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The Fear in Me

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Having dinner with her father and Sheila is never on top of Beca's list of favourite things to do - but, she will reflect later, at least with Chloe here it's a little more bearable. But only a littleOn the whole, her evening has remained pretty much the same as it is every time she comes: her dad remaining insufferably nosy about every aspect of her personal life, and Sheila trying trying far too hard to get on with her and making surely exaggerated doe-eyes if Beca ignores or rebuffs her.

The only difference about this night is that she also has Chloe stomping on her foot under the table whenever she thinks Beca's being rude.

Still, Beca has to admit, thus far it isn't shaping up to be the worst "family dinner" she's suffered through with her dad over the years. Her relationship with him still remains frosty in person; however, it's slowly being thawed with Chloe's help, who seems to be everyone's favourite without even trying. Seriously - Beca doesn't know how she does it. It seems like from the moment she steps past the threshold she's already charming her dad and Sheila with one bat of her long eyelashes, and exclamations of 'Oh, that's so lovely!' at Sheila's half finished patchwork quilt resting on one of the armchairs. And what's more, she means every word of it - despite the fact that the quilt looks like someone stitched it together with her eyes shut.

They're both taken in by Chloe the moment she opens her mouth, and Beca can only watch with amusement as they fall over themselves to talk to her and make sure she's catered for.

'Sheila made your favourite, Beca,' Dr Mitchell tells them brightly, while Chloe and Beca seat themselves at the table. He whips back the covering on the dish with an exuberant gesture. 'Tuna casserole. Help yourselves!'

This hasn't been her favourite meal since she was eleven, after a bad batch gave her food poisoning. She only just hides her expression of disgust when the memories of getting to know the toilet bowl intimately come flooding right back.

On the other hand, Chloe has no qualms about showing her appreciation. 'Sheila, this is amazing!' she gushes, having taken a small mouthful. 'I have to get your recipe for this.' Never mind that Beca knows Chloe hates all seafood - one of few things she doesn't like, in fact. She still smiles politely and kicks Beca's leg under the table when she sniggers.

Sheila beams in response to Chloe's compliment, and her father gives an approving nod. 'So, how are things with your acapella group?' he asks Beca, already digging into his casserole with unbridled enthusiasm. 'I seem to remember you saying they made you captain.'

'The Bellas,' Sheila adds on - rather unnecessarily, Beca feels, considering everyone at the table knows the name of the group. She seems quite proud of herself for remembering, and she gazes at Beca like she wants recognition for doing so. Beca barely holds back a snort.

'Okay,' is her reply, while she pushes her food around on the plate in an attempt to look like she's enjoying it. She notices Chloe doing the same and smirks. 'Being a captain is more work than I thought.'

'So it takes up a lot of time, then? How are you keeping up with your studies?'

Same old questions, every time. 'Fine, Dad. You don't have to worry.' Alright - so she has a paper due in a few days that she hasn't even started yet. He doesn't need to know that. She sees Chloe suppress a laugh; it's her turn to glare now, nudging Chloe's knee sharply with her own. Chloe gets revenge by pinching Beca's thigh through her jeans until she lets out a tiny squeak; she coughs to hide it, taking a sip of water.

'Good, good.' He smiles at her, unaware of the mini war going on underneath the table. 'It's good to see you're really settled in this year, Beca. I'm so glad you decided to stay at Barden rather than going off to L.A - aren't you, Chloe?'

Chloe startles slightly at being directly addressed, but recovers well. She retracts the hand that had previously been making its way over the inside of Beca's thigh, while Beca herself breathes a sigh of relief. 'Of course!' she says. 'I don't know how I would've coped without seeing her every day.'

'Probably fine,' Beca interjects, although she's inwardly thrilled at hearing Chloe say such a thing, especially in front of her dad. 'Unless you're really that addicted to seeing my ear spikes every day?'

Chloe flicks said ear spike. 'I am,' she murmurs, biting down on her lip. 'It's becoming a problem.'

'I suppose it's for the best really,' says her father. When Beca turns back to him, she notices Sheila watching this interaction with what looks like amusement, and blushes slightly. Her dad's too busy focusing on his casserole to notice anything, thankfully. 'I know you had high-reaching dreams about being a DJ, Beca, but there's no saying whether it'd turn out the way you wanted. You'd probably have to be out there every night just to get someone to take you on, and even then it would be pretty unlikely. Don't you think?'

Beca's heard this one a few times and as usual just begins to tune him out, turning back to her plate which has mostly disintegrated at this point. However, Chloe (who hasn't been exposed to this diatribe before), decides now is a good moment to step in. 'Well, Dr Mitchell, I'm not sure that's necessarily true,' Chloe replies, making Dr Mitchell's - and Beca's - eyebrows raise in surprise. 'With the world we're living in now, people can share things with the click of a button. Things can become popular so quickly and so unexpectedly, you can't really make any claims about whether Beca wouldn't attract someone's notice, somewhere.'

