She never says yes, but she never really says no either.
It's kind of what keeps him trying. Contrary to beliefs popular to those in the know (read: everyone at the Treble house, most, if not all, of the Bellas, and definitely Barb of the BU Harmonics if the pitying glance she'd given him outside the station was anything to go by), he isn't a masochist. If she'd actually shut him down, he would've given up (he thinks). And maybe that's why it kind of works, because maybe he's just the right combination of persistent and thick-skinned (and rakishly handsome and an awesome singer...) to pick on the little things – the grins she tries to hide, the sidelong glances camouflaged by eyeliner and a scowl, the fact that despite the barbs that come as naturally to her as breathing, she never tells him to stop trying.
Well, almost never.
She doesn't say yes like everyone else would and it's kind of one of the things he likes best about her. Understanding Beca Mitchell is like learning a language only one other person on Earth knows, who isn't particularly interested in helping you figure it out. But he's never believed in reading the manual first because it's always been so much more satisfying to find the answer by himself.
Though it's hard to remind himself of that when she brushes him off, or when she refuses to respond to anything serious with anything more than sarcasm or the deflection he knows so well. She doesn't push because she doesn't need to; she'll wait until he gives up but knowing that doesn't make it any easier.
He isn't a saint by any means and his patience is far from unlimited, but Jesse Swanson has always been the kind of guy who finds a way to get what he wants and what he wants – yesterday, today, tomorrow, for now – is for this one girl with her alt beats and permanent skepticism to let him in just enough to convince her that they might just be the best thing that's happened to each other since graduating high school.
And until she tells him otherwise...he's always been a bit of an optimist.
(He gets his wish and wishes for three more wishes.)
Hey, you've reached Jesse, leave me a message.
She fucking hates that stupid beep. That little blip of sound that says 'the person you are trying to reach doesn't want to talk to you' before throwing you into the deep end of expectant silence, forcing you to say something – anything – while trying to ignore the fact that the only voice you can hear is your own, the words echoing off the dead air to make you painfully aware of every stutter, every hesitation, every tiny catch in your breath.
Whoever invented voicemail should be shot.
She calls for the first time from the emptiest corner of the club she can find, plugging her right ear to deaden the noise and trying not to notice exactly how handsy Luke and his girlfriend are getting or precisely how alone she's feeling and how much it's bothering her. So she's calling him, because she's had two or three shots of something dark and strong that's making her both bold and weak all at the same time. (Booze is great like that.) She listens to his voicemail message for the first time ever and the 'leave your message at the sound of the' tone catches her off guard.
"H-hey, it's me. Beca. I just...thanks." She ends the call abruptly with an unnecessarily forceful jab of her finger because that was fucking stupid and shoves her phone into her pocket before wading through the crowd to the bar, letting the music drown out the silent sound of an unreturned phone call.
The second time is her first solo night shift at the station during spring break. It's almost two in the morning and it feels like she's talking to herself over the empty airwaves. WBUJ's broadcasting area is pretty small and the campus is pretty empty, but she likes the image of someone – anyone – just one person tuning in out of insomnia or boredom or accident and hearing her music. You never know who's listening and that's kind of the magic of radio.
"Goodnight, nerd." The red 'on air' light blinks off in tandem with the call ended message on the screen of her cellphone and she sags into the chair with a sigh. The walk back to her room is quiet and, except for her handy Barden rape whistle, lonely.
She makes the third call from the video rental store on the edge of campus that relies on the surprisingly decent firewall on the BardenU internet service to stay solvent. The spines of the DVD cases all look the same and she's trying to remember the names of the many, many movies he'd gone on about for the last six months without acknowledging that that's exactly what she's doing.
Her thumb finds his name and with a tap light enough to almost be an accident, the call engages and rings...and rings...and she ends the call before it can go to voicemail. She drops her stupid phone to the bottom of her bag and grabs everything on the shelf that sounds familiar.
It's the little things that keep him here.
He thinks that people think that they're going to be this dramatic, whirlwind couple, and based on how they start – how people think they start – it isn't really surprising. 80s new wave and a possibly televised kiss in the half-dark that leaves them grinning like kids at a carnival; it has all the hallmarks of a relationship to rival Scarlett and Rhett's.
Except it's not. They're not. (And it's not just because of a distinct lack of hoop skirts and melodramatic angst in their lives.) Never let it be said that Jesse Swanson doesn't appreciate the fine art of cinematic drama, theatrical acts of une grande passion set to just the right music. He does; he just doesn't want to live it and – for all of her window smashing, creepy man punching tendencies – neither does Beca.
Happiness is (finding a pencil / , the pursuit of / a warm gun) watching movies on Wednesday night with an armful of sarcastic girl, enjoying the non-existence of winter in Georgia on the quad trying not to be distracted by how intently she's staring at her laptop screen and wondering if she's studying or mixing, stacking countless rows of endless CDs in the best kind of silence, midnight conversations that are too mundane and too secret to speak above a whisper when skin to skin he thinks she can read him like a book and play him like a song.
