It all starts with a punch to the jaw.
Beca's roommate and her silent glares send the Bellas from the room half an hour after Beca's returned from being bailed out of jail. To be fair, they'd been sitting there for three hours before Beca got there, but really, Kimmy Jin had all of the personality appeal of a Bengal tiger, so Chloe couldn't help but be disgruntled.
Beca stands at the door, propping it open with her hip while she accepts high fives from Fat Amy and Stacie as everyone files out. Chloe is, as always, lingering behind. It's unintentional until she notices the way Beca's left hand hovers at her side, the sleeve of her oversized sweatshirt hanging down over it while it dangles limply. Eyes narrowing, Chloe sits right back down on the bed until everyone's left, arms crossed.
Beca plops down face-first beside her. "My roommate might murder you if you stay too long," she mutters.
Chloe scoffs, turning to face Beca and shifting her feet up onto the bed. She doesn't say a word as she reaches out and takes Beca's left arm, tugging the sleeve up to reveal bruised and swollen knuckles.
"It's no big deal," Beca says. She rolls onto her side, pulling her hand in protectively towards her stomach. "Nothing's broken."
"How do you know that? You haven't been to your biology class since the first day, there's no way you're a medical expert."
Beca sits up, crossing her feet Indian-style and narrowing her eyes at Chloe. "I was friends with an EMT back home and how do you know I'm even in biology?"
"You filled out a form with your schedule so we could figure out rehearsals," Chloe points out. She pulls Beca's hand towards her again, fingers sweeping over the injured knuckles carefully. "Also, I'm the TA."
"You're what?" The sudden volume draws a disgruntled cough from Kimmy Jin.
"You would know that if you ever showed up," Chloe says. "First aid kit, do you have one?"
"Maybe?." Beca doesn't move, staring at Chloe incredulously. "I thought you were a business major."
"That's Aubrey. We're not actually the same person, you know." Chloe prods expertly at Beca's hand, earning a wince. "And technically, she's a finance major. First aid kit?"
With a sigh, Beca jerks her head towards the closet. "I think I have one on the shelf."
Kimmy Jin is still glaring at them both. Chloe smiles sweetly at her and grabs for Beca's other wrist, jerking her up and pushing her towards the door. "Common area, let's go."
Beca shuffles out of the room, still shooting unsettled looks at Chloe, while the taller girl digs the first aid kit out and follows. Kimmy Jin huffs out a long-suffering sigh at their exit, and Chloe rolls her eyes as she shuts the door with more force than necessary.
The common area is empty except for Beca, who's laying down on one of the couches, staring at the ceiling. Chloe manhandles Beca's feet out of the way and sits, settling with Beca's legs stretched across her own, and sets the first aid kit on Beca's stomach.
"So what is you major?" Beca asks presently. Chloe has Beca's hand supported in one of hers while the other digs awkwardly through the now-open kit.
"Biochem," Chloe says. She locates a box of packaged alcohol pads and dumps them out into the lid of the kit. Beca is staring at her blankly over the first aid kit, and Chloe clarifies, "Pre-med."
"No, I'm lying." Smirking as Beca flushes, Chloe rips open the wrapper on one of the alcohol pads with her teeth, her other hand still holding Beca's wrist.
"Lots of practice with that, hm?" Beca's suddenly the one smirking, but Chloe just winks at her brazenly.
"It's always important to use protection. This is going to sting," she adds.
"What—ow, shit." Breath hisses out past Beca's lips and she flinches bodily, but Chloe grips tighter to her wrist, wiping the alcohol pad carefully along the split skin covering her knuckles.
"Told you so." The alcohol pad is discarded, Chloe's hands busy with folding gauze down over the cut and wrapping an ace bandage slowly around Beca's wrist. She hesitates for a brief second, fingertips brushing over the small tattoo on Beca's wrist, before continuing on. Beca is silent, and Chloe keeps her eyes on her work, avoiding the tired blue of Beca's gaze.
"Why pre-med?" Beca asks eventually, as Chloe runs out of ace wrap and secures the ends, fingers prodding to ensure the bandage was supporting properly.
"That's not too tight, is it? Can you move your fingers?"
Beca wiggles her fingers in front of Chloe's face, and then snaps them.
"That was dumb," Chloe admonishes. One elbow rests atop the back of the sofa, temple propping against her fist; the other reaches out again and adjusts one of the fasteners on the bandage. "Give it a few days before you try that again."
"Point taken," Beca says. She flexes her fingers experimentally in the air above her face.
"And try not to punch people," Chloe says with a small smile. "Though it was kind of amazing that you did. Even if it was for a Treble."
Beca flushes, and Chloe's smile widens. "Aubrey isn't exactly on the same page about that."
"Aubrey is under a lot of pressure. She'll come around eventually."
"Not before we lose," Beca mutters. Chloe reaches out once more, this time flicking her fingers hard against Beca's injured hand. "Ow! Jesus, what was that for?"
"She's my best friend. Even when she's being a bitch."
Beca is silent, sinking deeper into the sofa and not meeting Chloe's eyes. Her fingers pluck at the edges of the bandage, tugging and pushing, until Chloe grabs at them, pushing her hand down until it sits awkwardly atop her own leg, Chloe's still on top of it.
"Don't pick at it," Chloe says. Her hand doesn't move, even as her cheeks flush.
"Yes, mom," Beca says. She falls awkwardly quiet again, as she's so prone to doing, and Chloe's fingers twitch briefly atop Beca's in the silence.
"Pre-med?" Beca finally says.
"Yep." Chloe's voice is louder than it needs to be in the empty room, and brighter than anything should be in the middle of the night. She squirms under Beca's scrutiny, the way sleepy blue eyes can still pierce through her, and looks down to where their hands still sit together.