'You mean on Youtube, or whatever that place is?' His nose wrinkles, as it always does when technology becomes a topic of conversation. She can tell he's mentally placing her up there with cat videos and people filming stupid pranks, such is the extent of his exposure to it.

'Well, maybe. Youtube is a possibility,' says Chloe, glancing at Beca. 'Websites like that certainly make it much easier to get yourself a following, don't they? You can get noticed from the comfort of your own bedroom.'

'So you really think she could make something of it?' His tone is skeptical. 'Online?'

'I have absolutely no doubt that Beca will be able to "make something of it" one day,' replies Chloe firmly, reaching for Beca's hand under the table. 'It'll happen one way or another because she's so determined for it to do so. Maybe not on the Internet, maybe not in L.A; maybe sooner, maybe later. But it will.'

Beca stares at her, awed by this display of faith in her abilities. Chloe's always been enthusiastic about her work, but to be honest Beca had always kind of assumed it was the kind of thing best-friends-and-then-girlfriends just had to say, as a matter of course. She hadn't expected Chloe to actually defend her, to her family of all people. Her father is obviously taken aback as well, but she can see the hint of a smile on his lips.

'Well, I suppose I don't understand all this "social media" hoo-ha anyway,' he says, 'so for all I know, Chloe is onto something there. Regardless, it's good to know you have someone who supports you so strongly, Beca.'

'Maybe she could give you pointers,' Beca retorts. Chloe gasps at her audacity in making this comment, but he just shakes his head, evidently used to it. He turns his attention on Chloe instead.

'Anyway, Chloe, what about you? What are you doing at the moment?'

Chloe's grin, which she's been diligently maintaining since she arrived, finally slips a little; Beca makes rapid eyebrow movements to indicate that he should change the subject. However, he remains as oblivious as ever.

'I'm sort of... In between work at the moment,' Chloe says, her usually confident voice wavering the tiniest bit. 'I just took back my old job working at a coffee shop, and I'm interviewing for various jobs when I can. Nothing has quite stuck yet, though.'

He nods. 'What is it you actually want to do?'

Seeing Chloe is beginning to look flustered, Beca opens her mouth to cut him off. For some reason, however, Sheila gets there first. She puts her hand on his arm, throwing a glance at the two girls across from her. 'Paul, maybe we shouldn't discuss this right now.'

However, Chloe squeezes Beca's hand and shakes her head at Sheila. 'It's okay,' she reassures the two of them. Beca stares pointedly at Chloe, who does the same; eventually, Beca sighs and sits back in her seat. 'I'm not entirely sure,' she tells Beca's father honestly. 'I always wanted to study English, and I managed to get my degree. But now I've graduated... Well, I'm not sure what I can actually do with it now, you know?'

Beca's father puts his knife and fork down side by side on the plate, licking his lips thoughtfully. He and Sheila are the only ones who've eaten everything, although Chloe's made a valiant effort at doing so. 'Have you considered teaching?'

Chloe laughs. 'That's what everyone asks when they find out what I studied.'

'Curse of the Arts student,' Beca chimes in.

'No, it's a viable question,' says Dr Mitchell. 'I was the same way when I started. I thought about all kinds of things before I settled on the academia route.'

'Is there anything besides teaching I could get involved in?'

'Of course,' he replies. 'There's journalism, for example -' When Beca groans at this suggestion, Dr Mitchell looks at her impatiently. 'And what is that noise for?'

'Chloe's way too talented to be stuck teaching or being a journalist for a living! Those are crappy jobs.'

'Don't pass your judgements onto her; it's not your decision.' Dr Mitchell nods sagely to Chloe. 'Ignore her. Do whatever you want to do. It's worth putting some thought into it, but equally you needn't work it out right now. There's still time.' He dabs at his mouth with a napkin, seemingly thinking. 'You know, Chloe, I might have a few colleagues that I could put in a good word with for you. I could see if they have any opportunities you could get involved in.'

Chloe straightens in her chair, her face lighting up. 'Really?'

'Really?' says Beca doubtfully.

'Of course.'

'Well... Thank you, Dr Mitchell! That'd be really good if you could.' She grins at Beca, but frowns when she sees the expression on Beca's face. Her father notices too.

'What's wrong, Beca?'

'Oh, nothing,' she replies. They all notice her voice is cold. Good - she wanted them to.

Chloe lays her hand on Beca's thigh, distracting her from glaring at her father for a moment. 'Bec, don't -'

'Oh, Chloe,' Sheila calls - Beca hadn't even noticed when she left the room, but she managed to clear the whole table without them noticing. 'Come in here - I'll show you the recipe for the casserole.' Chloe plasters on a smile that Beca knows is at least a little false and disappears into the kitchen, but not giving Beca's leg a warning pinch and smiling gratefully at Beca's dad one more time.

