Consciousness creeps towards Chloe like a fog rolling in. Thick and heavy, slow but persistent, and it's almost covering her before she knows it's there. It lies atop her with enough weight to stop her from moving at first, though she's able to groggily blink her eyes open to survey her surroundings with blurred vision that clears as the seconds pass.
From under heavy lids, she sees that the light in the hallway is still on, too bright now, and it casts its beam towards the foot of her bed and then fades into the shadows that swallow up the rest of the room. She wonders what time it is and even briefly entertains the idea of reaching for her phone, before noticing her arms are still asleep. Leaden and sluggish.
Her eyes travel over the uneven lumps of the duvet that's been pushed down to lie in a lump on the edge of the mattress and right as she's about to ask herself why she isn't cold, she realises the bed sheet has been pulled up over her body. She can feel the top edge of it brush the underside of her chin as her motor functions start up again and she turns her head.
Beca's sleeping face is inches from her own. So close that Chloe almost lets out a gasp of surprise, but she manages to hold it in. Manages to avoid waking the woman beside her.
Beca's hair is messy, trapped between the side of her face and the pillow, plastered to her cheek with strands sticking out in every direction. A few linger close to her mouth and they move every time she breathes. Chloe doesn't know why the tickling hasn't woken her yet, it would have driven Chloe crazy by now.
Beca's lips are parted, soft grunts of sound slipping from between them when she inhales, and Chloe's smile is sleepy and private. So full of adoration that it might break the heart of anyone watching. Only, no one else is there. It's just the two of them, and for the moment, Chloe alone.
As her eyes scan Beca's face, Chloe notices that there's a small wet patch on the pillow that lines up perfectly with the corner of Beca's mouth and her smile widens in place of laughter.
Beca Mitchell is, single-handedly, the most adorable creature Chloe has ever met.
As if sensing she's on someone's mind, Beca twitches in her sleep. That's when Chloe registers the arm lying across her torso and the closed fist resting on her right shoulder, the corner of the sheet still clutched in it.
Beca had managed to pull it all the way to Chloe's chin, but her own side had lagged behind, only making it to halfway up her back and stopping just below the equalizer bars tattooed there.
Fondness swells inside Chloe's chest, causing it to trip and miss a beat when her brain puts the pieces together and she's able to comprehend that Beca had to have fallen asleep after Chloe or woken up while Chloe was sleeping in order to cover her without Chloe knowing.
And Beca had stayed.
They are, more or less, in the exact same position Chloe last remembers them being in a few hours earlier and Beca must have made the conscious choice to return to that position after pulling the sheet over them.
And it's not that Chloe had expected Beca to shamefully sneak off to the other bed, it's just that she'd anticipated waking up alone. She'd accounted for an either mildly or incredibly embarrassed Beca and subconsciously formulated a plan to deal with that outcome.
But Beca had stayed.
And Chloe hadn't thought to think of a plan to deal with that possibility.
A bird chirps outside their balcony doors and Chloe considers the fact that it must be creeping towards daylight beyond the curtains. Panic flares behind her ribs, momentarily seizing her in its grip, because today's the day.
Today is the day The Bellas take the stage at Worlds and put Das Sound Machine and their grotesque statuesque beauty of a co-captain in their rightful place; beneath the heels of the Bellas, both new and old.
She can't believe so many former Bellas were not only able to make the trip but also willing to. It's not a day trip to the local beach for a reunion; it isn't exactly a cheap excursion, but so many of those she and Beca had reached out to - both themselves personally and through Emily's mom - had been delighted to attend. Some had even changed plans and moved family holidays around for this.
The thought warms Chloe.
Bellas for life, dude.
But it's also the day that brings her one step closer to saying goodbye to the girls that have become her family over the last four years.
Chloe isn't sure she's ever truly understood the meaning of bittersweet before this.
Blinking herself back into the present, Chloe allows herself a moment of shameless self-indulgence as she watches Beca breathe easily through slumber beside her and then lets her mind wander through the events of the night before in clear detail for the first time.
Her stomach clenches and rolls and the memories settle between her thighs like heavy echoes.
She doesn't think she's ever felt that scared before. Or brave. Or desperate. Doesn't think she's ever run a marathon of emotions quite like that one. So intense it had left her muscles burning and her body buzzing with something like a runner's high.
She can feel it even now, only moments removed from sleep, tingling through her veins and stoking embers.
Chloe takes a deep breath and closes her eyes in an attempt to steady herself, but the attempt is foiled by the sounds Beca had made, the feeling of her hand resting over Chloe's.
