “Our third date…” Chloe’s hand, which Beca hadn’t even noticed was moving, lands on her neck, palm flush with her skin. And then it slides down and under the collar of her shirt and Beca’s lungs completely quit working, despite her racing heart trying to keep them going. “Everything that usually happens after a third date…” Chloe’s teeth catch one of Beca’s earrings and her knees go weak. She grabs Chloe’s hips to keep from taking them both to the floor, but the towel is warm and damp too and it does nothing to distract from Chloe’s mouth.

Which is suddenly no longer near her and the towel slips from her hands as she opens her eyes, unsure when she even closed them.

Chloe is smiling so wide that it’s nearly swallowing her face. “Go take a shower, Becs. We’ve only got a little time to nap before dinner, I’m sure.” And then she pads away to find clothes, turning her back on Beca like she hadn’t just been seducing her.

Growling, Beca snatches some clothes from her drawer, ignoring Chloe’s quiet humming beside her. “It’ll have to be a cold shower,” she grumbles as she stomps past. She knows she’s only pretending to be angry because it’s making Chloe smile so widely. It’s not anger bubbling under her skin and tingling in her fingers.

“Lucky I used up all the hot water already, isn’t it?” Chloe has the audacity to wink as Beca’s slamming the door in her face. Her laugh echoes through it and Beca smiles, shaking her head.

Chapter Text

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.

A whimper.

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?”



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 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.”

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.

“No! Really?”

“Pretty sure.”


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.”

“I am.”

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.

Chapter Text

Beca wakes to shouting and feet trampling on the stairs. She opens her eyes just as Stacie leads the entire Bella army into the loft, arms up as she shimmies. “Good morning, Becs! Get up, we’re going SHOPPING!”

Beca might actually kill her. It feels like dawn and she just wants to rest a couple more days. Is that too much to ask? Chloe, taking up the rear of the parade of girls, gives her an apologetic smile and it cools the anger in Beca’s chest just a little. Not enough to completely rule out homicide though, because Stacie takes it upon herself to start digging through Beca’s clothes to find her an outfit. “I don’t want to go shopping with you, Conrad.”

“Too bad. Wedding is tomorrow and I need to get you looking razor fine. Up, up, upupupup--”

“Okay, stop pulling on m--OW, OKAY.” She lets Stacie pull her from the bed and even lets her shove her into the bathroom with an armful of clothes. Chloe’s laughter follows her in and she makes sure no one sees her smile as she slams the door shut with her foot.

When she emerges, dressed and incrementally more ready for it to be daytime, Chloe is already gone. The other girls are milling about at the top of the stairs, chatting. “Where’s Chloe?”

“Your girlfriend is off setting up for the big celebration and keeping Mamma supplied with tissues.” Stacie must notice her confusion. “Aubrey asked Mamma to give her away tomorrow. She’s been crying ever since.” She laughs. “Oh, god. We’ll have to have Eli follow her around with a mop when you and Chloe get married!”

Beca, who’s just bent over to pull her boots on, straightens so fast that she nearly knocks poor Emily down the stairs. “When-what-when we-- What?”

And just like that, Beca knows she’s screwed up. Stacie’s eyes light up and she pounces, grinning ear to ear. “Beca, is there something you’d like to share with the class?” Her voice is just low enough that the other girls don’t hear, but Beca shushes her anyways.

“Dude, shut up. No!”

“Did you actually ask her?” Stacie grabs her arms, leaning in to whisper, “I didn’t think you’d actually do it!”

“Dude.” Beca says again, glancing over Stacie’s shoulder. Emily is smiling serenely at them, hands clasped behind her back, but Amy is pushing through the crowd toward them. “I-- I will tell you everything when we get back to New York if you shut up right now. Deal?”

“Deal!” Stacie cheers. “Seal it with a kiss?” She puckers up and Beca shoves her off, growling.

“Ugh, no!”

“I didn’t say the kiss would be for you, Becs.” Stacie winks and, turning smoothly on her heel, loops her arms over Emily’s shoulders and pulls her into a searing, definitely not PG, kiss that has the Bellas hooting and cheering and leaves Emily red-faced and dazed when she pulls away. “Alright, bitches! Let’s go!”

“Nice one, Junk,” Cynthia Rose says, clapping Emily on the back as she passes. Fat Amy starts singing “Kiss the Girl” and Jessica and Ashley chime in to back her up, prompting all of them to join in.

Once the other Bellas have left, Beca finishes pulling on her boots. They’re a bunch of fucking nerds. But, okay, maybe she sort of loves them. When she looks up, Emily is still there, staring into space and grinning. “Dude. You broken?”

Emily shakes herself a little. “Hm? What?”

Beca laughs, tugging Emily’s sleeve. “Come on. You’re being too gay for even me right now.”

The front yard is, once again, full of people. This time, it’s the Trebles, cat-calling the Bellas as they pass by toward Aubrey’s car. Stacie blows Donald a kiss and he pretends to pass out, right into Benji’s arms. Lew and Dana are standing in the back of his truck, arguing over a tool bag, it looks like, while Jesse stands beside the truck, with his arms looped over the tailgate and a dopey grin on his face.

Mamma Beale is indeed teary-eyed and is fluttering about with Mrs. Swanson, directing a handful of Trebles as they carry chairs from the little shed around the corner toward the backyard. Mr. Swanson has Eli and Seth pulling what looks like party supplies from the back of his truck.

And there’s Chloe, in the middle of the yard with Aubrey, bouncing lightly on her heels like she always does when her excitement is at a level that she fears will scare those around her. Beca barely registers the grin on her own face as she takes a step to join Chloe. Maybe to kiss her. Or hold her hand. Anything she wants. Because that’s her girlfriend.

It seems Chloe has the same idea, because the second she spots Beca, she grins and hops forward to throw her arms around her neck. “Becs!”

“Chlo,” Beca laughs, gripping her hips. “Having fun?”

“So much!” Chloe sways them side to side, humming a little. “We’ve already got Stacie’s dress and invited everyone we think could make it on such short notice. Mrs. Swanson is handling catering. Aubrey and I have hammered out the procession order, I think.”

“You’ve been busy while I was sleeping.”

“I thought you deserved a little lie in.” She pauses to press a quick kiss to Beca’s lips. Then another, slightly longer. Then another.

Little shocks run down Beca’s skin, tightening her fingers until she’s got Chloe’s belt loops and she can tug slightly. Chloe lets out a soft sound, somewhere between a moan and a sigh, and Beca nearly forgets where they are.

“Good god, could you two save it for the after party?” Aubrey’s voice sounds a little too amused to actually be annoyed, but Chloe pulls away anyways, grinning.

“Sorry, Bree!” she chirps unconvincingly. Keeping one arm around Beca’s shoulders, she turns to face Aubrey and Mamma Beale, who’s just walked up with Eli.

“Okay, girls. I think we’ve got everything here under control.” Mamma Beale claps her hands together. “Gabby is just about to call around to see if we can get a DJ this late in the game.”

The idea springs to mind so quickly that she has no time to rethink it. This might have something to do with Chloe’s finger trailing distractingly up and down her neck, but Beca doesn’t focus (too much) on that as she says, “I could do it.”

Chloe gasps, stroking her hand up and down Beca’s back, proudly saying, “Oh my god, yes! Beca used to DJ before she became a producer!”

“But you’re walking in the wedding,” Aubrey reminds her with a lifted eyebrow.

“Guess I’ll just need help then.” Beca looks down at Eli and his eyes widen before she can even ask the question. “Eli? Wanna be my co-DJ?”

His gasp sounds so much like his sister’s that Beca can’t help but laugh. “Yeah! Totally! Dude, this is so cool! I gotta tell Seth!” He ducks his mother’s arm and speeds across the yard, yelling for his cousin.

Mamma Beale sighs, watching him go. “He officially loves you more than he loves us.”

Beca rolls her eyes and catches Chloe staring at her. It’s a look she knows well.

It’s the same way Chloe looks at her when she comes home later than she said she would, but bearing Chloe’s favorite bagels from that little place on the corner that never seems to close. Or when she catches Beca singing along to the radio in the kitchen. Or when Beca falls asleep on the couch and Chloe gently shakes her awake to send her to bed. It’s one of Beca’s favorite looks on Chloe and she had always thought it was too soft a look to find on a normal human. But Chloe is not normal and Beca kind of gets the look now. She smiles. “Why the face, Beale?”

Chloe’s nose scrunches up. “Maybe I just like looking at you.”

Aubrey, apparently not noticing that they are in the middle of a moment, says, “Do you have all the equipment you need, Beca?”

Breaking her gaze from Chloe’s, Beca blinks. “Uh, I just need some speakers. The bigger, the better.”

“I have some,” Jesse says, walking up. “In our attic. The big ones I used to have in my room when we were kids, remember?”

She does remember. They’d been his parents’ birthday gift to him freshman year and they’d spent many afternoons laying in front of those very speakers, jamming to whatever stupid songs Jesse thought were cool then. Mostly hip-hop songs he wasn’t fast enough to rap to, but she was. “Yeah. Old school, but I can make it work.”

“Awesome! For what?” Jesse shoves his hands in his pockets, rocking sideways into Aubrey, like a magnet let loose near metal.

“Beca’s going to DJ the wedding,” Aubrey answers him, her hand looping around his forearm.

Jesse’s eyes widen and he bounces on his toes. “Oh, man. The Beca Mitchell is doing my wedding. Man, I’m tweeting that right now!”

Beca snatches his phone the second he pulls it out. “Don’t you dare, Snitchson!”

“C’mon, Becs! I’m gonna be famous!”

“You’re gonna be dead too.” She leans back and finds Chloe there, keeping her from running. But Chloe loops her arms around and takes the phone, holding it even farther from Jesse and freeing Beca’s hands to fend him off. Chloe’s laughing in her ear and Jesse’s swatting at her hands to try and reach over her and it’s really kind of perfect.

But, as if sensing Beca’s happiness, Stacie swoops in out of nowhere to ruin it. “Beca! You’re with me and the boys today!”

“I’m what?”

“You heard me. Chop, chop! Into the Treble-mobile!”

Fat Amy’s voice rises above the chatter and the banging of folded up chairs against each other. “All wallet lesbians, please report to the red truck!”

Cynthia Rose laughs and breaks away from the group with Ashley. Stacie loops her arm through Beca’s and drags her after them, cooing, “That’s you, Becs!”

“Have fun, Becs!” Chloe calls cheerfully, waving.

“Kill me now,” Beca grumbles back, but she smiles when Chloe does.

Stacie releases her so Beca can climb into the bed of the truck--the only thing keeping her from complaining loudly about going anywhere Chloe isn’t, really. “Boys walking in the wedding! Let’s go! Pile up!”

Uni leaps the side of the truck easily and drops down next to Beca, grinning breathlessly. He runs a hand back over his huge hair. “Little Bit! Missed you!”

“Who are you again?”

He feigns being shot in the heart, groaning as the truck starts up. The other boys quickly climb into the bed, shoving each other to get comfy. Bumper tries to do a strange running horizontal leap in, but misses and ends up colliding painfully with the tailgate and what sounds like the hitch. Beca winces, watching him straighten up.

“I’m good,” he says, laughing nervously. “I meant to do that.” He clambers in, nearly stepping on her in the process, and settles between Jesse and Kolio. Cynthia Rose and Ashley hop in beside Beca and Cynthia Rose sends her a quick wink.

Jesse extends his legs and catches Beca’s foot between his as the truck ambles out of the driveway and Uni drops an arm along the side of the truck behind her head. “I’m getting married!” Jesse calls over the wind, throwing his arms in the air. The other boys cheer but Jesse doesn’t look away from her. “I’m glad you’re here, Becaw!”

Her hair whips around her face and fills her shirt and chest until she feels like she might burst. “Me too, dude.”

Stacie seems satisfied with the second shop they slip into, immediately snapping up an employee to be their personal assistant. She gives detailed instructions about color and cut and ties and the poor guy ends up ushering all of them into the dressing rooms in back, with his arms filled with outfits. Beca finds herself stuck in a tiny cubicle with Stacie as the employee brings in suit after suit. Mr. Swanson takes over keeping the boys in check and Cynthia Rose and Ashley disappear near the front of the store to look at ties or something. Somewhere along the line, Bumper and Donald are arguing over suede or crushed velvet, whatever that means.