As soon as she's out of earshot, Beca fixes her father with a look, crossing her arms. He still looks confused. 'What's the matter, Beca?'

'You know what.'

He makes a face. 'No... I really don't. I've never been good at mind reading, unlike you.'

'Your offer to Chloe,' she reminds him.

'Oh, that,' he says, brightening. 'Well, you're welcome. I mean, there might not be much they can offer her, but it's certainly worth a try.'

'Oh yeah? So what's the catch?'

Dr Mitchell blinks. 'There's no catch,' he replies. 'Your girlfriend seemed like she needed some help, and I was in a position to offer some, so I did. Nothing more sinister than that.' She must look like she doesn't believe him (she doesn't), because he sighs. 'Beca... Can't you just accept that I can do things without there being some malicious agenda behind it?'

'Not from where I stand,' she retorts. 'Not when you held L.A. over my head for the entirety of this year. Not when you spent like ten minutes telling me that my dream would never come true - but then when it comes to Chloe, she should "do whatever she wants"? Something isn't adding up, there.'

'You're missing the point,' he says, a tad peevishly. 'Chloe already has a degree, and she wants to use it - I'm just helping her to do that. And also, if I remember correctly, you were the one discouraging her from going into positions where her degree might be useful.'

'What?' says Beca, taken aback. 'No I wasn't.'

'You told her teaching was a "crappy" job,' he replies, complete with finger quotes, lest Beca believe such foul language was anything other than a direct quote from her.

'But Chloe doesn't even want to be a teacher.' Even as she's saying it, though, she's feeling doubtful. Fuck, he's right: she has no real idea what Chloe wants to do, since every time she brings it up she gets upset, so eventually Beca just started to not bring it up at all once it was established Chloe would at least be staying in Atlanta. This is probably the first time Chloe's actually spoken about it openly in front of her and saw some hope. And then Beca went and stomped all over it.

He's watching her carefully, seeing the emotions playing out on her face as she thinks through the situation. 'I'm trying to help - both of you, if the opportunity arises. When are you going to learn that you don't always have to have your guard up over everything? I'm your father, Beca, not the enemy. I only have your best interests at heart.'

That sounds awfully like something Chloe would say. Beca suddenly feels very uncomfortable.

'Chloe seems lovely,' he goes on. 'And obviously very good for you, as well. You've been far less surly today than you usually are, not that that says much - oh, stop it, you know what I meant. Chloe obviously makes you happy, and that's nice to see.'

'Yeah, well,' mumbles Beca. 'I guess.'

Dr Mitchell links his fingers together with his elbows on the table, resting his chin atop them. He surveys her over the top of them, where she can't help but feel that he's psycho-analysing her. Sure enough, he says, 'Try not to run run away from her just because it might seem scary. I know you have a tendency to avoid things when you find them difficult, but it would be good for you to make the effort this time around.'

That one touches a nerve with Beca; she growls, 'Like you're one to lecture me about not running away.'

He looks wounded at that comment, vindicating Beca, who is slowly becoming more and more angry. He sighs and sits back in his chair. 'Alright, I can see when my words are falling on deaf ears. Never mind.'

Beca's only response is to shrug and stand up, pushing her chair back in hard enough for it to screech on the wooden floors. She probably left a scratch mark; good, she thinks viciously, the image of Sheila on her knees crying over her ruined laminate flooring giving her a little too much satisfaction. 'I think Chloe and I are going to head off soon.'

'But you haven't even had dessert!' he says in distress, as though this is the worst possible thing that could happen. 'Sheila made apple pie.'

'Thanks, but I'll pass,' she replies between gritted teeth.

To her everlasting relief, all he does is give her a shrewd look; for once, he doesn't push it. 'Okay; I'm sure you have other things to do. Come back soon, though. And bring Chloe with you.'

She waves vaguely in his direction on her way to the kitchen. Here she expects to find Chloe either looking bored or disgusted while Sheila goes on about the recipe, but is surprised to find Chloe chatting away animatedly to Sheila, complete with hand gestures and flailing arm movements, the way she does sometimes when she's particularly excited. Sheila's actually joining in too - albeit less exuberantly - but still with a happy flush in her cheeks.

She watches these antics for a few moments, hearing mentions of her own name and the Bellas. 'Hi.' She forces her best smile. It ends up looking more like she has a bad case of wind. 'Having fun?'

Chloe whirls around, her grin flooding back in full force as soon as she sees her girlfriend. 'Oh hey, you! I was just talking to Sheila about the Bellas and the ICCAs,' says Chloe brightly. She reaches over to clasp Beca's hand in hers and pull her forward; she notices Sheila looking and averts her eyes, still a little unused to their relationship being so out in the open like this. 'It's so cool, Beca, did you know that she was in acapella too, back in college?!'

