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Knock Me Out Some Other Way

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Beca is not whipped. On that point she is very adamant. She scoffs at the suggestion when Cynthia Rose makes a deft flicking motion accompanied by a cracking sound.

“So whipped,” says Stacie.

Beca’s jaw drops, gaping at the other Bellas. “I am not,” she insists. “Why are you guys talking about this in the first place?”

“Who’s talking?” says Cynthia Rose. “We have eyes.”

“You look at Chloe like you want to defy the laws of nature to make babies with her. Gay witchcraft babies,” says Fat Amy.

“I—I don’t—” Beca splutters.

“It’s not bad, it’s just obvious,” says Stacie. “I think it’s cute.”

Beca huffs. “I’m so glad you think so. Now if we can get back to work…”

But for the rest of practice there are giggles and sideways glances behind her back, culminating in Cynthia Rose doing some kind of sexy rodeo dance while whirling an imaginary whip over her head.

“Have fun with your girrrlllfriend,” Stacie croons on their way out.

“Hey, I could be going back to my room or the library or the radio station—” Beca can see plainly that no one believes her. She rolls her eyes and decides if she can’t fight it, she might as well go with it. “Goodbye, aca-nerds. Practice is 4 PM sharp tomorrow.” She tosses a wave over her shoulder and heads for Chloe’s.

*

Beca thinks at length about it on the bus ride to Chloe’s apartment. Okay yes, they’re super into each other. Who wouldn’t be when your girlfriend is gorgeous as hell and is basically the sweetest person on the planet and can sing as though her life depends on it? And Beca can admit she’s different around Chloe, especially the instances when Chloe urges her to be nice to whatever hapless freshman is pissing her off that day. Chloe makes her curb her sarcasm, makes her want to be earnest and say things that inspire Chloe to give her that melty I’m yours look. She wants to be better around Chloe; a girl like that doesn’t date just anyone and so Beca does her best to be someone, the kind of person worthy of being with Chloe.

Fuck.

She’s whipped.

*

What’s so wrong about being whipped, though? Absolutely nothing, Beca thinks as Chloe greets her at her apartment door by twining her arms around Beca’s neck and kissing her for long moments, then promising her dinner. Despite being in her first year of grad school, Chloe has more free time on her hands than Beca, partly due to not being in competitive a capella anymore. She’s picked up other hobbies, among them cooking. Once a week she makes something new for her and Beca to try together and afterwards they’ll watch a movie if neither of them has work. Beca jokes it’s Chloe’s reward for the hospitality but really it’s that she can’t say no when Choe turns those big blue eyes on her. She suspects Chloe knows it as well and she’s determined to start building an immunity to it—just not right now.

Right now Chloe is pulling her down to the sofa to watch The Princess Bride, her favorite movie of all time. They’ve been working up to it, sampling some innocuous rom-coms to get Beca accustomed to the cheesiness, which she appreciates. “It reminds me of you actually,” Chloe says as she queues up the DVD.

“Say what now?” Beca asks, not knowing whether to be worried or flattered that Chloe associates her with a sappy romance from the eighties.

“You’ll figure out which parts pretty soon,” says Chloe, looking amused at some secret she’s not sharing. Beca retains her skeptical look, but nevertheless scoots into Chloe’s side when she slings her arm around Beca’s shoulders so they can cuddle.

It becomes apparent very quickly that Chloe was referring to the grumpy little kid who doesn’t want to deal with feelings or icky stuff, which makes more sense. Still, in the back of her mind, she wonders if maybe she should be inspiring feelings and icky stuff in Chloe. Her girlfriend is supposed to have those kinds of thoughts about her, right? Because she certainly has them about Chloe, even if she hasn’t totally admitted it to herself.

She has to interrupt her own internal monologue when the man in black pulls off Buttercup’s blindfold. “How does she not know that’s Westley?” she asks.

“Shh,” says Chloe, not taking her eyes off the television.

“She’s straight up describing the eyes into which she is currently looking. I thought she loved this dude with like, the purity of a…a unicorn,” says Beca, fumbling her analogy because excuse her if she doesn’t normally have to think about describing love.