Beca shrugs, and her hand shifts with movement, skin sliding against Chloe's for a brief second. "I guess I imagined you getting an MBA or something and taking over the music industry or something."
Chloe laughs, abrupt and loud. "That's definitely Aubrey. Maybe you two should team up, change the world one, remix at a time."
"Yeah, right. That would involve Aubrey not hating me." Beca rolls her eyes and half-sighs, settling more comfortably into the couch. Her injured hand comes to rest across her leg, fingers landing on top of Chloe's, leaving Chloe's hand sitting between both of Beca's. "So are you going to med school next year, then?"
"Yep," Chloe chirps. "UCLA."
"No way. Isn't that like a really good school?"
Chloe stiffens warily, frowning. "I'm not actually a complete airhead, you know."
"No, that's not what I—" Beca sits up abruptly, eyes wide and bright in the dim light of the common area. "I never thought you weren't smart, but I didn't know you, like, slayed the MCAT, either."
Chloe blinks, head cocking to the side at Beca's words, and Beca shrugs. "My mom works in the admissions office for the med school at Emory. I heard a lot about the whole process when I was growing up." She pauses, eyes narrowing as she stares at Chloe. "Why UCLA?"
"I don't want to stay in Georgia my whole life. I only came to Barden because my parents went here. I had the test scores, so I wanted to see if I could get in, to see if LA is everything people say it is."
"I'm going to LA," Beca says, quiet and slow. "After this year."
"My dad and I have—had a deal. Don't know how much of it's still on after Jesse ratted me out tonight, but I'm still going even if he doesn't help me."
"But what about—"
"What, college?" Beca huffs out an exasperated breath. "Even if I wanted to get a degree, it wouldn't be from here. The music program here is a joke, and what I'm interested in learning can't be taught from a bunch of books anyways. I already know all the music theory I need to, the rest is just instinct and practice and trial and error. I'm not going to learn that here."
"But you can't do that and get a degree? Beca, half of the music getting any attention today comes up through the internet, you can do that from right here and still get an education."
Beca sucks in a slow breath. "You said it hurts to sing, with the nodes, but you do it anyways, because it's what you love to do, right? It hurts and it's hard, but it's worth it. That's why I need to go. There's no way of making it easy, but I want to put in my time and the hard work because it's what I want to do."
"And what about the Bellas?" Chloe chides softly. "We need you."
"What 'we'? You're leaving," Beca says pointedly. "So is Aubrey. You think the Bellas is going to be anything with you two gone?"
"It will be if you stay."
Beca scoffs, tugging her hand free and lunging awkwardly to her feet. Chloe sighs, watching as Beca paces up and down.
"I'm leaving," Beca repeats eventually. "I only came here because I didn't have a choice, and I have enough money saved up to at least get to LA. There's a guy I used to work with, he lives out there, he said I could crash with him until I get on my feet."
"Why won't you even consider staying? The Bellas are going to need someone to carry them next year, and right now, that's you."
"I don't—I'm not some leader," Beca says sharply.
"Sure you are," Chloe says. "People like you, Beca, even if you don't like them and are a bitch half the time."
"Gee, thanks," Beca snaps. "Please don't try and pull your punches or anything."
"Oh my God, I'm not attacking you," Chloe says, rolling her eyes. "All I'm saying is that staying and getting a degree isn't some horrible thing. LA will still be there after you graduate, and seriously, do you even need to be in LA to get your music out there?"
"Why should I stay? The only reason I'm even in the Bellas is y—" Beca cuts herself off, teeth clacking together abruptly as she flushes a brilliant red. Chloe stares at her, eyes widening almost inhumanly. Her lips part, to speak words that she doesn't even know yet, but Beca suddenly leaps forward, grabbing the first aid kit and shutting it. "I need to go, Kimmy Jin gets pissed if I come in super late."
Without another word, she's gone down the hallway. Chloe hasn't moved, still sitting on the couch and staring at the space where Beca had been standing less than a minute before.
After Chloe's spent three days in the hospital alone, after Beca's come back to the Bellas and Aubrey's turned the reigns over to her, after they've stood in an empty pool and Beca's clear voice has carried them through an improvisation that itself might have won them a spot at nationals, Aubrey goes home with Chloe. Her apartment is a mess, Chloe having just thrown all of her things into the living room after getting back from the hospital and not bothering to fully unpack. Chloe makes a beeline for the kitchen and the tin full of tea she keeps above the stove ,and Aubrey automatically sits down in the living room and starts sorting through Chloe's mess.
"Why didn't you tell me you were getting the surgery?" Aubrey asks quietly. One of Chloe's sweatshirts is in her hand, her knuckles white around the fabric. "I would have been there."
Chloe pauses, eyes locked on the tea selection in front of her. "I needed some time," she says, slow and careful. "And if I didn't get my voice back I—I wanted to have the chance to deal with it by myself."
"You shouldn't have had to, though," Aubrey says. "You shouldn't have gone through that alone."
"It's fine," Chloe says, flashing a bright smile. "It all worked out in the end."
Aubrey sighs. She folds the sweatshirt and sets it aside, hands automatically reaching out for the next shirt to fold. Chloe is silent, busying herself with filling the kettle and setting it to boil and separating out the most soothing tea for her throat she can find.
"Okay, my turn," she says abruptly, leaning back against the counter and staring at Aubrey. "You hate that Bruno Mars song. Why did you pick it?"
"I don't hate it," Aubrey says.
"You think it's chauvinistic, you lectured me about it for an hour once," Chloe throws back. "Something about male gaze and double standards and some other bullshit like that."
"Male chauvinism isn't bullshit." Aubrey bristles, and Chloe rolls her eyes.
"Exactly. So why that song?" She watches patiently as Aubrey fidgets with the shirt in her hands, fabric balling in her hands.
"She asked me to pick a song, but she asked you to sing it."