A weird, twisted feeling is beginning to settle in the pit of her stomach. She's never really gotten on with Sheila - or really tried to, for that matter - so to see her girlfriend do so so easily without a care in the world for the inner family politics of the Mitchell family makes her feel very conflicted.

'No. I did not know that.'

'It's so weird that you had this connection all along and you didn't know,' Chloe goes on, oblivious to Beca's darkening mood. 'And you'll never believe this - she was on the same team as G -'

'Can we go soon?' Beca interrupts. She's sorry to see the happiness drain out of Chloe's face and be replaced by concern, but she can't really stand another minute in this kitchen. Chloe seems to really see her for the first time since she stepped into the room, looking her up and down. She cocks her head.

'You okay?' asks Chloe in an undertone. When all Beca does is nod jerkily and dig her fingernails into the bicep of her left arm, Chloe doesn't miss a beat, turning back to Sheila. 'Alright, I think it's probably time for us to leave. It was lovely meeting you, Sheila,' she adds, with a genuine smile for her. 'And thank you for the recipe - I'll be sure to make it for Beca one day.'

Sheila and Chloe continue to talk for a little longer, but Beca doesn't say goodbye or wait for her, already making a beeline for the hallway and out the front door. She doesn't let out the breath she's holding until she's all the way down the path and standing next to the car, one hand on its hood to steady herself.

She tries to take deep breaths, but mostly she just feels a gnawing, painful feeling in her chest. It only increases when a few minutes later, she hears the crunching of gravel as Chloe approaches. She touches Beca's back gently, making her flinch a little, but she doesn't pull away. 'Are you alright?' Chloe asks, drawing small circles over her shoulder blades and up to the hairline at the back of her neck.

'Fine.' She straightens up, even though her chest still feels rather tight. 'Really,' she adds firmly, at the look on Chloe's face. 'Come on, let's just go home already.' She makes to get into the car, but Chloe grabs her wrist before she can go past.

'Hang on. What's the matter?'

Beca clenches her jaw but she knows Chloe won't leave it until she gives her some sort of answer. So she settles for, 'It makes me feel weird, seeing you guys interact so... Civilly.'

'Sheila?' Beca nods, although she means her father too. 'Well, she's a nice woman.'

'Really?' she says, snorting. 'I didn't think nice women broke up homes.'

'Ah,' says Chloe in a knowing way that, infuriatingly, reminds Beca of her father; her fists clench at her sides. Why does everyone claim to know her so well and then patronise her about it? 'So you're angry at me because I was friendly to Sheila?'

'I'm not angry at you,' says Beca, 'I'm angry in general.'

'For you, there's not always a lot of difference.' Ouch. That one hurts. Beca crosses her arms, trying not to bite back and prove Chloe's point for her; seeing this, Chloe steps forward and gently cups her cheek. 'Hey... I'm sorry, I didn't mean that the way it sounded.'

'So how did you mean it?'

'Well, not as harshly as that.' Chloe hesitates, biting her lip. 'It's just that sometimes you have a tendency to lash out when you're upset. I'm not the ene -'

'If you say "I'm not the enemy", Chlo, I don't even know what I'll do.' Beca sighs, rubbing her eyes. She can feel her hands trembling ever so slightly.

'Sorry.' Chloe kisses her apologetically on the forehead, lingering for a moment before she pulls back to gaze at Beca. 'Look: I know you have some painful history with her, but I couldn't very well just go "Sorry, I have to be rude to you because my girlfriend hates your guts", could I?'

'Why not?'

Chloe groans, stepping back again. 'Beca, what do you want from me? I thought you wanted me to get on with your family.'

'She's not my family! How could she be? She ruined it!'

The outburst seems to surprise both of them into silence. Tears are pricking at Beca's eyes, but she tries to hide them. After a moment, Chloe gently runs her hands up and down Beca's arms, not receiving any protest, then pulls her into a hug. 'Okay,' she says quietly. 'Okay.'

'Fuck Sheila,' says Beca vehemently, because being angry feels a lot easier than crying right now. She grips the material of the back Chloe's shirt in her fist. 'Fuck everything about her. Fuck her taking my dad away.'

'She's not taking me away, Beca.' Beca didn't even say that out loud, but somehow Chloe always knows what she's thinking. 'You've never told me much about your family, you know.'

'Not much to say,' she mumbles.

'What happened with you guys?' Chloe presses.

'What do you want to know? I was nine. One day Dad was there, the next he wasn't.'

'That must have been hard,' says Chloe softly.

'Maybe. Loads of kids go through it. I'm hardly the only one.'

'That doesn't make it any easier to go through at the time. You were pretty young when it happened, weren't you?'

'I still am.' Beca lets out a noise of frustration. 'Ugh - look, I know it's immature to be like this with Sheila. Sometimes, though, when I talk to her it kind of feels like I'm betraying Mom. She was so torn up after they got divorced. So when I look at her, all I can think is "You split them up. You caused all that". And so to then see you guys being all buddy-buddy... It's weird for me, you know?'