“A unicorn?” Chloe repeats, laughing. It makes her vibrate against Beca’s body in a really nice way.

“He’s being a real fucking prick to her too,” Beca points out as Westley admonishes Buttercup for getting engaged to Humperdinck. “What was she supposed to do, live alone for the rest of her days after hearing Westley died?”

This time Chloe actually pinches her arm. “Maybe. True love isn’t like normal love. We can talk about it after the movie.”

Beca stops nitpicking with a little grumble and settles back into Chloe. As the movie wears on and Buttercup gets more and more useless, Beca keeps getting the urge to speak up. But she also has Chloe’s words rattling around inside her head, layered on top of her worries that she’s not romantic enough for her girlfriend. Chloe probably wants true love and Beca’s pretty sure true love doesn’t exist. This might be a problem.

*

“So what did you think?” Chloe asks brightly as the credits roll.

“Um,” says Beca. On the one hand this is Chloe’s favorite movie ever; on the other she’s never asked Beca to withhold her opinion just to spare Chloe’s feelings. Sometimes Beca does it anyway because there’s nothing worse than seeing Chloe’s face fall and knowing she was the cause of it. This time she opts for a little diplomacy. “It was funnier than I thought it would be.”

“Right?” says Chloe. She starts quoting the mawwiage scene, interspersed with giggles.

Beca hesitates to say more, drawing a little pattern on Chloe’s thigh with her pointer finger. “Do you think true love is really that rare? They made it seem like it happens once in a generation or something.”

“Well, in the movie it was pure unicorn love,” says Chloe, earning her a quick slap from the hand Beca was using to draw. It’s so light it’s hardly a pat, but Chloe grabs her hand anyway and holds it in place. “But I think in the real world it happens all the time.”

“All the time?” Beca says. She can sense that they’re entering some kind of new territory here, entirely uncharted but not unexpected. They’ve only been together for five months and a bit but already their lives are so intertwined. Beca sleeps over at Chloe’s half the week; an extra toothbrush and some of her clothes are here, plus an external hard drive for work. They schedule their time with each other in mind and run errands together on the weekends. Chloe takes precedence for Beca even over Bellas business, although the Bellas are a super close second. This talk, the one where they share their feelings and refer to themselves as an us and maybe define what they’re doing, has been coming for a while.

“Yeah,” Chloe says, uncharacteristically laconic. Waiting for Beca to make the first move, she knows, because she’s already told Chloe the gruesome history between her parents and all the ways it messed with her head.

“Well—I mean—” Beca hesitates, looking down at their clasped hands. She can feel Chloe tensing next to her. “I guess just because I haven’t seen it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” she finishes. It’s not what she wanted to say and they both know it. It’s more than she would have said when they first met; she’s not the complete emotional dummy she used to be, thanks to Chloe’s patience. Still, she gets the sense that Chloe is kind of let down by her response.

“Let’s go to bed,” says Chloe, pressing a quick kiss to the back of Beca’s hand. She seems preoccupied while they both undress and she’s a long time in the bathroom, brushing her teeth and washing her face. Her good night kiss to Beca is as sweet as ever but after she turns off her bedside lamp, Beca can tell she’s just lying awake in the dark. She’s afraid to reach out to Chloe but wants to make up for—whatever it was she did wrong earlier.

As usual it’s Chloe who comes to her, apparently deciding that whatever awkwardness happened shouldn’t come between her and a snuggle. She arranges herself half across Beca’s body, head resting on her shoulder and arm draped comfortably over her stomach. Within minutes she’s asleep.

*

Beca lies awake for a while, at least an hour after Chloe has nodded off and started snoring softly. She breathes heavy at night, which Beca actually finds kind of soothing. The rhythmic in and out is like a tidal pattern and it usually has the power to lull her to sleep. But even if Chloe has managed to let go of the evening, Beca can’t and her mind won’t spin down to a stop.

She chickened out. That’s the gross feeling that’s bubbling in the bottom of her stomach. She wanted to tell Chloe how she felt and she didn’t. It should be the easiest thing in the world to tell Chloe about feelings; the girl practically drinks them up like water. But Beca can’t. And what are her feelings anyway? She should probably be able to articulate them before she opens her mouth.

