Actions

Work Header

You Know Her Breath Will Catch and How Her Fingers Curl

Work Text:

If someone had asked Beca at the end of her freshman year whose idea it would be to do a Bellas reunion tour, she would have sworn up and down that it would be Aubrey's. No question about it. Aubrey's the only one crazy enough to take on that kind of project, let alone come up with the brainwave that there are people, somewhere out there, dying to hear the 2012 ICCA winners perform again (who are those people, Beca can't answer, but they probably don't spend enough time engaging in actual life). Aubrey lives and breathes collegiate a cappella -- of course she'd be the one who revives the group.

But, as these things have a way of changing, that's not what happens. What actually happens is this:

Beca's bone-tired at 5 AM, stumbling back buzzed on a combination of alcohol and adrenaline after playing at a new West Hollywood club. It's been slow going, these last three years after she graduated from Barden, but she's getting there. She's sticky hot, and once she manages to actually open the front door of her apartment -- the sticky lock gives way beneath her persistent pushing, Beca strips her clothes in a messy path to the bedroom. She curls herself onto the bed, opening her laptop to check her email before she goes to sleep. Chloe's online, but her status is orange. Beca scrolls through the open IM window to read the last message.

i miss the spice girls. did i ever tell you i saw them on their reunion tour? DREAM. COME. TRUE.

It makes Beca snort-laugh, which feels funny when she's all loose-limbed from drinking. She types into the window, before she really thinks about it:

we should get the 2012 bellas together for a reunion tour. like the spice girls.

Sarcasm doesn't translate over text apparently, because Beca wakes up mid-afternoon to a dry mouth and about six messages from Chloe, all with at least four exclamation points each.

HOLY SHIT!!11!!!

WE SO SHOULD!!!!!

it'd be just liek old times!!!!!!!!!

this is such a good idea beca how did you come up with it?????

i'm gonna tell aubrey right away!!!!!!!!

OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!

Beca rolls over with a groan. Her hangover is throbbing from the glare of the screen. She shuts the computer with one hand, turns her face into her pillow. She's not sure how just from reading, but it sounds like Chloe's shrieking in her brain. No one's ever told Chloe she could use less intense punctuation. Beca fumbles with one hand at the nightstand, finds a half-full cup of water, and lifts her head just enough to drain the glass.

So, she thinks dimly as she drifts back to sleep, that's happening.

 

*

 

Aubrey takes charge of the tour from there. Naturally. She organizes two weeks of tour -- starting from Barden and spilling out towards the West (Beca gets roped into finding them a gig for LA). It's not like Beca has a steady job with vacation time and benefits or anything, so the two weeks is just two weeks during which she won't be making money, but she reads the email chain going around anyway -- everyone sending in when they can make it. Chloe's is particularly enthusiastic, unsurprisingly. She's supposed to be defending her doctorate thesis soon, and even that hasn't put a damper on her energies. Aubrey's responses are in her usual clipped tone. Beca can hear it, like machine gun fire in her head as she reads each sentence. It's unnerving.

"It's going to be so good!" Chloe gushes to Beca over Skype. She's clearly exhausted. There are dark circles beneath her eyes, and in the corner Beca can see a pile of books. Her voice is chipper though, bright, with a hint of laughter beneath the words. "I can't waaaaaiiiitt."

"You should get some sleep," Beca grins, feeling fond. It makes her all warm, and her stomach is doing that twisting thing it does whenever she's talking to Chloe. Beca misses her -- all the hours of hanging out late at night in college, listening to Beca's playlists and eating Chex Mix. Chloe studying in her living room for her grad school courses, and Beca doing her music theory reading next to her.

"Right. What's that again?" Chloe jokes.

Beca scrunches up her nose. "Seriously though."

"Uh, seriously though, I...don't really remember what that is." Chloe props her chin up with a hand, turns to one side, stretching, and Beca stares at the curve of her neck. Even though the picture looks grainy on the screen, Beca has to drag her eyes away from it.

"We'll have plenty of time to stay up late and talk after you pass your thesis defense."

Chloe rubs at her face. "Okay. You're right." She laughs. "I'm going to bed. Love you, Becs."

Beca tries to say something back and changes her mind at the last second, like always, the words getting stuck in her throat. She waves instead, shuts the window after Chloe's picture goes dark, her fingers lingering on the trackpad of her laptop. Goddammit, she swears to herself. Chickened out again. Not that it's any surprise at this point. She shuts her laptop and turns herself facedown onto the bed and breathes.

 

*

 

She's always had this...thing for Chloe. It's not actually a big deal, except when her friend Susannah calls Chloe "the unrequited love of Beca's life" -- that makes it sound like a big deal, when it isn't, god, why doesn't anyone believe her? It's just that, Chloe was one of Beca's first friends at Barden, and that means something, something bigger than any crush Beca could have. At this point Chloe is her best friend, and Beca would never do anything to fuck that up. So she'll handle it. By herself. She's been doing it for ages anyway. Since halfway through junior year, when she realizes she's full-on crushing on Chloe, and does an awkward avoidance thing for three days before she can figure out how to act normal again. It's like she has to relearn how to be a person.

