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Chloe asks: "How many times have I died?"

Beca doesn't answer.

 

*

 

Rome tastes like ashes, like charred paper. The smoke lingers in Beca's tangled hair and in her mouth. She thinks she might not be able to taste anything else again.

The heat stings her face.

She doesn't forget the screams.

 

*

 

Jazz makes her feel reborn. There's something wild about Prohibition. Beca feels the syncopated rhythm fill every part of her being, until she's drunk on music.

She's drunk on other things too, cheap brandy in her sidecar, and pure gin are what she goes for. It's the first time in a long time that she doesn't miss Chloe, like a constant worry tugging at her.

Instead she dances, the lights and sounds of Manhattan her backdrop.

She finds Chloe singing at a nightclub, her voice a drawl, her hair copper beneath the light. Beca feels the catch in her chest, and certainty sits heavy in the pit of her stomach.

"Hi," Beca says, approaching afterwards.

"Hi," Chloe says, and smiles.

 

*

 

It all comes back to a well.

She's walked all night, the soles of her feet bleeding. The first sip of tepid water brings sharp relief. Beca drinks so fast she throws it back up in the bushes, shaking with effort, and has to try again. She falls asleep in a grove of stunted olive trees.

When she wakes up, her feet are healed.

When she wakes up, a man with no teeth and a missing thumb slices open her chest.

(She still remembers the weight of him pressed against her, and the sharp twist of the knife cutting through her insides. He smelled foul, like vinegar wine and sweat.)

Beca kills him with his own knife, and her wound heals itself. She's still not sure if there's a correlation. She wipes the blade clean on his shirt, and takes it with her.

She vomits again half a mile later. Or tries. There's nothing in her stomach to come up.

 

*

 

"I think we've met before," Chloe says, smiling. There's something mischievous at the corner of her mouth, but Beca can only pick out sincerity in her voice.

Beca strokes the inside of Chloe's wrist, where the skin is the softest. She presses a kiss there. She imagines her lips touching Chloe's pulse, the blood pumping through the thin blue veins. She imagines a lot of things, from a lot of different times.

"Maybe," Beca says finally, unsure of where to even begin.

 

*

 

The first time Chloe asks her how old she is, Beca is only around six-hundred. Old enough to know; young enough to not understand. She curls her fingers in Chloe's fire-bright hair -- fairy hair -- and tries not to think too hard about what's to come.

(Her name isn't Chloe then, and Beca isn't Beca, but she's forgotten by now what they went by.)

They have a few years in a thatch-roof cottage by the sea. She thinks it's somewhere near Cornwall. No children that time, though Chloe yearns. Their house is dark and cramped, and damp seeps in no matter what they do. It always smells of salt. Beca's clothes are perpetually crusted with it.

She doesn't mind.

It's plague in the end, like it is so many others. Beca only remembers it because it's the first -- Chloe's face gaunt beneath the touch of Beca's fingers, her breath rattling in the sunken cave of her chest. Beca cries until her body hurts, until she feels her bones ache.

The grave marker is driftwood. Beca doesn't return for centuries.

 

*

 

Salem is one of the worst. Being called "witch" isn't new -- Beca's been called that for so long she can't recall when it started. But the hunts are never pleasant.

Burning hurts, even when you can't die. It sears the back of Beca's throat and she coughs up ash for days.

She doesn't find Chloe that time. Doesn't know how. Doesn't have the time. Maybe she's still in Europe. Beca thought it'd be better to come over when she could, but maybe it was a mistake.

She goes south, aiming for New Amsterdam. Her skin heals over on the way.

 

*

 

"Your father will kill you," Beca murmurs, pressing Chloe against the wall with her kisses.

Chloe's eyes glint in the dark. Beca smells jasmine in her hair, the scent perfuming the air around them. "I'd like to see him try."

She giggles, spinning them, and Beca laughs an unexpected hiccup of a laugh as her back hits the wall. She arches up her entire body, loose with desire, feeling it pulse in her fingers and toes. Chloe's mouth is almost too warm compared to the cool night. She licks Beca's bottom lip with the tip of her tongue, and Beca groans, suddenly boneless.

Trysting in the gardens, hidden beneath a stone arch. It tastes delicious, like a sweet wine.

"With a girl?" Beca whispers in Chloe's ear, doing her best imitation of Lord Beale. "Chloe, how could you?" She palms her way through the layers of Chloe's skirts, gathering them to the side so she can stroke the inside of Chloe's thighs.