It’s not true love. It can’t be. She’s only nineteen, Chloe is twenty-three, they have years of school left ahead of them. They’ve known each other for less than a year and a half, been dating for much less than that. They haven’t even met each other’s families, even though Chloe had wanted to take her home for Thanksgiving. It was too soon, then.

Shouldn’t she know true love the moment she lays eyes on her person? Then again, in the movie, Buttercup didn’t know she loved Westley until—Beca nearly slaps herself. She is not trying to analyze her own love life based on information from The Princess Bride, she’s just not. The image of Cynthia Rose cracking the whip returns.

Okay, she can start from there. Beca Mitchell is whipped, she can at least admit that much. She is way into her super hot girlfriend, about whom she thinks near constantly and wants to make happy no matter what, even if it means suffering through soggy movies or the occasional cooking experiment gone wrong. She can tell Chloe that, right?

A plan starts to coalesce in her brain. Beca’s last thought before she finally falls asleep is that if the Bellas made fun of her for being whipped before, it’s only going to get worse after tomorrow.

*

“That is the sweetest thing I have ever heard. From you, anyway,” says Denise at the end of practice. Beca made sure all the junior Bellas were gone for this, leaving the core from last year as the only witnesses to her most embarrassing moment with them yet.

“Are you sure you’re not sick? Maybe with encephalitis? I hear encephalitis is big on college campuses in America,” says Fat Amy.

“I’m fine,” says Beca through clenched teeth, staring straight ahead at the chalkboard with their developing set list scribbled on it. “Just needed some advice and kind of regretting it now.”

“You’ve come to the right place,” says Stacie, practically gleeful. “We are going to help you plan the best six month anniversary ever.”

“I have some fireworks, but you have to set them off from at least a hundred feet away,” says Lilly.

“No fireworks,” Beca says immediately.

“Except the ones in your pants,” says Fat Amy.

Beca buries her face in her hands. Just two more weeks of planning to go.

*

She doesn’t want to just make Chloe another mix. Chloe loves her mixes, but this needs to be something special. Unique. Something that says Beca is trying really hard and even if she might not be the most emotional person in the world, the feelings are there.

“Sexy underwear,” says Stacie.

“Sexy skywriting,” says Fat Amy.

“Sex,” says Cynthia Rose.

“Something that shows you listen to her,” says Ashley, stopping everyone in their tracks with her thoughtfulness. She just shrugs at them and continues texting on her phone.

“Okay, I can do that,” says Beca, letting that idea start to simmer.

“Have you thought about maybe just saying I lo—” Cynthia Rose nearly chokes on what she was about to say at the sheer panic that sweeps over Beca’s face. “—ike you?” she finishes rather lamely.

“I—no. It’s not that easy. I need to find a way to show her,” says Beca, hands nearly fisting in her hair in an attempt to make her brain work. It shouldn’t be this hard; by now she knows all sorts of things about Chloe that should help her decide. She knows Chloe’s favorite color (sunshine yellow), her favorite comfort food (warm donuts), what always cheers her up (music, baby animals, driving really fast on the highway), her greatest fears (that locked-in syndrome where you’re aware but completely paralyzed, and also maggots). She doesn’t get tired of learning these things either. She gets the feeling there’ll always be more to learn about Chloe and it makes her look forward to the future in a way that has her thinking she might be becoming an adult.

“HEY,” says Fat Amy, clapping her hands right in front of Beca’s face. “Snap out of your lesbionic haze.”

“I wasn’t—”

“You look pretty dopey when you think about Chloe,” says Fat Amy. She hooks her thumb at Lilly. “Like that.”

Lilly holds up her sketch pad with an amazingly accurate rendering of Beca’s face, which does look dopey, much to her dismay.

“Did you draw that just now?” asks Beca, but everyone else ignores the question as they start pitching suggestions.

“It would help if we knew what you’re getting her,” says Cynthia Rose.

“I’ve only been thinking about it for like five minutes,” Beca protests.

“Think harder. Think with your lady business,” Fat Amy suggests.