Chloe huffs out a sigh, rolling her arms towards the ceiling. "Cryptic isn't your thing, A, just spit it out."
Aubrey rolls her eyes right back at Chloe. "Because you sing it all the time when you think no one is listening, and I wanted to see if she'd noticed, and what she would do with it. And I was right."
"Seriously?" Aubrey throws the shirt across the living room, smacking Chloe in the face with it. "You're not an idiot, Chloe, you have to know she likes you."
Chloe spits fabric out of her mouth, shaking her hair out of her eyes. "What? She does not."
"Oh, please." Aubrey sounds more like herself, scoffing and arrogant. "It's so obvious. She never would have joined the Bellas without you dragging her into it, she's always shooting you these looks, she came back because you texted her. She has a massively huge outrageous girl-crush on you."
"She…doesn't?" Chloe mumbles, brow furrowing. "There's the guy, the Treble guy, she likes him."
"Not as much as she likes you," Aubrey says. She sighs, slumping back into the couch. "You always do this. You have a freaking radar that can hone in on every single person in the room who'll sleep with you, but you can't see when someone likes you even if it's in flashing neon lights.
"You like her, too, don't you?" Aubrey continues on, quiet and resigned. "You like her mixes and her ear monstrosities and her—her abominable fashion sense and the way she's changing everything we've known since we started in the Bellas."
Chloe is silent, staring at the linoleum under her feet. The apartment is quiet as Aubrey waits—patient, forever patient like she always is with Chloe—for her to work through it all. The tea kettle finally whistles, and Chloe moves robotically to prepare two cups of tea.
It isn't until she's sitting on the couch with Aubrey that the silence is broken.
"What are you going to do about it?" Aubrey ventures. She's curled into the corner of the couch, her toes tucked under Chloe's thigh and tea cup held close to her face. This is the side of her that no one else ever sees, the rimrod posture faded into quiet comfort.
Chloe turns to face her, mouth opening and closing silently. "Nothing," she says eventually. "Nothing at all."
"Why not?" Aubrey, bless her, is earnest in her confusion. Beca is everything Chloe would normally want—wit and intelligence and challenge and music—wrapped up in one tiny pierced and tattooed package, and even as the continuing distrust and distaste of Beca leaks in around the edges, Aubrey is confused.
"Because she's leaving." Chloe's voice is quiet and still blurring around the edges from her surgery. "She's not someone to get attached to."
"Are you sure?"
"She's leaving Barden after this semester." The tea is still too hot to drink; Chloe sets hers on the table so she can curl up against her best friend. Aubrey shifts, placing her own mug on the end table, and wraps an arm around Chloe's shoulders. "She's never wanted to stay, so she's going to California to sleep on peoples' couches and try to make it as a DJ."
"You're leaving, too, you know," Aubrey points out. "To California, even."
"Coincidence. She was already going there before she knew I'd be there as well. She's okay with leaving because she doesn't connect, and lucky geography doesn't change it."
Aubrey's arm tightens around her shoulders, and Chloe's head slips down to rest against Aubrey's chest. Chloe sinks a little further into the solid warmth of Aubrey and closes her eyes tiredly. College is ending and she's moving across the country; everything is changing, but Aubrey is solid, Aubrey is permanent, Aubrey took a job in LA because they've always been better with one another to count on. Beca is flighty and untethered, locked into a year with Chloe and Barden that she never wanted, and she's escaping as swiftly as possible. Beca and her dark eyes and shy smiles and horribly perfect mixes are everything else that Chloe doesn't need to try and tie herself to.
"I'm sorry," Aubrey says eventually, long after the tea has gone cold. Chloe just hums, resettling her head on Aubrey's chest.
"It's okay," she murmurs. "Beca couldn't handle all of this anyways."
Aubrey laughs softly, her hand brushing familiarly over Chloe's hair, and five minutes later, Chloe is asleep.
A week after she's started her job at the hospital for the summer, she returns to her parents' house and finds a padded envelope on the kitchen counter for her with the rest of the mail. She rips it open without thinking, more focused on locating the bottle of wine in the fridge because her job is terrible, and inside is an unmarked CD in a plain jewel case.
Brow furrowing, she looks back to the envelope. An unfamiliar Los Angeles return address greets her, and she turns her eyes back to the CD before strolling to her room, wine forgotten. The first chords out of the speakers on her laptop are familiar David Guetta, and she flops back in her chair, eyes shut and head tipped up toward the ceiling as the music builds on itself over and over again, echoing and growing and winding together intricately. It grows and quiets and skyrockets again, sliding from manic progressions to sad aching reverbs until settling into little more than soft piano chords echoing hollowly into silence.
She hasn't moved in twenty minutes, the whole CD nothing but one long stream of sound, and her neck protests as she sits up slowly. The envelope is still in her hands, and she peeks inside, a small smile playing across her lips at the piece of paper crushed down into the bottom of it.
Sorry I missed graduation, I had to take a redeye. This is one of the mixes I'm trying to break in with. Thought I should show it to you since all of you aca-nerds had a lot to do with how I arranged it.
Good luck at UCLA.
It isn't signed, but the handwriting—narrow and tiny and font-like—is as distinctive as the sounds on the CD. Chloe sighs, moving over to drop tiredly onto her bed, and falls asleep telling herself that nothing good can come from letting herself crush on Beca Mitchell.
Med school is hard, and no one in her class seems to appreciate the fact that she sings her way through studying when she's stressed, but it's consistent and it's predictable and she loves it even as she loathes it. She and Aubrey have the world's smallest two-bedroom apartment and bitch at each other constantly—because Chloe keeps outrageous hours to study, because Aubrey wants to go out and discover LA on the weekends and Chloe is too exhausted to agree, because Chloe still sings Bruno Mars in the shower when she's too tired to realize what she's doing—but really, it's better than Chloe ever believed it could be.