She mostly ignores him most of the time, but he's the first one she calls when there's something to say and it's his ears she's jamming her headphones onto when she's done. It's him she's grinning at, all hope and apprehension and pride.
She has the worst bedside manner ever, but it doesn't stop her from trudging out in the middle of the night for more tissues and any cough syrup that isn't cherry flavoured. (He wakes up the next morning with her tucked against his sprawled out body in what must be the most uncomfortable position ever and they both smell like menthol.)
He talks, sometimes, with no expectation that she – or anyone, really – is listening. He can maintain whole conversations with only the occasional response to keep him going. He speaks while she makes faces and it's the same thing, really, because he's learning to read those expressions, those one word answers, those bits of dry humour and wry snippets of sarcasm and infrequent confessions, and it's like they're talking in a way only they can hear.
Which is why it really shouldn't surprise him when it turns out that she's listening. An out of print copy of his favourite childhood book, a new mix sampling the melody he's been trying to coax out of his head for a week, sitting up at midnight to get him two tickets to the first showing of some dumb new movie because he's fallen asleep.
It's all the little things, the thousand and one things about her, that make everything else worth it.
It's weird how people seem to need her now.
Their class schedules are slightly more in sync since he convinced her that if she was going to be forced to get an education, it might as well be in something she actually cares about, helping her pick through the course calendar so she can literally spend her days doing nothing but music.
The headphones are just headphones now.
The Bellas need leading – and Lily needs advice about long-distance relationships and Stacie needs a talking to about makeshift soundproofing / respect for her housemates' ears – and Jesse never seems unhappy to see her and she fully takes advantage of that to show up at his door at all hours to flop on his bed and spill her guts to the ceiling: sometimes silently and sometimes in words that come out in a jumble of nonsense that he lets her spew before stemming the tide with his mouth or his hands or his movies.
Relationships, as it turns out, are a give and a take and to be honest, she's never been all that good at the giving. She doesn't know how to give any better than she knows how to take but she thinks that they might be teaching her – the girls, the boy, the random people who accost them before and after a performance – to do more than pull out a standard response before slipping away as fast as possible.
People matter, and it's still kind of a surprise that they matter to her. How much they matter to her. It's fucking scary is what it is, the idea that she gives a damn about these people who would have been strangers a year ago, but she does – she does and maybe, when she's telling Lily that it's okay to call back after receiving six voicemails over three days or when she's apprehensively encouraging Stacie to explore the realm of gags or when she's going for coffee to discuss an assignment with her partner in Philosophy class or when she's pretending not to loiter outside the Treble rehearsal space for a particular a capella boy to finish practice...
She's pretty fucking happy when she lets herself think about it.
Which she doesn't.
He hears universes too.
The upright piano in the front room is ancient but never out of tune, thanks to the occupants of the student house; for half a dozen boys and girls who spend their free time singing a capella, they do know their way around their instrumental counterparts. Music is music, unless it sucks.
And even then.
Amy's singing in the kitchen, alternating between belting out the melody and providing her own backing vocals like a schizophrenic Adele. There's no sound from the second floor, which could be either good or bad, depending on whether Lily's home or not.
She forgets, sometimes, the gift he has. It's so easy, because he's so much more than just that admittedly fantastic voice on stage (and in the shower, on the quad, in his room, walking to class, walking from class...) and more than his movie collection and his unashamed self-confident quirkiness. He is who he is, which is, she thinks, one of the best things about him. He doesn't need music to define himself (unlike her, is the unspoken confession) but Jesus Christ, the boy does it so well.
He teases melodies out of the battered keys with ease, shifting from Chopin to Zimmer to phrases that are entirely Jesse Swanson. It's amazing to watch, to listen to him translate the intangible world inside his head into something real, something that slips just as easily into her realm, to be morphed, mixed, reborn.
She must make a sound without realizing it, standing by the door with her jacket still on and her bag resting by her feet, because his concentration breaks and his eyes find her over the piano.
"It's nine o'clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles in..." he sings softly with a grin. It earns him the tiniest of smiles that he knows to interpret as her amusement mixed with an aversion to doing anything that might encourage him.
"It's Wednesday, dork." She shrugs off her jacket and tosses it onto the sofa before nudging him to share the piano bench. "Keep going."
He plays, and she watches, listens to him speak in a language she can actually understand. Sitting, his shoulder is just about the right height for cranial support and she's just about to give into the urge to close her eyes and take a teeny nap to the sound of him and the piano when the music changes again and she feels the vibration of his voice against her cheek as much as she hears it: "And you can tell everybody, that this is – "
(Once upon a time:
"What are you playing? ...hello?"