“Okay.” Stacie hefts two hangers she snagged on their way in. “Cleavage or no cleavage?”

Beca stares at her.

“No cleavage. Got it. So put this on.” Stacie hangs the two suits--both dark blue--on the hook behind the door and digs into her purse to pull out a folded shirt. Beca’s shirt, she realizes as she shakes it out. The black one she’d brought along when she thought she was just going to be a guest at the wedding.

“Dude. Stop stealing my shit.” She tosses it on the tiny bench and whips off her t-shirt.

“I wasn’t stealing it! I was bringing it along for the very purpose of giving it back to you!” Stacie watches her slip it on and button it up. “We needed it to size you.”

“Tiny,” Uni’s voice chimes through the wall and Beca bangs it with her elbow. He laughs.

Stacie ignores them both, pulling Beca’s collar down to check the size. She sticks her head out and reports it to the bustling employee, who assures her he has something in the back. Beca grimaces. Her sizes are always in the back. Or the children’s section.

“Okay, take it back off.” Stacie snaps her fingers, wiggling them until Beca, rolling her eyes the entire time, gets the shirt off and sticks it in her hand. The employee returns with a neatly folded white button-up. Beca slips it on and lets Stacie button the cuffs. “Alright, Mitchell. Something I’ve been waiting to say for years now.” Stacie’s eyes glint and she grins. “Take your pants off for me.”

“I hate you.” Beca shoves off her jeans, glaring as best she can in just a shirt and underwear. “Quit looking at me. You have a girlfriend.”

Stacie’s grin softens and grows all at once. “Yeah. I do.” She turns away, fussing with the outfits she’d carried in with them.

“How’d that even happen?” Beca looks at herself in the mirror. The shirt fits perfectly. There must be a women’s section somewhere in this place. “You and Emily? I mean, I’ve got to ask, because I don’t know how I didn’t notice sooner. You guys are as subtle as a brick to the face.”

Stacie keeps her eyes on the suit, unfastening buttons to pull the pants from inside. “It’s hard to explain.” She turns and hands Beca the pants to slip into.

“You’re, like, Mensa level smart or something, dude. Try.”

Arms folded, Stacie leans against the wall of the cubicle, listening to the boys call to each other. “She...she’s different, I guess.”

Beca slips her thumbs in the waistband and pulls it away from her body a good six inches. Stacie scrunches her nose and shakes her head, so she slips them back off.

Stacie digs into the second suit and pulls the pants from them. “Flirting comes so naturally for me. And the vast majority of the time, I don’t actually mean it, so I don’t really think about it when I flirt with people. It’s just fun, you know? To fluster people.” She lifts one shoulder. “Everyone sees me as this sex fiend. Which, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely am.” She winks dramatically and Beca rolls her eyes so hard, she fears she may have finally gotten them stuck, like her mother had always said she would. “But the first time I flirted with her--back when she joined the Bellas--she didn't get flustered. She just got so confused. Like she couldn’t figure out why anyone would be flirting with her. Which was just insane to me, because she’s gorgeous and sweet and has this amazing voice and--” She stops and Beca thinks she might be blushing, but she turns back to the suits on the door before she can really get a look. “She’s just incredible and it confused me when she got confused by it. And I don’t know…”

Beca gives the pants a quick tug when Stacie turns back to look at her again. The bottoms bunch up on her feet and Stacie shakes her head again, so Beca strips.

“I didn’t want her to be confused by people liking her anymore, I guess.” Stacie shrugs, taking the pants and hanging them back up before passing both outfits out the door and giving quick instructions to whoever she hands them to. Once the door’s closed again, she smiles. “I just wanted her to know she was desirable. And then, suddenly, she was all I wanted.” She tucks her hands behind her back and leans against the wall, one knee bent, her heel pressing into the wallpaper.

They’re both silent for a minute, Beca turning over what she’s just learned and Stacie nodding along to the faint music playing from the speakers overhead. There’s a soft knock on the door and the employee slips a suit inside when Stacie cracks it open. Stacie quickly pulls it apart and hands her the pants. Beca steps into them. “How long?”

“Since she moved to New York a year ago.” Stacie nods in approval of the pants and Beca tucks her shirt in. “I graduated before she did and moved up. Met you. Started working at the studio. Had some fun with some interns.”

“Don’t remind me,” Beca growls, stretching her arms up to loosen the shirt’s tuck in.

“Hoped I’d forget about her.” She says it like it’s a passing comment about the weather. “We were always just friends in school, you know. But then when she moved up there and started at the studio…” Stacie shrugs, smiling. “I put on that Conrad charm and talked my way into her pants. And, boy, she’s not shy in bed anymore, let me tell you!” She winks.

Beca groans, shutting her eyes in hopes of blocking out any mental images Stacie may try to force on her. “I really wish you hadn’t. Why can’t we ever have a normal heart-to-heart? Why are you like this?”

“Because it’s part of why you love me!” Stacie passes her the vest and tie and she slips them on. She fumbles the knot and Stacie takes it from her to fix it. She throws on the jacket and does up one of the buttons, turning to the mirror.

Huh. She sort of looks good. She turns to admire the cut of the jacket and Stacie wolf-whistles.

“Girl, damn, I’ve outdone myself. Out! Show the boys!”

“Must I--ah!”

Stacie opens the door and shoves her out before she can protest anymore.

Jesse’s standing in the hallway, wearing a tux that’s just a shade lighter than Beca’s or the other boys’ suits. His jaw drops when he sees her. “Holy-- Is that little Beca Mitchell?”

Uni’s head pops out of an open dressing room and he gasps, a hand fluttering to his throat. “How dare you look better than me!” He slides out in his socks and throws himself against the opposite wall, one arm up above his head and one leg cocked up. “What do you think? Ravishing?”

Beca tries very hard to keep a straight face. “I think you’re an idiot.”

Uni spins away from the wall and right into Jesse’s arms, forcing Jesse to dip him. “You wound me, Little Bit.”

“Damn, girl, you trying to steal my spotlight?” Beca turns to find Cynthia Rose and Ashley in matching suits. Cynthia Rose is nodding appreciatively and moves in to smooth Beca’s shoulders. “Shit, we gonna upstage the newlyweds!”

“Stacie, could you help me? These pants are definitely not long enough.” Ashley glances down at her bare ankles above her socks and Stacie quickly ushers her into a dressing room, summoning the store employee with a snap of her fingers.

Mr. Swanson keeps her from going change back into her own clothes and, once Ashley and Stacie are done, has them all group up at the end of the hall, in front of the three-way mirrors. “We need a picture! Get together! Stacie, you too. You picked out the suits.”

Beca gets sandwiched between Jesse and Benji, right in the front of the picture. She protests right until Mr. Swanson lifts the camera, then carefully smooths her face into her best deadpan. But Jesse grabs her cheek at the last second and she ends up half-grinning on accident. She stomps on his foot and he yelps.

She quietly asks Mr. Swanson to send her the picture once all the others have gone to change.

The suits and Jesse’s tux all end up in giant garment bags that ride up front with Mr. Swanson--after he insists on paying for them--so Stacie joins them in the bed of the truck for the ride back.

Shopping always makes Beca sleepy and wind in her hair does the same. So she ends up napping against Uni’s shoulder for most of the trip. Only once Mr. Swanson’s bumped up into the grass outside the Beale house does she wake. She climbs out, batting away Uni’s unhelpful hands, and climbs the stairs beside Ashley.

The house is practically empty, only Gran sitting in the kitchen, strumming on a guitar that looks older than Beca. She’s singing some song that Beca doesn’t recognize and she smiles as she sees where Chloe gets her voice from. Gran throws her a wink as she passes.

The backyard is chaos. The Trebles that weren’t part of the wedding party are spread out, carrying around folding tables and chairs as Mamma Beale stands on a the back porch and directs them. Nearly fifty chairs have already been set up across the yard, in perfect rows with their backs to the garage and a wide aisle between them. Up at the front, Lew and Seth are standing atop a small, raised platform, adjusting a large, flower-covered archway. More tiki torches than she can count have been stuck in the ground in a semi-circle around what Beca assumes will be the dance floor after the ceremony, and there’s a table off by itself near the garage that Beca assumes will be her setup. Eli is busily stringing fairy lights from one torch to the other.

Mamma Beale hugs her tight, sniffling a little.

“You okay, Mamma?” Stacie asks, patting her back.

“I’m just so happy.” Mamma Beale shrugs and Beca fears she’s going to start crying again. She really cannot do crying Beales. “Go! Go find someone to help. The girls aren’t back yet.”

Beca hurries over to Eli, clapping him on the back and signing, Need help?

He grins and adjusts the bundle of lights in his arms. “Please! There’s zip ties in my pocket.” He twists so she can grab some and, together, they start untangling the lights.

“Why do y’all have so many of these?” she asks after they’re halfway across the yard.

“They were Chloe’s,” he says, dropping the bundle to try and work out a knot. “She used to have them all over her room when she lived in the house. Then she went a little crazy in the garage when she moved in there and Mamma had to make her give some up.” He straightens, yanking on the wire. “Fire hazard.”

“Sounds like Chloe,” she says, laughing.

“What sounds like me?”

Beca turns and there’s Chloe, hands in her back pockets as she strolls over. The sun is setting now, but Chloe’s smile is bright in the dimming yard. She stops once she’s pressed into Beca’s side and bends to place a soft kiss behind her ear. It sends a shiver down her spine that’s chased by the warmth of Chloe’s palm a second later. Beca struggles to remember the question.

“Burning the house down,” Eli says, bending to pull on the lights some more.

“I never!” Chloe’s palm changes direction and slides back up to rest between her shoulder blades.

Beca leans into the touch, thinking momentarily of how proud her thirteen-year-old self would be of her right now. “You set the apartment on fire our second day in it.”

“Okay, that stove was malfunctioning, I told you!” Chloe’s eyes are wide and innocent, but Beca knows better. She catches Eli’s gaze and shakes her head. He laughs, but Chloe sees the movement too and her nails dig lightly into Beca’s back. “Beca Mitchell, you know that wasn’t my fault!”

“Sure, okay, Pyro. You gonna help with these lights or not?”


“It’s okay, Beca. You don’t have to lie for her.”

“Elijah!” They laugh and Chloe pouts, but only until Beca gives her a wink and a handful of zip ties.

The term “Bellas Slumber Party” really should have scared Beca more than it did, but she finds it’s actually pretty chill once they’re all up in the loft. The girls are spread out on what looks like the haul of someone who looted a pillow store. There are air mattresses covering the floor and Cynthia Rose has dragged a large TV from somewhere inside the house to set up on the dresser. She has no idea where the loveseat beside the desk came from or who got it up here, but she’s not complaining, because Chloe had immediately claimed it for Beca and herself upon entering. So here she is, curled up in the corner with her legs across Chloe’s lap, and her laptop open on her knees.

She’s got a wedding to DJ tomorrow, after all, and she hates movies.

No one bothers her once she snaps on her headphones and Chloe’s hands are warm on her ankles. They occasionally squeeze or a thumb strokes across the top of Beca’s foot, but otherwise, she’s left to work in peace for a while. Once the girls finally get around to putting on whatever dumb musical they’ve chosen, she does catch herself watching as the group sings along to every single song.

Which is when it stops being easy to tune them out and work, because Chloe is singing along too and Beca has always loved her voice. She pauses the track that’s playing and knocks one of the cups off her ear to listen to Chloe croon whatever song the main character is singing.

She remembers the first time she ever heard Chloe sing. It was when Beca still wasn’t sure what to make of this fiery redhead that didn’t seem to notice Beca’s disinterest in making friends. It was the first coffee date that Stacie had missed and the first few minutes had been filled with awkward (on Beca’s part) conversation about their jobs and their shitty apartment situations. Chloe lived too far from work and school and Beca was still living in the ratty little place she’d found when she’d moved to New York with only a hundred dollars to her name.

They’d hit a lull in conversation and Beca was trying to think of a plausible excuse to get the hell out of there, when Chloe had started singing along to the radio in the coffee shop. “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5. In her light green scrubs and her simple, black jacket. Curls bouncing as she bobbed her head to the beat. Fingers tapping between their coffees, and--coincidentally--between where Beca’s hands rested on the table. And it had been beautiful. Her voice, her hair, her tapping fingers. All of it.