"Um, here's a crazy idea, but why don't you just tell her?" Jesse says when she confesses her secret to him, totally out of the blue as they're eating French fries in the McDonald's parking lot.

She crumples her greasy container and shoves it back into the takeout bag. She puts it on the floor. Jesse's car is so littered with shit that it doesn't make a difference. "Oh my god, no."

"Surprise." Jesse rolls his eyes. "Why not?"

"Because we're friends, and she isn't into me."

"She...could be."

"No, I don't want to -- risk it. Besides, it'll stop eventually, right?" The question comes out all high and nervous, not like Beca wants it to sound at all.

Jesse eats his last fry. "Um. Sure?"

She punches his arm. Lightly. Not that she could do any real damage even if she wanted to, given their respective sizes. "Wow, thanks for your vote of confidence."

"I'm not an expert on this," he says, and makes a face at her, and she doesn't bring it up again.

Sometimes people (namely, Susannah and Jesse) make it sound like Beca's never had feelings for anyone other than Chloe, which is patently untrue. Jesse should know that from firsthand experience. And yet -- all of Beca's interests have come and gone, and Chloe has remained this constant, wedged in next to her heart, burrowed so deep that at this point it feels like part of Beca. It's been years and Chloe can still reduce her to this stammering, blushing mess. Whenever Chloe's dating someone it makes Beca feel weird, this strange burning sensation in her chest that leaves behind a pulsing ache. Susannah gives her this shrewd look the one time Beca describes it and says "that's jealousy, sweetie".

"A Bellas tour sounds really great," Jesse says during their bi-monthly Skype date.

"Does it?" Beca says, trying for skeptical. Even though, well. She's a little bit excited. Just, a little bit. Which she isn't admitting to anyone, no, never.

"Yeah, I'd love to do a Trebles reunion." The expression on his face is wistful. "Minus Bumper."

"Ugh," Beca says, though it's a bit reflexive. She's pretty much forgotten about Bumper at this point. "I guess if you really wanted to jump on the bandwagon..."

"Maybe next year."

There's a pause. Beca arches her eyebrow at Jesse, who looks like he wants to say something. "Spit it out, dude. What is it?"

"You, uh, still have that Chloe situation?"

She colors. "Um. Situation?" she asks, feigning ignorance.

"You know what I'm talking about."

Beca fidgets with her necklace, sliding the chain through her fingers as she thinks about how to answer. But apparently the pause is enough for Jesse, because he laughs and shakes his head.

"Alright, got it," he says. "That's going to make the tour really interesting."

"Shut it," she grumbles.

 

*

 

The last stop of the tour is a surprise, Aubrey says in her email. But, it continues, as it behooves all of us to be prepared, I'm going to reveal it now. (Beca rolls her eyes at this sentence -- of course it would "behoove" all of them to know where they're fucking going.)

We're spending the last four days in beautiful Hawaii!

"Fuck," Beca says to her computer screen, legitimately surprised.

She really thought Aubrey was going to tell them she had managed to somehow book Lincoln Center again. Look, she wouldn't put it past Aubrey.

Hawaii, though? Much much better.

 

*

 

She ends up with a four-hour layover in St. Louis because of a flight delay. It's raining, and all Beca can do is wander the terminal, eating pre-packaged sandwiches from an airport convenience store. The peanut butter and white bread sticks to the roof of her mouth, and when she scrapes her tongue against it, it makes this weird smacking sound that she tries to hide with a sleeve of her sweatshirt. She finally sits down at her gate, two seats away from a half-asleep businessman, and pulls out her phone. There's a new text from Chloe, and Beca pulls her feet up onto the chair as she unlocks the screen to read it.

it's saying you're landing at 11:43

yeah, Beca texts back, you don't have to come get me. i'll take a cab to stacie's.

already at the airport! with plenty of reading to do so i'm going nowhere. but tell your plane to hurry up and get here. :) can't wait to see yoooou!

It makes her feel both guilty and warm at the same time, and she has to put the phone down before she's overwhelmed with the fluttering in her chest. She can feel the flush spreading up from the back of her neck to her ears. It is actually ludicrous that this is still her reaction to Chloe, that it's still so much, after all this time, that it hasn't diminished in any way, but has maybe in fact gotten worse. It's a stupid crush -- it's totally dumb -- but the way Chloe makes her feel -- it's overwhelming sometimes.

see you soon, Beca texts back, after five minutes of trying to figure out what to write. God, she's bad at this. If only Barden had offered a course in Navigating the Texting Minefield of Girls You Have Massive Crushes On. Beca would've taken it in a heartbeat.

She pulls out her Macbook and plugs her headphones in, tries to work on the Bellas setlist that Aubrey put her in charge of. But two hours later, when the plane is finally boarding, all she's really done is some aimless switching around of tracks, and stalking through of Chloe's Instagram account. There's a new picture -- a Starbucks cup and a book -- and Chloe's titled it with All comfortably settled at ATL!