Beca starts flicking through her mental library of Chloe. First meeting, enduring the trial-by-fire of rebuilding the Bellas together, that weird bit at the end of last summer where they were dancing around each other but not yet together—and through it all Chloe’s smile, her encouragement, her calm assuredness that she’s there for Beca. Beca wants to be there for her in the same way.

Just like that, she stumbles on the solution.

*

First she swears the Bellas to dire, Aubrey-like oaths of secrecy, with the threat of giving all their solos to the freshmen if anyone breathes so much as a syllable to Chloe. Then she gets the ball rolling on her plan. The hardest part is acting normal around Chloe for the next two weeks.

“Are you okay?” Chloe asks at dinner a few days before the date of their anniversary.

Beca tries to make her poker face, realizes that her poker face is probably a giveaway that something is up, and tries to hide behind a forkful of Chloe’s excellent quiche. “Yeah. Great. Why?”

Chloe narrows her eyes slightly. “You’ve been awfully squirrely lately.”

“Wow, squirrely. That’s a new one.”

“Mmm.” But Chloe continues to make accusatory eyes. “You’re planning something.”

Beca just serves up her most charmingly lopsided smile. “Of course I am. Six months.”

Chloe’s return grin is so dazzling that Beca wants to confess on the spot and give Chloe her gift early. “You remembered,” says Chloe. Her hand covers Beca’s where it rests on the countertop.

“It’s not something I would forget,” says Beca. She squeezes Chloe’s hand.

Chloe makes a face at her remarkably like the one that Lilly drew; Beca is actually pretty proud of herself for keeping her mouth shut despite being blasted full-on by adorable rays. “What’d you get me?” Chloe asks mischievously when she’s done making Beca melt into a puddle.

“I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out together,” says Beca, making her voice slightly breathy with exaggerated excitement.

“Such a tease.”

“You love it.”

“I bet,” says Chloe, tongue wetting her lips, “I could get you to tell me.”

Beca clenches her fork when she feels a foot trace its way up her calf. “I bet you can’t,” she says, rather hoarsely. She’ll never get tired of this either, of wanting Chloe and Chloe wanting her in return. Tingles, sparks, whatever, Beca can feel them racing along her skin when Chloe touches her. She would feel bad for scoffing at all those people who claimed it was possible except she’s currently busy getting straddled in her chair by her girlfriend.

“Talk,” Chloe says, holding Beca’s face still with her hands.

Beca tries not to look directly into Chloe’s eyes. “Never.”

Chloe presses a light kiss to one corner of Beca’s mouth, then the other. “Talk,” she murmurs against Beca’s lips.

“Beca Mitchell, captain, Barden Bellas,” Beca responds smartly.

Chloe kisses her properly, one thumb stroking Beca’s cheek, the other hand gripping the back of Beca’s neck. Beca is extremely glad they’re already sitting. “Are you done eating?” asks Chloe, eyes still closed.

Beca has to clench her jaw when Chloe shifts on her lap, pressing up against her stomach. “If I say yes will it keep you from making a corny joke about dessert?”

Chloe nips at her lower lip, then pulls back, eyes sparkling. “Not a chance,” she says merrily, and saunters off to the bedroom, discarding her shirt on the way.

Beca’s chair scrapes in her haste to follow, leaving the rest of their dinner untouched.

*

Eight AM, day of, Beca’s eyes spring open of their own accord. She has one morning class, then the rest of the day off. Chloe has a full schedule of research, then a meeting with her advisor. Beca has the apartment to herself all day.

The first few times she was in the apartment while Chloe wasn’t there, it was kind of weird. It was Chloe’s space and being in it by herself kind of felt like an intrusion. But Chloe would tell her not to be ridiculous; there was no point in Beca waking up early and leaving just because Chloe had to go, so Beca might as well sleep in and then lock the door behind her when she left. It doesn’t feel as weird now, especially with the gradual infiltration of her things. Her shirts, hanging next to Chloe’s. Her shampoo and conditioner in the bathroom rack above Chloe’s facial scrub. One of her textbooks on the kitchen island next to the spice rack. And most of all Chloe’s key on her keyring, left out one morning with an innocuous little note that Beca might need it “just in case.”