Occasionally, she gets a text message from Beca, sporadic updates of a radio station taking a liking to her work and giving her the three-AM Thursday slot, of the ongoing insanity of whoever's couch she's sleeping on that week, of how she's got a gig playing opening sets at some hole-in-the-wall club in Austin or New York or Seattle. Chloe responds when she can, but it's not like the first few months after Beca joined the Bellas, when they texted regularly and Chloe spent chunks of time teasing Beca and nagging her to go to class and gushing about music.
Then, sometime in the middle of her third year in LA, she gets a text at two in the morning that wakes her from where's slumped on the couch.
hey i'm going to be in la for the next six months. coffee sometime?
Aubrey throws a shoe at her when she barges into her bedroom, and then gives her a lecture about the insanity of getting her hopes up.
"You're the one who didn't want to do anything, remember?" she rants, fully awake and pacing. "You said she wasn't a good person to get attached to, and you were right. She just floats in and out of places when she has a gig, she's off doing God knows what with God knows who in God knows where the rest of the time. She's the worst kind of distraction you could have, especially when you're in med school."
"I know," Chloe says, dejected. She curls up on Aubrey's bed, knees pulled to her chest. "You're right."
The next Friday, though, she's in a Starbucks staring across the table at a Beca Mitchell who hasn't grown an inch but somehow has more piercings in her ears and more bracelets on her wrists, a tired joy radiating out of her when she starts talking about her work. She listens with her entire body, shoulders pulling forward and head tilting to the side, fingers twitching around her coffee cup in time with the lilt that slips into Chloe's voice, and oh, God, how easily three years of medical science blur and fade away because Chloe loves her future career but she adores music and Beca has never been anything less than limitless amounts of music crammed into a tiny human frame.
The coffee shop closes and kicks them out, and they wind up at Chloe's place. Aubrey is on a last-minute business trip, and they're halfway through a bottle of wine and the second of the new mixes Chloe insists on hearing when Chloe stumbles into her bedroom with her arms full of Beca.
They sneak around behind Aubrey's back, finding each other in bar bathrooms and Chloe's car and apartments when no one else is there. It takes four months for Beca to curl around Chloe's tired body one night and whisper I'm in love with you into the back of Chloe's neck, and Please don't love me back and murmured monologues about I'm just like my dad and I don't know how to not be alone.
Chloe doesn't move, forcing her breathing to remain steady and her eyes shut, because Beca never could speak freely in the daylight, because Beca is the most stubborn and least open person Chloe's ever met, because Beca will run before she'll ever consider staying.
It takes another two weeks after that before Chloe can admit she's just as in love, fingers tracing the familiar lines of ink on Beca's skin in the dark. The words lock behind her teeth, ricocheting about inside her, fear and frustration and resignation battering her chest from the inside out.
Two more weeks after that, Aubrey comes home early and finds Chloe straddling Beca on the couch. She doesn't say a word until Beca is gone, awkward and apologetic and making Chloe promise to call her later.
Aubrey gets drunk on white wine and tells Chloe she's an idiot and setting herself up for heartbreak. A month later, Beca's gig ends and she's offered a spot on a tour that'll last four months. When Chloe curls up around a sweatshirt she stole from Beca and sniffles quietly, Aubrey just says I told you so before offering her a carton of ice cream and climbing into bed to hold her tightly.
Beca returns at the end of the tour for two weeks, a brief pause for air before she heads off for an engagement at a club in New York that will carry her through the rest of the year. She's tired when she shows up on Chloe's doorstep, circles under her eyes that not even makeup can hide and an exhausted slump to her shoulders, and Chloe tugs her in wordlessly.
The day Beca leaves, as she's finalizing her plans to stay with the boyfriend of a friend of a friend of another DJ, Chloe lays across her bed, staring at the ceiling and listening to Beca mumble about sets and setups and chord progressions and God knows what else. Her head lolls to the side, taking in where Beca is curled up in her desk chair, chattering on about some song or another, and Chloe inhales slowly, letting the air out over a measured eight count.
The process repeats, again and again and again, until she's almost asleep. It isn't until Beca is folding into her side that she opens her eyes again. Beca's hand curls under her sweatshirt, small and smooth and neatly fitted around the curve of her hip.
"When do you have to be at the airport?" Her words stir Beca's hair, and Beca's nose crinkles as she smiles.
"Hour or so."
"I can drive you."
"Sid offered, he's going to be here in a little bit. His girlfriend's flight gets in a little before I need to be there."
"Okay, cool." Her words are flat, automatic, and Beca's forehead creases.
"You could stay." It comes out as a whisper, a little more broken and a lot more desperate than Chloe ever intended.
"Chloe," Beca says softly. "I have to work, you know that."
"You could stay," Chloe repeats, pressing her palm against Beca's cheek. "This is LA, you could build your career here just as easily."
"I can't, I have to—"
"You said you were in love with me," Chloe says, sharp and harsh. "You said it, and for all of your flaws, Beca Mitchell, you're not a liar."
Beca's skin flushes, heating under Chloe's hand as Chloe shifts to grip the back of Beca's head, holding her in place.
"Just let me be in love with you," she says softly. "It's worth it, you're worth it, we can be worth it."
"Chloe, don't," Beca grinds out. Her hand peels away from Chloe's hip, reaching to tug Chloe's away from her face, and she rolls away until she can stand up. "just because you want to believe that everything works out for the best doesn't mean that it does."
Chloe is silent, pushing her hair out of her face tiredly and watching as Beca throws the last of her things—a book Chloe's loaning her for the flight, a pencil case full of flash drives loaded with samples she wants to try out, a notebook scribbled with ideas, the sunglasses she stole from Chloe months ago, her favorite set of headphones—into the backpack she's using as a carryon.