The memory of how Beca had been so worked up, so unable to control herself, that she'd slipped a hand inside her own underwear and gotten herself off right beside Chloe.
Chloe's toes curl against the underside of the sheet and she blows out her held breath as slowly and quietly as she can.
It's not like she hasn't done that before, touched herself while someone else watched, but this had been nothing like those previous times. Those had been all about teasing the guy she was with, getting him worked up. Last night, Chloe had seriously thought she might combust if Beca didn't let her do something. Almost as though Beca had been the one teasing her, putting her in the guy's shoes for once and running the show. Which, with that Titanium stunt, Chloe supposes that's exactly what had been happening.
Chloe had felt slightly out of control. More than slightly. Had she been thinking more clearly, been more level headed, she might not have grabbed Beca's hand like she did. Might have considered that to be a tiny step too far. But she'd needed to in the moment, needed to feel Beca close and have Beca feel how she made Chloe feel. And then that had been the catalyst for every second that followed.
She can almost feel Beca's breath on her neck now, pressing curse words into Chloe's skin and practically getting Chloe off with the sound of her voice alone.
It had been one of the more intensely erotic moments in Chloe's life and they'd barely even touched each other.
Her gut tells her that means something and, for once, her mind and heart agree without hesitation.
She's probably in trouble.
She knows she is.
Beca shifts beside her, a strange, sleepy movement that has her somehow stretching and curling into herself a little at the same time. The hand at Chloe's shoulder lets go of the sheet and curls around her upper arm, squeezing it mid-stretch. It all makes Chloe smile and when Beca blinks open heavily lidded eyes, Chloe doesn't look away.
Time slows to a crawl as they look at one another, the curtains of sleep being idly drawn back from Beca's face.
"Hey," Beca croaks, barely audible.
A flutter of emotion stirs itself into a frenzy behind Chloe's ribs, something like fondness only stronger, and it smothers her ability to talk at first.
"Morning." Her voice is quiet but Beca groans like Chloe just started blaring Miley Cyrus at an ungodly volume and for one horrible instant, Chloe is terrified that Beca is hungover.
Because yes, they'd both been drinking last night, but she hadn't thought either of them had been drunk enough to result in a hangover - not that Chloe gets those - but if that's the case, then Beca might not even remember what happened last night. Which pulls a thread of terror through Chloe so thick, it makes her shudder and her blood turn cold.
"Seriously?" Beca whines, taking a deep breath in and rolling her face into the pillow before turning it so that she's facing Chloe again. "I thought it was the middle of the night still."
Relief floods Chloe, slackening her expression until she can smile softly.
"I think we were awake through the middle." Chloe watches Beca carefully as she speaks, trying to gauge any shift in expression, any small reaction. "Probably just missed it because we were, um, busy."
And Beca's reaction isn't what Chloe would have expected, if she'd been expecting anything at all. Which she hadn't, because there was exactly zero frame of reference for this situation and so she hadn't seen the point in getting worked up over the hypotheticals.
Beca's reaction isn't visceral. It isn't a whirlwind of motion that leaves her tangled in sheets and sprawled awkwardly on the floor while Chloe sits up in bed, looking at her with thinly veiled concern.
No, what happens is so unexpected, it leaves Chloe speechless in the immediate aftermath.
Beca rolls her lips together until they're barely visible, retracts her hand from Chloe's arm and moves away from her. Then she grabs the sheet - that she's only now realising is lying way further down her back than she'd thought - and yanks it right over her head with another groan.
At first, Chloe is simply shocked by the reaction. Then, as the adorable reality of it sets in, Chloe's smile spreads slowly across her lips and she shifts onto her side to regard the Beca-shaped lump with some amusement.
"Beca." Chloe trills the name like a melody. "Why are you hiding?"
"I'm not hiding," Beca counters, her voice slightly muffled. "This is how I always start my mornings."
Chloe lets out a laugh.
"Well, I know that isn't true. I've woken up with you like a bunch of times and this only happens when you're refusing to get up."
"Okay. Well." A beat. "That's what I'm doing."
Chloe reaches out to poke the lump, aiming for where she thinks Beca's ribs are. She's met with a yelp and some squirming.
"Dude, that was my boob!"
Chloe's laughter is brief, but it's full and loud, and it feels like happiness.
"Sorry. I was looking for your ribs."
"Are you also failing anatomy?"
"Depends." Chloe drops her voice an octave, keeps the volume of it low. "Will you help me study if I say I am?" The innuendo is thick and clear, and Beca twists her leg until she can bump Chloe's shin with the top of her foot.