On the flight she drinks two glasses of water and tries not to jiggle her leg against the seat in front of her. She's all keyed up, nervous anticipation bubbling beneath her skin. She hasn't seen Chloe in -- a year? Half a year? Closer to a year, definitely, and her stomach is doing flips. Her palm is tacky with sweat as she pulls out her phone upon landing, switching it on to tell Chloe she's here.

"Bec!" is all the warning she gets before Chloe slams into her, pulling Beca into a tight hug. It's so sudden Beca doesn't have time to be nervous in the moment -- she's too busy hugging Chloe back, feeling the cotton of Chloe's shirt against her cheek.

Chloe pulls back, laughing, saying something Beca can't quite catch.

"What?" she asks, and it comes out raspy. She clears her throat and asks again.

"You're finally here," Chloe breathes, her eyes so bright. Beca swallows. Chloe's hand is still against the back of Beca's neck, her fingers curled beneath the fall of Beca's hair. "Skype seriously isn't the same. I'm so happy you're here!"

Skype really isn't the same, Beca thinks dumbly as Chloe hugs her again. She takes a shaky breath, trying to slow her heartbeat. Skype isn't like this at all.

"Come on," Chloe says, grabbing Beca by the wrist (that doesn't happen over Skype either). "I think we've all spent too much time in airports today."

 

*

 

It's long past two in the morning when Aubrey finally forces all of them to bed, piled up in Stacie's guest bedroom and the living room floor. Beca finds herself on a sleeping bag in between Fat Amy (she claims one of the two air mattresses) and Chloe (who's lying on a matching sleeping bag). Aubrey eyes them from the couch as she turns off the light.

"We're up early tomorrow," she says, rather pointedly, at Chloe.

"Got it," Chloe says with a crooked little grin. It's so -- something. Whatever it is, seeing it almost makes Beca's chest hurt.

It's hard to sleep, and Beca stares up at the ceiling of Stacie's living room, the moulding on the walls. There's a strip of orange streetlight on the wall, spilling in from between a break in the curtains. After a while Beca hears Amy's breathing deepen, and she keeps listening to it, lulling herself.

She's almost asleep when Chloe edges close, her mouth practically at Beca's ear.

"You asleep?" Chloe whispers.

Beca's instantly awake. Like she's been dropped into freezing water. She lies still for a second, thinking about not saying anything, but finally whispers back, "No."

"I missed you," Chloe says.

Beca's heart stops and starts again. She turns her face a bit. Chloe's expression is blurry at the edges, tired, but she's smiling. "We talk all the time," Beca mumbles, trying for grumpy, but it comes out a bit strained instead.

"I missed you anyway."

"Okay." Beca sucks in a breath, and goes for it, before she can stop herself. "I missed you too," she says, a little too loud, and Amy makes small noise. Beca buries her face in the sleeping bag, cheeks hot, grimacing a bit at her own awkwardness.

Chloe laughs, the sound soft and loose. "I know, Beca." She reaches over and strokes her thumb across the back of Beca's knuckles, over and over.

Beca thinks there was more to that conversation, but if there was, she can't remember. She just remembers the feeling of Chloe's thumb, gentle. She sleeps, deep and dreamless. When she wakes up the next morning, Chloe's hand is still over hers, and Beca hasn't moved an inch.

 

*

 

They have two days of 12-hour rehearsals -- Aubrey and Chloe doing the choreography and Beca leading the music practices. It's rusty at first, but after a few hours it seems like they're back into it. Beca's trying something new for the tour -- this Miley Cyrus retrospective that she mixes a little T Swift into. It's got all these surprising transitions. She spent hours mixing it together back in LA. Cynthia Rose claps Beca on the back during a water break and grins.

"Still rocking it, girl," she says.

"How's business school?" Beca asks, taking a seat next to her, wiping sweat from her eyes with a bandana.

Cynthia Rose shrugs, takes a long gulp of water. "Alright. One more year to go."

Beca notices Chloe laughing at something Amy's saying out of the corner of her eye. She turns her head, reflexively, and something must change in her expression because Cynthia Rose snorts.

"Nothing new with you, I take it," she says, voice all dry.

"What? No!" Beca says, a little panicky, trying to refocus.

"Calm down, Beca." Cynthia Rose nods towards Chloe. "I get it. She's hotter now than when we were in school."

Oh god, if she could die on the spot right now, that would be totally acceptable. Someone strike her with a thunderbolt from on high, please.

Beca gets to her feet, a bit stiff. "Break's almost over," she mutters.

 

*

 

The first concert is... Well, it's rough. It's in the Barden student center (which gives Beca the weirdest sense of deja vu), and the audience is a scattered group of undergraduates for the most part. It's not really an important concert -- it's free, and it's only half-full -- but it's embarrassing all the same. They're settling back into things. Jessica almost runs into Lilly during a turn, and Beca fumbles a line in her solo. Which would be one thing if it was just an unnoticeable flub, but it wasn't. It's unacceptable, and Aubrey tells her as much when they get offstage, sweaty and shaking.