"Wouldn't it be awesome if life had a soundtrack?"
"I'm scoring this conversation we're having right now. We could lay it down and you could produce it."
"Not enough disaffected cynic for you? How's this?"
"Stop. Just stop.")
She hides her smile in his sleeve and pretends he doesn't know.
He has a thing about that desk.
It's kind of ridiculous, actually, how completely transparent he is about it, but she doesn't seem to mind.
(He runs his hand down her side to squeeze her hip and the smirk she gives him is pretty encouraging.)
Even more encouraging is when she gets off her tiptoes and grins at him before pulling her shirt up and over her head and hoists herself up on that desk with a little bounce because she's just so damn short which makes other...things bounce which is really, really nice and –
"Dude." Okay, so maybe this time, she isn't smirking so much as she's glaring and maybe that grin is really more like the look she gets that says I am so unimpressed with you right now. "What the hell are you doing?"
And, if he were pressed to admit it, maybe (just this once) he's actually just staring into space with what feels like a little bit of a smile on his idiot mouth while his girlfriend looks on with an expression that makes it impossible to tell if she's amused or pissed off. "Uhh..."
"Keep stacking, dork. And then you can get me lunch before Luke comes to pick up his stuff."
Two minutes late his first day and he's never going to live it down. Seniority goes to the pint-sized brunette with freshly inherited keys to the station twirling around her nimble fingers.
"Which gives you, oh," she glances at the clock on the wall with a twist of her lips that looks suspiciously like a smile, "about an hour and a half to help me break in my new desk."
He's never sorted, alphabetized, and stacked CDs so fast before.
Luke would be amazed.
She doesn't run.
Running is her dad's thing, and though she'd never admit it, Beca is her mother's daughter. She's had a first-class education in avoidance, a front row seat to the redefinition of detachment, and wields them both like a pro. (And when all else fails, she's got a knack for knowing exactly the worst moment to lash out and a temper to do it that's really all her own.)
So no, she's not a runner. Running leads to guilt, it makes you the bad guy, makes it so easy to point your finger and say "You left me."
And that's not her, because Beca Mitchell is the girl who was left behind. Not that she gives a fuck, because she never asked you to stay, remember? And if she gave you a helping hand out of her life, well, it's not like you weren't already eyeing up the exit sign. She doesn't care. Really.
She holes herself up in Aubrey's spare room / walk-in closet, skips a week's worth of classes, and lets her headphones drown out the echo of all the words that were supposed to have been shoved down in a black hole somewhere near her spleen, never to see the light of day. So much for that.
The comforter swallows her up whole and she's tiny enough that she imagines herself disappearing inside its volume, slipping into the bass line pounding in her ears and coaxing her heartbeats to match its rhythm (because it's not broken, okay? Hearts don't actually do that and saying so is stupid and so melodramatic it makes her sick) until it doesn't really matter that her ribcage might be caving in on itself.
And even that might just be indigestion.
It's a Tuesday when she drags her sorry ass out of the apartment, because she's got two classes back to back before the first Bellas practice after the break and because she looked in the mirror this morning and told herself to get the fuck over it before reaching for the eyeliner.
So when she walks back to her temporary home – thinking about the problem areas of the choreography and how to get Stacie to stop doing that thing with her hips during the swivel that she swears might actually get them censored in competition and god, is her inner voice starting to sound just a little like Aubrey? – she's actually feeling okay. Not great, but okay, which is practically the same thing. (She can totally do this.)
Which means, of course, he's sitting on the bed when she walks in. He does a little wave thing and she drops her bag by the door and takes off her coat before hanging it carefully in the closet because it's easier than looking at him right now.
He doesn't say anything until she kicks her boots off and climbs up next to him, until they're lined up, not quite shoulder to shoulder because they're not exactly the same size. But her hip is bumping his and she can feel his body heat against her side and through their jeans where their legs touch.
She bites her lip and tries to ignore the way his foot is rubbing against hers even while wondering if he's doing it deliberately or not. It takes a minute or seven, but he's always been so good at waiting.
"What is it going to take to make you leave?"
She feels the rush of air that is his sigh, but knows well enough the difference between the boy who stormed out of their room two weeks ago and the man who just keeps coming right back. There isn't one, and the question has never been how far she can run, but how long she can shut you out. He reaches into her lap to steal her hand. "I'm thinking more than you can dish out."
She lets the rhythm of his thumb moving back and forth across her knuckles ease the knot of uncomfortable feelings she was already well on the way to repressing and she hates him a little bit for this, for how he can cut through her bullshit even – especially – when she can't, for how much better he is than her. She hates it, but it's more than balanced out by too many other things to keep track of it all.
She doesn't ask for promises or platitudes, because she's not going to change overnight but neither is he and maybe that's all the certainty she needs right now.
She's impossible, but he's never been a quitter.