So Beca had stayed and let herself nod along with the song, allowing a small smile when Chloe noticed and grinned across the table at her.

She shifts her laptop enough that she can lean in and press her lips to Chloe’s cheek.

The Bellas keep singing, voices rising and falling together in perfect harmony, but Chloe goes silent, lips stretching into a wide smile. “What was that for?”

“Don’t know.” Beca shrugs. “Love you.”

Chloe’s shoulders curl forward, like she’s trying to wrap around the words and pull them into herself. She twists until her legs are up on the loveseat with them and drags her hands down Beca’s shins. “I love you, Bec.” Her eyes drop to the laptop. “How’s it coming? Almost done?”

And she smiles that smile Beca knows so well. That stained glass smile. So, even though she’s only got half a playlist prepared, Beca shuts her laptop and slips it and the headphones onto the desk before sliding down a little to rest her head on the pillow she’d stolen from the bed.

Chloe drops into her side happily, draping an arm over her stomach and slipping one hand under her sleep shirt to spread warm fingers along her side. She still sings along to the entire movie, but now the lyrics are pressed warm into Beca’s collarbone.

Chapter Text

It’s wedding day and Chloe is so grateful for Mamma, because she takes over everything with just a clap of her hands and an, “Okay, kiddos!”

Which leaves Chloe free to take care of Aubrey and all the Bellas. Which is a full-time job on a normal day, much less one where she has to worry about Amy sneaking off to “have a naughty” with Bumper or Lilly getting loose among the crowd of guests that have started gathering on the front lawn. She recognizes the faces--the people who showed up to help search for Aubrey.

And Aubrey is in fine form, the Bellas fluttering around her, all with their own opinions of what she should do with her hair or makeup or suggesting last minute changes to her dress. Aubrey deflects each suggestion easily and sits still as Jessica does her makeup, hiding her bruised cheek fairly easily. It’s already starting to fade anyways.

Beca, Cynthia Rose, and Ashley had disappeared into the house after the girls were done taking up all the bathrooms and half the kitchen and Chloe had barely had time to sneak a quick kiss as Beca was dragged out the door.

She pulls up her dress, hurrying back down the stairs with her car keys in hand, ready to make space for the wedding party to emerge from the garage once the music starts. The 1966 Shelby Cobra smells like it’s been recently cleaned as she slides into the driver’s seat and she’s not surprised. Mamma takes good care of all of her dad’s old things. She cranks it up and the engine turns over easy. Flo hits the button on the wall and the rolling door groans to life, sliding up. She cruises out and parks the car a little ways away, behind the red maple. A couple leaves flutter down and land on the hood as she climbs out. She sweeps them away carefully and takes a moment to remember her dad bent under the hood, laughing at whatever Aunt Dana had said or at Chloe’s grease-covered face. Carefully keeping his dirty hands to himself when Mamma came in to get a kiss. Tossing Mickey a wrench. Strapping baby Eli’s seat into the back to drive him around when he had trouble sleeping.

“You okay?”

Chloe looks up and all of that slips away as she takes in Beca in a suit for the first time.

The suit and vest are a simple dark blue, with a white shirt underneath, black Oxfords on her feet, and silver cufflinks and embroidering on the tie. And Beca wears it like she was born to--the tie just a little loose so she doesn’t have to do up the last button on the collar, the jacket closed and perfectly fitted to her slim waist. Her hair is down, the few strands that usually frame her face pulled back into a small bun. Her makeup is minimal, just dark eyeliner that makes her blue eyes--the same shade as her suit--pop. She shifts under Chloe’s gaze and lifts a hand to smooth it down her tie. Her sleeve pulls back and Chloe sees she hasn’t removed the three leather bands she usually wears around her wrist. It’s extremely attractive for some reason and she tries to catch Beca’s eye to tell her so.

But Beca’s gaze is roaming up and down Chloe’s dress, like she’s taking in every stitch and the way it sits on her body. The look is nearly tangible and Chloe suddenly feels a hundred times more beautiful than she already had in the dress, with her hair loose around her shoulders. She grins and Beca blinks rapidly, coming back to herself.

“Uh, you look.” She pauses, teeth catching the tip of her tongue for a second. “You look amazing. Like, really amazing.”

“So do you.” She feels lighter, like she could lift off from the ground if she just tried a little, and she lets that buoyancy carry her over to Beca so she can stroke her palms down the lapels of her jacket. “We match.” Maybe it’s the eyeliner, but Beca’s eyes look a little darker than normal when Chloe softly tugs at her tie.

“I think that was the idea.” Beca reaches out, fingers tickling up her sides in a pattern that reminds Chloe of Beca at the piano. “Please tell me this is coming home with us.”

Something that feels like the misty spray of a waterfall fills Chloe’s chest and she hooks her arms over Beca’s shoulders, pulling her closer. With her silver heels, Chloe’s got a good few inches on her and she’s thrilled when Beca tilts her head back just enough that Chloe can easily brush their lips together. “The dress? Of course.”

“Good,” Beca says vehemently, crooked grin growing as Chloe laughs.

“I like this side of you, Becs. It’s sexy.” She leans in to scrape her teeth over Beca’s bottom lip and Beca groans softly.

“Cool it, Beale. We’ve got hours until we can be alone.”

Chloe pulls back and cocks an eyebrow. Beca’s ears immediately go red. “You got plans for us tonight, Mitchell?”

Despite her red ears, Beca keeps calm, giving a casual shrug. “You don’t?”

Something in the rasp of her voice sinks hot claws into Chloe’s stomach and drags her forward for another, deeper kiss. Beca tastes like caramel and it reminds her of another kiss they’d shared, right here in this same spot. She breaks the kiss with a final flick of her tongue over Beca’s lip. “You know, we had our first kiss right here.”

Beca just stares at her mouth for a few seconds, as if in a trance, then glances up at the red leaves above them. “Yeah. Feels like years ago, doesn’t it?”

It kind of does. Chloe takes the opportunity to place a kiss to the underside of Beca’s jaw. “I don’t remember if I thanked you for that.” Beca’s eyes drop back to hers. “For getting me away from Tom.”

Beca’s fingers tighten slightly on her hips and the muscle in her jaw ticks once. “You never told me what happened there.”

Chloe shrugs, threading her fingers into the waves of Beca’s hair. “We were sort of busy.”

“We aren’t now.” Beca shrugs back, lifting an eyebrow. “You don’t, like, have to tell me though, dude.” Awkward Beca makes a sudden appearance and Chloe smiles.

Because here, under the red maple, with Beca’s hands flapping about like she doesn’t know what to do with them, it feels easy. So she steps back until she can lean against the bumper of the Cobra and pulls until Beca’s standing between her feet. Beca’s hands slip into her pockets in a move that shouldn’t be as attractive as it is, but Chloe leaves her hands on Beca’s jacket, fiddling with the buttons. “Tom and I dated for a few years. And for the first year or so, it was perfect. He was sweet and thoughtful. Had a good job, good grades.” She traces the seam of the jacket down to its bottom hem, catching the material between her thumb and forefinger. “But then Aubrey started voicing concerns about him. Little things he did, like calling me a bunch when I was hanging out with her or getting sort of upset if I didn’t text him when I made it back to my dorm at night. I kept brushing her off, saying he was just worried about me or missed me. And I did that for a ridiculously long time. I even believed it for a while.”

Beca shifts a little as Chloe’s fingers trails along toward her side and she pulls her hand from her pocket to let Chloe trace the lines of her palm. As if she’d known Chloe needed to feel her skin. Maybe she did.

“Then we started fighting. A lot. And he would say things like, ‘Well, if you really cared, you’d tell me where you’re going when you go out’ and ‘I’m just trying to make sure you’re okay, so you should always answer your phone’.” Beca’s middle fingers twitches and Chloe drags her finger down it until the tips touch. “I don’t know when exactly it changed, but suddenly I felt guilty if I didn’t answer him, even if I’d literally just gotten off the phone with him. I didn’t feel comfortable going to study groups or hanging out with the Trebles sometimes, because he didn’t like me around other guys. And then he started using this tone when he said certain things--like, ‘Oh, so you were at practice, okay’.” It’s a little chilling, how well she remembers the way his voice would dip in all the wrong places, but Beca’s palm is warm and Chloe focuses on that. She can feel Beca’s eyes on her, but she keeps her gaze on the silver rings around Beca’s middle finger and thumb. “I felt like I had to defend everything I did or said. Like it was my fault we weren’t what we used to be. And it just got worse and worse until he was accusing me of cheating pretty much every time I left his apartment. When I told him about class that day, he’d turn it around and make it out to be me flirting with a classmate or something. He never believed I was where I said I was. Never believed me when I said anything. Never let me do the things I wanted to do. When I told him about vet school, he laughed. Then got angry, because it wasn’t here in Georgia. He tried to talk me out of it for ages, telling me it was too far away and I wouldn’t be able to do it. That I’d quit and end up right back home. That I wasn’t smart enough for it.” Beca’s fingers twitch again. “By the time I broke up with him, I was constantly questioning myself. He never hit me, was abusive. The relationship. And I just wanted to move on and forget it. Never make that mistake again. And then I found out he’d been cheating on me for nearly a year.” She scoffs lightly, twisting Beca’s thumb ring. “I felt so stupid, like I should have known. And then I felt dumb going for the things I wanted. I felt guilty moving to New York. And when school started, and it was so hard right off the bat… It felt like he’d been right when he said those things about school. And then I started thinking of other things he’d said and it, just… It was just too much.” It’s blurry now, the memory of his furrowed brow and pursed lips.

Gently, Beca’s fingers wrap around her wrist and tap twice. Just a simple touch, but it reminds Chloe of where she is. Who she’s with. She looks up and Beca tilts her head to the side, earrings swinging lightly.

And Chloe smiles, because the memory of Beca in that coffee shop when they first met comes to her easily--vibrant and vivid and beautiful. “Then I met you. And sometime between you begrudgingly taking my phone number and you mentioning that apartment for sale, I stopped feeling guilty. Stopped worrying. And when we moved in together, you let me play my music at three a.m. and cook whatever wild dishes I found online. You let me paint our bathroom a color you hate, because it makes me happy.” She rests her thumb on the pulse in Beca’s left wrist. “You let me put stained glass in that tiny kitchen window for absolutely no reason.”

“I didn’t let you do anything, Chlo.” Beca’s voice is soft and it mingles with the rustling leaves overhead as a breeze pushes through, tugging at Chloe’s curls.

“I know,” Chloe says, smiling. “I mean...thanks for not making me feel like I need to be someone else for you to love me, I guess.”

Beca’s ears go red and her eye roll is small, but she makes sure Chloe sees it. “Well, duh, dude. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I don’t actually like anyone else, so.” She shrugs, hissing through her bared teeth as her nose scrunches up and Chloe drags her down for another kiss, laughing.

“Shut up, Mitchell. I have a list of people you like.”

Beca doesn’t argue with that, simply closing her eyes and lifting her eyebrows. Then, face going completely straight, she says, “I broke his jaw.”

Chloe snorts, reaching to hold her other hand too, which Beca easily offers. “Stacie told me. I kicked him in the crotch. Hard.”

Beca grins, thumbs swiping across Chloe’s open palms. “That’s my girl.”

The phrase lights up every nerve ending in her body and she tries not to vibrate right out of her heels. Because, god, she loves Beca. “Thanks for coming here with me.” Beca blinks, eyebrows tilting up. “It was sweet of you. Agreeing to be my fake girlfriend just because I asked.”

Beca laughs. “You mean agreeing to be your real girlfriend just because you asked.”

All the heaviness that had come with thinking of Tom slips off Chloe’s shoulders and she almost forgets it was ever there. “Just because I asked?”

“Well,” Beca squints into the distance over Chloe’s head. “There might be other reasons.”

A thrill shoots through Chloe as Beca dips down to kiss her, just like it does every time Beca initiates contact. But she can hear loud voices echoing from the back door now and she figures it’s about time to start gathering the wedding party. “We should go finish getting ready. Save me a dance later?”

“You can have all my dances, Beale.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Bec. You’ve met the Bellas.”

“Shit, you’re right. Ugh. Is it too late to get kidnapped by diamond smugglers?”


“What? Too soon?”