Fuck everything, basically. Amy pats her gently on the shoulder, and Beca shrugs her off, annoyed. She wants to crawl into bed and have a drink and go to sleep for five days. But she can't even get any time alone -- much less a proper bed.

She takes a very long shower instead, replaying her mistake in her head, feeling embarrassment burn low in her stomach. It feels hotter than the water.

"I expected better from you, Beca," Aubrey says over a late dinner of pizza and alcohol in the living room. "It was an amateur mistake. Jessica -- you too. Don't think you're getting away with this."

Jessica's expression seems properly contrite, but Aubrey's never liked Beca's face much.

"Aubrey, come on," Chloe says. She scoots so her arm is brushing Beca's. "We were all nervous."

Beca twists her mouth and peels the label off her beer, stripping the layers of paper off. She balls them up in her hand. No one else will even look at her. Amy is staring up at the ceiling, mumbling something unintelligible underneath her breath.

"That's bullshit. She performs all the time."

"Hey -- " Chloe starts.

"No," Beca says, not looking up from her slice of pizza. "Aubrey's right." She practically has to pry the words out of herself. "It was totally amateur hour. I'm -- sorry. I fucked up." She glances up through her eyelashes; Aubrey looks like she's trying to decide if it's a real apology or not.

"Okay," Aubrey says. "This can't happen again," she warns.

Chloe volunteers to do the dishes after dinner, and Beca ends up leaning against Stacie's kitchen counter, drying plates with a dishcloth and putting them back into the cabinets. She hears Chloe humming a strain of something from their set, and it's low and soothing over the sound of water splashing into the sink. Chloe flicks soap suds from her fingers and tilts her head to one side.

"Is it a full moon or something?" she asks, all casual, so Beca knows it's not.

"What?" Beca says back. She feels childish, being obtuse on purpose.

"Aubrey."

Beca shrugs, stacking two plates carefully together. "We've all grown up, right? Besides, I did it before."

"Yeah, you just -- yeah." Chloe rinses a wine glass. "So are you okay?"

"Yup."

"Beca."

She takes a breath. "I don't want to talk about this anymore," she says. "I fucked up and I apologized and that's it. I don't want to harp on it."

"It wasn't a big deal -- I barely even noticed -- "

"But you did notice and people noticed, and it's a big deal to me right now, and I don't want to talk about it anymore, Chloe." Beca tosses her damp dishtowel on the counter and stalks out of the room, nearly colliding with Stacie on the way out.

 

*

 

They never fight, her and Chloe. Maybe once or twice before, mostly over misunderstandings. Beca hates it, the fighting. She'll throw herself off a building if it means avoiding a confrontation with Chloe. There's too much there -- emotions and thoughts and just too much shit to get bogged down in. As soon as she slams out of Stacie's apartment the guilt hits her, all at once, and she remembers the way Chloe's cheeks get blotchy when she cries.

It's not much of fight either. Just Beca being an asshole. She can't even have an actual fight with Chloe, fuck this shit. There's a lump in her throat that she has to swallow past.

Beca walks herself twice around Stacie's block, hands in the pockets of her shorts. She's sweating through her shirt when she gets around the first time, so she figures she might as well continue. Beca pulls her hair into a ponytail on Stacie's front porch and sits down, hugging her knees, feeling the back of her neck cool the tiniest bit in the lazy, humid breeze.

The living room's all dark when Beca edges back into the house. She inches her way back towards her sleeping bag, careful not to step on someone's outstretched limb. She's still sticky from being outside, but changing would require a trip to the bathroom -- so she ends up just lying down, too lazy to switch shirts or even to take off her bra.

"Bec?" she hears Chloe say.`

"I'm sorry," Beca says, quiet. "For snapping."

"It's fine." Pause. "Thanks. Are you...okay?"

"Fine," Beca answers. She reaches out, finds Chloe's hand. She tangles their fingers, and tries not to think about herself doing it, how her pulse is so fast and loud. "Goodnight," she whispers.

 

*

 

The next gig is better, and Aubrey even says "that was great" after the third.

Beca has that fucking line she messed up practically tattooed on the insides of her eyelids; she's never going to forget the words again.

(Fucking Aubrey's right -- she performs for a living. Inexcusable.)

 

*

 

They've stopped for lunch at a diner somewhere in Mississippi when Chloe's phone buzzes, and the way she smiles down at the screen makes Beca's heart turn in her chest in a sick, falling fashion. She makes herself take a long, slow breath. Chloe tells her everything. It's not -- it wouldn't be -- anything important. Probably just her mom. Beca looks down at her cherry pie, and pushes a few crumbs around.

"Who's that?" Amy says from across the table. "Your lover?"

Chloe grins, blushing. "Um."

"Keeping it a secret?" Cynthia Rose asks.

"Is it Peter?" Aubrey says, taking a sip from her coffee. "Is he still meeting us in Austin?"

Chloe gives Beca the quickest of looks, so fast that Beca almost misses it. "Yeah," she says, "he's looking forward to seeing us perform."