"Is that all you think about?" Beca grumps and Chloe can picture the scowl she's wearing.
"What else am I supposed to think about while you're lying in bed half-naked right next to me?" It isn't really a hypothetical question, it's a valid one that Beca should have an answer for, but she doesn't say anything. And, after a few moments of Beca not saying anything, Chloe finally hedges. "Are you embarrassed?"
Beca makes a sound that's part whimper, part surprise and Chloe wonders if Beca had been hoping to just go on with the day without either of them addressing the elephant in the room.
"I…" Beca keeps her head covered and Chloe stares so intently at the sheet covering her that it's almost as if she's expecting to be able to see through it at any moment. "I don't know."
The conversation lulls again, but Chloe doesn't say anything. She knows there's more that Beca wants to say, knows the cogs in her brain are trying to work out which way to turn in order to make the right words come out.
Chloe can't be positive, but she thinks Beca spends more time considering her words before she talks to Chloe now. At least, when it's concerning something serious. Beca's always been kind of awkward when faced with anything she can't fight off with sarcastic humour, but this… whatever they're doing, it's as if Beca is growing right alongside Chloe.
Just maybe not exactly in the same way as Chloe.
"I just, I don't…" Beca starts, Beca stops. Beca continues, "I don't do that a lot when there's only me in the room, you know? So, doing it while... like... with you right there it-"
"Bec," Chloe interrupts as gently as she can. "I get it. You don't need to explain."
Chloe supposes she's lucky in how okay she is with her sexuality. With expressing it openly and having very few reservations in terms of what she should or shouldn't feel. What is socially acceptable to do and what isn't. She's freer than a lot of people.
"Okay." Beca's response is so soft, so quiet, Chloe almost misses it. Almost.
Snaring the corner of her bottom lip between her teeth, Chloe reaches over and curls her fingers under the top of the sheet, starting to slowly inch it down.
Beca doesn't resist.
"I know it might not make a difference but," Beca's hairline comes into view, then her forehead, "you really don't need to be embarrassed." Then her eyebrows, her bottomless blue eyes, and her nose. "You were crazy hot." And then her mouth, just in time for Chloe to watch it open in a laugh.
"You couldn't even see me." Beca rolls her eyes.
And Chloe hates that Beca could ever think of herself as less than how Chloe sees her.
Chloe tosses the sheet down, the force behind it carrying it away from Beca's shoulders, and brings her hand back to Beca's face. She runs the tip of her index finger along the bridge of Beca's nose, then brushes the pad of her thumb over parted lips when she hears Beca's breathing change.
And they're very close now. Chloe can see the different shades of blue in Beca's eyes and she can see the fine hairs on her skin rise when she brushes her fingers along the line of Beca's jaw.
"I could feel you," Chloe whispers, trailing her fingers along Beca's neck and silently lamenting over how pristine and unmarked it is before letting her hand drop.
Beca's blush rises quickly and Chloe can tell she's fighting hard not to look away. To maintain eye contact and let Chloe's words settle inside her without overthinking them, without trying to refute them, and something in Beca's brain must land on a compromise because she doesn't look away but her eyes do close.
And Chloe's okay with that, because now she can look at Beca without having to worry about how she's looking at Beca.
"Yeah, well," Beca mutters, dragging Chloe's eyes down as she licks her lips. "I could feel you too. And that was pretty hot. So."
Chloe isn't sure what Beca's trying to argue here. In fact, she isn't convinced that Beca herself really knows. What Chloe does know, is that Beca becomes braver when her eyes are closed. Like the inability to see a potentially negative or judgemental reaction makes things safer to say.
Chloe can understand that.
"Yeah?" she asks, hints of hopefulness slipping into her tone.
"I thought, afterwards, that maybe it might have been too much. Like I'd gone too far or something?" She keeps her attention on Beca's face but her eyes don't open.
"I'd have moved my hand if I didn't want it there, Chlo." And Beca says it with such surprising ease that it almost makes Chloe laugh.
Except she's too busy actually processing those words, what they mean, to do anything else.
She wants to ask Beca a hundred questions. A thousand. She wants to know how Beca felt during, what it was that drove her over the edge and made her have to touch herself. She wants to know if feeling Chloe's hand beneath hers had helped to get her off.
She wants to know what Beca was thinking when she came.
If she was thinking about Chloe.
Because Chloe's mind had been filled with Beca and nothing else. She'd come undone feeling Beca beside her and hearing her moan. Had fallen apart with Beca's breath on her neck, imagining Beca's fingers in place of her own.
It makes her gut twist.