Most of the wedding party is gathered in the garage already when they arrive through the roll-up door. Beca glances around at the packed space and her eyes narrow as she takes a step back. “Yeah, I’m gonna go find Stacie.”

Chloe smiles and lets go of her hand so Beca can retreat quickly. The second they’d stepped in, she’d known Beca would be ready to run. So she watches Beca scurry back out, then goes to find Aubrey. She’s upstairs still, with Emily, and Chloe stops beside the taller girl, tucking her arm around her waist. “Hey, guys. We almost ready?”

“Almost.” Aubrey glances at herself once more in the mirror over the dresser and smiles. “But first, Emily was about to tell me why she didn’t tell us all about her and Stacie.”

Emily groans, blushing, and Chloe laughs, giving her hip a squeeze. “Come on, Em. You knew we were going to ask.”

“I know, but I get, like, weird? I don’t know.” She shrugs. “Like, I feel like I shouldn’t be the one to say.”

That sits strangely in Chloe’s gut and she glances at Aubrey to find her frowning too. “You mean Stacie didn’t want to tell us?” Stacie, who constantly overshares everything about her life without even blinking?

Emily smiles brightly. “She didn’t want any of you to judge me. For dating her. Because of her reputation, she said.” Before either of them can respond, Emily’s eyes widen and she quickly continues on. “Not that, like, thought you would! She didn’t either, you know! It’s just… She said it’s like when I came out to my mom. I knew my mom would be fine. I mean, her best friend in the world is gay.” She stops, mouthing wordlessly for a moment. “But there’s always that little ‘what if’ in your head, you know? So I was terrified. And Stacie said it’s like that. She knows you guys wouldn’t actually judge me, but she was still worried about it. So we agreed to not say anything until we finished moving in together.”

Aubrey, latching onto the exact wrong part of that spiel, gasps. “You’re moving in together?”

The panic that flits across Emily’s face almost makes Chloe laugh. “I-We-We’re, uh, thinking about it. Um--”

“It’s okay, Em.” Chloe squeezes her again, smiling. “And we’d never judge anyone for loving Stacie. We’d have to judge ourselves.” She reaches out and Aubrey takes her hand happily, pressing it between her palms. There’s still a little crease between Emily’s eyebrows, so Chloe gives her the brightest smile she can. Like that’s all the permission she needed, Emily lights up too, bouncing a little. “I think you guys are adorable together.”

“Yeah?” Emily asks, a little breathless. “Me too!”

“You too, what?” Stacie asks, hopping up the last stairs with Beca on her heels.

“She also thinks you two are adorable together,” Aubrey says.

“Adorable?” Stacie scoffs, taking Emily’s hand and tugging her into her arms. “We’re fucking hot, right, babe?” Emily just giggles, hiding her face in Stacie’s shoulder. And, for the first time, Chloe sees the difference in Stacie as she drops her chin against Emily’s head and smiles. Because she expects Stacie to keep going, to try and fluster Emily until the poor girl is hiding under the bed or running for the door. It’s what Stacie does. But not this time. This time, Stacie simply hums a few bars of a song that Chloe doesn’t recognize and closes her eyes when Emily hums back. And Chloe loves love, so the sight fills her to the brim with warmth. She squeezes Aubrey’s hands tighter and Aubrey blinks suspiciously quickly.

Beca pretends to gag. “Oh, god. Can we be done?” She moves forward and tucks herself under Chloe’s arm so easily that it makes Chloe’s stomach flip.

“Truly, though,” Aubrey rises to her feet, patting Chloe’s hand once before releasing it. “If you guys are all going to be wrapped up in your loved ones, then I want mine. I haven’t seen Jesse since yesterday!”

“Lucky you,” Beca huffs. “He’s out there shaking like a kid on a sugar high and talking way too loudly for normal human conversation.”

Chloe can easily picture it. He used to do that before big competitions. She grins at Aubrey and knows she’s thinking the same thing, because her eyes are focused beyond Beca now and her smile is so soft. “Come on, Bree. Let’s get you married.”

Aubrey nods and pulls herself up to her full height. The General’s daughter, Chloe thinks.

They line up in the garage and Chloe takes her place at the back beside Benji. Beca and Uni are in front of her and Uni is swaying side to side, singing along to whatever song is blaring from Beca’s setup outside. Beca stays limp, letting him pull her back and forth. Chloe giggles, reaching out to smooth a hand down Beca’s back. Just because she can.

“Alright!” Mamma says, appearing in the doorway. “Are we ready?” She catches Chloe’s eye at the end of the line and Chloe nods.

“Beca?” she says.

Beca nods and extricates herself from Uni to move to the side door and stick her head out. She gives a short whistle and the music slowly fades out. She moves back into her place and Mamma passes them all by, holding the hem of her dress carefully off the ground. She pauses beside Chloe and rests a hand on her cheek. Chloe leans into the warmth, smiling. “My Chloe,” Mamma whispers, patting once. Then she moves aside and reaches for Aubrey, who’s standing at the base of the stairs, taking her hand.

And Aubrey looks so happy, so content. Unlike the tightly-wound girl Chloe had met freshman year or the stressed captain of the Bellas that first year they took over. It makes Chloe want to hug her, but the wedding march begins and she saves the impulse for later.

Lilly, with her little basket of rose petals, goes first. Just as she steps out of the shadow of the roll-up door, Chloe catches her sticking one of the petals in her mouth.

It flows easily from there. Cynthia Rose and Jessica, bearing the rings. Mr. Swanson and Emily, towering over the rest of the group together. Bumper and Amy. Kolio and Flo. Donald and Stacie.

As Uni and Beca step out, she glances back and catches Chloe’s eye, smiling. Chloe feels a little bad rushing Benji forward after that, but she wants to watch Beca walk down the aisle. Aunt Dana and Mel, of all people, are standing at the corner of the garage, directing the wedding party on when to walk. As they pass, Mel smiles an honest-to-god smile and Chloe returns it, surprised. Eli, wearing his nicest Easter suit, is standing behind a table filled with Beca’s equipment, a pair of her headphones around his neck. They look even bigger on him than they do on her. His hands are resting on the dials in front of him and he smiles, all teeth, when she looks at him.

Ashley and Jesse are standing under the white and blue-flowered archway up ahead, both with their hands folded neatly in front of them. Jessica stands behind Ashley, holding a tiny blue pillow with the rings resting on it. And Jesse is indeed bouncing in place, smiling the way he always does when Aubrey’s involved, like no moment can be better than the one he’s in.

But it’s Beca that Chloe’s eyes go to. Standing off to the side, hands tucked in her pockets, slight smirk on her lips. And her gaze set steadily on Chloe. For a brief moment, Chloe lets herself imagine what it would be like, making this walk to meet Beca under the archway. The image swells in her chest and she takes a deep breath around it, smiling. As if she knows exactly what Chloe’s thinking, Beca lifts one eyebrow and her lips twitch up in the corner.

Seth appears behind Beca, camera raised to his face as he snaps pictures of the crowd, the wedding party, Chloe and Benji. In his pressed button-up and slacks, he looks so much like the old photos Mamma has of Uncle Lew. He hops down off the platform as she passes, winking and snapping more pictures.

Benji lets go of her arm and she takes her place beside Beca, just off the side of the platform. Shifting the tiny bouquet into her right hand, she reaches for Beca’s hand with her other and finds it waiting. She laces their fingers and squeezes, trying to convey the incredible happiness bubbling in her chest. Beca squeezes back and Chloe thinks she gets it.

Aunt Dana and Mel appear at the end of the aisle, signalling everyone to stand and Chloe catches Beca gesturing to Eli. He nods and the music fades out, then begins again, but it’s subtly different this time. Then soft bass and the tinkling of a kalimba joins the beat of the traditional wedding march for a few seconds, then slows down, and Chloe rounds on Beca as she realizes the whole thing has been mixed to sound like “Can’t Help Falling In Love”.

Beca just shrugs. “Aubrey mentioned she kinda thought the original wedding march was cliche.”

Mamma pats Aubrey’s hand as they make their way down the aisle, smiling and nodding at those they pass, tears running down her cheeks that she does nothing to stop. But Aubrey, like Chloe, keeps her eyes set on the archway up ahead. She looks radiant and Chloe’s eyes fill with tears. She blinks through them, not wanting to miss a moment of Aubrey’s walk. But then there’s a sniff to her right and she glances over to find Jesse’s cheeks wet as tears run into his smile.

Mamma stops just before the platform and hugs Aubrey tight, stroking her back. “My Aubrey,” she says, just loud enough for Chloe to hear, before releasing her, moving to place a kiss on Chloe’s cheek, and taking her seat at the front. Everyone else sits too and Aubrey takes a deep breath, her eyes shimmering as she steps up. Everything inside Chloe feels so warm as Aubrey turns and hands her the bouquet. Her fingers brush Chloe’s and she holds on for just a moment. Just long enough for Chloe to smile and nod.

Aubrey lets her go and turns to take Jesse’s hands. He sniffs again and she laughs, pulling him a step closer.

Beca’s hand twitches in Chloe’s and the music fades to silence.

Ashley takes a deep breath. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join these two in aca-matrimony!” There’s a burst of laughter from both sides and Ashley grins, a sparkle in her eye as she glances behind her at Jessica. “Jesse and Aubrey would like to thank you all for coming. Now, before we begin, if anyone has any reason these two should not be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

Chloe jumps as all of the Bellas behind her and the Trebles across from them all start calling out, perfectly in sync. Of course they’d planned something like this. She knew better than to leave them alone earlier.

“She should be marrying me!” Donald calls, grinning.

“HE should be marrying me!” Uni winks with a shimmy.

“Run while you can, Captain!” Amy bellows.

“Jesse screech sings, dude, don’t do it!” Beca adds and Jesse playfully glares at her as Aubrey laughs and waves them all to be quiet. Chloe turns and tugs Beca’s hand, trying to keep her face straight. But Beca’s grinning and it’s always impossible not to grin back.

Ashley raises her hands and the hubbub dies down. “You’re all overruled.” Aubrey’s laugh carries over the crowd. Ashley draws herself up taller and Chloe feels suddenly so proud of her. “I once heard someone say that marriage is like a song.”

Something thrums in Chloe’s chest and Beca takes her hand back, only to drop her chin lightly onto Chloe’s shoulder instead. Chloe tips her head against Beca’s.

“It only works if those involved know how to harmonize. And these two seem to have an advantage when it comes to that.” There’s a chuckle from the crowd and Amy whoops. Ashley grins. “These two came with their own, separate beats and rhythms and found a whole new sound together. They learned to adapt, to work as a team, to match pitch so seamlessly that none of us even remember a time when they weren’t a single song.”

Chloe tries very hard to keep her tears quiet, letting out a slow, rattling breath. Beca’s chin presses a little harder into her shoulder and her chest is warm against Chloe’s back.

“It’s a song we’ve all listened to for years.” She spreads her arms to indicate the Bellas, Trebles, and guests. “They say you are what you listen to. And, if that’s true, then all of us gathered here are sweet, resounding, pitch perfect love.”

Jesse reaches up and wipes the tears from Aubrey’s cheeks with gentle thumbs, laughing. She wraps her fingers into the front of his jacket.

“For that,” Ashley continues, smiling. “We’d all like to thank you, Jesse and Aubrey.” She turns and motions Jessica forward. “Please join hands.”

Beca’s palm suddenly presses warm against Chloe’s stomach and she drops her own hand to cover it, twisting Beca’s thumb ring once.

“Jesse, repeat after me.”

As he does, Beca turns her head just enough that her lips brush Chloe’s ear. “I love you.”

Chloe squeezes her hand, watching Jesse recite his vows as Aubrey grins wider than Chloe’s ever seen her do. Ashley turns to Aubrey and Chloe leans farther back into Beca and lets the gentle cadence of Aubrey’s vows sink into the glowing warmth that sits just beneath their joined hands on her stomach.

Once the rings are exchanged, Ashley and Jessica step back. Ashley lifts her hands. “And so, by the power vested in me by” Chloe’s snorts, lifting the bouquets in her hand to hide her face. Beca chuckles in her ear. “I now pronounce you married! You may kiss the groom!”

Jesse laughs as Aubrey does just that, launching herself into his arms to press her lips to his.