She’s impatient all through class, mostly double-checking her list for that night. As soon as her professor releases them, she’s darting out of her chair and running to meet Cynthia Rose, who’s driving her to the grocery store for dinner ingredients, then helping her cook.

“Thanks,” says Beca somewhat breathlessly as she buckles in.

“Couldn’t pass up a chance to help you get your love on,” says Cynthia Rose.

Beca rolls her eyes and makes a move for the door handle even though the car is already rolling. “I’m jumping out,” she says.

“I would say go ahead, but we both know Chloe would kill me if I let it happen,” says Cynthia Rose. “Sit your narrow ass in that seat.”

For a few minutes there’s the sound of the engine and the low hum of whatever Top 40 station Cynthia Rose has on the radio. Then Cynthia Rose asks, “What’d you get her?”

Beca would sigh dramatically if the Bellas hadn’t been pestering her about this for the past two weeks. Instead she just presses her mouth into a thin line. “Dude, if Chloe can’t get me to answer, you’re gonna do this how?”

“I’m just saying maybe I have some money riding on this.”

“Cynthia Rose!” Beca admonishes. She’s not supposed to be gambling and after they’d had to rescue her from a really shady all-hours poker game, she’d promised she was done.

“Just between the Bellas!” Cyntha Rose protests. “Maximum ten-dollar buy in. I’m not even holding the money. Lilly is.”

No gambling at all,” Beca emphasizes. “If no one finds out by tonight then no one wins, right?”

“Yeah,” says Cynthia Rose glumly.

“Good.”

Silence descends between them while Beca scans through radio stations, trying to see if they can pick up WBUJ. But then they pick up a sliver of Doo Wop (That Thing) and all transgressions are forgiven in favor of harmonizing with Lauryn Hill. When they next look at each other, it’s in mutual agreement that this is going in their next set.

*

Beca really doesn’t know how she could have pulled off any of this without her friends. In less than two years she’s gone from being antisocial alt-girl who prefers to shut out the world to a leader with a devoted girlfriend and an all-girl a capella posse who would be willing to say, create a distraction at the front door of a closed Chinese restaurant so Cynthia Rose can escape out the back door.

Fat Amy ran the second half of practice today when Beca had to make arrangements over her phone. Cynthia Rose helped her crank out a really beautiful dinner, getting Chloe’s favorite cassoulet into the oven while Beca showered and dressed. Stacie helped her shop for flowers and pick out an arrangement that said “I’m serious, but I still need plants to deliver the message for me.” And Lilly gave her the number of a friend who could forge her a fake ID good enough to fool a liquor store. He’d also offered to sell Beca a set of international passports, but was nice when she declined, so it fell on the low end of the wtf-Lilly meter and that’s a gift in and of itself.

Before she can even begin to account for the time, it’s nearly six and Chloe is due home any minute. She ushers Cynthia Rose out the door with a grateful pat on the shoulder (hugs are still only a Chloe thing, and probably always will be), makes sure Chloe’s gift is all set, puts on an appropriately sexy but not cheesy playlist, and then sits down to wait patiently on the couch.

Which lasts all of thirty seconds before she’s up again, pacing, fiddling with her hands, checking her phone for texts. This night has to be perfect. She can’t bear the thought of Chloe’s disappointment if she chickens out again. She’s just starting to think maybe she should change outfits when she hears the familiar cadence of Chloe’s footsteps in the hallway, then the grind of her key in the lock. Beca tries to position herself naturally, nearly freezes into some kind of mutated walk-like-an-Egyptian pose while she’s arranging her arms, and finally gives up on pretense. “Hi,” she says, meeting Chloe at the door with a kiss.

“Sorry I’m late,” says Chloe. “I know you have plans for tonight and—” She stops in the middle of taking off her coat and purse to register how the apartment has transformed.

The living room table is set for two, complete with a trio of lit tapers and fancy china. Everything is spotless from Beca’s relentless lunchtime scrubbing. Beca herself is in her nicest jeans and black tank. She gestures to the kitchen counter. “Dinner’s ready,” she says, overcompensating for her nerves with a huge, slightly shaky smile.

“I can see that,” says Chloe. She tries to bite down on the cheek-splitting grin breaking out on her face and only partially succeeds, twisting her mouth pleasantly. “You serve, I’ll get washed up.”