'And you don't feel the same way about your dad?'

Beca's quiet for a moment. 'I do,' she says eventually. 'Most of the time. But on the other hand... I kind of have to learn to deal with him, since he's paying my college fees and stuff.' She laughs bitterly. 'Plus, he's gotten slightly less annoying over the last year, whereas I haven't even spoken to my mom since I came back to Barden.'

'She's quite proud to know you,' Chloe tells her, pushing back a lock of Beca's hair that fell into her face. 'Sheila. We were talking about the Bellas and she seemed so excited about the arrangement you made. She said she's "always loved acapella"... Maybe you two have more in common than you think. Things might stop feeling so painful if you try and see her as a person, beyond what went on with your parents.'

'Maybe. But that doesn't mean I want to be all best friends and painting our nails together with her.'

'No, of course not.' Chloe pokes Beca's sides, making her squirm slightly. 'Besides, I'm not sure Sheila would suit black nail polish.'

'She might. It'd match her soul.'

'Beca!' admonishes Chloe, but she giggles anyway. 'You're so bad, jeez.' She leans in and kisses Beca on the lips, then slaps her on the butt. 'C'mon you, put your smile on and let's go home. I've got a surprise for you.'

Beca looks up warily. 'A surprise?'

'I know you're not that fond of them, but I think you'll like this one.'

'Last time you said that, I couldn't even remember what happened the next morning.'

'Alcohol free,' Chloe promises. 'Trust me?'

Puppy eyes. Beca tries not to succumb, but if anything, her resistance to fulfilling any of Chloe's rather bizarre requests sometimes has just gone down since they became a couple. '... Fine,' Beca says reluctantly, making Chloe beam. 'But if I see any bottles of tequila, I'm out of there.'

The drive home is quiet and slightly awkward; Chloe throws Beca concerned glances out of the corner of her eye every few seconds, as though trying to reassure herself that Beca isn't likely to jump out of the window at any moment. Beca's still-lingering bad mood is not improved by the knowledge that the elevator currently isn't working, and now they'll have to make their way up four flights of stairs.

'Can't you carry me?' Beca whines.

'No way. Why don't you carry me?'

'I'd break my whole body.'

Chloe's eyes narrow. 'You calling me fat, Mitchell?' When Beca freezes and her eyes widen, it makes Chloe laugh. 'Just kidding. But still, I'm not carrying you. Up!' she says, pointing at the stairs. Beca lets out a long sigh and begins to trudge upwards at a snail's pace. She only picks up speed when Chloe slaps at her legs to make her go faster, but when she nearly trips Chloe quickly stops doing that.

'I was thinking,' Beca begins to say, once they've gotten to the second flight of stairs.

'Oh no!' Chloe says dramatically; Beca twists around to glare at her.

'Shut up, you know what I mean.'

'Sure, sure,' says Chloe, grinning. 'So what fascinating thoughts were you having, Miss Mitchell?'

'I'm not going to tell you if you keep teasing me,' Beca grumbles.

'Aww, Bec. don't be like that. Tell me your thoughts. Pl-eeease tell me your thoughts,' Chloe says, drawing out the word with a whiny tone. She pokes Beca in the back, making her jump and nearly lose her footing on the stairs once more. 'Please please, please.'

'Fine, God. Eventually I'm going to break something with you around, I swear.' says Beca, with her trademark eye roll. 'Anyway. I was thinking maybe I should call my mom tomorrow.' She can't see Chloe's face but knows she's staring at Beca's back in surprise. She smiles slightly. 'I know, right? Me being proactive.'

'That sounds like a good idea to me,' says Chloe, although Beca can detect the note of caution in her voice. 'Why've you not called her, anyway?'

'Because it always turns awkward,' says Beca. 'She's as bad at small talk as I am. We always just end up with her asking about dad and what he and Sheila are up to and going off into a mood... We don't know how to talk about much else.'

'Maybe it's because you need more practice,' Chloe suggests. 'You should involve her more in your life up here. I'm sure she'd probably appreciate it.'

'Possibly. Or she might be mad at me for distracting her from online bingo.'

'Does she know about us?' Chloe asks out of nowhere, surprising Beca enough that her step falters a little. She thinks she recovers well enough for Chloe not to notice, however; she bluntly replies, 'Nope.'

'She doesn't? But... your dad does, right? I thought he might have told her.'

'He hasn't, as far as I know.' She leaves out the part where she begged for over an hour for Dr Mitchell to not tell her mom. At first he'd been insistent, but she managed to talk him down in the end. 'I don't really know how to tell her - she's weird about relationships, Chlo. I don't have any idea how she'll react.'

'Oh. Is it... Because I'm female?' Chloe asks, obviously trying to choose her words carefully.