Beca releases her to clap along with the crowd, letting out a high-pitched whistle. Chloe glances back and finds practically all of the Bellas wiping tears from their eyes between applause and cheering. A mouthful of flower petals puffs from Lilly’s lips and Chloe laughs, lifting her voice to join in with the screaming as Aubrey and Jesse finally break apart.

Aubrey releases him to throw her arms around Chloe instead and Chloe hugs her tight, pressing her smile into her best friend’s shoulder.

The reception has been going for hours now and Chloe’s feet are killing her. She’s danced with nearly everyone in attendance, including Agent Hollis, who she’s exchanged numbers with and is pretty sure they’re going to be good friends now. Chloe likes her energy.

She does not like her heels anymore, so she kicks them off under one of the picnic tables and curls her toes into the grass as she watches Cynthia Rose and Mel dance close together in the corner.

Stacie drops down to sit next to her, kicking off her own heels and sprawling out her long legs. “I am exhausted. Physically and emotionally. I think I’ve cried more today than I have in over a year.”

“Tell me about it. Waterproof mascara was invented by a goddess.” Chloe twists one leg up onto the picnic bench to look out over the rest of the party. She stops when she sees Beca behind the DJ table with Eli and a pretty girl his age, who must be Sarah, his crush. Beca and the girl are speaking in rapid sign language and Eli is looking back and forth between them with a wild grin. She taps Eli’s shoulder with her fist and motions him toward one of the speakers set up beside the table. Eli leads Sarah over to it and both of them place their hands on the speaker front as Beca flawlessly fades the song playing into one with a harder bassline. Eli and Sarah nod along to the beat, laughing together. That warm feeling that’s been dancing between Chloe’s ribs all day long suddenly feels like it’s pulsing to the beat and she finds herself standing before she really registers moving. “Hey, Stacie, can you look after Beca’s equipment tonight?”

And Stacie, being who she is, immediately lights up. “Oh, I absolutely can, Red. Go get you some, girl.” She winks and smacks Chloe’s butt as she passes.

Chloe laughs in response, but doesn’t take her eyes off Beca until she’s standing right beside her and Beca is blinking up at her, lifting an eyebrow. “Can I help you, Beale?”

“Yeah, I think you can,” Chloe practically purrs and Beca’s jaw drops. Chloe takes advantage of her moment of shock and slips her hand inside Beca’s unbuttoned jacket, gliding her fingers along her side. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Dude,” Beca says weakly. But then Stacie comes around the other side of the table and hip checks Beca aside, into Chloe’s arms.

“Move it, tiny. I’m gonna DJ this bitch!”

Beca looks like she wants to sass Stacie back, but Chloe dips down and catches Beca’s earlobe between her teeth and Beca just ends up letting out an embarrassingly loud gasp. Well, embarrassing for her. Chloe is pretty proud of it.

It’s easy then to pull Beca over to the garage door and inside. She shuts and locks it and presses the button on the wall to shut the roll-up door. The garage is dark, just the lights from the torches and fairy lights outside coming through the porthole window up in the loft, and Chloe leads Beca upstairs.

Suddenly, alone and unable to really see Beca’s face well enough to read it, Chloe feels a flutter of nerves. But Beca, like she knows, brushes them away with a simple, “Is this you coming to claim your dance?”

Just as she finishes speaking, the music thrumming through the walls changes into the first few beats of “Singularity” by BTS. Beca closes her eyes and Chloe can practically hear her making a mental note to kill Stacie later.

Chloe makes one to thank her as she starts to dance, just far enough to not touch Beca. Letting Beca come to her.

She’s always suspected Beca was secretly a great dancer when she wasn’t being forced to. It’s confirmed the second Beca’s hips hit the beat and her arms come up into the air between them. And they sway, perfectly in sync. And even in the dark, Chloe can see Beca watching her.

But somewhere between the bass and the reverb of one verse and the piano and breathy lyrics of another, that space disappears and Beca settles against her.

Chloe doesn’t understand the words or how easy it is to drop her head into the dip of Beca’s shoulder as they move together. Beca’s hair tickles her face where it’s fallen from her small bun and her skin burns against Chloe’s, fingerprints of fire trailing from her wrist to her elbow, then up to her throat. She presses so close that Chloe can only feel her--a warm palm on the back of her neck, breath against her cheek, fingers wrapped around her hip. She smells like caramel and strawberries.

Chloe presses her fingers into the small of Beca’s back, pulling her closer. Their cheeks slide along each other in the dark, Beca’s breath hot in her ear and Chloe closes her eyes, following Beca’s body as it curves and dips and winds to the beat. Her touch is soft as she pulls her hand from Chloe’s hip to wrap it around her wrist and trace the vein down into her palm with her thumb.

It’s hard to tell which of them shivers and Chloe tucks her nose under Beca’s ear, breathing deep.

Her fingers leave Chloe’s arm and slide up her side, tinkling over the lines of her ribs. It feels too hot, suddenly, like they’re packed between other rolling bodies on a dance floor somewhere, but Chloe can’t bring herself to pull away. She buries her hands in Beca’s hair, pulling even more from her bun, and pulls her forward until their noses brush.

But she stops there and Beca doesn’t push. So they just keep dancing, lips almost touching, Beca’s hand warm on her ribs and her body hot in the bridesmaid dress. Beca burns where she touches, trailing fire down her spine and into the dips of her hips. It's hard to breathe when all Chloe gets are the quick puffs of air Beca gives her, but Chloe just drops them a little lower into the beat. Beca’s hips grind into hers and she feels the little sound she makes more than she hears it. It rumbles in her chest and up past her lips, onto Chloe’s. Soft, slow, heated.

Chloe leans back a little, gasping in a breath, and a thrill shoots down her spine as Beca sways into her, off balance for a moment. She's not the only one. It takes a few stumbling steps to remember how to plant her feet to keep dancing, but the song has ended and a slower one is starting.

Beca doesn’t give her time to catch her breath. She kisses her and Chloe forgets dancing in favor of following those lips back toward the bed. She seizes the lapels of Beca’s jacket and shoves it off her shoulders, letting it go the second she feels it go loose and it flutters to the floor as they step over it. Her vest joins it quickly. Beca’s fingers tug lightly at the zipper of her dress. A request. Chloe answers with a desperate nod and grasping fingers yanking Beca’s shirt free of her pants. She reaches up with shaking hands and pulls Beca's tie apart, whipping it out to the side. She's pretty sure it goes over the railing, but she doesn't look--distracted as Beca draws the zipper down and Chloe shrugs out of the dress, pushing back until Beca’s knees hit the edge of the bed. She drops and Chloe follows her down, landing on her elbows and Beca’s heaving chest. But before her weight’s even fully settled, Beca’s twisting and pulling Chloe so softly it almost feels like her own idea to roll them over. And then Beca’s on her, straddling her hips.

She sits up, slow, but pulls her shirt off fast, not bothering with the buttons--one hand fisted at the back of her collar and a tug and Beca’s shirtless above her, just a simple black bra and the few inked vines that sneak over her shoulder. The light is brighter here on the bed and Chloe takes a moment to stare as Beca throws the shirt aside. But then Beca comes back to her, lips first, her body settling against Chloe like coals settling in a fire. It’s slow, the burning of her lips down Chloe’s neck and chest. And, god, Chloe wants her. Wants her hands and the soft sounds she makes when Chloe pulls at her and her kiss. Just wants something, anything. But the more she squirms, the slower Beca drags kisses across her skin. And when she makes her way back up to Chloe’s lips, she presses a single word against them. “Chloe.”

Her stomach flutters like she’s just hit the drop of a roller coaster and then Beca says it again and it’s nothing but her name but it somehow sounds like pulsing red and purple lights and strumming guitars. And Chloe wants to kiss her, but she wants to hear her say it more, so instead she kisses Beca’s shoulder, following it down to her bra strap. She hooks her fingers in it, pulling it down, and Beca breathes into her ear. Not quite a sigh, not quite a moan. But not yet her name again either. So Chloe lifts her hips into her, dipping her tongue along her collarbone.

Beca’s hair tangles around her fingers and she moves back against Chloe, bare skin sparking along bare skin. Her hands dance up Chloe’s bare ribs and Chloe drags her teeth across the spot where Beca’s shoulder and neck meet, finally getting what she wants.


Chloe twists her arm between them, pushing her nails down Beca’s stomach, feeling the muscle ripple until she hits the cold, metal belt buckle. She barely gets one finger behind it before Beca presses down into her, splaying her hand against her own stomach.

“Chloe,” she says again, but this time it rumbles in her chest and Chloe feels it in every inch of Beca pressed against her. Beca’s hands slip from her ribs and she moves just enough to grab Chloe’s, pulling it up and away, pressing it lightly into the sheets. Just her thumb stays hooked over Chloe’s wrist, not really holding her in place. She pulls the other hand up to join it, holding it just as loosely.

Then she shifts, her knee sliding along Chloe’s just hard enough to move it aside. And it’s been a long time since Chloe’s been this close to anyone, since she’s wanted to be. She remembers those times rarely--the push and pull of rough, desperate hands. The touching for the sake of getting it over with. And it’s almost the same--the steps, the dance--but this, Beca, is so new. It’s strange, the way every kiss feels like a different one, every panted breath doesn’t feel like a ticking clock, rushing them toward the end.

And when Beca finally touches her, it’s with the soft skin of her stomach, dragging up between Chloe’s legs. The trembling air in her lungs goes still and that smoldering ember beneath her ribs leaps to fire in an instant.

Beca pulls back and the cold air pushes against Chloe’s thighs and she whines, actually whines. A sound she doesn’t think she’s ever made before and probably never will again, because Beca comes right back and when she rocks against her the next time, their bodies stay touching. Like she knows.

It’s almost too much and suddenly Chloe needs to touch as much as she needs to be touched, so she hooks her fingers into the base of Beca’s shoulder blade and pulls, tumbling her over. And Chloe moves over her, slotting into the bends of her body the way she thinks she might have always wanted to, and presses their lips together. Beca groans, nipping at her lip as Chloe retreats to trail kisses down her chest instead. She reaches the front clasp of Beca’s bra and turns her head to sink her teeth into fabric and soft flesh, tugging lightly. Beca groans again, arching up beneath her.

The sound sears itself into Chloe’s memory as she twists her head, feeling the tiny metal hooks give way under her teeth. She lifts her head and the bra falls open. For a moment, the burning haze lifts from her brain just enough for her to track her eyes across Beca’s bared chest and up to her wide eyes. Because her face and chest are tinted red and she looks utterly shocked. It’s adorable and sexy as hell at the same time.

“Did you just fucking do that with your teeth?” she rasps, voice almost hoarse.

Chloe grins, shrugging. “I just wanted to see if I could.”

“Oh my god, I’m all hot and bothered here and you’re just testing out moves on me? Wow, dude, I just remembered I hate you and I need to g--”

Chloe dips down quickly, before she can finish her thought, and drags her tongue over straining flesh. Beca gasps--a loud and so completely un-Beca-like sound. And Chloe’s not sure when Beca removed her shoes and socks, but she feels Beca’s toes curl against the backs of her calves and grins, lifting her head just enough that she knows Beca can still feel the words against her wet skin. “You hate me, Mitchell?”

“Shut up,” Beca says and Chloe laughs.

It happens so fast, she misses most of how she ends up on her back, her bra loose and slipping down her arms, then off. And now it’s Beca’s mouth on her chest as her entire body rolls down into Chloe’s and she moans. Beca’s tongue swirls across her skin, burning a path from one breast to the other. Her hand slides down Chloe’s arm, thumb slipping through and off the crease of her elbow--a place that Chloe did not know was a hot spot until tonight. Then the touch is back, tracking down her side and slipping between them.

If she’d been asked before this, she may have guessed that Beca would be adorably awkward in bed, just like she is in every other aspect of her life. Everyday Beca. But it’s not everyday Beca above her. It’s Beca at a mixing board, agile fingers moving exactly where she wants them, past pushed aside lace, and pulling sounds from Chloe that she had forgotten she could make. The sheets twist as Chloe grips them. And as much as she’d wanted Beca to speed up before, she suddenly wants her to slow down, to not stop. Chloe lifts her head and her knees, pressing kisses to Beca’s ear, temple, neck--whatever she can reach.

“Bec, don’t stop. Please.”