“Okay,” says Beca. She gets everything plated, pours the wine, and concentrates on not spilling anything on her way to the living room. Don’t fuck this up Mitchell is the mantra in her head.

Chloe pads back into the living room in her bare feet, but when Beca looks up at the rest of her, she nearly drops the wine glasses. “You look nice,” she says in a voice just a few notches above a whisper.

Chloe has changed into a simple little black dress, form-fitting and ending just above the knee. She pauses at the edge of the living room, deliberately leaning up against the wall. “Thanks.”

“I feel like I should change—”

“Don’t you dare. You look nice too.” Chloe’s winsome smile is enough for Beca to settle down, even though her heart has started to thump noticeably harder. Chloe’s full-body brush past Beca on her way to the couch doesn’t help at all.

Don’t fuck this up Mitchell. She can do this.

*

Beca does her best not to jiggle her leg as dinner winds down. They’ve both had a bit of wine and Chloe is already loosening up, not that she was all that tense to begin with. She touches Beca more frequently, sends heated looks at Beca through her eyelashes, sits so close you couldn’t slip a playing card between them. Beca is almost ready to pounce on her right then and there, but there’s still the matter of Chloe’s gift.

“I got you something,” says Chloe just as Beca is about to bring it up.

“Oh?”

Chloe leans back. “Yes, oh. Don’t ‘oh’ me, of course I got you something.”

Playful banter, Beca can do in her sleep. She relaxes a little, falling easily into give-and-take with Chloe. “Maybe I didn’t get you anything.”

Chloe scoots back completely, putting a gap between their bodies. “Beca Mitchell don’t even joke. You did not plan out this elaborate dinner and make yourself look so good just to get me nothing.”

“Wow, Sherlock.”

Chloe makes a face at her and Beca relents, laughing. “Yes, fine, I got you something. But you go first.”

Chloe’s eyes take on that particular glint when she’s about to pop from excitement and she waggles her hands in the air a few times. “Okay. This has two parts.”

Beca’s eyebrows perk up as she wonders if her perfect girlfriend is about to unknowingly upstage her.

Chloe pulls open the drawer built into the living room table and pulls out an envelope.

“You were hiding your gift in there?” asks Beca in a scandalized tone.

“Hidden in plain sight,” says Chloe, turning her nose up with a superior air. “You never found them, did you?”

Beca makes an abortive attempt to grab at the envelope, but Chloe snaps it out of her reach with a flick of her wrist. Beca wrinkles her nose. “I acknowledge your superior cunning, Agent Beale. What is it?”

“Open it.” Chloe pushes the envelope into her waiting hands.

Beca pulls out two laminated passes, eyes scanning them quickly for information. “David Guetta tickets. You got us all-access David Guetta tickets,” she says.

Chloe beams at her. “He’s playing Atlanta in two weeks. I checked your schedule. We are going to have the best time.”

“Oh hell yes,” says Beca, resisting the temptation to smell her tickets and clutching them to her chest instead.

“I’m glad you like them,” says Chloe, who is doing that thing where her eyes literally twinkle. Beca would say it’s just the candlelight but she’s seen Chloe pull this Disney trick before. She thinks it might be Chloe’s mutant power.

“And that was just part one,” says Chloe. She sits up straighter and takes a breath, like she’s preparing herself for something. Beca feels a little tingle of anticipation—or maybe it’s fear—zip up her spine while Chloe smooths the fabric of her dress with both hands. “I had to call the club because I was having problems buying the tickets online.”

“Okay,” Beca says slowly.

“And they put me on with the manager, and she was really nice so we got to talking.”

Beca can’t help but smile fondly. “Trust you to make a friend because their website is crappy.”

“Shh,” says Chloe, nevertheless pleased with the observation. “So anyway, we got on the topic of the music they play at the club, and I mentioned that you’re a DJ and she asked me to send her a sample of your music.”

Beca’s face goes from smiling to verging on incredulous as she realizes where this story is going.

Chloe says the rest in a rush, as though afraid Beca will back out on her before she can finish. “So I sent her that dance mix you made me last month, the one where you sampled Tiësto, and she really liked it and she wants you to come down to the club and do a live set for her and if she likes it she’ll let you play the club.” Now she’s definitely nervous, searching Beca’s face for a reaction.