"This isn't fair," Chloe says presently, as the headphones settle into place around Beca's neck.
"I know," Beca says. "I just—I can't, not now."
"Then when?" Chloe's hip almost aches where Beca's hand had been, and she tugs her sweatshirt down over it unconsciously.
"I don't know," is all Beca has to offer. "I just—I mean, my parents thought they had some great love story, but they fucked it all up in the end and I just—I don't want to do that."
"So you're just going to keep running away?"
"I'm not running away," Beca snaps. "Running away means I don't come back, and I am going to come back." She's glaring at Chloe, all five feet of her flushed and indignant.
"You're leaving," Chloe says. "You always have one foot out the door. You haven't had a permanent address in years, Beca. You live out of a suitcase. You—"
She's interrupted by Beca's phone vibrating and a car horn blaring outside. Beca grimaces and yanks the zipper shut on her backpack, hiking it onto her shoulder.
"I have to go." She's out of the room before Chloe has made it to her feet.
"Beca, stop, just—wait, okay." Chloe's fingers latch onto her wrist, stopping her in the middle of the living room. Beca won't meet her eyes, the same frustrated pout stretched across her face as when she's dealing with her parents, and Chloe sighs.
"Just don't…don't leave angry, okay, and don't leave me here when I'm angry."
Beca huffs out a slow breath, letting her backpack slide down her arm and settle at her feet. "I'm sorry," she mumbles, shoulder slumping.
"You're going to come back, right?"
"Of course I am, that's the whole point," Beca snaps. Apology flashes through her eyes as soon as the words slip out, but Chloe holds a hand up to stop her, forging ahead.
"And you won't—even if there are beautiful girls and hot guys throwing themselves at you in this club the whole time you're there, you won't—"
"No way," Beca interrupts, eyes flashing. "I wouldn't—come on, Chloe, I know whatever we are is weird and screwy and it's mostly my fault but I haven't— not since I've been with you, with anyone. Ever."
"You promise?" Chloe's voice hasn't sounded so small since the first time she tried to speak after having surgery on her vocal nodules, all those years ago, and phantom pains clog her throat.
Chloe nods, blinking rapidly and offering a watery half-smile. She's sick of crying over Beca Mitchell. "Okay."
The car horn blares again outside, and Beca's lips quirk into a small smile, the sight of it widening Chloe's smile a tiny measure.
"I have to go," Beca says. Her fingers tuck into the pocket on Chloe's hoodie, tugging her a little closer. "I'll come back," she says, breath slipping over Chloe's throat.
"You better." Chloe presses a kiss to Beca's hairline—it's too easy; she's so tiny—and hugs her tightly.
"And I know you love Grey's Anatomy and all those stupid medical soap operas, but seriously, please don't bone some hot nurse or surgeon or something while I'm gone because—"
Chloe swats at her ass, shutting her up. "Be quiet," she orders, but she smiles anyways. "And I wouldn't do that to you."
"Right," Beca says, untangling herself from Chloe enough to pick up her backpack, taking a small step back as her phone vibrates insistently. "So we understand each other, then? No club hos for me, no skanky nurses for you."
"Deal," Chloe says. She tugs briefly on the cord hanging from Beca's headphones, and kisses her briefly. "Don't work too hard."
"You too," Beca throws back. "If I find out you're skipping meals again I'll hunt you down and force feed you an entire pizza." She laughs at Chloe's surprise, shaking her head. "You're really bad at actually covering the phone when Aubrey is yelling at you."
Chloe rolls her eyes. "Fine, fine." Another blast of the car horn.
Beca kisses her once more. "Bye," she murmurs against Chloe's lips, and then she's gone, headphones around her neck and backpack on one shoulder, wheeling a suitcase half as big as her entire body out the door.
A week before Christmas, Chloe gets a text from Stacie, who she's kept in contact with since starting med school. She lives in Baltimore now, managing some local ballet company or another, and she's in New York for the holidays with her flavor of the month.
Caught Beca's set last night, her text reads. Kid's never the same without you.
Instead of Chloe's twenties dividing into med school and residency and internship, they split between Beca and no Beca with a frustratingly distant promise of not yet someday turning into okay, now I'm ready.
Aubrey still sniffs disapprovingly every time Beca's name is mentioned. It's like senior year of college all over again, and Chloe trains herself to ignore it whenever Aubrey tries to convince her to date other people.
No Beca has been going on for four months, and Chloe is spending her birthday working a shift on what was supposed to be her weekend off. Aubrey was strongarmed into a business trip that weekend, and Chloe agreed to take a coworker's shift—the man had a newborn, after all, that took precedence over her 28th birthday. Who really cared about 28, anyways?
Of course, that didn't make the long day on her feet any less exhausting, or dealing with sick children any easier. She loves kids as much as she loves music and pediatrics is it for her, she's certain, but rotations in the pediatric oncology department are more than she can handle sometimes. She drops onto a bench in the locker room at the end of the shift, exhausted and sore and frustrated, her head falling into her hands.
Hands appear on her shoulders, massaging carefully into the muscle, and Chloe hums contentedly. "Michelle, I swear to God, you are by far my favorite person ever."
There's a pause, and then, "Michelle isn't some hot nurse, is she?"
Chloe leaps up, spinning in surprise to see Beca, tiny Beca, all dark hair and dark eyeliner and dark blue eyes, tattoos and piercings and that maddening half-shy smirk.
"What are you—in here—you can't be in here!"
Beca chuckles at the stammers escaping Chloe's mouth, shrugging in that careless way that Chloe has always been helpless against. "Seemed worth the risk."
"What are you doing here? In LA? I thought you were in Chicago." Chloe's arms cross over her chest and she presses back into the lockers, biting her lip against the frown that creases Beca's brow. This isn't what they do, and she can only handle Beca's inconsistency when it's reliable and predictable; Beca hasn't ever shown up or left without warning and expectation.