It seems she’s found another way to make Beca make noise, because she immediately groans into Chloe’s collarbone, her shoulders pulling up as she rocks against her, and her breath picks up. Her other hand drops to the bed and she pushes herself up, still rolling against Chloe with every movement of her fingers. Her eyes drag down Chloe’s body, almost as tangible as her tongue had been.

Chloe’s never been shy about her body. So she lets Beca look and finds it’s nearly as much of a turn on as Beca’s teeth and tongue on her skin. Those dark blue eyes trailing lazily over her heaving chest, down her stomach, to the sheets fisted in her hands. Chloe grips them tighter, shaking a little. If this were anyone else, she might be a little embarrassed by how quickly her body is giving in to such a simple touch and gaze, but it’s Beca. Beca, who used to shy from all contact. Now above her in nothing but a pair of slacks and a crooked grin.

“Chloe,” Beca says and she sucks in a sharp breath, hips twisting a little. Because Beca’s voice might just be the sexiest part of her. Beca opens her mouth, like she wants to say more, but then shakes her head once and bends to press her lips to Chloe’s, their skin burning where it meets.

When her hand slips away, Chloe kisses her harder, moaning into her mouth to draw her back. But wet fingers hook into her underwear and pull them down. Beca sits back, lifting Chloe’s legs so she can pull them off. And then her hands start at Chloe’s ankles, moving agonizingly slow, dipping around her calves, up over her knees, along the tops of her thighs, then the insides.

It’s so easy to let Beca touch her. To let Beca guide her legs apart, let her soft fingers hook beneath one of Chloe’s knees as she slides down onto her stomach. Blood pounds in her ears, keeping rhythm with their panting breaths, and god, she just wants.

Beca’s mouth presses warm against her and Chloe finally moves her hands, reaching down to tangle them in dark hair and pull her closer. Beca moans, like she’s the one being touched, like she’s enjoying this as much as Chloe’s trembling legs and heaving lungs are. She wraps her arms around Chloe’s thighs and one palm runs up her stomach, leaving a flare of heat so intense that Chloe instinctively snatches her hand, intertwining their fingers and hanging on.

And when the burning beat between her legs becomes a rapid pulsing and Beca’s name slips from her lips, high and keening, and her body tightens to its breaking point, it’s their hands that Chloe notices. Their linked fingers and the way Beca’s thumb swipes soft across her palm as Chloe comes apart under her.

Chapter Text

Being a part of a family is strangely easy to get used to.

She supposes she’s been practicing for a while. With Chloe and Stacie and Emily. But now she seems to be more popular than she’s ever been in her life and she doesn’t really mind either. They’re all dorks, but she guesses they’re her dorks now.

Uni and Jessie call sometimes, rambling or singing to her until she hangs up on them. It never discourages them though. She spends lunch breaks on the phone with Jessica, talking about her students and how they were singing Marc’s new single--Beca’s latest release--in the hallways. She Skypes with Flo and learns new things every time, like how to say, “Help, I’ve been kidnapped” in Spanish and how to quickly put out grease fires. Amy calls nearly every day, usually with some completely wild stories that Beca can barely keep up with. She only believes, like, ten percent of them, but she enjoys it anyways. Ashley sends her pictures of the dog her firehouse just got as their mascot. Cynthia Rose sends her music she’s never heard before and it’s become something of a competition--who can introduce who to the best new music. Lilly sends her Snapchats sporadically and she’s never quite sure what they are. She thinks one is from the inside of a storm drain, but she’s too scared to ask.

Emily, it turns out, is who she spends a good deal of her time with most days, now that she’s stolen her from whatever other producer Residual Heat had put her with originally. They’d spent the flight home from Georgia chatting about music and she had convinced Emily to let her read some of her songs. She’d been on the phone with her boss the second the plane touched down. Emily’s first single is nearly done now and both of them are pretty psyched, although Beca pretends to be totally chill about it. But Stacie does catch her indulging in a spontaneous dance break to it one night in the studio and she knows the exact instant Stacie tells Emily, because Emily sends her a string of emojis that include three crying faces and no less than seventy-two hearts.

Stacie passes her finals with flying colors and they still meet once a week for coffee. And she drops wedding ideas at least seven times a week, making Beca regret keeping her promise to tell her everything. But that changes pretty quickly, because she finds an engagement ring in one of Emily’s boxes while they’re moving her into Stacie’s apartment. So Beca takes it upon herself to start writing down the wedding ideas that Stacie pitches to her that she says she would love for her own wedding. She finds it’s a little thrilling to know something that genius Stacie Conrad doesn’t.

The first time Aubrey calls her, she thinks maybe she couldn't get hold of Chloe and is reaching out to Beca to find her. But, instead, they spend a good hour before Chloe gets home from work just talking about the honeymoon Aubrey’s just returned from and about Jesse nearly getting eaten by a shark.

Eli and Mamma call her sometimes too. Just to say hi or check up on her. They send a video for her birthday of them, Gran, Dana, Lew, and Seth. All singing over a small cake that Gran assures her she’s going to eat all by herself, in Beca’s honor.

It’s all so different from the life Beca’s come to know. But she’s happy to note that the more things change, the more they stay the same too.


The front door slams and Beca smiles, tapping the phone on her chest. “Hey, Jess, I gotta go. Chloe’s home.”

“Oooh, the girlfriend returns,” Jessie’s voice coos. “You guys are totally gross.”

Beca can hear Chloe speaking quietly as she passes Beca’s old room. “You’re gross. Talk to you later.”

“Bye, Becaw!” He hangs up and Beca tucks her hands back behind her head, fluffing Chloe’s favorite yellow pillow up a little so she can see their bedroom door.

It opens and Chloe bounces through, happily swinging off her jacket and dropping it over the desk chair. It should be illegal how good she makes those ugly green scrubs look. She grins when she spots Beca and switches her phone to her other ear so she can take Beca’s hand. “Hey, Bree, I’m home. I gotta go.”

“Tell her I said hi,” Beca says.

“Becs says hi. Yep. Bree said hi,” Chloe tells her, knocking their joined hands against her thigh. Beca untangles their fingers to hook a thumb in the waistband of Chloe’s pants and tug gently. Chloe swats playfully at her. “Okay! Yeah, I’ll call you in the morning.” Beca tugs harder and Chloe giggles. “Okay, I really have to go. Beca’s being cute and needy.”

“Shut the hell up, I am not.”

“You are too.” Chloe hangs up and launches herself into the bed to press kisses up Beca’s neck and across her face.

“Oh, Jesus,” Beca protests, just because it’s what she does, squeezing her eyes shut and hunching her shoulders. “What did I do?”

“Nothing. I just missed you.” Chloe pecks her lips. She picks up Beca’s phone and her own, moving them to the nightstand. “Were you talking to someone when I came in?”

Beca tucks a curl behind Chloe’s ear, smiling when she leans into the touch. “Yeah, Jessie.” Chloe nuzzles her palm. “He said he’s sending up all those souvenirs he got us on the honeymoon with Amy next week.”

“I’m glad she’s coming visit. Cynthia Rose too. I miss them. And all my girls.”

She sucks in a breath through her teeth. “Well, I hate to tell you this, Chlo, but I don’t think CR’s coming to visit us so much as to visit Mel.” She’d been a little surprised to learn that Cynthia Rose and Mel were trying to make it work and even more surprised when she heard Mel had gotten a job teaching FBI crash courses in New York for a few months. They’d hung out a few times and Beca still had the distinct impression that Mel thought they were all morons, but maybe that was just her way of showing affection. Beca could relate to that.

Chloe hums against her collarbone, shrugging.

Beca tilts her head back to give her better access. “We got a package this morning from Flo that just says, ‘If I get deported’ on the box, and Lilly sent me a picture of her nostrils this morning. That’s it. Just her nostrils. I had no idea what I was looking at for a while.”

“Awww, she likes you so much.”

Beca rolls her eyes. “You guys are so weird.”

“Thanks!” Chloe grins, like it’s the best compliment she’s ever received and Beca snorts.

“How was school, nerd?”

“Ugh,” Chloe huffs. “I have an exam the day after tomorrow that I forgot about. So I should really start studying.” She gazes across their room at the stack of textbooks beside Beca’s laptop. “Or... I could cuddle and make out with my girlfriend… Whoop, decision made.” She rolls fully against Beca then, giggling as Beca gives an exaggerated grunt of pain.

“I feel like a bad influence, but…” Beca doesn’t resist the kiss Chloe presses to her lips.

“Wait!” Chloe stops and Beca groans. She loves her, but sometimes Chloe has the attention span of a goldfish. Chloe laughs. “I meant to tell you. Mamma called earlier.” She flicks her head to toss her hair over her shoulder and props her chin up on Beca’s chest. “She said Mickey’s doing great and he’s completely clean.”

She can tell Chloe’s trying not to be too excited about that yet, but she glows with pride every time she mentions Mickey these days and even more so when he calls. So she smiles and nods. “Good. He’s got this.”

Chloe smiles back. “Mamma was taking Eli and Sarah to the movies, but she wanted to say hi and update me.”

“Whoa, sounds like they’re getting serious,” Beca jokes, focusing more on Chloe’s fingertips as they dance across her stomach, following a beat that Beca’s starting to know well.

With a distracted hum, Chloe says. “I should start learning sign language. For the next time we visit.” She leans back to watch her own fingers as they push up under Beca’s shirt, warm palm sliding over her stomach.

Beca tilts her head to catch Chloe’s eye, cocking one eyebrow. “I could teach you.”

“Oh, really?” She nods and Chloe smiles that smile that Beca’s coming to know just as well as her stained glass smile. The one that means Beca’s absolutely not getting any work done tonight. “Well then.” Chloe sits up fully and throws a leg over Beca’s hips, settling comfortably. Beca’s hands fall to her thighs. “How do you say ‘I’ve been thinking about you naked all day’?”

Beca hums as Chloe lowers herself until they’re flush against each other and she can taste her own caramel candies on Chloe’s lips. “Would you like me to show you with my hands or--” She glides her fingers up Chloe’s thighs. “Show you with my hands?”

Chloe giggles, catching Beca’s lip between her teeth. Familiar flames flicker to life under Beca’s skin and she strains up for another kiss.

But then Chloe pops up with a gasp and a whirl of red curls. “Oh my god, I totes forgot! Where’s your Letterman, Mitchell?”

Beca drops back into the pillows with a heavy sigh. “Why are you like this?”

“Beca! Where is it?” Chloe’s blue eyes are gleaming and she wiggles in place, rocking Beca back and forth.

“I don’t know. I probably didn’t bring it when I left home.” It’s a lie and Chloe spots it immediately, eyes narrowing.

“That means it’s definitely here.” Chloe hops off of her and rolls to her feet. She’s out of the room before Beca can do more than sit up. “Hall closet?”


She hears the door open and rustling, the sound of boxes being shifted around. “That’s a yes!”

“Come on, Chlo. I hate that thing.” She sighs as she hears Chloe continue digging. “I got the smallest size they had and it’s still too big on me. Just leave it.”

“I want to see it on you, Becs!”

“Never again,” Beca says vehemently. She hears the tell-tale pop of a plastic bin being opened and Chloe gives a little victory shout. “I should have thrown it away.” There’s more rustling and she can hear humming. “Chloe? You’re not looking for more embarrassing shit, are you?” She didn’t bring her softball trophies with her, did she? No, those are definitely still in her dad’s spare room. Right? Oh shit. “Chloe?”

“Hm?” Chloe says a few seconds later, stepping through the door. “Sorry, I was just wondering why you hate this jacket.”

And, suddenly, Beca doesn’t.

Because that blue and gray jacket and that stained glass smile is all Chloe’s wearing. She drags her gaze up bare legs, to the not-fully zipped jacket front, to the smile she’s been weak for since the first time she saw it. Chloe tucks a curl behind her ear--a simple move that sends a shock straight to the tips of Beca’s fingers. 

She clears her throat and tries to keep her face carefully neutral as she shrugs. “You know. I think I can be convinced to change my mind.”

Chapter Text

The tires squeal as Chloe practically drifts to a halt, not bothering to actually find a parking spot along the long driveway. There are too many other cars, not enough time, and nobody should be leaving right away. She hopes.

She jumps out, barely remembering to grab the keys, and sprints for the front porch, holding the small cardboard box out in front of her to keep from jostling it too much.