“I…” Beca’s jaw works a few times. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Do you…I mean, I hope you’re okay with me sending her your stuff,” says Chloe. Her left hand inches across the sofa towards Beca, stopping just short of touching her thigh.

“Chloe.” Beca looks down at her hand, then at her hopeful face. The David Guetta tickets get tossed aside so Beca can throw herself bodily on Chloe, giving her the hug to end all hugs. “I love it. I love it,” says Beca fiercely, almost angry at making Chloe doubt herself for this amazing gift.

Chloe completes the hug, arms wrapped all the way around Beca’s tiny waist, solid and warm and happy.

Reluctantly, Beca lets go, though her touch lingers at the small of Chloe’s back. “Okay, I’m not sure how I’m going to follow that, but it’s your turn for gifts.”

Chloe nearly quivers on the spot with excitement and Beca knows that she could give Chloe a handmade macaroni shell card and she’d still gush, because Chloe loves any and all presents.

“Close your eyes,” Beca instructs her. “No peeking.”

Chloe holds up three fingers in the Girl Scout salute, which actually means something coming from her because she actually was a Girl Scout and she actually took it seriously. She can still recite the Girl Scout Law.

Beca picks her way clear of the couch and table, checks over her shoulder to make sure Chloe can’t tell where she’s going, and slips into the laundry room where she’s stashed her gift. When she returns to the living room, it’s with a scruffy little blonde dog in her arms. She rearranges herself on the couch as best she can while still holding on to the dog, who is incredibly happy to see her after his nap in the nice warm laundry room. “Okay,” she says. “Open ‘em.”

Chloe slowly reveals those blue on blue eyes while Beca watches her closely. Chloe’s hands fly up to her mouth as she registers what Beca is holding. “Oh my god,” she says from behind her hands.

“His name is Lancelot,” says Beca. “Or that’s what they named him at the shelter, anyway.”

“Lancelot!” Chloe coos in delight. She reaches out with her left hand to let the dog sniff.

“I—” Beca has to pause to adjust to Lancelot’s squirming as he attempts to get closer to Chloe. “I was going to get you a puppy because you said you missed having a dog. But when I went to the shelter there he was and they said he’s been there a while and…” Beca shrugs. “I don’t know. All his brothers and sisters already got adopted and they said he was the runt and kind of unfriendly to kids, but he liked me, so I got him.”

Chloe holds out her arms to take Lancelot, who goes willingly. Beca can’t blame the dog; between the two of them, she’d choose Chloe too. “I love him,” Chloe says with the little wobble in her voice that means she wants to cry. She buries her face in his fur.

“I’m gonna help you with him, obviously,” Beca continues while Chloe earns Lancelot’s undying love with a few well-placed scratches. “I’m not just…I’m not giving you a dog and telling you to take care of it yourself. We’ll take care of him, together. He can be ours.” Beca tries not to squirm while she speaks, aware that a flush is blooming on her cheeks. She presses on; she didn’t go to all this trouble to lose her nerve at the last moment.

“Because it’s not like I’m going anywhere. I’m going to be here with you and Lancelot for a long time. Because…” Now she really is blushing, unable to quite look Chloe in the eye. She’s aware that’s what you’re supposed to do, look a woman directly in the eye when you say these things, but it’s hard enough just saying it when she’s thought that talking about your feelings is hokey for most of her life.

“Beca,” says Chloe, and in her voice is all the gentleness and warmth that made Beca fall in the first place. She puts Lancelot down, but only in her lap, where he settles immediately. Chloe touches Beca’s cheek, cupping it smoothly. “I love you too.”

Beca exhales loudly and feels something evaporate in her chest, like a heaviness there has gone up in smoke. She looks right at Chloe without worrying that it’ll be too much. Chloe understands. She understands Beca, she can translate her stunted attempts at communication into the bright roller-coaster-stomach emotions Beca actually feels. They’re in love, even though she never thought she was capable of it, but for the first time she can see that it’s exactly what she wanted. She doesn’t have to be scared of anything.