"It's your birthday," Beca says, shuffling her feet, confidence seeping out of her. "I wanted to see you."
"You texted me this morning, you said you had a show tonight. Now!"
"I might have stretched the truth a tiny bit." Beca is twisting at her hands, fingers rotating her bracelets and twining around one another, the way she does when she's uncomfortable. "I was going to just wait outside your place until you got home from whatever terrifying plans Aubrey had for your birthday, but your neighbor said she was gone and you were working, so I thought I'd try here."
Chloe's shoulders relax against her will, because Beca—tiny and awkward and uncertain when she doesn't have music in her ears and a soundboard under her fingertips—is the least intimidating thing on the planet. "And you just…what, wandered into the locker room on the off chance that I might be in here?"
"Actually, I saw you go in. And given that you ambushed me in a shower once, I don't think you get to judge me."
"You liked it," Chloe says, flippant and automatic.
"So," Beca says, looking down to where her shoes scuff on the tiled floor. "Who's Michelle? I thought we agreed on no skanky nurses like…over a year ago."
Chloe laughs, bright and tired and happy—because Beca is here for her, and Beca is jealous of a complete stranger, and Beca dropped a gig for Chloe's birthday—and shakes her head, pushing herself away from the lockers.
"She's a friend. A married, forty-year-old, has-three-kids friend."
"Right." Beca nods, abrupt and blushing. "Okay."
Beca shrugs, shoving her hands into her pockets, before nodding once, short and subtle and embarrassed, and Chloe flushes.
"Come on," she says softly. "Let's go. I need to get out of this place and these stupid scrubs, they're hideous."
"Yeah, you look pretty terrible," Beca deadpans.
Chloe rolls her eyes, throwing a towel at her. Beca throws it right back, and a few moments later Chloe shrugs into her coat and turns to leave. Beca darts ahead of her, grabbing the door and opening it, and Chloe swallows a smile because it's so unlike them and absolutely endearing at the same time.
They're halfway home, Beca behind the wheel and Chloe curled into the passenger seat—because You look like you're about to join the walking dead and I had like nine cups of coffee on the plane—toying with Beca's fingers the whole way. Beca's hand is warm Chloe's drifting half to sleep when Beca speaks.
"I have a job interview next week," she says abruptly.
"An interview," she repeats. They're at a red light, and she eyes Chloe out of the periphery, leg bouncing with nerves. "This guy's been calling me for a few months now, he wanted me to play for his station on satellite. I didn't want to because the channel's been going to shit for the last year and it would probably be a dead end thing, but—"
She cuts herself off as the light turns green, and Chloe sits up, turning to face her more fully and blinking through the blurred edges of fatigue. "But what?"
Beca sighs and tightens her grip on Chloe's hand. It's odd and unexpected, because Chloe is the most tactile person on the planet and Beca is probably the least. Chloe welcomes it regardless, fingers gliding between Beca's, her free hand coming up to grasp as well.
"But..I don't know," Beca says. "I've been moving around the country for years, and I just—I want to have somewhere to go home to, and a schedule I can predict at least a little bit, and to have at least a few years of not wondering what I'm going to do for money when my next gig ends." Her fingers twitch around Chloe's. "And I miss you. All the time. And I was tired of saying not yet and I think now might be yet."
They come to a stop in Chloe's parking lot, and Beca is blushing brilliantly and Chloe is staring openly. "Really?" is all she manages to say.
"Yeah." It's short and simple and maybe too easy, but it doesn't stop Chloe from smiling widely and tugging Beca bodily across the car so she can kiss her.
Aubrey looks like she's going to lose it—really lose it, whatever it was she ate for her meal on the plane and then some—when she finds them curled up together on the couch and Chloe excitedly announces that Beca is going to settle down in LA. Her indignation and protectiveness drives Beca out of the apartment, and she doesn't speak to Chloe for three days.
When she does, it's short and clipped. "I'm not going to pick up the pieces when she leaves this time. You're a fucking adult, Chloe, and you're too old for me to be babysitting your dating choices. When she leaves, I'm not going to be there to fix it."
"She's not leaving," Chloe argues. "She's ready to stay, she wants to, she came back to start a life here."
"She said herself this job is at a station that's doomed to fail. When that happens, what's she going to do? Sit around and be a kept woman for a new doctor? Be realistic, Chloe, you had her figured out ten years ago. She's not going to stay."
"She is," was all Chloe could offer in rebuttal, flouncing out of the apartment angrily.
It's the worst argument of their entire friendship, and Chloe spends almost a week sleeping in Beca's hotel room, helping her hunt for apartments between shifts, before she goes home. When she does, Aubrey doesn't say a word about the fight or about Beca, and Chloe plays along.
Beca finds a small place near her new office—because of course she got the job—and when the lease for the year is up for renewal, Chloe quietly finds an affordable loft between the hospital and Beca's place. It's the first time she's ever lived alone, and it's not until Aubrey is fully alone in their old apartment that things start to go back to normal between them.
The station that Beca took the job with performs a miraculous turnaround and as it starts to edge into the spotlight of satellite radio play, she receives an offer from another ailing station looking for a miracle. Chloe fights her on it, swearing that stability is good, but Beca takes the offer anyways. Three years after Beca's moved to LA, Chloe has joined a private practice and is building a patient base and paying down her loans, and Beca has a reputation as a producer for turning floundering anything—radio stations, bands, even once an entire production company—into a success, and they have a house and a mortgage and cars that they bought together.
Aubrey still refuses to acknowledge their relationship.
Aubrey gets a job offer in New York. It's huge and lucrative and only an idiot would turn it down and Chloe almost hits her when she wavers on accepting it. She helps Aubrey pack up the apartment and drives her to the airport, and makes it all the way back home before realizing that her best friend just moved across the continent.