Beca gets up to use the restroom, leaving behind her pie, and a few crumpled bills to pay for her sandwich and Coke. She can feel Chloe's eyes on her all the way across the restaurant.

"Don't be mad," Chloe says, dropping into the empty seat next to Beca on the bus. "I was gonna tell you about Peter."

"I'm not mad," Beca says automatically.

"My friend set me up on a blind date, and I liked him. It's only been two months. He had this idea to come down to Austin to see us. I told him he didn't have to, but he insisted." There's this strange inflection in Chloe's tone, not quite enough like desperation to warrant the word, but not entirely unlike it either.

"I thought we told each other stuff," Beca says, feeling stupid and wounded, and a lot of things really. "You told Aubrey."

"Aubrey's...different. I tell you both different things." Chloe stares down at her lap. "I wanted to make sure."

"Of what?"

"Of him."

"But you like him," Beca says.

"Well, yeah, but I like you more," Chloe says simply. "So I wanted to make sure."

All Beca really processes is "I like you more", which is dumb, and she can feel the words spreading in her ribcage. Chloe didn't even mean it like that. She turns her face away. "Okay," she says to the window. "Tell me about Peter."

In the reflection she sees Chloe's answering grin. She really should've bailed on the tour.

 

*

 

She was really looking forward to Austin too. She spent a few months there last summer, guest DJ-ing around town.

Now, well.

Chloe's boyfriend is meeting us in Austin, she emails to Susannah and Jesse. She leaves the subject line blank.

fuck that shit! Susannah sends back, prompt as usual.

Jesse just writes, :( Do you want me to call?

Beca feels pathetic. She pulls on her headphones and spends the next three hours working on a new mix, losing herself in chord progressions. Once or twice she catches Chloe's eye, but she doesn't say anything.

 

*

 

Peter is tall, broad-shouldered, good-looking -- if you're into that sort of thing. He looks wholesome and cornfed, which Beca supposes is what Chloe gets for going to Iowa. He meets them backstage after their gig, clutching a bouquet of flowers for Chloe, his smile earnest. She goes bright red when he hands them to her, and Beca darts her eyes away when Chloe tilts her head up for a kiss.

"It's great to meet you," he says to Beca when they're introduced. It sounds genuine, which kind of makes her want to gag. She has to seriously resist the urge. Because she's five.

Cynthia Rose nudges Beca with her elbow. "Buy you a drink?" she mutters.

Beca gnaws on her lower lip. "I'm not going," she says decidedly, and swings her backpack over her shoulder. "Thanks."

"You're not coming out with us?" Aubrey asks, sounding flatly unsurprised, when Beca brushes past her towards the exit.

"I've got -- I need to -- I have stuff to do," Beca says.

Aubrey's gaze is shrewd. "Aren't you going to say goodnight, Beca?"

Dude. Who is she, Beca's mom? "No," Beca shoots back, biting, and pulls the hood of her sweatshirt over her head.

She feels bad about ditching Chloe like five seconds afterwards though. She lingers for a long minute behind the building, considering how embarrassing it'd be if she went back in. Too embarrassing, probably, and the image of Chloe and her boyfriend -- yeah, Beca's not going back in. No fucking way. She walks the half-mile back to the hotel, at a clipped pace, thinking about the way Chloe looked at Peter and trying not to think about it. Jesse calls when she gets to the lobby, and she has to sandwich the phone between her ear and shoulder as she gets into the elevator.

"So how's the boyfriend?" he opens with.

Beca punches the button for her floor. "He's...whatever. He's the boyfriend. He's nice. He's really nice."

"Sucks."

"Yeah."

"What're you thinking?"

She shifts her weight, heel to toe, impatiently, waiting for the elevator doors to open. "Nothing."

"Really?"

"She isn't -- she's not into me like that. There's nothing to think. This is just the way things are."

Beca can practically hear him mulling this over as she slides her keycard into the lock. She waits for him to say something, but he doesn't, so instead she tosses her bag down on her bed and gets herself a glass of water from the bathroom.

"So things at work have been insane," Jesse says at long last, changing the subject entirely.

She leans back against a mountain of pillows. "Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah," he replies, soft, and she feels the word, like a gentle touch against her collarbone.

 

*

 

This jealousy thing -- it's beneath her. Really. Beneath isn't the right word. Beca isn't sure what the right word is. She just knows that she's almost 25, and that's like, adulthood. You can rent cars and everything! So, being petty about Chloe's boyfriend is immature. Incredibly immature. She needs to just suck it up and deal. Chloe's her friend, practically her best friend, and Beca's going to be happy for her and Peter if it kills her (it might; it really might).

Peter leaves the next day anyway, as they're all milling around the bus ready to head to their next city. He hugs them all goodbye, which Beca tries to duck by offering her hand, but he just hauls her into his arms anyway. It's something like strike 6498 against him, along with his niceness and sense of humor and his obvious infatuation with Chloe. The hug makes Beca squeak unexpectedly, fucking humiliating, and she notices Aubrey turning her face away, hiding a smirk.