"Oh," Chloe gasps, dropping her forehead against Beca's shoulder.

Beca inches her hand up, her heart hammering. "Letting her defile you in the gardens like this?" she continues. She's shaking.

"No defiling yet," Chloe murmurs, panting. "Not tonight."

"Shit," Beca hisses, finding the wet heat of Chloe with her fingers, and the memory of Chloe in her mouth.

Chloe makes a little sound in the back of her throat. It's Beca's favorite sound. It has been for -- for as long as she can remember. "Inappropriate language."

"Inappropriate everything," Beca says back.

Chloe laughs. And that -- Beca amends her earlier statement -- is her favorite sound.

 

*

 

"What's it like?" Chloe asks. She's halfway asleep, her eyes drifting closed.

Beca rests her palm against the side of Chloe's jaw, feeling the line of bone beneath her thumb. "What?"

Chloe's mouth quirks up in a tiny smile. "Not dying." She reaches up and catches Beca's hand, kisses the mound of her palm. Her lips are soft.

"It feels like..." Beca starts. She falters. There's so much to say, and also nothing at all. "It feels like waiting for something that never comes. It feels like...it feels lonely."

Chloe opens her eyes. She pulls Beca closer, nuzzles her nose against the column of Beca's throat. "I wish I could stay with you."

"No," Beca whispers, though her whole heart says otherwise. "You don't."

 

*

 

It's childbirth once.

Only once.

Beca remembers the blood, warm and sticky on her skin, the sheets matted with it. Chloe going paler as the hours wear on, heaving with effort. She clutches Beca's hand so hard Beca's surprised the bones don't break. It wouldn't have mattered if they did.

The baby's stillborn, blue and completely perfect. Beca wraps him up, holds him for a while in front of the fire. His name is supposed to be Daniel, and she whispers it over and over again. She examines his tiny fingers, his bow of a mouth. He's got Chloe's hair, wisps of red against the crown of his head.

They'll move on from this. Chloe will wake in the morning, and they will cry, and they will move on.

But --

Chloe doesn't wake up. She's cold to the touch when Beca stirs from sleep.

Beca buries them in side-by-side plots, near the grave of Chloe's dead husband. Never again, she tells herself, walking away. Never again.

 

*

 

When she really finds out --

It's the dumbest idea Beca's had in years. At least ten or twenty. Who goes fishing in the middle of a lightning storm?

Her boat capsizes. She breathes seawater, choking on it. Her last thought before drowning is fuck.

She wakes up on a strange beach days later, soaked through and coughing and alive. Chloe, a strange and still beautiful Chloe, is stroking her forehead with cold fingers, her touch tentative and worried.

"I know you," Beca whispers, her throat straining with effort. Chloe's name is in her mouth, sitting heavy on her tongue. "You're dead."

Chloe puts a hand over Beca's eyes. "Shhh," she says. "You're safe now."

 

*

 

One time:

Floating in gondolas in a canal in Venice. Beca looks up, and there she is, the next boat over, her face hidden beneath a mask. Her eyes are the same, and Beca feels them, long after their gondolas separate and disappear into the night.

Later Beca wishes she had said something -- called out, yelled, leapt into the murky stretch of water between them. She spends days looking through Venice for Chloe and finds nothing.

She carries with her the burning brightness of Chloe's gaze, and waits for the next time.

 

*

 

She stops counting around 1600. Age is meaningless when there's no end. Beca would rather keep track of other things.

 

*

 

"Would you live forever with me?" Chloe whispers in Beca's ear, leaning over her in the bed. Her hands are twisted up in Beca's hair, the words coming slightly slurred.

Beca shuts her eyes and opens them again. The walls of Chloe's bedchamber shift and blur in her vision. She's had too much wine. Her father will scold her again. It's no way for the daughter of a senator to behave. Beca's also certain that the daughter of a senator wouldn't be naked in the bed of a patrician's daughter, but she hasn't shared that with him yet.

Chloe kisses Beca's chin, giggling. "You haven't answered my question."

Lamplight makes Chloe's skin glow golden. Beca reaches up and touches Chloe's cheeks, her lips. Chloe parts her mouth ever so slightly and Beca slips the tip of her forefinger in until Chloe bites down on it, the sensation making Beca shudder.

"Yes," Beca says. "For you? Yes."

She falls asleep against the curve of Chloe's body, dreaming of things forgotten and strange.

When she wakes up, Rome is burning.