Beca finds her curled up in bed with her faded Bellas scarf, and, to her credit, doesn't laugh at all, but simply queues up the latest mix she made for Chloe—one that rings with Aubrey's solos from the Bellas and carries fifteen years of friendship—and climbs into bed with her.
When Chloe tells Aubrey about it, over a Skype date when Aubrey is still jetlagged and exhausted and trying to unpack before her first day, Aubrey is silent, lips pursed and eyes guarded. She eventually grants a "That's nice" before turning the conversation away.
The first time Chloe leaves for a medical conference in San Francisco, Beca goes with her. The second time, she can't, and Chloe comes home a week later to the smell of cigarettes clinging to Beca's skin and gravel in her voice. I forgot how to be alone, she admits, and the steady rhythm of smoking helps.
Chloe's grandfather smoked a pack a day and died of lung cancer when she was twelve, but she still travels with a Bellas scarf and the very first mix Beca ever made for her, so she every time she comes home to the smell of tobacco, she ignores it and drags Beca to bed anyways.
It's dark, and Beca is asleep. She falls asleep curled around herself protectively but always winds up sprawled across the mattress, taking up as much space as possible. Thankfully, she's barely larger than a pillow anyways, so it isn't too much trouble when she stretches and expands and rolls over almost on top of Chloe. The edges of the light filtering into their apartment make Beca's pale skin almost glow, and the tattoos on her body darken in contrast.
Chloe's fingertips trace along the edges of the tattoo on Beca's shoulder. The permanence comforts her. She loves solidity, not because she never thought they'd have it, but because it's what drew her to music in the first place. No matter how much the world shifts, the subtle draw of emotion from collections of sound never changes, never fades, never disappears. As complex as dominant sevenths and augmented fifths may get, the heart of the sound is always the same.
Beca engraves permanent patterns on her skin but believes in music as being transitive, dissolute, a forever malleable complexity. Her most obnoxious hobby is taking songs Chloe has loved for years and changing them, warping them, throwing them together with ten other disparate pieces until none of them are recognizable. Music is change, she argues, and the world would dry up without it.
Chloe's fingers complete their circuit around the tattoo on Beca's shoulder, automatically and blindly skimming down her spine to the next one. Beca squirms, ticklish as ever, and Chloe pauses, fingers hovering gently.
"Go to sleep," Beca murmurs, the words brushing against the skin of Chloe's neck. "I can hear you thinking and it's dumb."
"Maybe you shouldn't have insisted we get coffee at 10:30 at night." Her fingers are back to tracing the tattoo on Beca's back, and her free hand moves to pinch at Beca's side. Beca squeaks, trying to jerk away, but Chloe holds fast.
"I hate you, nerd bitch," Beca grumbles.
"Oh, please, it only took two bars of Titanium for me to hook you." Her fingers finish blindly mapping and move back up to the tattoo on Beca's shoulder, starting over.
"Stop it. Go to sleep. You have to get up early."
"We have to get up early," Chloe points out. "Don't think that I'm going to let you stay here while I drag my ass out of bed alone."
Beca leans back abruptly, glaring down at her. It would be more intimidating if she didn't have such a freshly-fucked look about her, all bruises on her throat and hair tangled in earrings. Chloe has to squint—her glasses are on the bedside table, next to the pair that Beca vehemently denies she needs—but the row of hickeys marching up Beca's neck is worth it. "She's your bestfriend, not mine! I don't need to be there to pick her up. She hates me."
"Oh, you're going to be there," Chloe says airily. Her hands start to wander more boldly. "She wants you to be there when she gets here so she can threaten you."
"And why would I—why—will you stop trying to distract me?" Beca glares down at her even more, and Chloe smirks with the same lopsided half-smile of Beca's that she'd practiced until she could mirror it perfectly.
"You're going," Chloe says pointedly. One hand lands down by where Beca's left is planted on the mattress, thumb tracing over the tattoo there, and the other catches ahold of Beca's chin firmly. "Because this is the first time in God knows how long that Aubrey has acknowledged that you exist as something more than a passing fancy, and when Aubrey gives you openings like this, you take them. If you don't, Aubrey won't ever believe that this is something real."
"That's stupid, I don't have to prove anything to her anymore," Beca protests.
"Then humor me and dazzle her with your doting girlfriend routine just so she'll stop telling me that you're using me as a temporary distraction when you're in town."
"I know!" Chloe interrupts. "But this is Aubrey. She's protective and she always has been, and she's never believed that you were going to stay in one place, for me or anyone, so she trusts this about as far as she can throw either of us.
"Well," Chloe amends. "As far as she can throw me. You're smaller than most of the medicine balls she works out with, she could probably throw you pretty far."
Beca sighs, settling back down into the curve of Chloe's shoulder. "You have to know that no matter how much you make fun of me, I'm not going to get any taller."
"It's okay, I forgive you. You're fun sized. Like a candy bar, or a pocket rocket." It's Chloe's turn to squeal as Beca swats at her hip.
"I can't believe you just compared me to a Snickers. Or a vibrator."
"Both are bringers of great joy," Chloe says gravely. "Just like you, sweetie pie." She shifts out from under Beca, turning onto her side so they're facing one another. Beca is glaring at as soon as the moniker passes through Chloe's lips.
"I hate you."
"It's okay," Chloe says, rolling her eyes. "I somehow manage to live with myself. Because you're here with me anyways, and you have been for four years, even though we both work all the time and you're emotionally stunted and I'm a flake and a half."
She rolls her eyes against Beca's protests and shushes her. One hand stretches to carefully untangle some of Beca's hair from one of her earrings, falling to rest on a tattooed shoulder once more before her fingers trace down to follow the line of her side to the newer ink etched into her skin along her ribcage. Chloe has the same four bars of Titanium painted across one shoulder blade, a ribbon of music notes crossing over her skin.