"I know how to hide the body so they'll never find it," Lilly whispers matter-of-factly, offering Beca a piece of gum on the bus.

Beca's balks. "Jesus, Lilly!" she hisses. "I don't want to murder anyone!"

"Suit yourself." Lilly shrugs.

"Well?" Chloe asks, leaning over the back of Beca's seat. Her hair falls forward and brushes Beca's shoulder. "What did you think?" She's nervous, her smile jittery.

"He's -- " Beca pauses, clears her throat. "He's great." She tries to push all the sincerity she can muster into her voice. "Really nice. He really likes you."

"Good. It's still early though."

Something rises in Beca and she tamps it down. "I hope he works out."

"Yeah. Maybe."

 

*

 

It's the hope factor that's dangerous. No matter how much Beca wants to, she can't seem to let it go. Whenever Chloe says something in passing, whenever she touches Beca -- it makes hope surge up in her, unbidden, unwanted. If Beca could get rid of the hope, she could get over Chloe.

It feels that simple, at least. It's not that simple in reality.

They make it to LA on a day the smog is lying low in the valley, but Beca's just so fucking thrilled to be home. The rest of the Bellas are staying in a hotel not too far from her apartment, so Beca leaves them there to take a shower in her dark little bathroom, and pass out in her bed for an hour or so. Getting to use all her normal hair products is kind of the best thing that's happened to her for weeks, and she falls asleep, half-naked in her towel, her skin still damp from her shower.

She wakes up to the sun setting through her bedroom windows, and someone knocking on her front door. Fuck. Her mouth's dry, and she turns to crack her neck before sitting up. The knocking continues. Beca has to paw through her dresser to find an oversized t-shirt of Jesse's and a pair of cotton shorts. Her hair's dried all funny from the way she slept, and she pulls it back as she pads through the living room.

"Who is it?" she asks.

"It's me," Chloe says, muffled through the door.

Beca's heart jumps. She unlocks the door. Chloe's standing there, alone. She's changed too -- into a lacy blue dress that's a shade darker than her eyes. She looks stupidly pretty. Which isn't different than usual, so maybe she's more stupidly pretty than she is normally? Beca can't think about it too hard; her stomach feels queasy just looking at Chloe.

"Heyyyy," Beca says, regretting it the minute it comes out of her mouth, all stilted and strange. "Um, what are you doing here?"

Chloe smiles, shrugging. "I wanted to spend time with you. Can I...come in?"

"Yeah. Of course." Beca backs up from the door hurriedly.

"The place looks better with furniture."

Right. Because the last time Chloe was in Beca's apartment was two years ago -- a week after Beca moved. "Thanks. Uh, you wanted to spend time with me? Didn't we just spend eight hours on the bus together?"

Chloe blinks. Her eyelashes are long and dark. "I wanted to spend time with you alone, Bec."

Fucking hell. Beca busies herself getting Chloe a glass of water so she can take a minute, standing over the sink, wrapping one foot behind the other as she tells herself to calm her shit. They should've stuck to Skype. This never would have happened over Skype.

"Everyone else is going out for dinner," Chloe says, leaning against the doorframe of the kitchen. She's holding her phone in one hand. "I thought -- we could stay in? Get takeout? If you want."

Beca hands Chloe the water, wipes her palm against her shorts. "Alright."

They get shitty Chinese food from the place around the corner. Beca finds a couple of beers in the back of her fridge and she opens two for them. They sit on the floor of her cramped living room, listening to tracks Beca plays off her laptop, eating eggrolls and shrimp in lobster sauce. Beca drinks her beer a little too fast, and she finds herself buzzed, poking at the carton of fried rice with her spindly chopsticks. Chloe laughs when Beca makes a gesture with her hand and little bits of rice and peas and egg go flying.

"Shut up!" Beca giggles. She's giggling. She's comfortably warm and the edges of her vision are fuzzy. Yeah, she's a little drunk.

Chloe reaches over and picks a piece of rice off Beca's shoulder, right by her neck. "Gross."

"Says you." Beca's grin falters. Chloe's face is suddenly so close.

There's a second before she does it. She pauses, waits, holds herself back for a second. Chloe's eyes flick down to her mouth, but she doesn't move. Beca leans in, quick, and she kisses Chloe. Right in the middle of their circle of takeout cartons, with the noise of the street outside, filtering in. Chloe takes a sharp breath, and Beca hears it, above the blood rushing in her ears. Her mouth falls open beneath Beca's, unexpected and wonderful. Beca presses in, shaking a little, the taste of Chloe's chapstick on her tongue. Chloe kisses back -- hard -- her lips bruising -- and then she pulls back.

"I can't," she says, while Beca's still dazed. "Beca, I'm sorry. I can't."

Beca touches her mouth. "What?" She feels like everything's been flipped upside-down, and her brain seems to be working at half-speed.

"I said I can't. I'm with -- Peter."

Beca stares at her.