Beca anticipated this question. 'No, it's not. She knows about that. But...' She struggles to find words to explain. 'She's just weird, like I said. She's never been interested in my life in general, to be honest, let alone my relationships. Or lack of... And meanwhile, my dad is too interested.' They scale the final flight of stairs, and Beca decides to change the subject. 'So what is this surprise, anyway?'

Thankfully, Chloe doesn't make an attempt to change it back. 'You'll see when we get indoors,' says Chloe, smiling when Beca holds the door to her floor open for her. 'I need to find it first.'

While Chloe searches in her bag for the key to the apartment, Beca tries her hand at guessing. 'Is it a puppy?' she asks. 'No, you know I'm not a dog person. A hamster. A cockatoo.' Seeing Chloe's expression, she switches down. 'A cactus?'

Chloe chuckles as she lets Beca in. 'You're awful at guessing.'

'Am I getting warmer?'

'Not even close. It's not an animal. Or even alive.'

'A dead cactus?'

Chloe groans, but the amusement is clearly visible in her expression as she lets Beca indoors. 'You're an idiot sometimes, you know that? Go wait in the bedroom for me.' Seeing Beca pause and her mouth open slightly, Chloe closes it for her. 'And it's nothing like that! Jeez, mind out of the gutter, Bec. You're worse than I am.'

'Right,' Beca mutters sheepishly. She hears Chloe giggle when she quickly turns on her heel and marches off into the bedroom, hands shoved in her pockets to mask her embarrassment. Chloe has finally begun to decorate it to her liking after moving in over a month ago, and when Beca approaches Chloe's desk, she notices a photo she's never seen before. 'Wow, when did you have a Goth phase?' she calls. It's not exactly Goth since Chloe still has her red hair, but she's certainly wearing an excess of dark make up, and her expression is appropriately moody.

'My last year of high school,' answers Chloe. Beca can hear the sound of drawer opening, paper rustling, and then the drawer being closed again. 'I was listening to a lot of Evanescence.'

When Chloe comes back into the room, Beca tells her dryly, with a gesture at her eyeliner, 'My "goth phase" was in eighth grade, but sometimes I think I'm still in it.' She glances at the small envelope Chloe is holding. 'Is that the surprise?'

'Yes.' For some reason, Chloe is licking her lips and pushing her fingers through her hair, a sure sign of nerves. Beca picks up on this immediately.

'What's the matter?' she asks suspiciously.

'Nothing,' replies Chloe, much too quickly to be believable; when Beca simply gives her a "look", she sighs. 'Okay. Promise you won't freak out, okay?'

Beca immediately feels uneasy. 'You know, normally when someone tells me not to freak out, that usually means something's about to come that I'm going to freak out about...'

'No, this is a good thing, I swear,' Chloe insists, '... As long as you keep an open mind.'

'Starting to get freaked out, here, Chlo.'

'Okay, okay, fine,' says Chloe in distress. 'Just - close your eyes and hold out your hand!'

That doesn't sound like a cactus. Or at least, she hopes it doesn't. 'What?'

'Just do it.'

Beca makes a face at her girlfriend before closing her eyes and cautiously holding out her hand. She hears Chloe opening the envelope, and then something small and metallic drops into her palm; her hand automatically closes around it, feeling the jagged edges pressing into her fingers. It's not hard to tell what it is.

'A key?' says Beca, opening her eyes. Sure enough, there's a key sitting in the middle of her hand, grey and stark against her skin. She looks up to see Chloe watching her with a fairly heavy blush on her face, and the way she replies with a nervous, quiet, 'Yes' means it only takes a second for Beca to put the pieces together. 'This is a key to your apartment, isn't it.' When Chloe nods shyly, Beca holds the key up to eye level so she can examine it more closely. In reality, it's just a cover for her suddenly racing thoughts.

Chloe goes on, 'I know what you're thinking - it probably seems a little fast, right? This isn't me asking you to move in, don't worry. It's just - the thing is, you're probably going to be here a lot of the time as it is. A-and I've never lived completely alone so doing it now is kind of weird and - um, it's lonely, you know?' Beca opens her mouth to say something, but Chloe's still talking, the blush only getting heavier. 'Also, the other day I was saying you could come over if you needed to work, but I want you to feel comfortable here and like you can come and go whenever you want without needing my permission. You don't have to say yes right now!' she adds. 'You can think about it. Or we can just pretend I didn't say anything - but it's not like I'm asking you to move in or anything...' She lets out a loud, high-pitched laugh, wringing her hands. 'And um - can you say something now, because I think I'm having a nervous breakdown.'

Beca clenches the key in her fist, then leans in and kisses Chloe. It's only a brief one, but it does the job in helping Chloe to relax, at least a little. 'I'll be honest,' Beca murmurs when they part, frowning. 'This is...' She searches for the words that won't make Chloe panic. 'A bit heavy?'