Chloe shifts again until her elbow is digging into the mattress and her head is being propped up by her hand.
"I'm going to touch you again," Chloe says, an attempt to warn Beca before startling her, but when she lies her hand flat between Beca's shoulder blades, Beca jumps anyway.
Slowly, Chloe moves her fingers over Beca's skin, dancing from shoulder to shoulder and down along her spine until her hand brushes the sheet and then she dances them back up again.
She traces every cherry blossom, every line that tattoo has to offer, and minutes go by without either of them saying a word.
She's so enthralled with her ministrations that she doesn't notice how shallow Beca's breathing has become at first and when she does, arousal pools between her thighs as if her body has simply accepted that this is how it reacts to Beca after last night. As if it's okay for her to be this wet just from touching Beca.
Her heart beats faster as she lets her fingers move on their own, carrying her hand over the strap of Beca's bra and the bars across the middle of her back. Beneath the material of the sheet and lower, until her fingertips tickle the dip above her tailbone and Beca's body arches, just a little, away from the bed.
Fire grips Chloe's hand, taking it on a detour to Beca's hip, where it drags down until her fingertips catch the waistline of Beca's boy shorts and purposefully snap the elastic before continuing across the curve of her backside.
"When you grabbed me like this…." Chloe trails off, giving the flesh under her hand a firm squeeze and letting her eyes roll back in her head at the sound of Beca's groan.
There are a few ways Chloe wants to end that sentence. Almost all of them are explicit, perhaps vulgar. But she feels like she can't catch her breath right now and Beca's low, shaky breathing is fogging up her brain. She keeps remembering things from the night before, how everything felt, how turned on she got whenever Beca took charge.
"Yeah." The word passes Beca's lips as a quiet, breathless agreement to all of those potential endings to Chloe's sentence, and Chloe's insides start to melt under the heat from the fire racing through her.
And nothing can happen right now, not today. Not with Worlds hours away.
But, god, Chloe wants it to.
With an immeasurable amount of willpower, Chloe works her hand back up Beca's body, unable to stop herself from teasing self-sabotage as she allows her fingertips to wander.
When her hand does finally leave Beca's skin, Beca's breathing is no less shallow and Chloe's own, she realises, is jittery simply from the exertion of having to hold back.
And there's trouble here, Chloe knows. The rush from last night is nowhere close to having worn off and she's remembering it too vividly to be safe. She needs to move away from Beca, out of this bed, and maybe into a freezing cold shower.
Or maybe a warm one so that she's comfortable when she gets herself off under the spray of water that will hopefully muffle any sounds she makes.
Or what if she didn't muffle them at all. What if she was loud enough that Beca knew exactly what she was doing in there, knowing now that Chloe would be thinking about her. What would Beca do? Touch herself right there in bed as she listened to the noises Chloe made? Abstain and be a flustered mess all day?
Join Chloe in the shower?
"I need to get up," Chloe croaks, trying not to literally jump out of bed.
"You do?" Beca blinks open surprised eyes and tries to get her breathing under control without it being noticeable.
"Yeah, I-I should shower. Start getting ready, right? Today's a big day."
Beca stares at her hard for a few seconds, utterly confused, and Chloe almost laughs when she realises Beca has no idea what she's talking about. But she can't help but feel a little smug, too.
"Oh, shit." The penny drops and Beca turns over onto her back so that she can sit up and lifts her hands to rub at her eyes. "What time is it?"
Chloe rolls until she can see the clock on the nightstand and then rolls back to tell Beca that it's almost six-thirty.
"Oh my god, I hate my life." Beca drags her hands over her face as Chloe slips out from under the covers and she's walked around to the foot of the bed before she hears Beca make a sound that seems involuntary but captures her attention nonetheless.
When she looks at Beca, Beca is not looking at Chloe's face. Her eyes, Chloe knows, are trained much lower than that, somewhere between her lace bra and her lace panties. And when Beca remembers herself and does lift them to Chloe's face, Beca swallows like she's been caught doing something she shouldn't.
And Chloe smirks at her because only half of that is true.
"I…" Beca starts, clearly with nowhere to go, but then her eyes widen and she's throwing herself back down against the pillows with a loud groan of frustration. "You have a freaking huge hickey on your neck, oh my god."
Chloe grins and darts into the bathroom, flicking on the light and inspecting herself in the mirror. When she sees it, she lets out a string of delighted laughter that Beca immediately starts yelling about from the other room.
"You should be more careful," Chloe chastises playfully as she returns to grab underwear and a fresh set of clothes.