Chloe gets to her feet, her hair falling forward. She bites her lower lip -- where Beca had just been kissing her -- and starts for the front door. Beca struggles up as well.

"Chlo -- "

"I'm dating Peter, Beca; I'm not dating you."

Beca freezes. Chloe's staring at her, wide-eyed, her expression something terribly, awfully sad.

"I know you have -- feelings -- for me. I'm not stupid. Just, I'm not -- " Chloe puts on her shoes. She's shaking her head, talking down to the floor, fumbling for the doorknob. "I should go. I'm sorry, Beca. I have to -- I have to go."

The door clicks shut behind her.

 

*

 

It hurts.

It hurts more than Beca could have ever expected it to hurt. It hurts in a way that radiates out, from her chest to her extremities. It hurts in a way that she can't fix. It hurts so much that Beca just wants to lie in her bed, staring at nothing, feeling her body ache.

(She remembers every second of the kiss -- of the pull of Chloe's body, of the way her mouth moved, of the surprising heat of her skin.)

Obviously this was the way things were supposed to turn out. What the fuck did Beca even expect to happen? She's not surprised. She feels like her heart's been through a meat grinder, but she's not surprised.

Beca thinks about not going to the performance. She's soloing though, and she can picture Aubrey dismembering her in her mind's eye, so she hauls herself out of bed and into a presentable outfit. She shows up at the venue twenty minutes late to soundcheck, looking like a mess. Aubrey practically murders her on the spot. Beca's breath hitches when she catches a glimpse of Chloe in the background, pale.

"Where the eff have you been?!" Aubrey says.

"I'm here now," Beca says. She's too tired to fight Aubrey. "Let's just go, okay?"

Aubrey reviews her performance that night as "lackluster". Beca almost laughs.

"If this happens in Hawaii -- "

"It's not going to happen in Hawaii," Beca says shortly. She and Aubrey always have the same conversations, never new ones. Chloe's been on-and-off glancing at her all night and saying nothing, and it's driving Beca insane.

Aubrey opens her mouth, but Chloe elbows her. They exchange looks and Aubrey falls mercifully silent.

"See you tomorrow then," Beca says.

 

*

 

Hawaii's beautiful. Beca's never been, but it's beautiful. Duh. Everyone and their mom knows that. She could almost imagine having a good time. Cynthia Rose and Amy keep asking if she's okay -- their shared hotel room is starting to feel like some well-intentioned counselor's office -- and Beca brushes them off continuously. She goes for a walk along the beach instead, watching swimmers bob in the water. She's gotten a sunburn on her nose when she heads back inside, the skin already peeling.

Their last performance is outside, and they're all wearing leis though they nixed the hula skirt idea that was brought up. It strikes Beca, as she watches the audience cheer for them, that she didn't really appreciate this trip at all. Getting to be with her friends. Singing a cappella again. The whole two weeks is cloudy with Chloe. And, she thinks dully, it's over now. She didn't even realize it until then. It's a different kind of hurt than Chloe, and when they get offstage, she immediately reaches out an arm for the person closest to her. Stacie's face is surprised, but she puts her arm around Beca's neck, hugging her back loosely.

"What? The trip is over. I just wanted to hug you," Beca says, all defensive.

"We have two more days here," Stacie grins. "But we love you too, Beca."

"How drunk are we getting tonight?" Amy hollers from behind them.

It's a rhetorical question, but it doesn't stop Beca from turning around and yelling, "Yes!"

 

*

 

She's on her third drink -- something fruity in a pineapple with lots of little cocktail umbrellas -- when Aubrey corners her at the bar. Aubrey practically shoves Denise off her chair. Beca notes the firm set of Aubrey's mouth, the tightness around the eyes. God, the fucking tour is over, is Aubrey going to continue harping on their mistakes? Beca takes an extra-long gulp of her drink to avoid talking first.

"What happened between you and Chloe?" Aubrey says, raising her voice above the noise of the bar.

Fuck, of course. "Nothing," Beca says. She tries not to slur, but she doesn't have too much control at the moment.

"Don't be surly with me, Beca. Something happened with you guys. Back in LA. Chloe's been crying for days."

Beca closes her eyes because everything's spinning. She opens them again and Aubrey's still there, glaring. "It'll blow over," she says, quiet. "We're out of here after tomorrow. It's fine."

"It's not fucking fine," Aubrey says. She waves down the bartender for a drink, and looks down at her hands. "I know you like her, Beca. Everyone knows you like her. Chloe knows you like her."

God. "Yeah, I know. She told me." She sucks down another gulp. It's practically all rum, and Beca coughs.

Aubrey hands her a napkin. "When?"

"When I kissed her."

"You're so stupid," Aubrey says.

Beca hates her in that minute. "I fucking know that already. Give me a fucking break, why don't you? You're not a goddamn saint!"

The bartender pours Aubrey her tequila shot. She downs it with a quick snap of her head. It's such a sudden movement it almost startles Beca out of being pissed. "You're so stupid," Aubrey repeats evenly. "Chloe broke up with Peter."