The door flies open before she even reaches the steps and Eli hops out, twisting to get his suit jacket on. It’s a brand new suit—his last growth spurt making a whole wardrobe change a necessity—and she takes a moment to admire how it sits on him. He looks more and more like their dad every day. Except for right now, because that annoyed look on his face is all Mamma. “Shit, Chlo. Late to your own funeral!”

“Shut up,” she laughs, hopping up the steps. “And quit cursing!”

“I’m sixteen and who exactly taught me these naughty words? That’s right. Your lady.” He rolls his eyes in a perfect imitation of Beca. Leaning forward to grab the box from her, he says, “What is thi—Oh my god!” His voice squeaks at the end and he tugs it close to his chest with one long arm, reaching down in with the other.

Chloe pops up on her toes to match his height and looks down into the box too. One of the three little kittens inside is batting at Eli’s fingers and puffing up its orange fur as best it can. “They were on the side of the road.”

“Oh my goooood,” Eli croons again, tickling the little black one’s chin. “I love them. I love you,” he says to the puffy gray one as it blinks sleepily at his hand. His voice drops to a whisper. “I’m naming you Davy Jones, dude.”

“Eli.” He looks up. She grins. “We can play with them later.”

“Oh, shit, right.” He tucks the box under his arm and grabs her hand. “Come on!”

They race inside together, hurrying into the kitchen.

Mamma looks up from the stove and gasps, hands flying up. “Where have you been? Oh, my Chloe!” She snatches Chloe in a hug that makes her ribs creak in protest. “I was so scared. Everyone’s so worried!”

“I’ll tell them you’re here,” Mickey says and she realizes he’s standing over by the stove, wearing Mamma’s favorite pink apron over his button-up. His hands are steady as he puts the lid back on whatever’s simmering on the back burner. Untying the apron, he swoops in as Mamma finally releases her. “Hey, Sissy.”

“Hey, Bubba.” She hugs him back hard before letting him head out the back door, grabbing his suit jacket on the way.

Mamma is circling her, eyeing and prodding her hair. “Thank goodness, the pins held. It looks great. Let’s get you dressed. Come on. Where were you?”

“Saving kittens!” Eli says, shoving the box under her nose. “Can I keep the gray one?”

“I-You—” Mamma sputters, looking torn between wanting to swoon over the kittens and wanting to rush them all out the door. Her hands twist in the air between them and finally, she gives in and chooses. “Well, we’ll talk about it tonight. Just—Oh, it yawned. Awww.” She reaches into the box and scoops the gray one up, tucking it under her chin.

“Mamma!” Chloe loves them both, she really does. But she’s about to take the kittens from them and strangle them. Her family, not the kittens. She’s absolutely taking at least one of the kittens home with her. Their new house needs a pet. Besides Beca, who keeps saying she doesn’t count even if she does require regular petting and special Beale Breakfasts at least once a week.

Putting down the kitten—begrudgingly—Mamma nods. “I got you. Right. Yes. Kitten later. Getting dressed now.” Eli runs off with the box and Mamma reaches up to cup Chloe’s cheeks, thumbs stroking over her temples. She’s so small and her blue eyes—Chloe’s eyes—are shimmering with tears already. “My Chloe. You’re getting married.”

Love swells warm and gentle in Chloe’s chest and she curls her fingers around Mamma’s wrists. “Yeah, Mamma. I am.”

Mamma pats her cheeks, blinking rapidly. “Well, it’s about damn time.”

“Beca, I swear to fuck, if you don’t stop squirming, I’m going to purposely stab you in the tit with this thing.”

Beca stops fidgeting so that Stacie doesn’t do just that. She’s never been one for idle threats. It’s very hard to stand still while her best woman pins a flower to her chest and her goddaughter clings to her leg and sings “You are my sunshine” into her thigh. “Celine, you’re pulling my pants down, kid.”

Celine wraps her tiny hands around Beca’s knee and leans as far back as she can, blonde curls falling back off her face. The only thing more ridiculous than Jesse naming Beca “godfather” of this little runt is his constant quoting of the Godfather movies whenever he drops her off. And how easily the kid can manipulate Beca into doing exactly what she wants. She has a theory that Chloe had abducted her just after birth and put her through a fast-paced, rigorous training in how to make Beca do whatever she asks. “Bec?”


“Why can’t I marry you?”

It’s a question she’s been asking for nearly a year now, ever since wedding planning had started. And Beca answers like she always does. “Because I love your Aunt Chloe.”

Celine sighs heavily and it’s just so Aubrey. “Fineeeee. Can we play Planes?”

“Not right now, Tiny Swanson,” Stacie says, finishing with the flower on Beca’s chest. “It took me an hour to get Aunt Beca dressed. We’re keeping her bubble-wrapped until she’s done with her vows.”

“I-uh, I’ll play Planes, kid.”

Beca looks up at her father. He’s stopped at the top of the loft stairs, nervously smoothing his palms over his tie. It’s still a little weird, him being around. She hadn’t ever pictured him at her wedding—not that she’d much pictured getting married until Chloe came into the picture.

She’s grateful, really, that Chloe had made her go home for Christmas year before last and sort of make up with him. They kind of float around each other when they’re in the same room, but Chloe’s usually pretty good at pulling them both out of their orbits and into her own. And Beca finds she doesn’t really hate it. He’s not that bad. She forgot he was kinda funny.

Celine bounds over to him and he sweeps her up into the air, swishing her back and forth. She giggles and stretches her arms out as wide as she can. Chuckling, he continues wagging her about. “Chloe’s here, by the way. There was a, uh, kitten-related incident, I believe?”

She wasn’t really worried. It’s not like she thought Chloe was gonna stand her up or anything. But Aubrey’s wedding still sits in the back of her mind sometimes, even if it’s become a big joke among the family. And the odds of a repeat performance are low, but if anyone was going to have two kidnappings within a decade, it would be the Bellas.

Wait. Kitten? “Oh, Jesus, I’m getting a pet, aren’t I?”

Her dad laughs. “Eli’s running around outside with a box of kittens as we speak.”

Stacie pats Beca’s shoulder. “Sorry, Mitchie. You’re about to become a stereotypical lesbian.”

“Stop calling me that.”

“You’re dad’s here. I can’t call you Mitchell. It gets confusing.”

Stacie looks great, in her blue dress, with her perfect makeup and hair. Beca ducks away to glance at herself in the mirror again. She’d let Cynthia Rose braid some of her bangs back and managed to talk Stacie down to simple eyeliner and some lip gloss. But now she wonders if she should have gone for a little more.

Reading her mind, as she does, Stacie drops her arms around Beca’s shoulders and hugs her from behind. “You look amazing, Becs.”

“You do,” her father says, carefully placing Celine on her feet. She runs off to find her shoes, which she had lost somewhere between joining them upstairs and latching onto Beca’s leg. He takes a few cautious steps forward and stops just within arm’s reach, looking down at her. His eyes trace her face and her suit slowly, taking her in with a crooked smile. “You look just like your mother.” He tilts his head, squinting. “Well, if she’d ever worn a suit.”

“Thanks, Dad.” He glows like he always does when she calls him that. The weird warm feeling in her gut makes her feel fidgety again and she shoves it down by ducking out of Stacie’s hold and grabbing Celine as she runs past, flinging her into the air.

Celine squeals and Stacie yells, “Beca, do not wrinkle that suit!”

“Come on, kid. Let’s get you downstairs.” Her father claps his hands once and holds them out and Celine happily flops into them. He gives Beca one last shiny-eyed look and heads down the steps, chatting about birds with Celine.

Beca pats her tie. She turns to Stacie, looking down at herself. “Okay. Last check over. How do I look?”

When the silence goes too long, Beca looks up. And Stacie is crying. Like, legitimately crying. Lips quivering, tears tracking down her cheeks, nose scrunched up behind trembling fingers.

“Oh my god, dude.”

Stacie shakes her head. “My baby’s getting married. I just.” She takes a rattling breath. “I’m just so proud.” Breathlessly, she adds, “And you look so cute in your little tux.”

Beca just stares at her.

Stacie blinks away the tears, frowning. “Aren’t you going to tell me to shut the fuck up, because you’re not cute?”

Beca smooths down her tie one more time, shrugging one shoulder. “Maybe tomorrow.” Because it warms her chest in the same way her dad had. Which is stupid, because it’s Stacie. Stacie, who tries to make Beca play fuck, marry, kill with past presidents. Stacie, who walks naked around her apartment even when there are visitors. Stacie, who once told Beca they were going to get coffee, but instead marched her into a lingerie store and tried to force her into an honest-to-god corset.

But then again it’s Stacie. Stacie, who had urged Beca to tell Chloe how she felt in the first place. Stacie, who brought Beca to the hospital last year when she had kidney stones and Chloe was in Georgia, visiting the family. Stacie, who had asked Beca to be her best man by standing on top of her car with a poster board.

So she smiles and pulls Stacie into a hug, letting the taller girl squeeze her too tight.

Chloe stands in front of Mamma’s bathroom mirror, staring at herself.

The dress is beautiful. White and cream. Lace back and arms. Fitted waist, long, flowing train. A simple crown of white flowers that Mamma and Aubrey had braided into her curls. And she feels gorgeous. She feels elegant and stunning.

And she feels ready. They’d decided early on to wait until after Stacie and Emily had tied the knot, which had taken a few years because Emily’s single had taken off and then there was the album and then the tour. And then Beca had blown up, needing to attend parties and suddenly making lots of money, and then Chloe had graduated and gotten her job at Best Friend’s Animal Hospital… It’s just been a long time coming and Chloe is completely ready to reach the finish line.

Aubrey’s reflection steps up behind her and she smiles, balancing baby Stevie on her hip. Stevie’s holding her favorite yellow cup (which had been Chloe’s until Stevie laid her little blue eyes on it) and chewing happily on the lip of it. Aubrey grins, stroking Stevie’s dark hair. “You look beautiful, Chlo.”

“Thank you.” She turns, presses a quick kiss to Aubrey’s cheek and Stevie’s head. “So do you. And you, little lady.” Stevie’s little dress matches Aubrey’s perfectly.

“Are you ready?”

“I’m more than ready.”

“Good. Because Flo keeps calling Emily’s new security guy ‘immigration’ and Amy is eyeing the food table like it put on lingerie just for her.”

Chloe grimaces, laughing. “That’s a...very vivid description.”

Aubrey shrugs. “It’s not mine. It’s what she keeps saying about it.” She jiggles Stevie around as she gurgles. “I’m gonna go drop this one with Laura and Carmilla, then make sure Beca is blindfolded so we can get you to the garage.” She stays another moment to grasp Chloe’s hand. “You look so beautiful. I love you, Chlo.”

“I love you too, Bree.” Chloe holds her hand until she’s too far out of reach to continue and lets it slide away. Then she’s alone, in her mother’s bathroom. In her wedding dress. On her wedding day. She moves quickly out of the bathroom and leans over the cushioned chair under the window in Mamma’s bedroom to peer into the backyard. The chairs are set up, the archway is built, Uncle Lew is jovially showing guests to their seats. Seth—who is still upset that Eli’s taller than him now—is kneeling beneath the arch, taking photos down the aisle with his big, fancy, brand new camera.

Eli is at his DJ table with the box of kittens, fiddling with his equipment (all of which Beca had bought for him a few years ago when he’d decided deejaying was the next skill he wanted to learn). He’s signing with Sarah as she helps him run wires under the table and adjust the speakers. She’s happy they became best friends after his brief crush on her years ago. She’s good for him and doesn’t mind his tendency to pick up a new hobby every other week.

She watches Aubrey join the crowd, weaving through until she finds Mel, Laura, and Carmilla. Mel’s dressed in a suit to match Cynthia Rose’s and Laura and Carmilla are wearing gorgeous dresses. Laura practically snatches Stevie away, spinning her around as Carmilla watches them fondly.

Some of her coworkers are among the people taking their seats and she smiles as she sees Waverly tugging her very tall girlfriend between the chairs, chattering rapidly. Some of her old teachers are in the crowd. Ms. McKinney, their ex-neighbor. The Trebles. Aunt Dana, in her pristine suit. Gran is already sitting in the front row, a plate of snacks in her lap.

Almost everyone she’s ever loved, filling her backyard. Almost.