Chloe lets out the breath she was apparently holding. She looks crushed. 'Don't worry about it. Like I said - we can just forget I ever brought it up. Stupid,' she says under her breath, shutting her eyes.

'Stop that. I thought I was the one with the problem with not letting people finish their sentences,' says Beca in amusement. She turns the key over between her fingers, not quite believing she is actually going to utter her next few words. 'What I was going to say before you jumped to conclusions...' Beca licks her lips. 'Is that even though it's kind of a big thing for me, I'm trying not to just say no as a knee-jerk reaction. So...' she trails off awkwardly, seeing Chloe's smile beginning to reappear.

'So... You'll consider it?' she says excitedly.

Beca is wary of building up Chloe's hopes too much in case she can't handle it in the end, but she just looks so hopeful right now that she can't bear to let her down. She searches for the right way to go about this situation without fucking things up for the both of them. Chloe's right, it's not like she's asking Beca to move in with her - yet, anyway. All she's doing is giving Beca the explicit freedom to come and go in Chloe's space without having to feel awkward about it. Even Beca isn't blinkered enough to not see Chloe's trying to make her feel safer, not more trapped.

'How about this,' Beca says eventually, 'we'll try it out for two weeks. And if it doesn't work, then I'll give the key back. Then, maybe we'll try it again in the future. How does that sound?'

Chloe's smile widens even more into a fully-fledged grin as she takes in what Beca's saying, and then the next moment Beca's falling onto her back on the bed - Chloe tackled her. 'You're amazing,' she says happily, squeezing her tight. 'I was so worried you'd be mad.'

'Why would I be mad? It's a good idea, probably. Plus now I can read your journal and stuff when you're not around,' she adds teasingly. When Chloe's jaw drops, she smirks. 'Oh yeah. I know all your secret spots, Chlo. And can I just say I'm flattered by how much you write about my "killer ass" in there?'

Chloe growls and glares playfully at Beca as she sits up. 'That's it,' she says, climbing off Beca and reaching for her phone. 'I'm texting Jesse to tell him about that time in fourth grade when your girl-crush had a playground wedding and you got jealous and decided to crash it by punching the groom in the face!'

'Wait, what? That's not fair!' She tackles Chloe, trying to get the phone back, but Chloe's already texting furiously and using her superior height to hold the phone out of reach while she holds Beca back with the other hand. 'Stop that!' Beca wails, seeing Chloe is indeed texting Jesse and relaying the horrible details of her childhood to her best friend. Eventually she manages to bat the phone out Chloe's hand and grab it for herself.

'Too late, I've sent it,' says Chloe, sticking her tongue out.

'Oh, you suck, dude!' Beca cries, throwing the phone on the bed next to Chloe. 'I was just kidding about the journal thing!'

The colour drains out of Chloe's cheeks instantly. '... You were?'

'Yes! Christ, I'm not that nosy.'

'But... How did you know about how much I write about you and your ass?'

'I was just making a joke.' Beca stares at her. 'Do you seriously do that?'

Chloe slowly lifts up the phone again, and once more texts Jesse. From here Beca can see what she's typing: Just kidding omg sorry ignore that. When she's done, she turns back to Beca with one eye shut and a sheepish expression. 'Um... Call it even?'

Beca is unimpressed. 'Try again.'

'... Dinner's on me next time?'

'Better. But only just. You're lucky I like you, Beale.'

Chloe crawls over to her, pushing Beca onto her back and snuggling up to her side. 'I know I am.' Chloe's body slumps onto Beca's heavily; she yawns, her eyelids drooping a little. All her previous energy seems to have dissipated as quickly as it came.

'You okay?' asks Beca, carefully pushing Chloe's hair back and smiling when she nuzzles at her fingers, cat-like.

'Yeah, I'm fine; just didn't sleep too much last night.' Chloe leans her head against Beca's shoulder, sighing against her neck. 'Also, you're super comfy.'

'How come?'

'Well, your shoulders are bony but surprisingly cushion-y -'

'That's not what I meant,' says Beca, nudging Chloe with said bony shoulder. 'Why couldn't you sleep?'

'Long shift last night, then when I got home I had some bills and stuff to sort out. It was pretty late by the time I got to bed.'

Beca knows that experience very well, but Chloe is usually pretty protective of her sleep and gets mildly cranky when she hasn't had a full eight hours. 'Do you want to go to bed?'

'Is that an invite?' Chloe's voice is mischievous, but even that sounds exhausted. Worried, Beca pulls back to look at her. 'Oh... Don't give me that look, Bec, I was only kidding.'

'It wasn't about that,' Beca assures her quickly. 'You just sound so worn out all of a sudden. You sure you're doing okay?'