"Aubrey just needs to know that this isn't something you're going to get tired of and walk away from, that you aren't going to blow me off for some—some younger, hotter pierced hussy or the next band to ask you to tour with them. That's all."
"I wouldn't do that to you." The protest trips out of Beca's mouth quickly, quiet and indignant, and Chloe sighs.
"I know that. She doesn't. But she will, because you're going to come with me to the airport tomorrow to pick her up, and you two are going to bitch at each other like always because she insults your earring and you call her an uptight brat all week, but we're also going to make her puke with how adorable and cute we are."
"Maybe don't mention vomit in the same sentence as Aubrey," Beca says with a wince, but she's relaxing into Chloe's touch.
"We'll probably also convert her," Chloe says thoughtfully. Her fingers change course abruptly, leaving the tattoos and skimming briskly down past Beca's stomach until Beca twitches and bites down on her lip. "Because we're crazy hot together."
"Oh my God, stop talking," Beca says. Her voice is strained and Chloe smiles brightly, hands moving with more purpose and pushing until Beca rolls onto her back. Her mouth moves to the closest collection of ink she can find, smirking against color and pattern.
Later, as Chloe sinks back into the mattress, Beca stretches half off the bed to recover the blankets kicked to the floor. Chloe swats at her shoulder ineffectually.
"Don't, it's hot."
"You're going to be freezing in ten minutes," Beca says, yawning. "Shut up and go to sleep, will you? You have to get up early."
"So do you." She turns onto her side as Beca curls up into a ball, back to Chloe. Her fingers trace over the tattoo on Beca's back once more.
"Never," Beca grumbles. She relaxes back against Chloe, settling into the mattress and tugging the blanket up to her shoulder. "Now go to sleep, aca-bitch."
Chloe presses a kiss to the back of Beca's head, letting her eyes slip shut tiredly. Beca is warm against her skin, and she's not going anywhere; they have a home and careers and Beca might not know it yet but they're definitely going to get a dog soon; and Aubrey is spending Christmas with them.
There's music playing softly in their bedroom, just like always—there are at least seventeen iPods and mp3 players scattered around their apartment at any given time and one is always plugged into a dock and playing something— and Chloe slides into sleep listening to it, Beca's frame tiny and solid in front of her.
Aubrey's flight is late. She had a connection in Las Vegas and it was delayed a full two hours. Chloe is stretched out across a bank of chairs by baggage claim, Beca's tiny frame blanketing hers and fast asleep. Aubrey's bag sits under their bench, having arrived without her on another flight (Of course it's hers, it has a Bellas scarf on it!), Chloe's feet dangling over the edge of the chair and propped atop it. Beca's head is tucked under her chin, breath fluttering the familiar blue and yellow scarf tied around her neck and fingers curled loosely into Chloe's hair.
Chloe's almost asleep herself—because of course Aubrey would have chosen a redeye that got in at seven in the morning, and they've there for two and a half hours and they definitely hadn't slept much more than three the night before—when Aubrey is there, clearing her throat and looking down at them blandly.
"Hi," Chloe whispers, smiling bashfully up at her best friend.
"Hey," Aubrey says. One eyebrow quirks up, her eyes scanning up and down their position, before she clears her throat more loudly. "Beca Mitchell, if you don't wake up right this minute I will make you run laps until you die!"
Her voice rings through the baggage claim, and Beca wakes abruptly, flailing and falling off of Chloe to land at Aubrey's feet.
"Aubrey!" Chloe wheezes, torn between wincing from the how Beca's elbow slammed into her stomach and laughing at Beca glaring up at Aubrey.
"Jesus, Aubrey," Beca gripes, rubbing at her back and pulling herself to her feet. "You can't just say hi like a normal person?"
"Maybe if you weren't sleeping with my best friend," Aubrey says. Her eyes are steely and unreadable, and she crosses her arms over her chest, pulling up to her full height to look down at Beca.
"I'm not sleeping with her, I'm living with her," Beca throws back. "Give it a rest, will you? We've been together for years, I'm not going anywhere." Her own arms cross over her chest and she tilts her chin up defiantly, and Chloe swallows a giggle, because Beca in her Converses is the opposite of intimidating compared to Aubrey's height, but Chloe can't help but slip just a little more in love with her for trying.
"And as her best friend, I'm here to tell you that if you hurt her, I will hunt you down and rip out your vocal chords," Aubrey says.
"Not going to happen."
Chloe looks back and forth between the two of them, biting down on her lower lip and clenching her hands into fists to keep from reaching out to either of them while they stare each other down stubbornly.
"Guys?" she says tentatively.
Aubrey sighs, arms falling. "Okay," she says heavily. She turns to face Chloe, and a smile spreads across her mouth slowly, genuine and bright. "She's not going anywhere. I get it."
Chloe squeals, leaping forward and hugging Aubrey tightly. Blindly, in the middle of the embrace, she reaches behind her to tug Beca into the middle of it, the smaller woman lost between the two of them and protesting loudly.
Chloe catches Aubrey's eye over top of Beca's head and she stills momentarily, mouthing Love you, bitch and winking when she gets the same in return. She untangles herself just enough to catch Beca's chin and tug her up for a kiss.
Standing there, a tangle of too many limbs and Aubrey's sharp elbows and Beca's perpetual and endearing awkwardness in the middle of baggage claim at LAX, Chloe has Titanium inked across her shoulder and a Bellas scarf around her neck. Despite the unending stability in her relationship with Beca for the last five years, some final piece settles just right now that Aubrey is okay with them.
She walks out of the airport between the two of them, Aubrey's hand wrapped in one of hers and her other tucked around the curve of Beca's hip, fingertips dipping into the front pocket of her jeans, all of it warm and comfortable and permanent.