Just as she had on Aubrey’s wedding day, and Stacie and Emily’s, and Cynthia Rose and Mel’s, she pictures what it would have been like if her dad were there. He would have given her away, taken his seat beside Mamma. At the end of the row, of course, so he wouldn’t block anyone’s view. He would have playfully threatened Beca and she would have threatened him right back. They would have loved each other. During the father-daughter dance, he would have cried and pretended he wasn’t. He would have switched places with Mr. Mitchell to dance with Beca, but only after Mamma had come over and forced him away. He would have eaten all of the bread rolls, made Eli play Whitney Houston, danced with Mamma until he was complaining of exhaustion—then once more, because he never could say no to her. He would have made Beca sing with him to the songs he really liked. She wouldn’t have fought very hard.

He would have been so proud of Mickey and Eli. And her. And Beca. And all the Bellas. God, he would have loved Celine and Stevie.

“You okay?” Emily pauses in the doorway, looking radiant in her bridesmaid dress, her hair braided down over her shoulder. A year on tour had darkened her skin a bit and worn down some of the baby softness in her face, but she’s still Legacy to Chloe. Still one of her baby Bellas.

“Never better,” Chloe assures her, stepping away from the window.

It never fails to amaze her how easily Emily smiles, how widely. “You look aca-amazing!” Excitedly, she motions for Chloe to spin. “I’m so jealous. I should have done the lace back for my wedding.”

“You looked perfect, shush.”

Emily laughs, taking Chloe’s hands and swinging them. “Are you really okay? You looked a little...I don’t know, when I walked in.”

Chloe shrugs, because she is okay. Really. She’s thrilled, excited, ecstatic. But… “I just wish my dad was here, you know.”

Softly, Emily squeezes her hands. “I know, hon.” She pulls Chloe into a careful hug and Chloe tries very hard not to let herself sink too deeply into it. Emily’s hugs are a lot like Mamma’s hugs. Hard to want to get out of. And she’s already late. But...maybe another couple moments won’t hurt.

It’s more than a few moments before Emily strokes a hand down her lacy back and straightens up. “Come on. They’re ready for you.”

Beca takes her place beneath the arch, reading over her vows one more time. The creased, faded paper shakes a little in her hand and she huffs a breath through her nose. Pull it together, Mitchell.

Ashley’s hand closes around her wrist, squeezing once. “You good?”

She folds the paper and slips it back into her pocket. “Yeah. I’m good.”

With a smile, Ashley nods and steps up. She raises a hand to Eli in the back. He waves back and moves over to the side door of the garage, sticking his head in. A few moments pass and then he moves back over to his table with Sarah and hits play. The music starts and Beca’s heart stops. Stained Glass by Jon Guerra. It’s not her style usually, but it’s a song Beca picked because Chloe loves it so much and she’d stripped the lyrics from it, but the words are there in her mind.

Uni and Celine appear at the end of the aisle, each with a basket of flowers and big grins on their faces. They throw way more flowers than they need to and when they reach the end of the aisle, Uni overturns his basket right over Beca’s head before lifting Celine so she can do the same.

“Congrats, Little Bit.” He winks and sends Celine off to stand on Chloe’s side, right near where Beca’s dad is seated.

He catches her eye and smiles tightly, eyes glimmering.

Jessica and Lilly make their way up the aisle next, each of them carrying a ring on a little satin pillow. They’re the same pillows Mamma Beale and Chloe’s dad had used for their wedding and Beca eyes the glinting gold against the faded lace as they pass—Jessica going left and Lilly taking a spot behind Beca.

CR and Flo look adorable together and both flash her bright grins on their way up. Cynthia Rose slugs her shoulder gently as she moves behind her.

Then it’s Mickey and Jesse. Beca tries not to laugh as Jesse holds Mickey’s arm like it’s his damn prom date and he’s a giggling school girl. He even pretends to blush as he passes Benji and Donald in the crowd, waving to them. Mickey bends to give Beca a quick hug and she tries very hard not to roll her eyes when Jesse clasps his hands to his chest and bats his eyes at them both. She fails when Jesse throws his arms out and tugs her into a tight hug, muttering about his “Little Beca” being “all grown up”. She swats him away and he moves to stand beside Cynthia Rose.

Amy practically drags Emily up to the arch, both of them humming along to the music and giggling about whatever monologue Amy is giving as they approach. Beca lets them both hug her, accepting the soft kiss Emily places on her cheek with a smile. Because these idiots are her idiots and it’s her day, even if that sounds stupid.

Stacie and Aubrey step out next and Beca’s stomach curls in on itself, sudden anxiety gnawing at her ribs. They look beautiful and they stop halfway up so Aubrey can give Stevie, who is sitting on Uncle Lew’s lap, a quick kiss.

Aubrey hugs her first and nearly unravels her right then by whispering, “I’m so happy it’s you, Bitchy,” in her ear. She breathes through the prickling behind her eyes and awkwardly pats Aubrey’s back until she releases her hold.

Stacie doesn’t hug her so much as move to stand beside her and drop an arm around her shoulders, tugging Beca into her side. “Ready?”

And she worries for a few seconds that she might not be, because as Ashley motions for everyone to stand, it’s not really butterflies in her stomach, but more like a shark frenzy. It tears at her insides and leaves her breathless and a little hollow, shaking. But then Mamma Beale and Chloe are there, at the end of the aisle, and Chloe’s eyes track over the crowd to fix on her like she’s the only one there. Like nothing and no one could be more important to her. Like Beca’s a destination that she’s desperately been trying to get to. And the frenzy calms to a gently rippling pool of warmth that grows with each step Chloe takes.

By the time Chloe steps up beneath the arch, the tips of Beca’s fingers and toes are warm and tingling. She’s still shaking, but it doesn’t bother her as much because Chloe is smiling that smile.

Mamma Beale swoops in to hug what little breath she had left out of her. When she pulls away, she cups Beca’s cheeks and whispers, “My Beca.” Two simple words, but they burn down Beca’s throat and behind her eyes so hard that she can’t help but tear up. Mamma Beale brushes thumbs along the corners of her eyes and Beca blinks rapidly, clearing her throat. She’s got to talk in a minute, she reminds herself.

Chloe falls into Mamma Beale’s arms easily, tears coursing down her cheeks that she knows Chloe isn’t ashamed of at all. And when Mamma Beale releases her with a quiet, “My Chloe,” she gives a soft, smiling sob.

In what Beca feels like is only a few moments, Mamma Beale has taken her place beside Gran, Eli has lowered the music until it fades out, and Ashley is stepping up to them, hands clasped.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join these two in aca-matrimony!” Everyone laughs at the now familiar beginning. It’s how Ashley had started all of the Bellas’ weddings and it rattles something in Beca’s chest so hard that she automatically reaches out for Chloe just to keep standing. Because this is real. It’s happening. She’s marrying Chloe Beale.

Chloe catches her hand in both of hers and lifts it to her lips, doing little more than smiling against Beca’s knuckles. Beca finds she can’t really tear her gaze from Chloe’s. She thinks maybe she should be looking at Ashley, but Chloe doesn’t seem to be inclined to look away either. So they don’t.

“Beca and Chloe would like to thank you all for coming. Now, before we begin, I would normally ask for objections, but Chloe has made it clear that all objections will be ignored. So.”

The crowd laughs and Chloe giggles, squeezing Beca’s hand and grinning so widely that it makes Beca’s cheeks ache. Or maybe that’s her own, answering smile. It’s hard to tell.  

Ashley waits for the laughs to die down before continuing. “Beca and Chloe have prepared their own vows today, to be given with the rings. And Beca’s asked if you’ll go first Chloe.”

That gets Beca to look at Ashley (glare at) and Ashley winks.

“Of course,” Chloe says around a laugh, pulling Beca’s attention back. She keeps hold of Beca's hand as she turns away, accepting the ring Jessica offers her. Her fingers slide down to wrap around Beca's wrist, their palms pressed together, as she slips the ring on. Beca takes a deep breath, watching the plain gold band settle into place. Like it was always meant to be there.

Chloe reaches for Beca’s other wrist and tugs until her hands are pressed together and Chloe can use them to pull her a couple inches closer as she leans in. For a brief moment, Beca thinks Chloe’s going to kiss her right then and there, and her hands curl into fists, jolts of lightning dancing up her arms and spine, but instead, Chloe just crinkles her nose like she always does when she’s too happy to contain it. “Beca Mitchell. I’ll keep it short, like you.”

“Seriously?” Beca hisses, trying to fight the grin off her face so she can glare properly, but it fails miserably when Chloe giggles again. She can hear Stacie laughing behind her and entertains the idea of kicking her leg back and catching her in the knee.

Chloe sobers and her pinkies sweep soft across Beca’s fisted hands. “From the first moment I met you, I knew we were gonna be really fast friends.” She squeezes once and Beca relinquishes her fists, opening her palms for Chloe to slip her hands into. “And I’ve never been happier to be right. Because you are one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. You are the wildest mashup of bold and shy and funny and grumpy and so, so incredibly sweet.” She grins and Beca answers it with her own. “You make me more myself than anyone ever has. You are understanding and honest. You always know what to say or do when I’m down and when I’m happy?” She laughs. “I know I can be a bit much, but you never make me feel like that. And I love you like I love music. And we all know how much I love music.”

“Hear, hear!” Cynthia Rose calls out and laughter rolls through the crowd.

Chloe waits for Beca to meet her eyes again. “I feel like you and I have been dancing to our very own beat for a very long time. From the moment you woke me up on the subway until now. And this is my favorite song. You are my favorite song, Beca. And I never wanna stop singing with you.”

It’s probably the biggest compliment Chloe Beale could give to anyone in the world and it settles tight around her ribcage so that she has to suck in a deep breath to keep from having her air squeezed out.

“Beca?” Ashley prompts and the shaking that had eased in Beca’s hands returns. She clears her throat and focuses on Chloe. And the words she’d been scared of forgetting for weeks are just there, in the crinkle of her nose and the way her blue eyes flicker back and forth between Beca’s own. In that smile.

“I’ll keep it even shorter. Because I’ve never been very good at words when they mattered.” She takes another deep breath and sees Chloe is already tearing up again. It makes her laugh and Chloe echoes it, a tear slipping free to run down her cheek. She turns to take the ring from Lilly, giving her a quick smile. She slips it onto Chloe's hand and watches as Chloe's thumb tucks under to rub against the bottom of the ring before she clasps Beca's hand again. “I never thought I’d be here, doing this," she says, looking back up to Chloe's shining eyes. "Never thought I’d be this lucky.” Chloe’s hands are trembling too, she realizes, and she grips them tighter. “And I think I’ve been trying to tell you how much I love you from day one, but I couldn’t figure out how to say what you really meant to me. But when I was freaking out and begging Stacie to help me write my vows and very nearly paying Emily to do it for me...I kind of figured it out.” She lets Chloe take one hand back so she can swipe at her eyes. The hand returns as quickly as it left. “You, Chloe Beale, are like stained glass to me. It is so beautiful, how colorful you make the world.”

Chloe’s entire face softens and her hands jump from Beca’s own to grip the lapels of her jacket, fingers curling into the fabric and tugging just hard enough to bring Beca into her space. And Beca lets her hands rest on Chloe’s hips, squeezing gently.

Ashley steps back up to them and spreads her arms. “And so, by the power vested in me by I now pronounce you married! You may kiss the bride!”

Chloe barely lets Ashley finish before she’s yanking Beca that last inch and pressing their lips together. Beca definitely isn’t complaining. Everyone is cheering and yelling and Beca loops her arms around Chloe’s waist, lifting her off the ground, because she knows it will make Chloe laugh. Sure enough, Chloe laughs against her lips and wraps her arms around Beca’s neck before kissing her again. Flower petals are hitting her face and she hears Lilly give what sounds like a pterodactyl screech while Amy tries to rope everyone into a rousing rendition of “For she’s a jolly good fellow”, but she ignores it all for the moment. Because she just married Chloe Beale.

When Chloe does pull back from the kiss, she’s giving that stained glass smile and Beca grins. “I know that smile. What you want, weirdo?”

Chloe’s fingers trail down her cheek and her bright blue gaze passes over Beca’s lips to settle on her eyes. “You. Forever.”

Beca pulls her closer. Because she’s never said no that smile. And they both know it.