'You worry too much,' says Chloe, already burying her face back in the space where Beca's neck and shoulder joins and tangling their legs together. 'I'm fine.' The firmness and sense of finality in those last two words suggests Chloe doesn't want to talk about it anymore, so Beca finally drops the topic and just slowly brings up her hands to link her fingers with Chloe's. 'Did you ever think last year we'd end up like we are now?' Chloe asks her.

'You mean me cuddling with an insane redhead? Well, I definitely hoped a few times.'

'Oh, only a few, huh? Thanks,' says Chloe, although her tone is light-hearted. 'You know, in all seriousness, I do have to pinch myself sometimes when I remember we got through all that drama and actually. I'm really happy we fought for each other in the end.' She squeezes Beca's fingers, who, uncharacteristically, feels so overcome for a moment that speaking coherently becomes a real struggle.

'... Same,' Beca eventually manages to say.

'Romantic as always.'

'Oh, shut up,' says Beca, bucking the shoulder Chloe is laying on. 'Meh. This definitely wasn't how I thought my time at Barden would end up - I mean, I thought I was headed straight to L.A. But then I guess the Bellas happened... And you.' Chloe's quiet: Beca knows there's something she's thinking about, and she doesn't have to wait long to hear it.

'Do you regret staying here?'

Do you regret staying with me, is what Chloe's obviously asking. The answer is easy. 'No. I don't think so. I mean, it'll be harder to break into a decent music scene down here, but like you said earlier, it's not impossible, right? Plus, there's things I'm learning and doing down here that I couldn't in L.A.'

'Like what?'

'Like having an awesome girlfriend, for one thing.'

'Yeah, I'm sure you could never find a girlfriend in L.A.,' Chloe teases. Beca feels her relax a little, body slumping against Beca's again. 'There's no girls at all up there.'

'I know you're kidding, but I really don't care,' she says, in an odd moment of honesty. 'I mean, you're here, so... That's where I wanna be too.'

Chloe's silent for a moment, but then she leans up to kiss Beca on the cheek. 'Sometimes I forget how sweet you can be.' She links her fingers with Beca's. 'Anyway, Atlanta isn't a complete write-off. There's the station, and the internet. You really should try Youtube or something.'

'You were serious about that?' says Beca incredulously. 'No way. My stuff would never get any views.'

'It doesn't matter. No one's stuff does at first - the point is getting your talent out there so as many people can be exposed to it as possible,' says Chloe. 'Barden is great and all, but unless Luke starts giving you better playing times then it's only going to go so far.'

'It feels like such a sell out, though,' says Beca, wrinkling her nose.

'Why? It's no different to you playing your stuff over the radio. Not really. And it's way easier to share around a Youtube video, so it'd be a good way to make an easily accessed portfolio of your stuff.'

'I guess that's... A good idea, actually,' Beca admits, mind already running away with the thought. Which ones could she put up first that were most likely to attract attention? Probably some of her more unusual mixes, or some of the dubstep stuff - or maybe the mix she made for the Bellas last year? 'Thanks, Chloe,' says Beca appreciatively, leaning to kiss Chloe on the nose, who hums in pleasure, a smile on her lips.

She curls back into Beca's body, and they lie there in silence for a while, Chloe's face tucked into Beca's neck and their legs tangled, while Beca's mind is beginning to race. She'd never really thought too hard about approaching it from the internet scene - it always felt a little too much like the market was saturated with teenage girls playing guitar or pretty boy-Justin-Bieber types. She'd never stand out, she's always thought. But Chloe's got her thinking - is there any harm in it? She doesn't know what could happen, and it seems silly to cut herself off from something that could potentially be good for her without even trying it first.

'I think I might upload the mix I made for finals last year,' Beca says suddenly, a long time later. Night is beginning to fall properly and Chloe's room is starting to get dark enough that she can't see Chloe all that well anymore. 'I know it's not one of my best ones, but I think the mix of the popular songs might attract more attention than some of my other stuff, and maybe then I can think about putting up my other stuff. Do you have any suggestions, Chlo?' No answer. 'Chlo?'

Beca becomes aware that Chloe's breathing has evened out completely: she's asleep. Beca smiles, turning her head just to watch the dimly light silohuette of her face for a while. Even though her girlfriend just fell asleep on her, she feels happy in a way she hasn't for what seems like a very long time. Another ten minutes pass where Beca just watches her, hearing her steady breaths and gentle snore. When Beca's arm starts to fall asleep and Beca's sure Chloe is unlikely to wake up again, she slowly disentangles herself from the other girl. She then slides out of the bed, collects her things, and leaves, shutting the door behind her as quietly as she can.

On her way down the steps of Chloe's apartment, she sends a text to Chloe for her to read when she wakes up.

Hey - let myself out and locked the door (with that new key!), so dw. Thought I'd go home and work on a mix because I suddenly got an idea for one. Talk to you in the morning.

P.S. You look cute when you're asleep. Consider me posting a photo of that on Facebook as revenge for telling Jesse. :)