It stops Beca for a full beat. The alcohol is throbbing beneath her skin. "...I don't know what that means."

"You should find out. Talk to her tomorrow."

Beca shakes her head. "No -- she doesn't -- " and it gets stuck in her throat. She swallows.

"Tomorrow," Aubrey says decidedly. "We've got the whole day free."

Beca drains her pineapple, letting the rum burn its way down. Maybe she'll die of alcohol poisoning and won't live to tomorrow morning.

Here's to wishful thinking.

 

*

 

The hangover is vicious and unrelenting. Beca pops two aspirin from Amy's proffered hand and downs two glasses of water at breakfast. The last thing she wants to do is talk to Chloe. Her head feels like it's about to split in two, and the smell of cooking eggs is going to turn her stomach. She picks at a plate of fruit, head propped against her hand. Beca's nibbling on a piece of honeydew when Chloe makes her way across the dining room to her.

"Do you want to take a walk?" Chloe asks, resting her hand on the tabletop.

Beca stares at it, the perfectly painted nails, the bracelet hanging off of her wrist. "Okay," she says, dropping the melon back onto her plate.

She follows Chloe out of the hotel. It's excruciatingly bright, and she blinks rapidly in the sunshine, trying to adjust. She fumbles through her pockets until she finds her sunglasses. Her flip-flops slap against the sand when they reach the beach. There's a breeze coming off the ocean. Beca trails Chloe, half-watching the surfers out in the distance. They walk like this for ten minutes in silence -- Chloe leading, Beca following -- it feels a little like a horrible metaphor for their relationship.

Chloe stops beneath a copse of palm trees, several yards away from the nearest person. "So."

"So." Beca puts her hands in her pockets, squints out across the water. The surfers are lying on their boards.

"Are we fighting?" Chloe asks, sounding small. Beca glances at her. She's hugging herself loosely with her arms.

"I -- I didn't think we were."

Chloe makes a noise, like a hum, and sits down. After a second Beca follows suit, leaning back against a tree trunk.

"I broke up with Peter," Chloe says softly.

"I'm...sorry?" Beca says, after a long minute. She can't find anything else to say, and she takes off her sunglasses instead, playing with them. "Aubrey told me last night," she tacks on eventually.

"Yeah, she mentioned."

"Why did you break up with him?"

Chloe sighs. "A lot of things. Partially you, " -- Beca's heart gives this traitorous leap -- "partially just...me. I just didn't like him enough." She catches Beca's eye. "You kissed me," she says. There's no inflection.

"Yeah."

"I didn't think you were ever going to. I mean, I kept thinking you were going to, when we were at Barden. But then it just sort of...receded into the background. I wasn't expecting it."

Beca stares at the sand between her knees. "You've known since Barden?"

"It wasn't obvious. It was just the way you looked at me sometimes. It was, it was different."

"Why didn't you say something?"

"I don't know, Beca." Chloe runs a hand through her hair, twisting her fingers through the bright curls. "I wanted you to be sure? Maybe? I don't know." She pauses. "I liked you too."

Beca isn't sure how to breathe. "You...liked me?"

"Maybe I still do."

Inhale. Exhale. Beca forces her voice steady. "Maybe?"

Chloe tilts her head to the side. "Maybe." She looks scared. She looks fucking terrified. It's exactly the way Beca feels.

Beca scoots forward. She moves herself next to Chloe, so their shoulders brush. After a second she reaches out for Chloe's hand, catching the fingers between hers. Linking them together. Chloe looks down at their hands.

"What do we do now?" she asks.

"I don't know," Beca answers, and she squeezes Chloe's fingers. "I have no idea."

 

*

 

The plane isn't delayed. Instead it's early, which makes it all the more frustrating that Beca got stuck in traffic on her way to LAX. She's late -- and she parks in airport parking with a little more force than necessary, jerking her car into an empty space. She doesn't want Chloe to be waiting -- not after all of this. Not after the three months of tentative figuring out and flying back-and-forth. Not after Chloe finally gets a job in LA. Beca sprints the whole distance to the arrivals gate, which is why Chloe sees her when she's doubled over, panting, trying to scan the crowd for Chloe's familiar face.

"Did you run?" Chloe says, pulling her luggage over.

Beca nods, still breathless. "From the garage."

"Oh my god, Bec." Chloe says it so fondly though, so lovingly. She pulls Beca into a hug, sliding her hands up beneath Beca's sweatshirt, settling along her waist.

Beca turns her face into Chloe's neck. "Shut up," she says against Chloe's skin.

"I don't get a kiss?"

Beca pulls away a little, tilting her head up. "You want one?" she asks. Sometimes she still isn't sure of the rules. Of what's allowed in their slow, cautious journey. Sometimes she's still back on that beach with Chloe, terrified.

"Yeah," Chloe nods, smiling.

Beca curls her fingers behind Chloe's neck, pulling her down to meet Beca's mouth. The feeling of it sends a full-bodied shiver through Beca. Chloe clutches at her, tighter.

"Okay then," Beca says when they break apart. She's grinning. "Let's go."