"Yeah, well you should be less-" Beca bites back before abruptly cutting herself off and pressing her lips into a thin line. Chloe arches an eyebrow at her but Beca only rolls her eyes, eventually reaching for the television remote. "Hurry up," she barks, adorable grouchy, "and don't use all the hot water."
And Chloe could help herself.
If she wanted.
But she crawls back onto the bed and presses kiss to the side of Beca's mouth. As though she was aiming for her cheek but an unexpected movement caused her to miss.
Only, there was no unexpected movement.
And Beca doesn't shrug her off or make a show of being grossed out like she used to whenever Chloe would show affection. Instead, Beca just side-eyes her until Chloe slinks backwards off the bed and heads into the bathroom with an armful of clothes and wearing the smile of someone who knows she is in for quite the day indeed.
Chloe had set a strict time for everyone to be downstairs for breakfast, a last meeting to air any concerns before the big event, so she isn't surprised in the least to find only Emily, Jessica and Ashley waiting for her and Beca when they arrive.
"Seriously?" Chloe huffs, coming to a stop with her hands on her hips. Jessica and Ashley offer simultaneous shrugs, while Emily blinks wide eyes at everyone around her, as if anticipating being yelled at any second now. Beca keeps on walking, glancing back over her shoulder to flash Chloe a smile that seems to silently asks her if she really expected anything else. "Can we go on with just five members?"
Beca laughs, Jessica and Ashley share a smile, and Emily looks terrified.
"Chloe, we're not kicking them off the team." Beca takes the empty seat beside Emily and reaches for the pitcher of orange juice in the middle of the table.
"But they're late!"
"They are literally always late." Beca finishes pouring herself a glass and then automatically fills the empty one beside her setting for Chloe. "Just sit and eat."
She's still annoyed, but she's also pretty easily swayed by Beca, so she takes the seat beside her and picks up the laminated breakfast menu that looks very fancy but also only has about six options listed on it.
"Do people seriously eat fish for breakfast here?" Beca sounds thoroughly disgusted and Chloe can't help but smile as she looks over at her. "How is that okay? Who decided that putting marine life into your body before three p.m. was a good idea?"
"One time I ate a goldfish. I think it wanted to die."
All five of them jump, only to realise that there are now six of them at the table as they turn their head to find Lilly sitting beside Jessica and sipping a cup of coffee as if she's been there the whole time.
Large, strange eyes regard them all from over the rim of the mug and sure, Chloe is startled, but she's less surprised by this than she was by the absence of nearly all the Bellas, and she really should have expected the latter.
"Lilly, what the fu-"
"Good morning, ladies." A waiter arrives to interrupt Beca's exclamation and ask them if they would like to order beverages. Beca asks for their strongest orange juice, which confused the waiter and elicits a giggle that Chloe has to suppress. Once she's recovered, Chloe orders a tea.
The others, including Lilly somehow, all have their drinks of choice already, so the waiter leaves.
They all make small talk for a while. Chloe asks what the other girls ordered for food and continues to look over the limited but fancy menu. It's only when Emily tells her that she opted for the buffet that Chloe even notices that option on the menu.
At both her and Beca's surprise, Emily points towards a spot further into the restaurant and Chloe leans her chair back on two legs until she can see the gleaming silver of a buffet table.
"Then why am I even looking at this?" Beca asks, dropping the menu and pushing her chair back. She stands and looks down at Chloe. "Come on, I'm starving."
And Chloe almost laughs, because she is too. Always is after any kind of sexual work out, though obviously she's not as hungry as she would be if she'd actually had sex. Only because that tends to go on much longer - if she has anything to say about it and the guy isn't too excited - and she expends more physical energy than she had last night.
But Chloe thinks that there's something to be said about expending emotional energy. All that pent up mental frustration has to take its toll on a body, winding tight muscles that Chloe hadn't been totally sure existed.
They were real, though, and if last night had showed her anything, it was that she'd been tensing them, restricting their movements, for far too long.
So, yeah, it's not the same kind of hunger, but she is still starving.
She smiles up at Beca and lets her lips slowly slide into a smirk. And Beca frowns, opens her mouth to no doubt ask Chloe a curt, "What?" only to snap her jaw shut so quickly, Chloe hears her teeth rattle.
And when Chloe eventually does stand, right about the same time that Beca's blush is creeping from her neck towards her cheeks, Beca grabs her by the elbow and tugs her closer.
"You're an asshole," she murmurs into Chloe's ear.
And Chloe shivers and smiles, because whatever.
She's Beca's asshole.
Even if Beca doesn't know it yet.